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Untold Kashmir: Trekking to the Great Lakes (Part II)

Vishansar lake loomed up into our vision from the ridge, and it was jaw dropping at the very first glimpse. Its azure waters reflected the
Kashmir Great Lakes trek
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Pijush Roychowdhury is on a trekking mission to the Great Lakes of Kashmir valley. He is travelling with a group that includes among others, his wife and her friends. He is about to reach the Vishansar Lake, the first lake on this journey. Continued from Part I.


The following morning dawned brilliantly. We were excited that the first sight of the lake would be visible soon. A slope, blazed with flowers, took us quickly to a small ridge. Morning was calm, and there was no wind. Vishansar lake loomed up into our vision from the ridge, and it was jaw dropping at the very first glimpse. Its azure waters reflected the hillocks flanking its sides. It was a mesmerising sight. I was dumb founded. My camera became busy. After taking innumerable shots of different frames, I retired. The Color of the lake changed from time to time with the drifting clouds. 

This glacial lake is oligotrophic due to the lower amount of nutrients it has. Which is why it does not have too many algae type aquatic plants; so it is a sweet water lake with crystal clear drinkable water. This open type of lake is fed by glacial water and winter precipitation. Underneath it has a non-porous rock bed and oxygen content is very high. So aquatic life like brown trout are abundantly available. So, this lake is an anglers’ paradise. 

I drank the water copiously and quenched my thirst. About 350 ft. higher there was another alpine lake, named Kishansar lake. We met this lake while we were on the way to reach Gadsar pass. A flock of sheep and goats were grazing on a craggy mountain slope beside the lake, devouring grass and alpine flowers. We are on the way to Gadsar Pass (13700 ft.), the highest point of the trek. We were straining every muscle on the steep ascent. Kishansar was another surreal lake cradled between two mountains and connected to the much famed Vishansar lake. Once we reached Gadsar pass, it was a marvellous sight to see the twin lakes in one frame from the top. Colours of the lakes changed from time to time with the perfect rhythm of the moving clouds. Here I met a young and beautiful girl with a chiselled face guiding a horse. Saddled on top was her grandfather. He was a wrinkled old man who looked forlorn but peaceful with his deep set eyes.  

Gadsar Lake

After crossing a couple of tiny lakes, we were about to reach Gadsar lake. On the left side behind a boulder a couple of marmots appeared in haste. They are bear-like, furry rodents poised with a comical gesture. Looked at us curiously. I fished out my camera targeting one of them. This camera-shy creature played a lot of hide and seek with me. It was an endurance trial. At long last I could zoom in an agile one, and it was nearly a perfect shot. We began to descend along a gentle slope of a ridge. A dark greenish lake peeped into our vision through an obstinate mist. We reached closer to the lake. An idyllic picture postcard frame stood in front of us. Gadsar lake is an epitome of natural beauty. 

Gadsar means lake of fishes. It has another name, Yamsar, which means lake of monsters. Local people believe an octopus with its long tentacles stays deep inside the lake.  And whenever opportunity comes it grabs the person with its tentacle and disappears in the lake. So, nobody including trekkers ever ventures to go near its waters.

The other day a shepherd told me about the existence of blue sheep in this part of the mountain. No paradise is complete without Ibex. I had been longing to find this remarkable creature. Suddenly, we encountered a flock of brownish grey Ibex or Bharal led by a beardless ram on a slope of a mountain. They were making a move to reach the upper pasture along a well-trodden trail. They seemed to be quite friendly with the shepherd herd, as they occasionally come down for a salt lick expedition. 

Gadsar Lake

Weather was none too promising. Mist enveloped us. Rain began to fall. It was a dismal situation. We hurried to reach our next destination Gadsar quickly. There was no appropriate shelter which could give us the badly needed warmth. We were drenched as we reached a military camp on the way. They checked our documents, inner line permit and allowed us to enter the restricted area after being satisfied. 

From that point we could see our camping site at Gadsar. Restlessness besieged us. We had to cross a labyrinthine stream of brooks, and finally set our feet at Gadsar. The hills around us were rockier. I took a refuge in my sleeping bag to warm myself. Camp site at Gadsar was like a green oasis amid grey mountains. Here we found another flock of sheep and wild horses in the upper valley under the roof of an ever-changing sky.  Smoke of the burning logs was bellowing out from a cave. It was a domain of another shepherd. Dusk had fallen on earth. At sundown mists melted away. A sea of vapour formed a milky way in the air and was reddened by the declining sun.

Next morning the weather was cloudless, and the air was delightfully cold. This area also had its quota of glorious flowers which sweetened the air around with their subtle fragrance. We made a sojourn to our next destination Satsar, another alpine valley. Satsar is a conglomeration of seven lakes. Today the pursuit was tough. After crossing a snow bridge, we faced a trail which was difficult to negotiate. Piles of enormous boulders placed one over another, threw a challenge. One little mistake would cause a disaster. 

Crossing a fast brook.

Soon after we camped at Satsar. It rained heavily and ceased after some time, revealing a lurid sunset. The Alpine sunset had become colourful. It plunged us into an exceptional situation. Due to the presence of water vapour in the air, nearby mountains radiated in glorious golden hue as if mountains were bathed in liquid gold. Ridge line of the mountains continued to glow as if they were withdrawn from the blast furnace. Upward, the creeping tide of purple shadow gradually swallowed the whole mountain as the first star surfaced in the sky. The Crescent moon disclosed its glory behind a dark mountain. Blinking stars looked like millions of tiny ice particles against the celestial sky. I fixed my tripod on the ground to test my astrophotography skill under low light. A galaxy band or a milky way with a hazy band of white light created a cosmic fantasy in the dark sky. 

When I woke up the next morning it was not raining. Today we would be heading towards Gangabal (12000 ft.). We commenced an ascent through a grassy buttress. A griffon glided away majestically being disturbed by our presence. After traversing across a stretch of boulder trail, we were in a valley. The valley ended abruptly on the base of a ridge and top of the ridge was Zajibal Pass (13,258 ft.). This watershed separated two other alpine lakes Gangabal and Nundkol which were lying on the other side of the pass. 


Harmoukh Peak covered by mist

After a dizzy climb we were on the crest of the pass. A magnificent panoramic view welcomed us. Lake Nundkol and Lake Gangabal were basking under the blue sky. A hanging glacier was precariously dangling its tongue on the slope of a mountain. It was feeding the lake with crystal water incessantly. A soft couch of flowering turf encircled the lakes. Everybody present on top was relaxed and grinned with the prospect of a descent. We started climbing down on an inclined path, masked with rich vegetation and pitched our tent beside Nundkol lake. Woolly white cloud was sticking on the wall of Harmoukh Peak. As we descended, flora became more luscious, ranging from sky blue of poppies to the deep wine red of potentillas. Darkness stealthily spread its wings and gradually blanketed the valley. Harmoukh peak, which looked forbidding in the twilight shadow, became appealing in the waning moon. 


twin lakes Nundkol and Gangabal

The next morning was frosty and cloudless. Harmoukh peak was sun drenched and sparkled beneath the blue sky. I appreciated its grandeur resting in my tent on the bank of Nandkol lake. The Hanging glacier of Harmoukh concealed its tongue behind a cloud. It was a wine coloured day, a day of superlative calm. The little plateau on which we camped, was plastered with newly sprung up alpine flowers. Suddenly out of nowhere a grey cloud began to poke their noses and the sun started to lose its warmth. We had already set out for our final day of trekking to reach Naranag, the terminal destination of the journey. As we crossed a brook over a log bridge, precariously placed on the stream the canopy of the sky precipitated in deluging rain. We glanced at the Wagnath valley from the top. It marvelled itself with the few tiny turquoise and ice green lakes. We entered a trail through a pine forest. Rain was lashing the silent and immobile forest. The trail had turned into a nightmare as there was mudslide from the slope of the mountain. Walking in ankle dip sludge through a knee jerking steep descent made our lives hellish. It was prolonging our movement. The sun was sinking fast; the gruelling and hostile trail seemed to be unending. When the sun slipped down behind a mountain, we were still far from Naranag. Light of our head lamp pierced the ghostly darkness. It was an arduous task to move our tired legs. With a Himalayan effort we could drag our bodies from the remoteness to the safe sanctuary of the campsite. 

It was a dead night when we reached Naranag and failed to fathom the beauty of this valley on the bank of Wagnath river. Deadly tired we licked the wound of our injured confidence and plunged into the abys of blissful sleep.


The End

Images courtesy: Pijush Roychowdhury

For more information on the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek and the best time to undertake the trek, please contact  agencies specialising in high altitude treks. 

Pijush Roychowdhury, a globe trotter who frequented 63 countries is a leading travel writer, published extensively and has been an awardee of “Kalom” as the best travel writer of 2020.

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