When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos

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Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

There lies a certain joy in being a traveller. A traveller undertakes journeys to steal experiences and gather stories. A traveller learns to expect the unexpected, fears not to tread unforeseen paths and overcomes challenges on the way with a smile on her lips and a willing heart.

Hence, when clouds burst over Sonmarg in Kashmir making travel impossible and weather conditions suggested it wouldn’t be safe to trek up the Himalayas, I heaved my bag and myself on to a goods carrier and took off to explore the ‘real’ Kashmir that lies beyond its touristy façade.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos 1/1 by Diana Banik
A positive attitude and the desire to explore unanticipated paths makes a journey memorable for ever

Day One: Sonmarg to Nichnai

My first stop was a green meadow overlooking Sonmarg valley. I realised that the only way ahead was going to be up the mountains.

From here on, my journey would be one on foot and up the mountains

Photo of Kashmir Great Lakes Trek | Trekking In Kashmir, Srinagar by Diana Banik

The next stop was my campsite for the night.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Day Two: Nichnai to Vishnusar Campsite

First morning in the mountains, it dawned upon me that for the next few days I would wake up in the lap of the mountains, each night spent at a different campsite.

First morning in the mountains after a very chilly night, saw me wrapped up and still shivering.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

I crossed the treacherous Nichnai Pass, walking at the edge of a mountain that had no path for humans to pass. I walked through meadows accompanied by shepherds and their grazing sheep.

Walking through the meadows, I let my thumping heart relax for a while

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Where is the road? I asked. From where I stood, I could see no trail where I could land my feet.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Snow fields and melting glaciers greeted me as I left the green hills and valley behind.

Walking towards snow land

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Navigating through snow and ice-cold water and trying to save my shoes from getting wet at the same time is no easy task

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Dumbfound! Each time I blinked, I blinked hard to make myself believe that I was not on the other side of a screen; this was real.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

The Vishnusar campsite completely bowled me over. The last rays of the sun breathed some warmth before it set behind the mountains.

End of a day of walking

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

After the first night, I didn’t think that a campsite could be any more awe-inspiring. But it was and would continue to be.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

I stood and watched the sun disappearing behind the tall mountains. Sunsets high up in the mountains are the most breath-taking experiences, perhaps only sometimes overshadowed by sunrises.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Day Three: Vishnusar towards Gadsar

Waking up, I thought, “I could get used to this!”

The Sun calling out to the mountainside, gingerly nudging the giant mountains to wake up from the slumber of a very cold night.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

The twin lakes of Vishnusar and Kishansar shone like a mirror in the early morning light.

The perfectly calm water of Vishnusar Lake, giving away no hint of its depth, reflected the surrounding mountains and the sky

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Kishansar Lake just half a kilometre away from its twin, presented itself as a balm for eyes have somehow managed to turn themselves away from Vishnusar.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

The valley leading from the twin lakes and towards the Gadsar pass is a delightful walk.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

I then began my climb up the extremely narrow and steep mountain path towards Gadsar Pass.

The twin lakes from the top of the ridge are an overwhelming sight. Persistent rains had changed the colour of the lakes, which are otherwise a surreal blue when seen from the Gadsar Pass.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

The other side of the pass was snowy white. To make the descent faster, I didn’t run; I plonked my backside on the freezing snow and glided down.

The only way down is to slide

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

First view of the lakes on the other side

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

The Yamsar Lake and the blue it flaunted, was nothing like I had seen. A soothing and yet stark shade of turquoise perhaps, the remnants of ice sheets only making it more difficult to turn the eye away.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

The sun had set on the campsite. The tall mountains surrounding the modest campsite had curtained the last of the sun’s rays. Campsites on high mountains are bereft of humans. There is only the abundant presence of animals, of the wild forces of nature, of green, white and brown.

Approaching the campsite

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

A lone horse grazing before retiring for the night

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Myriad shades

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Day Four: To Gadsar Lake

Treading past valley of flowers, I felt rejuvenated. The entire mountainside was covered in a green blanket and finely dotted with flowers. An abundance of tiny lakes and mountain streams greeted me from time to time.

Valley of flowers

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Let me take in the view

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Numerous small lakes dots the mountain-scape

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Mountain streams gushed past, sometimes challenging me to cross the icy cold waters and sometimes just walking alongside me for some distance before taking a turn and disappearing

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

A fog-covered campsite came to sight that evening. It meant that I wouldn’t be able to trek to the much-acclaimed Gadsar Lake that evening.

The fog accompanied me all day

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

For-covered campsite

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

That's all I could see

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

But the gods were merciful; the dark clouds dispersed for just about enough time for me to live this once-in-a-lifetime moment next to one of the most mesmerising, magical lakes of Kashmir.

The hike up to Gadsar Lake, hoping to catch a view

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

And the clouds shrouded the lake. I stood there and waited.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Finally, they did. I could feel warm tears slide down my cold cheeks.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Nothing had prepared me for this moment of overwhelm

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Surreal!

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

I just sat on a hillock wondering about what had just transpired by the lake when I had let my feelings flow down my cheeks. This journey wouldn’t be the same again.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Hot samosas greeted me as i reached the campsite

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Day Five: Towards Gangbal and Nandkol Lakes

I began the day navigating through boulders.

For close to two hours, I navigated huge rocks, trembling rocks, and deceitful rocks without breaking an ankle.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

I stood there knowing that I will not stand there again

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

My heart cried a little as I stopped to take rest and I looked back at the place where I had just been

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

But I had to continue walking

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Crossing the last glacier

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

I reached gentle green hills with a valley in between whispering to me that the tall snow-clad mountains had said goodbye.

This view too would linger for long

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

I stood on the Jaj pass from where the descent would begin. Clouds floated above me, teasing me with glimpses of the Gangbal and Nandkol lakes below and Mount Harmukh in front of me.

First view of the Gangbal and Nandkol lakes from Jaj pass I was lost for words

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

In full view

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

On a clear day, the view is magnificent, but I wasn’t complaining. I liked the dreaminess the clouds lent to nature’s canvas displayed in full glory in front of me.

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

The long descent on gravel and through narrow mountain path to the final campsite of the trek

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

This was going to be the last campsite

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

I perched myself on the bank and stared hard at the lake extending far beyond my eyes could see, bringing back memories of all the evenings gone by in the last one week since I had left home

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Bonds that are formed

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Day Six: To Naranag and End of Trek

On the climb down towards Naranag, I passed by towering trees, their shade and beauty taking away some of the melancholy I felt in my heart.

Walking in sun and shade

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

An open valley and view of the mountains put that smile back on my lips. I knew I was going to miss the snow-clad beasts till I returned.

Rolling green valley

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

Nothing beats the feeling of warm green grass, the sun shining in the sky, the trees swaying just so gently and the grey mountains smiling from afar

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik

What a journey this had been

Photo of When I ditched the beaten path to explore the heart of Kashmir ‘on foot’ #kashmirinphotos by Diana Banik
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