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I saw the trail of trekkers ahead of me as they balanced themselves under the rock and between the remaining sheet of solid ice. It was February 2016, deep winter for a Ladakhi frozen river valley. But unfortunately, not all of the river was frozen that year.
The mighty river in the deep arid extent of the Himalayas is a yearly wintery extravaganza for avid trekkers around the world. The turquoise river Zanskar freezes from the source until it meets its buddy, the river Indus, and together they flow from the mountainous valley of Ladakh, India into Pakistan and finally to the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean.
The course of the beautifully brutal Chadar Trek is to pace upstream atop a frozen blanket of ice that forms on the river Zanskar and return back to the start point. The trek generally extends to upto 10 days where the temperature is usually always in the sub-zeroes. Beauty meets danger and a mighty heart of adventure meets freezing breeze of the cuprous valley is essentially the essence of the Zanskar Valley – arguably one of the most dangerous treks in the world.
It was Day 03 of Chadar Trek, and Day 02 of my godawful menstrual cycle. God blessed me with a woman’s body with the soul of ten wolves. Like most ladies of the planet, this day of the cycle is, what I call, the day of the ‘Red Wedding’. Wearing a cotton pad between one’s legs and prancing on rocks and slipping on ice should become an Olympic sport!
Studying the formation of the rocks and ice, I felt chills on my spine despite the -5o Celsius. I looked around and saw my brother about 20 feet behind me with his bright crimson jacket that contrasted the pale ice and azure waters of the merciless Zanskar river.
Both of us had slipped and fallen a bunch of times before we perfected our penguin-like-walks on the ice along with our 50 pound backpack strapped behind us. I remember he was the first to injure his knee, whereas I had already managed to sprain my knee and lost two of my toenails in all of times I had fallen. It was too cold to even feel pain. The river frightened all of the ten wolves in me.
I tried to look for another way to make it ahead. I took a few steps back to judge the rocks around the side of the cliff. I did see a spot where I could get a good grip to climb over and avoid crawling on the ice altogther. However, to my disappointment, as I neared the foot of the rock, I noticed the ice was significantly thin and the water was deep enough to make my climb far more fatal.
Chucking the idea of Plan B, I continued to the part where the trekkers had crawled. To my surprise, they had all made it across to the other side and there was no one to guide me through.
I slowly bent to my knees, maintaining my balance with my trekking pole and the backpack strapped behind me. I crawled my way under the rock and tried to slide my body through like I saw the others do before me. I could hear the river currents cackle right beside me as I pushed through.
All this while, a part of my brain was preoccupied with the crime scene in my pants that I hadn’t realize the rock touching my backpack. Before I could come to my senses of the precarious rock and ice sandwich I was in, I heard my brother call my name from behind me sounding terrified for me, “Aishwarya!!” I immediately snapped out and reassessed myself.
Here’s what was happening, I was on the verge of falling into the crazy turquoise river like a piece of a lettuce slipping out of a burger, while on my period, and my brother watching right behind me.
The river current was so volatile, I was sure if I fell, none of my swimming gold medals can save me from an untimely end. Furthermore, when I do fall, the last thing my brother will see is my period blood staining the pristine river of the Himalayan valley. What a way to go, right? I wasn’t entirely sure what I was more afraid of – the embarrassment or quite literally, death!
My quick instincts and reflexes came to my aid and I saw myself grabbing onto the edge of the ice sheet that met the rock on the inside. Using that as a guiding edge, I maintained a small distance from the other edge of the ice sheet that met the water and slid through the rocks to make it to the other side.
With my new found confidence of narrowly escaping death, once I made it to the other side, I guided my brother to make it out comfortably. I, later, completed the fear-fueled yet life-altering Chadar Trek learning something valuable about myself. No matter how vulnerable I may be and regardless of the scariest of places I would find myself in, I can always come to my rescue!