Want to know a secret?
Kashmir Great Lakes, one of India’s most famed trails for its beauty and turquoise waters, has a dark side. Or so legend states.
The Legend of Kashmir Great Lakes Trek
This trek is legendary for its beauty and mini-adventures along the way, but most of all - the brilliantly blue lakes themselves. I came across their folklore researching what exactly makes the lakes of this trek so blue, and stumbled on a strange story, one warning all those who approach the shore of one particular lake along the route - the shimmering Gadsar.
Revealing itself once you’ve crossed Gadsar Pass on day 5 of the trek, Gadsar Lake shines bright blue in the summertime months, and under the surface? A monster, according to legend.
Gadsar translates to “Lake of Fishes” in Kashmiri, brimming with trout and other species - innocent enough. It has a slightly less popular name though, Yemsar, meaning “Lake of the Demon,” earning it yet another nickname, the “Lake of Death.”
Shepherds say they’ve sighted something a little bigger than trout in the waters - a huge freshwater octopus living under the surface according to them, that snatches unlucky goats or sheep meandering too close to the water’s edge and drags them down under with its tentacles.
Shepherds won’t take their flocks anywhere near the shore of Gadsar Lake now, choosing to graze their herds elsewhere, away from any potential octopus attacks. They won’t even fish on this so-called Lake of Fishes, preferring rather to erre on the side of caution and instead catch the fish in an outflow stream that leads out from the lake.
So how legit is this legend? I did a little digging to see if this whole ‘killer octopus’ thing is even remotely possible, and here’s what I found:
The first thing I looked up was how cold the water can be before this lake is no longer a habitable environment for the species. Gadsar Lake’s surface rests at 3,600 meters, meaning it is frozen over for months at a time during the winter - from December clear through April. While most octopus species can’t survive in sustained temperatures that low, researchers have found two species that live in Antarctica, where water temperature averages at around 1.8 degrees Celcius.
So can an octopus technically live in the cold temperature of Gadsar Lake? Possibly. What isn’t known is whether Gadsar Lake freezes solid to the bottom, or if only the surface forms a thick ice layer. If it’s the former, the shepherds’ theory is out, and if it’s the latter, it’s still questionable, given that the Antarctic octopus species aren’t stuck in water that is entirely frozen over.
It was then that I came across similar stories and rumors of a killer octopus hiding in a lake and dragging down its prey, but this time from the other side of the world.
Way back in 1999, locals visiting the New York side of Lake Ontario claimed to spot a large, purple octopus under the water. Theories cycled, most popularly pointing fingers at a nearby nuclear power plant, saying it was causing mutations in species. Now granted, Lake Ontario is enormous, with a maximum depth of 802 feet and an area of 18,960 square kilometers, so it’s entirely possible that we don’t know each and every species in this vast expanse of water, but the likelihood of the mutation story creating an octopus is almost laughable.
Another story surfaced, a bit more pervasively, from the U.S. state of Oklahoma, where unusually high drowning rates in three of the state’s lakes caused people to speculate something more was happening than just tragic accidents.
Rumors of the ‘Oklahoma Octopus’ ran wild, with people claiming that one had somehow made its way into these lakes and was dragging swimmers down with its tentacles. After several years of these rumors, one octopus was actually found floating dead in the water, but turned out to be nothing but a twisted prank by someone who had thrown it in after purchasing it from a fish market.
What’s more is that no species of octopus has been discovered as of yet that is capable of surviving in freshwater - aka all lakes, including Gadsar Lake. All octopuses (often mistakenly pluralized as octopi), live in the ocean because they need a saltwater environment.
Scientists point out the fact that some jellyfish have managed to evolve over time from living in saltwater to freshwater, but nothing similar has been reported for any octopus species.
Long story short, this “Lake of Death” along the stunning Kashmir Great Lakes trail is looking more like a “Lake of Rumors.” Of course, if you’re really curious, the best way to investigate is to make a visit to these glittering lakes yourself and settle these rumors once and for all.
I know I’m heading there the first chance I get.