When you go closer to your wishes, they run away!
When you move away from them, they come closer to you!
The first Dream -
Being born from a middle-class Tam-Bram family in Chennai, my exposure to the north was from my parent’s diverse tastes and tongue. When I was 6 and started to learn about the world, I got introduced to an old radio. With crackles and beeps, it sang songs from old Hindi movies. Of the many vintage and retro classics, one particular song remained stuck with me. I never knew its origin and never tried to search for it until Google and YouTube entered the picture.
One day I casually hummed the tune to my parents and they said that the song was "Diwana Huwa Badal" from a famous movie named – "Kashmir Ki Kali". I quickly turned on my PC, opened Google, and heard the song. I didn't stop there. I saw the movie, researched Kashmir, and read about their life and culture. The more I read, the more I wanted to experience it first-hand. The simple idea of being there became a dream. But, because of unavoidable circumstances and other issues, I never had an opportunity even to plan for Kashmir.
Years passed and I received a second chance at exploring and traveling when I became an On-Field Writer with Bikat Adventures. The transition from south to north was complete with a funny broken tongue for Hindi. I started exploring the magnificent mountains of Uttarakhand and Ladakh. I got to visit exotic people in exuberant places. This journey took me to a stop in Manali. When I was writing about a Himalayan trek in our Hostel, I received a call from my boss. As people say, the medium is the message. The call could be for my next assignment on the mountains. Anticipation and excitement developed in my gut. It could be somewhere tough, it could be somewhere technical and it could be somewhere unknown. I quickly answered it.
Boss – How are you doing?
Ash – good sir!
Boss – Have you been to Kashmir?
Ash –No sir
Boss – Your next trek will be the Kashmir Great Lakes.
Ash – Sure sir!
I reciprocated calmly and sat down in silence. Inside my heart, Shammi Kapoor erupted like a volcano and started dancing in high spirits. The long-awaited dream finally came true. All these years, when I was consciously making an effort to visit the wonder, it never happened.
Finally, when I almost forgot about the place, the opportunity knocked on my front door. I guess this is one of the lessons of life. We will get what we wish for, but it will happen in its own course of time. I quickly packed my bags and started my journey to Srinagar with my Trek leader Sachin Lama. Throughout the ride, I had a huge smile on my face.
The second dream -
Every journey is a tasty recipe. It has two main ingredients – People and places. When my trek leader, Sachin, and I entered Sri Nagar, I could taste the rich culture of Kashmir's simplicity in the air. The sweet language of the people, subtle tinge of ethnicity, the warmth of their hospitality, and the smooth textures of their culture was a delight to relish.
On the first day of the trek, we sat next to the serene Dal Lake and waited for our participants to assemble. I had my second dose of surprise that time. Sachin said we are getting a special participant with us this time and it's Jyothika Ma'am. The name rang a bell inside my mind. Again, I sat down in silence and the inner fan in me started dancing in rhythm. Being a writer and a storyteller, movies have always been an integral part of my life. I used to skip college and school to watch my favorite movies in the theater. Jyothika Ma'am was one such superior figure from the Film Industry. I always wanted to meet an actor in person and my second dream became a reality. I felt honored and looked forward to trek with her.
The participants were the spice and zest to the recipe of my journey. Every individual was intriguing and had a great personality. Around 4 pm in the evening, all of us reached the base camp of the KGL trek, Sonmarg. We sat inside the dining tent and exchanged names, smiles, and pleasantries. None of us felt like strangers. There was a sense of familiarity and comfort with each other.
The crew –
What makes a trek great?
When a few distinctly different individuals come together with common respect and love for mountains and adventure, every part of the trek becomes an art to remember. True to its name, KGL already has a standard of greatness to it. Our crew of 16 members and the staff lived up to its standards and made this trek a unique experience for everyone.
Sachin Lama (Trek Leader) – A professional trek leader with valuable experiences and intricate knowledge about outdoor activities. He knew the mountains well and took care of every individual. He treated everyone with equality and maintained a perfect balance between fun and work.
Mushtaq Bhai (Guide) – A perfect embodiment of Kasmiri’s sweetness. When participants grew tired or weak, his simple jokes and motivating words would push everyone to go the extra mile. Even after walking for several kilometers, he took care of everyone and helped us during the rains and cold weather.
Riyaz Bhai (Guide) – Just like the mountains, he is a tall and calm individual who can assess any situation and find a solution for it. He gently smiled and guided us through the tough terrains of the trek.
Jyothika Ma’am – I never expected a celeb to be so humble and down to earth. She was simple and kind. She mingled with everyone in the group. She loved the offline life, mix of cultures, our funny stories from the past, and the small games we had in tents. We all walked together, ate together, and spent some quality time with each other. Occasionally I had fun with Ma'am by talking in Tamil and by singing Tamil songs. She never made us feel that we were with a star. She was a good friend to everyone. The funny and the ironic part was when we made ma’am herself act for the Dumb Charades game. It was a truly joyful experience.
Vandana Tendolkar – The iron lady of the group. I can never imagine myself trekking when I turn 60. She was strong and maintained a steady pace throughout the trek. She not only inspired Jyothika ma'am, but she also became a role model for each and everyone in the group.
Hemant Das & Shefali – I have seen many couples on the trek. But, these two were the best. They had this pure innocence and a challenge between them to overtake each other on the trail. At the age of 53 and 43, both were fit and fantastic. If you meet a couple like them, you are in for a delight from just witnessing their little bouts of jovial competitiveness with each other.
Praveen Shakya – The guy with an extra eye and quirky words. At every stop, he had the energy and patience to find a perfect spot for a profile picture. His comments and jokes made everyone laugh. He was my tent mate and we shared many funny stories.
Pratibha Rahi – The firecracker of the group. With her childlike nature and free spirit, she indulged everyone in the group. Even when her toe was covered in blisters, she smiled through the pain and walked with us. She made all of us dance to Punjabi Songs.
Ankit Batheja – The Baba Ji. Whenever he opened his long hair and spoke in a calm tone, he looked like a priest or a Baba from the mountains. Our games and conversations would have been incomplete without him.
Sumit Arora – Sumit was the youngest and the most innocent person in the group. Simple food like Pakoda and Panner excited him. If you ask him a question, he would first blush and then reciprocate with a smile.
Nidhi Dotiya – Nidhi is a nature lover with a nature to nurture others. Throughout the trek, she was concerned about everyone's wellbeing. She is a great listener and had some intricate knowledge about trekking and geography. She is an explorer who likes to see the unseen and gain new experiences in life.
Poornima Malagi – We all believed that she was a saint in the making. Every day, we woke up to her Om chanting from the tent. She never missed a chance to find a spot near a lake or a mountain and close her eyes to go on an introspective journey. Neither the crowd nor the ambiance could disturb her. She had an amazing amount of focus.
Poornima Shridhar – Coming from South India, Poornima shared my funny broken tongue for Hindi. In between serious conversations, we both would randomly ask the meaning of a Hindi word. She is a versatile person with many profiles. She is a singer, climber, IT professional, and many more. We had interesting conversations on philosophy and nature.
Madhusudan Jaju – Jaju is one of the leading entrepreneurs in the travel industry. His perspective on nature, life, and trekking were highly insightful. He is a visionary with a keen eye for detail and a strong passion for exploration. Traveling with him was like reading a book on experiences.
Mrudula – Compared to us, Mrudula was considerably new to trekking. However, when I spoke to her, her deep aspiration for travel and exploring new experiences gave me a fresh perspective.
Ashwin Muralidharan – Well, to talk about me, I had a gala time on the KGL. As an On-Field Writer, my job is to document the place and the stories of people. In the end, everyone made me so comfortable that I felt like a participant who had come to enjoy the trek.
A glimpse of the journey –
Trek to KGL is like a Bollywood movie filled with different plot lines. We had many interesting encounters and surprises every day. Let me take you through a few highlights that will give you an experience of what we went through.
Our trek began with a bang – On a bright sunny morning, we started climbing from the Sonamarg Campsite. An hour into the journey, we entered sprawling meadows covered in various shades of green. Unlike other parts of the Himalayas, Kashmir has extra space for everyone including horses and herds of sheep. When we sat for a break, the gentle whites suddenly turned dark and started pouring. We quickly resumed our ascent and reached Tabletop view. Because of the rain, the temperatures dipped by 3 degrees and the trails were completely covered in slush. Even the horses were struggling to move forward. Noticing our condition, the leaders and the staff quickly pitched the tents in a few minutes. We huddled up in the dining tent for warmth and stayed there until the rain stopped.
The 22 km walk to Vishansar –
According to the original plan, our initial stop for the first day was at Nichnai. Because of the rains, we decided to stop halfway and cover the extra kilometers on the second day.
The leader and the guides never mentioned the distance we had to cover that day. We started walking through the silver birch and pine forest, walked parallel to the small streams of Sindh River, crossed the massive steep pass, and finally reached the campsite of Vishansar after 11- 12 hours. If there was an award for walking on the mountains, we deserved it.
On the third day, we witnessed the first lake of the trek, Vishansar Lake. After a 15 minute break for snaps and fun time, we went ahead to see the second marvel, Kishansar lake. From the base of the lake, we saw a long trail gradually ascending and reaching the top of Gadsar Pass. As we started climbing, the vibrant lakes started changing their shade from turquoise blue to partial green. As we gained more height, the lake revealed its entire structure and reflected the clouds and the sky. All our strain and pain were eased by this view. Finally, after reaching the Gadsar Pass, we got a panoramic view of the snowcapped mountains around us.
Reflections on Gadsar Lake –
A masterpiece with true elegance and perfect symmetry. After descending for almost 2 hours from the Gadsar Pass, we stopped at the Gadsar lake. Situated in a dreamy setting, the Gadsar lake has a magical property to transport us to our desired wonderland.
The transition from Satsar Lake –
On our way, we encountered some handsome army men in Uniform. Their heavy guns, commanding voice, and strong body language reminded me of our patriotic movies from B town. After getting clearance from the army, we crossed many small lakes of the stunning and versatile Satsar lake. The nature of the trail completely changed from Satsar Lake. We were mostly walking on flatlands covered with grass, boulders, and shrubs.
The final stretch and the Buffer day -
The final pass of the trek had a different kind of challenge. We had to walk on huge boulders and our paths were filled with gravel and soft stones. After some herculean effort, we reached the top of Sach Pass. From the top, we could witness nature's true High definition telecast of the spellbinding, Nandakol, Gangabal, and Kolser lake. We melted in front of its presence. Each one of us felt a mystical connection there and finally reached the campsite and explored the beauty of the Nandakol and Gangabal lake. The next day was all set to rest, revitalize and resume our journey down to the civilization.
The end –
Nature is everywhere and nature is everything. We often differentiate ourselves and say phrases like nature is calling and nature is an escapade. But, the fact is that we are a part of nature. We all have a course to follow like the blowing wind and flowing water. If we hold on to anything, we become stagnant. If we let go of it and flow with the force, our wishes and dreams will follow us; just like how I landed on the KGL trek!