Kashmir – referred to as the paradise on earth by both tourists and adventurers alike – has dominated my list of must visit places. When I heard that there exists a trek in Kashmir that takes one directly to its most pristine interiors of mountains, forests, meadows and alpine lakes- the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek- I wished to experience it ever since.
I remember the day I got the confirmation for my inclusion in the Kashmiri Great Lakes Trek. I was both excited and nervous- given that although it came across as one of the most exquisite trails on the face of the Earth, it was also one that demanded a resolute will and strong body to complete it. As it turned out, I was fortunate to experience the beauty of the trail without succumbing to the physical demands that the challenging trail entailed. This is the tale of how the best parts of Kashmir embraced me and took me on an adventure of a lifetime. In this blog, I find myself unable to resist using grandiose descriptions and poetic language- if anything this language still falls far short of the real divinity that abides there. I encourage every friend not to pass this opportunity.
Towards the Golden Trail: As I arrived in Srinagar, I was greeted with a rush of fresh crisp air that seeped deep within; it seemed to reenergize my core in a strange way. Perhaps this is what many travelers experienced as they arrived in this ancient abode of the mountains. As introductions went around my batch, the vibes made me feel as if I was well into the adventure I signed up for. I can’t begin to express how limited this perception was at that instant! We divided ourselves into manageable groups and began our commute in a jeep towards Sonamarg. The more we drove on the soothing steep roads of Kashmir, the more it felt as if I was walking into the open and nourishing arms of nature. Soon we reached a small village few kilometers before sonamarg where we were to camp for the night in valley beside the sind river. The next morning we were to officially begin the climb of our lifetime.
Unique sights of forests and valleys: Only a few minutes into the trek, I was overlooking the Sonamarg town which, as I was instructed, was going to be the last sign of civilization that we would see before reaching Naranag. Weirdly enough, I felt a sudden burst of relief the instant we were relayed this information. What lay ahead was absolute and wondrous beauty of nature in its most unadulterated form. After passing a lush meadow of gorgeous fauna, we witnessed a dense and nurturing forest of maple and pine trees. Their enduring presence along our path gave our trail a thrilling vibe of some ancient living beings accompanying us all through. Trekking through this blissful family of trees, we encountered an adorable herd of sheep as they busily and peacefully seemed to graze away to their heart’s content. This unexpected sight appealed to the inner enthusiast in me and only made me more excited about what lay ahead.
Traveling through the trail that the forest laid out for us, we were witnessing nature unfolding in perfect harmony. Eventually, the forest was behind us as we reached the ridge. The beautiful streams, the intricate town and the mighty valleys converged to form a sight that could fool you into believing that you’ve left your mortal mess behind and are now just a witness to paradise. I felt I could absorb the sheer joy of everything in my eyes and my heart.
Meadow of Shekdur: After crossing the forest of maple trees, we arrived at the meadow of Shekdur, and it gently transitioned to a surprisingly large collective of silver birch. As the sunrays struggled to leak into the trail through the shimmering leaves of the silver birch, the forest made for a display of perfect balance between light and dark. We proceeded through the forest to enter an expansive patch of green, surrounded ever so lovingly by the snow-clad peaks of the Sonamarg hills. This is where we ended up pitching our tents to mark the end to the first day of our trek, still in a state of awe and disbelief.
Embracing the night and the night skies: As dusk fell onto the silent valley, the night sky sprinkled itself with innumerable stars to drown itself in deep hues of black and blue. This was certainly a sight to behold. The tiredness from a day of traversing endless beautiful trails did not stop most of us from venturing out of our cosy tents from time to time to admire the blanket of stars. A few experienced trekkers also described their previous encounters with the Milky Way that we had only read about in the text books.
The joy of reaching to Nichnai pass: The flamboyant spectacle and stillness of the night gave way to the dawn of yet another day of adventures. After witnessing a glimpse of what was to come in the vicinity of a small clear lake nearby, we proceeded through the Nichnai pass. The sights here silently transition from a sturdy bed of rocks representing the immovable force of nature to a mellow layer of flowers to symbolise the warm touch of creation. Through the trail, I noticed several beautiful streams complemented by a soothing waterfall.
The great Vishansar lake: Through multitudinous arrays of sights, we reached the first of the great lakes – the Vishansar lake. The lake justifies its title through its sheer expanse. Rivaling the might of its enclosing mountains, the Vishansar lake alone made the exhausting commute worth all the efforts. The lake shone in vibrant shades of intense blue as successive rays of the sun grazed its surface. The sheer magnitude of the lake was startling. One can easily write an entire book about the beauty that the lake held in its magnificent size.
The dilemma of the stunning Kishansar Lake: We were still processing the extravagant scene that Vishansar lake put out for us; a little ahead and we were halted in our tracks as we witnessed yet another grand view that rivalled Vishansar – the Kishansar lake. For a moment, we found ourselves in a dilemma in deciding which was grander of the two; of course we failed miserably in doing so, turning the head from one to the other many a times in the process. As an honourable conclusion amongst the debating trekkers, we embraced and cherished both the views of the great lakes and moved ahead in our journey.
The unexpected heaven that is the Gadsar Pass : Even as I was adapting and settling down to the joy of these endless scenic views and the exceedingly intense feelings that came along with them, I was thrown completely off guard as we reached the gadsar pass and was able to view the other side of the valley. I do not know what raw emotions were awakened in other members of the group, but as my tired body reached the hghest point on the gadsar pass and surveyed the precincts of the valleys on either side, I was convinced that the Gadsar pass brought together an experience that would rival that of the detailed descriptions of heaven. I surmised that the sights that I witnessed were akin to a poet’s heaven, much more than an explorer’s Eden- such was the spectacle that was lying out in front of me.
I was able to get a glimpse of the Gadsar lake in the valley below and its surroundings seemed to unintentionally stand out as an ideal example of all of nature’s possibilities playing out simultaneously.
Last stop: Gangabal twin lakes: Our final stop in this dream was the Gangabal twin lakes. After several days of experiencing vivid meadows and being in the embrace of deep, nurturing forests, we finally came to these last of the great lakes. Even after experiencing the sheer beauty of Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar and the massive Satsar lake, we were still caught off guard by the scenic views of the Gangabal twin lakes. I have run of of words and run the risk of repetition if I attempt to describe the experience at Gangabal lakes. Let it suffice that Gangabal twin lakes gave me yet another lesson from nature. It was a lesson about cooperation within one’s own kind to co-exist with serenity, riches and harmony much like how one of the Gangabal twin lakes existed together and filled the canvas with their presence.
Next day, progressing further from the Gangabal lakes towards the end of trail, we reached a peak just north of the great lakes. This was the spot where I spent most of my time dwelling within the memories I made through the past seven days by completely being in the arms of nature. Despite my batchmates urging me to keep walking, I lingered in the vicinity of the peak for a little longer. I sat there cross-legged as I tried to draw a mental picture of how it would be if I could witness all of the great lakes within one picture. It was more emotional than I expected to be. I made sure to capture several images to remember by this moment, a moment where I was so in touch with nature that I would’ve done anything to stay for a few more days to experience all the spectacles all over again. For a moment, I forgot about the physical demands of the high altitude trek with its reduced oxygen levels and how I barely made it through the trek day after day. At that moment, it was more about the unexplained joy of being one with nature day after day.
A promise to return again: At our last campsite at Gangbal, most of us were exchanging numbers and making promises of re-connecting in another similar trek. Although I did promise the same to my batchmates before leaving, I honestly didn’t believe that there would be another experience such as this one. I knew that I would return here at every available opportunity, whether my batchmates accompanied me or not. During the drive back to Srinagar, I just looked back at all of the pictures that I took of the snow-clad mountains; of the vibrant meadows; of the violently beautiful streams and the great lakes.
I can confidently and proudly conclude that the Kashmir Great Lakes trek is one of the most wonderful experiences that any fortunate trekker can gift oneself with.
If you are planning to this trek you may contact IndiaHikes or Alitude Adventure India
Altitude Adventure India is extremely good in organizing customized groups for this trek.