Sheer heaven on earth is the phrase that will come to your mind while undertaking the Kashmir Great Lakes trek, for the state is a land of divine beauty. When the starting point of your excursion is a bewitching place like Sonamarg, you know that you are in for a world of excitement. As you walk along the trails, you get to witness almost the entire range of ecological zones in the Himalayas. When you start the hike, you are amidst thick temperate forests of pine. You then gain altitude and enter jungles of morinda spruces, pindrow firs and deodar trees, which disappear as you reach altitudes of over 11000 feet. Here you are greeted by expansive meadows of lush grass and shrubs, and they are easy to trek through due to their comparatively flatter terrain. From these grasslands, you will be able to see crystal-clear lakes and snow-covered mountain peaks in the distance.
Post beginning from Sonamarg, this spellbinding Kashmir trek will first get you to Nichnai. The journey takes you along hissing streams, numerous enchanting valleys and forests of maple. You will relish lunch at a high viewpoint called Shekdur and then travel through rough, rocky terrain; and on wide, gentle valleys to reach Nichnai. The place gives an amazing view of three mountain peaks, all buried underneath mounds of snow. At dawn, you cross a pretty brook, ascend through picturesque Himalayan meadows and go past a scenic alpine lake before reaching the Nichnai Pass. The way to Vishansar Lake from here goes through more grasslands, which are covered with flowers of iris. After resting and acclimatising by the lake for a day, you resume your excursion and make for Gadsar.
This day your Kashmir trekking will take you first to Krishansar alpine lake, and then to Gadsar. The path again offers bewitching views of the surrounding mountains, and of the lush greenery covering their lower sections. From Gadsar, hike through more mountain grasslands, and reach Satsar lakes. As you start descending form here, you will once again find yourself in the middle of scenic coniferous forests. Then you reach Nundkhol Lake, and later walk further to reach Gangabal Lake. Your journey will end in the picturesque village of Naranag, from where you will drive back to Srinagar. In Sonamarg and Naranag, you will be treated to scrumptious Kashmiri dinner, which will give your naturally magnificent trek a rich cultural aspect.
Day 01: Arrival in Srinagar | Srinagar to Sonamarg
On arrival in Srinagar via land or air, travel to the beautiful ski resort of Sonamarg. The drive takes about three hours, and gives you amazing views of the mountains.After reaching Sonamarg, check-in at the guest house and relax. In the evening, relish a traditional Kashmiri dinner, and follow it up with overnight stay.
Day 02: Sonamarg – Shekdur – Nichnai
At about 8:00 AM, travel to a roadside dhaba, about 3 km from your lodging. Relish snacks and beverages as until the Kashmir Great Lakes trek ends, this is the only place to eat and drink. The road from here turns to the right and goes down to the bank of Nallah Sindh, which is a tributary of the Jhelum River.
The hike begins from here, and almost immediately you start gaining altitude. After about 10 minutes, you turn left and enter a lush green alpine meadow. The way to its top is a gentle climb, and you can conquer it in roughly 30 minutes. You will walk through pretty forests of pine and maple trees, and from the top, a panoramic view of the hill station of Sonamarg will enthral you.
After looking at the scenery, restart your excursion as now the track descends to the bank of a scenic brook. You will start climbing again, and this section will take you through dense jungles of maple. For the following 1.5 hours, the path will be adjacent to the forest, and you should keep on following it as the other trails divert to villages below. As you reach the top of the ridge, the trees disappear and you arrive in another beautiful meadow with gentle slopes. This is the end of the ascent for the day, and further ahead, you walk on flatter tracks. They are lined with rows of birch trees and cottages of shepherds.
Trek further, and as you reach Shekdur, look to the right and see snow-covered peaks. Enjoy a nice lunch here, and then recommence your expedition towards Nichnai. Following a walk of approximately an hour, you reach a valley, from where the trail follows the right bank of the brook and heads upstream. Your onward journey will be through a wide valley, surrounded by mountains. The initial section of this walk is on an uneven and rocky terrain. After an hour, you reach another meadow with gentle gradient of slopes. You will come to a point, from where three snow-covered peaks are visible, and on a low hill near it, lies your camp site for the night.
Day 03: Nichnai (11500 feet) to Vishansar Lake (12000 feet)
Wake up early in the morning, and begin a long phase of this Kashmir trek.From your camp site, you will see the Nichnai Pass, which you will need to cross. You hike for around 30 minutes, parallel to a stream, and then you cross it along its left flank. Following a walk of about roughly an hour along its left bank, the track will start rising steeply through alpine grasslands. The next hour will be taken up in climbing to the summit of the pass, and you will encounter a clear blue lake on the way. From the meadow, a ridge will be seen, which is not the pass. The trail will turn deeper into the mountains twice, following which you will reach the Nichnai Pass.
Post looking at the Sonamarg valley from here, you are in for another gruelling ascent. From the summit of Nichnai Pass, the track will descend sharply. It is uneven, and is filled with rocks, providing you an exciting challenge. Following a descent of around one hour, you will enter another mountainous grassland. A brook bursts out from this flower-covered green meadow, and forms a waterfall to your left. From here, the terrain becomes even and plain, allowing for a smooth tread. As you reach the end of the valley after roughly 30 minutes, you will see another beautiful stream.
Just about 100 feet above this point lies Vishansar Lake, beside which you will camp for the night
Day 04: Explore Vishansar Lake and Kishansar Lake (12,000 ft.)
The day is free to explore the great lakes of Kashmir, Vishansar Lake or Krishansar Lake. You will not have to trek much, as both the lakes are near the campsite. You will get picture-perfect reflection of gigantic mountain peaks in the lakes. The scenery is so beautiful that it perfect for your Instagram posts. Vishansar Lake means ‘the lake of Vishnu God, and the surroundings of Vishansar Lake consist of snow-dressed peaks, beautiful mountain gorges, verdant pastures and vivid alpine flowers, which make the widespread scenery a breath-taking view. Whereas Krishansar Lake is big and a deep blue lake enclosed by emerald meadows and charms local shepherds who graze their flocks of sheep and goat during summer.
Day 05: Vishansar Lake (12000 feet) to Gadsar (12000 feet) via Krishansar Lake and Gadsar Pass (13750 feet)
In the morning, start the next section of your Kashmir trekking, and proceed towards Gadsar.
Hike first to Krishansar Lake, which is about half a kilometre away and roughly 500 feet higher from the camp site. You reach here after travelling for approximately 45 minutes, and you may stop to explore the area and click photos. As you continue hiking from the right bank of the lake, you will again gain altitude. Depending on your mountaineering expertise, there are a number of trails heading up, with varied gradients of ascent. The easiest way is to take the trail that heads up to a ridge, at the end of which is the Gadsar Pass.
Almost immediately, the track becomes narrow and leads up to the summit of the pass in about two hours. From here, you will get beautiful views of Vishansar and Krishansar Lakes. As there is no spot where camps can be set up, you will have your overnight stay at an Indian Army camp.
Day 06: Gadsar (12000 feet) to Satsar (12000 feet)
From the military camp, turn to the left and walk towards a mountain stream. Your next camp site at Satsar is around 10 km away, and it lies at a rough altitude of 12000 feet. After crossing a gushing river, follow the trail that ascends through the mountains. Following a trek of roughly 1.5 hours, you find yourself at an altitude of 11500 feet, where the trail becomes bisected. It now turns to the left and moves away from the valley. You now reach yet another mountainous grassland, encircled by towering mountains.
There is an army checkpost beyond a ridge, from where you will get the permit to hike deeper. Post a 15-minute trek, you reach the first of the seven lakes of Satsar.
After reaching this breathtaking glacial water body, set up camps, light a bonfire and enjoy your overnight stay.
Day 07: Satsar (12000 feet) to Gangabal Twin Lakes (11500 feet)
This section of your Kashmir Great Lakes trek will keep you on the trail for about nine hours. Moving ahead from the widest part of the lake, you will need to dodge a horde of small and large boulders. Post a descent of approximately 30 minutes, you reach the point where the tree line starts, and to the left, a ridge will be visible. You again start ascending from here, and reach the top of the ridge via a zigzag track. Now you need to cross two more ridges, and the trail is steep and rocky. Here you will see huts of shepherds and two lakes lying next to each other.
The next section of the hike involves descending more than 1400 feet to Gangabal Lake, which lies below. Walking down the stony path, you will see a stream, beyond which a steep descent of 40 minutes is to be conquered. After coming down from a meadow, fir, spruce and deodar trees appear again, and you reach the base of the Harmukh peak. You now reach Nundkhol Lake, and walk further for 30 minutes to reach Gangabal Lake.
Set up tents on the bank of the tarn and enjoy an overnight stay.
Day 08: Gangabal (11500 feet) to Naranag (7450 feet) | Drive towards Srinagar
Continue Kashmir trekking and meander along the river. Your path through the grassland will be dotted with yellow flowers. Now you walk through a dense forest, and gain a little elevation for about 6 km. Beyond the distance of 6 km, you will encounter a sharp descent and lose about 3000 feet of elevation in only 4 km. At the end of the descent, the village of Naranag will be visible to you. The track leading you here is stony, which is why caution should be observed while trekking along it.
On reaching the village, explore the region and afterwards, drive towards Srinagar.
Max Altitude: 13750 ft.
Approx Trekking Km: 63 kms
Best Time to go: April to October
We had the greatest of time ever on Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. Kashmir is truly heaven on earth. The experience on mountains was simply beyond our imagined expectations. The beauty, serenity and love of nature was completely out-of-world feeling. Within 2 days, I had forgotten where I belonged, who I was or there is a world down below somewhere from where I come. By third or fourth day, I had lost track of time, date and day; which is such a wonderful experience - being kid again in the laps of nature and not bothering a bit about anything. We realize when we are on mountains that we live such an artificial and superficial life. One tends to wear off the artificial mask on mountains and one sees one's own true reflection. Communing with self, with nature. Regarding the services, I'd say they were perfect. I had never expected in my wildest dreams that I'd be served bed-tea every morning in my tent. The staff was very cooperative, kind and caring. Soon they had identified each of ours habits and choices and provided services accordingly. They also got along so well that we were almost a group. The team leader was very helpful in every little problem faced and guided us through well even during bad weather. It was always a pleasing experience to talk with him. The trek leader was a very charming person who had led the trek with much enthusiasm and made our trip simply memorable. Overall experience has been totally invigorating and we were left captivated and spellbound with the enchanting beauty of Mother Nature. Thanks for making the trip unforgettable.