A Free Gift on New Year’s Eve 2019: Read the cover story from the first commercial issue of ABHA published in March 2018.
(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.
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.
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.
4 Challenges of the Great Kashmir Lakes Trail
Srinagar to Sonamarg by a non-sharing Taxi: ₹ 2,200
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
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
Ask your travel agent for camping gear.
Bring your personal belongings, including warm clothes.
But do trek light.
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
- 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
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.
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.
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.