Preparing for the Chadar
Like I tell everyone who plans a Chadar trek, you do the Chadar trek with your mind. While you cannot prepare for the cold, you can surely safeguard against it. The best preparation is Yoga, Pranayam and breathing exercises. Train your lungs to grab every whiff of oxygen in the air. Make water your best friend. Why? Because it is H2O, remember? Every drop of water has oxygen. Make your legs strong. I got into a regime of walking a few kilometres a day. Climbing stairs of my multi storeyed building built my stamina. I also went on local treks in the Sahyadri to test my endurance.
A few weeks before the trek, start swallowing garlic. Yes, you read it right. Read it up on the net, garlic was the miracle drug that gave instant heat to the shivering skeleton under layers of fleece and thermals. And ask your mom or grand mom, if she is alive, to concoct the most power packed sonth, pimprimul-jaggery and desi ghee laddoos for you. This will help to keep you alive J
And most of all, go inward. Banish all negativity and self doubts. Once you have decided to go for the trek, sweep away all negative thoughts. Believe, that you can do it. Believe, that no cold is too much. And look forward to seeing the frozen sights that you will get to see probably once in your lifetime. The frozen waterfalls, the colourful prayers flags against the white backdrop. The more blue than you can imagine Zanskar river, the barren mountain passes, the towering peaks that will remind you that you don’t even amount to a speck, you are not even accounted for in this universe. And yet, you are special, because you have grabbed the opportunity to go Chadar trekking.
But bear in mind the caveat. Don’t go unprepared, fuelled on bravado alone. I see a lot of young kids signing up for this like it’s a picnic. It is not. You can prepare for the known –the cold temperature, the long walks, the ‘roughing out’ in tents, the AMS, etc. But you have no idea what the unknown holds for you.
And the unknown we faced was what made my Chadar trek my ultimate achievement.
About AMS or high altitude sickness
You will get a lot of advices about this medicine for AMS called Diamox. Some will say, take one every day, some will say, start taking the medicine a few days before you depart so that your body gets used to it. Some will say, as soon as you reach Leh, pop one. But what I have realised is, take it as you need it. You may not even need one. Listen to your body. One thing is for sure; by no means take it before you reach Leh.
Best thing would be, reach your hotel, give yourself a good two days of acclimatisation, the first half day, completely stay put in your bed, open the windows and get into the blanket. Allow yourself to feel the air, so the body gets a hang of it on its own without you compounding its understanding with your ‘intelligence’. If you feel a headache coming, you could try half a tablet. I took one and it made me worse. So, after a few hours I took a simple Saridon to calm the headache. And that was it. I didn’t need to take another tablet through the entire trip!
Layering for the cold
Another basic info is about layering for the cold. The right way to do it is wear a thin polyester as your skin layer. And then wear your thermal innerwear. Why? Because when you walk, no matter the cold, you will perspire. If the thermal is the first layer, it will capture the moisture and make it damp and be contra-effective. The Polysester will not allow the moisture to pass across. Same with the socks, wear some thin polyester or nylon socks and then the warm ones. Back to layering, don a Tee–shirt over your thermals, then a fleece jacket or vest. And the top most would be your jacket, a down or a bomber jacket should be fine. And over it, a thin wind cheater to beat the wind chill. Fleece gloves and snow gloves over them for the hands. A fleece and winter cap for the head. Those with a neck warmer work like a two-in-one.
And please, please invest in water proof pants. You will soon read why!!
Also, you get this chemical sachets called Warmees. You get these in two sizes. When you shake the warmees they activate the heat producing contents and you can slip these into your gloves or feet or back while sleeping. They give warmth for about 6 to 7 hours.
For your cameras, take spare batteries for sure. Keep the camera in woollens when not in use, because the batteries drain very fast in the extreme cold.
Carry a small backpack with your day’s rations, at least two litres of water, a spare set of clothes, including thermals. And kapoor (camphor). You can make small bracelets of it and tie one around your wrist or your neck and keep sniffing it through your runny nose J
And don’t forget to carry the Tiranga with you. Flying the Tiranga in the most beautiful place on earth will give you lifetime memories to cherish and goose bumps at will!