If you’re here, it is probably because you’ve been toying with the idea of exploring the high-altitude, beyond the touristy Sonmarg and Pahalgam valleys. Read on, for this blog will fill you with a purpose to prepare for the most daunting and delightful heaven on earth. Those of you who follow me on Instagram at @samtravelogue would know that it had been nearly 6 months since my last trek. And just like all the itchy boots out there, we only need an excuse to wander!
Kashmir Great Lakes was recommended to me by my previous IndiaHikes Trek Leader, Tanmay. His passionate narrative of the magnificent meadows, aesthetic urban landscapes, the heavenly lakes placed at different altitudes was enough to get me dreaming and planning for this thrilling trek. Being an avid fan of Indiahikes eco-trail initiatives and its lively community, I decided to plan this trek with them. However, IH being extremely popular amongst the trekker’s community, the best I could get was a waitlist slot for the month of August.
This trek had been closed for nearly 2 years owing to the pandemic in 2020 and the year before that the Indian Army forbid it for security concerns arising from the then prevailing tensions between neighboring countries. That explains my initial anticipation and anxiety regarding this trek. The worries regarding possibilities of bad weather, RT-PCR tests, getting my leave of absence approved at work. Having said that, I’m sure you can understand the amount of research and apprehension that comes as a part of the package when planning to pull off a trek as this at high altitude destinations.
PS: In Srinagar, the pre-paid SIM cards don’t work and I had to put up with no network connectivity for nearly 10 days. If that bothers you, while you’re in Srinagar you’d want to bring only postpaid connections.
Let’s dive in, then!
By God’s grace, I got my leave approved and RT-PCR report came negative. Also, in Srinagar, there is an option to get Rapid Antigen Test in the airport itself, which is a mandatory check-out pass to exit the airport premises (double dose vaccination certificate is not enough yet).
I reached Srinagar around 4 pm via a direct flight by Indigo Airlines, which includes a short 30-minute layover at Chandigarh. You might be greeted with a headache upon your arrival at Srinagar. This is because the body requires a little time (or even a day) to acclimatize to the comparatively lesser oxygen at higher altitudes. Drink plenty of water and have a crocin depending on your need!
After checking in, I treated myself to Kashmiri cuisines. Even though I insisted on going a little easy on ‘spicy’, perhaps the chefs couldn’t help it. I took a stroll down the streets of Srinagar. There are army bunkers across every block and I admit that sight was not something very welcoming to me.
Day 1 Base Camp – Shitkadi And the Physical and Mental test Begins
To prepare my body for the strenuous long trek of ascent and descent in the subsequent days, I went for an early morning jog in Srinagar town. This was the day we were told to reach our pickup point at Feroz Sheikh Tours & Travels. We were a bunch of 16 trekkers from all over India. We all made our way together to one of the very beautiful Shitkadi Base camps. For the first base camp to be this picturesque is quite rare. But then, we were in Kashmir and every valley had its unique, uncontested charm.
On our way, trek leader Nehal joined.
He briefed us at the base camp. The temperature was falling very rapidly and also the weather prediction reported that it’s most likely to rain in the following days, which got us all quite worried. To be honest, it’s no fun when you’re ascending in a high-altitude terrain amidst the rain. Anyway, having no control over the weather, we refrained from overthinking and got our BP and Pulse rate checked for the trek. We resigned ourselves to our sleeping bags for a night of rest, hoping that it doesn’t rain on our beaming excitement.
Day 2 Shitkadi to Nichnai –Lull Before the storm
Unfortunately, the weather showed us no mercy. While we were packing and getting ready, the clouds gloomed over us. It was 15th Aug and one of our trek buddies had brought the Indian Flag; the slope manager presents at the base camp hoisted the flag and we all sang the national anthem before beginning our ascent. Two local trek guides had joined us, and they were indeed the Aamir and Salman from the ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ movie (Those who have watched the movie will relate to it).
The Army Jawans were happy to meet us on this day in this picturesque but desolate place. They offered us Hajmola candies!
We began our ascent and unsurprisingly, it started raining soon, with no promise of stopping till all the clouds were dry. Our TL Nehal admitted to never having experienced so much rainfall. When we reached our pitstop Tabletop, we came across some batches from other trekking agencies who were returning to base camp due to the bad weather that only got worse as they ascended, and a few of them having suffered low SpO2.
We continued our ascent to Nichnai Camp as the sky continued pouring down on us. We tried our best to keep our calm and soak in the beauty around us as our backpacks soaked in the rain. Despite the rain, which had now reduced to a drizzle, we enjoyed our packed lunch. While you’re here, you must come with an open mind for unprecedented, troubled affairs that might surprise at any point during the trek. And the most important fact is that this trek is open only during the monsoon season.
The base camp had a spectacular panoramic view. We captured few shots before the sun settled in for the night. We could feel the temperature dropping further. There was a lot of skepticism amongst fellow trekkers about if we would yet again be greeted by the rain in the next sunrise.
The entire day was so overwhelming that we hardly got a chance to enjoy an ice-breaking session game!
Day 3 – Nichnai To Vishnusar Lake – “Mixed Bag of Emotions “
As we ascended, the whole Nichnai valley opens up in front of us, and there on the left is a small glacial lake, as if presenting us a tiny glimpse of the wondrous sights that lay ahead on this trek. After crossing Nichnai we descend to reach a flat riverbed with a lovely, clear stream on our right side. A further half an hour walk through a beautiful meadow leads us to our campsite in Vishansar. This is the first big alpine lake on our trek.
This was when one of our trekkers was getting sick; but the sheer force of his willpower drove him to reach our 3rd base camp. Meanwhile, we came across another batch of IH trekkers who couldn’t go beyond Gadsar Pass because of the slippery snowy terrain. The local porters were saying it would take nearly 2 days to melt the snow, provided it didn’t rain and the sky remained clear! At that moment, I was making a sweet deal with the Almighty that if it doesn’t rain again I would offer laddoos at the temple soon as I get back to Kolkata. We walked over treacherous boulders to reach yet another awe-inspiring campsite. Beneath these rocks, we could see the streams gushing through.
The local trekkers and our TL were in a dilemma if we should continue going ahead in the trail to decide whether we’ll be able to reach the summit ahead the following day.
We hiked to Vishnusar Lake; this was the first alpine trek that we were experiencing on this trip. Words fall short to accurately describe the breathtaking view from the hilltop. It’s a sight to behold; it filled us with an indescribable joy and an onrush of emotions. I felt so fortunate that I decided to come for this trek!
Day 4 – Vishnusar Lake to Gadsar Pass (D Day – Will we make it to the other side?)
We were told to wake up at 5 in the morning so that we could ascend the steep gradient before other trekkers walk through and end up making the snow-clad trail even more slippery.
This is the most dangerous part of the trek. As we ascended, we could see both the Vishansar and Krishnasar Lakes in the background – a sight for sore eyes. As we were getting closer to the hilltop, the local porters said “Aasman khul gaya ha aap ja payenge”, and I could feel the gratitude and excitement in every cell of my body. When we reached, we were overwhelmed by the beauty spanning in front of us and the gratitude for being able to make it this far. Sadly, there were too many of us and not everyone got a chance to hold the Indian Flag and flaunt the summit pose.
After crossing the Gadsar Pass we descended gradually towards the Gadsar Lake. On the way, we came across a beautiful meadow of wildflowers, and if you’re lucky you will be able to spot Himalayan Marmots in the background. Gadsar Lake with its glacier and wildflowers in the background is stunning.
We reached the base camp by 4 pm and we did finally got our chance to have a little ice-breaking sessions. We ended up experimenting with many stupid games which I failed at miserably!
Day 5 – Gadsar To Satsar – (7 alpine lakes & the hike to the 7th Hidden lake)
Right from walking on a frozen river bed, we experienced many other delightful surprises. While we walked amidst the meadows, our TL told us as we’re walking through the trail that POK is somewhat across the valley, and to our surprise this was kept from us all this while. Finally, we could see the 9th
highest peak in the world, the Nanga Parbat. The fatality rate is very high here and while Nanga Parbat has never been summited during the winter, numerous climbers have died trying. With a fatality rate of more than 22 percent, the mountain has earned the ominous nickname of “Man Eater” for its ability to push climbers to their absolute physical limits.
The view is wholesome and so is the story behind the Hermann Buhl – 1953 German–Austrian Nanga Parbat expedition. You should read about the baffling story about his expedition all alone.
Since I spoke about POK, it is evident that we came across army camps where Army Jawans diligently verified our IDs and asked us a few basic questions to ensure that no bypassers without ID cards crossed by! Of all the days, this was one of the rarest days because we reached our camp a little after noon itself by 2 pm. Satsar phrase implies the seven lakes, of which the 7th lake was hidden behind the mountains valleys close to our base camp. We were served hot served Rajma chawal, which was a warm break from the usual packed lunches of the past few days. It was so delicious that I believe everyone ate more than their appetite called for!
Afterward, our TL gathered us to go to the hidden 7th lake. Some of us chose to hike up to the hill viewpoint. It didn’t fascinate me as much as it did my fellow trekkers. The lake didn’t have much water. On the way back, few trekkers came across a shepherd who offered them fresh goat milk and lassi. That was indeed a peak ‘foodgasm’ experience for them!
Day 6 Satsar to Nandkol Lake – Final Lap!!
It was the last day of this trek and I was getting a tad sentimental about the trek nearing its end! All this while, we all had a bag full of anxieties, apprehensions, and the nervousness of falling sick mid-way! The evacuation would have been so difficult. We woke up following our regular morning rituals. The entire squad was very lively as we were ascending the pass; I was savouring a few moments of solitude as the unadulterated beauty embraced me from all sides.
Gangbal Lake was so beautiful and pristine, and it reminded me of Pangong Lake from Ladakh. Some of the craziest souls decided to jump off a cliff and into this lake! We did hear stories of few individuals who were succumbed to hypothermia doing such stunts and eventually had to be evacuated, but none of that stopped these guys.
Our base camp was well-placed close to Nandkol Lake. Our TL, Nehal, had insisted for us to meet on the shore of Nandkol Lake so that he could debrief us. He gave each of us a postcard, a sweet gesture by Indiahikes. We were told to write on it and mail it to whoever we would want to share a piece of this beautiful trek with. So we all wrote on our postcards as we sat by the lake shore. Thinking back on it, it was a moment so rich with emotions that I will cherish it forever. When I got back to Srinagar, I even made the effort to find a post office for my little postcard.
The following day we woke up and descended to the Naranag which took us nearly 6 hours and finally we reached Srinagar, marking the end of this memorable trek.
I hope that you get to experience this beautiful high-altitude trek soon. I am glad I decided to plan my trip with IndiaHikes, who always ensure a smooth experience even in the hardest of terrains. I’m confident that the ‘Great Lakes Kashmir’ trek will make a welcome impact in your life and will prove to be very rewarding experience. Such is the power of a good trek- it transforms us into a better version of ourselves.