Hiking to Kashmir Great lakes – Part 1 of 2 series post
So it all began in March 2018, while I was busy with year-end closure, Pratik, registered us for some trek with India Hikes which was supposed to happen in August. Frankly, I am a beach person and so wasn’t quite excited for this adventure. But having made a promise that each one of us get to decide the destination of 1 holiday per year, I had to accept the idea of going to mountains on an excruciating 7 day trek. Hence, this hiking to Kashmir Great Lakes was planned!
Planning for the hike
In June,2018, we started getting some emails from Indiahikes trek coordinator. The mails were about how to start fitness training, what to expect in a trek etc etc. I don’t think I took these seriously. Until one day there was an email saying “ 4 reasons why you are sent back from a trek”. It sounded scary! And one of the reasons was “If you were unfit and slow.” And we were even supposed to give some fitness tests in the next 1 month.
Till then, I had not done a single trek in my life ,which was longer than a day. I mean I had done a couple of small hikes – but not full-fledged treks! And my fitness level – let’s just say- wasn’t great! I could barely walk 5 kms in one go, the basic hiking rule of running 5 kms in 35 min was out of question! And the next 1 month was full of travel and an extremely busy schedule.
We decided to join a gym to help us get fit! But even that didn’t work out as planned. I could barely attend 5 sessions in total! Out of guilt and fear, we finally started following the workout videos of India hikes. We did running every weekend and somehow managed to complete the test of 5 kms running. Though, I don’t think the timing was great, but we were approved for our fitness and we began preparing for the trek.
Last 15 days before the trek, I shopped for everything that was on any list for trekking. Basically everything in decathlon’s trekking section– trek shoes, jackets- fleece, down jacket, daypacks, trek poles, etc etc! Guess the first trek is always the most expensive one!
And finally we set off for Kashmir with thodasa nervousness, thodi excitement, ardour, eagerness and with a lot of other mixed emotions! It was my first trek after all! But little did we know that Kashmir had more surprises for us!
Hiking to Kashmir Great Lakes
Day1/7: Sonmarg (7780 ft) to Nichnai (11838 ft)
The start wasn’t as expected. The plan was to reach the base camp at Shitkadi, Sonmarg, a day early and rest there for the night to get acclimatized to the weather. The acclimatization to weather is very important for any trek. But due to lock down in valley, we could reach our base camp on the morning when we had to start our trek. This left us with no time to acclimatize.
If that wasn’t enough,the weather God too had surprises in store for us. It started to rain as soon as we started trekking from Sonmarg. So there we were – a group of 25 odd people, from different walks of life, ascending the meadows together, while struggling with our ponchos.
Finally after 5 kms of ascent we reached tabletop, which was going to be the last place of civilization. We had piping hot maggi and Kashmiri kahwa in the cold rainy weather at the dhaba en route. This gave us the strength to ascend the balance 6 kms until we finally reached Nichnai camp site – our home for 1st night.
The satisfaction of seeing the campsite was immense. And we ended the day with these things that would become routine for the next 7 days
- some exercise,
- getting oxygen levels checked by trek leader Nikhil,
- having the super amazing piping hot food in the freezing cold weather,
- playing MAFIA,
- gazing at the twinkling stars in the pollution free skies
- and then getting inside the sleeping bag forgetting all the worldly tensions!
Day 2/7 : Nichnai (11838 ft ) to Vishnusar (12011 ft ) via Nichnai pass (13615 ft )
The day began with a wakeup call from the trek leader and the second call to get ready and unpitch the tent at 8am. This was my first experience of unpitching a tent. It needed some real strength doing that in the cold weather. But I can say proudly, at the end of Day 7 – I did master this art to an extent!
We packed our lunch boxes and started off on our adventure for the day. This one was the day of ascent and descent while crossing our first pass. The rains played hide and seek throughout the 12 kms stretch.
Finally, we reached our campsite near Vishnusar lake – the first of the many Great Lakes of Kashmir that we were to witness !!
This was my first experience living in wilderness, away from the hotch potch of city life! It included drinking water directly from the stream which felt better than the distilled water. Also, listening to birds chirping and sighting the colourful flowers all the way! The clarity of the Himalayan air helped to clear the mind. The days of trek were free of all intrusions like mobile, emails. It gave me time to think of all that’s really important in life.
Day3/7: Vishnusar (12011 ft) to Gadsar (12200 ft) via Gadsar pass (13800 ft)
On this day, we ascended to an elevation of 13800 ft , to the highest point on the trek- the Gadsar pass. And I hated every minute of the climb until we finally reached at the top. But right then, I forgot about the ascent pain as we were struck by the beauty of the magnificent twin lakes of Kishansar and Vishusar. This is exactly the picture which appears on all the KGL trek portals. These lakes make a sublime effort of multiplying a view so beautiful. I wished we could just stay there forever.
But we had to move on, to witness the other beauties waiting for us to be explored. To the other side we could see the rolling foothills and the steep downhill and the meadows and a few smaller lakes where we walked next. And after about 14 kms of trekking , our eyes were treated to the site of another magnificence – the Gadsarlake.
I wished we could camp there! But we just rested there for a bit and then trekked a little further until we reached the Gadsar army camp. It was a small hut housing 5-8 army men. From here, we could see our camp setup, but you needed permission to go beyond the army camp. So we waited there as they checked our IDs, and smilingly allowed us to move beyond and rest for the day at our campsite.
Day 4/7 : Gadsar (12200 ft) to Satsar (12100 ft) via Satsar Army camp
This was the shortest day of the trek , but one where the landscape changed the most. On the way, some of the lucky ones could spot the Nanga parbat, (the ninth highest mountain in the world ), which is in POK, from our way before we lost its sight into the clouds !
On this day, we did around 9 kms of hiking crossing a snow patch, verdant planetary, huge flock of sheep until we reached the Satsar army camp. This camp is the 3rd line of defense from the LOC. It was crazy hearing stories of these army men- who live there in excruciating weather and to go home once a year, they have to cross the mountains on foot and reach their HQ from where they are airlifted!
10 minutes out of the Satsar camp and we reached the Satsar lake – a cluster of 7 interconnected alpine lakes where we camped for the night.
I dont remember when and what changed me exactly, but I had begun to like this place. I had begun to love the mountains. Was it because of the freedom , the lack of any distraction, the breathtaking views, the misty mountains, the brilliantly blue lakes, the soothing mountain breeze -I dont know , but everything felt so surreal . It was like a dream, I dnt feel getting up from!
But that night, when I was thinking that this is all gonna end soon, little did I know, the fun was about to get bigger!
Stay tuned and check out part 2 of the Kashmir Great Lakes trek!