Kashmir Great lakes
This was a first visit and trek experience for me in the Kashmir region and people are not wrong when they say Kashmir is close to heaven. This is a monsoon trek and is classified as a moderate- difficult trek as you cover 73kms over 6 days traversing through serene breathtaking views all along. Green lush meadows. Snow covered peaks. Turquoise lakes. The gradient does take a toll on the knees. And you are at the mercy of weather gods. When you think you are having a bad day getting drenched walking in the rain, a beautiful rainbow will greet you by the time you reach your compsite and you'd forget every ordeal of the day. When you dread more rains, sunny warm days welcome you. At the zenith of a pass, you may find contrasting weather, sunny on one side of the ridge and misty, cold and windy on the other side. Be cautious, to not get blown off the mountain :p. Clouds seem to run like a timelapse on the meadows. Treading over boulder patches or downhill on shale might feel scary. The night sky so clear, glittering with stars against the silhouette of the mountains so dreamlike. You might even be able to see the milky way disc. This trek will thrill you, surprise you, mesmerize you to the very core. Finishing this trek definitely felt like an accomplishment. Most of the days, we camped by the riverside; having freshly caught trout fish was the much needed reward on the last day. Our trek organiser Cliffhangers were brilliant in their service, the food, the guides, helpers, everyone. Maximum altitude gained is about 14k but the length and the terrain will test you as a trekker. Id rather not bore you with more facts about the trek and let the pictures speak for themselves. After coming down from the trek, had explored Srinagar for a day.
Few pointers I'd like to share -
1) The trek starts from Sonamarg and ends at Naranag. I checked with the transport authorities; you can find local transport (buses or shared taxi) from Srinagar till Sonamarg but not from Naranag back to Srinagar. So best to book transport with the trek organizer. Ours was Cliffhangers and they are renowned trek operator based in Kashmir. It's best to book directly through them and not via a third party like trekkers of India, thrillophilia etc.
2). A lot of people in this trek wore khaki/ commando print clothes and they were asked to change. Being a security sensitive area it's advised not to wear such clothes in this trek.
3) Prepaid connections don’t work, only postpaid works in J&K
4) Security checks may take up to 1.5-2 hours before you reach your boarding gate. So plan accordingly before leaving for the airport.
5) Autos are expensive in Srinagar. A thumb rule I noted is they charge around 30rs/km during daytime and around 50rs/km after sundown.
6) You can skip Shalimar garden and visit Nishat Garden as it is bigger and better positioned with backdrop of the hills and dal lake in front. You can also take a shikara ride till here (btw your shikara driver can arrange for hookah during the ride). Pari Mahal, Hazratbal dargah and Shankaracharya temple are some of the other favoured spots. There’s also a double decker bus service that starts at about 3pm from Dal Lake (gate no 1) to Nishat Garden and back. There’s no booking available for it online (yet).
7) Don't forget to try some exotic dishes like wazwan, rista and buy dry fruits, apples, qahwa, saffron items in wholesale. There's a market lined right outside the airport where you can get cheaper prices as compared to some shops in the city. A box of green apples (~4.5kg) cost 250rs. Buying multiple qahwas or attar may cost you 200-250 apiece.
I'm sure there's tons of other useful information, nooks and crannies to visit, hidden gems to explore and what not this city has to offer. Urge avid travelers to share their experiences and wisdom in comments that may help in future travels to this paradise that is Kashmir. Happy traveling & trekking!