When I got to know that my next venture as a Bikat Adventures’ Content Writer was Kashmir Great Lakes, I kind of flipped with happiness. Kashmir Great Lakes had been on my to-do list for a long time. It was imparted to me that part of this trail gets really risky during heavy showers, and if that is the case, the only possibility left is to return back. I started my packing and praying constantly for it not to rain. Who knew my prayers were going to be answered!
I boarded my flight from Chandigarh and landed in the huge green valley of Srinagar, Kashmir. My ride from the airport to Sonamarg through the Srinagar city changed my perspective about this place. I hadn’t imagined Srinagar to be this developed, this populated and so well constructed. It seemed like another normal city contrary to what media shows us.
I reached Sonamarg and met the trek leaders and the participants. We spent our evening bonding with the new faces and taking in all the positive vibes the valley of Kashmir had to offer. It was a full moon night and I couldn’t take my eyes off the Hajwa glacier shining brightly in the moonlight.
We woke up to a bright sunny day and started our trek with great enthusiasm and eagerness to see what’s coming up next. I wanted to take in every part of Kashmir with every step I took. The moderate climb where small children kept asking for candies, the small stream across which a local girl was washing clothes, a wooden hut where local men were working, all the daily chores were so similar to what I experienced in other treks. This left me with 1 question, why are people so skeptical about visiting Kashmir? The people, their routine, the innocence of children are just like other parts of India! Only difference that I could see was that, the valley was way more beautiful than other parts of India.
Still reasoning this out in my head, we reached the first check post where we had to show our ID Cards and were permitted to proceed only after the thorough verification. We made our way through a thick forest of silver birch and maple trees. It was a long walk, and we reached our first camp site at 5:00 in the evening. We had our learning session on how to pack a ruck sack and how to use a sleeping bag. With that, we called it the night.
We woke up to an exciting morning and had a healthy breakfast because today we were going to cross one of three passes that we were supposed to encounter in this trek. We negotiated a steep climb for the first 2 hours, followed by a moderate one and we finally reached Nichnai pass at 12:00 in the afternoon. We spotted two of the seven Nichnai lakes- the rest of the five were somewhere behind the huge mountains. The descent was a long walk through the deserted mountains of Kashmir, but the vast green valley of Vishansar welcomed us with open hearts. It was one of the most beautiful camp sites of this trek. We rested for a while and in evening, we went to see the Vishansar Lake.
Next morning, we left for Gadsar pass, which is considered to be the trickiest one on this trek. But as weather was on our side, it was sunny throughout the day. On the way to Gadsar Pass, we crossed Kishansar Lake. Gadsar Pass was the second out of three passes that we had to cross. The climb was physically as well as mentally challenging, but the view from top was worth it all. To the left of Gadsar Pass we could see both Vishansar and Kishansar lakes and Gadsar lakes to the right. We all were relaxed when we reached our camp site because we had successfully crossed one the trickiest sections of the trek, and now we knew there would be no going back.
We were excited to spot the 7 lakes of Satsar. A snow bridge was the first activity we encountered in the morning. The climb today was a moderate one, followed by flat walk on vast green meadows. It was one of the easiest days of trek, and we reached Satsar camp site at 1:00 pm. After lunch, we went to the Satsar Lake, which is a moderate climb of half an hour. We spent our evening playing Frisbee in the setting sun.
The next morning we started at 7:00am to cross the last of the three passes of Kashmir Great Lakes. It was a moderate climb. We reached Zij pass at 11:00 AM. The view from Zij Pass was breathtaking. We could see the twin lakes, Gangabal and Nandkul from Zij Pass. If you explore the pass a little more and climb the nearby two small hills then you can also spot a third lake hidden somewhere up in the mountains. That’s the fun part of this trek. Climb a little here and there, and you might spot a hidden lake.
We reached Gangabal camp site at 1:00pm and enjoyed a good afternoon nap in the warmth of the valley. In evening we had our session on ‘How to select Trekking Gear’ and enjoyed the folk songs near the camp fire.
We took our time and woke up late in the morning as it was the rest day. After breakfast we left to explore Gangabal Lake. This huge blue-colour lake resting amidst the giant mountains right next to glacier was definitely a sight to behold. People enjoyed a dip in the lake and I retired to my deep thinking, resting on the rocks near the lake. On the way back to camp, me and my friend slipped aside to take a dip in the Nandkul Lake, and that was one the best moment of the trek for me.
It was the last day of the trek, and many of us were sad because the trek was coming to an end, but everyone of us were excited to explore Srinagar and have Wazwan (Local Non Vegetarian Course of Kashmir). The descent till Naranag was quite steep and took a toll on nearly everyone’s knees and toes, but never mind, it was the last day. We were treated to a tea party at Naranag by the eldest participant of the trek who was 67 years old and successfully completed the trek.
We took our cabs and left for Srinagar, nostalgic, reminiscing the memories that we had created over the period of past 7 days. Kashmir Great Lakes will always be remembered, not because it is one of the most beautiful treks but also because it generated the pool of answered and unanswered questions inside my mind.
The locals touched my soul with their warm hospitality, the children stole my heart with their innocence and the place left me mesmerized by its intriguing culture- but then why do we have an unsafe Image of Kashmir in our minds? Perhaps it’s time we change.