I stood there staring at the Sindh River gushing away right next to our tents. Even a week before I didn’t know that I would be here. Life is uncertain and sometimes in a nice way, I thought to myself. We were at Shitkadi basecamp from where we would trek a good 75-80 Km. up to an altitude of 13,800 ft. in search of six beautiful alpine lakes hidden in the nooks and corners of the tall, jagged, and near barren Kashmir Himalayas.
The Kashmir Great Lakes (KGL) trek happened to be one of those spontaneous and impulsive decisions that I sometimes undertake without much thought. This was nowhere in the radar, especially after having just done Rupin Pass in May. My rash and impulsive self, sprouting from acute impatience, sometimes turns out to be quite a boon. The thought of KGL occurred and in just five days, I found myself in an airplane towards Srinagar. The thought was, of course, fueled by certain other situations happening in my life.
These are things that make me believe that it’s the mountains who decide when, where, and how one sets foot on them.
KGL, labelled as moderate to difficult, is said to be the prettiest trek in India. And, it indeed was! Words are not enough to describe the pristine beauty of this Himalayan fairyland with stretches of meadows dotted with flowers of various kinds, the tall mountains of various shades, the blue/green lakes nestled quietly here and there, wild horses and grazing sheep, the twinkling streams appearing and disappearing, and so much more.
In this post, I will write about the lakes. The meadows and the rest will follow in another post.
[Note: I have shared pictures in another post, will share some more and this time with descriptions.]
Peace and Tranquillity at Vishansar Lake
It was Day-3 of the trek, when we encountered Vishansar Lake and it was the first lake of the trek. We had camped at the base of a hill, on the other side of which lay this lake. Vishansar, with its scintillating radiance glimmering in the soft afternoon sun stole my heart at the very first glance and remained my most favourite lake of the trek. It was late afternoon and at that hour the lake appeared a greenish blue with the Kishansar Peak standing tall across the quiet waters.
Situated at an elevation of 3710 m. Vishansar, also known as Vishusar, literally translates as the lake of Lord Vishnu. Fed by Kishansar Lake and many glaciers, it is the main source of Neelam River, which is a tributary of Jhelum River. The lake freezes during winter and is home to many fishes, including the Himalayan Brown Trout. At this time of the year, the month of September, it was surrounded by lush green meadows that provided the perfect pastures to flock of sheep and goat that pass by.
We spent the entire afternoon and evening walking by the side of the lake soaking in the stillness of the quiet valley. The only sound that pervaded this silence once in a while was the bleating of sheep and the whistling of shepherds. The tranquility and calmness appealed to my senses in a way that I can still feel the same when I imagine Vishansar.
As evening crawled in, it started drizzling forcing us to leave the lake side and walk back to our camp.
The Sweet Waters of Kishansar Lake
It was Day -4 and we woke up to a bright day. The sun shone softly, interrupted by occasional clouds and the gloom from the previous evening had disappeared. This was a day of steep ascents and descents. The first stretch of climb led us away from Vishansar, which was a deep blue at this time with the early morning sunshine. Viewing the clear reflections of the Kishansar Peak, from the mountain top made for the start of a very beautiful day.
Soon, we came upon Kishansar which was smaller in size as compared to Vishansar. Most people in our group were satisfied with the far away view we had from the trail. Wanting a closer view, I walked off the trail towards the lake when I spotted a fellow trekmate headed in the same direction. Now there was no stopping and the two of us went up to the shore of the lake.
The sparkling clear waters shining in the morning sun was divine. We felt compelled to cup our hands and drink the water. It was the sweetest water I ever tasted and I couldn’t stop at one. Every sip seemed sweeter than the one before. This is attributed to the oligotrophic nature of these lakes.
[Oligotrophic lakes have low nutrient content resulting in low algal production, and consequently, have very clear waters with high oxygen content that is of high drinkable quality.]
Kishansar literally translates as the lake of Lord Krishna and its divinity is for one to feel. Situated at a height of 3710 m above sea level, Krishnasar is fed by melting glaciers. It outflows to Vishansar Lake and Neelum River. This lake also freezes during winter.
A very steep ascent followed Kishansar that took us up to Gadsar Pass. It was a tough climb but the fascinating view of the twin lakes from the top of the pass was more than worth the trouble. I will let the picture do all the talking here.
The Uneasy Quiet at Gadsar Lake
The wind was blowing hard at Gadsar Pass. After spending a couple of minutes soaking in the spectacular sight that seemed more like a dream than reality, we moved on. Passing through a steep and tricky descent through dry scree, we walked through endless meadows and reached Gadsar Lake.
At an elevation of 3810 m., the spectacular Gadsar looked like a huge bowl of moss green water that was perfectly still. Gadsar literally translates to lake of fishes and it is a natural habitat for trout and other types of fishes. There were tall mountains across the lake where we could clearly see the glaciers with a continuous flow of water towards the lake.
The scene in its entirety was glorious but somewhat intimidating. The lake seemed to be of indefinite depth and it made me feel a little uneasy. Possibly it was the story narrated by our guide warning me not to go down to the lake as I had done at Kishansar. Apparently, Gadsar lake is referred to as lake of death and it is also known as Yemsar, which translates into lake of demons. Locals believe that there lives a huge monster at the lake, which is something like an Octopus that drags creatures with its tentacles. Shepherds refrain from grazing their flocks at the shores of this lake.
Such little anecdotes don’t fail to fascinate me though! And I so love them.
Flocks of Sheep and Goat at Satsar
Crossing an army camp situated atop a hill, we noticed the sparkling colourless waters of a lake lying against the barren mountains. We briefly walked over boulders sharing space with shepherd families, who were migrating and moving out as winter was soon approaching. Just behind us was a flock of 200-300 goats, manned by shepherds and sheep dogs. An equally large flock of sheep was also walking on the flat land right beside the Lake.
This was one of the Satsar Lakes. Satsar literally translates as seven lakes. It is actually a collection of 7 water pools in the narrow alpine valley that are connected to one another through streams. However, we could see only three. Two had dried up as it was the fag end of monsoon. Two lie behind the mountains, not easily accessible though we did plan to attempt it after getting done with lunch at our campsite. However, the Rain Gods decided otherwise and poured their hearts out forcing us to remain in our tents.
All Pervading Divinity at Gangabal Lake
We were in for a visual treat once again from the top of Zajibal Pass. The twin lakes of Gangabal and Nandkol were like two gems of shining sapphire embedded at the base of Harmukh Peak. The backdrop of Harmukh Peak, partially covered by clouds added to the surrealistic character of the moment. Harmukh glacier hung on the rocky edges of the mountain quietly and happily feeding the two lakes.
Each one of us enjoyed the splendour in our own way. Some of us sat quietly soaking in the spectacular sight, some others were capturing the moment in various ways with their cameras. It was a cloudy day and the Pass was really cold, we had to leave sooner than we would have wished to. Besides these two lakes, there were two others almost hidden in the mountain pockets. I noticed them only when they were pointed out to me. These two were greyish black in colour and known as Kalasars.
After a tricky descent through the steep mountain side, we walked beside a stream and came face to face with Gangabal. The shores of Gangabal, named after River Ganges, exuded divinity with the cloud-covered Harmukh Peak looking on. Feeling compelled to experience more of the quietude, I found myself a flat rock, opened my shoes, soaked my feet, and drifted to a different world. While some of my trek mates went on to take a dip in the lake, some others joined me in my reverie.
Gangabal is large at a length of 2.5 Km. and a width of 1.0Km and drains into Sindh River. Locals worship Gangabal and Nandkhol and indulging in a parikrama or a circumambulation seemed to be the most logical thing to do. However, that would easily take an hour and after the long walks that we already had, most of us preferred just sitting down.
Sheer Elegance of Nundkol Lake
A sizzling stream connects Gangabal to Nundkol. We walked from Gangabal, crossed the stream at several place and arrived at Nundkol. At Nundkol the dark clouds hovering around Harmukh Peak gave us a small window to catch a glimpse of the massive mountain.
Nundkol was as elegant as all the other lakes but there were tents dug up all along the shore, which was an eyesore to this scenic place. It was surprising that camping is allowed on the shores of this pristine lake.
Our tents were away from the lake and the following morning I accompanied a fellow trekmate to Nundkol again. Remnants of camping were strewn all around. There was plastic and various kinds of non-degradable items lying at the shore of the lake that really saddened us. We had walked on the other side of the lake the day before and that was cleaner. The sight was so disheartening.
I really wish I could do something, at least collect a few of the garbage but we had already packed and the team was ready to leave, I had no time to do anything. This still makes me feel terribly guilty. I can only hope that the authorities take note of this and camping in the periphery of the lake is completely prohibited.