Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.
If there is a paradise on earth, It is this, it is this, it is this”
- Amir Khusro, on Kashmir
What do you do when a calling's time has come? When every sign in everyday life points to it, every page you turn has its story, every picture reflects its lofty peaks, every part of your body screams for its sweet embrace?
You listen. And you just go.
We craved for a glimpse of the mighty Himalayas. To try and get behind-the-scenes and go off the paved roads. To pay homage to these mighty mountains from a tent under the stars somewhere. We instinctively turned to Indiahikes, and prepared ourselves as much as we possibly could.
You don't take the mountains for granted. You never, ever conquer them. You prepare as much as you can, and then you submit yourself to them. Whatever they plan to do with you is what you get.
Courtesy for all photos: @bsridharan
Day 0: Base Camp, Sonamarg, 7,700ft
We bumped into the other trekkers as we waited to be picked up in Srinagar, and reality finally set in. This was going to happen after all. The ride to base camp was ridden with contradictions - my eyes drank in the beauty all around, my heart did a little jig in excitement, my brain pondered the many things that could go wrong. Basecamp arrived. And with it, stunning views of the Thejiwas Glacier as it sedately looked upon us in the fading light. As I stared up at it, I sent up a little prayer to the universe. Please let me stay strong enough to soak in all that you have to offer. Pretty please.
Day 1: Camp @ Nichnai, 11,800ft
Distance trekked: ~10km
It started out beautifully. We stopped at an army checkpoint almost as soon as we left and then trekked at a trot till we reached a dhaba. The heavens then decided to open up and out came our raincoats. We were just starting to enjoy the views, and now my rain cap covered most of my cone of vision. Heh. A series of ups and downs later, we huddled into the food tent at the camp and downed the much needed chai and snacks. Damp, tired and full of chai!
Day 2: Camp @ Vishnusar Lake, 12,000ft
Distance Trekked: ~12km
After trudging over a muddy Nichnai Pass at 13000+ft, the weather gods decided that it was time for snow! Pretty white flakes came down as we ate and disappeared as soon as we were done. Heh again. Onward from here, the vistas started opening up. Behind us, a snow clad king held court while his barren brown courtiers lined up neatly on either side. In front of us was a meadow where we could each trek in our own little communion space with the beauty around us. Hop, skip, do a little dance in glory hallelujah. Oh, and there was a river crossing. I don't like them. But I can't not go, can I now?! So I did. What did they say about these treks building character?! A glittering Vishnusar Lake and our campsite waited just beyond, complete with chai and snacks. We then spent a beautiful evening being whipped by a ferocious wind by the banks of this pretty, pretty lake. And in the night, we were battered by a storm. What a curiously interesting trek this was turning out to be.
Day 3: Camp @ Gadsar Lake, 12,200ft
Distance Trekked: ~12km
Up, up and awayyy! The hardest day of the trek, crossing Gadsar Pass at 13,800ft. The uphills are mostly ok for me, and I was able to catch a surreal frame of Vishnusar and Kishansar Lakes as I turned to look down into the valley. This image is stuck in my head to date, and it is what I turn to when I need a pick-me-up. We all celebrated atop the pass, of course, and then headed down along a path slippery as heck after the rain, but also surrounded by pretty wildflowers thanks to the same rain. Downhills are super hard for me, and I slipped and slithered my way through it all.
We saw many army men today. And then I began to think.
For the longest time now, I’ve searched high and low for a sense of national identity, but in vain. I’ve struggled with language, religion and any other vector of supposed “identity”. I only marvel at how varied we are as a country, and in that I’ve found a semblance of joy. But as I walked in these mighty mountains that straddle India and Pakistan and caught a glimpse of these soldiers who patrol this panorama, a surge of grateful tears rose in my eyes. So far from home and hearth, and in such punishing terrain and climate, these soldiers guard our freedom with an intensity that can only stem for a strong sense of belonging. And that freedom, which we take for granted every single day, is a huge part of being Indian.
Day 4: Camp @ Satsar Lake, 12,100ft
Distance Trekked: ~9km
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know dear, how much I love you; Please don't take my sunshine away!
- Johnny Cash
Oh sunshine! I'm a sunflower, out and out. I'm glad we saw rain and snow the first three days and that I overcame my fear and dislike of the wet elements, but I was starting to wish for a little bit of sun. And my wishes were granted in full measure, starting day 4!
We spotted Nanga Parbat today! The 9th highest mountain in the world, at 26,000ft+, across the LOC in Pakistan! It kept us company through much of the initial part of the trek, and we couldn't tear our eyes away from it. A lot of what called us here was mirrored in this peak in the short while that it stayed in our cone of vision.
This was an easy walk through meandering meadows to Satsar Lake, We also stopped for a long time at the army checkpoint just before our camp, and as my questions about Indian identity churned, it was a great moment to stop and feel at one with my country and its trekkers and the soldiers. A microcosm of what I should've taken back and applied in my life.
We lingered so much that it was a late, late lunch we arrived to at camp! We went through introductions and all that fun group stuff. It was such joy to hear the stories of the other trekkers and how many beautiful vistas were opening up in each one of them on this trek.
Day 5: Camp @ Gangbal Lake, 11,600ft
Distance trekked: ~10km
I looked up at the path we had to trudge through to get to Zaj Pass - boulders, boulders and more boulders. Now I'm terrible with boulders. I will climb them, but mostly on all fours and mostly about twice as slower as the rest. So our guide took me by the arm and pulled me to the head of the entire group, throwing me a challenge to keep up with him if he held my hand. Okay. Hmm. And off we went. And I kept up! I did! I did! I thanked my training stars and my steady quads this day.
From Zaj Pass, we could see Nundkol and Gangbal Lakes, with Mt.Harmukh towering in the distance. The descent into the valley was brutal for me. The previous six days caught up maybe?! We also lingered in the little meadow just before camp as it sunk in that this was the last day of the trek. We didn't want it to end. What would it take to do this often, or even forever, we wondered. Oh well :) I was beat at camp, but we hung out at the lake to catch the last bit of sunshine. This night was a great opportunity for the group's photographers to target their Milky Way shots. Clear skies, thank you :)
Day 6: End of Trek: Naranag, 7400ft
Distance Trekked: 11km
Last day! Like always, it was bittersweet. We tipped a hat to our guides Dushyanth, Ravi, Javed Bhai, Shravan Bhai, Farooq Bhai and the entire team of porters and cooks. Each of them worked long hours to ensure that we had a safe trek and well-fed stomachs. We can't thank them enough.
The day started with an interesting stream crossing with local goats. And then started a dusty, stony 4000ft descent in just 10km. Brutal, just brutal. I was helped in many places after I started slipping. Seriously, it felt like my feet had a mind of their own and wanted to shimmy down the slopes forgetting that there was a body attached. A slow one at that :) Anyway, we made it past the tree line and all the way to the finish.
Here, I gotta hand it to my fellow team mates who had already come down before us. They stood at the end and cheered those of us who straggled in, ready with high-fives and "you did it"s. Wow. Just wow. After all that, they still had the heart and energy to do this? In this mix of exhaustion and exhilaration, none of us has a finish line photo. One for the memories, I suppose
Here is a link to their Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. We are ardent fans of this company's people, efforts and organization to help lay people discover themselves and nature's beauty in a heady mix of experiences that can only be termed as a life lesson. Thank you, everyone at Indiahikes.
#trek #kashmirgreatlakes #indiahikes #himalayas #himalayantreks #kashmir