Nature Lover’s Pilgrimage — Kashmir Great Lakes trek

From awesome views right from the very first campsite to a bit of rain every evening, a broken DSLR on the second day, getting mobile repaired next to a alpine lake, snow slide and hopping across boulders — my adventure in Kashmir Great lakes trek had everything in it for a proper Indian style masala movie.

If you’d like skip the travelogue and just check out the photographs, you can do it here.

On my previous 3 treks, I spent a good deal of time in deciding which one to do. But this time around, the only decision was around choosing the batch.

The cardio preparation started even before booking for the trek, so that whichever batch of KGL I am able to join, I should be ready for that. And I joined the first Indiahikes batch of the season to the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. On the other side, I was also anxiously following Kashmir local news trying to understand the security situation there.


Day 0 — Reaching Srinagar and Shitkadi

Reached Srinagar on Friday and to Indiahikes’ reporting place around noon. Friday being Kashmir’s Sunday, most of the shops/restaurants were closed leaving us in a struggle to find a decent place for the last lunch before the trek — my last one before I have to be a vegetarian for a week. To add to the eeriness, army people patrolling the streets outnumbered the civilians around.

An hour past lunch, we started towards Shitkadi where we’d be camping tonight. The mini-roadtrip got exciting thanks to our trek lead Anuja. She was engaging us with interesting trivia and mountain stuff to tell us on each and every bend throughout the way to the basecamp. Learnt a lot about mountains, Kashmir and the flora around that place.

Shitkadi basecamp was the perfect the trailer to the blockbuster we were about to experience.

The campsite was set next to a stream with awesome views of Thajiwas glacier.

The loudest sound you can hear here was the music from the gushing of this stream.

In short, Shitkadi was the perfect start to the trek.

I had bought ND filter for long exposure shots, so why not try it out.

Day 1 — Shitkadi to Nichnai

First day of trekking. Don’t forget to turn back and see the most beautiful early morning scenery of Sonamarg valley.

This is what you get see within the first 30–45 mins of the trek
A bird’s eye view of the Sonamarg town
Shepherd huts on the way. You’ll find a plenty of these throughout the trek
We had our first break amidst these views
Kashmiri girl striking a cute pose for us in return for chocolates. Right or wrong, with that purple shawl around in the setting, I could not resist clicking this.
It isn’t July if the clouds don’t gang up on you
This time I felt guilty bribing them and I did not , but still clicked this.
Water sources are never a problem, as you are close to the streams most of the time
The waterfall seen in this picture somehow reminds me of the pics I’ve seen of Rupin pass trek

First day of trekking is always hard on your body. So had to shut camera soon after I reached the campsite. And within minutes, it started to rain heavily as well.


Day 2 — Nichnai to Vishansar

The next morning was absolutely clear, bright and sunny. I was most excited about today, as we would be reaching Vishansar Lake today.

Clear, bright, sunny morning after the previous night’s rain
I don’t have much experience on Himalayan treks, still I did not expect to see a a ice patch this early into the trek.
High altitude alpine meadows Kashmir is known for. This is the stuff we signed up for this trek.

Throughout the trek, you have the company of the sheeps. And this time they gave me a perfect frame with leading lines and the mountains and the greenery — all in perfect balance.

And here is the last image for the Day 2 and the one that hurts me the most.

Shortly after clicking this, we were presented with the most splendid views of the trek. And my camera chose that exact moment to give up on me. It was just dead; tried changing the batteries, but nothing worked.


Day 3 — Vishansar Lake — Rest day

The previous night was all about trying to get my camera up and shooting. But I am not a camera technician. The limited knowledge I had was of no use there. To add to the trouble, my phone decided to join hands with the camera. It was not turning on either.

While most of trek mates were out for a small walk near the campsite, I was working on my mobile trying to fix it.

After an hour of work, I managed to get it working enough to click pictures. This is where I did that.

Prettiest mobile service center isn’t it?

The lake was just a beautiful place to spend time in silence. No time would be ever enough to absorb the magnificence of what lies before. After spending a little more than an hour next to the Vishansar lake, still cursing my luck with the camera, I came back to the camp.

The rest of the day was spent doing nothing else and it felt good that way.


Day 4 — Crossing Gadsar Pass and Gadsar lake

The previous day’s rest was supposed to be for holding energy for today’s cross passing. This was described as the most difficult day or morning of the trek.

The day started as good as possible. The trend of awesome oximeter readings got set here. Despite being in reasonable altitude, my oximeter and the blood pressure were very much under control.

The oximeter reading was 100 for the 3rd consecutive reading today. Anuja, my trek lead actually refused to believe it and actually took it twice. And I still got the same. This was nice, especially after my previous trek, were it was barely touching the nineties while the blood pressure always remained above normal.

Our Vishansar campsite — As we start for the day’s trek to cross Gadsar pass. I still miss my DSLR though

Kishansar lake — Vishansar’s twin sibling is on the way to the Gadsar pass. It is not ideal to compare, but I like the Vishansar lake better.

Kishansar Lake just before we start climbing up towards the pass. Spot my co-trekkers on the right end of the pic to understand the scale.

The climb is tough, but the sight of Kishansar lake behind eases the strain.

Kishansar Lake — after a few minutes into the climb.

Though they are twin lakes, they still dont pose together except for a few minutes in the climb towards. And the climb is already worth just for this view.

My favourite shot on the entire trek

I knew I’d be one of the slowest of the group. And I did not have my DSLR to click. Which mean I kept shooting to the very minimum in the trek going forward. It was difficult and a bit frustrating as well, but still I was not given a choice other than making the best of what I had.

Almost there. Having very little expectations on what lies beyond the top of the pass.

After reaching the top, it did not really feel too tough. Probably getting the mind set and ready for the climb was the reason behind it. The sights of the twin lakes and zig-zag path for climbing up made the effort look small.

And then came what could be easily described as the best frame to showcase Kashmir. An icy steep slope from the pass and meadows stretching as far as the eyes can see. And we could see glimpses of a couple of lakes. Truly a sight to behold. And of course I missed my camera badly.

Not having used the mobile’s camera, I found it very tough to shoot with it. But there is always a good thing in all the bad things. We had 2 options to get down from the pass. Either slide down the ice for a few seconds or take a detour and walk for a few minutes to reach the same.

Video courtesy: Kedar

If I had my DSLR with me, I would not have tried the slide. And I was kind of scared — that I am not going to have any control over the speed or anything really. Still the frustration of missing my camera pushed me to do this. And this was THE BEST MOMENT of the trek.

I stopped missing the camera for the rest of the day. I got all the energy needed to more than completing the rest of the trek.

Meadows and snow fed lakes as we slide down the Gadsar pass

The walk after the snow slide is the most memorable one — A gentle descent amidst lovely meadows to one side and lakes which seem to be straight out of a fantasy world.

Yamsar lake
Wish we had camped here — Feeling envy on the blue tents
Straight out of a fairyland tale

For lunch, we had the company of the sheeps (not in our plates though). Post lunch, the entire group actually had a nap here before we proceeded further. I could not sleep there. Sleep felt like a waste of the previous time in the meadows there.

After another round of verification in the Army campsite in Gadsar, we settled to our camps by around 4pm today.

Tonight we had other companies’ trek batches camping closer to us. We were told not to roam beyond the camping grounds after sunset as we were closer to the LoC and this is one of the hotspots for infiltrations from PoK.

Gadsar campsite

And rains as usual post sunset, but at least it has not really affected our schedule or slow us down in any way.


Day 5 — Gadsar to Satsar

Most of the day today was spent walking through the meadows. Unlike the other days, it started raining while we were trekking. This meant, less photographs.

Until the last hour, it was mostly the same scene but never boring.

Just before we were to reach the campsite, we had one more round of verification at the Satsar Army camp site. Drizzle and heavy fog post noon made it a little difficult to enjoy what was around. And there were a few boulders to take care of.

We were treated with a warm cup of tea, smiles and photographs at the army site. That was the only moment when we felt like we needed an additional layer for warmth, but the army’s hospitality in that hostile terrain was more than enough for us.


Day 6 — Satsar to Gangabal

We were always told that Gadsar pass climb was the toughest day, details about this day had no mention anywhere.

The day’s briefing warned us that this was going to be boulder zone — something I have never been confident of. I struggled throughout the first half of the day as helpers and guides kept pulling me as we scaled the boulders. And I did not even think of taking my mobile out for any pictures.

Once the boulder zone was over, it was generally a descent but in a very slushy terrain. We just had to be extra careful.

Towards the end of the day we reached Nandkol lake.

Nandkol Lake with the Harmukh’s face hidden by the clouds

The last camping night was an eventful one. A cake was made ready for us by the Indiahikes team. And there was a lot of dancing in the dining tent.

Gangabal camp site

Day 7 — Gangbal to Naranag

The last day of the trek — or any trek — is generally my toughest day. When you know that the trek is almost over, the body gets tired too easily. We reached Naranag around noon. We had an absolutely delicious lunch there. Eating meat after a week :)

We were supposed to reach Srinagar in the evening. But we were stopped by the security forces in a place 35km outside the city. All the non-local vehicles were stopped and most of them were really in a tense state. For us, we were desperate to get a hot water shower which was being denied for the day. Instead we were treated with a langar meant for Amarnath yatris. So that evened out.


We reached Srinagar the next morning without any more drama.

KGL was by far the best trekking experience for me and that is not just based on the visual feast that Kashmir treated me with.

I was able to complete the trek without much tiredness compared to all my previous treks though this is rated more difficult than those.

Working hard on the cardio fitness before the trek paid off well and being religious in drinking more than 6 litres of water everyday made sure I passed my oximeter tests with flying colors everyday.

Dal lakes definitely deserves a special mention. Loved spending an entire day on the lake. Away from hustles and bustles of the city and traffic. Getting a shikhara to explore the interiors of the lake. Loved every minute of it

On the way to houseboat
Everything from icecream to tea to snacks is available in such shikharas
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