Physical endurance, mental strength, stamina, and teamwork - everything got tested in one high-altitude trek, where in return, nature blessed us with a plethora of scenic allurement. The Kashmir Great Lakes trek shows us the reason we hail the union territory as the 'Paradise on Earth'. The monsoon season has its own charm of green velvet spreading over the valleys and the revitalizing smell all around the mountains, which tamed our hearts in its own magical way. 7 days of endless walking and climbing, visiting 7 different lakes, and endless memories to cherish - let me share with you my KGL Story!
Quick facts: Actual distance of the trek is around 85 to 90 km, not 72/75kms as written in general forums; Also the height is 14000 ft rather than 13750 ft as written in general forums (information gathered from local dwellers and trekkers completing KGL multiple times)
The Kashmir Great Lakes trek is one of the most vibrant treks in terms of colors around you. The monsoon season (July to September) is the best season for entering the Kashmir Valley as it gives you abundant chances for landscape photography as well as peace to the human eyes! Although rains are clearly a bad sign for such high altitude trek, it seems like beauty & rain go hand in hand. The first day at Shitkadi village was quite a day for acclimatization under the horn mountains that stood like our eternal guardians, reflecting the aura of the Sun in its afternoon glory. I was quite fascinated to watch the Sun on the horizon even after 7:30 PM!! With the team introduction being complete, our team enjoyed the food and shelter in a tent adjacent to the rapid stream.
The way to Nichnai pass starts with an army check post where they literally forced us to follow a Twitter account - toufanibaba! LOL things to increase followers though. Up to Shekdur Maggi point, which was on a tabletop we were accompanied by a multitude of Birch, Pine, and Maple trees, and oh! the Blueberries that Moinak Sau brought from Srinagar blessed our tummies as well.
Here is the boy in Shekdur Maggi point who served 5 to 6 teams at a time while running from the shop to us all, an incomparable energy he has! The entire trail was an appealing one, accompanied by our guides Yashpal, Rahil, and Trek Lead Aditya who were together an impresario, while the mountains stood as the watchers to the trekkers. After a trek of 14kms, we finally reached Nichnai, while on the way we met lots of local children, shepherds, and other trekking groups.
They say trekking needs a lot of physical fitness but I can strongly adhere to the prerequisite of a strong mentality & endurance, especially for long treks like KGL, Parvati Trek, and so on! This I perceived on the next day while we were ascending from Nichnai camp towards Vishensar camp side. The first of the 3 high-altitude passes was the Nichnai pass which elevates you 3000ft within 5 hours! That needs a lot of fresh lungs & capacity indeed, trust me here... The way to Vishensar is a poetic scene with lush green valleys and cascades that helped us wash ourselves with crystal clear water while a huge glacier was cradled in the lap of a horned mountain that never left our sight. (felt like Matterhorns actually). The Vishensar camp is one of the most gorgeous camps where we played frisbee with our teammates and guides. At 12700 ft, 8 people playing frisbee with crazy athleticism was quite a display of strong heart and stamina, that's what I felt. That night was filled with lots of fun activities and stargazing at its best!
Remember the horned mountain that always remained in our sight? Well, that was looking pristine on the next day, bathed in orange, half eaten by clouds, and standing tall over the greens. The trek on this day was one of the most challenging as the Gadsar pass leads to the topmost point of this trek with 2 to 3 hours of continuous ascend that is steeper than any other day. Striding through the valleys and steep trails, Vishensar Lake always remained in front of our eyes, arousing the hope for something extraordinary, which was truly accomplished when we reached Gadsar pass at an actual height of 14100 ft, looking at Vishansar & Kishansar Lakes at one side and Yamsar Lake on another! It was a heavenly feeling indeed with the panoramic view of the lakes, the trekkers, the glaciers, and a small Maggi point where all gathered to meet their hunger and thirst. The Gadsar Pass made us realize how much we can push ourselves and that our motherland is an enchantress of landscapes.
The Gadsar campsite being a small and rocky one wasn't much of an activity-filled one other than the suspense of hearing 6 rounds of gunfire at night from the nearby army camp and half an hour of heart-filled stargazing.
The evening passed by gossiping and playing UNO. The next day was a relatively small and barren trek from Gadsar to Satsar where never-ending valleys stretched with a lot of flowers scattered over the trail making it no less beautiful than the valley of flowers trek. Satsar is a combination of 7 small lakes, the biggest of which was on the way to Satsar camp. [Funny Part - I got to interact with a lot of sheep that day and I spoke to them, getting to know their experiences].
The way to Satsar was a pretty straightforward one, the only challenge is the scarcity of water streams on the way. The Satsar lake was a pleasant one and indeed quite refreshing. This was the only day we got rain in the whole trek. As soon as we got into our snacks tent, and had momos, panipuri, and a lot more exciting refreshments, it started raining heavily outside. After an hour of pouring, it stopped and we set to go up to see another small lake that falls within Satsar 7 Lakes. Coming back to the camp, I was greeted by a beautiful orange sky, where the Sun was nearly down the horizon and bestowing gold all over our camp.
Satsar to Gangbal still remains the most challenging and straining trek in the whole package. It is a continuous climb of 2 hours, fully through the boulders. Propped up with a rucksack in my back, a camera always slinging through my neck, and another camera bag in hand, I had only one hand free to grab onto the rocks, which was indeed a huge challenge because the boulders were big enough and at a height of 12750 ft, it was a risk that even if explained will be incomprehensible. We all continued to push ourselves up mentally and physically, stepping on the boulders and sometimes crawling to get hold of the next. It drained every bit of energy we had and finally after a couple of hours of straining our back, we finally reached across the boulder zone. A beautiful Valley followed the death trap and finally, we did cross the last pass of the trek - Jass Pass!! The wonderful view of the two lakes - Gangbal and Nandkol blessed our eyes through the clouds while Mt. Harmukh stood tall watching all the trekkers walking through Jass Pass.
Mt. Harmukh stood at more than 20000 ft height and we first saw it at Satsar camp while going to the small lake after the rains. Seeing it so close to us while crossing the Jass Pass, was a blessing indeed. A great place for landscape photographers, the Jass Pass is blessed with hues of blues, cyans, greens, and desaturated yellows as well. You can try wide-angle scapes as well as a mini zoom lens capturing the Harmukh. As we descended through the valley accompanied by sheep and goats, finally we reached the banks of Gangbal, the biggest lake in Kashmir Great Lakes trek. As blue as it was, serenity covered the entire lake, enveloped with clouds. It was also a small tent site for the local shepherds. The lush green patch and cyan hues mesmerized us to the fullest while we unknowingly kept on trekking down to the Gangbal campsite. Little did we know about the single-log bridge we needed to cross!
The death trap once again opened, as we reached the campsite and we needed to cross an extremely strong stream with water flowing faster than we could process! A single log was connecting the two banks, whose width was lesser than the length of my UK-8 size shoe! One slip of leg and you can be flown away to meet eternity! Holding the hands of our guide-Rahi, we crossed it finally reaching our campsite with life remaining intact. We got our certificates there, followed by speeches from all, sharing our opinion about the trek and the team! The Next day was a steep descent until we reached Naranag through dense forests and army check-posts. We reached Naranag in a hurry as Srinagar was our destination that day and entry to Srinagar closes at 5 PM due to army laws. Running and skipping through the forests, watching Himalayan Griffons in flight, I reached Naranag along with the team, thus marking the end of a great Journey!
A confession: Many people suggested me not to start trekking with KGL. But trust me when I say, with proper mental determination, Physical strength, and a good team, you can complete any trek easily. All you need is motivation and a team to keep you charged up all the time! Amrita (my other half), Dipanwita, Moinak Da, Mizan Da, Rajeshwari Di, Bhuban da, Tilaka di, Kakoli Di, and Moushumi di - love you all for being amazing partners in achieving the trek. And the most mentionable and noteworthy people of the trek have to be Aditya Thakur, the captain (Mountaineer & trek lead), Yashpal Rawat, the calm one always backing the last one, and Md. Rahil Khan, the jumping jack, who seemed to make mountains look like flat land(our guides) made this possible. The three of them with their different qualities together make the team unite in a whole different way, inspiring us at all the ties. More friends they were than guides/leads.