by Hajra Ahmad
Home to the legendary, yet treacherous, Chadar Trek, the Zanskar region of Ladakh has earned the reputation of a trekker’s delight.
Stirring images of the Phugtal Monastery, and the river, both in full spate and frozen, of the lush valleys and the Zanskari people have enticed me from the time I was at school and this year, I finally managed to do the trek for myself.
The trek usually begins at Lingshed and culminates in Phugtal, but I undertook it the other way around. In fact, I was able to reduce two days travel time to two hours by chartering a helicopter to my starting off point. It all began at Padum from where we headed to Phugtal and then across the Zanskar through Pishu, Hannmur, ending finally at Lingshed.
The experience was phenomenal. From traversing the most treacherous paths and crossing deep gorges and valleys to witnessing rivers of the most unreal blue and sleeping under the milky way, the entire trek was really something else; the delight of a hot shower at the end of those ten days made it sweeter still. It wasn’t all milk and honey though. Ascending nearly 16,000 feet at some passes and walking at least 20 kilometres a day, the trek tested my wits and guts, making me question why I embarked on this adventure in the first place.
In retrospect though, I can say without a shred of doubt that it was well worth it. Not only did I witness first-hand the glories of a phenomenal terrain, but I also met some wonderful people and experienced inspirational no-waste lifestyles. More than anything else, I learned what I myself am capable of enduring both physically and mentally; that when push comes to shove the human body and mind can surprise us in more ways than one.
Hajra Ahmad studied photography in Ooty, a small hill town in South India. She became inspired by the darkroom and now specialises in travel and wildlife photography as well as often shooting hotels and interiors. Her photography has enabled her to travel to many new places and her work continues to evolve with each shoot.