The frozen Zanskar river, part of the Indus watershed, has been used by the people of Zanskar—Tibetans who settled in the Zanskar valley over 1000 years ago, around Zangla and Padum—to go back and forth to communicate and trade with the outside world when all access is shut.
This route has been in operation for centuries. The locals call it the ëhighwayí, owing to the heavy human movement of both the locals (Zanskaris), and intrepid research/exploration groups ñ during the winters, despite the harsh conditions.
The city of Leh is the destination for most of the Zanskari tradesman. Leh was once a major stopover along trade routes along the Indus Valley and Tibet. Salt, grain, cashmere wool, indigo, and silk were the major trade items.
Buddhism is the dominant religion in Leh and Zanskar. Throughout the route of the Chadar, the valley is dotted with cairns, shrines, icons, stone etchings, and prayer flags of Buddhist teachings.
As the highway is operational only for a few months in the year, one will not find any villages, but only makeshift settlements en route. The valley sometimes opens out to vast expanses. Even the day temperatures rarely go past 3-4C; at night it dips severely, down to -20C.
These porters are the swiss knife that accompanies the trekkers; they are on their toes for the entire day, hauling supplies, preparing food, and even providing emergency rescue services. They are a peek into the ancient and into nature, as their customs and living habits still reflect the ruggedness that has defined these mountains.
This gallery was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's September/October 2013 print edition.