Himalayan Ice Highway

The winter journey along India's Chadar

During winter, India's Zanskar Valley is largely cut off from the world due to snow and ice covering the roads. Transport to the valley is unavailable - only a walk along the frozen Zanskar River will get you there. This means a precarious walk of five to five days - given perfect conditions from Leh, Ladakh, the closest major settlement with an airport. 

 

Temperatures can dip below minus 35 Celcius during a Himalayan winter as altitudes where human settlements are average around 3000 - 4000 metres. 

 

The Chadar - frozen river - has been used for centuries by Zanskari traders selling their famous butter in Leh. However, times have changed and now most Zanskari's on the chadar are tour guides for the burgeoning domestic Indian tourism market. However, most tourists only spend a day or two on the river and head back to Leh. 

Zanskari locals still use the river to get in and out of Zanskar during winter - but roads under construction post-2020 could change that very soon. This is good news for Zanskar as medical attention and other services during winter come to a halt. 

 

In 2019, I was fortunate enough to travel in and out of the Zanskar Valley via the Chadar - a necessary journey given the project I was working on in Zanskar. Things are changing fast, however, and as the world grows warmer, the Chadar may be a thing of the past as each winter the ice is thinner and more unstable.

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About

Ashley Crowther is an Asia based documentary photographer and photojournalist and is one of the foremost storytellers documenting climate change and travel through photography.

 

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