A colossal adventure over a frozen river
Here’s a thriller of a trek that could give the Chadar trek some tight competition. A shorter and easier trek on the famous route from Lamayuru to Darcha, this route has recently seen an influx of trekkers. The highlight of the trek is walking on the frozen tributary of River Indus, a much-coveted adventure that you won’t forget for a while.
Trekking past the moonscapes of Ladakh is a riveting experience. It is a 52-kilometre-long trek stretched over five days, going past few of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh. The trek starts from Lamayuru, a five hour drive from Leh. It passes through world-renowned monasteries of Lamayuru, Wanla and Hinju.
During the months of January and February, expect the river to be frozen and perfect for walking over it. The highest elevation of the trek is the base camp of Kongski La at 12,795 feet and gives a fitting closure to a superb trek in Ladakh.
Day 1: Acclimatisation at Leh or Lamayuru
- Altitude: 11,562 feet (3,524 meters)
It is highly recommended that you rest for a day at Leh to acclimatise (not only during this trek, but during any trek in Ladakh). Walk around in Leh to get yourself better acclimatised. This acclimatisation should be taken more seriously by those reaching Leh via flight.
One can also drive straight to Lamayuru, provided one day is kept for acclimatisation at Lamayuru.
Day 2: Leh – Lamayaru
- Altitude: 13,562 ft to 11,520 ft
- Time taken: 4-5 hours drive
- Distance: 125 km
Reaching Lamayuru from Leh in winter is an arduous, but scenic Jeep ride. The road winds through adorable Tibetan villages, above which are perched few of the oldest monasteries of Ladakh. To add to the beauty, the road runs parallel to the river bed, offering unbelievable views. The commute takes around four hours. Lamayuru is the starting point of the trek.
Lamayuru is a quaint village that explodes with Ladakhi Buddhist heritage. It’s intriguing to experience it first hand, interacting with the local folk and visiting the monasteries. You can climb up to Mediation Hill and observe the heavenly moonscapes of Lamayuru.
Stay the night at the local home stay in Lamayaru.
Day 3: Lamayaru – Pritikinji La Pass – Wanla
- Altitude: 11,520 ft – 10,499 ft
- Time taken: 5 hours
- Distance: 8 km
The trek starts today and is relatively easy.
Take the traditional route from Lamayuru, heading towards the monastery of Wanla. The trail twists and turns alongside the river bed, with a series of gentle uphill and downhill sections. After the first 30 minutes, the trail ascends toward Pritikinji La, the first pass-crossing of the five-day trek.
The barren gorge heading to the pass is covered in patches of snow during winter. The amount of snow varies depending on the time of the year. The ascent to the pass is not difficult and one can reach the top in around 90 minutes.
Once at the top of the pass, descend to the other side of the valley. The descent is steep and long. Head downward, further into the valley, where the village of Wanla sits. In winter, the trail is laden with snow. You may need to carve a route using an ice axe.
As you descend, the beautiful village of Shilla comes into view, assuring you that you’re headed in the right direction. From here, Wanla is three kilometres away.
The last hour of the trek is picturesque and takes you through a narrow gorge. This is the gateway to Wanla. In around 20 minutes, you’ll enter Wanla.
The monasteries of Wanla are located above the village, like in most Ladakhi villages. After resting for a while, hike to the monasteries. Rising from the valley to the upper region gives you a completely different perspective of the landscape. The view from the monastery is something else!
Descend back to the village and spend the night at a homestay.
Day 4: Wanla – Panji La Pass – Hinju
- Altitude: 10,499 ft – 11,155 ft – 12,303 ft
- Time taken: 5 hours
- Distance: 10 km
Brace yourself, as today is the day you set foot on the much-desired frozen river.
From the village, head down the trail to the bank of the river. You can see a motorable road that connects Wanla with Hinju. It runs parallel to the frozen river.
You can step onto the frozen river. Note that walking on the river could take some time to get used to. You could take the help of a local guide to find a stable path on the river.
After walking for around an hour, a gradual ascent takes you up to Panji La Pass. Observe the top-most section of the connecting ridge along the river. This is Panji La Pass.
Leave the river behind and walk along the connecting ridge. Follow the snow-covered trail as you cross over the pass and get onto the other side.
From here, the trail descends and connects you back to the frozen tributary. If, at any section, the frozen river seems unstable, hop onto the motorable road that still runs parallel to the river.
After walking through a series of narrow pathways, look out for a village settlement far ahead. The first settlement you see on the route is Hinju. Walk towards the village. This may take around 45 to 60 minutes.
If you have time, you can take a detour to a beautiful and secluded village of Ursi. This detour appears on your right while climbing down from the Panji La Pass towards the river. It takes about five more hours to trek from Ursi to Hinju.
Halt for the night at a homestay in Hinju. If you’d like to camp in tents, you can head to the camp site near a Doksa or the herder’s camp close to the village.
Day 5: Hinju – Kongski La Base – Leh
- Altitude: 12,303 ft – 12,303 ft
- Time taken: 3-4 hours
- Distance: 5 km
Today’s trek is the most exciting and adventurous of all the days! It brings your 52 km trek to a colossal end.
The river is at its frozen best today, almost like a brick wall, which makes the trail slippery. We suggest you attach micro spikes to your shoes to avoid falling down.
Walk the initial 2-3 hours on the river, gently ascending all the time. This section of the trek has stark similarities with the Chadar Frozen River trek. As you walk, look around and observe beautiful ice formations on the gorges. There will be a few waterfalls frozen in motion. They make for stunning sights.
The walk is consistent and goes all the way up to the base of Kongski La Pass. This is the last point of the winter trek. Crossing the pass requires technical gear and skills, and is best avoided in winter.
From here, one can either trek back to Hinju and stay the night. Or one can trek back to the nearest motorable road and drive all the way back to Lamayaru or if time permits, Leh.
Picture inputs by Parmeet Kohli and Jai Gosar.