Kashmir Great Lakes Trek – Himalayan Experience of a First Timer
It was a “dream came true” for me! I was always longing for a Himalayan Trek mainly for three reasons: a) to find myself in front of the mighty Himalaya (purely spiritual in nature), b) to regain/boost my confidence towards braving the odds of life and c) photography. I have done plenty of treks in the Western Ghats and Southern India. I have travelled North India quite extensively including Kashmir and Ladhak region but not as a trek. When my friends asked me to join this July trek I nodded immediately as a first step in fulfilling this deep desire.
I abstain from writing more about the number stuff like altitudes, kms etc. as they are available everywhere. In the end, I have added some tips and advice which I feel useful to my fellow trekkers.
Day 1. Arrive at Srinagar, Drive to Sonamarg Base Camp
Six of us namely Harusha, Manjunath, Subbu, Praveen, Karthik and I arrived at Srinagar airport by1400hrs via different flights from Bangalore. Called up the TTH contacts, kith and kin.Kept our conversations to the minimal to conserve the battery for the next 7 days. Reached Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) which is a few kilometers away from airport by a separate taxi! From there, TTH arranged taxis picked us up on a long drive to Sonamarg base camp by 1900hrs. There was plenty of light. Without any further delay, we segregated and repacked our backpacks. Thanks to TTH for taking care of our extra luggage that we received safely at Naranag on the last day. Team leader Mr. Gaurav welcomed us. Other six fellow trekkers arrived much later whom we could meet only next morning. Night sleep was not sound enough due to the excitement slated to begin. Below is a view from our base camp shot in the morning.
Day 2.Sonamarg to Nichnai
First day of the trek, lazy start. Journey started only by 0830hrs after the trek briefing including Dos & Don’ts was over. Ascent started just behind the base camp into the sloppy green meadows. Within half an hour into the trek, trekkers one by one shut their mouths as breathing took over all attention. Hands became busy with the camera and lens. Morning view of Sonamarg from above was very interesting with foggy mountains and cloudy blue skies.
We took many short breaks under pine and maple trees before reaching Shekdur tea stall at noon. This particular bent tree on the way has become a trademark of this trek. An ideal location for showing one’s photography skills.
Had stomach full at the tea stall.Khawah tea (tea made by boiling green tea leaves with saffron strands, cinnamon bark, cardamom pods) he served was very tasty and relaxing. Don’t miss it if you are on that trail.
The ascent is now over and the trail slopes down into the silver birch tree meadow. The shades from the trees were effective in protecting us from scorching sun on the top. Plenty of brooks crossing our path quenched our thirst with crystal clear mineral water. Here goes the Shekdur camp site if one want to camp ahead of Nichnai.
From here the trail goes up and down and soon opens up to a river valley which is the beginning of Nichnai.
We were thrilled to see our first snow patch on the very first day on the left bank of the river. We cheerfully walked all-round the snow, went up the stream jumping on the boulders. Far away we could see snow clad mountains of Nichnai Pass which we were to cross next day. The valley finally opened up into a plateau ahead of the pass where our camps were waiting for us.Sound from the flowing river was kinda lullaby for all of us throughout the night. In fact this was true for all the camping nights! Many of us thought of recording the sound to playback as lullaby at home!
Day 3.Nichnai to Vishnusar Lake via Nichnai Pass
Next morning, team got ready by 0730hrs. Without any further delay, our leading guide Mr. Rasheed led us to the other side of the river. We didn’t have to wet our legs with the chilly water from the river as a big snow patch across the river acted as a bridge.
Ascend began with the snow peaks as our first target. We marched across many snow patches and barren landscapes to reach the source of the river i.e., Nichnai Pass. Had a few breaks in between and ate some food along the climb. The valley deceived us quite a few times. Few encouraging words from the guide kept us motivated. The call “chalochalochalo” from the guide who used to be quite ahead of us frequently reminded us of the time and the target. Finally we were on top of the pass. This pass being second to Gadsar Pass by just a 100ft (13500ft), it was remarkable to achieve on 2nd day of the trek. This is the last point from where one can make calls using Airtel/BSNL post-paid networks. The next point where mobile networks are available is none other than Naranag!
Both sides of the pass were awesometo watch with the Vishnusar side being richer in snow.
After 30 min of rest and enough photography, we started descending towards Vishnusar. There was the biggest ever snow patch on the other side of the pass that we came across and thus didn’t hesitate to have extra time on the snow.
Snow patches led us to a wide valley with a gradual slope but with no end in sight. Tiny yellow flowers were scattered everywhere along with few purple ones. Walked…. walked….. and walked….. to reach a dead end – a river flowing out of Vishnusar Lake. We didn’t cross the river but camped on the same side leaving the challenge of crossing it to the morning.
Meanwhile eyes kept on looking for Vishnusarand Kishansartwin lakes which were nowhere to be seen. The lakes were upstream of the river hidden from the camp site. There was no plan to rest here the next day. Therefore, had some food and immediately left to the lake to shoot some evening snaps. Other part of the team became busy in fishing! The site is famous for trout fishes. Fishing permission needs to be obtained from Srinagar!
Within 10 min, we were at Vishnusar clicking in all directions. Little disappointed as I couldn’t make any images with proper reflections in the lake because of slight drizzling.
As the weather was getting bad, we dropped the idea of exploring KishansarLake and rushed back to the camp.
Day 4.Vishnusar to Gadsar viaKishansar and Gadsar Pass
It is rightly said “If you pass GadsarPass you pass the trek”. This is the highest peak in the trek and a steep one with many deceptive peaks leading to the next one. Crossing over the lake was not at all a problem with Rasheed bhai leading us and the water level being low in the river. Had to negotiate few slippery boulders.
We were ready with our DSLRs to explore Kishansar. But the nature had some other plans for us! As soon as we reached Kishansar, it started drizzling. With the dark clouds mounting the sky from all over, we didn’t have a choice. For the first time, our rain wears came in the open. Quickly took a shot of Kishansar , folded our cameras and slipped into rain coat, rain pant, waterproof hats and gloves.
There on no second thought, only thought being crossing the Gadsar pass safely. Half an hour into the climb, it started raining heavily accompanied by cold breeze. The path was narrow and slippery; climb was steep with nothing to hold onto other than grass! Every step had to be taken with great care. No chance for any wrong doing. The sticky mud mixed with rain water made the situation worse by clinging to our shoes making its grip useless. With no gravels beneath the shoes, it was a nightmare with zero grip. There came the other challenge – making
Written By: Krishna Bhat