Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Memories From Kashmir Great Lakes Trek -2016

 It was a tense Curfew time in Srinagar, Jammu – Kashmir. We sitting in Bangalore, were following the news on Kashmir so closely. It was an unpleasant sight to see the encounters between J&K Police, BSF and CRPF against the miscreants. It was worrying us to read about the violence and the deaths that were happening due to this unrest and we were getting tensed day by day, seeing no improvement in the situation. You might be thinking, why were we so worried about the situation in Kashmir while staying in Bangalore. That’s because we were supposed to travel to Srinagar for our beautiful Kashmir Great Lakes Trek with IndiaHikes. As the confusions about the situation was growing, there was a group created in WhatsApp by one of our co-trekker, including all the 7th August 2016 Kashmir Great Lake Trek members. Discussions in the group among the members helped some to them to back out from the plan and the rest fourteen of us to follow our instincts and trek Kashmir Great Lakes with IndiaHikes. It was time for us to take this risk and trek in one of most beautiful places on earth.

Kashmir Great lakes trek, as IndiaHikes mentions “A Photographer’s Paradise”, was on my husband’s mind from a very long time. After hearing about this trek from him, I started googling about the trail.
The trek looked interesting and the photos on the internet were really fascinating. Beautiful valleys with carpet of flowers, snowcapped mountains and crystal clear lakes were very overwhelming. I started imagining myself being in the lap of these beautiful mountains and fell in love with this trail.

Finally, last December, we decided to book this trek with India Hikes, as they were the most sought of trek partners in India. We planned our holidays, applied leaves in office and booked the 7th to 14th August batch.

This being my first Himalayan trek, I was all excited. Everyday a new question popped up in my mind and my googling never ended. This is when I came across a series of videos by IndiaHikes, “Trek with Swathi”. These videos are really very descriptive and looks like Swathi has really understood the heartbeat of every first-timer. Her videos answered almost all my open questions. I used to discuss about this with my friends to an extent even to bore them.

Meanwhile when we had started the countdown, in July, we heard the news, a death of a terrorist in Kashmir and all the incidents that unfolded. We started following the news every day and Facebook trek group set up by India Hikes, where we were getting the regular updates about the current situations in Kashmir.  We also received emails from Prathima (from Indiahikes), who gave us a re-assurance about the safety measures India Hikes is taking for the safety of the trekkers.

Amidst all these chaos and confusions, we boarded our flight toSrinagar from Bengaluru International Airport on 6th August. After landing in Srinagar airport, we met the driver, Mr. Firoz Ahmad (A Travel Partner for IndiaHikes), who gave us a warm welcome. We also met our co-trekkers at the airport. The drive from the airport to hotel was horrifying. We could see police and CRPF everywhere and most the roads were blocked. Our driver drove us safely to the hotel surpassing multiple police-checks. Once we arrived at hotel we felt bit safe as our hotel was in the army cantonment area. We had to spend our rest of the day locked inside the hotel because of the Curfew and it was disappointing that we could not see the beautiful sunset at Dal Lake that evening. 

Empty Streets of Srinagar

7th August:
An Adventurous day in Srinagar
It was a lazy morning as we had no option to roam around Curfew-ed Srinagar. We were asked to reach Mr. Firoz's place by 2pm. We packed our bags, had lunch and set out of the hotel after checking out. We decided to walk to his place which was just 4km from our hotel. As we set out to walk on the streets, we could hardly find any people. The road ends were guarded by either CRPF or J&K police. The whole stretch of 4 km, we just got cold stares from the very few people whom we found on streets. Some people going on two wheelers stopped just to give a surprised look at us. But we felt good when a Police Officer looking at out nervousness, said “You can walk safely here. We have taken care of the situation”. We reached our destination after an hour’s walk. We were asked to stay there till midnight, as we could not leave to Sonamarg due to curfew in the daytime.
At 4 pm, few of our co-trekkers knocked our room and asked if we were interested in joining them for Srinagar sightseeing. Reluctantly we agreed to join them. But I think that was the best decision we made, it really refreshed our minds and we got to see the beautiful, still Dal Lake.
Dal Lake, Srinagar

At 8 pm, we were back in the hotel and we were given a briefing about our trek by one of the trek leaders of India Hikes.
Finally at 3am early morning, we headed towards Sonamarg from Srinagar.

Reading more about Kashmir

8th August
Sonamarg to Nichnai
At the Sonamarg base camp, we met Mr. Dushyant (a very handsome trek leader I have seen ;-)). He gave us a very elaborate heads up for the trek. He also answered many of our questions, cleared many doubts and introduced us to our trek leader Inderjit (fondly called as Jit). At first look, Jit looked like a very silent and introvert person. After power nap for a while, breakfast was served. We had our breakfast, packed our lunch and set off for the most awaited journey in the Himalayas.
As we started, I was really super charged and all excited. The initial stretch looked really pleasing and serene. While my husband was busy clicking photos, I used to feel the fresh Himalayan air all around me.
Myself, Pradeep (My husband), Atul, Sriram we among last ones all the time.
After many steep ascents and descents, we reached a lone Dhabha, which served tea, kawa, biscuits and maggi. We were strictly advised not to eat maggi. We ate our packed lunch there and continued our trek.
 At around 5 in the evening, we reached the campsite at Nichnai. The tents and hot tea were awaiting us. It was really a very hectic day, as we had a steep ascent from 7800 ft. (Sonamarg) to 11500 ft. (Nichnai) and a sleep deprived previous night.
The cooks at India Hikes really have very good culinary skills. We had a sumptuous dinner with a delicious sweet dish- fruit custard.

Get- Set- Go

Started our trek
Kashmiri kids

A Lone Dhaba

White crystal clear streams of Himalayas

Night life in Himalayas, Nichnai
9th August
Nichnai to Vishnusar
After a very deep sleep, we woke up at 6, had tea and got ready for another picturesque day. We had a good breakfast, packed our lunch and started off.
Our first challenge for the day was the tough Nichnai Pass. It was clearly visible from our campsite while Jit was giving us a heads up about the day’s trail. We started off very energetically, but by the time we reached the pass, all energy was drained out. We rested there for a while and then continued.
As we started our descent, the flowery meadows welcomed us. Yellow, pink, purple all over the path like a lovely carpet and it was a thrilling experience to see such a colorful Himalayas. We had lunch next to a tiny stream. We reached our campsite, next to the Vishnusar Lake, at around 4 pm. The view of the lake from our campsite was blocked by a small hill. Even though we were very tired, we just wanted to catch the glimpse of this lake as soon as possible.
We had a quick chai and pakodas and headed towards the Vishnusar Lake. It was a splendid view to witness the sunset in front of this lake. The water was as clear as crystal. Wish we could drink some but it was icy cold. It was mesmerizing to see how fast the clouds moved over the Himalayan Mountains. It was even funnier to see my Husband run with his tripod and camera behind colorful birds which were melodiously chirping and flying across the lake. We spent ample time sitting next to the lake, chit chatting with everyone. It was when I realized that our Bengali trek leader, Jit, was a real talkative guy and had loads and loads of anecdotes to share.
 As sun prepared to set, we headed back to campsite. Had a good dinner and the sweet for the night was Gajaar ka Halwa :P.

Early morning Breakfast

Briefing session
Climbing Nichnai Pass

Pink Flowers in Himalayas

Its all Yellow
Vishnusar Lake

Gup-shup on banks of Vishnusar Lake
Late evening guests at the tents, Vishnusar Campsite

10th August
Vishnusar, Kishansar to Gadsar
This was a long day and we started bit early. This day we had to cross the Gadsar Pass- 13800 ft.  Around an hour’s trek from our campsite, we reached the Kishansar Lake. Kishansar Lake along with Vishnusar Lake form the first set of twin lakes in the whole trek. Kishansar was no less in beauty compared to Vishnusar.
Next leg of the trek was the Gadsar pass, which looked easy from the Kishansar Lake but the climb literally took our breath away. After the steep ascent on the pass, the view of the twin lakes actually took our breath away.
We started our trek again after filling our eyes with these two beauties. It started drizzling on our way to Gadsar. The path which was muddy became slippery and Jit advised us to watch our step all the while during the descent.
It was still drizzling when we reached the Gadsar Lake. We had our packed lunch watching this pretty lake. But the sad part was that we could not spend more time here as the rain increased. I still repent for this. According to Jit, this was the most beautiful lake among all and we missed it. In the middle of the rains we continued to reach the Gadsar army camp. I was all tired by the time I reached the camp, but the welcoming smiles of the Jawans there vanished our pains. We had a little (bit long) chit-chats with those army men and to our surprise, a soldier suddenly started speaking with us in Kannada, my mother tongue.
It was almost 3 pm, when we reached the Gadsar campsite after making our registry at the Gadsar army camp. Our camp site was just a stream away from the army camp.
As we got fresh, I could see the army men near our camp.  It was the opportunity and I rushed to my tent and took out the rakhis which I had bought for the army men. All girls tied rakhis to them. The happiness in the eyes of the soldiers is what I still remember. They always missed the rakhis from their sisters as it was tough for the postman to reach these remote camps.
Finally after a tiring and fun filled day we had dinner and the night’s sweet dish was Shahi Tukda.
Getting the glimpse of Vishnusar-Kishansar Twin lakes
Its all Colorful Flowers in Himalayas
Beautiful Gadsar Lake

On the way to Gadsar

Tying Rakhi to a soldier at Gadsar Camp

11th August
Gadsar to Satsar
 The army jawans at the Gadsar camp had invited us to their camp for the flag hoisting. Atul, Sriram, Dhruvi, Premlatha, Pradeep and I woke up at 6 am and went to the army camp. The army men were very happy to see us. They served us hot tea and also offered, actually forced us to use their bathroom to get fresh in hot water. We declined the offer politely but they did not let us go without washing our face and hands with hot water. It was really nice feeling to use hot water in that cold climate.
At 7 30 am we reached back to campsite, and could see Jit’s and our technical guide Shravan’s angry face. They were unhappy that we were late and asked us to get ready as early as possible. We too hurried to get ready and we were all set before 8 am. 
Jit told us that the trek of the day is the most beautiful stretch. Actually it was. As we started off, we could see lush green meadows and white streams here and there. For our surprise, we could see strawberry bushes on the sides of the trail. Pradeep and I, being fruit lovers, slowed down just to finish most of these tiny berries. After walking for a while, Jit asked us to stop to have a view of Mt. Nanga Parbat, but unlucky us, it was all covered by Clouds. We just clicked few photos there and moved ahead to reach the Satsar Army camp. Soldiers here were also welcoming and I was excited to tie Rakhis to the soldiers here as well. Dhruvi, Premlatha, Aditi and I tied rakhis to the soldiers. Kishor Uncle (most senior trekker in our group) gave them few sweets. We chatted with them for a while started moving towards Satsar. Few minutes away from the army camp, we could see the first lake of Satsar. Satsar is a group of 7 lakes, while we could just see 4 to 5 of them. Jit told us that during some seasons we can see all the 7 lakes. We had descended from 13750 feet to 12000 ft. At around 2 pm we reached the campsite, and we got to have hot lunch at the campsite. After a heavy lunch, everyone had cat naps. In the evening, we climbed a small hillock near the campsite to get the view of the valley. It was truly beautiful site, with the clouds moving rapidly, I could make few time lapse videos. As it became dark, we all got into the dining tents to play Uno. It was a real fun game and we all enjoyed a lot. And that night for dinner, it was Dudhi Halwa. It was first time I was eating this halwa and I can still recall its taste in my mouth. 
After Flag Hoisting at Gadsar Army Camp

Strawberry trail

Group pic in front of cloud covered Nanga Parbat

Satsar Army Camp
Tying Rakhis to Soldiers at Satsar Camp
Satsar Campsite
Moving Clouds in Satsar Camp
12th August
Satsar to Nundkul - Gangbal Twin lakes
It was the boulder day. First few hours of the stretch were all boulders. Sriram and I almost had a nightmare about it. But I had decided to walk along with our guide Mr. Saddam , who used always lead the troop. This time I was all prepared. Like our trek leader always said, “Darr ke aage ‘Jit’ hain!!”. :P like I had decided, as soon as we started, I joined Dhruvi and Ankit (who used to always be in the front and be the first ones to reach campsite. Every time, when I used to reach campsite, these two would have had their tea and would be washing their tea cups :D). I used both hands and took support of all possible boulders and managed to cross the whole boulder section along with Saddam ji. For me this was a personal accomplishment, I was very happy and proud of myself that day :P. Sriram was the last to make to the other end. Jit was with him till he reached. We all gave a standing ovation when Sriram reached ;). After few minutes rest, we continued our walk. It was a not so tiring day and I really enjoyed the walk. We were at 13800 ft., when we got a surprise view of the twin lakes, Gangbal and Nundkul, at the base of the Harmukh peak. It was an awesome sight. Its enchanting beauty made me feel like pausing our trek there. I was almost immersed myself in the view.
The lakes, mountains and the clouds started playing hide and seek game with us. The Haramukh peak which is 5,142 meters high was behind the thick cloud cover and we got to know from Saddam ji that Mt. Haramukh was known for hiding behind the clouds all the time except for early morning. It was disappointing not to see Mt. Haramukh this day along with the twin lakes but the hope that we can see this the next day made me a bit happier. Just like the passing clouds that were playing hide and seek, memories of our discussion for cancelling this trek due to unrest in Kashmir started passing through my mind. The question we had before the trek was, Was it worth the risk? But this stunning view of Twin Lakes just answered all the questions. My Husband and I just smiled at each other.
 Amidst all this, I also made a quick time lapse to capture the moment with me forever. Everyone else took their solo, action, standing, sitting, jumping and all possible pics:P.
Nundkul was our campsite and we could see it in front of our eyes now. I thought that it was an easy walk in the meadows and we would reach pretty soon. But I was wrong. The descent was pretty tough. But the small streams on our way, made us forget all the tiredness. We stopped at a stream to have our packed lunch. Post lunch, in couple of hours, we reached the campsite. Our camp was next to the Nundkul Lake. We had to cross a wooden bridge to reach the campsite. As usual I was scared. Jit and Imitiaz ji(our rear guide), helped me cross it. The campsite was very beautiful and we could watch the Harmukh peak right in front of our eyes.
While we had our snacks, Jit announced that the next day would be our relaxing day and we could explore the twin lakes at our leisure. This announcement made us relax. Everyone again gathered in the big tent to play Uno. We never realized time as we were engrossed in the game.
At around 7 pm, just before our lunch, Jit asked everyone to assemble in the big tent as he had an important announcement to make. The seriousness on his face put all of us in tension. He enquired about our flight schedules. The scenario was that, as the Independence Day was approaching, the government had decided to tighten the Curfew in Kashmir to avoid any unfavorable incidents. Hence, none of the vehicles were allowed to make movement in Srinagar on that day. So Jit and his team had decided to cancel of leisure day and planned to move us back to the base camp the next day, so that we could reach back to Srinagar on 13th night only. Everyone felt that it was good idea and agreed to the plan. We were also sad that this beautiful journey was coming to an end. That night after dinner, which included ‘gulab jamoon’, my favorite sweet dish. We all played dumbsharads and were chatting till late night.
Crossing the Boulders

View of Nundkul-Gangbal Lakes from Zaj Pass

Saddam ji and Imtiaz ji

Nundkul Campsite
View of serene Nundkul Lake

13th August
Exploring Twin lakes and back to Naranag base camp
As decided previous night, we woke up early, had our tea and headed towards the Gangbal Lake. Mt. Harmukh was clearly visible now. And we made many pictures of it. Nundkul lake was looking so beautiful and we had to walk for 30 minutes to reach Gangbal Lake. Gangbal Lake which looked very beautiful from the ridge top, was actually the dirtiest lake on the trail. This was because of the many tourists flocking this place from Naranag. The garbage accumulation actually spoilt the beauty of this place. For next couple of hours, we did some cleaning activity near the lake and filled our eco-bags.
At around 9, we reached back to the campsite and had our breakfast and started our descent towards Naranag. All were very sad and I could actually feel it. No one was ready to end this journey, but we had to.
It was sad day, but the beauty of Himalayas tried to cheer us. As the descent continued, we could see meadows with pine and maple trees, which grew denser with every step we took. It was a very steep descent and we had to walk carefully to avoid the fall. Fortunately, it did not rain that day but if it had, it would have made our descent a bit tougher and challenging. By the time we reached Naranag, it was 5 pm. We had food at a small café in the town. Everyone got busy in making calls to homes. Then we realized that everyone had preponed their flights to 14th. Pradeep started making calls to the airline call center and speaking to many agents asking to prepone our flight. But it was no use. After an hour of his unfruitful effort, I took the matter in my hands. I made a call to the airlines call center and asked the agent to connect me to his supervisor. I explained him the situation I was in and requested him to prepone our flights. Within minutes, our flight were preponed and now we had much earlier flight back to Bangalore. When I informed Pradeep about it, he could not really believe it. He actually made another call to the airline to confirm the tickets. I boasted about the ‘Girl Power’, in front of everyone ;).
After dinner, we all gathered in one single room. Jit and his team distributed the certificates to everyone. To my surprise, I got 1000 rupees gift voucher from IndiaHikes team for being a very diligent and obedient trekker. Pradeep also received a certificate for being an eco-trekker and collecting most garbage all along the trail. We all forgot our sleep and discussed about the whole trek, we made fun of many, pulled each other’s legs, gave funny feedbacks to Jit. We made promises to stay in touch on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Tent Life in Himalayas

At Gangbal Lake
Gangbal Lake and Reflections
A Bird called Black Winged Stilt.

Mom and Me


14th August
Naranag to Srinagar Airport
Before we even realized, it was 3 am. We all woke up, got fresh and got into the vehicle which was taking us to the Airport. We dropped Jit at the IndiaHikes hostel in Srinagar. Bid him a bye sorrowfully. We reached airport at 6 in the morning. We were not allowed in the airport. It was on the footpaths of Srinagar airport, where we spent the last few hours in the valley of Kashmir. As the flights started to take off, one after the other from the group started to leave. At 11, it was the last set of people, Aditi, her dad and Atul, Pradeep and I, did our check-in and boarded our flights and we started our journey to our sweet home.
‘All Good things come to an End’. Amidst all these chaos and unrest, I was able to experience the best of Kashmir and Kashmiris. It was a memorable trek I had and my blog will not be complete if I do not thank India Hikes and their brilliant team. To be honest, the only reason for us deciding to do this Trek amidst the unrest in Kashmir are IndiaHikes team. As much as I love the way they organized and managed each and everything during the Trek, I admire the way they started giving the tips for the trek, share useful videos, connecting the entire group, motivating and providing the answers for all our questions whenever we asked. Another thing which I can never forget is the friendships made during the trek. We all were strangers (except my Husband of course :P) and now we all are very good friends and we are all planning new treks as well. The experience of speaking to many army jawans was an unforgettable and I am happy that I could bring that smile on their face with rakhis. The mighty Himalayan range, colorful flower valleys, lush green meadows, chirping birds,  beautiful horses, friendly Kashmiris, super IndiaHikes team, tasty food all along, unforgettable sweet dishes, fun loving group and finally the ‘Great Lakes of Kashmir’ made these nine days of my life very special.

It was the call of the mountains that took us to Kashmir Great Lakes and I will be waiting to hear the vibes of the same mountain again….

Our wonderful team

With IndiaHikes Team

A Small Video which captures the essence of Great Lakes of Kashmir


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