If Himalayan beauty had a standard or a metric for rating, the greatest and the prettiest of them all will be The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. The KGL trek is a celestial paradise on earth that has larger-than-life panorama of rugged mountains, serene alpine lakes, magnificent high altitude passes, and spectacular valleys. The sheer charm of this 9-day trek attracts trekkers from all over the world.
Once you step inside this Himalayan utopia, you will unlock a treasure chest full of surprises. The vibrant flowers, vast landscapes, far-reaching visuals, crystal lakes, and fascinating terrains will stimulate your senses every day of every second.
In this article, we are going to try and capture the highlights of the Kashmir Great Lakes trail on a day by day basis.
Day 1 – Drive from Srinagar to Sonamarg (2730 meters) – 80 km in 3 hours
The trail for the Kasmir Great Lakes Trek begins from the base camp of Sonamarg which translates to the golden meadows. If you have opted for a means of transport from Bikat Adventures, we will pick you up from Dal Lake; Gate No.1, Srinagar at around 11 am.
The best journeys of life come in a short and sweet package. Spanning 80 km, the drive from Dal Lake to Sonamarg just takes around 3 hours. Unlike the tedious mountain ways of Uttarakhand, the roads to Sonmarg are flat throwing open views to expansive landscapes. Once we cross 20 kilometers, the roads run parallel to the mighty Sindh River on your left-hand side and have village-style villas on your right-hand side. About 40 kilometers into the drive, the cityscape ends and the roads open up to apple orchards, lush gardens, snow-capped mountains, and a few military check posts on either side. Expect to reach Sonamarg around 2PM.
Sonamarg – The Land of True Gold
Sonamarg, is not just the base camp of the KGL trek; it is a populous hot spot for both tourists and trekkers alike. Strategically positioned at a height of 2730 meters in the Kashmir valley, it is not far away from the tranquil Thajiwas glacier. After reaching Sonamarg, you can rest and take an acclimatization walk to the nearby Shitkadi Bridge.
Day 2 - Sonamarg (2, 730 M) to Nichnai (3, 500 M)
The gradient of today’s terrain is moderate with medium ascents and descents. There will be plenty of water sources along the way and we will be covering a distance of 10 km in 9 hours. Some of the key highlights for this day are the view of Shitkadi village; table-top Dhaba and a walk through exotic trees.
The view of Shitkadi village –
We will leave the campsite by 9 am and cross a road to reach the starting point of the trek. The trails from the starting point are well marked and gain elevation with gradual ascends. About ten minutes into the trek, the trails opens up to expansive meadows painted in a royal green shade. Once you reach the meadow area, do not forget to look behind. You can witness Shitkadi, a charming village at the banks of the Sindh River. The rustic Kashmiri architecture and the flow of the river blend to paint a picturesque portrait.
If you have a message to send or an email to check, do it here. Because you don’t get phone network beyond this point.
OTT on the Rocks
As we ascend further through the forest area, the view grows wider and even more spectacular. At the end of the forest line, the elevations stop and a flat stretch of grassland, resembling the top of a table, comes into view. This point is known as the Table-Top Point. The smooth grasses and the gentle breeze here will remind you of the familiar warmth of a mother's lap. During small breaks, you can sit on the silky grassland, stretch your leg and enjoy the true comforts of nature.
Walk the Talk with Birch
We will rest for 30 minutes at the Table-top point for lunch and resume our journey to Nichnai campsite. The nature of the trails drastically changes at the end of the table-top point. The trail penetrates a forest area filled with Himalayan Birch trees.
Remember the 2D terrain from the 90’s PC game, Hercules?
The walk through the Himalayan Birch forest resembles those Greek forests from History. If you get tired on your way or if you just want to stop and soak in the view around you, go ahead and sit and lean on those hammock-shaped trees.
It will take us one hour and 2 km to cross the forest area and land on the valley side. You will notice that a silky stream of glacial water flows to your right hand aside, on its way to join the Sindh River. The ascents from this point will be smooth and directly lead us to the Nichnai campsite. Be prepared to greet your curious neighbours and the stunning views of snow-capped mountains. Watch large herds of sheep walk along your tents poking their heads inside to welcome you with their warm Mehhhs!
Day 3 – Nichnai (3, 505 M) to Vishansar Lake (3, 658 M) via Nichnai Pass (4,150 M)
It is going to be a long day and an even longer walk. The gradient is a bit strenuous with moderate to difficult ascents and steep descents. The main highlights of this day are the pass crossing and the green walk on arresting plains.
Nichnai Pass – The First Vantage Point
We will leave the campsite early at 8 am to cover a distance of 11 km in 6 hours. The first 3 km of the trailswill have small boulder sections, gradual ascents, and easy descents. As we progress along the river stream, the tracks narrow down into thin vertigo-inducing ridges. The exciting part for the day appears at the end of the 3 km mark. The valley opens up to a wide section of the river stream. We will cross the river through the numbing cold torrents and continue walking toward the trails of Nichnai Pass. The ascents from this point are a bit daunting and strenuous but the smooth transition of colors and scenic views will keep you invigorated to keep going.
Spots of soft snow now dot the ground. The river that was running on our right now meanders its way through the slopes on our left. The hues of greens will reduce and transform into shades of brown and grey. Tune in your senses and try to observe the sounds your shoes make against the ground. You can listen to the rustles of rocks, cracks from snow, and swishes from the sand. You will be composing your song here, leaving a melodious impression behind. After covering 5 km, you reach a 500-meter ridgeline that will lead you towards Nichnai Pass.
Nestled at a height of 4150 Meters, Nichnai pass holds spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, small peaks, and a wide range of the Kashmir Valleys. You might have to turn around many times to get a complete 360 view of the place. We will break for lunch here. You can fill your cameras with memorable selfies, play with snow and indulge in some hot food from a nearby dhaba. After having fun, we will start descending through the steep narrow trails for 2 kilometers.
The Royal Green Carpets
The pass crossing was just a glimpse of Day 2’s surprises. Once you descend through the steep trails from the Pass, the greens come back with vigour. A huge plain spanning over a distance of several kilometers unfolds once again in front of you. Puddles create little pockets of water across this plain. When you cross the puddle, stop for a second and try to notice the herd of sheep. They drink water from the puddle and continue grazing over the lush grassland.
It takes about 2 hours to cross the 4km stretch of the plain. At the end of this stretch lies our campsite for the day near the Vishansar stream.
Day 4 - Vishansar Lake (3, 58 M) to Gadsar Lake (3, 810 M) via Gadsar Pass (4, 206 M)
The gradient for today’s trails will have a two-hour difficult ascent and a 2-hour steep descent. We will be covering a distance of 10 km in 7 hours. The journey begins with a visit to the twin lakes Vishnasar and Kishanasar, ascends upwards to Gadsar Pass, continues towards Gadsar Lake, and ends at the Gadsar Campsite.
Twinning at Kashmir
We leave the campsite by 8 am. About 15 minutes into the journey, the first lake of the Trek, Vishansar, appears into view. The moment you set your gaze on the olive green lake, words will vanish from your mind. An indomitable focus will take over your sight and make you travel inwards, deeper within the realms of reality and truth. You will experience a speechless moment with a clear state of mind.
We will spend some time here before moving on to the Kishansar Lake. It takes another 15 minutes to reach the second lake. The diameter, texture, look, and feel of the Kishansar, looks similar ot the Vishansar Lake. Even nature's off springs come in pairs. They are no less than identical Siamese Twins.
Gadsar Pass – The second vantage point
The trails from Kishansar Lake gain elevation and transform into a narrow ridge. You can see the complete trail line from the bottom to the top. It is like a thin stroke of a pencil line engraved on the rigid surfaces of rocks and mud. We start walking on the ridge and continue for two hours to reach the pass. When you are halfway through the ridge section, you can see the twin lakes changing their color from olive green to a dazzling blue. This view lasts until you reach the pass. Think of a signature pose, because the view that awaits you on the top of the pass will amaze you with its splendor. On the left-hand side, you can see the complete alignment of the twin lakes, and on your right-hand side lies a scintillating valley with the Gadsar Lake.
Gadsar Lake – Perfect Symmetry
At a two hour descent from the pass lies an opulent terrain filled with different hues of flowers. The edelweiss will whisper your name and the daisies will lighten up your mood. Notice how the flowers align themselves in a striking pattern at the corners of the trail and guide you towards the Gadsar Lake. Like the Big Bang model on super-asymmetry, The Kashmir Great Lakes Treks is all about super-symmetry. The Gadsar Lake is perfectly shaped and emerald colored nestled right between the majestic mountains and lush grasslands. We will break for lunch at the Gadsar Lake for 30 minutes and continue to walk for another 1 hour to reach the campsite through mild ascents and descents on the meadows.
Day 5 - Gadsar Lake (3, 810 M) to Satsar Lake (3, 658 M)
The gradient for Day 5 is easier than the previous days. Today, we will be covering a distance of 12 km in 6 hours. We begin with a steep ascent for one hour and continue walking on a vast meadow all the way to the next campsite. On your way, we pass by the enchanting lakes of Satsar and an army camp for clearance. If the weather is good, we will even get a chance to see a tiny fragment of the Nanga Parwat Parbat peak from the meadows.
Meadows like a national highway
We have the leisure of starting around 9 am for the day. The trails from the campsite incline with steep ascents for the next 3km. It takes about an hour to cover. The tracks beneath us will be marked with silver boulders and scree platforms. Tiny strawberry plants growing along the trailside wobble in the gentle winds.
At the end of 3 km, the elevations stop and a colossal plain covered with a well-flagged pathway emerges in front of you.
Can you imagine a green highway in the mountains? Fasten your rucksack belt, put on your caps, and enjoy an uninterrupted walk for the next 2 hours.
This plain meadow is one of Kashmir’s largest platforms. About 20 minutes into the journey, you can spot the tip of a snow-capped peak from a long distance. That will be the eminent Nanga Parbat. However, this sight will not be visible most of the time because of bad weather. We will continue to walk through the vast plain covered with huge boulders and stop at an army checkpoint after covering a distance of 4 km.
Army checkpoint and Satsar Lakes
Get your IDs ready for some serious checking and clearance. The army will quickly scan your details and register your names in their records. They do this to keep track of tourists, travelers, and villagers. If they have some extra time, you will get the golden chance to get to know more about their life here. After security check is done, we resume our walk on the rolling meadows of the Kashmir Valley.
The trails descend gently from the checkpoint for the next ten minutes leading you to the first lake of Satsar. ‘Sat’ stands for seven and ‘Sar’ stands for the lake. Satsar is a group of seven lakes connected by small alpine streams. All seven lakes are nestled in different sections of the valley and four of them are approachable. We will rest at the first lake for a few minutes and continue our journey by crossing the second lake. Once we reach the grasslands of the campsite, we will stretch, rest and have some hot lunch. After getting enough rest, we will go on a short hike of 1 Km through a boulder section to visit the other two lakes of Satsar.
Day 6 – Satsar Lake (3, 658 M) to Gangabal Lake (3, 505 M)
On this day, we will cross the magnificent Zaj Pass, the third pass of the trek. Today’s gradient is riddled with boulder crossings and steep ascents. Overall, we will cover a distance of around 12 km in 7 hours. The main attraction of the day is the view of Gangabal Lake and Nandakol Lake nestled below the immense Hara Mukh peak.
The Bold Ascent
The trek starts at 8 AM today. 1 km into the trek, the topography changes scenes. Stretches of enormous boulders lying in heaps one on top of the other now greet you. While climbing the boulders, feel free to go down on all fours, using both hands and legs to navigate them. This stretch is intimidating and fun. Once you cross half the surface area, your body will get used to the terrain and easily make it to the top.
View from Zaj Pass – The final vantage point
The boulder section will continue for 3 hours and lead you onto a flat surface. Within a few minutes the flat surface narrows into a ridge trail running in a zigzag manner covered in scree. We will continue walking on the trail for 2 hours until we reach the enigmatic Zaj Pass. As soon as you reach the pass, curtains rise and a cinematic view of the enormous Titan, Hara Mukh Peak, presents itself in front of you. The scene gets more appealing when coupled with the view of Gangabal Lake on the right and Nandakol Lake on the left foot of Haramukh peak. We will stop here for lunch and enjoy this Nature's masterpiece.
The royal greens of the Kashmir valley make their way back as you descend from the pass. It takes 2 hours and around 5 km to reach the campsite near Nandakol. Watch out for the golden-brown rodent Marmot along the way.
Once we reach the Nandakol campsite by 4 pm, we will relax for a bit and take a small stroll to the Nandakol Lake. Remove your shoes and dip your feet in the cold waters of the lake. You will feel the soreness ebb away.
Day 7 – A Day to Rest and Revitalise
Today, there are no timelines or schedules to follow. You don’t have to pack your bags, clean your tents or walk for 10 kilometers. All you have to do is chill and enjoy the beauty of the Nandkol Lake and Gangabal Lake.
Gangabal Lake is 15 minutes ahead of Nandakol Lake. Legends and locals from the Kasmir valley believe that the lake holds mystical powers and guides them during a crisis. They consider this as a sacred lake and worship it with prayers. In the evening, watch the cotton clouds float in as their shadows gradually moving ahead with elegance on the ground. One of the other exciting activities here is skipping stones. Pick one, fling one, and enjoy the endless ripples they make on the velvet surface of the water.
Day 8 - Gangabal Lake (3, 505 M) to Naranag (2, 271 M)
The long trek ends today. Even on the last day, until the last minute, the trails won’t cease to amaze you with their exquisite landscapes. The gradient for today begins with minor ascends for 2 kilometers; flat meadows for 3 km and a drastic descend with steep scree sections until Naranag. Watch out for the abrupt turns and slippery slopes while descending. Proper footing and use of a trek pole can help you descend without falling.
Army Camp –
Today we will start at 8 am and cover a distance of 11 kilometers in 6 hours. We will cross the Nandakol lake area and ascend towards the lush meadows. The density of the grassland here is thicker and the trail runs below a vast skyline. As you walk ahead, you can see many thin layers of mountain lines unveiling themselves every 10 minutes. Once you reach the resting point after 2 hours, the topography descends gradually.
The first mark of civilization begins here. The trek leader will assemble us near an army camp for a second clearance.
Pin ball descent through Pine Trees
After getting clearance from the camp, the trails disappear into a tall pine forest. For the initial few minutes, we descend linearly. As we get closer to the gravel section, the trails drop down with steep slopes. 3 kms into this trail, we come across the first dhaba. We will break here for rest. Your phone network works from this point onwards. Naranag is still 3 km away. Expect to get there by 3 PM.
A vehicle arranged by Bikat Adventures will take you directly to Srinagar from Naranag. The drive takes around 2 hours. Considering the check posts and traffic, we are likely to reach Srinagar around 6 PM. We recommend resting for the night and planning your return journey the next day.