Tranquil Journey: Kashmir’s Magnificent Great Lake Trek
It was that time of the year, when the mountains call and my heart starts throbbing, anxious to meet an old lover.After a delayed flight I arrived in Srinagar, in the late afternoon. Slowly myfriends some old, some going to be new started arriving. Amidst, warm hugs andcordial hello’s we all met old and new. Our driver, a young hot bloodedKashmiri youth was supposed to drive us to Sonmarg. A short journey became long and pain staking as our young driver picked scraps with each and every person on the road. But soon I could see the majestic Himalayan ranges and felt a deep sigh within. By the time we reached our destination, it was pitch dark and our adventure began.
We had to walk a short distance to our campsite, over rough terrain, with back packs and tones of extra luggage and noflashlights. But within no time we were at our camp, helped by the staff withour belongings, we soon settled in. Then the magic which would engulf us forthe next six days started to unfold. Away from city lights, away fromcivilization, the darkness was pierced by a million beaming faces, the entiremilky way was there to greet us. Speechless, I stared at this apparition beforeme, I was convinced I wanted to sleep under this blanket of stars but as thetemperature started to drop, so did my resolve and I curled into my tent, withmy fabulous friends Jyotsna and Pushpanjali.
The dawn woke us, to the beautiful site of quaint Sonmarg town in the distance, sprawling mountain ranges and a silver snake slithering through the mountains, glistening in the rays of early dawn. After our first briefing, from Rakesh our trek leader and an old friend from Trek the Himalayas. We had a quick breakfast filled our water bottles in the fresh mountain stream and off we were on a soul stirring journey . As we walked soon the tree line of maples was left behind and our ascent began. My limbs rusty from a year of non activity, groaned and complained, but slowly they began to toe the line. Day one was to reach Nichnai, an ascent of almost 4000ft. As we climbed the immense vastness which is special to Kashmir enveloped us. After a long really arduous first day of trekking we reached our lovely camp site and lay our weary bodies down.
The next day even though we had to cross Nichnai pass, it was a fairly easy hike day. Ascents and descents were followed by a long walk through meadows. Till we reached a point where down below on a carpet of lush green, with a lazy river by the side, was our home, the camp site for the day. We put our tired packs down and soaked in the sunshine and the beauty. Jo and I just lay on nature’s best tufted carpet, lost in the moment, to the moment, for themoment, till our friend Rishaad bought for us hot steaming Maggie. Maggie in these altitudes after tiring long walks takes on a culinary magnitude,comparable to the mighty mountains themselves. Three friends just laid there on the grass, while timestood still. Later we all went on ashort trek to see our first Alpine lake of this trek, the Vishnusar. A site tobehold, the aqua blue, crystal clear pristine glacier water of this lake was simply mesmerizing. A strong breeze sweptmy hair, as I closed my eyes to capture that moment deep inside and the wavesfrom the lake jumped to caress my face.
Day three was one of reckoning, we had to cross the steep incline of Gadsar pass which stood massive at 13,750ft. But asI huffed n puffed on the unrelenting path, the pristine view of the Vishnu sarand Krishna sar lakes, from that height urged me on. Every time I turned back to look at the twin lakes, I could see the creators paint brush smearing different shades of blues n greens into the water. The view from atop the pass was truly divine. When you cross over to the heavens on a high pass, you cannot stay there too long, the altitude was making me uneasy and we started our descent. Coming down felt like a walk in the park after that grueling ascent. What greeted us felt like a reward for our hard work, the earth was smeared, in colors so vibrant, it took my breath away. Pink, blue, yellow, purple fields of wild flowers, raising their sprightly heads dancing in the wind and along danced my heart with them.
The trail stretched towards infinity, meadowsof flowers became lakes and lakes became meadows and the trail became eternity.After hours of endless walking through the corridors of heaven, even beauty soimmense can exhaust you. Just before camp we passed an army check post and here we were drenched in endearinghospitality. When we reached camp our legs were so shot, that all we wanted todo was lounge.
Nature has a power to heal, like noneother, next morning we were fresh like a lark ready for the day ahead. The dawnof the new day started with a river crossing, which some did wading in kneedeep ice chilled water and some did on reluctant horses. We walked through wildstrawberry fields, into a flock of grazing sheep, to endless meadows, an easywalk which I decided to do in solitude. Just me, my mountains and the rhythmic beating of myheart in tune with nature. Just before reaching camp we walked into wispyclouds. These soft, fluffy objects which make up dreams have a mystical qualitylike none other. Thru the clouds we walked into the land of fairies, protectedby guardian sentinels on all sides, with horses grazing, which under the cloudcover felt like Pegasus in a mystical land.
The curtain was drawn on another angelicday. Day five was one of lets say challenges and rewards, it was the day of ourlast pass Satsar. Another very steep ascent brought us to the pinnacle of thispass and the term “on top of the world” took a whole new meaning. We wereamongst the clouds, an abode of the Gods for sure. As we stood theremarveling at the sheer altitude , right in front of us from behind a humongous,fluffy, cumulus cloud peeped this towering mountain peak. It took us by such asurprise, in its quite repose it stood there covered in a veil right under ournoses but we could not even dream of its existence. Like truth it stood, strongand steadfast, saying I have always been here, only you in your ignorance couldnot see. Like a vision it exalted me. We waited, with baited breath for theclouds to clear to see Harmukh peak which we now knew was there, but it was notmeant to be. Even our treacherous downward path was getting swallowed by theclouds, so we decided to embark on our painstaking descent.
After conquering the insidious path westill had hours to go before we could rest. Just when fatigue was gripping myevery cell, a visual feast for my tired eyes was in store. Our last camp was atthe shores of the gorgeous Nandkhollake. Seeing our tents next to the lake, cleansed my body of exhaustion and myheart became brimful with gratitude. I just sat on a high rock lost in theimmense beauty unfolding before my eyes.
Our last day was all a downward climb and the old shepherd’s words rang true in my ears, when I was struggling on one ascent he passed me and said ”be grateful for the ascent, you will miss this on your last descent”. The last walk was a true, knee breaking, toe crushing or deal. But the descent was broken by forests of whistling pine trees, singing their last song bidding us adieu, till we meet again……