One of the most beautiful upcoming treks in mid-altitudes of Himalayas is the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. Though being surprisingly fascinating, it has not been that popular within domestic adventure tourism sector. There were a few numbers of foreign trekkers coming, mostly for fishing in Gangabal, who use to go up from Naranag (Read: Kashmir we know less about: Naranag). Then there were locals who will go there for some fun. But this has now come up as a organised trek, which includes trek to six-seven lakes of Kashmir.
Base for the trek is famous hill resort of Sonamarg, which is around 90 kms from capital and the nearest airport Srinagar on the Kargil-Leh road. There are many places around the Sonamarg town to acclimatise for the trek and most popular among them is the Thajiwas glacier (Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Kashmir Great Lakers trek) .
First day of this beautiful trek in Kashmir is very challenging as we gain the maximum altitude from 7,800 ft to 11,500 ft in almost 9 to 10 kilometres.
Although it is a moderate climb but can be heavy for all those who are bit underprepared.
There is a gradual ascent upto Shekdur, which is also called as table top.
Actually last of the villages of the trek are around this table top only. You will not find any villages after that, but for couple of army transit camps and camping sites.
Gujjar-Bakkarwal villages are very typical, built to bear the harsh cold weather and snow.
Then there is a walk through forest which takes you to the other side of mountains into the valley.
Actually, shortly after the Nichnai Top, the tree line vanishes. Around the hill after top we found some trees in groove style, but as soon as we moved closer to the stream, trees disappeared. What was left were small bushes, flowering plants and grass.
Then there is a gradual ascent along a stream up to the Nichnai camp.
Fast trekkers can reach the campsite in around six hours, while slower ones can take upto eight-nine hours depending on the fitness level. It started raining just as I was half kilometre away from the camp. Couple of other trekkers were left behind me. We all three were walking together. Than I moved a bit fast to locate the campsite as all others had moved quite ahead. Rain become heavier as I reached the campsite and the two trekkers left behind had to take shelter in a shepherd huts. Our guide went back and brought them at the camp later.
No lakes on the first day, but good enough to prepare for days ahead.
You can also watch the video of the first day of my trek to Nichnai on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
It’s September. Seemingly best month to travel to Leh through this treacherous Manali-Leh highway. Best because of weather and the road conditions. Snow has melted around. But roadsides without snow also snatches away some of the thrills of this route, that one can experience in the months of June and July. But reaching here is never a mean task, more so if you have decided to travel all alone.
So, here I am at mighty Baralacha La pass, all alone. How it feels to be here standing lonely with not a living being in sight at an altitude more than half of the Mount Everest, with just your faithful bike to company!
Journey so far has been fascinating to say the least. At every step you keep feeling that how you have been longing to be here, inevitably. I already had a share of adventure on my detour to Chandratal.
Once you cross Keylong town, there is another small village Jispa on the way 20 kms from Keylong. Jispa is actually the last inhabited place before you reach Ladakh on this route. Though there are a few camping settlements and couple of transit camps also on the way. Jispa has also been traditionally popular among campers for first halt after Manali. Adventurers will prefer it over Keylong as Jispa is located along the banks of Bhaga river and is obviously more scenic than Keylong. Jispa also gives a high altitude acclimatisation as it is at an altitude of over 10,800 ft. As one of our fellow writers Ajay Jain from kunzum.com says that Jispa is more of a destination than just a halt on Manali-Leh highway. It Indeed is. You move ahead after crossing Darcha and reach Patsio. Darcha is more of a police check post where every vehicle has to make a entry before moving further ahead.
Patsio is also fast emerging as a camping destination. It is higher at 12,300 ft and there is a small glacial lake named Deepak Tal.
Between Darcha and Patsio are few running streams which have to be crossed. One of them just before Patsio is particularly tricky one to negotiate as the flow of water is forceful and it doesn’t lets you judge the stones and pebbles correctly. So, though it is not deep, but crossing this on stones makes it tricky and as happened with me, I got struck in the middle of the stream. It took me a lot of effort to pull my bike out, and that particular moment I thought… is it foolish to be all alone here!
Further ahead, the next zing of the route is truly Zing Zing Bar. Another of pit stops. Benefit of going in September is also that, you get less number of streams to cross, otherwise Zing zing bar is famous for one of its ferocious nullahs. It is a refuelling depot for BRO vehicles, but also has some shacks, restaurants and a few camps. The name of the place is still a puzzle form me. But mind it, that many places enroute have been named by the army troops in all these years.
And then you reach Suraj Tal, just below the Baralacha La. Suraj Tal is quite below the road and it is not easy to reach there. You need time as you have to trek down upto the lake and then come again to continue with the journey. Not feasible for all those who are on thorough trip to next stop over. But those who stay at either Patsio or Zingzing Bar can afford to go upto Suraj Tal. For some strange reason army has renamed the Suraj Tal as Vishal Taal in memory of an young officer who died in this region.
You can also watch a video of Baralacha La, Suraj Tal and Deepak Tal on my channel on YouTube by clicking the link below-
From Baralacha La the road goes down to a small settlement named Bharatpur. Roads and the weather are so unpredictable here that you never know, what happens next. What certainly is predictable is the beauty of landscape around. As we see in the images below.
Not everything goes as per the plan though. When I had left in the morning from Keylong, target was to reach Sarchu and if possible Pang. As happened with me when all of sudden after Bharatpur and just before Killing Sarai, I encountered a mighty landslide which forced an unscheduled night stopover at Bharatpur. A shack owner coming from the spot stopped me on the way and informed me about the incident. He also offered to come back and stay in his restaurant for the night. I still thought to see for myself and kept moving till the spot which was further one kilometre. Finally I could see it myself. That happened just a short while ago and workers already working on the road were miraculously saved. One of the JCB machine was buried under the rocks. I spent some time talking to the workers and photographing. I was told that there was no chance of clearing of the traffic before night. Bigger JCB machines were yet to arrive from Killing Sarai on the other side.
Turning back from the landslide, I reached back to the four shacks lined up side by side along the road. All of them were almost designed in similar fashion. Beds lined up on both sides in the front portion and then kitchen and store on the back. Makeshift pit toilets were on the back of the shack. River was further 50 metres behind.
Early close to the day gave me some time to roam around, enjoy the beauty, take photographs and also time to read, write and interact. As, soon the number of stranded vehicles had increased. It seemed that all the beds in all four shacks had already been booked up. That tiny camp site has been brought to life because of that landslide.
You can also see the video of this journey from Keylong to Bharatpur on my channel by clicking the link below-
One of the most beautiful places to see around Sonamarg in Kashmir is the Thajiwas Glacier. It is a favourite among picnickers and campers as it is far from tourist chaos of Sonamarg market.
Thajiwas glacier is located seven kilometres from Sonamarg. One has to trek upto the glacier from the road-head. It is lovely place to relax and enjoy.
But it is not just for picnickers . It is also for serious trekkers. Trek to Thajiwas is not a tough one, but it is one of the favourite treks for all those who have based themselves in Sonamarg and want to acclimatise for other high altitude treks around including the Great Lakes trek.
Those who don’t want to trek, can also take a pony ride to the glacier. Glacier is at an altitude of 9,186 feet. Trek to glacier goes through a serene valley with meadows around and streams coming from the glacier flowing in it. Song of these streams is what you are going to hear all the way along.
Those who trek to Thajiwas glacier to acclimatise themselves don’t take the road-head to get closer. As we did, most of them will trek from Sonamarg market itself. It is generally an easy walk.
But than many people will camp around the Thajiwas glacier itself. Mostly those who look for either some adventurous stay in camps or want to away from regular tourist crowd coming to Sonamarg. Operators will even arrange for some experience of glacier walks while you camp around Thajiwas.
Trek to Thajiwas passes alongside meadows and streams.
While on the way to glacier, you will also find many shops selling tea, kahwah, cold drinks and snacks.
There are many operators in Sonamarg, who organise trip to Thajiwas, whether you are interested in trek, pony ride, camping or glacier walk. You can easily find these operates in Sonamarg, and actually many will themselves approach the tourists.
The area around Thajiwas is covered with snow in the early days of summer. The white gives way to lush greens, as the temperature picks up.
Among the places near Srinagar, while Gulmarg is popular among skiers and snow-lovers, Sonamarg is more loved by those who enjoy rather serene nature with rivers flowing through lush green meadows. The meandering Sindh river is bound with trout and mahseer fish.
Sonamarg means ‘golden meadow’ and it is lovely slice of paradise which this whole Kashmir valley is. There are many other adventurous routes with amazing green water and frozen lakes in this region. Thajiwas glacier is just one of those routes, popular among trekkers.
Sonamarg is easily accessible from Srinagar city. You can also come directly to Sonamarg from Srinagar airport which is 87 kilometres from Sonamarg. The National Highway 1D goes from Srinagar to Leh via Sonamarg, Drass and Kargil.
Sonamarg gest inaccessible during winter months as roads get blocked because of snowfall. Work for an all weather tunnel from Gagangir to Sonamarg is already underway. Another tunnel is coming up under the Zozila pass (3528 metres), toughest mountain pass enroute Leh on this road. Once the tow tunnels are ready, Srinagar-Leh route will be accessible almost all the year round.
You can see a video of trek to Thajiwas glacier on my channel on YouTube by clicking on the link below.
Having completed the Chandratal mission, I had to be back to Leh route. So, it had to be the same route back till Gramphoo. But in place like Himalayas, riding on a same route gives you different feeling every time. Chandratal indeed was an accomplishment, a sort of dream coming true. But still, Leh was my destiny.
Gramphoo to Keylong is a straight forward route. But owing to widening or repair of roads, it has gone tough at many places, sort of dangerous at times.
There are numerous landslide zones on the whole route and, at many places either roads are being widening or repaired to prevent landslides. This is a vicious circle, as widening causes further adverse impact on hills and the ecosystem. Well, for riders and drivers, they are immediate challenge as well.
Clouds were chasing me as soon as I had left Batal. They finally caught me up by the time I reached Khoksar. But since my final destination for the day, Keylong was not far away, hence instead of driving in rains, I decided to take a tea and maggi break.
Roads are largely good after Khoksar till Keylong, except for some rough patches.
Before Keylong there are two another beautiful stopovers- one at Sissu which is now soon to get a water park close to Chandra River on the roadside.
And then there is Tandi, which is actually confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers which convert into Chandrabhaga or Chenab river and flow towards Kashmir. Tandi is 7 kilometres before Keylong and is also the last filling station before Leh. That’s the place where all vehicles will fill their tanks to reach Leh securely.
But overall an enjoyable ride, nevertheless. So lets go on this virtual ride to Keylong enroute Leh. You can watch the video of this ride from Chandratal to Keylong on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
Chandratal to Gramphoo: 65 kms, Time taken 4 hours 40 minutes.
Gramphoo to Khoksar: 5 Kms
Khoksar ro Keylong: 47 kms, Time taken just about 2 hours.
Total distance covered: 117 kms.
We will now move to more challenging and more beautiful ride ahead. Keep tuned in!!
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We are on a virtual ride to Lahaul & Spiti valley. Every rider or driver or adventurer enthusiast going to Leh or Kaza is very much keen to know about the road conditions on these arguably two of the most fascinating road journeys in the world.
Its a journey, everybody would like to embark upon. So, here is a first hand experience of the trip, which I have broken down into different segments, or we may say shorter distances to give a more detailed overview of the trip.
In the earlier parts of the journey, we have travelled from Manali to Gramphoo, then Gramphoo to Chatru and Chatru to Batal. Now after spending some time with Chacha-Chachi of Chandra Dhaba at Batal, we move towards Chandratal. Once we cross river Chandra after Batal, there is an uphill drive.
After a couple of kilometres, there is a diversion. Road uphill goest o Kunzum pass and then to Kaza. While road straight goes to Chandratal. Its is a pretty straight forward route after that along the Chandra river in the vast expanse of the valley.
Its a beautiful journey but road condition is pretty much the same as has been from Chatru to Batal. Its a bumpy ride to say the least with a couple of running streams to cross. Flow of water in the streams will depend on the timing of the journey. Enjoyable journey upto the camping area near Chandratal lake. These streams look quite easy ones but pebbles below the water sometime make it tricky to maintain the balance of the luggage loaded bike. SO one has to be extremely careful.
In my last post on this trip, I had mentioned that how tough the terrain is and how hostile weather can be here. With the interiors of valley difficult to reach, it makes the rescue operations in any event of crisis very challenging. Hence there is also a helipad and control station after Batal on way to Chandratal. But this one is across the Chandra river on other side.
You can watch the video of this road journey on clicking the link below:
Big flat valley provides an ample space for camping. First couple of camps actually are half a kilometre before the main camping site. Main camping site is right on the base of the uphill route towards Chandratal Lake.
Camping at an altitude of around 4200 metres is a fascinating experience.
Till some years back, camping site near Chandratal Lake had just one camp. Now there are many camps and more than 150 tents for adventurers to stay. They are run by different local operators though.
Tents are good, clean, cosy and with various size options. Operators also provide meals and breakfast. Most of the prices of the tents include stay with meals (generally breakfast and dinner).
You can watch the video of this camping site on clicking the link below:
This place is culmination for many treks as well as base camp for many expeditions to nearby peaks. Adventurers mostly come here to see Chandratal Lake. Many bikers will just visit the lake and then move ahead towards Kaza or Manali. I stayed here overnight in Tenzin camp and made two visits to lake- one in the afternoon and another in early next morning. If you stay here overnight, than you can also enjoy beautiful sunrise here in the morning, like this one-
Both these peaks are favourite among mountaineers seeking an experience of 6000 metre climb. These expeditions are also done from the Batal.
Having covered Chandratal Lake, now we will turn back on the same way upto Gramphoo and from there turn towards Keylong on way to Leh.
Dhauladhar ranges act like a natural wall for sprawling Kangra valley. This Himalayan range creates the beauty as well as weather for the region. Trekking here is an adventurous experience. Almost a decade ago, when I was here last time for the Triund trek, our intention was to spend the night at the top. That whole night there was almost nobody on the top, besides a group of foreign trekkers who had put up their tents on one side of the hill. We didn’t carry a tent and the forest department rest house was closed, and we had a tough time to arrange for a shelter for night. That night it rained very ferociously keeping us panicked and anxious whole night.
Though it is not a very old story, but it looked like so when I was there again, some days back. More so, because, everything around looks so changed except of course the beauty of the Indrahar Pass, which was still intact. Actually it looked more beautiful this time around weather was perfect, sky blue and the Dhauladhar ranges were covered with snow. On the Triund hill, there might be at least two hundred tents and more than 500 trekkers this time around. Although weather was clear, but it was still quite cold in the night. Even if weather would have deteriorated a bit, there was ample place to accommodate everybody. No problem of food as well, because there were fair number of small dhabas who were serving light hot breakfast as well as meals for those who wanted.
Another thing, what I enjoyed this time around was the hill ladder with red-pink rhododendron flowers. Actually this has been one of the big attractions for me to do some treks of medium altitudes during the late spring.
From March till May, whole of lower Himalayas around altitude of 8 to 10 thousand feet gets covered with rhododendron flowers. These flowers change the colour of the hills, as if adorning them with red jewels. In the hills of Himachal and Uttarakhand, we will normally find red or pink rhododendrons. As you move towards Sikkim, they get many more colours. Trekking in hills coloured with floral beauty is a magical experience and Triund gives ample of that.
In recent years, Triund has gained immense popularity as a short and easy trek. It is one of the top weekend treks for the adventure loving youth of nearby Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal and Haryana, etc.
Triund hill is located in Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh. Dhauladhar range form the southern part of outer main Himalayas. When we go to Dharamshala or Mcleodganj than Dhuladhar ranges look just like a high wall in the backyard. These ranges actually start from Kangra valley and the mountains rise all of a sudden in the vast valley. From here this range extends upto Kullu along the Beas river. These ranges cover almost whole of Himachal Pradesh and the peaks here actually form a border between Kangra and Chamba districts of Himachal Pradesh. Kangra valley lies in the North-west and Chamba towards the east. You can do the peaks in these ranges, either from Mcleodganj side or the Chamba side.
Triund is 10 kms from Mcleodganj and 18 kms from Dhramshala at an altitude of 2975 mtrs. Triund lies at the feet of the perpetually snow clad Dhauladhar range. It also forms the base for #trek to #Indrahar Pass via Lahesh Cave. After crossing Indrahar Pass, you can go down towards Chamba side. A moderate and enjoyable trek worth a trip in summers as well as in winters. The snow line starts at Ilaqa (3350 mtr), 5km from Triund. To have a rough idea about altitude- Dharamshala is at an altitude of 1400 metres and Mcleodganj is further up at almost 2000 metres. From there you trek upto 2900 metres for Triund top. Highest peak in Dhauladhar range is Hanuman Ka Tibba which has an altitude of 5600 metres.
Trek: Starting point of the trek to Triund depends upon your place of stay in and around Mcleodganj. Many people, mostly foreign trekkers will start the trek from there hotel itself. But the last road-head is ahead of Dharamkot at Gulu temple. Tracks from Rawa, Dal Lake, Dharamkot and Bhagsunag- all meet at this temple (alt: 2130 metres). Many people will take a taxi to reach temple and then start the trek. From here, trek is just around six and half kilometres to the top. Those who start from Bhagsunag or Dharamkot, trek for them will be more than nine kilometres. This temple has a shrine, a water point, a cafe and other shops.
Trek is easy to moderate and only at few points it rises abruptly. There is a well-laid mud trek till the top. There are many shops all along the trek serving hot and cold drinks, snacks and refreshments. At some places where trek passes through steep edges and falls, fencing has also been put to make it more safe for revellers, although it robes the trek of its beauty and adventure a bit. Its a beautiful route anyway, passing through pines, deodars, rhododendrons and more. Travel time to top depends on your speed and stamina. But then, why to hurry! Enjoy the nature around you and take your time. Even if you take it easy, you can reach to top in four to five hours from Gulu temple.
Stay at top: If you have arranged for the trek through a package with a tour operator, then it would obviously arrange for your tent stay and food at the top. But if you are going on your own, then you need to explore the stay options at the top. If you are carrying your tents, then there is enough space to pitch them. Triund has just one well constructed forest department rest house, which needs a pre-booking. Otherwise, there are many shops on the top. All of these shops have tents for the trekkers. They pitch them as required. You can stay there as well as have food. But Triund has scarcity of water, do keep that in mind.
There are many trekkers who will start early from Mcleodganj, reach at top by lunch time and after spending some hours there, will return to reach down before it gets dark. But those who have time, will stay there overnight. Some of them will also try to go to snowline early next morning and come back to the Triund by the brunch time and then start the descend. It is quite relaxing at the top in the evening.
You can have some lovely view of sunset from the Triund top, just like this one-
Or you can also try your luck in spotting some wild life. Monals and wild goats are frequent visitors around the hill, mostly in the evening or early morning.
Getting down: Mostly people will take the same route to come back. But there is another way along the ridge that takes you down. This route is smaller but bit tough and quite steep. This brings you right on the top of the Bhagsu falls.
While coming down this way, we found some trekkers going up this way. Many locals and foreigners take this way to the top, as it is shorter and without and chaos of trekking-tourists. But this route needs lot of stamina as it is a very steep climb in comparison to regular trekking route. Moreover, you won’t find any shop on this way. So one needs to prepare accordingly.
You need to reach Dharamshala or Mcleodganj to start for the trek.
Dharamshala-Mcleodganj are well connected by road to nearest railheads- Kangra (for narrow gauge on Pathankot-Jogindernagar line) and Pathankot (for broad gauge on Delhi-Jammu line). Kangra is 20 kms and Pathankot is 90 kms from Dharamshala. Dharamshala has an airport at Gaggal, which is 12 kms from the city. Major cities in North like Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar or Shimla have overnight luxury bus services to Dharamshala-Mcleoadganj.
If you just want to do the Triund trek, than it is better to stay at Mcleodganj. You have enough hotels to suit every pocket.
I was heading towards Chandratal lake. I had no intention to go towards Kaza as I had already travelled to Kaza some time back. From Chatru I had a very tough ride to Batal. As I said earlier, Batal is a very important stopover. Once you cross the river Chandra at Batal and move uphill, there is a diversion. One road further up takes you to Kunzum top and then to Kaza in Spiti valley. Another road takes you deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal. We will travel that distance next time. This time we are just talking about Batal.
Batal is located at farther end of a wide fat valley. Valley narrows at this point and then again widens up towards Chandratal after a few kilometres. It also gets important as there is tough climb upto Kunzum pass after here. Chandratal is also further 14 kilometres from here. Hence it makes a good resting point and have some food and fun. But it is also a good place to stay overnight.
Batal now has a few dhabas. Some time back there was only one- Chandra Dhaba. Actually Batal has now got associated closely with Chandra Dhaba, both of them have acquired a sort of legendary status. Chandra Dhaba, more so because of its owners Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo.
44 years is not a small period and this ever-loved couple fondly called as Chacha-chachi has been running Chandra Dhaba for last 44 years at one of the most difficult terrains in the world in most hostile conditions, weather and poor connectivity. Its not a mean business. They do it for the love of their work and this place. They have been providing adventurers- bikers, drivers, passengers, trekkers, et.al. with food and shelter for all this long in their very humble and jovial way. But not just this, they have also been helping and rescuing the travellers and adventures caught in sudden weather, snowfalls, landslides or any other emergencies.
This extraordinary couple is now part of many adventure folklores for decades and deservingly enough, have also been recognised with many awards, including Godfrey Philips bravery award. You can also a watch a video of a candid chat with Chacha Dorje Bodh by clicking on the link below-
Now few more dhabas have come round, although Chandra Dhaba still retains its premier status. In this region, all dhabas also double up as night shelters for the travellers. They are very handy for all those, who have to make emergency halts because of either getting late or adverse weather conditions. Travellers also make scheduled halts at these dhabas when they don’t want to carry tents with them.
These dhabas are descent place to stay. Mostly there will be beds inside the dhaba on one side, like a dormitory. Dhaba owners will be providing the sleeping bags and blankets. Since the dhaba and the kitchen will also be inside in the same area, therefore it will be cozy and warm in the night, while it would be freezing cold outside. Dhabas provide the breakfast and meals.
For all those, who love extreme adventure, there is plenty of place around to pitch tents and enjoy starry nights. Besides, there is also a PWD rest house in Batal, just opposite the Chandra Dhaba, and also some igloo shaped fibreglass fabricated forest huts.
Buses going from Manali or Keylong to Kaza also stop here for some time. Truckers with essential supplies of the region will always make a halt here. Actually earlier, when there was no road connectivity to Chandratal then, people will make Batal as the base and then trek to Chandratal. Even today, whenever that road is blocked, or just for adventure, people will trek for 14 kms from Batal to Chandratal. There are people who will take a bus from Manali, get down at Batal, trek to Chandratal and come back, and then they will either take another bus to Kaza or back to Manali.
Batal is at an altitude of 3910 metres and it is located in a very hostile terrain. This place remains inhabited for almost six months from April end to October end. Rest of the time it remind inaccessible and even reaching through helicopters might be tough task during winters. Even during so-called summer months of adventure season, occasionally there might be heavy snowfall leading to road blockades. One should always be prepared physically and mentally for any eventuality.
But once you are here the beauty of the nature only steels the resolve to go further.