“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”
It has been a little more than two months since I got back from the trek and I still find myself reminiscing about it.
Exulansis would be a better word to describe the feeling.75 odd hours of travel across nine states followed by a week up in the mountains was a surreal adventure which will remain etched in my memory for a long time.
The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek provided a splendid opportunity for nature’s camaraderie. My maiden Himalayan trek could not have been any better or memorable. The true beauty of Kashmir lies in the hidden valleys far away from human access.
Love at first sight!
Day 1 – Srinagar to Sonmarg
We were asked by the organizers to gather at a pick up point where the fellow trekkers were also present. After a four-hour pleasant drive, we reached the base camp (7800 ft) at Sonmarg.
One glance and I stood in awe. A village alongside river Indus with snow-capped mountains in the background and a crystal clear sky above, a painting seemed to have come alive.
Another glance behind, the majestic and mystical Himalayan mountains stood in glory. This was the base camp and we had not even begun the trek. I could not help but wonder what beautiful sights awaited ahead.
After the pleasantries and introductions being exchanged with trek leader and fellow trekkers we called it day off. Next day was a big one.
Wheels in motion
Day 2 – Sonmarg to Nichnai
Today was the day the trek actually began. With bubbling enthusiasm we began the trek to the Nichnai pass. The trek starts with slight ascent which had all of us panting and slowly opened into meadows filled with Maple and Pine trees.
Sipping the local Khawa tea surrounded the picturesque views was both soothing and pleasurable. Behind us was the quiet town of Sonmarg bidding us goodbye.
This was the last point of civilization we saw. Another 3-4 hours of trek with descent through the forest and across the rocks bought us to the end of the trek. We were greeted by rain gods at the campsite.
The rains continued throughout the evening and all night long. All of us drifted to sleep with doubts in mind as to how difficult the trek would turn out if it continued raining.
The first meeting
Day 3 – Nichnai to Vishusar
Mountain weather is unpredictable. It was hard to believe it had rained the previous night. The ground was dry and the sky was clear.
With luncheons packed we started trekking pretty early. One encounters three passes during the trek. Nichnai pass was the first one we passed early in the morning. Huge mountains awaited us from here.
Today was also the first day we descended on the snow. Hesitantly I moved at snail speed when the local guide Javid offered to help. Little did I know what was in store.
A run down the snow slope almost skipped my heart beat. Looking back now it was one of the exhilarating moments of the trek. There is something about Himalayas.
It leaves you spellbound and speechless at the very first sight and every sight henceforth. None of us were prepared for the beauty the mountains unfolded. Words and pictures certainly do not do any justice to what our eyes saw. Snow-capped mountains onto the right.
Kashmir Great Lakes Trek is famously known for its pristine beautiful lakes. Our campsite was set near the very first lakes of the trek – Vishansar and Kishansar lakes.
Both lie beside each other. The water at first seemed green and then blue. The color keeps changing throughout the day.
Day 4 – Vishansar to Gadsar
We were warned by innumerable blogs and also by the trek leader that today would be the toughest day of the trek.
We would reach an elevation as high as 13800 ft, the highest point in the entire trek aka the Gadsar pass. He pointed us at the steep ascent which we were about to climb.
For a minute I thought he was joking. It almost seemed that we would be reaching the tip of the huge snow-capped mountain. But when we started trekking in the same direction I started to get all nervous.
The ascent was the steepest so far and tiring. I could not move further for more than ten good minutes. If one lost balance they would be welcomed by the boulders or by freezing cold water.
Adding to the miseries was the fact I had acrophobia. I stood shivering in doubt if I could reach the top. But there was only one choice. To keep moving further. After a good one and half hour when I reached the top I realized I had overcome my fear of heights! It was a proud moment personally.
One can view both the lakes from here and they look lovely. Today was probably the longest so far. I really did not know for how long we kept walking. Time had ceased to exist.
All we knew was that we had to reach our destination – the campsite. We met army camps on our way. Interacting with the army was perhaps a humbling experience.
To have lived under the same weather conditions the army does, a wave of respect and gratitude washed us all over. Gadsar campsite was the highest point (12000 ft) where we camped.
It was an eerie night because there is pitch darkness all around you and you can only see the outline of the mountains. Maybe also owing to the fact we were away from the LOC by a mere 20 kms.
But the sky mesmerized all of us and everything was forgotten. The night sky looked like a huge carpet of twinkling stars, constellations, satellites and what not. Not to mention the Milky way!!
One can stare at the sky till eternity and not get bored. I now get it when Calvin says – If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.
Easy,Breezy and Happy
Day 5 – Gadsar to Satsar
Today the trail was lush green all through the day. Well, almost. There was an ascent but not as steep or scary or tiring as Gadsar.
Once the ascent was over it was pretty much circling the mountain curves. It was an easy trail for the rest of the day and couple of us reached Satsar campsite earlier than planned.
The only regret I have is not to have had tasted the wild strawberries as me and few others were eager to finish the ascent. After an hour of rest we jumped over the boulders to reach the twin lakes.
We were told there would be 7 (Satsar) lakes around but we saw only two lakes. Honestly I saw only one lake as I was tired of crossing over the boulders.
Just to sit and see the lake felt peaceful and I remained rooted to the ground. The more the merrier: Rain,Mist and Boulders
Day 6 – Satsar to Nandukol
We started to trek on time as we did everyday. Today we had to trek via Zaiji pass to reach the final and last campsite of the trek.
Thick mist was beginning to form as we started to hop on the huge boulders. The temperature started to drop and we could not make out the trail in front of us.
We did not know what to expect. If there was descent or more rock boulders or was there snow ahead? We kept moving despite the uncertainty that lay ahead.
To make things worse a slight drizzle began. At one point the temp went as low as -3 degrees and fingers started to pain and it felt as if the whole face had gone numb.
After the arduous climb when our trek leader announced that we had made it to the top, all of us fell flat on the ground for some rest. There was no visibility.
As we wondered what view awaited from this top, the clouds cleared and we got a sneak peek of Mt Harmukh. I forgot all the pain and exhaustion for I had not seen anything this beautiful ever in my life. Mt.Harmukh had me arrested for couple of seconds until it vanished again into the clouds.
The mist started to clear as we started humming all the way down and almost two hours later it was hot when we reached the ridge for lunch. One could not believe such a thick mist existed.
We could see the beautiful Nandukol and Gangabal lakes. We sat with our legs stretched when someone yelled with excitement – Look above. There a ring around the sun!!! Never had I seen a halo before.
This trek was turning out to be enthralling with each passing day. We spent some time watching and clicking photos of the halo before proceeding to camp site at Nandukol.
A small descent, walk through meadows again for about two hours we reached Nandukol campsite right at the bottom of Mt Harmukh.A tinge of sadness came over as our privacy was intruded.
One sees a lot of people camping in and around Nandukol.
A day of nothingness
Day 7 – Buffer Day
The buffer day was a blessing in disguise. I could not recall the last time I spent an entire day doing absolutely nothing.
Just to sleep inside the tent and look at the glorified mountains around you. The past week had induced liberosis in me. I had not thought of anything. I did not mull over of what had or was happening in the world.
It is different and foreign to have your mind completely blank for such a long stretch of time.
Adios! Until next time
Day 8 – Nandukol to Naranag
As we packed our tents and got ready everyone were drowned in their own thoughts. Few were anxious to reach the base camp and many more were saddened that the trek had come to an end.
With mixed feelings we started our final leg of the trek. I bid one final goodbye to Mt. Harmukh which stood head high in all magnificence.
The trail started with a small ascent and then it opened into meadows where we started to bump into people.The feeling of trek had passed and it was more like a walk through the forest.
How mistaken I was to think this way! Post lunch the actual challenge began.The initial descent was steep and full of rocks with slippery sand. Many had their first, second and innumerable falls here.
The trail got steeper as the time progressed and the knees were abused to glory. One was forced to descend without stopping as legs had started to shiver in agony.
After four hours of descent we reached Naranag. It took a couple of minutes to adjust to the voices around and realise we were back into the civilisation. An aura of accomplishment filled the room and everyone burst into loud cheers!!!
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
A week away from civilization had bought peace and tranquility one rarely experiences in the concrete jungle that none wanted to leave.
Yet there was an eagerness to meet our loved ones and a freshness which had bought us the confidence to battle our struggles and failures of mundane life.
It’s amazing how a trek can bond a group of strangers. The moments spent laughing, teasing and annoying each other will bring smile on our faces in future.
Few became friends for lifetime and others we might not even meet. But the fact remains all of us shared an unforgettable experience together. The journey would not have been this smooth without IndiaHikes.
Heartfelt thanks to the coolest trek leader Tarak, super fast ever enthusiast local guide Javid Bhai and the staff.
All the necessary precautions and risks have been put up in detail at IndiaHikes. But a few helpful personal pointers:
- Think prior if you can carry the backpack. The right attitude of a trek is to carry the backpack on your own but if you doubt your ability it is best you offload it since it might dampen your pace and enthusiasm.
- Drink lots of water (water + ORS) as often as you can. Do not allow yourself to be dehydrated. A few sips every 10-15 minutes is helpful.
- Do not compromise on the shoes. Those foreclose shoes are your knight in armour for the changing terrain. I almost kissed them once the trek was done.
- Use the trek pole. No matter how fit you are trekking for 8 hours a day is tiring. Trek pole reduces your effort by 30%.