Kashmir through my eyes
This year I and my friend finally decided we would go to Kashmir inspite all odds. We booked Kashmir Great Lakes last year in august but could not do it due to increasing security issue in the valley. This year we had no other thoughts in mind but to just go to Kashmir valley. We had booked 5 August to 12 August batch for trek.
Our journey began with our flight to Srinagar from Mumbai on 5th August and to our surprise flight got delayed as crew could not find passenger on flight who had checked in but was not flight!! ‘Perfect scary start to Kashmir trip!! Lol’. We reached Srinagar airport at 3.30 P.M. delayed by an hour. We had booked transportation provided by TTH from Srinagar to Sonmarg base camp. We reach the pick-up point by 4.15 extremely delayed where our other 8 fellow trekkers were eagerly waiting for journey to start. We started our trip to Sonmarg and we were greeted by wonderful sight of Sindhu River flowing besides the road and tall standing Himalayan peaks ahead of us. On the way we were joined by TTH crew and our trek leader Mr. Nitesh. We reached campsite around 6.30 PM which had wonderful view of snow clad peaks and Sindhu River besides it. I meet the other 5 fellow trekkers and to be surprise we had 2 trekkers ageing more than 60. Soon in next few days I was supposed to realize the truth of statement ‘Age is just the number’. We were group of 15 trekkers 3 of them were foreign tourist, a couple from Hong kong and one from Morocco, others were from various part of India Hyderabad, Gujarat, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kanpur. At the base camp trekkers introduced themselves to each other and completed our documents formalities. Cook had prepared complete 3 course meal with sweets to welcome us, we had our dinner and were all set to begin our 72 km long journey for 7 days next morning. Night ended with mercury levels dropping down and discussions within the group how everyone had to convince their families, friends to Kashmir valley.
Next morning we were briefed about journey for the day by our trek leader Nitesh and we started our journey following our local guide Farooqji and Bilal Bhai. Today we had to trek for 11 Kms to Nichnai camp passing Shekdur also called the table top scaling 11,500 ft. We passed through lush green meadows local farm land and steep climbs. We halted at first army check point where we had quick chats with our brave men who were happy to speak to people coming from their part of the country, they briefed about their roles and experiences in the valley, we provided our ID’s to army and marched with our accent to Shekdur. We had few beginners’ on trek who found it difficult to march along especially wonderful couples from Gujarat. We reached Shekdur where there was small dhaba, we had some refreshment and started descent to our campsite for day1. We had our lunch at river side which was packed from the base camp. We got ourselves refreshed with fresh water filled in our bottles from the river and with mesmerizing view of meadows and mountains surrounding us. After a walk for an hour we reached our Nichnai camp, the camp was surrounded by rocky trails and river flowing besides which had ice cold water. Our trek leader checked our oxygen levels which become customary thing for every evening and we had great curiosity in knowing each other oxygen level hahaha. We were entertained by the couples from Hong Kong and a guy from morocco who shared their stories of stay in India. Especially how they reacted and dealt with traffic police when the broke the red light in India.
TTH crew again greeted us with wonderful 3 course meal after which tired group got into their sleeping bags with Nichnai pass standing at 13100 ft to conquer at next day.
The next day began with our 1.5 hours accent to Nichnai pass located at 13,100 ft, the journey to the pass was amazing, we had patches of glacier snow, where we got the opportunity to play and click some wonderful photographs, as usual I with few other trekkers were first to reach the pass. Team had snacks and other refreshment at the pass and we began our decent to Vishanshar camp site, after decent of 2 hours we reached the campsite. The campsite is a unique place with an open ground lots of sheeps goats and off-course we also had Sheppard dogs protecting them. We were offered hot lunch at the campsite much needed after tiring walk. In the evening our trek leader took us to Vishanshar Lake the first lake of the trek, the walk to the lake was easy. The lake was surrounded by mountains from 3 side and had spectacular views, the water was crystal blue and we had wonderful time clicking photographs and enjoying the calmness at the lake. Non-vegetarians had great time at dinner as they decided the catch the fresh trout fishes and have it in dinner. Most of trekkers didn’t get sound sleep as dogs kept barking all night to keep the alert for sheeps lol!!.
The next morning was the ultimate challenge, the task to cross the Gadsar pass highest point of the trek located at 13,750 ft along with long trek of 14 kms to the camp site. We began early with our breakfast and packed lunch. Trek began with easy walk to the base of the Gadsar pass, we were greeted by the wonderful view of Kishansar Lake on the way the second of the trek. We had some great photographs at lake and steep climb Gadsar pass was staring at us. We began our zigzag climb to the pass, the climb was tiring but gave us heavenly view of the Vishanshar and Kishansar ‘the twin lakes’, I was wondering whether such amazing natural beauty can be real on earth. We dragged ourselves to the top of the pass and felt sense of great achievement after scaling something which was seeming nightmare from the base. We spent around an hour at the pass having our refreshments most of us enjoyed the taste of juicy Himalayan apples on the top. We were also greeted by the site of mountain rats one which I had never seen before. We continued our journey to campsite with steep descent, on the way we passed through wonderful meadows of varied colors flowers, the path was simply heavenly. We had our lunch at river side where we had good 45 minutes break to regain our energy. We continued our journey to campsite and we were suddenly greeted with most beautiful lake of the trek, ‘the Gadsar lake’, the lake had huge glacier behind it and it is said most part of lake remains frozen as we could see ice floating in the shiny blue waters of the lake. We finally managed to drag ourselves to the campsite which was just before second army check post where we presented our id’s. The camp site was cold and again close to the river stream. We enjoyed playing cricket at 12,000 ft with locals and fellow trekkers of India hike group, although we lost all games hahahahah, but was great experience. We were served with hot soup by TTH crew the one that I loved the most in all treks with TTH. The team had quite dinner and had good sleep after tiring day.
The next day we moved as our trek leaders and guide always said “it’s an easy walk today” to Satsar campsite, but this time it was relatively easy 9 km walk to Satsar campsite, we passed through small accent from which we got slight glimpse of Nanga Parbat, we had wonderful walk through heavenly meadows of Kashmir today. On our way we reached the army check post, the feeling I had was amazing, I could see the Indian tri color flying high at the army camp , which brought me closer to my motherland. Such views were only seen before in movies such as LOC Kargil or border but this was real and feeling can’t be described in words. I meet the army personnel at the camp, they allowed me to click the photograph with the tricolor at the camp. I also meet an army officer from Gujarat posted in Kashmir valley being Gujarati myself we connected immediately and he started sharing his experience and talking about his journey and family back home. After this trek my respect towards Indian army has raised by leaps and bounds. We had views of other small lakes of Satsar before we reached the campsite. We reached the campsite early and indulge into the stories shared by our trek leader Nitesh and Evergreen and youngest member of trek ‘60 year old aunty from Nagpur’. The campsite at Satsar was coldest surrounded by mountains on 4 sides. We spent rest of day playing UNO cards where some of the fellow trekkers also climbed further on top to have a sight of Satsar Lake. Evening was surprise for a couple from Bangalore who had their anniversary on the trek and as per the TTH tradition the cooking staff had prepared amazing anniversary cake for the couple. The warmth of the staff was incredible to prepare such cuisines at 12,500 ft is amazing.
What came next was further surprise, heavens above had opened up on the trek for first time and we experienced heavy rainfall with lightning and thunder. It was scary feeling specially reading about flash floods in mountains in past. I could feel the roaring sound of thunder as it echoed through the mountains.
Satsar Army Camp
Next morning we were blessed by the clear skies but trek for the day had become tricky due to rain overnight as this day we had to trek through yet another pass – Zagg pass 13,000 ft, on the way. Trek to the pass was tricky as we had to trek through the boulders on the way for approx 2 kms, where each one of them had to crawl taking support of rocks to reach at top. One of our fellow trekker youngest in group @18, had her shoe torned off, hats off to the spirit she climbed with torn shoes tying her shoe with whatever she could find on the path. Once we reach the top felling was lot different we again had heavenly view of Harmukh mountain and twin lakes beneath Gangabal being largest of all lakes and its fellow Nandkol a perfect spot to get picture perfect from 13,000 ft. We continued our decent to campsite which was amazingly located just below the Harmukh mountain range and besides Nandkol Lake. In the dinner we were greeted by mouthwatering Jalebi’s by cook and some pahadi songs by the local crew members.
Next day was the rest day to explore Gangabal, and hence it started lazy, with breakfast of chole bhature. Post breakfast we headed to Gangabal lake, and again we had heavenly feeling with crystal clear waters of lake. We spent around couple of Hours at lake enjoying the lake site having photographs and off course couple of trekkers had courage to swim in such ice cold waters. Evening was spent by group chats, where trekkers shared their stories such as escaping from jaws of death by Hong Kong couple in Asian Tsunami, stories of man-eater leopards of Gharwal Himalayas shared by our trek leader Nitesh, and amazing stories of encounters with monkeys and other animals by our evergreen 60 year old aunty from Nagpur, post which we gave her the name as Madagascar aunty (u need to watch that movie to know why and relate it).
Later our trek leader and crew gave us our certificates for completing the trek and each one of us shared their experience of these 7 days in heaven on earth. The day ended with camp fire which was set up by TTH crew where we were again entertained by Kashmiri, Pahadi and Punjabi songs by locals in crew.
Next morning was sad as it was time to go back to city life, we began early in the morning as we needed to reach Naranag by 12 P.M. and had to cover distance of approx.15km. For a change, I who used to be always ahead in the trek each day was amongst last bunch of group today as I wanted to enjoy and feel every moment of this last few hrs of beautiful trek. Even on the last day the valley didn’t disappoint us and gave us some great views. We reached Naranag by noon and were dropped at Srinagar by 3PM. Unfortunately there was strike in the city and none of the shops or market were opened. I and my friend were lucky to find a Kashmiri shop where we could buy beautiful Kashmiri dresses, we were also accompanied by Madagascar aunty and youngest member of our trek. After shopping we took the beautiful Shikara ride in the night and did further shopping of Kashmiri spices from floating market. The day ended with delicious dinner at a restaurant where we could sense the entire Kashmiri flavor in the food.
So this was my experience of most amazing trek one can go on, it had everything high passes, boulders, meadows, valley of flowers, pristine lakes. More importantly the warmth of Kashmiri people the local guides, we never felt unsafe in the valley, after this experience I can proudly say Kashmir is heaven on earth.
“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast”
Special thanks to TTH crew and local guides for making this experience so special.