Day 1: The Flight Journey!
The 8 hour long flight with two stops at Mumbai and Amritsar was not as fun as we thought. Calling flight attendant to ask whether the Golden temple was on the left or the right side of the plane and other jokes kept us engaged for the first half of the day as we reached Srinagar by around 2 PM.
Rafique bhai from Shabbir travels welcomed us along with the knowledge that other states’ prepaid connections do not work in Kashmir due to security concerns. We had our lunch from Srinagar and en route to our basecamp at Sonamarg, he explained the specialities of Kashmir – Wazwan and Kahwah and of course the apples and the beautiful places – Dal Lake, Pahalgam, and Gulmarg! I slept a little on the way while we drove by the banks of river Sindh and Jhelum.
It was 5.30 PM when we reached the basecamp of the trek – Sonamarg. We were told that the usual camping place was occupied by the army and hence laying down tents and camps were delayed. As soon as the kitchen tents were set up, we were served tea and had an informal introduction session. Worth mentioning is that there were people from diverse professions – IT (obviously!), government employees, architect, doctor, pastry chef/entrepreneur, research scholar, journalist, tattoo artist, medical transcriptionist, and students – never have I met this diverse bunch in any other trip.
Sky had become clear after the drizzle stopped and we had our dinner under the innumerous stars and a part of the Milky Way which lit up the sky. And we got into our 3-people shared tents as it started to get very cold outside.
Day 2: (Trek) Day 1
Second day was not as sunny as we hoped however there was no drizzle in the morning as we had our breakfast and packed up our lunch. First was a climb up the small hill on whose foothill we had camped. We could see some shepherd houses covered with mud-roofs on the way and from the top we had an excellent view of Sonamarg town.Meadows, pine trees, and the lush green of the hills were soothing that we did not mind an hour of drizzle and in another few, we reached a small make over dhaba where we had the first taste of Kawah and it was refreshing after the climb. Soon after the break we were walking through the pine trees and we slowly reached the top through the misty drizzle. We kept taking small breaks in between and the group was automatically split into smaller groups depending on the speed with which one could climb. During the descent we had a small river accompanying us till the plains and then we kept strolling along till the camp. We also met a Chinese traveler and her Indian friend who were trekking with another group.
“Good Morning Peeple… Tea is ready”
shout from our trek leader Taarak woke us up the next morning. It was a pleasant day with no signs of drizzle as we started the first climb of the day – Nichnai Pass. We crossed a narrow river and walked up the mountain. Gauging distance is deceptive as every turn looks like the pass is hardly 30 minutes away, we kept moving at a regular pace.
By the time we took the turn it had already been 2 hours from the camp and we were walking by the rocky hillside. And to curtail our happiness about having successfully climbed the pass, we were informed that the actual climb was yet to come. It took us another hour before we reached the top of the pass and we were told that our basecamp is on the left side right after the next mountain, yeah right! We had our lunch after sometime and started the descent.
Within two hours we were down the hill on the plains. It was a sight to behold – behind us were the snow-capped mountains with rain clouds hovering over them, on our right was the lush-green mountain on whose foothills horses were galloping, on our left was the weirdo red-colored mountain where a herd of sheep was grazing at 15000 feet, and we were walking towards the mountain ranges with a river accompanying us!
We all reached the Vishnusar campsite with a very bad headache after the ascents and descents of the day. And after an hour of rest when we were feeling better, we went to the Vishnusar lake in the evening. Heavy dinner and we were dozing by 9 PM!
Day 4: 13750 feet!
Yes, the day had come when we had to achieve what we came for – highest point in the trek and it did not disappoint. We had the twin lakes Vishnusar and Kishansar giving us company till the climb to the Gadsar pass. We took a steeper but shorter route for the first quarter of the climb as we had to catch up for some Kishansar water fetching time. As we climbed up we could see both the lakes and it was picturesque!
Climb is pretty steep on the mountain terrain and we ensured that we drank a lot of water on the way, lesson learnt from the last day. We met few malayalee changaathis (where on earth you don’t find them?!) who were doing the reverse route, a British tourist, and few others from other trekking groups on the way as we reached the Gadsar pass @ 13750 ft!
After the pass, we walked down and through the meadows to reach the army camp at Gadsar where we had the routine checks and relished the good day we had.
Day 5: Junglee Mewa and the hailstorm!
If it were the lakes and the mountains that were noteworthy the days before, this was the day of meadows. An initial stretch of old slippery snow, occasional steep climb and mostly plain windy meadows summed up the day. We said hi to junglee mewa, a wild fruit that looks and tastes like strawberry and we were as close as 30 to 50 kms from the Pakistan border, as we were told.
We reached the Satsar army camp, which is the third line of defence from LOC and had a helipad and a cricket pitch all to them, by 3 PM and were put to the routine ID checks. It turned out that the army officer and my friend were from the same town back in Kerala. He told us how they keep stocks for food as winters are tough and about his posting at that place. He also invited us to stay back for dinner, although we couldn’t.
It was hardly 30 minutes we had bid goodbye to the officer and moved on that it started raining…oh no, wait…hailstorming! Fortunately it was not very heavy and din’t last long either and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. After keeping our trekking bags at the campsite, we went to the huge Satsar lakes.
Day 6: Minus 4 Degree Celsius!
It was drizzling as we made our way through the now slippery boulders. After the boulders and the climb up, the drizzling got heavier and we had no clue what was in store for us. On that day we experienced something that even the guys in our group who have trekked Jadg pass for the last 2 years hadn’t seen there – SNOWFALL! We were shouting at the first sight of the snowfall and soon we were walking on a white patch of fresh snow with little sight of the route ahead. It was freezing cold and our assistant trek leader Amit was waiting on top to guide us with the route. And yes, there were few people who managed to take a selfie with the snow –
It was wet slippery dangerous descent that followed and it was not until we reached in the plains that the rain would stop. We prayed for the sun to come out, not just to help others who were behind us but for some warmth for our body! We reached the Gangbal campsite in another couple of hours and spent the rest of the day there.
Day 7: Rest Day
Weather cleared up in the morning and we took a dip in the lake next to which we had camped. Rest of the day was spent playing games and having lot of food. It started drizzling in the evening and the plans for a campfire was far from happening that we all got back to our tents and played some anthakshari.
Day 8: Steep descent to Naranag!
Not sure if it was the laziness from a rest day or the realization that the trek was going to be over in a matter of hours, we were in no big hurry. We got the first glimpses of civilization after a week and the Nokia 1100s started beeping. The descent through the pine trees was beautiful although very steep. We commended and lauded the efforts of those who trekked from Naranag back to Sonamarg. During the walk, we met a localite with whom we enquired how much more descent was there. The jovial person he was, said “there is a lot to go, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari” with a smile. He also asked us to let our other friends know that how peaceful Kashmir is and to share our experiences with them. Well, you got a place in my blog, fella!
We reached Naranag by evening 3 PM where we bought the T-Shirts and bid goodbye to the other friends from the group and left for Srinagar.
Day 9: Sight seeing @ Srinagar
We stayed at Hotel Feast Inn at Raj Bhag, rooms were decent and rent was affordable. Rs.1000 per day for a 2 bedroom. We bought Kawah powder and spices, went to Shankaracharya Temple on a hill top and the Hazratbal Shrine. And my friend tried the famous Wazwan of Kashmir for dinner.
Day 10: Back to Bangalore, let’s not talk about it!
- Pre-order meals for early morning flights as you are bound to have no time at the airport, other than for check-in and security.
- If you did not read it properly – other states’ prepaid connections do not work in Srinagar, so in case you love to be on phone during vacation, do carry a postpaid connection.
- For the trek –
- Do drink a lot of water and at regular intervals, that keeps away AMS and any other fatigue.
- Pack judiciously and only what is required, we had a backpack that weighed 7 kg and we were good.