The Himalayas are no place for the faint of heart, however, that hasn't kept hikers and climbers from pushing aside their lifelong dreams of conquering some of the world's most challenging trails. With Everest being the highest summit, and most dangerous climb in the world, the Chadar trek often falls by the wayside in terms of difficulty and risk. While it doesn't require climbing up over icefalls or crossing deep mountain crevices with only a single ladder for support, the risks lie within the fact that this trek is over solid ice.


Not only do hikers need to master the art of walking on thick, slippery ice, but they take on the risk of the river underneath breaking through, depending on the temperature that year. With global warming threatening much of the world as well as the ice caps, the Zanskar River faces a very similar fate in the event that the greenhouse effect permanently raises worldwide temperatures. Earlier this year, a group of 41 trekkers had to be rescued due to a water overflow on the ice in Leh along the Zanskar River. A rescue ensued as well as a temporary closing of the trek trail for the two days following.

While this trek was once a means of transport and a trail bridging two locations, it has now gained popularity with adventure enthusiasts who have added the Zanskar River trek to their list of challenges. Also known as the Zanskar Gorge, this trek was once only well-known by those native to the area, many of whom had experience with the trek at a young age. Now, the trek is facing its biggest threat: Overtourism and lack of respect for the surrounding risks.

Words From A Local

CNN recently interviewed Tundup Wangail, who spoke of his first memories crossing the Zanskar River. Wangail recalls stepping foot onto the ice as only a child of five years old and now, 40 years later, continues to visit the spot where he spent so much time. He told CNN of his father's words of wisdom, "the cold is [their] ally," and speaks of having respect toward the Zanskar River and its unpredictable power.

Zanskar is home to a small population and the town itself is cut off from the rest of the world for at least five months out of the year. Since the town is in the valley, walking the Zanskar is the only way to get to the neighboring town of Leh. According to Wangail, crossing the Zanskar is necessary sometimes in order to reach other relatives or bring children to school.

With the creation of documentaries dedicated to the Zanskar River and the trek called Chadar, or "sheet" in Hindi, the area has gained in popularity - and not necessarily in a good way. While tourism can be helpful for some locations, and even profitable for many, the Zanskar River was a dangerous journey prior to its newfound fame, and one that many still don't understand or comprehend. Prior to all of the attention, the trek was considered to be sacred by the Zanskaris.

Related: A Travel Guide To India: Tourists Should Plan Their Trip Around These 11 Things

Now, the trek has become one of many challenges that thrill-seekers set out on, ignoring the beliefs of the Zanskaris. In that same interview, Wangail speaks of the tale of the monk who soiled the ice upon crossing, thus angering the gods. He goes on to speak of trekkers who have no hesitations when it comes to littering or being respectful of the river that flows underneath the ice, carrying the same water that the Zankaris use for drinking. Times have certainly changed, and not for the better for those who call Zanskar their home.

The Building Of An All-Weather Road

While overtourism has taken its toll on the Zanskari River, that's not the only threat that's hinging on completion. The government has stepped in and established the building of an all-weather road that now threatens to take the trek away from Wangail and others who are native to the area. With this road comes increased access and with increased access, comes the problem of overcrowding; many are unsure of how much the river can take before it, too, becomes affected.

Related: Experience A Breathtaking Landing At This New Airport In The Himalayas

While the profit from increased vacation bookings is good, the overtourism also has its downside. Zanskar is a small village that still cherishes ancient beliefs and customs, and many worry that those will be under threat by tourists who don't, or won't, understand. The greatest hope of Zanskar's people is that those who visit will take the time to respect their surroundings, allowing the Zanskar River to hold a special place in their heart as it has to the Zankaris, and to treat it as such.

Next: 20 Essential Tips To Keep In Mind Before Climbing Everest (Lest We End Up Six-Feet Under)