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.

 

 

 

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Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

61 thoughts on “Seven Days of Paradise at Kashmir Great Lakes”

  1. Kashmir has been in my bucket list since eternity and your post is just aggravating the wander lust. I loved the way you narrated. amazing images. I have never been on a trekking camp, maybe someday inshallah!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. OMG! Surreal! Your description is enticing me to visit ASAP.
    I heard and also seen some of the pics from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, that also looks stunning. But politics and militancy in that region has turned heaven into Hell

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! Love your descriptions, made my descriptions come alive.
      Btw, have fun in Meghalaya. I hope you will find things to enjoy even though there’ll be crazy rush over there this time of the year. And, I will eagerly wait for your stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Quite a detailed write-up of the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. It was scenic, but tough too, especially because of the rains. Congratulations for completing it. The details here would be of help to anyone planning for the trip. And nice pictures too.
    By the way, didn’t you take any picture of the Milky Way?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We were lucky as the rains always happened at night except on the last day. I didn’t click the milky way as my phone would do no justice to it. Some people were trying to click with their mobile phones. Not sure if the pictures came out well.
      BTW, thank you so much for visiting my blog after such a long time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I commend your efforts in making such a beautiful post. Always an admirer of your photos and the way you put things. I tried to to something like this that is too much of work for me. While you do it such a style.
    Visibility depends on the weather. On my last trek we were only able to see the main view on the last day of our trek. Because of the weather. It can be so discouraging right. Despite that we got to see an amazing view on the last day. It was so worth it. That is what made the trek memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ankit, you are always so lavish with your praises. Thank you so much.
      Perhaps that is just you being lazy 😀
      Your posts are at a level that even if someone points a gun at me, not a single sentence will flow out 😀
      Truly admire your creativity ❤
      Yes, the success or failure of a trek in terms of landscape totally depends on the weather, which can make or maar your experience. And I believe that the mountains decide what they want us to experience 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hah you are the one to say that. Its because you specalize at a different thing just like this blog post. Not returning a favor or anything but that is the truth. I’ll have some pictures of the national park and I will only put pictures with some description. I can’t do it like you do. 🙂 🙂
        I totally agree with the mountains being the keeper of the weathers

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes I guess so, we just have different skillsets. Though I feel whatever I write anybody can. Perhaps you just need patience. But poetry is like painting, singing, dancing – things that are God gifted. Not everyone can do.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an excellent breakdown of the whole trek experience. The KGL Lakes and Meadows post gave the reader an insight into the emotions whereas this prepares them for the flipside, the aches and demands of the climb, all the while expounding the beauty of the place 🙂
    So glad to know that you aced the downhill scree section! The descent after Zajibal pass looks especially testing, with the steep terrain demanding unwavering concentration while the enchanting views to divert your attention 🙂
    I hope you continue to bring to us many more such experiences form the Himalayas!
    Cheers 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I had become surprisingly good at descending during KGL. I just hope next time I will remember this and not be paranoid ever again 😀
      Zajibal was pretty risky! There were pointed rocks all through. Focus and concentration was a must. Though I did see people running there as well! I am always be safe than sorry kind of a person 😉
      Thank you so much for reading my long posts. Most people don’t have the patience 🙂

      Like

      1. Ohh I wouldn’t miss them! I love reading long-form articles and posts, which is probably why I can’t pen one in fewer words 😀
        A couple of years back, I would have been a part of the group running downhill but my knee has knocked better sense into me and now I do restrain myself well most of the times…
        As for the descending demons, after successfully negotiating such long, steep descents, I am pretty sure you won’t ever have a problem tackling them again! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I remember reading about your knee in one of your posts. I hope it’s gotten better now. And, I haven’t seen something from you for a long time, after you revamped your website.
          Your knee reminds me that the immense boulder hopping in KGL had affected my left hip joint and I had to visit an Orthopaedic. Thankfully nothing serious and it is much better now but still not fully gone.

          Like

          1. My knee is much better now and I have been trying to make the most of it! Collecting moments in the mountains that I can recount at leisure at a later point of time 🙂
            And yes, I haven’t published anything on the blog since the Chanderi trek post, which is the where I had mentioned my knee injury but I am working on another blog post and hopefully, it’ll be done in a couple of weeks.
            I am sorry to hear about your hip pain! I hope you recover completely very soon 🙂
            Take care!

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Nazir for visiting my blog and leaving behind that lovely comment. I just loved Kashmir – and who wouldn’t! I am so glad to have done this trek. I will surely visit your post. 🙂

      Like

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