Exploring Kashmir’s Great Lakes

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Ishfaq Tantry

Want to test your nerves and physical endurance. Yes. This is true about the Kashmir Great Lakes (KGL) trek, that takes you through captivating lakes, snow clad mountains, high passes, meadows laid with rare flowers, the beautiful and verdant maple and pine valleys.

A team of Varmul Trekking Club (VTC) comprising eleven members added another feather to the cap by undertaking Kashmir Great Lakes (KGL) trek and completed it in just five days whereas it usually takes 6-7 days to complete the trail.

Beginning our trek from Sonamarg on August 12 morning, the team crossed three high attitude passes such as Nichnai Pass (13,100ft), Gadsar Pass (13,750ft) and the Zaj Pass (13,000ft) and also touched down 11 high altitude glacial lakes during the five days journey.

Besides me, the other members who were part of KGL trek include Tariq Ahmad Mughloo (Chairman VTC), Sheikh Zahoor, Musadiq Ahmad Moon, Majid Jahangir, Ahmad Bilal Mir, Sajad Qureshi, Shahid Anayat, Bilal Ahmad Pathan, Ahmad Mubashir Tanga and Yasir Wani.

Initially Mr. M Afzal Lara , who is the soul of the VTC, was supposed to lead the group, but he had to opt out at last moment as his mother was not feeling well. However, to his credit, he came to see off the rest of the members headed for KGL. He has many such amazing qualities.

During this sojourn, we were lucky enough to encounter fair weather and were able to have stunning views of the surrounding Himalayan peaks. The journey also took us though some of the beautiful high-altitude meadows laid with stunning and contrasting wild flower varieties, never seen or grown in our lawns or gardens. The wonderful aroma of the flowers would refresh the senses giving a feeling as if one is passing through the internal gardens.

Every day, during this nearly weeklong sojourn, the group members would wake up at the dawn, ease up, perform ablution and prostrate before the Creator and then undertake the day trek at around 7am. This was the routine for the whole of the duration and whenever the group pitched tenets at the next destination, the same routine was followed. This way every member felt refreshed and had mental peace.

Although Kashmir Great Lakes trek is categorized as “moderately difficult “, the ascent and descents down the high-altitude passes is a challenge which is a test to one’s physical strength and mental toughness. The ascent to the Gadsar pass (13750ft) proved to be a daunting task. Almost every member, as well as the other trekkers drawn from all over the world, could be seen gasping for breath as oxygen levels deplete considerably on such high altitudes.

Though before summiting the Gadsar pass, the members had earlier crossed Nichnai Pass (13,100ft), but the gradient for the Gadsdar is steeper than the Nichnai pass, which lead us to the twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar lakes (12000 ft). However, once the group members reached the Gadsar summit, their joy knew no bounds. Air was filled with the chants of Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great).

During our trek journey, the group passed/saw 11 high altitude lakes with Gangabal (11500ft) being the biggest of all. However Gadsar is the hidden jewel among all the lakes on this trek route, with considerable depth. And to reach Gadsar from Sonamarg side, the trekkers have to summit two high passes, Nichnai and Gadsar pass, and if one wishes to reach it from Gangabal side, the trekkers have to encounter Zaj pass first.

It was at the Gadsdar that our trek members, Mr. Shahid entertained us with exotic varieties of coffee, that he always carries in his day –pack whenever he is on such journeys. Those moments spent sipping coffee on banks of serene Gadsar lake have no equivalent. Mr. Tariq Mughloo, missed that moment though all of us insisted that he at least should have a cup of coffee before descending towards Gadsar camping site. That day he had something else on his mind.

A day earlier during our stay at Vishansar camping site, our trek member Mr. Bilal Pathan had surprised all of us with his angling skills. Equipped with a proper fishing permit from the authorities concerned, within twenty minutes Bilal sb captured enough fish to feed us tastiest varieties of the wild trout, only found in the high glacial streams of Kashmir.

Among all the trekking members, I must admit his gear and equipment was the best. Never to forget, he has promised all of us a next bounty of wild trout somewhere in north Kashmir. All of us are eagerly awaiting.

Mr. Ahmad Bilal, Mr, Majid Jahangir and Sajad Qureshi, though avid trekkers, were our three worries and there was every apprehension that they may trail behind during KGL trek. However, solute to their mental strength and perseverance, they never gave up even during the toughest and hardest walks. I would say they were our slow and steady “turtles” whereas Mr. Bilal Pathan and Mubashir Tanga were our fast and furious “Khargosh” (rabbit), leaping and bouncing on every curve or turn. However, all of them won their races, hurdles and difficulties of the path notwithstanding.

Never to forget the roles played by Sheikh Zahoor and Musadiq Ahmad Moon, who kept all of us, especially Bilal and Majid, motivated and pushing on even the most difficult terrains and rough patches.

On the other hand, Mr, Yasir Wani kept all of us hooked thanks to his amazing photography skills. He would take best of the shots and videos of almost every group member despite the fatigue and unease felt during such journeys. He displayed amazing courage during his ascent and descent of the Zaj Pass (13,000ft) despite suffering injury in his left leg overnight.

The KGL trek, demands long walks on every trekking day, covering a total trekking distance of 75 KM in 6 days, which averages out to over 12 KM a day. In comparison to other popular treks, such as Kedarkantha and Hampta Pass , the Kashmir Great Lakes trek is three times longer.

As far the trek time, it usually takes 8 hours to cover 11 kms from Sonamarg to Nichnai Pass camp, from this point upto it takes another 7 hours next day to cover 12-kilometer upto Kishansar campsite. From this point upto Gadsar campsite it takes 10 hours to cover a distance of 14 kilometers. From Gadsar to Satsar campsite, it takes six hours to cover a distance of 11 kilometers, whereas from this point it takes another six hours to reach Gangbal lake covering a distance of nine kilometres.

Our group, however, decided to cover the journey from Gadsar campsite to Gangabal lake in just one day, foregoing the overnight halt. And, by the Grace of Almighty, we managed to cover the treacherous terrain of 23 kilometres in just 7 hours, non-stop. During this trail, we encountered and climbed rocky terrain for nearly two hours, ascended a steep Zaj pass at 13K feet and simultaneously undertook a steep descent on the other side of Zaj pass to reach Gangabal lake. At the summit, all of us felt breathless, gasping for oxygen. But a few long breaths and a short rest energised us all. A remarkable feat.

As we were descending down Zaj pass, with our eyes focussed on twin lakes of Gangabal and Nandkhol, which we could see from the great heights of the Zaj pass, all of us felt dead tired, some grappling with aching knees and ankles. Zahoor sb said that he wanted to reach Gangabal shores as fast as he can and throw his day pack to have rest on its banks. All of us exactly did the same once we touched down its shores. Many of us then took a bath in its waters, which Mughloo SB designated as “cold water therapy” to overcome tiredness and aching legs and knees. And to our surprise, it worked. All of us, who bathed, felt relieved and refreshed.

Infact, maintaining the right rhythm and body posture is necessary to avoid injuries and reduce the stress on your ankles and knees during the treks like KGL.

Afterwards, all of the group members headed to the campsite at nearby Nandkhol lak. The overnight stay, the last night of our five-day journey, was equally thrilling and entertaining. After taking dinner in the dining tent, all of the members took turns to refresh their memories and narrated small anecdotes and light moments of the trek journey. The discussion on Jinns (Jinnaat) was quite interesting. The term “Katji” (Ababeel) also came up for discussion with an interesting background. The members also discussed future treks to be undertaken, Inshaallah.

Next day morning, that is on 16th August,2023, the group members trekked down 15 kilometers to Naaranag (7450ft), the exit point. We covered the 7 hours journey in just 4.4 hours. By 12 to 12.30 all the members were at the exit point, safe and sound, feeling proud at this remarkable achievement.

Last but not the least, the guides, cooks and the horses and horsemen of the “Mountains and Dreams” camping agency, who accompanied us to make our journey easy are the “un-sung heroes” of the KGL trek. For the guides took us on the safest paths, the cook fed us the best and sumptuous dishes, the horses carried all our burdens on their backs. Salute to them.

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