Seven Days of Paradise at Kashmir Great Lakes

“Agar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto, hami asto, hami asto!” – Amir-e-Khusru Dehluvi                    

[If there is paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here!]

Long walks through colourful flower-embroidered meadows punctuated by gorgeous alpine lakes; frequent hopping through boulders small and large; sporadic companionship of sheep and goat along with shepherds, and quite often migrating shepherd families; obtaining permits at the Army Camps; and all through being in a dream-like state of disbelieve spellbound by this heaven on Earth!

That’s how I would describe Kashmir Great Lake (KGL) in a nutshell.

Besides, it was quite thrilling to imagine being so close to Pakistan!

I have already written two posts on this trek – one on the lakes and another on the meadows. This one is a day-wise description. Here’s the links to the other two:

Day 1: Sindh River and Thajiwas Glacier at Shitkadi

Situated just a few kilometres ahead of Sonamarg, we arrived at Shitkadi after a drive of about 4 hrs from Srinagar. Shitkadi was our basecamp. The Sindh River and Thajiwas glacier amidst the lush green surroundings served as the perfect trailer to the gorgeous beauty that we could expect to unfold in the days to follow.

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Pic 1: Shitkadi campsite with Sindh River flowing by against the backdrop of Thajiwas glacier.
Day 2: Bhoj Trees on Way to Nichnai

Technically we started the trek on this day as we walked towards Nichnai, our first campsite. The initial few hours consisted of an arduous climb as we huffed and puffed towards a place called Tabletop. Being breathless is normal as we had just started walking and our bodies was just getting used to it. At Tabletop, we rested at a Dhaba run by a Kashmiri couple. The omelettes, tea, bread, biscuits, and munchies gave us the much needed energy to continue with our walk.

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Pic 2: As we proceed upwards away from Shitkadi
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Pic 3: Sheep grazing on lush green meadows, note the shepherd huts in the distance.
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Pic 4: A shepherd couple beside their hut at Tabletop

Through a lovely dense forest of Maple trees, we soon landed on a carpet of green lined with Bhoj Trees or Silver Birch. The bark of these trees were used by Rishi/Munis in ancient India for writing and that ensued excited chit-chatter in the group. I couldn’t resist the urge to carry back a tiny portion of the whitish brown bark to show folks back home.

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Pic 5: As we proceed towards the meadow lined with Bhoj Trees or Silver Birch.
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Pic 6: Just look at that! This was at Tabletop, hundreds of sheep dotting the green carpet.

We proceeded and walked precariously through a section of rocky terrain with Nichani Nalla gushing by as if in great hurry to join Sindh River. The rocky terrain gets abruptly replaced by a green meadow and after crossing that we reached Nichnai. It started pouring the moment we landed at Nichnai. Thanking our lucky stars, we rushed into our tents and remained there for the next one hour as the rains continued to splash.

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Pic 7: The rocky terrain alongside Nichnai Nalla, note the people blending into the surroundings.
Day -3: Vishansar – The First Lake

This was a very special day as we encountered the first lake of the trek – Vishansar. We started by crossing a nalla (stream) by hopping through stones and then walked  through a beautiful lavender meadow towards Nichnai Pass or Vishnusar Berry. At an altitude of 13,500 ft., Nichnai pass remains surrounded by jagged tall mountain peaks and the climb to it is not an easy one.

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Pic 8: The beautiful lavender meadow on way up towards Nichnai Pass.
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Pic 9: Just before the steep climb towards Nichnai Pass.

After a well-deserved rest, we descended from the pass through a tricky rocky terrain and landed onto stretches of grass with red flowers springing on our path. Thereafter, we encountered two more nallas, a big waterfall splashing down the mountain cliff, an utterly green meadow devoid of flowers and a certain stretch of heaven-touching barren tall mountains looking down upon us. It was the fag end of monsoon, so we didn’t see much snow, though snowfall would start off soon.

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Pic 10: At Nichnai Pass – silent conversations of sharing without talking bound by mutual feelings of divinity and grace. 

Just before arriving at the campsite, we crossed a rather wide nalla by hopping over stones. The campsite is situated on the base of a small hill, on the other side of which lies Vishansar Lake – my favourite lake of the trek.

Day 4: Colourful Meadows Make for a Pretty Day

This was the longest and prettiest day as we moved towards Gadsar Pass, the highest point of this trek at an altitude of 13,800 ft. We started off with a gradual ascent leaving behind Vishansar and went right up to Kishansar, which is the second lake of the trek.

After Kishansar the trail became very steep, challenging us both mentally and physically. The narrow muddy strip that we climbed for almost 2 hours to reach Gadsar Pass was very strenuous. Thankfully it was a sunny day, I can only imagine the scenario on a rainy day. The magnificent view of the twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar greeted us at the Pass, which instantaneously dissolved all pain of the arduous climb.

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Pic 11: Huffing and puffing through the narrow strip towards Gadsar Pass. Phew! It was tough.
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Pic 12: Just turn back and you have all the motivation to make through the arduous climb.

An equally steep descent through loose mud and scree followed. My descending demons started raising their ugly heads but this time I had made up my mind to tackle them head on. And I surprised myself by actually descending without any help and quite fast with a little bit of downhill running too!

We found ourselves at the meadows even before we knew it and in we were for a visual treat of red, blue, purple, and yellow, meadows. Every turn threw up a different colour and these multi-coloured meadows just continued one after the other for 2-3 hours. A fellow trekmate rightly commented – “I can imagine little girls walking ahead of us with  baskets of colourful flowers sprinkling them on our path.”

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Pic 13: The meadows to die for – pictures don’t do any justice as you can imagine
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Pic 14: Red, yellow, white, purple, and multi-coloured meadows, a different colour at every turn.

The meadows slowly give way as we crossed yet another nalla and landed at Gadsar Lake – another pristine and gorgeously elegant lake. I ranked it as my second favourite though many in our group thought Gadsar was the best lake. After spending a good amount of time at Gadsar, we continued our walk once again through the colourful meadows towards our campsite.

We arrived at the campsite just after crossing an Army campsite – the first one in the series of three along the trail.

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Pic 15: At Gadsar Campsite. Horses make their way home as the lights fade, at least 50 of them
Day 5: A Glimpse of Nanga Parbat

It was an adventurous start to the day when we had to take off our shoes and wade through knee deep ice cold waters of a gushing stream. This was followed by a very steep ascent. We were off from the normal route as the snow bridge that is used to cross the stream had broken. Nothing alarming as that’s not an unusual thing for this time of the year.

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Pic 16: Taking on the icecold waters and navigating underlying slippery stones

On this day, we walked through a never-ending lush green meadow that went on and on. There weren’t many flowers on this one but it was lined by variegated barren undulating mountains on one side and sheep grazing in huge numbers almost everywhere. Sheep and shepherd are common all along the trail but this one was special because the huge stretch of green meadow was literally dotted by these grazing fluffs of white balls.

Somewhere on the way, we  were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Nanga Parbat even though the sky was not all that clear. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world located in Pakistan, the visibility of which depends on the weather.

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Pic 17: The unending meadow dotted with clusters of grazing sheep was nothing but sheer delight. My phone camera was not equipped to capture Nanga Parbat that we saw somewhere here.

At the end of the meadow, we climbed a hill to report to Satsar Army Camp. After the Army Camp, we walked along with huge flocks of sheep and goat, maneuvering large boulders and reached Satsar Lakes. We were able to see three of the seven Satsars, one at each turn of the winding mountain trail.

That night the sky broke down into heavy showers that continued way into the morning nearly messing up our plan for the day but before that it rewarded us with a magical view of the Milkyway.

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Pic 18: The flocks of sheep and goat that walked alongside us at Satsar.
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Pic 19: At Satsar campsite. There was no Sun for the entire day yet a visual treat at dusk and then it poured through the night that continued way into the morning.
Day 6: A Risky Boulder Hopping

We almost thought we would have to stay back at Satsar campsite. It was 8.00 AM and the rains showed no respite. Heavy rains are no fun in the mountains especially when it continues incessantly. Around 9.15 AM, the Rain Gods showed some mercy and the showers lightened till it ceased altogether. We packed up and started moving around 10 AM, which was a good two hour delay from our planned time.

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Pic 20: The risky boulder hopping section, the picture doesn’t capture the magnitude of difficulty.

The highlight of this day was hopping through a boulder section that constituted large boulders, some of which had good enough gaps in between. This tricky boulder section lasted for a little over an hour and was an Adrenalin rush for everyone in my team but not me. The boulders were wet due to overnight rains and that didn’t make life any easier for us. My legs wavered and I was very scared. I literally clung on to our guide for the entire section and somehow made it through.

Boulder hopping is common in KGL trek but this one was risky. In fact, on 3 days of the trek we had a horse accompany us, which was the designated ambulance for any uncalled for situations of twisted ankles or fractured legs.

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Pic 21: The steep descent through sharp stones from Zajibal Pass demanded focus & concentration.

Beyond the boulder section, we maneuvered mild and steep ascends and arrived at Zajibal pass. Once again, we were swept off our feet by the glorious views of the twin lakes of Nandkhol and Gangabal against the backdrop of Harmukh Peak.

The descent from Zajibal Pass was very steep and stony demanding a lot of caution and focus. One misstep could result in serious injuries. As we descended, Nandkhol and Gangabal appeared closer and closer, but they were still far away. It took us another 2-3 hours to arrive at Gangabal first and Nandkhol after that.

Day 7: Descending Through Slippery Muddy Trails

This was supposed to be a rest day, however as a team we decided to not take the rest day and instead carry on towards Naranag. This was the last day of our KGL Trek.

Through steep and gradual ascends and descends, and passing though meadows, we arrived at the final Army Checkpost. Thereafter, we walked through a well-marked trail passing through traces of civilization, and arrived at the point where the final descent begins. This descent was literally back-breaking and a killer on the knees.

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Pic 22: Climbing down the steep trail that was slippery and muddy due to rains took a toll on our knees.

We had just started descending when the weather that was by our side all along decided to turn against us and it started raining quite heavily. No complaints as it was the last day and we didn’t have to bother about wet socks and muddy shoes. However, the difficulty we now encountered going down the muddy trail, is just anybody’s guess! The thick Pine forest all along could not do much to protect us from the rains. The descent seemed to take forever as we had to tread slowly and cautiously.

Drenched and tired with jittery knees we finally arrived at Naranag, which is a tiny little town separated from the forest by Wangath River, a tributary of Sindh River. With the trek coming to an end, we celebrated with a quick lunch, and drove off to Srinagar.

Note: Once again these are unedited pictures clicked through iPhone-6. For exclusive pictures of the lakes and meadows, look up the links provided at the beginning of this post.

My Very Personal Opinion on KGL

The KGL trek entails very long walks, it isn’t difficult but the long days of endless walks through meadows, boulders, and moraines does test your mental strength and perseverance. The breathtaking landscape keeps you engaged and does a great job of diverting your attention all through.

However, there exists predictability in the exquisitely beautiful surroundings that you encounter each day and this may sometimes lead to monotony. I felt this was the flipside of KGL, which is unlike all the other Himalayan treks I have done so far. This became more pronounced for me as I had been to Rupin Pass just three months back where there were surprises at every turn.

Take this as no discouragement though as I am quite certain there is no match for the awe-inspiring rustic vistas of KGL. And if you are a nature-lover like me, this trek is an absolute must do.

The Army Camps

Gadsar – This was a small Army Camp in the form of a hut, housing a handful of Army Men. Our National Flag fluttered proudly at one end. We had to provide our original identity proofs and the detail of everyone crossing the camp were checked and recorded. This also included questions on where we were traveling from, what job we did, etc.

Satsar – This camp was small also but was larger than Gadsar. It is situated on top of a hill, and quite a climb it was. When we arrived, a large crowd of migrating shepherds with their families were also waiting to cross over. Some groups were moving with their horses, there were about 40- 50 horses. Then there were others with their flock of sheep and goats and these were huge groups probably in hundreds. We learnt that the horsemen have to wait longer as each and every horse is checked thoroughly before being allowed to pass. It’s easier with sheep and goat as only their owners need to pass the security checks. It’s the common man who always ends up paying the price.

Before Naranag – This camp was larger and much closer to civilization. There wasn’t any detailed interrogation here. We just had to provide our identity proofs, no interrogations.

 

 

 

Colour Changing Meadows

Picture a meadow that changes colour at every turn as if it has just stepped out from the pages of a storybook – meadows that are lavender, meadows that are red, meadows that are yellow. That’s exactly how it was on that day – colour changing meadows.

We were just getting used to feasting our eyes on these meadows, but until that day it would be stretches of just one colour. Then there were these pockets of yellow, white, maroon, purple, and even a very dark green that would suddenly pop out here and there from the green grass that covered most of the rolling spread.

‘Paradise on Earth’ just seemed so appropriate for this implausible land on earth!

The ornamental and flowery meadows of the Kashmir Great Lakes trek turned out to be a great bonus that came along with the high altitude alpine lakes. Unusual flowers of myriad hues, sizes and shapes splashed all around made for iridescent pastures making me wonder with all seriousness if these were playgrounds of Gods and Goddesses! The kaleidoscopic surroundings pleased my senses and ignited an inner smile that is sure to burn warm for a long time to come.

I don’t know the names of any of these flowers. Our guide was of no help either. He said they are called lavender and red weed – the lavender and the red flowers respectively – surely there has to be better names. He couldn’t help with the local names too.

An interesting thing that needs mention is that the lavender meadows had many different kinds of flowers but all of them were of the same lavender colour. The same was true for the red meadows and the yellow meadows.

I did not click pictures of all the flowers that I came across, which was because of two reasons.

  • Firstly, it is the handicap of using a phone camera and not having a DSLR or even an ordinary camera.
  • Secondly, the thought that a picture would do no justice to the sight, smell, and feel of the flowers sufficiently convincing my mind to not click at all.

While I write a detailed post on my experiences of Kashmir Great Lakes, I thought I would post pictures of these delicate beauties and some of you might just be able to help me with their names.

Once again these are unedited mobile photos clicked through iPhone-6.

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Love and Gratitude for the Himalayas

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.” – Rene Daumal

Nature has that power to enable unburdening of our hearts leading to joyous experiences of inner peace. What better place to experience nature than the higher reaches of glorious mountains!  My sincerest gratitude to the mighty Himalayas, to whom I humbly surrender each time I set my foot on them.

Coined from the Sanskrit words of ‘hima’ meaning snow and ‘alaya’ meaning abode, the Himalayas are the loftiest mountain system in the world. With more than 110 peaks rising to elevations of 24,000 ft. (7,300 m.) or more above sea level, the Himalayan Range includes the highest mountains in the world.

My first encounter with the magnificently regal Himalayas happened rather abruptly – one fine day, I randomly decided to go for a trek. It was just an impulse act and I had no clue what high altitude trekking entailed. In fact, I had never trekked anywhere before. I have been a nature-lover forever and that was all I knew. That incident turned out to be the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

I will not hesitate to say that the mountains changed me in ways more than one and I have become a much better person today (at least I’d like to believe so). Many things I do today, I owe to the Himalayas – this blog for instance.

The snow-clad Himalayas are mystical mountains associated with divinity and spirituality. And, I do find the divine in them. They seem like a living-breathing entity to me watching over me, blessing me, and helping me. Possibly, it’s their tall and grandiose appearance or perhaps just the initial intimidation when I look up at them.

I always feel they have a mind of their own. I firmly believe that you can set foot on them only if they allow you do so. You can plan and desire and do what you want but in the end it’s their wish and not yours. With that in mind, I truly feel fortunate and privileged. In the last two years, I have trekked in the Himalayas five times. Without blessings from the majestic mountains, that would have never happened. Each time the mountains ensured that everything worked in our favour, which is especially true with respect to the unpredictable weather.

Earlier this month I discovered the Northern Himalayas as I trekked in Kashmir savouring the gorgeousness of the high altitude glacier-fed alpine lakes. Here are some pictures of Kashmir Great Lakes. I will write a detailed post later.

[All of these are unedited photos clicked through iPhone-6.]

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Pic 1: Vishansar or Vishnusar glimmers in the late afternoon soft sun.
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Pic 2: A flock of sheep at Vishansar Lake – blessed they are to graze on such heavenly grounds.
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Pic 3: The purity of Kishansar Lake can be felt through the sweet taste of its pristine water.
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Pic 4: Kishansar Lake as we walked away climbing the mountain along the sides.
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Pic 5: The twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar as seen from the top of Gadsar Pass.
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Pic 6:The green tinge of Gadsar Lake sets it apart from the bluish tinge of Vishansar and Kishansar.
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Pic 7: Shepherds with their flock in one of the Satsars. Satsar literally translates to seven lakes. 
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Pic 8: Another Satsar. Out of the seven, we could see only three. Two lie behind the mountains and are difficult to access. Two others had dried up as it was the fag end of monsoon.
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Pic 9: The twin lakes of Gangabal (R) and Nandkol (L) as seen from the top of Satsar Pass.
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Pic 10: Gangabal up close, peace and quiet reigned all around!
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Pic 11: Nandkol up close, its closer to civilisation and I was saddened to see signs of that as one side of the lake lay littered with bottles and plastic.