Day 1 – 6th July 2019
Srinagar to Sonmarg (9,186 ft)
Distance – 79 kms
Can’t believe this crazy coincidence that I writing about this day exactly a year later on the same date. Yeah! Today is 6th July 2020! This year will go down as a dark chapter in our lives because of this deadly pandemic – Coronavirus. If it wasn’t for this pandemic, I had already been to a trek that I had planned so dearly. Anyway, let’s get back to 2019. I took a morning flight from Delhi to Srinagar and reached a couple of ours early from the pick ups time. I booked my trek through Bikat Adventures and a pick up from the airport by them was scheduled at 12 pm. After waiting for a delayed flight carrying a couple of our trek mates, we left for Sonmarg, our base camp.
I had my jaw dropped already with the beauty I saw on our way to Sonmarg. I was saying “Wow”, “Beautiful”, “Amazing” every few minutes that one of my trek mate Sarang asked me if it was first time in mountains 😀 Whenever I am mesmerized by something, my inner child (the real me) comes out and most of the times I don’t realize how childishly I behave 🙂 We saw the Zero Bridge, an old wooden arch bridge that is built over Jhelum river. The hills covered with pointy Pine tree forest made them look so beautiful and Kashmir like. We were also shown Brich trees, Willow trees and Chinar trees by the driver. Though the distance is roughly 90 kms and it takes about 2 hours 40 minutes to reach, we reached Sonmarg a little before 6 pm, yeah, that late; courtesy a few more pick ups and lunch halt. The campsite overlooked the main town and was on the very mountain the trek started from.
Our extra luggage was to be taken away to the cloakroom in the local Bikat lodge. Though I carefully calibrated all the necessary items that I might need during the trek, I still missed one tiny item which made Ata-Ula-Khan run up and down the hill at least three times. I missed packing my LipBalm that I certainly needed to save my lips from chapping in the bitter cold but was a little embarrassed to ask any help for it. My little mention and this dear young boy Ata-Ula-Khan, who was one of our kitchen staff, ran down the hill to bring my bag back. I took my lip balm and he saw my crocs packed in the extra luggage and urged to take those along on the trek. I refused because I never used my extra slippers that I always carried. He insisted several times before taking the bag back for the cloakroom, to which I firmly refused. However, he did put a doubt in my mind. I kept on thinking about it and didn’t want to regret not carrying them and decided that I will carry them. So this sweet and extremely helpful boy, without flinching even once, ran down again to bring the crocs to me. When he brought those back there was another twist. I had no space left to pack them. This super kind boy took voluntarily and happily took the responsibility to carry them. He would always place my shoes in the center of the campsite upon reaching. By this time he was already calling me “Sister ji” 🙂 <3
It was a beautiful evening and after roaming about the campsite and soaking in the beauty of the place we all gathered for evening tea and snacks and introduction and debriefing by our Trek Leader, Sachin. Along with the introduction of our trek leader and all the trekkers, we were also introduced to our guide Mushtaq bhai and the kitchen staff. We were informed about the basic rules and next day’s itinerary. Later, we all spent the rest of the evening chatting and walking around. We had our dinner at 8 pm and went to sleep by 9 or 9:30 pm.
Day 2 – 7th July 2019
Sonmarg (9,186 ft ) to Nichnai (11,500 ft)
Distance – 12 kms
Except for a few rounds of cough, I mostly slept well. Just a week before the trek, I fell sick with a viral fever with a bad cough. Though the infection and fever was gone but the cough lingered. Despite being cloudy the morning was bright and sunny and we could all the surrounding peaks along with the Thajawas Glacier. Unlike Indiahikes, Bikat had a dry toilet even at the base camp. After the morning tea and freshening up, we had our breakfast, packed our bags up and were ready to go. Sachin made us do some breathing exercises and some warm up yoga. After giving some useful tips about ascending, descending and use of the trekking pole, we started our trek around 8 am. We started ascending up on the very hill our camp was on. On our way many children came to us asking for “Bishkish” and we had no idea what that was. We remained puzzled for a very long time until I realized that they pronounced “Biscuit” as “Bishkish” in their local accent. 😀
After a continuous ascent of about 1 hour, we reached a security check point. This checklist is managed by the army and it records everyone who enters or exits along with a thorough checking of the bags. Our (trekkers) bags were exempted from the checking and only trek leaders, guides, porters, kitchen staff was checked. Basically everyone’s who resides or works there. Once that was over we started ascending again and the climb got even steeper. After half an hour or so, we entered a forest where huge and sky rocketing trees gave us a grand welcome. They look like normal trees from far away but you realize how grand they are only when you come close. When we reached our resting point on top of the hill, there were trees that I have never seen or heard about. A shepherd and a few vey adorable kids were sitting under the shade of a tree and our guide Mushtaq bhai started talking to them in Kashmiri. I tired to start up a conversation with the kids. They were shy and spoke less but very cute nevertheless 😀
Inquisitive about the trees, I asked Mushtaq bhai and the shepherd about them. They both together told me their local names as well the difference between them. I have shown that in my vlog, if you might want to see. So, the trees were Budul (Himalayan Silver Fir) and Raee and the forest ahead was full of Birch trees. The bark of Birch trees known as “Bhoja Patra” was used as a paper in ancient times. Our scriptures were written on it. The bark has multiple layers that can be used as Bhoja Patra. Interestingly, Bhoja Patra is also used to fuel fire as I discovered it during the trek. We noticed a lot of trekkers returning and on asking we got to know that there was still a lot of snow and no batch has been able to go beyond Gadsar Pass. This got us really worried and we all prayed for the snow to melt soon so that when it’s our day, we could pass and finish the trek.
The break was over and we started walking again and after another two hours of steep and grueling ascent we reached a clearing and that place was popularly known as Table top. There was a dhabha here and it was a common resting point for every trek group. Some even camped here. We had our lunch and relaxed for some time. My trek mates Anshul and Yogi even took a nap! Watching them sleeping made me sleepy too but there was no time for it. We started walking again and after a very short climb we entered the dense and beautiful forest again. From here the trail was pretty gradual. After some time we came out of the forest and started descending. Mushtaq bhai showed us a snow patch far away down and told us that it was a frozen river and we will be walking on that. I was like, WHAT?! Then he asked us to look carefully on that snow patch and spot the tiny dots which we did and he told us that they were trekkers walking on it. I was more than excited!! 😀
That snow patch was just the top layer under which a river was flowing fiercely. We could hear its roar up above. As we descended closer, we saw that the snow had melted at some points and the river was visible. The white water flowing over huge boulders looked very beautiful! The roar of the river became even louder when we finally reached close to it and prepared to cross the slippery ice patch that covered it. Walking on the ice patch is not as easy as it might seem. Mushtaq bhai had to check which portion was thick and safe enough to be walked over. Given the high slipperiness of the ice patch it was likely that someone might slip and fall which could result in breaking of the ice patch if it was not thick enough to bear the pressure. That, could prove to be very dangerous. Mushtaq bhai instructed us to walk slowly and carefully place our feet right over the already present footprints on the patch. That was because the untouched part of the ice was hard and extremely slippery.
After a few steps I got comfortable and started filming and appreciating the beauty around. It was a long walk on the river before we stepped back on the land which after some distance led us to our first campsite Nichnai. There are a couple of small clearings with space enough for a few camps to set. Our camp was on the lower clearing and another batch had theirs on the higher one that was a little away from ours. The same white water river flowed a little below on the right. With mountains on each side and the beautiful view of the valley that we left behind, it was a perfect site for camping. A short spell of rainfall and the already beautiful view became even more gorgeous adorned by a small rainbow. There was a small stream flowing near out camp that was used as a water source. We all dipped our feet in the freezing cold water and gave ourselves a mini spa. Though it wasn’t possible to keep the feet in that water for more than 30 seconds but we did have a competition and the winner dipped it for about a minute! It wasn’t without the constant grunting and groaning 😀
We were only a very small group of 7 trekkers and 11 after including the Bikat staff. It could easily get boring in such a small group, however, the staff were such a jolly bunch of people who never appeared to be tired and always played some kind of sports. That evening in Nichnai we had a an amazing time playing Firsbee. This Firsbee was given to one of the staff members by a German trekker as a parting gift. That evening he had to sadly part with that Frisbee forever. It was quite windy and one big throw led the Frisbee into the river. Everyone went looking for it down by river, over the boulders but came back disappointed. It’s amazing how sometimes such a small thing like a Frisbee could affect people so much. All the staff members had an emotional bond with it and it was quite visible on their faces. It became even more windy after dark and therefore it got very cold. So we spent the rest of the evening playing some random indoor game which was followed by dinner. Star gazing post dinner is my usual activity and for me, it’s the best part of the day.
Day 3 – 8th July 2019
Nichnai (11,500 ft) to Vishnusar (12,000 ft)
Distance – 13.5 kms
“Good Morning Sister ji, aa jao Chai pi lo” a call from Ata Ula woke me up at 6 am. I reluctantly got up, opened the tent door and saw a bright and clear day. I finished my tea, freshened up and started packing my rucksack and sleeping bag. We were also taught how to pitch a tent but I don’t remember whether it was here in Nichnai or on the next campsite. This is what happens when you write the blog after a year of the trek, depending on your memory and no notes. 🙁 Anyway, we all had our breakfast, got our lunch packed, did the warm up yoga and left for the next campsite, Vishnusar around 8 am. We had to cross the same river by walking over the frozen part of it which was as usual, first monitored by Mushtaq bhai. A short patch was chosen which led to a short but near vertical climb. There was no trail as such and it full of gravel which made us struggle to get a grip to climb up. Mushtaq bhai helped us understand how to efficiently maneuver such a climb. He was an excellent teacher, so dedicated and so selfless. He probably made a mental note to teach us all that he knew. We could never have asked for a better guide!
We were going to cross our first pass of the trek on this day, Nichnai Pass. We walked over a series gradual ascents and descents where it was mostly green except for a few snow patches. We spotted a small lake with turquoise water far away at the foot of the mountain. It looked like a natural swimming pool! I would have loved to go swimming in it! 😀 After an hour or so, the climb for Nichnai Pass started and the green landscape turned entirely into a white one. There was snow all over, as far as we could see and it looked absolutely breathtaking! It actually worked as a much needed distraction from the difficult steep climb. Climbing on the slippery snow is certainly harder and at some places the trail became quite mushy where it had melted. After walking for an hour maybe, we were shown a yellow spot faraway on the top and were told that was where the pass was. It was the tent of a dhabha at Nichnai Pass and was called as Maggie point. We still kept coming across the trekkers returning from their unfinished treks and we were getting worried even more, praying for the best.
After some time the landscape looked like “No Man’s Land” with a 360 degree view of just white. With the yellow spot getting bigger and clearer, the climb was also getting more taxing. Just a few yards away from the pass I spotted a couple of very small beautiful blue water lakes/ponds. If I had some time in hand, I would LOVED to go there! They looked close but weren’t really. I breathed a sigh of relief and tiny accomplishment after reaching the top of the Nichnai Pass (13,—- ft) and went straight to the dhabha, unloaded my shoulders and walked around a bit trying to absorb the beauty around. I had a brunch Omlette and Kehwa. Shortly after, we all prepared to descend down and cover the rest of the distance. The descent from the pass was quite steep and Sachin and Mushtaq bhai had a unique plan for it. We were going to slide down!! Yes!! Since it was all snow everywhere, sliding down was way easier and faster than walking down. Plus, it was SUPER FUN! 😀
We must have walked in the snow for a little more than an hour, during which we had a little snowball fight too 😀 , when we saw the snow fading and the green landscape emerging. Descending in snow is much trickier than ascending, we tend to slip a lot. I must have slipped and fallen at least 4-5 times and once slipped at least a few feet down. Finally that stress was coming to an end when we saw the green grassy land approaching and from here on I spotted a lot of flowers on the trail. We also saw a small pond with pink water! The color was due to some water algae I suppose. This section of the trail had some stunning mountains and soon we were walking by a river. We crossed a few streams and stopped for our lunch break close to one of them. It was such a gorgeous spot! There was a huge waterfall flowing down those beautiful snow capped mountains with greenery all around us. The sound of the water filled the atmosphere with a strange tranquility.
Even the simplest of meal, that is not even warm, tastes delicious in a setting like that. Mushtaq Bhai made it even more interesting by serving us with some natural dessert. He dug up some fresh and clean ice, shaped it round, poured frooti over it and voila! Our very own snowball (बर्फ का गोला) is ready! We had so much fun having that. I guess I had at least three! 😀 That was not all! He had another unique dessert! He took a cookie biscuit, dipped it in the freezing cold water for at least 10 seconds and then made us have it. It tasted really interesting! Something like a cookie ice cream. I can remember the taste 😀 That was such a unique and amazing experience. You can watch this in my vlog. After all that fun everyone, except me, took a nap. It was so cold that I couldn’t even sit for long. Soon after, we started walking as we had at least a couple of more hours of distance left. The trail was fairly easy from there on offering some really breathtaking views.
We could see the tiny camps on a vast flat green land from a distance and we knew it was the Vishnusar campsite. With the campsite in sight we all relaxed a bit, sat down to appreciate the view for some time. There was a big water stream flowing next to the campsite coming from the mountains on our right. These were the mountains that the Vishnusar Lake was under. It wasn’t visible from here and therefore an excursion for the same was planned for the next day. I guess it was here when we pitched our own tents. The whole process was so exciting and fun. The first thing I did after throwing my bag inside was to remove my shoes and dip my feet in that stream flowing near by. The water was freezing but it was equally relaxing. There’s a reason I call it a mini spa 😀 The chirpy sound of the water was the melodious music for our entertainment.
With tea and snacks done it was time for Cricket! The big flat ground made an ideal place for this game. I must stress that people in Kashmir, LOVE Cricket. We played until it was dark enough to not spot the ball anymore and then we all gathered in the dinner tent to play Mafia. It was the first time I played this game. It was fun. Later we had our dinner and played some more Mafia 😀 Once that was over, it was time for my favorite activity, star gazing. Billions of stars twinkling up in the sky is something that we can’t see in the cities anymore. It was a moonlit night and yet we could see the stars so bright and clear. I could never miss this opportunity on treks. Around 9:30 pm, we all retired to our tents and went to sleep, however, I couldn’t sleep well at all. It was this night when my cough troubled me a lot. I was coughing deep and dry very much that day and Ata Ula even gave me a Kashmiri warm Kadha to drink but it didn’t help me much. I had a stuffy nose, unable to breath properly only to wake up several times during the night and the cough was terrible.
Day 4 – 9th July 2019
Vishnusar (12,000 ft) to Vishnusar Lake (12,172 ft) and back
Distance – 0.5 kms
My eyes were hurting when I woke up the next morning. I wan’t able to open my eyes and look up. I had to massage them a little and it took some time before I could life my eye lids up and see. My eyes were swollen. I freshened up after tea, washed my face and they got a little bit better. I spoke to Sachin about it and he told me that its normal in mountains. I was afraid if it being any sign of altitude sickness that I made sure I drank a lot of water that day. We had our breakfast and we left for our excursion to Vishnusar lake at around 9 am I guess. Since the lake wasn’t very far and it would not have taken more than 3 hours for us to visit and come back, we had a relaxed morning. For some distance we walked over a sort of marshy land before reaching a vast expanse of big boulders to cross. That was one of the most time consuming part. The water flowing through those boulders made them slippery. The small ones were still easy to traverse however the big and slippery ones proved to be tricky. In fact it was the same water that made the land we just crossed, kind of marshy.
A short climb after crossing the boulders revealed the first look of the Vishnusar Lake. From a certain angle the water gives a sort of mirror reflection. A few more steps and you will get a gorgeous view of the lake. Vishnusar Lake is a high altitude alpine lake at the height of 12,172 ft and is emerald green in color. A lot of water streams coming down from the surrounding mountains feed the lake. The entire view, lake, its velvety water, the snow capped mountains around, looked really breathtaking! banks of the lake were full of countless varieties of flowers! So many beautiful flowers, big and small, of such lovely colors that I had never seen in my life. I was quite excited and clicked loads of pictures. We walked along the lake and every different angle offered a beautiful view. I just couldn’t take my eyes of the various types of gorgeous flowers around! There were so many that it kind a made a bed of flowers! While walking the lake, we also crossed a sort of waterfall that was kinda tricky to cross. The water flowed very fast and the boulders inside the water were obviously slippery. We removed our shoes that were thrown away on the other side and then carefully crossed it holding each other’s hands for added support.
I didn’t wear my shoes back after crossing but went straight to the lake and sat there with my feet dipped in the water. Though the water was as usual freezing cold, it was still irresistible. Only a little mention from Mushtaq bhai was enough for me to actually go a little more further in the lake. I was standing in knee deep water high on excitement! Truly thrilled! We spent some time there and then we had to get back to the camp. There were two choices for us. Either we go back the same way we came from or we walk all the way around the lake. Mushtaq bhai and Ata Ula discussed and came with a decision that circumventing the lake would be a better option as the distance wasn’t much and it wouldn’t require us to cross the waterfall again. Little did they know that this decision will put them some stress later and that we will get a hell lot of experience and will learn a hell lot of things.
There was practically no trail as such ahead and so we chose to walk behind Mushtaq bhai carefully tracing his steps. It wasn’t much a problem until we started to climb a little with space just enough to stand on both feet. We had to figure out where to place our feet to get a firm grip and climb up huge rocks and boulders. Mushtaq bhai gave us some really valuable lessons here. When we reached the north of the lake, we got a very different and yet very beautiful view of the lake. We took a breather and in the meanwhile, Mushtaq bhai went down to pluck a few shoots of a plant that was growing on the bank close to the water. The bank was negligible with practically no place to stand and the water there was pretty deep. He was almost hanging dangerously over the ledge of the rocks to pluck those shoots. We wondered why was he doing so! Well, we soon got to know that the plant was called as “Vopalhaq” and it’s a local vegetable. Interestingly, it could also be eaten raw which he made us do! 😀 He peeled the stems and gave us one each and we chewed it, like he did. The stem was juicy and the taste was quite tangy. Watch my expressions while eating it, in my vlog 😀 It started drizzling shortly and got pretty cold. I didn’t carry my jacket that day and Mushtaq bhai forced me to wear his jacket. I refused so many times that I was alright and he should wear it but he didn’t budge. He took care of me as a little 5 year old girl but always said that I was very strong and can do anything in my life. Such amazing soul he is and I miss him very much. 🙂
There was no sign of any trail what so ever. We always had to figure out our way up and down the near vertical patch that was either too narrow to stand or too slippery because of water and gravel. We even crossed a very tricky small near vertical waterfall which had gravel so slippery that one wrong step and we would have slipped all the way down to the lake. However, this still wasn’t as dangerous as what happened next. There were two huge snow patches, again, near vertical and absolutely untouched. These snow patches were hard and slippery and we would have to literally carve our own trail out to cross it. Mushatq Bhai and I walked first. He taught me how to dig the snow using my foot and create the space to stand. We dug the snow and carved each and every step and while doing that I lost my balance a few times. It was extremely scary because if I fell, there was no way for anyone to save me. I would have slipped swiftly into the lake. When I reached the middle of the second snow patch and looked down, it was as beautiful as it was scary. I took my camera out and shot a video too! I was getting a little confident and better at carving the trail out but was careful nonetheless until we finally crossed it all and took a breath of relief. Rest of the trekkers followed those carved footsteps and crossed.
The remaining section was fairly better and soon we were on the south side of the lake and that spot was very beautiful. The lake looked very bright green in color. After taking a breather and clicking some pictures we started walking back to the camp. We weren’t in a hurry and we could see how relived Mushtaq bhai was for bringing us back safe and secure. We had our lunch, played cricket and other games in the evening. It was all great until Sachin came up with a serious discussion post dinner. It was about whether we should go ahead with the rest of the trek or turn back. He explained us the situation and the problems that we could face. The problem was that the snow still hadn’t melt from Gadsar pass and further which could mean that we might not be able to camp at Satsar, our next camp site. This would mean that we will have to continue walking to the next campsite the same day. The distance would be around 25 kms and we will be walking in the dark too. After carefully assessing the situation, everyone agreed to visit Gadsar Pass and turn back the next day. We were all very disappointed but it was nothing but hard luck. So, with a heavy heart, we spent some time star gazing and went to sleep.
Day 5 – 10th July 2019
Vishnusar (12,000 ft) to Gadsar Pass (14,000 ft)
Distance – 9 kms
I had the same trouble sleeping that night too. The cough was getting worse and my nights restless. I couldn’t sleep very well. Woke up with my eyes swollen and hurting, yet again. I was getting more worried and even my trek mates started to point their concern. It took at least 2 hours for the swelling to reduce a bit and the pain to go away. Anyway, getting back to the day. I had mixed feelings. I was excited to visit the Gadsar Pass but was sad that we won’t be going further. Following the same routine as everyday, after breakfast, we got our day bags ready with the packed lunch, sunscreen, poncho, caps, sunglasses and a water bottle. After some warm up yoga, we started the trek. We had to walk towards Vishnusar lake but not go down towards it, instead climb up north. We walked past the lake and it looked just as beautiful as we saw it the pervious day. A short gradual ascent brought us to steep climb over the boulders and here we saw something that we didn’t even imagine! We spotted a Marmot! It stood there watching us behind the boulders, gave just a little window of getting a shot. It was Mushtaq bhai who got me a better shot by going a little closer. Just a couple of seconds but totally worth it! 😀
We were soon climbing over a gradual ascent on a grassy meadow and later we reached a flat land that had Krishansar Lake on its right! Nestled at the feet of big mountains, the second lake of this trek, had bright green water and still had a lot of ice/snow covering it. It was getting cloudy and some peaks of the surrounding mountains were covered by those hanging below. The topography of that area changed from end to another. There were big rocky mountains on one side (towards Krishansar Lake) and rounded barren hills on the opposite. The glistening velvety smooth water of the lake looked very surreal. I just couldn’t stop looking at it. It was sort of hypnotizing! After spending some time at the lake we started walking for the Gadsar Pass. We had to climb a steep mountain at the north of the lake. The trail on this mountain was full of gravel. At some places small streams of water was flowing down making the gravel trail even more slippery.
It was during this climb that my cough hit me very hard. I was coughing deep and hollow and a lot, after every 10 steps and the climb was getting very difficult for me. So I had to take a breather every few meters to control and calm my breathing to keep my coughing as less as possible. All this time Sachin(Trek Leader) stayed with me walking just a few steps ahead. I resorted to slow and steady climb because the more my heart rate went up the more I coughed and it was terribly painful. It was around 3 pm???? that I finally reached on top of the Gadsar Pass. Almost immediately with the sigh of relief, I gasped on what I saw on the other side! The entire landscape, right from the pass and down below in the valley was covered with thick snow. There was such a stark contrast on both the sides of the pass! The side we climbed had barely any snow but the other side was all white! Mushtaq bhai and Sachin were sliding down the pass on the other side for fun. They were sliding in a standing position! I wanted to slide too but was too exhausted by climbing and the idea of climbing back again to the pass after sliding down, deterred me.
Gadsar pass (14,000 ft) really felt as if we were standing on top! As if, face to face with the surrounding mountains. The view on the other side was just stunning! A row of snow capped pointy mountains on each side of the valley made it look as if skyscrapers were standing tall on either side of a road. In the valley below were two lakes; Gadsar lake and Yamsar Lake. We would have seen them up close had we been crossing the pass that day. But alas, we had to satisfy ourselves from whatever view we could get from the top. The other side of the pass beheld another gorgeous view. Both the Vishnusar lake and Krishnasar lake were visible together from the top. They looked like twin lakes! They looked so beautiful together from the top that I kept staring at them for a long time. It was freezing cold up there and the strong wind was making it even more worse. We had our lunch up on the pass soaking in the beauty of that place and after spending some half an hour there we reluctantly headed back towards the Vishnusar Campsite. 🙁
Descending down a steep mountain full of gravel is tougher than climbing on it. Chances of slipping are higher and if the technique is not right, then one can end up hurting their knees too! Here, Mushtaq bhai gave us a lesson of our lives! He taught us how to properly descend and that too without the need of a trekking pole! He took my trekking pole and made me trust myself and my body more. I was descending faster and better! He even made me leave the trail and descend taking a short cut which I must admit was extremely tricky but I was able to do that! He said, you won’t find trails everywhere, so you must learn to create one. Soon we were walking on the flatland where Krishnasar lake is and we didn’t take the same route back. So we skipped passing through the Vishnusar lake and headed on to the way that led us straight to the boulders and streams near our camp. We reached around 4 pm and went straight to the river to dip our feet and knees in it! Ah! What a relaxation it gave! The natural spa was followed by tea and snacks and post which, we played some indoor and outdoor games, which was followed by dinner and then some more Mafia. Later, after the usual star gazing, we all went to sleep.
Day 6 – 11th July 2019
Vishnusar (12,000 ft) to Nichnai (11,500ft)
Distance – 13.5 kms
I had the most terrible night that day. I couldn’t sleep well at all. I fell asleep but woke up suddenly around I guess 1:30 am due to stuffy nose. I kept drifting in and out of sleep because of it and this triggered my coughing. Deep and hollow coughing made my condition even bad. I got anxious and started having palpitations. I somehow stayed inside the tent even when I wanted to run out to breathe. It was 3 am and I got a strong urge to pee but I didn’t want to wake anyone up. So, I controlled and stayed inside awaiting the first light. I tried to sleep but just couldn’t and finally at 4:15 am the first light was out and I rushed out of the tent. I went straight to Sachin’s tent, woke him up and narrated the condition. Mushtaq bhai, who was sleeping in the same tent woke up too. He asked me why I didn’t wake them up earlier! He accompanied me to the toilets and all the way he kept insisting that if something like happens again, I must wake them up immediately without any hesitation. Mushtaq bhai must have been younger than me in age but he took care of me as if I was a child. Such a kind and beautiful soul.
I came back to the tent feeling slightly better, tried sleeping again and thankfully fell asleep. After 2 hours of sound sleep I woke up and went through the usual morning routine of tea, toilet and breakfast. My eyes were swollen and hurting as usual which got better after a couple of hours. We packed out bags, warmed up and started our trek back to Nichnai. From the time I started walking I wasn’t feeling quite right. Last night’s condition was still haunting me. Within an hour of walking I don’t know why but I was too exhausted, felt extremely weak. I started to lose my focus and got dizzy. I even slipped and fell badly while crossing over a few rocks in a puddle. This was when everyone realized that something wasn’t right and they lightened my bag by transferring a few things in theirs. It was only after I climbed up the Nichnai pass, took some rest, had a cup of Kehwa and an Omelette, that I started to feel better.
We started descending from Nichnai pass and somehow, I felt absolutely alright! I had my energy and strength back and I was walking as if nothing ever happened! Within a couple of hours we were at the campsite. We relaxed at the stream passing through the campsite. We played a game of “Who can keep their feet dipped in the freezing water for the longest time” and it was super fun! Soon it was time for tea and snacks and after that we played “Ludo” on a mobile phone. We played some more indoor games pre and post dinner which included Mafia. At night, we gazed at the twinkling stars for some time and went to sleep. This night I finally got some good sleep.
Day 7 – 12th July 2019
Nichani (11,5000 ft) to Table Top (10,000ft)
Distance – 8 kms (approximately)
My morning was slightly better than the last 2 or 3 ones though my eyes were still getting swollen. We had learnt to pitch a tent at Vishnusar campsite and by this time we all were pitching and packing our tents ourselves. It was a very satisfying feeling, of learning something new and being able to do it independently. If you recall, we started our trek from Sonmarg and camped at Nichnai, but today we won’t be going straight to Sonmarg, instead we will camp at Table Top. This was to make sure that we return on the day we were supposed to, if the trek had gone ahead as it was planned. My Hotel booking at Srinagar also started from 13th July and therefore, I didn’t want to reach early and adjust another day of accommodation.
We started our trek after some warm up and crossed the same river walking over the frozen ice slab and ascended to the jungle above. After crossing the jungle we came to the point where could see the huts of Bhkarwal community down in a clearing below and that was where we were going to camp. The dhabha that we stopped over at the starting of the trek was just a few meters away. We pitched our tents and soon the kids came running and hugged Mushtaq bhai. It was such a lovely sight! They knew him so well! Mushtaq bhai, then asked one of the kids to get some “Noon Cha” for everyone. “Noon Cha” is a special Kashmiri tea which is salty instead of sweet and the tea leaves are also different. It sounded interesting and I didn’t know whether I was going to like it or not but I was excited to taste is at least 😀
A small boy soon came back carrying a saucepan filled with Noon Cha and we all had some poured into our mugs. My first reaction was “Hmm different”, second – “Interesting”, third – “Not bad”, fourth – “Hmm I like it!”. That was all the sips of tea I had 😀 I must confess that if I had more in my mug perhaps my reactions might have changed. Anyway, that was an experience nonetheless. We had reached Table Top very early and had a lot of time to pass. We played some games for sometime, chatted and then we all fell asleep. After an hour or so, we woke up for tea and snacks. This reenrgised everyone. Some played cricket, I chose to roam around shooting and clicking. It was a beautiful sunset that evening. Later, me and a couple of my fellow trekkers took a stroll till the dhabha and came back. By this time Mushtaq Bhai and another group camping near by were preparing for a bonfire.
Lots of wood was stacked and “Bhojapatra” was used to lit the fire. It burns so rapidly and spreads into the wood like fuel. Both the groups had a competition about whose bonfire was bigger and that was super fun 😀 We played songs on a BT speaker and danced the evening. Even the staff from the other camp joined us and evening was really well spent. Later we had our dinner, played Mafia, did the usual star gazing before finally going to sleep.
Day 8 – 13th July 2019
Table Top (10,000 ft) to Sonmarg (9,186 ft)
Distance – 4 kms
This day was going to be super easy. The distance wasn’t much and it would be a descent all the way, though a steep one initially. The day was bright and beautiful and we had a relaxed start. After the usual morning routine, we packed our tents and started our trek. The meadows around the dhabha at Table Top had horses strolling around and they were so beautiful! The pointy trees in the background and horses in the meadow made a canvas perfect Kashmir scene. It was after this point that we started to descend and it was a steep zig-zag one. The one that we climbed on the first day. After an hour or so we reached the clearing where we could see Sonmarg from, at a distance. Another 45 mins and we were standing exactly where we stood on the first day. It was an emotional moment. Everyone was hugging, getting clicked with each other, exchanging numbers, cards for future communication. We had cabs waiting for us to drop us to Srinagar.
That’s it! The extraordinarily breathtaking and fun journey came to an end. I was quite emotionally overwhelmed. I was extremely happy for all that I could see and cover but I was sad that it wasn’t in our fate to complete the trek this time. Obviously, I had made a pact to myself in my heart that I have to come back to see all that I had to miss this time. Mushtaq Bhai advised us to do this trek in August as it eliminates any chances of presence of snow. I am writing this blog in the middle of the Coronavirus Pandemic and praying everything to be back to normal just so I can rush to the mountains as soon as possible. Living through this pandemic has made me realize that doing this trek again should be my first priority. Nothing should remain unfinished and Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, certainly shouldn’t ever.
Here is the video that I made on this trek. I hope you like it and if you do, then please like the video and share it with friends and family. Do not forget to subscribe for more such videos!