For the record, I have always considered myself a beach person. Being born and brought up on the quaint, little coastal town of Pondicherry, I had always felt my heart do a flip-flop when I’m at the beach.
I made going to the shore a regular part of my summer, and even sometimes on fall and winter. Whether it was going to party with friends or going alone to walk by the beach, the sand and surf has always been my favourite. I love the sea view to the point that I keep calendar photos of endless sea vistas around, for those days I can’t be by the waves.
That all changed when I took a trip to Himalayas this summer. Yes, a few pictures of snowcapped mountains, some views of the turquoise blue lakes and first-hand accounts of a trek later, I blindly booked my tickets to Srinagar, in Kashmir. I had booked the Tarsar Marsar trek with India Hikes. The mesmerizing views of Tarsar lake in Kashmir had to be witnessed for real. The folklore, the wispy clouds and the utterly stunning views of Himalayas made them hard to resist.
I literally memorized the itinerary, calculated the kms that I would have to walk, went through all the videos about the trek on youtube and what not. But when it comes to creating unexpected twists to my travel stories, God always plans it out meticulously I guess. He never fails to surprise me.
The day I landed in Srinagar, I got landlocked in the city. All of us were equally clueless why the route to the base camp of my trek was blocked. There are so many days of hartals that happen in Srinagar that one couldn’t even keep track of what the bandh was about. Out of my 10 day trip to Kashmir, 3 days were hartal for different reasons. So you can imagine. The morning that I was supposed to start the trek, I was still sitting in my hotel room waiting anxiously to be taken on some trek, any trek possible. Each passing minute was a pain, not knowing what will happen next.
When I was told about the opportunity to take another trek, the Kashmir Great Lakes trek, instead of the one I had booked, I immediately lapped up at the chance. I had no idea about Kashmir Great Lakes trek or what to expect or how difficult it is. I was only told I would be seeing 7 lakes instead of 3. That was motivation enough.
But little did I know, that they’d make me earn every inch of my journey to them. It was a difficult trek. I was down with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) the very first day of the trek itself. Am so glad I was able to push myself and finish the trek. The whole hike was breathtakingly beautiful and I’m so grateful that I got to see the chunk of India that I have been craving to see for a very long time. During the course of 10 days, I realized onething,
I LOVE THE MOUNTAINS
I have jotted down my experience on this 6-day trek (ideally it’s an 7-day trek with one buffer day, but due to the aforementioned reasons, I completed the trek without the buffer day)
Day 1: Sonamarg to Nichnai camp (7800 ft to 11482 ft)- 10-12 kms
We were taken in a van till Sonamarg, from there the main road cut off into a muddy lane with a side track following the river sind. The trail starts at the base near the stream and quickly goes up. Once I climbed a few meters, the entire Sonamarg town with its alpine trees and snow clad peaks came into a gorgeous 360 degree view. For the first 3kms, the trail was uphill, then we went through a maple pine forest followed by 2 kms descent.
We had our lunch at one of the brooks on the way. This area is called Shekdur. By the time we sat for lunch, I was down with severe headache and nausea. I had taken some pills but it didn’t seem to work. Post lunch there was a gradual climb of 5-6kms upto Nichnai. I really couldn’t visualize the last 2 kms of my trek to Nichnai. My brain and body had given up by then. The pain was excruciating and every step was a task. I literally dragged myself to the campsite. I remember falling flat inside my tent and everything blacked out that minute.
Day 2: Nichnai to Vishnusar lake via Nichnai Pass (11,500 ft to 12,100ft)-13kms
We started walking quite early in the morning. Diamox had started to work on me, the pain had reduced by morning and I was able to see and feel things finally. The first task in hand was to cross Nichnai pass which was at 13,500 ft. The trail slowly ascends as we moved through the meadow. The scenery kept changing all the way and it sure was a treat for the senses. Once we crossed the pass, there was a descend followed by a long flat meadow walk ending near Vishnusar lake. After descending from Nichnai pass, the trail took us through another river. This entire scene was a beauty to behold forever.
The first impression you get on seeing the Vishnusar lake is that it is huge. It’s bordered by 4 mountains. The reflections are wonderful when the lake is still. The color of the lake depends on the time of the day and the clouds in the sky. The minute you set your eyes on the clear blue lake, you realize all the pain in the world is worth it.
PS: The lake cannot be seen from the campsite. You need to climb a bit to take the view of the lake.
Day 3: Vishnusar to Gadsar via Kishansar lake and Gadsar pass (11,800ft to 13,800 ft) – 10-12kms
All my mornings began around 6am at the camp. We usually started our trek around 7am so freshening up to having breakfast, packing the bag to folding the tent, everything had to happen within the given time frame. This was the day that I was truly glad to have taken this trek to Himalayas.
So there is a twin to Vishnusar lake which is Kishansar. This lies about 500 feet higher than Vishnusar lake. It takes about 45 minutes to reach Kishansar lake from the camp site. The walk was pretty easy and the view was gorgeous. The lake keeps changing its colour as we kept walking through the meadow to the other side.
From Kishansar, we took the pencil thin track traversing through the opposite mountain. The climb was a difficult one but by the 3rd day you’re almost used to walking longer distances. All you have to do is just keep walking without giving up. I absolutely loved all the breaks I took in between. The view each time was simply fabulous. Just for this day, I wouldn’t mind taking the trek all over again.
As you progress, you will get to see both the lakes in full view, next to each other. What a sight! It truly is breathtaking. I almost teared up when I looked at the view from the top. It is a magical experience and can never be put into words. This also is the highest point in your trek at 13,800 ft.
On the other side of the pass there are a couple of small lakes and peaks. We halted at Gadsar lake for lunch. This lake is one the prettiest lakes of Kashmir with its turquoise blue colour. Yellow flowers spring up on one side while snow slabs fall into the lake from the mountain on the other side. The view looked like it was right out of a fairytale. We continued walking to our campsite which was in an Army area. Post our mandatory checks at the army check-point, we reached our campsite.
Day 4: Gadsar to Satsar lake (12500 ft to 12000 ft) – 12km
The landscape is so captivating in this part of the trek. There are isolated mountains with flat grassy meadows blooming with yellow flowers. The scene reminds you of Switzerland where most of the Bollywood songs were shot in the late 90’s. Every bit of the trail is so pretty that you’ll never get enough of it. On a clear day, you could see Karakoram ranges and a glimpse of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan occupied part of Kashmir.
For obvious reasons, there is an army check-post before the Satsar camp. Now, Satsar is itself is a group of 7 interconnected lakes situated in a narrow alpine valley stretching north to south. A few minutes from the army check-post is the first of the Satsar lake which is pretty big in size and amazingly beautiful. We camped very close to the stream and this was also the coldest of all the campsites.
While others went on to experiment with some boulder climbing, I spent my evening painting the scenery of the camp by the stream.
Day 5: Satsar to Gangabal and Nandkol lake (12,000 ft to 11,500 ft) – 12km
The terrain was bouldery and the initial 2 hours of the climb was just boulder hopping. This was a fun day, though the ascent was a steep one, since it was boulders, it was easy and exciting. It started raining when we crossed the pass and continued the descend. The view of Gangabal and Nandkol twin lakes from the top of the ridge looked mesmerizing with the clouds constantly playing hide and seek. The view was one for the books, to be cherished forever.
Gangabal and nandkol lakes are closer to civilization, hence as you get closer, you will notice that it is not as clean as the previous ones. You will see a lot of plastic wrappers lying around. I pity how humans don’t value nature as it should be. I fail to understand how people can throw trash in a place as beautiful as this.
I spent the rest of the evening by taking a dip in the icy cold waters of Nandkol lake and by playing with the other camp mates in the tent.
PS: Do me a favour and make sure not to throw any plastic waste in the area. If possible, do pick up the plastic and dispose them once you’re back in the city.
Day 6: Gangabal to Naranag (11,500 ft to 7450 ft) – 15km
This was the last day of the trek. It started as a gradual descent, a deep descent and went on to a deeper descent through the trail. When we started the trek the weather was cloudy with the sun popping in and out. But as we progressed, what started as a drizzle turned into a continuous downpour. This made the descent even tougher.
The ground was muddy, slushy and slippery. Descents are in general dangerous and then when it rains, hell’s break loose. What should have been a 5-hour walk turned into a 9 hour descend. As we kept walking, we saw traces of civilization with more and more people walking in the opposite direction towards Gangabal lake. The last stretch was really an endurance test, not just the muddy trail but the path was never ending and my legs start begging me to stop at some point. We finally reached Naranag, the base from where we hopped on to our cab to Srinagar.
The trek to Himalayas taught me so many things starting from the fact we need to be patient when things go out of control, to be grateful for even the small things in life. Every morsel of food matters and the most important thing is to never ever give up, because giving up is not an option, not when you are in the mountains.
Kashmir Great Lakes trek is the prettiest of all the treks in India. It is pristine and untouched, the lakes are surreal and a rare sight. Kashmir is truly a heaven on earth. On a given chance, I would anyday repeat the trek just to witness the mesmerizing lakes of Kashmir.