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Published: April 7th 2018
There are scenarios in life which you can only experience through your determination and grit. Kashmir Great Lakes
(KGL) was one of those treks for which I had to keep trying before I could finally tick off my bucket list. Ever since I completed my Roopkund trek, I badly wanted to go for KGL after hearing glowing reviews and seeing the stunning photos of the vast landscapes. My first attempt was the same year as my Roopkund trek but due to threat of heavy rains in Kashmir, I did not get to registering for the trek. My second and third attempts were thwarted by the toxic environment in Kashmir post the death of Burhan Wani in Kashmir last year (Yes, we did register twice and had to cancel). Finally on my fourth attempt, I was successful and boy was it worth the wait.
After all the failures previously, I and Vivek had decided that we would register for KGL with Indiahikes
in January itself with a "We don't care who's coming. We're going" attitude. As with most of the treks, initially about 10-12 folks registered along with us from our office. As the trek dates approached, it was just Aayush (joining
Beautiful sunset at Dal lake
us directly at Sringar), Vikhyat (who eventually shifted to the previous batch), Vivek and I who were the final ones ready to go. Being used to such cancellations, we were undeterred and flew to Srinagar on July 21. It didn't start off great since I lost my favorite jacket at the airport before reaching Srinagar and had to buy a new one at Srinagar. As we arrived at Srinagar we could sense the tension in the air with higher security at the airport though everyone was pretty cordial (that is pretty ordinary for Srinagar since it needs to have higher security compared to other cities in India). Indiahikes
had booked a local travel agency to help us out and they dropped us at their office for initial registration. Then when it came to dropping us off at our lodging, they tried to rip us off. They even told us the main city would be slightly dangerous and we should not venture out there but ask them for anything. They dropped us at at a restaurant for lunch and asked us to call when we were done. Gautham who was from our group and had already arrived at
Srinagar wanted to meet us and have lunch together. So we met our Doctor Saab and had lunch with him. Our stay for the night was at a houseboat called the Altaf houseboat on Dal lake. When we called the travel agent, they told us we would need to pay extra for a drop to our stay. We felt we were better off without them and took an auto to Ghat no. 9 where we boarded a boat. To our surprise, when we reached the houseboat the owner decided to upgrade us to Young Bombay houseboat and waived off the boat fee. The houseboat was pretty stylish and the 3 of us were given one room. After some rest, we decided to try out the famed Shikhara ride of Dal lake. The weather was hot and the initial part of the ride was wearisome. A few boat hawkers came by us asking us to buy stuff such as jewellery, fruit salads, chats etc. Aayush in a very romantic mood bought a necklace from one of them. As the evening dew near, the ride was more comfortable and refreshing. We also tried some ice cream along the way. But the Dal
lake is at its best during sunset. The orange-red hue on the waters reflecting the various colours of the houseboats was a treat to watch. We got down at Ghat 5 and sauntered along observing the place. Contrary to the transport agency, we did not find anything dangerous here and the roads were full of people enjoying their time. We then reached our houseboat and had dinner there.
Though we had lofty plans for the next day, none of us got up early much to the disdain of the houseboat owner. He was hoping we would take the services of his recommended tour guide for a tour across the city. But we pretty much spoiled his hopes of making more money but lazily getting up late and then checking out late thanks to Aayush taking his sweet time getting ready. Aayush had to buy a tshirt and so we went to Lal Chowk for some shopping which was supposed to have all the branded shops. The scene there was slightly scary for us newcomers since there were a number of military men posted at a number of points. We did our shopping in a Puma showroom and
left back to the office of the travel agency where we were supposed to meet the rest of our trek group. Few folks were late and hence, we were asked to wait in a room where some of our batch mates had already arrived. After waiting for a long time, we finally boarded on to a 15 seater and left to Sonamarg. Throughout our journey we got to listen to retro music with the same few songs being repeated over and over again.
As we reached our first camp (Shitkadi few kms from Sonamarg), it started to drizzle. The camp was placed right next to a Sindh river with hills covering us. We got our fist camp snacks there (We had to get our own utensils and spoons and then wash them ourselves). It felt great to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city again smelling the fresh air. As always we got to meet the whole of our batch later with our trek lead, Sushant. He gave all of us the necessary but fear inducing speech about the medical problems trekkers face, and our responsibilities during the trek. We also got our BP
and oxymeter readings checked. Then the dinner was served post which we all got into our tents with great anticipation as to what the next day would bring.
The first mornings are always the most difficult with people not adjusted to the wild ways of getting ready. The toilet tents are generally the most difficult to conquer. But once one gets used to it, its not that bad though its still probably the toughest thing in the trek. For this trek, I had decided to offload my rucksack. I generally do not prefer that but till date I have not found a good way to balance my camera bag and my rucksack and so after my failed attempts at Roopkund, Valley of flowers and Buran Ghati, I decided that I did not want to miss good shots on the way. Post a quick pep talk and introduction to our guides, Tanvir Bhai and Imtiaz Bhai, we started off towards Shekdur. After about an hour or two of ascent, we had to wait at the checkpoint to confirm our permits. As we waited we saw Rahul (our pro photographer) and Prateek (our very own Virat Kohli) chugging along.
They were carrying their rucksacks with full enthusiasm when they started but as they reached the checkpoint, they decided that there is no way they could make it to the end carrying them. They immediately decided to offload. We also got to know that Jyotsna had been hit by AMS and had to trek back. Jasaswi being her companion also decided to go back with her to help her out. Prateek and the rest of us were disappointed to see folks having to go back at such an early stage but it just showed that at the mountains you cannot predict what can happen. On the other hand there were a number of cute local kids waiting to be fed candies. Though not a good practice we indulged them a bit. They happily lapped up the attention asking for more candies. As we trekked ahead, we found a dhaba serving tea and biscuits and took some rest there. Samujjwal (Sam) used to lie down with his hat on his face and from hereon he became my photo subject at most of the rest points. I managed to get a beautiful shot of him with two horses, one brown and one
white with a beautiful backdrop of the mountains and the clouds. More ascent along a few evergreen trees, and a descent into a lush green meadow led us to a small stream which turned out to be our lunch spot. As we had lunch we enjoyed the cool Himalayan water (ironically this one is actually Himalayan and free unlike the overpriced brand) and few of us tried out long exposure shots of the stream too. The name of this place was Shekdur. By now we had been trekking for about 5 hours or so and still had about 2 hours or so to go. And unsurprisingly it was an ascent again. Tarana deciding to give it back at the slopes, at one point shot to the front with Tanvir Bhai motivating her saying "Panch aur minute" (5 more minutes) probably 12-15 times. Finally, we reached our camp at Nichnai. This place was covered with mountains and we could see the snow clad mountains from Sonamarg side from our camp. We did a bit of stretching and had our welcome drinks along with snacks. We hoped the skies would clear so that we could try out night photography but it was
not to be.
Two more people had to bail out on us the next day citing exhaustion. Mountains can be brutal at times and unfortunately two more had to return. We were supposed to pass the Nichnai pass which is at 13,500 ft. This was not going to be a very tough route but a pretty long one with with a good amount of ascent. As we started from the camp, we got to pass a number of beautiful locations. The whole area was so diverse and filled with different landscapes that you really feel you are in heaven. We had to cross a small rocky steep ascent to reach the path to the Nichnai pass. Along the way we could also see the Nichnai lake which was of the shape of India. Kedar in a very patriotic moment made us capture a photo where he was standing with a salute towards the lake. As we turned back we would see the beautiful view of a Sonamarg valley with the river bisecting the bottom of the valley. Moving forward, there were the snow clad mountains to our left and at some places the snow was present at
our level itself since it had not completely melted. Finally the winding trail led to the top, the Nichnai pass at 13,500 ft. There were quite a few flowers at the top and it was pretty cold with the wind blowing. It was also the place where BSNL network was supposed to be present and that led to a rush of people trying to catch the network. As all of us got a bit of rest and had some fruits to eat, it was time to proceed. As we descended from the pass, what came next took my breath away. We got to see a mini valley of flowers like spread with the beautiful mountains in the backdrop. The variety here was astounding and pretty similar to what I had seen at Valley of flowers, maybe even more. I also caught sight of the Citrine wagtail, a migratory bird species seen here around July, August and September. We stopped for lunch near a hut where they had hot Kawah which is a type of tea made by boiling green tea leaves with Saffron, Cardamom and Cinnamon. It was really refreshing in the hot sun. Arshiya and Vaibhavi had got great
namkeen and they became the defaults to go to for such savories for all the oncoming meals. The next part of our long walk took us through vast meadows and finally near Vishnusar Lake. Before reaching the camp Sam, Rhunzun and I decided to get a wide angle view of Vishnusar lake and so up we went towards one side of the lake. That gave us a surreal view of the lake with its blue water glittering on the surface at the front and the back having the shadow of the mountains. A few meters below was our camp where our welcome drink sat waiting after our long eventful journey. The camp was another beauty with vast fields and we immediately took to playing frisbee until snacks time. Arjun was a pro at this and he showed off his skills with graceful and athletic catches. Once we had the snacks which included pasta, we set out to again see the Vishnusar lake at more proximity. We reviewed the lake from various angles walking along its length and in the process realizing its enormity. Rahul wanted to capture the evening transition time lapse since there were a number of mountains and
the lake which potentially would change color during the golden hour. While everyone else left, Rahul, I and Sam took our time and waited for the sunset. I got quite a few photography tips from the pro while we chatted away our time and had set the intervalometer to capture photos at various intervals. Finally when the sunset was done, we returned to have our dinner. But the day just wouldn't end. Post our dinner, all of us observed the clear skies and I took out my wide angle lens to take the milky way shot. This being my second time trying (the first time I did not even realize I had the milky way), I was better equipped and used the skyview app on Android to figure out where the Milky way is. I got a pretty decent shot though I did not have enough experience to get a good panoramic shot of the milky way since it was visible completely over the whole horizon. Rahul though using his tripod, got a beautiful panoramic view and also got a great star trails shot where you need to capture multiple photos every minute or so and then stitch them (my
next bucket list item to learn in photography). This ended a very satisfactory day which was a mix of all the things you expect and want on a trek.
I got up the next morning hearing from Sam that there was a great reflection shot of Vishnusar lake for the taking since there was no breeze disturbing the surface of the lake. I quickly rushed there and to my awe the view again did not disappoint with the mountains clearly forming a beautiful reflection on the lake with a slight tinge of orange due to the sunrise (though it was long past sunrise). Once we finished our breakfast, we could see the sun rays breaking through the clouds towards one side of the hills with the mountains in the background and horses grazing on the pale green grass. These are the kind of views one yearns to see and enjoy. So we trekked up from the side of Vishnusar to our next lake, Kishansar. This was about half a km from Vishnusar and lies at the base of Kishansar peak. It was not as grandiose as the Vishnusar lake but had its own splendor. We took a
few group pics and moved up towards the Gadsar pass. We could see the steep path winding path towards the pass from the lake. The path was extremely narrow and we had to move in a single line formation. Sam as always made his own path. As we started moving higher, the view of the lakes started becoming more and more impressive. After a point, we could see both Vishnusar and Kishansar lake together. With the reflection of the blue sky, white clouds and the brown-green mountain in the lake with a few pieces of ice floating along the edge of the Kishansar lake, not to mention the green meadows bordered by mountains flowing towards the left, the setting was surreal. We kept moving ahead unable to stop staring behind at the beautiful sight and finally made it to the top of the Gadsar pass which stood at a height of 13,800 ft, the highest point of the whole trek. To welcome us was a Himalayan marmot which is an indigenous species here and looks a bit like the beaver in Chronicles of Narnia. After spending some time near us, it decided that it had had its share of crowd
and moved away. Apart from the view of the lakes, we now had a view of the valley on the other side. There was a bit of snow there and after some rest at the pass we started our descent. The descent was simple and we saw two more lakes, one supposedly Yamsar, named after Lord Yama and another lake which was unnamed. Ahead of that was the stunning Gadsar lake which spanned a wide area. It lay at the base of the snow clad peak and had an array of colors around it green, white, black, blue and brown. We stopped there and had our lunch. As we kept going ahead we found a house where the folk obliged us and made Kawah for us. They needed some medical advice which Doctor Saab (Ankur) helped with and we even gave them few medicines which we had with us. We then proceeded towards the army camp. At the camp, our Ids were thoroughly checked and we were politely questioned. It was a very proud and unique moment for us to meet the army folk there. We camped a bit further from there near a stream. There was a shepherd's house
along with sheep grazing near our camp. This place was mostly covered by mountains on all sides and we did not get much of any sunset colors here. It still had a heavy wind and rained for a while in the evening.
Come the next day, we were made to cross a small hard snow patch to reach the narrow path round one of the mountains. The slope of the mountain was covered with small green grass and yellow flowers with blue interspersed in between and a few lone trees here and there. There was a lone mountain visible at a distance which was completely covered in snow. Though it did not look very high due to the distance, the snow cover itself indicated its height in a way since none of the other mountains nearby had even an iota of snow on them. That was the Nanga Parbat, the 9th highest mountain in the world standing at 26,660 ft. It lies in Gilgit Baltistan region of Pakistan which made us realize how close we were to the borders. We were even told by Sushant that if we followed a trail going down we would directly reach
the Pakistan border after walking for a few miles. We got a history session there from Sushant regarding the Nanga Parbat for a while. The sun was up bright and shining that day and we even got to see a Himalayan Griffin gliding across the mountains. We took our time that day and reached another meadows area with a slightly hilly border which seemed to have been plucked out of the Windows 98 wallpaper. All along the trek, a number of other trekkers including foreigners passed us. We were told by Tanvir Bhai that there are a number of lakes which are not given access to as the place is very near to the border area. There was a flag planted ahead of us and slightly further we reached another of the army checkpoints. We were given refreshments there and our ids checked again after which we moved ahead. From there we came to the first of the Satsar lakes (7 lakes) which did not generate much interest after the previous ones since it did not have much water. We got to see one more of the 7 lakes which generally are seasonal with some of them being inaccessible. Being
a bit disappointed, we urged Sushant and Tanvir Bhai for more options when they said there is another one opposite to the camp but which is slightly dangerous since it was guarded by a Shepherd dog which bites. We reached the Satsar campsite which was shielded by mountains on 3 sides and had a stream flowing right beside our camp. This time having arrived early at the campsite, we decided to play cricket for a while. Sushant went along with the high altitude team who included the staff who were extremely fit and could run for a decent time without huffing and puffing. But they underestimated the low altitude team who though literally out of breath for most of the time, performed when it mattered. As the snacks time arrived, we pressed Sushant to take us to the third hidden lake. Reluctantly after failing to scare us, he and Imtiaz Bhai with a stick decided they will take us there. Only of few of us including Sam, Rhunzhun, Vaibhavi, Arshiya, Rahul and I decided to go there. It was a small trek over rocks but was well worth it. The lake was serene and beautiful. It was completely covered by
mountains on three sides with small patches of snow in between. Everyone was still scared of the dog but thankfully, the lady at the shepherd's place near the lake made sure the dog did not attack us. The embarrassing part was that she was old but in no time climbed one of the mountain slopes and even came back with such agility that was shocking. It was evening by the time we arrived and the night again proved to be a stunner. Clear skies and a beautiful starry night got our cameras out again. By then I was concerned about preserving my batteries for the remaining portion of the trek. I took a few shots of the sky which had improved considerably in quality from my previous try and called it a day.
Right from the camp we could see the daunting rocky climb to start with. We were hoping it does not rain so that we could pass the rocks easily. It turned out to be slightly confusing with another trekking group randomizing the route to the top but in the end everyone reached it without much difficulty. As we kept moving on, more and more
wallpaper views kept tumbling out. Sushant took Sam, Rhunzhun and me through a slightly longer route giving us a great view of the glacier on Harmukh peak along with the Gangabal and Nandakol lake. The clouds kept covering one of the three constantly though for a very short period we did get the view of all of them. Also, from the top we could see sheep below forming lines on the plains below which was very unique. As we kept progressing down from the top, the lakes grew in size and clarity. There were also a number of places along the way where the rocks were jutting out and where Sushant used to go and sit down like "the boss". After a pretty long trek down, we had our lunch near a stream. After that, few of us took a detour to get a view of Gangabal and Nandkol lake before heading to our camp. It had started raining by that time though not very heavily. There the previous batch was also present in a separate camp as that was their rest day. By the evening we met with Vikhyat and a few others from our office who had trekked
in the previous batch and then played cricket with them. We had great fun sledging everyone and in the end cricket was the winner (Could not resist the Ravi Shastri diagloue). In the evening, Ankur, Rahul and I decided to head towards the lake for some evening shots. We got some great shots near a bridge and near the base of the Nandkol lake. We got to see a view where the rays of the sun was just escaping from the edge of the clouds giving a golden lining and that being reflected on the lake with the mountains in the backdrop.
On the rest day different people had different priorities. Quite a few folks went to take a dip at the Gangabal lake. These lakes are comparatively very accessible from the other way i.e. Naranag and hence, a lot of people come here and the lakes are not that cold compared to the other ones. One could see the difference in the cleanliness of the environment here where one would find a lot of trash strewn around everywhere. Sushant wanted to go on a trek up to get a different view of the lakes (He was
bored of the easy trek and wanted something challenging). Sam, Rhunzhun and I decided to follow him. Going on a trek with about 20 ppl having varied pace is one thing. Going on a trek with Sam and Sushant who trek as if the mountains are flat pieces of land is a totally different ball game altogether. That was easily the most toughest day of the trek. But on the bright side, it was equally rewarding too. The view from the top was spectacular where we got to see Gangabal and Nandkol from a totally different perspective. The size of Gangabal was very evident from here. Coming down was a pain and while Sam and Sushant just skipped ahead like deer in the grasslands, Rhunzhun and I took some time. By the time we came back we were exhausted and late for lunch. We spent the evening reminiscing the events of the previous days and talking with all the staff since that was our last day of camp.
The descent was supposed to be long and to our surprise Jasaswi and Jyotsna joined us back here. They had waited for a day at base camp at Sonamarg
and after getting acclimatized had trekked with the next batch. Since they had their flights booked, they were going to skip the rest day at Gangabal. The terrain started off on a meadows and then transitioned to a pine forest. We made good time even taking breaks and enjoying the views. I even saw a Himalayan Pika which looks like a small mouse and is found commonly in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. We stopped for lunch at a hut on the way where the guy had noodles, Kawah and biscuits. The descent was tedious but not tough and we finally got to Naranag from where we drove to Srinagar.
I have used up my vocabulary of words to praise the views in this trek. Each day is a wonder in itself and has some new experience which you would have never encountered before. The lakes are pristine and stunningly beautiful and each new lake gives you the thrills though you may have seen a number of lakes. Another surprising aspect of the trek is the variety of flowers in the trek. So many of the paths are filled with plethora of flowers that it kind
of makes you feel that valley of flowers would be repetitive post this. The scenic beauty in it is beyond compare and while a number of the high altitude treks give you the feeling that you are housed between mountains, this gives you a feeling of vastness and openness.
I feel like I should iterate this with every trek that I am really inspired by the green trails initiative by Indiahikes
. That ensures that trekkers at least leave the environment behind in the way they came by collecting all non biodegradable waste materials in their Eco bags. Of course, one can contribute more by picking up waste you find along the path thus, improving the state of the environment. It is our duty on ensure that the state of such brilliant places do not deteriorate just because we love disturbing the nature. Indiahikes' staff and guides are professional and great to trek with and I have really enjoyed every trek and am a fan. Special mention to Sushant who lead us really well and made sure we stayed healthy and took care of us when needed. His trademark calling styles for oxymeter reading was pretty popular among
All amazing things too must come to an end and so did this out of the world experience. I would encourage anyone who is interested in trekking to take up this one. You obviously need to be fit to manage it since it was one of the longest treks I have been on. Generally in most of the treks one finishes the trekking part daily by afternoon but here almost everyday we used to arrive at the camp by evening. The whole distance was close to 70 kms or so which is really high. Given there is the constant scare about how state of affairs in Kashmir is but this is completely away from Srinagar anyway. And to be clear at the time we went there was no issue in Srinagar and we did not face any problem there. We actually felt bad for the folks there. For instance the OYO room we stayed in once back in Srinagar was a great place and we were the only guys in it for the whole week with that being a prime time for tourists. Same was the case with the houseboats. The travels guys shamelessly tried to
use the fear to ask us buy things from places they recommended which was just plain disgraceful. But regardless the people the still amazing there and the place really deserves a chance given the natural beauty it possesses. Indiahikes
were very helpful even the previous year when they allowed us to decide to cancel even at the last minute since they understood the dilemma we faced when we heard the news. But as long as they are willing to conduct the trek, I feel that its safe enough to go especially considering that once you leave Srinagar there is no crowd throughout the rest of the trek to be concerned about.
Do comment on your views and hope you enjoyed the post 😊
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