An active holiday kayaking, surfing or mountain biking by yourself is nice. But making it a family activity; now that! Meet Srishti Srivastava, an architect by profession, is passionate about art & design, science and humour. She writes about her recent trek to The Great lakes Kashmir, with her Mom, Dad and Brother. Read on and get jealous.
Quiet times – Great Lakes Kashmir
All of us in the family are avid outdoor people. My dad Sanjeev is a passionate trekker, especially fond of the mountains. We have travelled to the hills far and about for solo and group treks since a very young age. During August 2013, when all four of us found ourselves disenchanted by the summer heat, quite naturally we started looking for trekking routes. It had been several years since we went on a trail together.
Adventure, just like the wilderness always exists, and once we knew what we wanted to do planning for it didn’t take long. During our search for the ideal route and for want of some place new, we omitted treks in the Garwhal, Himachal, Kumayun and Ladakh regions that we had previously explored. The urge to walk on we were yet to explore narrowed it down to either Arunachal Pradesh or Kashmir. We went on to explore options on the Bangalore based adventure company Indiahikes.
The Great Lakes trek is open from May to September. En route, it has seven high-altitude freshwater lakes nestled in the Himalayan valley surrounded by meadows that have a quiet charm. The photographs on the website looked like postcards. With each click of the mouse, with each new photograph we saw, the colours of the meadows and the wilderness got our imaginations rolling. Within an hour and before we knew it, all our tickets were booked and we were all set.
“And with that, even while we sat in our Ahmadabad home, in front of our computer screen, miles away from Kashmir, we could feel it – the air changing, our lungs filling with the fresh valley air and our bodies all set for a new adventure!”
The connectivity from Delhi to Srinagar by air is quite good. As we arrived in Srinagar, the Indiahikes team picked us up and we were on our way on a three hour drive to base camp in the Sonamarg valley. A beautiful, placid landscape greeted us at every curve. And what a drive it was – with sweeping meadows and clear blue skies with a heady smell of fresh pine in the air! Getting in just before dinner, we were welcomed at the camp site by a few twinkling light bulbs and a sky bursting with stars. A nearby gurgling stream reflected the magical surroundings of the valley and with what we saw in the moon light, we couldn’t wait for dawn. After dinner, our trek leader briefed us with important safety instructions; pos which we called it a night, mentally preparing ourselves to embark on the weeklong walk.
Highlights of the Trail
It was a steady climb; with clear skies and good weather throughout the trek. The balmy vegetation and natural landscape meant we explored varied terrains every day. Two passes, a river crossing, army camps, an underground river, ridge walking, and the lakes were highlights on this trek. Vishansar and Kishansar Lakes are twin fresh water bodies with a circumference of roughly 8 kilometres. Camping just below these on Day 2, we were welcomed by fresh Kashmiri pulao on site made with local herbs and spice.
The water was extremely chilly even in the summer months as this region is snow covered for about half the year. We decided to save the dip for the final day at Gangbal Lake in order to keep our bodies warm until then. Walking by the lakes on Day 3 was the only time we encountered rain; it was a breathtaking experience. If I felt feel worn out, all I had to do was look up at the water and feel the fatigue vanish! The rocky outcrop on which we went path finding for a good part of the Day 5 was a memorable walk.
We were accompanied by a couple of mountain goats on the way too. When we reached the final campsite, a few of us went bouldering and swimming in the lake. The water was cold but I could feel how clean it was. Four feet deep, clear and freezing, it took an hour to thaw us after that and now even in hindsight it was totally worth the dip.
Humor, laughs, good-natured people, friendly shepherds and guides made this well-paced trek an amazing experience. My brother Shikhar said, “The great Lakes trek in Kashmir is a perfect trek, the pace is relaxing so it is ideal for nature and landscape photography.” We followed a cleanliness policy throughout to keep the wilderness intact. Garbage disposal and collection of non-biodegradable waste from the mountains were an important part of the day’s activity.
The highlight was the view – aquamarine waters with countless shades of blue and green; the dance of lights on rocks as clouds moved across the sky; hundreds of flocks of sheep adding sparkle to the richly graded landscape. Day 6, the rest day involved sightseeing the Gangbal and Nandakol lakes and leisure. We relaxed by the mountains, played cricket while some of us spent time sun bathing. The final day was a steep descent to Nara Nag after which we bid each other goodbye, preceded to Srinagar and beyond.
The happy thing about this trip was the satisfaction of being with nature. As my dad Sanjeev says, “Ups and downs reflect vicissitudes of life, every turn indicates new vistas it might open; and sudden changes in weather train us to deal with uncertainties. For me, every trek is a reflection of life.”
The difficulty level is medium with 7-8 hour-long stretches on average. It is recommended for anybody who can walk for the given time; plus there is plenty of help. Indiahikes is a responsible adventure company and takes good care of health, safety and nutrition. All in all, The Kashmir Great Lakes trek is picturesque, quiet and an undisturbed window into the quieter times we often dream of today. When I asked my Mom Anjali about her thoughts during the trek, she said, “I wonder at nature’s bounty. We are surrounded by so much of it. Again and again and again. More and more and more.”
Fit For All Ages
As you can see in the photographs anybody willing to participate and co-operate in a team can be a part of the trek. It is desirable to have a good level of fitness and to be able to walk for long stretches, but for anybody willing to try it, there is plenty of help available. Also, it is a good chance to start working on personal fitness. Age is no bar. Seriously, we had people in their twenties and people in their fifties and sixties. So everyone should try, that’s the spirit of it!
One morning, we were lounging on the grass, playing Antakshari. It was a rest day on the trek. Mid way through the game, it struck one of us that we should cook something and help the kitchen staff. It’s amazing how much of the trek’s success depends on the cooking and managing logistics is no mean feat. It all happens in the background. Around the same time, one of our team members refused to sing, so to convince him, we decided to put in an offer of ladoos as incentive! Next thing we know, the kitchen tent was a buzz and the ladoo making was on in full swing! That fun, impromptu event, at a really high altitude, wow what a blast we had.
Photo credit – Shikhar Srivastava
Srishti and her family went on this memorable active holiday a couple of years back and what a holiday it was! In case you are considering a trek to The Great Lakes, Kashmir, September is a beautiful season to go. There are a host of reliable tour operators who you can join for their scheduled departures or plan an exclusive one for your group of family and friends. Go on, get outdoorsy! And when you come back, share your story with us. For any queries you might have about getting started, get in touch at [email protected]