“Excerpts from a Paradise: My Trek to Kashmir Great Lakes”

“Excerpts from a Paradise: My Trek to Kashmir Great Lakes”

“Take me down to the paradise city…
where the grass is green,
and the girls sheep are pretty”

I sat near terminal 4B, waiting, for my flight was at 8:40pm. A good 4 hours. While I see the world rushing by the taste of Kashmir still lingers in my thoughts. I sat there thinking of all the vistas I witnessed, the mountains and valleys that I gasped at, and the lakes that made me emotional and took my breath away (like literally). Suddenly everything around me looked so materialistic. It made me realize we are surrounded by so many things that ultimately may not define happiness.

Lost in thoughts and the announcement to board my flight arrives. 2.5 hours more and I will be in Bengaluru, back to the “developed” world that I belong to. But something has changed inside me. Why was I smiling for no reason?

Preparing for the Trek

Work was killing me. So much so that I would go at 8am and return by 11pm. Wasn’t even enrolling for the weekend treks in the Western Ghats with the local clubs. While all this happened I made up my mind; I HAVE TO GO TO THE HIMALAYAS! After a lot of deliberations I bestowed my faith on the Kashmir Great Lakes. Of course I did my own bit of research whether it was worth or not. It was more than what I could’ve asked for. Every trekking firm, every blog post, and every picture screamed at me that this is the most beautiful trek you will EVER do. So get in there, bummer! Only if I would’ve known what bumpy rides awaits before I get there.

“Once a year, go some place you’ve never been before” Dalai Lama

I registered with Indiahikes for a slot on Aug 1. Then news broke out about the killing of Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani. People came out to streets, curfew was imposed in Kashmir, and the trek now was in doldrums. With Kashmir literally shut down all plans under a big blanket of doubt now. Treks did continue but under a cast of shadow. I postponed my trek from 1st to 13th hoping things will be better. And again postponed it to 26th Aug. My resolve was strong. They say once you cross the valley and enter the mountain ranges you are safe. Then came the unexpected; Indiahikes called off all their Kashmir treks. Devastation! What do I do now? Surely I didn’t want to cancel my plans. Goddamnit!!! I then rang up the friendly guys at Trek The Himalayas. Surprisingly they were still running the trek. Trek dates were for 28th Aug. 26th Aug I registered for the trek, 27th I booked my flight tickets. Talking of last minute rush! I was back on track. Himalayas, here I come!

Day 1: Rendezvous with an old friend: Sonamarg

“Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.” Jeffrey Rasley

An early morning flight to Delhi, and then a hop over flight to Srinagar landed me to my beloved destination Srinagar. It was raining outside. Caught up with Chinmay, Farzad, Kashyap, and Gaurav who reached 30 mins before and were waiting for me. My baggage came sans the hiking pole tip cover. SpiceJet lost it. My 1st sacrifice!

The airport bore a deserted look. Tourism was at an all time low due to the tension in the valley. Took a cab to reach Tourist Reception Center where our pick up to the base camp, Sonamarg was organized. It was drizzling, all wet. Every establishment, shops were closed. In the name of footprints mainly the Defense Personnel were to be seen, patrolling the streets. I was a tad worried now. The city was desolated.

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We reached TRC with hunger pangs. Asked few locals if anything can be found now. One gentleman told us there’s a place little ahead upstairs which looks closed from outside but is open. Had some amazing Rista+rice+sabzi+tea. Couldn’t thank enough the restaurant owners for this generosity.

Got a call from Ejaz bhai (pickup guy). The vehicle came by 3.30pm and off we went to Sonamarg. While on the way we could see the valley bearing the brunt of the protests with armed forces all around, stones littered, slogans written all over. Paradise was burning. The valley was shrouded under clouds and Sindh river was gushing down in full
force thanks to the rain. With a heavy downpour and the valley engulfed under clouds it was beautiful.

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Sonamarg town from a distance. Behind that was based our campsite

It took us around 2.5 hours to reach Sonamarg. It was exactly 2 years back that I came and halted at this picturesque town while on our way to Leh. The campsite was set up right next to Sindh river with the Thajiwas glacier overlooking the town. Glad that Sonamarg has still not lost its sheen.Our stunning campsite at Sonamarg. If the start was like this one can only imagine what beauty the trail ahead stores Yet another shot of our camp

Our stunning campsite at Sonamarg. If the start was like this one can only imagine what beauty the trail ahead stores Yet another shot of our camp
Our stunning campsite at Sonamarg. If the start was like this one can only imagine what beauty the trail ahead stores
Yet another shot of our camp
 Yet another shot of our camp
Yet another shot of our camp

So it will be 6 amigos on this beautiful journey, Saniya whom we picked up from Dal lake was already camping in Srinagar from past 2 days and provided us with all the important updates about the situation while we were still worried back in our respective places.

Jay (also called Negi, the trek lead) bhai & Nisar bhai (local guide) greeted us. They promptly detailed us with the itinerary and the do’s and don’ts that we had to adhere, all this over some tangy hot soup. But more concerning was the incessant rains. You can see the worrying lines on everyone’s forehead now. Lights went out early. Saniya said her prayers, hoping for the rain to stop.

Day 2: A day of Clear Skies and Delays; to Tabbletop

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” John Muir

I woke up with rain drops crashing on our tents. But Aloha! It went away quickly leaving us with clear skies and glorious views to enjoy while we munch on breakfast. Jay bhai reiterated the importance of having a poncho. So Gaurav, Chinmay and Nisar bhai went to the town to collect the permit for the trek and to get the ponchos.

Trek starts. Here we come, wilderness!
Trek starts. Here we come, wilderness!

While everything was ready we were still waiting for Chinmay and co to arrive. No phone network only made things complicated. We decided to march on without them and wait little ahead at the top. It took them 3 good hours to return. One good group pic and on we march.

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The Amarnath mountain is behind from where the famous pilgrimage starts

“Where are my sunglasses?” I worryingly exclaimed. Nope I have dropped them. Went all the way down searching for them but someone surely picked em up. Those were brand new ones, yet to grace my eyes. My 2nd sacrifice.We were walking towards Nichnai campsite today. Right from the word go it was only about going up! The route is an absolute stunner. It was cloudy so perfect setting for a monsoon trek. Reached Shekdur for some nice, cold lunch amidst lush trees. Resumed our climb up and more grand views!

a glorious evening that was
a glorious evening that was

Calf muscles were aching and bodies were screaming for some rest. The guides were clear; we will not make it to Nichnai. We have to instead camp at Tabbletop (around 10,800 ft.). Nichnai was good 4hours from here. Tomorrow’s day is going to be a big struggle.

The unplanned campsite at Tabbletop
The unplanned campsite at Tabbletop

The campsite was a picturesque one. The skies were clear. It was quite slushy though. The view of Thajiwas glacier was crisp and loud. We lazed around, clicked some rainbows, gulped down some nice hot tea and soup. The sleeping bags were cozy and I would doze off the moment I would slip in. Halfway into the night and I woke up to incessant rains. Made me worried about the morning.

the 6 enthusiasts with Nisar bhai (right)
the 6 enthusiasts with Nisar bhai (right)

Day 3: A Daunting Pass Crossing and a Never Ending Walk; to Vishansar

We woke up in a tent filled with rain water. The water seeped in and kind of created a puddle near the door of the tent. Not a pleasant sight as sleeping bag got wet and I had to hurriedly rush my bag and stuff away. First lake of the trek right inside our tent! Outside the skies were clear. Good day to start early.

Today we had to cover around 16-17 km thanks to the early campsite that we had to set up yesterday. We started our initial trail up, and then it was a plain walk through some dense Cedar and Birch trees. Out of the forest and we tread on a rocky trail. Saniya was finding difficulty in breathing and was at the back with me and Nisar bhai.

A mountain? Naah, more of a Oreo hill!
A mountain? Naah, more of a Oreo hill!

I continued up ahead while Jay bhai came back to assist Saniya. We walked mostly along the river and then the challenging part came in; Nichnai pass. It was a steep walk to the pass plus the drizzle and cold wind didn’t help much. On a brighter note the valley was littered with red and blueish flowers with a Glacier hanging right across. A unique thing here is that the glacier on the left hand side flows out towards Sonamarg while the glacier on the other side feeds the streams that forms the Neelum river, and flows the other way.

At Nichnai pass, 11K ft.
At Nichnai pass, 11K ft.

From Nichnai pass the trail is downwards and pretty steep. My knees took a toll! But the valley here was breathtakingly beautiful. I was just gasping for a view of the Vishansar lake but no luck. Huffing, puffing I reached the campsite with Nisar bhai. The rest had some catching up to do. They had set up the campsite like 1.5 hours before Vishansar lake. I wasn’t impressed. I was expecting it to be close to the lake. Since it got late we would be able to see the lakes tomorrow only. I was grumpy now!

Crossed the Nichnai pass at 11K feet. On course to Vishansar lake campsite
Crossed the Nichnai pass at 11K feet. On course to Vishansar lake campsite

Now what do we have here. A campsite literally set on a bed of blue flowers, with grazing horses all around, a river to quench your thirst, and a gorgeous mountain to sum it up. I skipped a heart beat seeing it!

 The stunner of a campsite near the Vishansar lake

The stunner of a campsite near the Vishansar lake

“Heaven is under our feet, as well as over our heads” Henry David Thoreau

Holy cow! Just look at this place. By mistake you have been thrown into the gardens of heaven. Wow, such places do exists. And here comes the rain, AGAIN!

All perched inside the dining tent there were to be some important decisions to be made. Saniya and Kashyap will not continue further beyond Vishansar lake. They were not hit by AMS but were unable to cover long distances. Farzad was a bit sceptical about tomorrow’s climb to Gadsar pass, and hence decided he will not continue either. Gaurav was having bad headaches and Jay bhai asked him not to continue ahead. So it will be me and Chinmay who will be progressing I guess. I was sad that only 2 of us will be going ahead.

Day 4: The Toughest Climb yet and Full Chaos; to Vishansar-Kishansar-Gadsar Pass

“Every man should pull a boat over a mountain once in his life.” -Werner Herzog

We were told about the most difficult part of the trek for the last 3 days. And today is the day we face it. We have to cross the highest point of the trek at 13,750 ft., Gadsar pass. I was mentally and physically praying for strength. God knows what lies ahead!

Engulfed in mist we brave the cold and move towards Vishansar lake
Engulfed in mist we brave the cold and move towards Vishansar lake

Ok, so while me and Chinnu will continue with the trek Saniya, Farzad, Gaurav and Kashyap will trace their way back to Sonamarg after visiting Vishansar and Kishansar twin lakes. Started early towards the lakes. Damn I was so excited about the prospects of seeing the first lakes of the trek! But Houston, we have a problem. We need to go to the other side for which we need to cross a fast flowing glacial stream, and so early in the morning. I mean can’t we find a diff route??? For sure there’s an easier way! No, we have to cross the stream. Curse my luck. Already reeling under cold and wet socks, this is the last thing I wanted. Nevertheless, a man has to do what he has to do. So removed my shoes and socks and in I went. GOD-DAMN-IT!!! Its bloody free-zzzzz-ing! I was shivering to my last nerve cell alive! How do I get out were my thoughts as I struggled to find grip on the rocks. Worst, my feet were numb. Out of the water and I sat there not only to dry my feet (and to regain some sensation) but to ponder what did I just do!

The entire valley was shrouded in mist. Vishansar lake was now not far. I could hear the water gushing out of the lake. Sensing it I started running towards it, like a small kid, all excited and pumped up. Few meters up and there it was. The Vishansar lake in all its glory.

The first sight of my favorite Vishansar Lake
The first sight of my favorite Vishansar Lake

It was a delightful feeling to be standing right next to this mammoth of a lake, surrounded by glacial mountains. The silence of the lake and the noise of the gushing water was sweet music to my ears. No one else there; just you and a towering mountain guarding the Vishansar lake. Oh heaven!

 lost in translation

lost in translation

“Oh, Kishansar lake upar udhar hai?” (Kishansar lake is right up there?). Jay bhai nodded with affirmation, pointing to a small 30 mins climb to reach the other twin lake. Up we go then! The Kishansar lake doesn’t look as glorious like its other twin but is equally big. So basically Kishansar lake drains into the Vishansar lake and then it forms the Neelum river which flows into Pakistan. We were told that the next phase is to climb the treacherous Gadsar pass, which provides a delicious views of both the lakes from the top.

 The Vishansar lake. Just look at its jade clear water

The Vishansar lake. Just look at its jade clear water

At this point we bid adieu to the remaining 4 trekkers. Jay bhai informs Nisar bhai to give the news that me & Chinnu are moving ahead, and that the camp also follows soon.

 This is the Kishansar lake, separated from the Vishansar lake by a 30 min walk

This is the Kishansar lake, separated from the Vishansar lake by a 30 min walk
Another view of the Kishansar lake, which drains to Vishansar lake
Another view of the Kishansar lake, which drains to Vishansar lake

The thing that makes Gadsar pass climbing difficult is that the trail is narrow enough just to accommodate both your legs. It gets more complicated if it rains as it gets muddy. Horses have fallen to their death on the slope of Gadsar pass in the past. Apart, the pass can be easily reached in good 2 hours of climb. Once at top it can get chilly and very windy. But the toughest climb gives the most astounding rewards…

 The Vishansar and Kishansar lakes from the Gadsar pass

The Vishansar and Kishansar lakes from the Gadsar pass

By this time we were expecting the staff to show up with the horses, even if in distant. Found ourselves 1 rock each and sat behind it to cover us up from the bone-rattling wind, not much respite though. We waited there for like 1 hour, and no signs. I was dejected, Chinmay was fuming. With no other alternatives we decided to go back down. Started pouring again and descend was a nightmare. I realized that the trek is more or less over… Heartbreak!

The view of the other side from Gadsar pass, and the excitement that draws in to know what adventure lies ahead
The view of the other side from Gadsar pass, and the excitement that draws in to know what adventure lies ahead

We realized that the campsite was shifted right near the Vishansar lake (finally!), and all the other trekkers haven’t left yet! What’s going on? Found out there was a huge confusion whether the instructions were given or not for the staff to move ahead towards Gadsar. This followed with arguments, agitated minds, accusations. What if the weather turns sour tomorrow? No way we can continue then; we will have to return back. These thoughts continued to hover in my anxious mind. For I’ve prepared hard, traveled a lot, and seen aplenty to NOT complete the trek. I was determined; I wanted to go ahead tomorrow come what may.

Day 5: A Day of Never Ending Walk; Towards Gadsar Campsite, Again!

I woke up to a rather wet campsite; Rain and thunderstorms have lashed the mountains all night long. It was still raining as we had breakfast. If it continues then horses will find it difficult to climb the Gadsar pass, and for sure we will have to go back to Sonamarg. I kept my spirits and thoughts high. I knew Sun will shine. And it did! The sky cleared and without delaying we got ready to climb Gadsar pass again today. However, a slight change in plans. After hearing all the accounts of climbing Gadsar pass, and himself mesmerized seeing the the twin lakes Farzad decided to continue with the trek. *Yayyyyy, I screamed silently inside!* We bid tata to the other 3 trekkers, and after getting all their good wishes hum nikal pade!

Early morning snowfall on the peaks. This at Vishansar lake campsite
Early morning snowfall on the peaks. This at Vishansar lake campsite

We again crossed Vishansar, and then Kishansar today. But there’s something about the lakes that no matter how many times you stare at them its still not enough. The sun shone bright and we were pretty relieved. It was a beautiful day to trek 🙂

 crossing the Vishansar lake yet again

crossing the Vishansar lake yet again

We reached Gadsar pass well within 3 hours on a sunny day. It was a mighty relief as the weather was clear and the horses and staff have already went ahead.

Horses and staff making their way up
Horses and staff making their way up

The view from the pass of the other side is equally drool-worthy. One can see 3 lakes, the last one being the Gadsar lake. But you can only get a sneak-peek of the Gadsar lake. Good, coz I would rather like it unravel up-close!

 Sheep flocks happily eating (& pooping) their way to glory!

Sheep flocks happily eating (& pooping) their way to glory!

This side of Gadsar pass is in stark contrast to the other side that we just triumphed. We were like in Wonderland; a garden strewn with colorful flowers, jotting the entire meadows. As if someone was walking a little ahead of us, sprinkling all these tiny colorful flora on our trail. This indeed was my favorite day of the entire trek. A mini Valley of Flowers? More like in Narnia. It was a mix of descend and walk on plains.

 once Gadsar Pass was conquered the rest of the trek was about keep walking

once Gadsar Pass was conquered the rest of the trek was about keep walking
There were 3 lakes one after other. 2 Lakes were unnamed and the 3rd one was the mighty Gadsar
There were 3 lakes one after other. 2 Lakes were unnamed and the 3rd one was the mighty Gadsar

Even a cold lunch of roti and aloo sabji with such view in front wouldn’t make you complain!

This was my lunch spot!
This was my lunch spot!

 

Nisar bhai told us that Gadsar lake was not very far. While I was just relishing this thought THIS happened!

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The beautiful Gadsar lake
Just to give you an idea of the enormity of Gadsar lake try to spot Negi bhai and Chinmay in the picture. Shot on my Lumia 830
Just to give you an idea of the enormity of Gadsar lake try to spot Negi bhai and Chinmay in the picture. Shot on my Lumia 830

Gadsar Lake appeared from right out of nowhere. Like all of a sudden! And just look at the enormity of this lake. Its huge. Its gorgeous!

“Adopt the pace of Nature, Her secret is Patience” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gadsar lake totally blew me away. These are the kind of things which captivate you, yet you feel it should always stay away from commoner’s prying eyes else it will lose its charm.

 With limited time tried to embrace as much as possible. The Gadsar lake

With limited time tried to embrace as much as possible. The Gadsar lake

Sadly enough we have to move on, for we have lot of distance to still cover and clouds covering up. We were also nearing LoC from here on. Wild blue flower fields continue to form an endless carpet + MARMOTS!!!!! Like 5-6 of them together now!

 The mountain with the glacier that feeds the Gadsar lake. PC: Chinmay

The mountain with the glacier that feeds the Gadsar lake. PC: Chinmay

Rains started to lash at us now. Meanwhile we reached the Gadsar Army post. The post can house around 8-10 jawans at a time. What harsh conditions our jawans have to operate in. As we entered the army post one jawan came out and gave us water to drink and welcomed us. The campsite was a stones throw away from the post. We quickly ran for the cover as the downpour became heavy. Pouring stopped and out came us and some smoking pakodas and tea from the kitchen tent. Boy did those tasted glorious especially in that painful cold.

Marmots, and more blue wild flowers
Marmots, and more blue wild flowers

It was a huge open ground frequented by the grazing sheep. By dusk our campsite had white-woolly friends all around. We got “meh’d”!!!

Our campsite under a 5 billion stars at Gadsar checkpost. PC: Chinmay
Our campsite under a 5 billion stars at Gadsar checkpost. PC: Chinmay

So there’s this beautiful river flowing right next to our tents. And there are numerous snow bridges over it. Tomorrow’s day is supposed to be a easy one. But damn, it’s cold out here today!

Day 6: Stretch Your Legs and Relax; The Day of 7 lakes, Satsar

We woke up to a sunny sky knocking on our tents. It was a wonderful day to trek. Packed bags-> CHECK, All pumped up-> CHECK, Candies and refreshments-> CHECK, Camera-> Roger that. Alright, lets move!

Jay bhai made 2 revelations; first, today we have to trek to the other side of THIS mountain, which means one more mountain to climb today. Second, if we are lucky with clear skies then we will see Nanga Parbat in PoK. Now we are talking!

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet
and the winds long to play with your hair” Kahlil Gibran

 Amidst dense fog Farzad and Nisar bhai making their way up.

Amidst dense fog Farzad and Nisar bhai making their way up.

These guides will always fool you by saying “Bas thoda dur aur” (Just a little bit more). Early morn and we were made to cross a snow bridge and then climb a mountain! It was extremely windy. We reached the spot where one can get a good glimpse of Nanga Parbat. But the clouds were in no hurry. We stayed there for a good 30 mins braving the wind, but not today.

 This is what it feels like to walk on the clouds. An excellent panoramic click by Chinmay

This is what it feels like to walk on the clouds. An excellent panoramic click by Chinmay
 behind those mountains, and those clouds lie PoK. And one can get a clear view of the Nanga Parbat if its not cloudy, which is not the case in this pic

behind those mountains, and those clouds lie PoK. And one can get a clear view of the Nanga Parbat if its not cloudy, which is not the case in this pic

With no luck in sight we inched nearer to the Satsar army post. This post was much bigger than the Gadsar post. Life is tough here, make no mistake. On one side you have to keep a vigil on our “friendly-neighbors” and on the other battle the friggin cold during winters. The Satsar lakes starts right away. Out of 7 we couldn’t see 2 lakes as they were high up in the meadows (I would’ve gone there by myself had the guides told it to me).

 moving towards the Satsar check post

moving towards the Satsar check post

The Satsar lakes were not big as the others that I encountered. Yet they had a charm of their own. Negi bhai offered us to skip the Satsar campsite and go straight to Nundkol campsite, and take a buffer day to enjoy the twin lakes. While tempting the offer was we decided to stay put at Satsar campsite and relax in the basking sun (best decision ever!), as total distance to cover would have been around 25 Kms.

 One of the Satsar lakes

One of the Satsar lakes

All sunny out there, we walked at a leisurely pace. After all hot lunch was waiting for us at campsite! Naranag, our final destination was also visible now. Nisar bhai promised to take us to one of the 7 lakes which is not easily accessible, and one had to climb the mountain right opposite to our campsite.

 Another lake of the Satsar series

Another lake of the Satsar series

It was around 2pm and we reached the campsite, set with a towering mountain in the backdrop to guard us. Horses were galloping around, hot khichdi on your plate, all damp clothes and shoes out in the sun and I sat there hogging on some piping hot food lost in the myriad of colors. It’s a beautiful day!

Ok, enough of “lost-in-trance” mode and clothes drying. Time to hike again. We crossed a river, hopped on boulders to reach the secret lake. WOW! No wonder its hidden. Coz its pristine and an absolute stunner! I mean it was so peaceful all around. Just sat there gazing the still water, and I was at peace. After all we did it

The most beautiful and secret of the Satsar lakes. Total bliss
The most beautiful and secret of the Satsar lakes. Total bliss

Weather in the mountain is uncertain. Always. Rightly so a bright sunny day quickly turned into a impending slush. It started raining, and we had to quicken our steps back to our fluttering tents. This campsite was turning out to be cold. So much so that we were shivering even while snuggled inside our sleeping bags. It stopped raining and I decided to step out and walk around. Not to mention it was cold and wet, but I also got a sense of what awaits for tomorrow’s climb. Lot of boulder hopping on the menu!

Yours truly posing in front of the secret lake
Yours truly posing in front of the secret lake

Time for supper, and inside the kitchen our head-cook Shankar told us some interesting incidents on different trekking routes. We listened to them like bed-time stories ensuring the food being served to us getting the due treatment!

Day 7: Day of Reckoning: Ladies & Gentlemen, Presenting to you The Twin Lakes!

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness” John Keats

Weather after the Gadsar pass was all sunny and perspiring till the end. We woke up to a brightly sun right on our face. Today’s day was one I was earnestly longing for right from Bengaluru. We trek to the famous twin lakes; Gangbal and Nundkol today. Ok, move it everyone!

Uh oh! As if yesterday’s pain of climbing on rocks and boulders weren’t enough, lo, we have more of these to surpass today! And these ones were higher, sloppier, smarter, and scarier. Farzu had a close shave with one of those as he lost his balance and almost tripped. We had to be careful over here.

 An early morning start.

An early morning start.

Today’s itinerary was simple: climb up to Zajibal pass (at around 13K+ ft.), get a glorious birds eye view of the twin lakes, walk an eternity to the Nundkol campsite, and laze around the lake. After the adventurous boulder hopping the Zajibal pass was visible. Not very far but it was kinda hot today. Slowly, but steadily we marched on. We etched near, and woah the first glimpse of Mt. Harmukh greeted us. Now that’s refreshing! We inched closer towards the pass, and BOOM!!! The majestic twin lakes are right in front of us. No clouds, no interruptions. Every pain, every sweat, for all the troubles, hardships that we endured for this trek was now worth it. THIS reward was priceless, and special! We gasped there sitting on loose rocks admiring the ethereal wonder served to us. Saniya and Kashyap were badly missed now.

 This is folks, the twin Lakes. On left is Nundkol lake flanked by the Mt. Harmukh, and to the left we have Gangbal lake

This is folks, the twin Lakes. On left is Nundkol lake flanked by the Mt. Harmukh, and to the left we have Gangbal lake

We could see 4 lakes actually, with 2 smaller lakes (ponds?) on each side. Gangbal was the biggest of all the lakes in the entire stretch of the trek. The Nundkol and the Gangbal lakes were separated by a small ridge, with the other can be reached from the former with 30 mins of walk. The Gangbal lake feeds the Nundkol lake, which then drains out towards Naranag. Mt. Harmukh, which is also the highest mountain in Kashmir valley was right behind Nundkol lake, making for a grand vista. Truly, this was my favorite day of the trek. But wait, didn’t I say that the walk from Vishansar to Gadsar was my fav? Well I’m sorry, I LIED! That day was of course beautiful, but this one was special.

 Us!

Us!

Clicked to our hearts content. Selfies, Groupfies, landscape, in the air shots, with the back facing the camera, thinking about life wala types, Facebook DP’s, I-Was-Here moments: you name it we clicked it. After lots of persuasion by the guides we moved on. From here on it would be a knee-jerking descend. Good that the view of the lakes will be with us atleast for a good amount of time.

 nothing much to say here. let the pic do the talking

nothing much to say here. let the pic do the talking
 Descend begins

Descend begins

I find descending way difficult than going up. And this one was literally sapping out energy. After a never ending walk we finally reached the shores of the Gangbal lake. This lake was huge! And the water chilly (and clear). These 2 lakes are accessible from Naranag town and people often camp around. And no wonder there was litter all around. We threw our bag-pack aside, took off our soggy shoes, out came the lunchbox and ta-da, we are set!

 The Gangbal lake, the biggest of all the Great lakes

The Gangbal lake, the biggest of all the Great lakes

We had plenty of time to spare. We took a stroll around the lake. The adjoining massive glaciers were feeding the Gangbal lake. Also, all these alpine lakes are filled with Trouts. One can obtain a permit and do fishing here. Something that struck me later! We also met a hippie all the way from Puerto Rico, Juan. Juan has been travelling from the last 1 year, and is a physio back in his country. He just loves Kashmir and came back from Naranag to the lakes once the weather cleared. We befriended him and exchanged lots of stories. We also invited him for dinner.

The still waters of Gangbal lake
The still waters of Gangbal lake

We picked our stuff and headed towards our campsite, which was pitched next to the Nundkol lake. Finally, we will be camping right next to a lake! Though Nundkol was smaller than Gangbal, the sheer grandeur of its setting was something out of a dream. Its clear azure water was overshadowed by the majestic Mt. Harmukh guarding its shore. And all this right in front of you.

And now the Nundkol lake
And now the Nundkol lake

Today was the last stretch of the trek before we head out to Naranag (or civilization) tomorrow. So why not make it count? I wanted to try angling. But I didn’t have any sort of stuff to fish. So in such cases always improvise! I took my hiking pole, then took the sewing thread from one of the helper, and took a key chain and transformed it into a hook. Voila, our makeshift fishing rod is ready! But what about the bait? Negi bhai removed a stone and we found a live worm! Bloody hell, we have a full blown fishing rod ready! I threw the hook into the water. No luck, no fish. 1st try that was. 2nd shot on my luck, I threw the hook with the bait again, this time with more confidence. I was determined, tonight’s meal will be fish curry+rice! I start to pull the string, but alas it broke! So much for my fishing skills (and fish curry!).

Now that's what you call a camping site!
Now that’s what you call a camping site!

The rest of the evening was spent clicking pics and walking alongside the lake. Too bad all this will come to an end by tomorrow. Me, Farzu and Chinnu sat in our tent, munching on our remaining snacks and contemplating how exhilarating and adventurous the trek turned out. And how glad we are that we met and decided to go ahead on this life changing trip amidst apprehensions and a tumultuous situation. Farzu also threw his side of life as a merchant navy and how exciting yet difficult a life it is. Too bad Saniya and Kashyap were not there, else for sure people around would have had a tough night 😛

 The very same water where I tried my fishing skills!

The very same water where I tried my fishing skills!

It was dinner time, for one last time. Garma-garam jalebi was for dessert. Burrrp!!! I think I had more of the jalebis than main course. Juan also joined in, and it was fun to listen his side of the story. And to imagine that his friends and family thinks he has gone nuts!

Day 8: For One Last Time…

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” ― The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

All bags packed, tents rolled up, and horses loaded it was time to bid adieu to this slice of paradise. We heartily thanked each member of TTH for all the efforts they had put for us. We also offered our wishes to Juan for his remaining leg of his adventure and said our byes. All good things must come to an end.

to Naranag. PC: Chinmay
to Naranag. PC: Chinmay

The remainder part of the trek is through pine forests, followed by a back-breaking steep descend to Naranag. Negi bhai kept me hooked on with his memoirs of his mountaineering course days, and how he used to be a hunter back in his village in Kinnaur! But the descend was the worst part of the trek. The trail till Naranag was twisty at an angle of 70deg. My knees were in jitters by the time we reached Naranag. This day was the most uneventful. By the time the sun was on top of our head we reached Naranag. We checked into a lodge to clean ourselves up. All of us were tanned and could do with some good food. Came to know that curfew has been again imposed as 1 more civilian died. Only way out to Srinagar was at night now.

Naranag is a quaint little town, away from the hustle-bustle that we came from. With a river separating it from a forest (National Park actually) and the town, it was the perfect walk that we could’ve asked for. It felt that somehow this place missed the “modernization” bus. And let me tell you I’m glad it did.

The peaceful town Naranag. One evening stroll is all it took to take away our fatigue
The peaceful town Naranag. One evening stroll is all it took to take away our fatigue

The lodge owner was grateful enough to drop us till the airport early morning. We picked up Kashyap on the way and met Saniya near the Dal lake, who’ll travel next day. They did have a gala time while in the house boat, doing shikara rides and bagful of shopping. At the airport we exchanged hugs and I proceeded for my onward journey.

These last 8 days have been different. Being humble, generous, and to look down at the purpose of our doings. From a world where chaos is the norm to a hamlet where being you made you happy. It was not only about those perfect alpine lakes, it was also about those snow covered mountains, the kids we met and shared our candies, the green valleys, and the never ending army of sheep. My trek to Kashmir Great Lakes was my most fulfilling ever. Maybe the most beautiful trek I’ll do, ever. Maybe I’ll come back again.

“It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello.
Hello to a new adventure” Ernie Harwell

By:-

Hrishikesh Baruah

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