Kashmir Great Lakes Trek

Sonamarg, Jammu And Kashmir
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Kashmir is often called paradise on earth for its incomparable beauty and it is for that very reason that the Kashmir great lake trek is one of its kind. As the name suggests, embarking on this trek means that you get to witness the magic of heavenly lakes embracing the Himalayas. Every waking moment brings you a view so beautiful and mystifying that it fills you with a sense of gratitude to be just alive and be able to witness it. 

From lofty mountains, green meadows unfurling their spring-colored blooms, and lakes resembling melted turquoise gems, words simply fail when it comes to describing the beauty that this trek to the lakes of Kashmir entails. 

However, the ever-changing landscape and the fact that beauty comes at a price, Kashmir too, unravels its hidden gems to those who are patient and determined. The Kashmir great lake treks fall in the moderate to difficult trek and hence novice trekkers are often advised to gain the skills and experience the trek demands.

For experienced trekkers, the Kashmir great lakes trek is still comparatively easier but no less challenging. But all the hardships are worth every second because you would be witnessing nature embodying slices of heaven in each and every corner. The meadows are adorned by pine and maple trees, trails consisting of serene alpine lakes, and valleys with sheep grazing and wind blowing. 

Every step takes you further into the fairytale land that is Kashmir. Each day on these 8 days of Kashmir great lake treks, you would be stepping into a new valley because the trail is a getaway to one valley after another, each one more breathtaking than the previous one. Bridging the gaps between these valleys and meadows and connecting them through a core link is many passes.

In this Kashmir Great Lakes itinerary, we start our journey from Srinagar and drive to Sonamarg, located at an altitude of 7,800ft to reach Shitkadi Village which is the actual base camp for the Kashmir great lakes trek. The drive takes up to 3 hours of time but the beautiful scenery makes it seem extremely short as you get to witness the beauty of Kashmir throughout your drive. 

The next day we head out for Nichnai. 3-hour ascent followed by a 1-hour descent and finally a gentle ascent to Nichnai. The trek commences 3 km out of Sonamarg on the Srinagar road and stretches for a duration of five hours with the first three hours of the trail being a steep ascent. Afterward, the rest of the one hour is spent descending before finally continuing with a gentle ascent till we reach Nichnai which is located at an altitude of 11, 811 ft.

The trail starts with a road track with the Sindh river flowing through it. The trekking trail starts along the same track but soon attains elevation. After a few minutes of walking, you’d reach a lush green meadow and from here on, there is no looking back as the Sonamarg town stays below with the maple and pine trees at the top of the meadows overlooking it. The trail descends at the tree line before climbing up again. A coniferous forest of maple trees comes into view and as you walk on the fallen leaves and fresh grass, you start to realize just how beautiful even the most mundane things in Kashmir seem to be. 

For the next hour, the trail takes you uphill with a few openings in the green canopies leading your way. You’d get to glimpse at the stunning landscape of the Sonamarg valley from here as you stand on an elevated ridge in the meadow. 

The slope turns down and silver birch trees come into view. Stretching to a vast expanse of almost 40 ft, the grassland seems like the garden of Eden with few nooks overflowing with water. The peaks covered with snow that beckon you closer encompass Shekdur, a beautiful spot with Bhoj trees surrounding it. Our campsite Nichnai is at least 2 more hours away from here and the meadow stretches for at least half an hour before you get to the end of the silver birch trees and descend gently into the river valley. The valley signifies the start of Nichnai with the river stream flowing alongside, overlooked by mountains on either side. The terrain is rocky for at least an hour before you get to see green patches of grass with the valley widening between mountain ranges. A glimpse at the triangular peaks is your sign that you’ve reached your destination and should camp on the flat grounds of Nichnai. 

The next day consists of a small descent with a flat walk into the meadow to reach Vishansar Lake located at an altitude of 12,000ft. The trekking duration would be at least 6 hours with the first milestone being the Nichnai pass. As you keep traversing the trail for more than an hour, you will gradually start ascending again and after that, it’s an uphill climb until you reach the pass.

 A small lake at the base of the mountains will come into view followed by a ridge, and an inward twist of the trail that you have to cross twice before you reach the pass which seems like a wide tunnel of sorts with snow-covered peaks on one hand and vertical rock walls on the other. At an altitude of 13,500ft, the gradual ascent followed by a rapid descent makes it easier for you to navigate through the trail without facing any difficulties. Soon, the rocky trail gets replaced by blooming flowers giving way to lush green meadows with mountains overlooking them. With a river flowing from the pass to the meadow ahead of you, you’d also see a sparkling waterfall cascading down from the cliffs above and forming a commune with the river.

Soon, you’ll find yourself traversing on flat meadows, with the Himalayan ranges standing proud on one side and barren mountains mimicking the mountains of Ladakh on the other. The striking contrast between these two mountain ranges will surely take your breath away. Another half an hour will lead you to yet another stream which you will have to cross and continue walking in the meadow before you reach the end of the valley. The perpendicular stream that you witness originates from Vishansar lake with the lake itself being half a kilometer away and nestled at an altitude of 100ft higher than where you will be setting your campsite. It’d hardly take 7-10 minutes for you to reach the lake which is at the base of four majestic mountains, reflecting the Kishansar peak on its surface. The most fascinating thing about this lake is that the color you see of the lake depends entirely on the time of the day you’d be looking at it.

The reflections are wonderful when the lake is still. The lake gains a certain charm when the sunlight falls on the surface and is a must-visit when you are on a Kashmir great lakes trek. The next day we would stay at the campsite for acclimatization. 

The next part of the trail is almost 10 kilometers long and falls in the moderate category when it comes to the difficulty level of the Kashmir great lakes trek. Consisting of a steep ascent and lined with ridges, it is important to maintain proper footing as we move towards Gadsar pass. The next lake that we would seeing in the Kashmir great lakes trek is the Kishansar lake which is located at an elevation of 500ft higher than Vishansar lake.

 It takes about 45minutes to reach Kishansar lake from the campsite and you have to cross the stream before climbing uphill on the right side of the Vishansar lake With a vast meadow stretching around it, Kishansar lake is equally beautiful as its predecessor if not more.  

The trail climbs up to the top of the ridge and on the top of the ridge is the Gadsar pass which is located at an altitude of 13,750 ft. After almost an hour of climb, you will get to see the picturesque view of seeing both lakes together here. 

On the other side of the Gadsar pass, you see a long valley with 2-3 small lakes along with a few peaks visible in a far distance.

You might find snow at the Gadsar pass and even as you descend, you will find traces of snow.  The first small lake on the left side that comes into view is Yamsar lake. Beyond Yamsar is another nameless lake. An hour's descent leads you into lush green meadows again with a narrow valley with mountain ranges on either side. Flowers line your trail from here, making the view all the more beautiful and charming

The beginning of blue irises signifies that you are closer to Gadsar lake, one of the most pristine lakes on this trek. The Yamsar, the nameless lake, and Gadsar are all connected by a stream as water flows from the higher lake to the lower. Gadsar lake is located at an altitude of 12,500ft and nearby is the ideal campsite in close proximity to the army base camps.

If you are near the Gadsar army camp, it is crucial to report to them as soon as possible. It takes 2-3 hours for them to give you a green signal after all details of the trekkers and staff including original id cards are recorded, collected, and checked.

We head out for a 12 km long trek and start by moving away from the army camp and towards the stream. Crossing the stream which is at an altitude of 10,600ft will lead you up to the mountains. From here on, the Satsar campsite is 10 kilometers away and at an elevation of 12,000ft.  

You’d soon realize that you are overlooking the treeline with the river valley below you. Once you attain an altitude of 11,500ft, the trail becomes flat with mountains surrounding the lush green meadows. This region is called Maengandob and has a stunning landscape of streams running across the green bed. We would be setting up camp here, near the Satsar lake which is actually a collection of 7 lakes. Beyond the ridge lies the Satsar army check post, and it is the third line of defense from the LOC you are again required to go through the process of ID proof checking, collection, and questioning.

We will head out of the camp to reach the biggest Gangabal Lake. This part of the trek falls under the moderate category when it comes to the difficulty level of Kashmir Great Lakes Trek as the terrain is made up of boulders but ends up being extremely rewarding as you reach the biggest Satsar lake by the end of this trail. After half an hour of walking, the forest line would commence after which a range of ridges come into view, elevated at a height of 1000ft and we take the zig-zag paths to reach our next campsite located at an altitude of 11,800ft. The trail after crossing the ridges astonishes you with its bareness except for the pine trees that line the huts of the tribes here. The ridge top acts as a vantage point from where you get stunning views and get to see two lakes lying next to one another.

A stream runs water from the higher altitude lake to the lower one. Two more blue lakes are seen, one at a distance. The smaller lakes are nameless but the biggest amongst the set is the Gangabal lake accompanied by Nundkol and our campsite is below. The route descends a bit more and ascends again to the lake. The ascent is dry and rocky but on the descent, you cross a stream mid-way from where you can refill your water bottles. An hour and a half of steep descent bring you to lush meadows again and as you walk for a kilometer again, you see the tree line again.

A swift climb consisting of descending and crossing a stream brings you to the shores of Nundkol lake which lies at the base of the Harmukh peak. The Harmukh glacier hangs from the cliff of the mountains. We set up camp here. 

This day in the Kashmir great lakes trek stretches to a distance of 12 kilometers and will strain your lower limb muscles. From the Gangabal campsite, we descend along the stream and head towards the tree line. After walking for an hour, the ridges that you were walking upon disappear, and traces of civilization start to appear. The Harmukh peak stands majestically, overlooking you and the meadow lined with yellow flowers. 

A series of ascend and descent takes place and you drop to 10,800ft at the tree line but climb again to 11,000ft. For about 6 km you maintain an altitude of 10,800ft, traversing through the pine forests before finally entering. After you’ve completed two-thirds of the trail, the actual descent starts which is steep so trekkers should maintain proper footing as the trail is trodden. In a span of 4 kilometers, you drop down to an altitude of 3000ft. Naranag starts to come into view at around 8500ft. The last stretch becomes an endurance test but soon the stone-paved track comes up and in no time you enter the main road of Naranag and from here you drive to Srinagar. 

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