January 29, 2017 Editorial

Chadar trek, threats of frozen river & action proposed

chadar trek

What is Chadar trek?

Chadar is more than a 1000-year-old trail over a frozen river used by ancient traders of the Zanskar region to reach the city of Leh in winter. Chadar, which literally means ‘Layer’, refers to the veil of snow and ice that forms over the river. This is the only way in and out of the Zanskar Valley to Leh when all other routes are closed due to massive snowfall in winter. It’s a walk through time, a travel through history, fighting every moment with the biting cold temperature and solving the puzzle of the continuously shifting ice. A must do the trek for those seeking adventure in the extreme winter.

chadar trek panorama

chadar trek panorama

Problem Introduction

We, RockyFeet, hereby want to bring into your notice, a few major concerns on the environment of fringes of Zanskar River in use during ‘The Chadar Trek’.  In recent time, Chadar trek is very popular among adventure travelers; which is creating a footfall of 4000 or even more during a short duration of max 60 days, JAN- FEB.  This year is not going be an exception, for sure, after looking at its beginning.  The most positive aspect of this growth in tourism in Ladakh and Zanskar is the employment of locals during winter. We wish with warm hearts, ­­­­for continuation & sustainability of this growth in tourism. But the sustainability of this growth is not possible without taking care of the environment, where we are organizing tourism. In a more direct way to say incase of Chadar trek are the trail and the campsites.

chadar trek water fall neyrak

Our Concern

3 major observations we made as threats during our journey of Chadar, which are going to create problems for future of Chadar tourism & ecosystem.

  1. Littering on trail & campsite:

We trekked from SingreYoma to Neyrak, using 4 major campsites- SingreYoma, SingreKoma, Tibcave & Neyrak. The complete trail and all 4 major campsites are severely littered with non-biodegradable waste. On the trail, we observed majorly plastic rappers of small energy packs like candy, chocolates, date packs etc. At campsites, there is a few more addition of used tin food can, glass bottle, Warmee pouch, bigger food plastic wrappers, and much more. These pullulated sites are just waiting to contaminate the river with increasing water level once summer approaches.

  1. Sanitary waste:

In this case, the scenario is serious. Sad to say, all campsites offers an exposed view of human sanitary waste left by the previous camp. Sometimes those are exposed to rocks or inside the little depth of sand soil. With increasing number of tourist and no designated area to pitch toilet tent, the problem is an exponential curve. We believe a good amount of travelers with better hygiene sense will go away from Chadar in future only for this issue.

  1. Campfire wood:

A practice used by local, was essential to protect themselves from cold during earlier days of Chadar survival walk, is now developing threat. Porters and guides are creating campfire on daily basis at every campsite.  With increasing demand now they are approaching deep inside the valley to collect wood and in the case of unavailability cut down the trees. We believe no explanation is required to make understand the seriousness of the incident like deforestation in Zanskar or Ladakh.

Singre Koma campsite Chadar trek

Singre Koma campsite, Chadar trek

Proposed RockyFeet Solutions without creating ban on tourism:

  1. Littering is a common problem across the country and the only solution to it is developing awareness by repeated positive campaigns. Every travel agency, guide, porter and other supporting members of Chadar trek operation need to be awakened about it. Every year green workshop can be conducted beginning of the season. They are the key persons to act on this and bring the change. Agency must show their participation certificate of the workshop before obtaining an environmental permit for their group.
  2. The Clear message to stop littering need to convey to every trekker participating Chadar Trek on every day briefing irrespective of agency they choose. The previously mentioned workshop should help to create the coordination.
  3. Installation of signage at campsite conveying a message to stop littering may keep everyone on the trail on track.
  4. Installation of dustbin at the campsites, in parity of size to the quantity of waste generate, is a mandatory solution. This will help trekkers to dispose of their nonlittered waste.
  5. End of the season or periodic cleaning expedition is absolutely mandatory to bring this waste back to Leh waste yard. Trekking Team or Group who will participate in voluntary basis to bring back the waste from campsite; can be incentivised with money refund from their environmental fees on per KG of waste basis.
  6. Sanitation problem can be addressed by creating permanent Ladakhi Dry Toilet Or Bio toilet, a smarter & much effective version of Ladakhi toilet, in decent numbers at campsites. Major designated campsites have enough space for it too.  We have this best practice available at Nilamaling campsite in Markha Valley trail.
  7. Earlier proposed workshop can bring awareness on the issue of campfire too. But, the campfire is only created by the local stuff of Chadar trekking operations to get warmer.  Sometimes on request of fun from trekkers too. On an open discussion with them, bring the fact of a deficit of warm shelter & clothes for them. Most of the time even tents are not planned in equipment list for them. Also, there is no united body to represent the concerns of stuff like porter, guide, cook or helpers. So, one solution to it can be initiated from agency side by providing enough warm clothes, sleeping bag and tent for them as well as trekkers. Unless this difference of adequate gear is not disappeared, we will not have any right to approach them with a request to stop campfire. This will definitely increase the operation cost of an agency per trekker, but we need to convey the message to our trekkers to bare it for a brighter & sustainable future. Bringing wood from city to burn, should not be considered as a solution. Carbon emission from the campfire will definitely create sedimentation of the carbon layer on top of the ice sheet and work for the melt of sooner.
tibe cave, Chadar Trek

Tibe cave, Chadar Trek

Current State of Regulation

2017, onwards LAHDC started collecting an environmental fee of 2000 INR  per trekker, Indian National & 2200 INR per foreign National.

Also, as some part of the area comes under the wildlife protected area of Hemis National Park, trekkers need to pay 40 INR per head to Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department.

Apart from this monetary regulation to avail permit for the trek, no such environmental regulations, and implementation of regulations have been observed throughout the trek.

Wildlife fee Chadar Trek

Wildlife fee Chadar Trek

Environmental fee Chadar Trek

Environmental fee Chadar Trek


A hand of support:

RockyFeet as a non-profit organization, promise to extend the hand to implement any proposed solution as per best of our capability. Also, we will be glad to involve in discussion or provide green consultancy to anyone and everyone who are concerned on the same. We love Ladakh; let’s work together for a greener future.

Campsite & trail cleaning by RockyFeet trekkers

Campsite & trail cleaning by RockyFeet trekkers

Action taken

These 3 points concerns & 7 points solution has been handed over to Cheif executive councilor & Chief Executive Officer of LAHDC,

Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Leh-Ladakh and Chief Conservator of Forests (Eco- Tourism), Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department

Further follow-up and discussion on proposal & implementation of the proposal will be conducted throughout 2017 & till we improve the scenario of the Chadar.

Chadar Trek environmental proposal to LADHC

Chadar Trek environmental proposal to LADHC

Chadar Trek environmental proposal to LADHC

Chadar Trek environmental proposal to LADHC

Chadar Trek environmental proposal to J&K wildlife

Chadar Trek environmental proposal to J&K environmental


About the Author

Editorial RockyFeet is a non-governmental organization that aims to inspire and promote conservation as a way of life. As a society, we believe that a three-pronged approach of Explore, Educate & Conserve, would eventually lead to a sustainable future. Learn more at About Us
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