time, assembled a wooden sledge. They set up a modest kitchen with a few vessels, a kerosene stove and insulated containers to carry water. We had with us a lot of ready-to-eat food — semi-cooked chicken, instant noodles, theplas and nuts. That night, as we sat down to eat, it was a surreal feeling as looming mountains towered over us and an impregnable silence reigned all around – we seemed to be the only living beings around as the world hibernated.
Life in the region is arduous in winter. Roads are snowed up, connectivity is minimal and even getting daily supplies is difficult. But, when you watch the locals, you feel inspired. We had planned this trek on our own, so it was a learning experience to see how they handled it. We met people going about their daily lives along the route, without a care about the difficulty of the trek. Children hurried along, part walking, part riding on a sledge, breaking the silence with their cheerful prattle as they made their way to schools. What was a challenge for us, was a way of life for them.
The first night, we camped at Tillet, where the Zanskar river meets a small tributary. Next morning, Chosfal, our guide, woke us up early. Freshening up was an ordeal. If one doesn’t do it quickly, you end up with frost on your face. After a quick breakfast of Ladakhi bread and tea, we were on our way.
The trek is a lesson in discipline. Already at an altitude of 11,500 feet, it does not involve any climbing, but the cold can be unforgiving. The route is treacherous too. By February, the river begins to thaw, so there’s always the possibility of stepping onto thin ice and falling in the river. As we soldiered on, we had to keep rehydrating ourselves, because even though one doesn’t perspire or feel thirsty frequently, one needs to keep replenishing the body salts.
Our schedules were timed to perfection. We never walked for more than three hours at one go, interspersing it with adequate tea breaks,