A TREK THROUGH THE GREAT LAKES OF KASHMIR
In the Northern tip of India lies a paradise under the snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas, Jammu and Kashmir (sometimes referred to as just ‘Kashmir’). Kashmir is one of the most beautiful creations of nature and she boasts of it in every inch of her magnificent boundaries. Lying in the Himalayas, the White Mountains coupled with the spectacular lakes and greenery, the sparkling streams and rivers of melted snow, the water as fresh as the world could possibly offer, the lushness of the land and its wonderful people, makes Kashmir a perfect spot for travellers and explorers. Understanding the beauty and magnificence of Kashmir, it is an attraction for adventures who leaves no place unexplored, because Kashmir has the most beautiful and spectacular treks which is beyond our wildest dreams.
The trek of the Great Lakes of Kashmir is the most splendid trek in India and is the biggest attraction in Kashmir. India is home to many of the natures brilliance and beauty, however, nothing compares to the trek of the Great Lakes. In a span of 8 days (ideally), you will witness five beautiful alpine lakes, get an opportunity to walk and bask in the serenity of the lakes and its lush green banks, walk through meadows of Maple and Pine, trek past valleys tread on by horses and grazed by sheep, and, most importantly, experience first-hand the most magnificent lakes of India competing with each other in both beauty and splendour.
The trek will start at Sonamarg or the ‘Meadow of Gold’, which was a gateway of the Silk Road in the ancient times. It lies about 80 km North-East of Srinagar, Kashmir. During winter, Sonamarg is inaccessible due to heavy snowfall, so spring would be the best time to make the trip. Therefore, July till September is the best time of the year to go on the Great Lake trek. The climate will be cold but will not be freezing, and you can expect light showers during this time. It will end after a drive to Srinagar from the last stop on the trek Naranag on Day 8 (Ideally).
Health is a major factor when it comes to trekking. You have to make sure you’re in perfect condition for a trek. It might look easy, but it is very tiring as it is satisfying. So, be sure you can trek 10km in 5 hours with ease, as it will be the average distance covered in a day on the trek. As an extra precaution, take up a fitness routine before the trek. Try cycling or jogging on a daily basis. See if you can conquer a cardiovascular endurance, i.e., 10km under 1 hour. If you have a pre-diagnosed heart condition, blood pressure or epilepsy, it is best to avoid the trek as it is has a good effect on the body. Make sure your doctor gives you a thumbs-up before you sign up.
Once you’re all set, transport will be your next concern. From Delhi, you can catch a flight to Srinagar. If you plan on coming by train, Jammu Railway Station is the closest station to Srinagar at a distance of 270 km. Although from Jammu, you can take a bus to Srinagar it’s a minimum of 8 hours of travel. From Srinagar, you’ll be notified of a meeting point and from there it’ll be a drive till Sonamarg.
Here’s an overview of what is in store for you, mighty explorers!
Day 1: Arrival at Sonamarg.
o The altitude will be 7800 feet
o From Srinagar, there will be a 3-hour drive till Sonamarg (87kms).
o The starting point is a few kilometres outside Sonamarg, Shitkadi Village.
o There is a small Dhaba at the 3km mark of Sonamarg, where you pick up biscuits and other packed edibles. This will be the last place where you can get snacks, so make sure you don’t miss it.
Day 2: You’ll trek from Nichnai via Shekdur.
o The altitude will range from 7,800 feet to 11,500 feet.
o The trek will be around 9kms in 6 hours.
o The trek will begin after breakfast to Nichnai through Shekdur.
o The first military checkpoint will be at half an hour out of Shitkadi Village. Make sure you are carrying your ID proofs and two photocopies of the same.
o You’ll get to enjoy the spectacular view of Sonamarg Valley and the Thajiwas Glacier.
o Today’s trek will make sure you see the beauty of trekking through meadows filled with amazing flowers unique to Kashmir and India.
o The trek will take you through dense forests that boast of the splendour of Maples, Pines and the Bhoj trees.
o It’ll take about 2 hours to get to Shekdur, which is our half-way point for today, through the trees.
o At Shekdur, you can rejuvenate yourself with a cup of instant noodles and omelette, if you prefer.
o The trek will resume on the banks of the Nichnai stream and follow it till Nichnai.
o The trek will break for lunch beside the Nichnai stream, and resume the trek after.
o The group will set camp at Nichnai. And, this will be the first section of the Great Lake Trek of Kashmir.
Day 3: From Nichnai, a trek to Vishansar Lake via Nachnai Pass.
o The altitude will vary from 11,500 feet to 13,100 feet and then drop down to 12,000 feet.
o It will be a 12km trek of 6 hours.
o After breakfast, the trek will commence at 8 am.
o Nichnai pass is our halfway point.
o The last bar of the cell phone network will disappear past Nichnai pass.
o On the way, you can see a magnificent waterfall, splashing along the mountain cliff and showing off its grandeur, and joining a river that drifts away.
o Along the way, you’ll be able to bask in the beauty of the blue shining jewel, the Vishansar Lake.
o Lunch will be served at the campsite at Vishansar Lake.
o You can bring out your sporty side and play a little bit of volleyball or cricket since the campsite sits on open grounds.
o The lake is only a 15-minute walk from the campsite to the beautiful Vishansar Lake.
o Vishansar is a magnet for sheep and their Shepherds. If you meet one, you’ll be left with tales of the old and stories of the mountain. So if you’re interested, be sure to go say “Hi”.
o Just make sure to keep your eyes open for wandering dogs while you are at the second stop of the Great Lake Trek.
Day 4: A day to explore Vishansar and Kishansar Lakes and to get plenty of rest for the next phase of the trek.
o Spend the day taking in the alluring sights of Vishansar and Kishansar lakes.
o The lakes are 0.5km to 1km apart.
o If you’re an adventurer, be sure to take the tricky trail to the Kishansar Lake. (Your guide will show you the path)
o Relax and rest up, the trek awaits continuation on Day 5!! Until then, have fun, and enjoy Mother Nature at its best!
Day 5: From Vishansar, you’ll be trekking till Gadsar via Gadsar pass.
o The day’s altitude will range from 12,000 feet to 12,500 feet at the 13,800 feet at Gadsar.
o It’ll be a 10km, about 5 hours, the trek from Vishansar to Gadsar.
o Once you reach Gadsar pass, you’ll see one of the most spectacular views you’ll ever witness. You’ll see the Twin Lakes glistening magnificently in the morning Sun.
o As you cross Gadsar pass, you’ll see the serene snow-clad Himalayan peaks.
o It’ll be a descent to Gadsar. You’ll see the first small lake, Yamasar Lake, and another nameless lake beyond it.
o The Yamasar Lake is connected to the Gadsar Lake through a stream which has pretty flowers of blue, red and yellow line its banks. Iris flowers making it a sight for sore eyes.
o During the descent, you’ll see the Glacier of Gadsar Lake, and the exquisite lake itself. Take in this glorious view, for it is one incredible sight.
o Gadsar is the highest point in the Great Lake Trek. And it’s pristine beauty is magnified by the snowy mountains and the Glacier in the background.
o You can either set camp in the banks of Gadsar Lake, but you’ll have to leave it as spotless and beautiful as you found it. Or you camp at the old abandoned army camp. There’s an HQ near to this, so you’ll have to notify them about your presence and get your ID proof verified.
o We’ll have lunch after we set up camp.
Day 6: Today, starting from Gadsar you’ll trek to Satsar.
o The altitude will change from 12,500 feet to 12,000 feet.
o It’ll be a 12km trek of 6 hours.
o You can refill your water at Gadsar Lake because you’ll find small streams along the way but the water might not be suitable to drink.
o Satsar is a collection of 7 lakes, you can find 4 to 5 lakes depending on the weather and climate.
o After setting up camp, you’ll be eating lunch.
Day 7: A day’s trek from Satsar to Gangabal twin lakes via Zaj pass.
o Altitude will mainly be from 12,000 feet to 11, 500 feet.
o A 9km trek of 6 hours.
o You’ll be trekking past the lakes of Satsar. The last lake you’ll see is the largest.
o The trail is dry for the most part till you reach Zaj pass.
o Seeing the terrain you’ll probably imagine the trek to be a bore but at the ridge of Zaj pass, you can see four lakes with the biggest being Gangabal, our destination for the day.
o You can have quite a view of Mount Harmukh. Lake Nandkol lies beneath the peak of Mount Harmukh and it’s not as beautiful as the other lakes due to the ravishes of campers who leave the place dirty.
o A 20-minute walk from Nandkol lake takes us to our campsite, Lake Gangabal.
o A stream connects both the lakes and DO NOT cross it at any point. Down the stream, you’ll find a bridge laid out.
o That will be the end of Day 7.
Day 8: From Gangabal Lakes you’ll travel to Naranag, and then, you’ll be driving to Srinagar.
o Altitude will be from 11,500 feet to 7,450 feet.
o It’ll be an 11km trek from Gangabal Lakes till Naranag that is approximately 6 hours of being on foot.
o The trek will mostly be a descent till Naranag with a few ups and downs, so be careful not to hurt your ankles.
o Make sure to refill your water bottles at Gangabal, there will be streams along the way but the major source would be the last campsite.
NOTE: You will be trekking at a maximum altitude of 13,800 feet, at an average temperature of 17- 20 degree Celsius during the day and 3-4 degree Celsius during the night. The trek has a moderate to a difficult range of difficulty, therefore, the trekkers should, at least, be above the age of 10.
THINGS YOU WILL NEED
The most basic things you’ll have to purchase or own before going on any trip is:
ü TREKKING SHOES: Do NOT buy sports shoes. Make sure you buy shoes that have a good grip and ankle support. (Tips: If it’s a new shoe, try it out by wearing it for a week before the trek so as to avoid shoe bites/blisters )
ü BACKPACK: It should be of carriage capacity of 40 litres – 60 litres. Make sure it has strong and sturdy straps along with a supporting frame. A rain cover for the backpack is essential, so make sure you have one.
ü TREKKING POLE: It is mandatory for trekkers to carry a trekking pole for support.
ü DAYPACK: If you plan on unpacking or offloading your backpack, a daypack is a mandatory requirement. Carry a rain cover for the daypack as well. (Ignore this if you plan on carrying your backpack)
ü WATER BOTTLE/HYDRATION PACK: Carry two bottles of 1litre capacity or, if you prefer hydration packs, carry one hydration pack and a 1litre water bottle. Be sure to carry at least one thermos.
ü HEADLAMP/LED TORCH: One of these are mandatory for all trekkers.
· Know What to Wear
Ø Full Sleeve Fleece/ Woollens: 2 pairs including the one you’ll be wearing. We recommend that you carry a fleece as it is easier to layer your clothing with two or more light fleece than to carry one heavy woollen. Fleece is lighter, compact and warm.
Ø Thick Jacket: It is essential to carry one full sleeved down jacket or a windproof jacket.
Ø Trek Pants: You’ll need 3 pairs of synthetic easy-dry pants, including the one you’ll be wearing. These are light and can be worn as layers if needed. You’ll be wearing one pair, carrying another during the trek and the last pair would be for the return journey. In case of an alternative, go for cotton pants with multiple/plenty of pockets or track pants. (Note: Jeans/Shorts/ 3/4th pants are not suitable for trekking)
Ø Collared Full sleeved T-Shirts: You should carry 3 pairs of these including the one you’ll be wearing. They should be collared and full sleeved to avoid sun-burns on your arms and neck. Make sure they’re light and are not boldly coloured (as it will be a distraction for birds and animals). We recommend one of these to be a dri-fit T-shirt, as they dry fast if it rains. (WARNING: Be sure to change your shirt often. A common mistake trekkers make is NOT CHANGING often enough. No matter the temperature, the body will sweat and if the shirt is left unchanged after reaching camp, there is a high chance of the trekker falling ill due to cold clothes and as a result would be unable to complete the trek)
Ø Thermal Inners: 1 pair of upper and lower thermal inners. These are optional, you may or may not carry them according to your sensitivity to the cold.
Ø Poncho: 1 pair.
Ø Socks: Carry 4 pairs of socks with 2 pairs being cotton socks and the other 2 pairs being woollen. Make sure you keep these dry as you will be using this on campsites or while sleeping.
Ø Hand Gloves: One pair of fleece/woollen gloves and a pair of synthetic water/windproof gloves.
Ø Sun Cap: A normal cap and a cap which covers the neck.
Ø One Woollen Cap
Ø One Balaclava or Scarf
Ø One Neck Gaiters
· Things You Should NOT Miss
v Toothbrush and paste
v Anti-Bacterial powder
v Hand Sanitizer
v Toilet paper and wipes
v Lip balm/Chapstick (To keep your lips from drying)
v Quick dry towels
v Small soap
v Repair kit (Thread, Needles, Buttons,etc.)
v CAMERA and its accessories ( Charger, spare batteries, lens, cleaner)
v A coffee mug, spoon and a lunch box
v Covers/Small bags (To put in wet/dirty clothes or other objects)
MAKE SURE YOU CARRY A FIRST AID KIT CARRYING BASIC MEDICINES FOR FEVER, COLD, NAUSEA AND PAINKILLERS. IF YOU HAVE PRESCRIPTION MEDICINE PLEASE CARRY THEM ALONG AS WELL!!!!
· For Your Feet
Ø One pair of Trekking Shoes which are waterproof with a good grip. ( High ankle boots preferably)
Ø Floater/ Flip flops (Optional)
· For Your Eyes
v Sunglasses (UV protected, Dark with side cover)
v If you have prescription glasses/spectacles, please use contact lenses and/or photochromatic glasses.
Now, you’ll have a pretty clear idea about the Great Lake Trek of Kashmir. ATMs and mobile network will be unavailable after you leave Srinagar. Food during the trek and transport from and to Srinagar will be arranged. Cost of the trek will be around 13,750 per person (5% GST excluded).
Now all you need to do is pack your bags, be ready to witness beauty at its finest and get ready to trek! Don’t forget to make your memories picture perfect and lasting. Click those cameras till your heart’s content and escape civilisation and be one with nature.
HAVE FUN EXPLORERS AND HAPPY TREKKING!!!