Promises of Great Kashmir Lakes Trail

A Free Gift on New Year’s Eve 2019: Read the cover story from the first commercial issue of ABHA published in March 2018.

Great Kashmir Lakes Trail Photos
An ewe and its lamb near Vishnusar camp

 

 

(Note:Mouse over images to read captions.)

On the first day, he abandoned the trek on account of long stony trail that did not befriend his timeworn knees and other body parts. The old trekker from Hyderabad passionately advised the trekkers who had reported at the basecamp to drop the idea of following the unkind trail. I was one of the excited trekkers who wanted to experience the gorgeous high altitude glacial or non-glacial lakes of Kashmir. However, the Hyderabadi trekker was bent on convincing me to drop the idea of trekking because he imagined that the rough trail would definitely take its toll on me. I listened quietly for his age. But the sparks of resolve continued to gather in my mind as I like challenges thrown by the men who always underestimate the abilities of a girl and woman. And I like challenges those thrown by the boys and the men who always think that girls and women cannot do things that they (boys and men) could not do. On seeing my resolve, he finally advised me to keep my rucksack as light as possible.

As I trekked, the old trail like a virtuous being honored its promises daily. To start with, autocrat auto rickshaw wallas had no opportunity to charge three digit fare for a single digit distance requiring fewer than ten minutes. Apolitical environment ensured peace.  Colonies of colorful blooms selflessly cheered me all along the trail. Cool winds that freely wandered on the high mountain passes connecting individual realms of magnificent lakes evoked desires of traveling without identity cards and security checks. Freshness forked the fears into fragments. Sounds of golden marmots questioned my knowledge level because I did not recognize them at the first instance. Un-urbanism unveiled natural symmetries and sights. Steep slopes that led me to heights teased my heart, knees, and lungs in a good way. Hunger ascribed to intense physical activity could not overwhelm me for the company of the virtuous is always infectious.

Moreover, greed to capture every bit of the trail kept me on my toes. It was good greed, I think, photography is harmless. But their greedy ways of shearing sheep for the wool were disturbing. The shepherds near one of the lakes sat on the delicate sheep and held their limbs tightly to clip wool from the coat.

 

 

Shitkari village, Sonamarg
Shitkari village near Sonamarg is the starting point of the trek.

 

 

 

The trail gave me another chance to closely observe the life of sheep. On the second day, after crossing the icy stream rolling on mossy pebbles, a heartwarming as well as disturbing sight caught my eyes. A brown black ewe just delivered a white lamb in open green grassland. The thin blood red umbilical cord that just broke the vital connection was still hanging from the navel of the lamb like a broken telephone cord. The lamb was struggling to stand on its feet in vain. The ewe was walking around the newborn like a seasonal sentinel guarding its homeland. But the ram was nowhere in the sight.

On a number of occasions, long boulder fields consumed my full attention, restricting sightseeing and photography to a split second.

On Satsar day, the rain beat me and the co-trekkers for almost seven-eight hours, giving few chances for sightseeing of seven water bodies that lie along the trail section. Sometimes rain stroked us harshly, sometimes softly, and sometimes kept us under gray gloomy umbrella. Gray fat mist showed us the trail a bit at a time like a mother feeds tiny bytes one at a time to her infant.

I did not want to stop for lunch under the leaky sky. I held my lunch box full of dry vegetable rice and slowly ate one spoon at a time while trekking. The rice calories kept my spirits high and provided enough energy to face long spell of the rain. Unfortunately, a co-trekker who shied away from having lunch or snacks while trekking fell sick and caught cold. She was carried by our guide to the camp. It was scary till she recovered. Another co-trekker who suffered breathing problems was evacuated to the basecamp next day. The night at the Satsar camp was therefore almost nightmarish. The horsemen who evacuated the latter quoted exorbitantly high price, ₹20,000. But the camp leader, local guide, and trekkers could negotiate. But the price was still high.

Promises, good or bad, are pricey. Is it not?

As and when we reached close to the hamlets, young boys and girls, sometimes even elders, approached us and shamelessly demanded chocolates. On the last day, a primary school boy asked for chocolates. When I turned down his demands by telling the truth that I did not have chocolates. He told me, “Okay! Give me your boots.”  This insane behavior was probably the only sour point of the trek that reminded me of its popularity.

White flowers from Great Kashmir Lakes trip

 

Pink flowers from Great Kashmir Lakes Tour

 

 

Cost Box

Go

Jammu-Banihal by an ordinary private bus: ₹230 per passenger

Banihal-Srinagar by a shared Innova (8 passengers + driver): ₹300 per passenger

The shared taxi rate for Banihal-Srinagar drive depends on type of vehicle. The rate starts from ₹250 per passenger. The drive does not begin unless the vehicle is full to its capacity or most of the time exceeds its capacity. Overloaded shared vehicles are not comfortable. Some of the taxi drivers even ask you to change the vehicle en route. This exchange could be from high-end vehicle to low-end vehicle. If this unfortunate exchange happens, do ask driver to refund difference between the fares of the two types of vehicles.

TRC Srinagar to Jammu by non-stop Jammu Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) bus (2*2): ₹460 per person for 8-9 hour journey depending on traffic, road condition, and weather

 

Tip for Shared Taxis

Reach the taxi stand before 07:00 am. After that shared taxis are rare for long distance journeys, especially starting from Jammu and Srinagar.

Shared taxis / jeeps are available outside General Bus Stand, Jammu and at TRC in Srinagar.

 

Tips for Bus Journey

Try to take the direct bus to Srinagar.

The highways connecting Jammu and Srinagar are crowded because of construction work, bad road, and three-type of traffic- cargo, civilian, and defense traffic.

Private buses may not stop for snacks and lunch.

Government buses stop for snacks and meals.

 

Gadsar Lake, Greak Kashmir Lake
Shepherds shear sheep near Gadsar.

 

 

Shephers at Satsar Lake
Summer tents of the shepherd

What to expect along Great Kashmir Lakes Trail

 

4 Challenges of the Great Kashmir Lakes Trail

 

 

 

 

Getting around

Srinagar to Sonamarg by a non-sharing Taxi: ₹ 2,200

Auto Rickshaws

In Jammu and Srinagar, auto rickshaws are available but they do not have fare meters. You should check fare before stepping into the rickshaws and bargain hard. An auto rickshaw stand is located within Jammu Railway Station Complex.

Buses in Jammu

Private and government buses ply from General Bus Stand in Jammu for different destinations within Jammu and Kashmir and a few destinations in nearby states. But do remember, the buses run only if there are enough number of passengers. So you get into the bus and take the seat but do not buy the ticket from advance reservation counter. Buy the ticket when bus starts. Private buses create problems. For example, the buses will drop you wherever the drivers feel like and ask you to board a connecting bus / minibus with which they have passenger exchange contract. In these connecting vehicles, you may / may not get a seat.

Tourism Reception Center (TRC) in Srinagar

TRC in the heart of the city has an auto rickshaw stand, a prepaid taxi stand, and a bus stand for long and short distance journeys.

For local trips, you can board mini buses in Srinagar. But avoid crowded buses. The mini buses are the cheapest mode of transport. For example, the bus charges ₹10 per passenger from licensed Youth Hostel to TRC, whereas for the same distance auto charges ₹150 per passenger.

Naranag – Sonamarg by shared Tavera (10 passengers): ₹200 per person

Sonamarg – Srinagar by shared Scorpio (7 passengers): ₹350 per person

 

All Inclusive 9-Day Trekking Package

All-inclusive Sonamarg-Great Kashmir Lakes-Sonamarg Trekking Package: ₹8,400 per person

A Tip for Eating

While trekking, you may find shepherd huts that may sell eggs, Maggi, and tea. But do not eat these eggs because these may be stale, even older than a year.

Sleep / Stay

Hotel Grand Comforts (Licensed Youth Hostel), Srinagar

Mominabad, Hyderpora By-Pass Flyover, Behind H.P. Petrol Pump,

Near 7 Square Shopping Complex, Srinagar -190014

Room Tariff: ₹1,300 per person, per night

Laundry (washing + ironing): ₹30 per jean and ₹ 30 per shirt. Dhobi may charge ₹20 for conveyance if the hotel guests availing his service are a few.

A Vegetarian meal for two: Starting from ₹500

Here are prices from à la carte menu:

Roti: ₹15 per piece

Salad: ₹50 per serving

Aloo Paratha: ₹40 per piece

Mix vegetable: ₹100 per serving

Dal: ₹80-100 per serving

Raita: ₹40 per serving

Paneer Bhurji: ₹150 per serving

 

Hotel Goodwill, near Raghunath Mandir, Jammu

Room Tariff: ₹900-1,000 per person, per night

A vegetarian meal for two: Starting from ₹450

Here are prices from à la carte menu:

Roti: ₹10 per piece

Green salad: ₹50 per serving

Rajmah: ₹100 per serving

Tomato Paneer: ₹150 per serving

Aloo matter: ₹100 per serving

 

Pony for Rucksacks and People

₹125 to 500 for a 5-6-kilogram rucksack

Satsar Camp to Naranag: ₹16,000 – 20,000 per person

Do bargain.

 

Equipment

Ask your travel agent for camping gear.

Bring your personal belongings, including warm clothes.

But do trek light.

 

Gadsar Lake or Yamser Lake
Gadsar Lake: The word gadsar literally means a lake of fish. Gadsar is popular for brown trout. The waterbody freezes from November to April. This about one-kilometer-long oval tarn is also called Yemsar.

 

Great Kashmir Lakes: Satsar
Satsar
Gangabal, Sights of Great Kashmir Lakes Trail
Gangabal is a high altitude fresh water lake that is about two kilometer long and three hundred meter wide. There are actually two lakes. Sacred Lake Gangabal feeds the Sindh Nullah, a tributary of the Jhelum.

 

Naranag Temple, Jammu and Kashmir
Naranag Temple: Naranag at the foothills of the Pir Panjal Range has two groups of ancient temples. The main temple stands on a square base. Two entrances of the temple face northeast and southeast. The roof is pyramidal. The temple near the Wangat River, a tributary of the Sindh River, follows dry masonry and interlocking techniques of construction. The monolithic roofs of the temple have already fallen. The 8th-9th century granite temples are dedicated to Shiva. The ancient pilgrimage center at an altitude of 2,128 meters was known as Sodaratirtha.

 

Info Bytes

Location

Gangabal, Vishnusar, Gadsar, Kishansar, Harmukh, Sonamarg, and Naranag Temple are in District Ganderbal, Jammu and Kashmir, India.

Trekking Route + approximate Distance

Sonamarg-Thajiwas, an acclimatization Walk

Sonamarg-Devil’s Hill in Army Area, an acclimatization Walk

Shikadi (Shitkari) Village near Sonamarg – Nichnai Camp – Nichnai Pass-Vishnusar Camp – Vishnusar – Krishansar – Gadsar Pass – Gadsar Camp, near small army camp – Satsar Camp – Zach Pass –  Gangabal – Naranag Village

Total length of the trek: Approximately 70 kilometers

 

Enroute Attractions

Villages

  • Sonamarg, a meadow, popular tourist resort, and village
  • Naranag, a village with a group of ancient granite temples

Glacier, Meadows, and Mountains

  • Thajiwas Glacier in Thajiwas Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Meadows full of alpine blooms
  • Mount Harmukh (5,150 meters)

High Altitude Passes

  • Gadsar Pass (4,180 meters)
  • Nichnai Pass (4,056 meters)
  • Zach Pass

>10 Lakes

Gadsar

Gangabal (2 Lakes) (3,570 meters)

Krishansar / Kishansar (3,819 meters)

Nandkolsar / Nundkol

Satsar (7 lakes) (3,640 meters)

Vishnusar (3,677 meters)

Some more lakes are located along the trail.

Season

June–August–September

Money, Bank, ATMs…

In Jammu and Srinagar, you will find enough ATMs, banks, and forex agents. But beyond this they are rare or nonexistent. So withdraw cash required before leaving Srinagar. Travel service providers prefer cash.

Safety

Do carry an identity card in original and its copy.

Photography is not permitted in army areas, including Devil’s Hill, Gadsar Camp, and army structures in Sonamarg.

I did not find the trail unsafe. But till I was in city and village limits, men in uniform were a common sight.

Photography

August 2017

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