The Great Escape

Together on The Great Lakes Trek, Kashmir

We at Quicksand love our play as much as work, which is actually play… you know what i am getting at right?

Every year all of us, take off for a vacation together. It’s a chance to travel to great places and have an adventure.

We’d been beach bums for the first few years.

We dived in Andamans; snorkelled together in the deep blue sea over at South Button- a giant rock jutting out in the middle of nowhere. An area made famous by Jaques Cousteau who made his little known gem, ‘The Invisible Islands’ in the 70’s here, he believed this place was home to the best corals in the world.

More diving and snorkelling followed in Indonesia on the next holiday as well. Later in Thailand we explored waterfalls, jungles, and just went crazy over the mango and sticky rice combo.

Time for something different perhaps?!

The mountains!

A trek!

And not just any trek, but, the Great Lakes Trek in Kashmir.

We’d heard a lot about this almost mythical trek. Everybody seems to agree that this IS the most beautiful trek in india.

“There’s glacial lakes, resplendent valleys, high mountain passes and solitude”. Mind is kind of made up right?!

But not a lot of information existed about this legendary trek. So we had to find out for ourselves.

It was in the first week of July, 2015 that we made our way to Kashmir.

The trek covers Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar, Satsar, Gangabal and Nundkol Lakes and three mountain passes over 4000m

Our journey started at Sonamarg. Known as “The meadow of gold’ along the picturesque Sind river. An overnight stay and we started to get used to sleeping on undulating surfaces.

Shokdari Forest and the path heading towards Nichnai

The day started with a trail- slightly steep, that passes through the meadows and enters a pine and birch forest at Shokdari before the vast and long Nichnai meadow — our camping ground for the night.

By evening the weather turned grey and soon we were under a continuous blanket of rain. Which did not stop the next day as well.

We were grounded. Not the best of starts we thought.

Stars over Nichnai Pass

Having waited an extra day we decided that there was no point in turning back. We pressed ahead hoping our luck would change.

After crossing the NIchnai pass we enter into the Vishansar Valley know for it’s medicinal plants.

We left Nichnai meadow and immediately started ascending one of the three passes of the trek- the Nichnai Pass (4000m). The pass still had snow, and it was quite a challenge to find our snow feet quickly, or else risk sliding down into a gorge- not an option.

Finally after a day long trek with a steady haze of rain coming down we camped next to the twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar. We hoped the next day would bring some change in our fortunes.

Campsite at Vishansar
Ayush had an easy way to stay warm. This was Leo’s first trek, and he looked like he belonged here, which he does actually, in a way.
We discovered carcasses of sheep that got caught in a storm and perished. A reminder of the harsh realities of winter and life up here in the mountains.
Sharing the space with thousands of sheep who call these vast alpine pastures their home in the summers.

Next morning our prayers were answered- the sun was out! We finally started to relax and enjoy the long day’s hike ahead of us.

After discovering Vishansar Lake we headed towards its twin the Kishansar Lake which lies just over a ridge. We took it’s eastern shore to ascend the second pass of the trek- the Gadsar Pass (4050m). On the top of the pass we had an aerial view of the whole Vishansar valley with the twin lakes- the source of Neelam River. It wasn’t an easy climb to say the least, at least for some of us. But it was worth it!

The twin lake of Vishansar and Kishansar
Like a Boss! Leo makes it to the top of Vishansar pass at over 4000 mts.

Climbing over the Vishansar pass i was greeted with the most gobsmacking view i have ever seen. The Gadsar valley is something else. The glacial Gadsar lake and the it’s surroundings is a breathtaking affair. Small dots that seemed to move in the distance were horses grazing in the endless meadows of green.

Life was good here, you could tell!

I was kind of jealous i didn’t chew grass, these pashmina goats were really enjoying themselves. Part of the reason must be that the sun was finally out after a few days of cold rain.
Looking into Gadsar valley, weather has changed for the better.
Shepherds grazing their flocks around the Gadsar lake believe that, there lives a monster in the lake, a giant octopus which drags the creatures from shores by its tentacles into the water, never to be seen again.
Also known as the Yamsar Lake, Gadsar means’ the lake of fishes’ . The lake is an alpine high altitude oligotrophic lake
Arriving at Gadsar campsite, it was a pretty long hike.
Literally aching to the bones. Some hot water to soak our feet in!

Made an early start to the day.

We were headed to Gangabal; but first to get there we have to climb the Zajibal Pass, our last of the 4000 mt. pass.

Onwards towards Satsar.
That’s K2 in the horizon!
Traffic at high noon
These simple looking river crossing were a tricky affair. Wet your shoes and you’re going to have a very hard time ahead. Which few of us found out the wrong way.
Ayush and Leo resting after lunch.

We climbed the last and the highest pass of our trek ‘Zajibal Pass (4180m)’. We could see Mount Harmukh (5300m) straight ahead hanging in the clouds, below were the twin lakes of Gangabal and Nundkol.

This was some view!!!
Getting into Gangbal camp
Stars over Mt. Harmukh
Leo enjoys a thoroughly deserved sunbath under Mt. Harmukh
Everyones out getting a bit of the sun

The river crossing this time around was much more challenging and we did need some help from our hoofed friends.

Leo on a horse, that was a sight!
endless grazing options.
Hiking down the whole day on the aptly named ‘endless mountain’.

to be continued…

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