Kashmir, undoubtedly the Paradise on Earth, is home to a variety of stunning treks amidst high snow capped mountains, deep colorful valleys, dense alpine forests , vast green carpeted meadows and pure, crisp mountain air which together combine to offer innumerable ‘stop in your tracks’ moments . I have been fortunate to hike and camp on a quite a few of these trails, and am excited to share insights and urge all friends who are reasonably fit physically to head there and experience them first -hand; especially because Kashmir is now very well connected and so also because off late trekking infrastructure in Kashmir has matured to offer a hassle-free adventure for enthusiasts.
One of the trails that I was privileged to follow was the Tarsar Marsar Trek. The trails not only took me deep within nature and away from the touristy spots of Kashmir, but also gave me a chance to silently witness the rich culture that adorns the land of Kashmir. The following is a brief recollection of my adventure through the trails of the Tarsar Marsar Trek.
Day 1: Srinagar To Aru
The adventure began at Srinagar from where a 4-hour drive took us through Pahalgam to our initial base camp at Aru. At Pahalgam we were advised to conclude all our telephonic conversations and interactions with the outside world since the mobile connectivity beyond Pahalgam is, on the best of days, intermittent and sparse. Not that we were unhappy about it- it was a relief to leave the known world behind as our car traversed through the mountainscapes of Kashmir- it made for a relaxed yet elated sense of being.
Day 2: Aru To Lidderwat
Playful sunrays sneaked in through the landscapes at dawn and transitioned the blissfully quiet and still landscape to a vibrantly beautiful new dawn. Sunshine glistened on the ever-flowing streams of the Lidder river to and added to the vibrancy and energy of the whole campsite.
We geared up our backpacks with all the necessities and began our journey through an upstream trail along the Lidder. The trail continuously opened up to wide green fields that seemed to embrace the mountainscapes at the horizon – it almost made us unaware of the arduous incline that we were hiking on. Chirping birds, gushing sounds of the river and the aromatic fields engaged our senses as we arrived at a thicket of conifers that bestowed us with a panoramic view of the Aru valley that was now behind us. Traversing through the forest trails, we eventually arrived at the Nandekai Village. We kept walking to the outskirts of the village, and came upon a lovely spot that provided an enchanting glimpse of a beautiful Indian mountain village enclosed by all the elements of nature.
The thick collective of dense green fir trees gradually gave way to a wide grassland of mild green meadows. The meadows were dotted with the Gujjar people (local shepherds) and scores of sheep and sheep-dogs going about their routine, and we took a break to rest and be one with them. The trail ahead was interjected by a few smaller valley streams as they cascaded relentlessly through the landscapes, creating their own mini-ecosystems of weathered rocks and smooth colourful pebbles, of bright grasses and tiny flowers along their banks, brightening up the ambiance of wherever they went.
As the trail proceeded, it transitioned back to another wooded forest of tall old fir trees. This lush and collective of firs guided us to the Lidderwat village. At the end of this totally worthwhile (but exhausting nevertheless) day, we pitched in our tents beside one of the many tranquil clear-watered streams that the Lidderwat village was popular for. Before we drifted off to a sound sleep, we took the opportunity to explore and interact with the friendly and culturally rich natives of the village. This marked the perfect end to the second day of our trek.
Day 3: Lidderwat to Shekwas
A pleasant spotless blue new dawn prepared us for the with a 5-hour long hike that awaited us today. In a little under thirty minutes, we found ourselves enclosed in an ancient forest of pines. The trails within the woods alternated between narrow pathways between the trees and wider grounds. Looking back at the trail, the Lidder river appeared as a significant sliver of a large postcard. At the exit of this pine forest, we were greeted by a vivid sight that comprised of snow-clad peaks merging into valleys and several clear water streams adorning the slopes.
The trail eventually led us to Homwas – a region inhabited by another collective of Gujjar
We crossed a a log bridge to reach this village. After the exhausting hike so far, an interlude with the locals was ideal as they pampered us with their hospitality and shared interesting tidbits about their culture.
After the much-needed break, we were re-energized enough to proceed on the rest of the trail that lay in front of us.
Walking alongside gentle crystal clear streams, we soon arrived at the grand meadows of Shekwas which extended as far as eyes could reach. The vibrant shades of vast greens complemented by the clear canvas of the blue skies painted astonishing picture that lulled our tired bodies into wanting to believe that no further effort was necessary to reach the garden of Eden! Along with the scenic views, a few leaf-thatched huts completely transport the traveler from all signs of modern (dare say ugly!) civilization and gently places them into the sweet embrace of nature. After a relatively gentle climb above a slope near the village, we pitched in our tents under the starlit clear night skies to end the third day of our adventure.
Day 4: Shekwas To Tarsar
The morning began with us exploring the green fields of Shekwas barefoot as we geared up to begin our 5-hour journey towards Tarsar – the first of the two main attractions of the Tarsar Marsar Lakes. The land transitioned to different elevation levels; we moved through the ever-expanding plains of the Shekwas meadow and crossed a quite a few humpbacked hills and eventually came across a collection of ridges that led us to the Tarsar Lake. As the ridges subsided, we caught a slight peek of Tarsar’s vivid waters in the distance mirroring the overwhelmingly blue skies above.
As we proceeded ahead, the trail demanded us to cross a stream that intersected our path by skipping over large boulders. This was a rather unique twist along our already challenging and adventure-filled journey. After all the efforts, we arrived at the Tarsar Lake, and the scene that was in front of me is rather hard to describe. Let me attempt it nevertheless.
We pitched in our tents in these fields and strolled lazily along the banks of the lake. We witnessed the day gradually giving way; the hues of the skies changed and we still couldn’t wean ourselves away from witnessing the strength and the beauty that dwelled within the lake.
Day 5: Tarsar to Sundarsar
To reach our next dream destination on this new day we were required to negotiate a short but relatively challenging a 5-km hike to Sundarsar. Our fresh legs trekked through a stretch that connected the beautiful meadows of Shekwas and Sundarsar. As we progressed through a demanding ascent, the trail continued to get steeper at every turn. Justifying the exhausting climb, the ascent rewarded us with a vantage view of the Tarsar Lake as we observed it from high grounds of the climb. The view below of still lake, the collective of hills by the edge, and the blooming flora on the fields beside the lake made the ascent totally worth the effort.
Further ahead, a gentle descending slope led us to sights of horses and sheep grazing on the lush grasslands to their hearts’ content, and large patches of vivid wildflowers swaying in the gentle breeze. Progressing through the grassland and yet another bouldered pass through the stream, we arrived at our next campsite near the Sundarsar Lake. The beauty of this lake rivaled that of Tarsar’s – it offered another high-art perspective of a high altitude lake connecting stunning peaks and plain fields.
Day 6: Marsar to Homwas: The Marsar Lake was calling out to us as the new day dawned upon the land. We began on our journey to meet with the elegance that laid within the Marsar Lake. Traversing our trail through Sundarsar’s edges, we were introduced with a trail that was sprinkled with boulders. The hike became trickier by every passing moment as the snow that embraced the surface of the boulders melted away.
After about an hour of ascend, we were eventually graced by the wondrous sights of the Marsar Lake. The similar almond shape of the lake complimented that of Tarsar’s. The landscape that held together the brilliance of the lake was lightly complimented by the countering shades of green from the lush fields and by the hues of white from the frosted elevations that hugged one end of the lake.
The greet and meet with the Marsar Lake was memorable. We were now traversing on the trail back to Homwas. The nostalgic sights of the Sundarsar camp gave rise to the urge just to settle and exist forever within the beautiful landscapes of Kashmir. After holding back the desire to get lost within the awe-inspiring views of the land, we eventually made our way back to Homwas and ended the penultimate day for our adventure.
Day 7: Homwas to Aru: We geared up to officially end our beautiful journey within the trails of the Tarsar Marsar Trek. The sudden realization that this day would mark an end to a one-of-a-kind experience overwhelmed the group as we struggled to leave our campsite.
A relaxed traverse through the familiar meadows led us back to the Lidder river as it flowed timelessly. Following the river trail downstream, we recalled every beautiful sight that we were came upon during the last 6 days with a firm resolve to cultivate a deeper selfless relationship with these trails on the next sojourn.
As we were driving back to Srinagar, it felt as if the days and nights spent with the nourishing lap of nature were immensely rewarding way beyond immediate costs and pleasures.
There was energy and joy about me even though I knew that I was making my way back to a mundane urban lifestyle.
The joy continues to this day as I recall the memories and sift through the photographs, especially this one which remains an instant reminder of the Tarsar Marsar trek to me till date.