They accomplished their mission to walk on frozen river

To swim in a river may not be that difficult. But walking on a frozen river in sub-zero degree temperature certainly is.

No wonder, when four adventure sports enthusiasts-- three from Odisha capital Bhubaneswar and one from Visakhapatnam in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh-- recently completed a 70-km walk on an icy river in Jammu and Kashmir, they felt absolutely elated.

“The journey was tough but certainly satisfying at the end,” said Susanta Kumar Das, leader of the four-member team which participated in “Mission
Zanskar”, a walking expedition on the frozen river of Zanskar, a tributary of the Indus River located at an altitude of 3,500 metres from the sea level in the Leh-Ladakh region of the Kashmir valley. 

Arpita Mohapatra, the only woman and youngest member of the team, agree with her leader. While Arpita is in her 30s, the other three in the team were over 50 years. “It was an experience one would not be able to forget easily in one’s lifetime,” she maintained.

Susanta and Arpita had past trekking experience in the Himalayan range being part of two unique expeditions--Mission Sakhyam in 2010 and Mission Sikhar two years later.
V N Pratap, who hails from Visakhapatnam is an amateur trekker and a
retired central government employee, was the oldest member of the team. Dilip K Dhirsamanta, a Bhubaneswar-based fashion and wildlife photographer who was the fourth member of the team, had no previous experience in trekking.

The uniqueness of Mission Sakhyam, which was organised near Saurkundi pass in Himachal Pradesh located at a height of 12,900 feet from the sea level, was the participating team included a few mentally challenged youth. Similarly, three visually challenged young men were part of the group which participated in the Mission Sikhar on Mt Stok Kangri in the Leh-Ladakh region.

“The prime objectives of Mission Sakhyam and Mission Sikhar were to show the world that disability is not a disadvantage so far as adventure sport is concerned and disabled people, like normal human beings, can compete in challenging tasks like trekking in treacherous conditions,” said Susanta, who had also led both the missions.  
But, the Mission Zanskar was organised for a different reason. “The mission was primarily aimed at knowing the topography, people, wildlife and biodiversity of the region,” Susanta said.

Despite half of the team members having past experience in trekking expeditions in high altitude locations, the four had taken no chances and had begun their preparations for the January-end mission in October itself. The preparations included training in physical and mental toughness which was extremely essential as they had to deal with incle­ment weather conditions at Zanskar-- the temperature sometimes could go down to minus 30 to 35 degree Celsius. “It, in fact, gave an illusion of Antarctica,” said both Susanta and Arpita.

The team’s week-long journey on the frozen river bed, however, was not that easy as they had to negotiate some stretch of the river which was not frozen. “We had to be very careful as there was a possibility of slipping into the unfrozen but extremely cold water. A fall would have been fatal,” said Arpita.

The trip was also a memorable one for the young woman as she had to make some sacrifices to be part of the mission. “The public school in Bhubaneswar where I was working as a sports instructor did not grant me leave. But I was determined to make the trip and in the process I lost my job. However, I have no regrets because the trip was an experience of a lifetime,” she said with a smile.

For the four trekkers, the mission was also satisfying for another reason as they could see some rare wild animals during the walk in the Zanskar valley, which is part of Kargil district in Jammu and Kashmir. “The frozen river is a part of Hemis National Park and is unique for its biodiversity. During the trekking, we were lucky to see several species of mammals like Himalayan ibex, Ladakh urial, blue sheep and birds like white-capped redstart, yellow-billed chough and Hima­la­yan griffon. All these species belong to endangered categories,” said Susanta, who is also a wildlife enthusiast and regular bird watcher. He frequents prominent migratory bird sanctuaries in Odisha like the Chilka lake almost every year.

In the end, the team had a piece of advice for other trekkers who intend to visit Zanskar and walk on the frozen river. “They should go there as early as possible because they may not find the frozen river in the coming days. It may,
I am afraid, turn into another water-filled river under the impact of global warming. Moreover, trekkers should also not leave anything in Zanskar because that will be more hazardous for the mountain ecosystem,” Susanta said.

After successfully finishing Mission Zanskar, the team is now contemplating another new venture-- a trekking expedition on the dangerous Siachen Glacier. For that, they have to take the help and permission of the Indian Army. “We have already begun preliminary work for the new mission and hopefully we will be
successful in that too,” said Arpita and Susanta. Like every adventure sport enthusiast and trekker they too have an ultimate ambition of going on a trekking expedition in the frozen continent of Antarctica.

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