Trekking in Himalayas has been in my diary from my childhood, when my father first showed me the paradise one enters while walking in these giant, exotic structures. Till then I could never come out of this precious hallucination and thrive for feeling the load on my shoulders, cramping the feet and see the hidden beauties of these mountains.
Having read and heard so much about Kashmir before, I could admire the jaw dropping beauty of this place through photographs. And then I planned for the Kashmir Great Lakes (KGL) trek on July 2015. This along with Tarsar-Marsar trek is the main two routes one can opt for in the Kashmir Valley.
KGL trek is considered moderate to difficult in its level compared to other famous treks in the mountains. It is called great lakes because the route connects some of the high altitude lakes in the Kashmir valley. I booked for the second batch of the start of the season in 2015 and waited patiently till the day arrives for the journey.
Being a student I chose the most economical conveyance mode to reach Srinagar. I went to Delhi by train from Kolkata. I took another train from Delhi to reach Udhampur. From Udhampur by share taxi I reached Banihal from where local trains are available till Srinagar and Baramullah. Although economical but the mode is very time consuming because of obvious reasons. However the Pir-Panjal railway from Banihal to Srinagar has its own charm and it was worth spending time for such journey.
I arrived Srinagar at the evening (4th July, 2015) and next day we were supposed to leave for Sonmarg which is the first base camp for the trek. I spent the first half of the next day sight seeing some of the worth watching places of Srinagar and roaming around the streets of the city.
Day 1: Srinagar to Sonmarg (5th July, 2015)
By afternoon we had to report in front of the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) in Srinagar and there I met with the rest of our group who will be like a family till the end of this trip. Everyone of us shared the same excitement and became restless to reach Sonmarg. By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a group of three TATA Sumo took all of us from Srinagar to Sonmarg. The sun was about to set when we reached Sonmarg. The location of the base camp was very beautiful since it was set just beside the river flowing.
Our arrival in the base camp soon proceeded with the official introduction, and there were people from Chennai, Hyderabad, Bombay, Pune, Bangalore, Mangalore, Delhi and Kolkata. We were also introduced with our trek guides and other support staffs. Needless to say that we were delighted to start our journey and see the paradise on earth. Soon after dinner we confined ourselves in our respective tents to take a good rest before we start the next day.
Day 2: Sonmarg to Nichnai
Next day or the second day of the trek, is going to be the day to start the actual trek. We were all ready with our backpacks and lunch by 7:30 AM. The trek starts immediately after crossing the road, and goes up steeply on the slopes of the mountain. After walking for almost half an hour, we reach an army check post. The view of Sonmarg from this point was absolutely stunning, and since we have gained some height, the entire prospering valley, guarded by huge mountain ranges was visible.
The ascend continues after the check post and this time the trail enters a dense forest of Pine trees, with some occasional group of maple trees. The zig-zag soil track within the shadow of these huge pine trees slowly went up to reach the top of this mountain. The very start of our trek involved a good amount of gain in altitude as we left our base camp. We all struggled to adjust with the steepness on the very first portion of our trek, and thus we consumed lot more extra time to reach the ridge or the edge of the top. The top of this mountain has an extended valley, on the other side of which starts the slope of another mountain. We had our lunch on the valley, and kept looking on the mesmerizing Sonmarg and the associated snow covered peaks that was visible from the top of that ridge.
After crossing the valley and the last dhaba on this trail, the road went uphill and entered a dense forest of maple trees. Few minutes walk on this forest and then the road gently comes down to touch the bed of a river. Since we went too early on that season, the slopes of the mountains looked quite muddy due to everyday melting of the snow and the meadows were yet to take its full glory. Occasionally we had to cross certain patches of snow on the road also. Here the roads were often between some heaps of boulders. Moving smoothly through these boulders is an art in itself and not many are accustomed with this art. Soon we reached the river bed, where we spotted a nomads hut. This is the start of Nichnai belt. Facing the upstream, one can see the wide valley in between the two mountain ranges with meadows covering the entire valley. We had to cross the river patch, and follow a track on the right of the river which went little uphill to reach our camp set on the banks of river Nichnai.
As I reached the camp in Nichnai, it started raining. Till then every one of us have not arrived. It rained quite heavily for 15 to 20 minutes. When it stopped I stepped out my tent to have tea, and wheat we witnessed was splendid. Rainbow just behind our camp was greeting us.
Nothing can match the feelings of having a hot sip of coffee sitting on a boulder and witnessing some of the glamorous forms of nature. The day ended quickly after having dinner and as the darkness spread we quietly rested under our sleeping bags.
Day 3: Nichnai to Vishansar
The second day of the trek was told to offer us much better excitement compared to the day one as the road to vishansar has a good amount of snow along with vast meadows and river streams. Hoping to witness some mind blowing surroundings, we made ourselves ready to start by 7:30 AM. Just as we left our Nichani camp, we were told that we have to cross the river and take the road that goes uphill from the opposite banks. We crossed the river on our naked foot. The freezing cold water and the pebbles on the surface made it very difficult for us to even stand for some seconds. But somehow we all managed. After crossing the river, the road gently went uphill. Occasionally we used to look down to spot our last day's camp on the Nichnai belt, to feel the continuous gain in altitude.
As told by one of our trek guide, it was not long when we encountered complete snow covered tracks. The region completely submerged under snow appeared to be a shallow or a depressed portion of land between two parallel mountain ranges . The clear weather gave no obstruction to sun and the snow started melting much before than we expected, which otherwise was making the trail slippery. A great caution had to be taken by everyone, so that one does not fall down and massacre his or her clothes. On our way to Vishansar we met with some army personnel who were on a patrolling job till Gadsar. It was astonishing to see their speed on the snow. They were moving as if it is a rock solid ground, while we were on snail's speed. We had our lunch on a corner of a ridge from where it was complete down slope till the vishansar camp. Later we were told that it was the Nichnai pass.
After lunch, we had to descend. The exact trail was submerged under the snow and it became difficult even to form a new track. Then we decided to just slide down on snow and this way we can cover greater distance in a much shorter time. One by one we slid on the slope and with no hurdle whatsoever we came down the ridge. Still some snow covered region was yet to cross, but it was not so difficult since the major part is already done.
The route after the descent slowly enlarged to form a valley. A small stream was seen to be flowing at the foothills of the mountain range to our right side. The valley extended to its furthest corners with meadows all over it. It was fascinating to see the landscape change so fast in this region. We crossed a river which marks the end of the pass which we just came through.
The road after the river crossing was fully within the meadows at the foothills, of the associated mountains. Some small streams criss crossing the valley formed some marshy areas where little caution while walking had to be taken.After walking over an hour in this valley, we encountered a turn and on our left stood a massive field or a flat stretch of land. At one corner and on the foothill of the mountain flows a stream which originates from the Vishansar lake. Our camps were set at the edge of the stream. Vishansar lake was at the corner of the mountain range which our camp was facing. Keeping our backpacks in or respective tents, and refreshing ourselves with tea and snacks, we went to visit the lake. It was 15 minutes walk from the place where our tents were pitched. The lake stands magnificently, guarded by snow covered peaks on one side, and an extended ridge of a mountain on the other side. The small gap between these two sections has been covered by a small hill on whose other side lays the Kishansar lake. We didn't go to Kishansar lake that day because next day we were supposed to go Gadsar and en route we will see the lake.
Day 4: Vishansar to Gadsar
We were told that the trek from Vishansar to Gadsar is the toughest of all and we should start little early so that we reach Gadsar camp before sun set. As usual we were little enthusiastic and hoped to cover the distance without much difficulty. But the morning cold slowed us more than that was expected. By far Vishansar was the windy of all because the vast open land on which the camps were set. More than the temperature, the wind chill shook us all. The morning preparations before we start thus took some amount of time more than what we expected. But soon after the sun gained some height, the wind chill reduced creating the most romantic weather of the season.
We started by 8:00 AM and in groups we started moving forward. The route first climbs on to Vishansar lake. During morning, the sun faces the snow covered peaks which were on the other side of the lake, and it was absolutely stunning to see the reflection of the peaks on the clear lake with dark blue sky up head. We moved parallel to the lake. The route slowly crossed the small ridge at one corner of Vishansar lake and then it descended to arrive at one corner of Kishansar lake.
It was completely a marshy land after stepping down from the ridge. Since it was summer, the melting ice brings down a huge amount of soil creating a muddy track all over. But the most fearful fact was the mountain of almost 1000 ft high, which was standing in front of us, and we had to cross it and make our way towards the Gadsar. The Gadsar pass was the highest point on this mountain which was on our way. The road slowly went up the mountain making its way till the pass. The initial stretch was not so steep, but as it gained altitude, the steepness also increased. Moreover near the, there were heavy patches of snow and the steepness was close to 60 degrees. It was really difficult to move side wise on snow and that too on such steep slope. But as we gained height, the twin lakes, Vishansar and Kishansar both started appearing. The view of the twin lakes was magnificent and it became more beautiful from the top. But reaching the top of the pass was really a tough job. The steepness along with melting snow made it really difficult. A troop of army persons were also trekking on that route and they helped us beyond imagination to reach the top of the pass. We had our lunch on that spot. The best part of that pass is the stunning view of the twin lakes from that point.
After the pass, the road now descends with almost equal amount of steepness, as was during the ascend. But now it was entirely covered with snow. We did again what we did the last day. Sliding on the snow is again another art to learn. But we did pretty well and it was fun to do so. Most importantly we saved huge amount of time by sliding. Slowly the trail left the snow and entered meadows. We could see some small lakes little below the track on which we were walking. We continued walking through the meadows and reached Gadsar lake after some time. It was partially frozen when we visited, and its enormous size with tall cliffs on the other side of the lake made it more beautiful.
After Gadsar lake, the road maintained its elevation, and continued to run on the meadows formed on the slopes of mountains. It was the longest walk till day and the sun was about to set when we reached the Gadsar army camp. The army persons there greeted us with smile. The camp was still 15 minutes far from the army post, set on a large ground just beside the local stream.
Needless to say that it was by far the longest and toughest part of the trek. More so because of the task of climbing a pass, crossing a snow covered mountain top and then walking down on snow. Luckily we got a good weather to do this day otherwise it would have been impossible to cross Gadsar pass in bad weather. We were all tired and exhausted while we reached our camp. But the serenity of the place and the cool breeze during late evenings energized us. Later on the evening, an Army Jawan came to chat with us and he shared some lovely stories of his stay in this remote area.
Day 5: Gadsar to satsar
Next day we had to go to Satsar. As usual we started by 7:30 AM. The road initially go uphill covering few hair pin bends leaving the river and the valley on the right. We gained good amount of altitude within a short period of time. Fortunately the track was easy to walk on and within a short time we reached the top of the mountain.
The road now bends left and leaves the river valley. We were then walking on a flat trail of meadows surrounded by mountains. Towards our right was a small ridge and a small river stood flowing in between. The walk here was very gentle and we enjoyed every bit of walking on this green bed of grass with isolated mountains surrounding the region. Few minutes later we reached the edge of the ridge where we have to cross the river flowing and make our ways through an elevated piece of land to reach the Satsar army camp. This is the third line of defense before LOC and the same process of ID checking and questioning happens here. When we reached the camp it was almost 1:30 in the afternoon. Unfortunately the weather started becoming worse with heavy clouds started gathering towards the direction of Satsar lake. Seeing the adverse conditions, we decided to skip our lunch and started moving as fast as possible.
The drizzling started and hopefully it was not showering heavily. But the fog reduced our visibility and which otherwise reduced our speed as well. Moreover we were walking on piles of boulders all our way after the army camp. Due to the bad weather we could not see the Satsar lake properly. Satsar is actually a collection of 7 lakes. As we were walking just beside the lakes, we could sense its presence but hardly we could have its full view due to fog. Our camps were set just after the seventh lake ends, on a small ground between two small ridges. We reached the camp very early, and that day we were left with ample amount of time before the sun sets. All of us gathered in front of our tents and gossiped till dinner. Next day we have to go to Gangabal .
Day6: Satsar to Gangabal
The bad weather which started yesterday, was unfortunately continuing the next day. We became more depressed to see that it was raining in the morning, and the weather looked no where to get better within few hours. But we still decided to move on so as to avoid any harsh or even worse weather conditions. But we started little late that day. The start of the trek was again by crossing the river flowing beside our campsite and then a steep ascent followed us. Few minutes of climbing, we could spot the Naranag valley. Heavy mists and patches of clouds were seen floating all over the Naranag valley. But we had to take right and a 1000 ft steep ascent was awaiting us. We took the zig-zag track to reach the top of the first of the ridge line. We were told that two such ridge lines were left before we start descending. But after crossing the first ridge line, we encountered snow and soon the entire mountain slope seemed to be covered with snow.
The region looked entirely white, and the fog increased the whiteness much more. As we crossed the second ridge line, standing on a massive rock surface, we had our lunch. The worst part was to cross the final part of the ridge and reach the top of the mountain. But much to our astonishment, one of our trek guides, in the meantime created small steps on the snow surface because of which we could easily reach the top. Otherwise, it would have been a challenging task to climb the ridge line on such steep slopes of snow. Nontheless, we were happy to complete the tough part, and now we were left with a good descent of around 1500 ft from there. But we could not believe what we saw when we reached the top (Jajh Pass) and looked on the other side.
The weather was entirely different on the other side of the top, and the twin lakes (Gangabal and Nundkol) were standing with full glory. The green valley ended with the lakes at the farthest ends, which were covered by snow covered peaks on the other side. But the decent was not so easy as it looked like. The steep slippery track with loose boulders lying scattered on our way was making it very difficult. But we rather took it easy and slowed down our speed intentionally since the weather on this part was far better than what we had on the other side. Moreover, we had sufficient day light before we finish. It took more than an hour before we reached the base of the mountain, where we had to cross the stream. We rested for some time there and refilled our bottles and crossed the river. Just after crossing we had to climb a small elongated ridge on whose other side was Nundkol lake. Our camp was set beside the Nundkol lake.
Nundkol and Gangabal are twin lakes connected by a small stream. Gangabal lake was 20 minutes far away from Nundkol. On the other side of the Nundkhol lake lies the Harmukh peak. The Harmukh glacier hangs on the sides of the rocky edges of the mountain. We reached our camps by 5:00 in the evening. There we also met trekkers from other batches who were resting that day and the next day they will leave for Naranag. Since we didn't take any rest day, the next day is going to be our rest day and we have the entire day to casually stroll around the region.
Day 6: Rest day at Gangabal
Next day being the 'rest day' for us compelled us to sleep for some more time since we do not have to trek that day. The morning was cloudy and it was drizzling but the weather cleared soon. We could not have got better camping site when one wakes up to see the massive Harmukh peak in front with the glacier hanging on. Later that day we also visited the Gangabal lake which was really a massive lake.
Gangabal was the biggest of all the lakes that we have seen through this entire trek. The clear blue sky, patches of white clouds and the crystal clear water of the lake made the most enthralling combination. We remained glued to that place not wanting to leave and enjoy the moment as much as possible. The stream that connects these lakes, was very shallow near the Gangabal, which is also at the elevated position. But the stream gradually deepens while flowing towards Nundkol, and becomes a full-fledged water falls before it rushes to Nundkol lake. After lunch I alone took time to see the Nundkol lake properly, walking along its shores till I reached a cliff beyond which it was impossible for me to move forward.
Later in the evening we had our final group ceremony where we expressed our joys of performing this trek and we were handed a certificate for successful completion. After dinner we enjoyed some local Kashmiri songs sang by our trek guides and other support stuffs. Encircling the bon fire we danced to the tunes of different Kashmiri songs and enjoyed with the group as much as we can. This was our last official camping and we all sensed the immense joy that we had on our successful accomplishment of this trek. The task that looked impossible few days back was about to complete next day, and we are those privileged and yet blessed persons who could witness the glorious Kashmir through the tails of the great lakes. My dream of trekking Kashmir great lakes was finally true.
Day 7: Gangabal to Naranag
We all woke up to head back to the nasty civilization which never gave us so peace that we got in this mystical land of Kashmir, walking up through meadows, snow, lakes, in short heaven. But as we expected it was not going to be smooth since it was raining. We started with our rain coats on, and crossed the adjacent stream to start our day. We took the ridge which was on the right of the stream and walked steadily on the muddy tracks to hit a flat base. We continued to walk and descend further to reach the base of the tree line where we spotted a bungalow although locked. Slowly we entered the pine forest and glimpses of civilization starts rolling in front of us. We continued our way into the forest, and for a good amount of time the track maintained its altitude till we reach a dhaba. This dhaba is the last one on the route to Gangabal for Naranag. A hot cup of tea and some snacks were absolutely necessary to quench our thirst and warm ourselves due to shivering cold because of raining. After the dhaba, the trail becomes yet more slippery and it also becomes extremely steep. The trail was well within the pine forest, and within half an hour we could descend almost 3000 ft. At around 2:00 pm we reached Naranag and bid adieu to our trek guides and support stuffs without whom the trek was impossible. Their immense help and constant inspiration made us to complete and achieve our dreams. Although we were exhausted but we were also sad to realize that we have finished for what we have been waiting for all these days.
The mountains, the people of these mountains have changed us all. We rediscovered ourselves in a whole new way, and we were happy that the change was ultimately good. Everyone of us have some problems of our own, maybe some of these problems will stay till the end. And we all wanted to be away from all these mental harassment and enjoy our lives and leave peacefully. These mountains have given us such pleasures, a complete worry free world and shaped us more towards perfection. The freedom, that we enjoyed in these mountains are hard to be forgotten.
The ride from Naranag to Srinagar was flowing with such emotions that were attached to the trek, and slowly we again entered to the civilization which hardly did any good to mankind.
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Here is a video in which I have compiled the photographs to make a photo tour of the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek.