Asia’s biggest Tulip Garden at Siraj Bagh in Srinagar, Kashmir is now open for the year. Normally the garden opens with the start of April. But this year it has opened a week earlier owing to favourable weather conditions. We can also say that because the winter winded up a bit early and it brought the spring before time in the valley, hence the tulips also started blooming early. Hence the garden at Siraj Bagh on the banks of the Dal Lake was thrown open for the tourists on 25th March, a week earlier than last year. These are images from the park from the first day itself.
Blast from the past:Tulip garden at heaven!Not all the bulbs have bloomed, still some to go. It would be full by the start of April. It is indeed once in a lifetime chance to see more than a million tulips of different hues and shades blooming at a place which we call as paradise on earth. But remember Tulips don’t have a big life. Flowers will be blooming just for 3 to 4 weeks. So, you don’t have too much time in hand, if you want to see them this year, or else you will have to wait for another year. Moreover heavy rains or too much of heat, both can also destroy the bulbs. So, sooner the better. Interestingly, this Tulip festival also marks the start of the tourism season in Kashmir valley.
Life in paradise! Read:Never a dull morning in the Dal!In just ten years, this garden has become darling of tourists and locals alike. It has become one of the must-see destinations of the Kashmir itinerary in the months of April. This year the garden has been extended to add other plants like Hyacinths, Daffodils, Narcissus and other ornamental plants. In this season 40,000 Hyacinth tulip bulbs have been planted at a separate terrace.
Love Kashmir? Read:Kashmir we know less about- Kheer Bhawani at Tulmul To add the beauty of the already charming landscape, additional green spaces are being created to attract more visitors to this garden overlooking world-famous Dal Lake. This year free wi-fi service has been provided inside the premises for the visitors.
Formerly known as Siraj Bagh this garden was rechristened as Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in 2008 when it was converted into a Tulip garden. It is located on the other side of the Dal where all Mughal Gardens are located on the foothills of Zabarwan hills. Chashmeshahi is close by.
First day… first show! Watch a video of tulips blooming this year on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below
Have you seen the tulip garden at Srinagar? How was your experience? Share it in the comment section below.
When it comes to last day of a trek, we often expect it to be a relaxed day, more so when it is all down hill. But don’t think so when you are on Kashmir Great Lakes trek. To my surprise, last day trek from Gangabal to Naranag actually turned out to be one of the toughest day of the trek.
Weather has been perfect accept for the first night rain. It has been bright and sunny. Well, it was known before hand that last day has to be steep descent. But excitement of finishing the trek did overcome the challenge. Moreover we didn’t expect it to be that tricky affair.
This is one of the trickiest descent I had faced in all these years of trekking. I will still not call it ‘the’ trickiest as I have kept that tag for trek from Chandaniaghat to Sutol in Uttarakhand during the Nanda Devi Rajjat 2014. That still sends shivers down my spine. Will talk about it some time later.
Gangabal is at an altitude of almost 11,500 ft and Naranag is at 7,450 ft. Thus it is a descent of around 4,000 ft. But out of this a steep descent of 3,000 ft has to be done in just last 4 kms of the trek on muddy, boulder filled route in the midst of thick of pines. It takes a toll on toes and knees to hold the body weight and keep hold of the slippery path.
Initially, trek doesn’t look so intimidating. Its a beautiful river crossing, with a very relaxed and gradual walk along the stream. Horses were packed with luggage and ready to move on path different from us, right through the valley.
After walking along the stream for a while, we leave it aside and move upto the ridge, on the other side of the Harmukh peak.
Its a beautiful view out there. Treeline at the far end, beautifully crafted green hills on one side, stream on another and majestic Harmukh peak on the back.
The route from Gangabal to Naranag is one of the busiest on the whole trek. Despite trek being tough, there are many adventure lovers going to Gangabal from Naranag for short trips, camping or just fishing fun. Actually, on this trek, this particular stretch has been in use for ages due to its mythological importance as well as natural beauty.
At the far end of the hill, just where the tree line starts, you can see a Forest Hut. This place is also ideal for camping, if while coming from Naranag one has got no more courage or energy left to go upto the Gangabal lake.
Even when we reach the tree line, we actually don’t just enter the forest straightaway. Still, for a fairly good distance we have to walk just along the fringe onto its right. Interestingly, we don’t loose much of altitude even till here.
We keep going up and down the trek, in and out of the pine forest for some distance. By this time, we will be encountering locals in a fairly good number. Some gujar villages are also there to be seen.
Almost after covering six kilometres we get a restaurant and it gives a welcome break with some kahwa, tea, biscuits and maggi.
The real descent lies in last four kilometres, that means after covering two-third of the distance. Its a muddy, rocky, slippery, trail right amidst the thick of the pine. It has to be covered very carefully. At time you start feeling for the ones going up to the Gangabal through that route. These last four kilometres almost seem endless.
Even when, we have first sight of the Naranag, it is no relief, as there is long distance still to cover. But you can always relax yourself by talking to the locals, enjoying the beauty, clicking the photographs and make the last day as enjoyable as possible. Its always good to take firm steps, even if you walk slowly. You can still reach the road head at Naranag by 3 pm.
Also have a look at the video of the highlights of the day’s trek on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-
Have you trekked from Gangabal to Naranag? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
After a satisfying fourth day, it was time to move towards the climax on the 5th day of the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. It was supposed to be the last day of climb. Satsar campsite is at an altitude of 12,000 ft and Gangabal campsite is at a an altitude of 11,500 ft but on the way we have to cross the Zach pass at an altitude of 13,400 ft.
Its climb right from the word- go. A steep fall on the left and cliff on the right. We had to cross through boulders and loose rocks.
Looking back at the Satsar campsite from bit of height.It is tiring though. Crossing boulders is always tricky and tough on knees. Reaching to another ridge.
Time to have some rest after having crossed most of the rocky terrain. Looking at those mountains make you you so humble.
Closer look at the mountains far on the other side of the valley with a stream flowing down.
Though flowering season has almost ended, but we could still find some smaller carpets here and there.
Also Read:Kashmir Great Lakes- Romancing the rains at Nichnai PassContemplating the moves! Looks like another peak to climb!! The ridge at the top is the Zach pass, the last high pass of the trek. It would be all down after that hopefully.And than climbing to the top turns out to be a feast for the eyes, when all of a sudden nature turns out to be a big canvas spread right in front of you (see the video below)
It is now descent of around 1400 ft till the campsite. Looks easy?Not so, if you see from this side… Mules on their way to the campsite at Nandkhol.It isn’t a straightforward descent as well. What we see is the first halt in a valley at the base of Zach Pass in this side. We can see some shepherd huts and a small stream flowing down from Gangabal lake.
Another view of the Harmukh peak in the glaring sun.
Reaching at the first stream. There is another small hill to climb, before another descent.
Time to relax, as we were aware that campsite isn’t far now.
The perennial trekkers for the company in this huge meadows.
The Harmukh Glacier that feeds the twin lakes. Glazing in the sunlight.
Whodunit? A rock as big as this one, cut into two pieces in the manner would have been due to hell of a happening!Finally the campsite on the banks of the Nandkhol lake. Looks so pristine! The man-made bridge to cross the stream coming from Gangabal lake towards Nandkhol Lake.Finally, the Gangabal lake an altitude of 3570 metres. This fish is home to many types of fishes including rainbow and brown trout.Joy of reaching the climax!July to August is the best time to be here. You will find more snow if you are here in June. You feel so calm and relaxed here.
Having visited the Gangabal lake in he evening itself, there was an urge to go there again in the morning. Campsite was at Nandkhol lake and it is almost a 20 minutes trek between the two lakes. So, quite determined, it was the early in the morning.Mules were getting themselves ready for another hard day.It was getting brighter on one side.And then, there were first golden rays of sun on the Harmukh Peak.
The 4th Day:A tale of seen Lakes – Gadsar to SatsarSun was very quickly to its full glow..Calm waters of Gangabal lake in the morning. But it was still not calm enough to get a clear reflection. You never feel like it is enough of the photographs. Its amazing that how nature keeps changing its colours. Kashmiri Hindus still come to this lake for many rituals or to pay homage to their ancestors. Locals often travel from Naranag to Gangabal for fishing or just a short trek.
Some tents at the banks of the Gangabal Lake.Reminiscent of what would have been a part of a pontoon bridge long time back. It looked quite astonishing as to how these extremely heavy pieces of iron would have been transported here. They seemed too heavy even for a mule to carry it. Its all bright, mules have had their green feast and everybody seems to be ready to move on the final day…You can also watch a video of this 5th day trek on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
Have you been to Kashmir Great Lakes Trek? How was your experience? Please share in the comments section below.
How often we trek and come across some very beautiful natural scenes as we have never seen before. But then there are few scenes which will freeze in your memories for ever. What, if such a view comes in front of your eyes all of a sudden, in a very unlikely manner.
That’s how it happens when trekking from Satsar to Gangabal during the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, we have to climb three ridges one after another in a tough climb. And after three hours of energy sapping trek we reach to the top of Zach pass at 13,400 feet (also mentioned locally as Gangabal Pass), and all of sudden a view opens up like a canvas- Harmukh peak right in the front and twin lakes of Gangabal and Nandkhol at its base. A perfect vista to fill ones eyes… so close, yet a bit far. What a fitting climax to a unbelievably beautiful trek!
You can watch the video of the last few minutes of trek, when this amazing view suddenly props up in front of eyes-
Have you been to Kashmir Great Lakes trek? Share your experience in the comment section below.
Having already covered the first three day, we move ahead to the next campsite. Fourth day trek is from Gadsar to Satsar. First two days of trek were without passing through any lakes but next two days were all about lakes. Third day, we passes as many as five lakes on the way including big ones like Vishnusar, Kishansar and Gadsar. This fourth day was also all about lakes. Actually name of the next campsite is Satsar which means seven lakes.
Trek thereafter is gradual and quite beautiful. It was a small climb though initially followed by a gentle ascend along the hillside. The climb goes on becoming smoother as we pass through a ridge covered with lush green meadows.
Second half of the day’s trek passes through a stream and than a couple of lakes. Once we leave this ridge and river valley and turn left we come across a large plateau with mountains to the left and a stream flowing on the right.
Its a flat trail through the meadows. There is another ridge far on the right side. River does have a rocky side and we can see a lot of boulders.
We had our packed lunch on the far end of this plateau alongside the stream, just before the start of another small climb towards a ridge, which houses another army check post. Thus it is second consecutive day of passing through an army check post. But this time the checking wasn’t as rigorous as was the previous day.
We cross the ridge to be on the other side and all of a sudden the landscape changes again. Its a tough walk through boulders. Now we approach what is first of the seven lakes of the Satsar region and the biggest one.
Calm and cool water of lake tempted a few of us to take a dip, but this isn’t advisable for all as the water is too cold and bodies are quite hot after a long trek. Jus be careful. This first lake also has a plenty of place for camping and the surroundings are quite picturesque. But we still had some trek left before reaching our campsite.
Trek further is bit tricky as there are a few ups and downs through rocky boulders on either sides of the lakes that we come across. Purportedly there are four to five lakes in a series on the route, all connected to each other.
But how much water you will find in them, depends lot on the season of the trek and also the weather. As soon as we cross last of the lake on this route, we have a small descent to the campsite on the right.
There is a stream flowing close to the campsite, but there is no lake here. This is Satsar campsite.
Having already counted four-five lakes, obvious curiosity was about remaining couple of them. Once at the campsite, we came to know about two other lakes hidden high up in the mountains on the opposite side of the campsite and to the left of the last lake that we passed through to reach the campsite.
It was another at least half an hour climb from the camp. Broadly easy trek all day through helped us in reaching the Satsar campsite well in time, hence we had enough time to go to the twin lakes. But only few of us were able to gather courage to go for a trek again after a tiring day.
We climbed upto the first of the twin lakes, only to know that the second lake was further up. It wasn’t far but the way was quite tricky, with huge boulders on one side and steep ridge on the other. Finally three of us mustered some strength to go up.
It was another 20-25 minutes of challenge but we were finally through and it was indeed worth every effort. These two lakes were also connected. Water from the first one will flow down to the second one and then overflowing water from the second one will turn into big water fall.
All these water bodies were being replenished with glacier waters. Both lakes were quite beautiful, just like a bowl in the lap of mountains.
Quite satisfied after enjoying the second lake, it was time to reach back to the campsite. It felt more fulfilling due to the fact that only three of us among the group of more than 30 trekkers managed to trek to the hidden lakes. We had seen the all possible lakes among the Satsar. It almost seemed like a mission accomplished, for the day at least!
With the perils of trekking in rain quite exposed on second day, third day turned out to be an absolute beauty. It started with a dose fog and ended with a light drizzle, but in between it was bright, sunny and extremely picturesque. After having completed the Kashmir Great Lakes trek, I can safely say that out of the six days of this arduous trek, third day’s trek from Vishansar (or Vishnusar) camp to the Gadsar camp is arguable the best- in both the respects- ease of trek and beauty of the trail. As a icing on the cake, the weather also remained favourable throughout the day.
It is only after the Vishansar or Vishnusar camp that we actually get to experience the lakes part of the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. This third day’s trek takes us from Vishansar camp to Gadsar camp. Passing through twin lakes of Vishunusar and Kishansar and to the Gadsar Pass which at an altitude of 13,800 feet is the highest point of the whole trek. There is an steep ascent till the Gadsar Pass and than a descent on the other side. After descending we pass through beautiful meadows laden with blue and pink flowers. Trek takes us alongside other two lakes Yamsar and Gadsar and through an army check post to the campsite. A paradise regained on the 3rd day.
It was so charming that it is worth saying just through the images. So lets take the day’s journey through the images.
It all started with dense fog all around, when we got up in the morning. With memories of last day still fresh, this fog was a mood dampener. Vishnusar Lake was bit away from the camp. Many of us who were late to reach the last evening were not able to go the lake as it had got dark. So in the morning many of us went to the lake but it was still misty around, as you can see in the image below.
But only satisfaction was that there was no rain. Hence there was hope that as soon as sun get bright, fog will vanish. And, it happened so. There was a small hillock between the campsite and the lake. Campsite was along the stream which originated from the Vishnusar lake. Here are the three images (below) of the campsite – first one in dense fog, second when it starts getting clear and last one when it is sunny, just before our departure.
While on the other side, mist also started clearing over the Vishnusar lake. As if a dream was taking shape…
So finally group moved on the trek with national anthem (below)
With sun shining everyone one was like in a dancing mood (below)
We had to cross the stream flowing along the campsite and then climb upto the other side of the Vishnusar lake. The lake had by now taken the majestic view (below)
One could feel the feet being reluctant to move ahead. The nature was taking another hue every minute and we always felt like looking behind and capturing the moment. As was this another look of the Vishnusar lake from bit high up (below).
After a brief climb there was a meadow just before the Kishansar lake which is roughly half kilometre from the Vishansar lake.
Kishansar Lake is equally beautiful. Both lakes are connected through stream. Kishansar lake is bit higher by almost 500 feet. This is also a glacial lake and water from this lake flows to Vishnusar lake through a stream. Kishansar lake (below) is at the base of the Kishansar peak.
Colours of water of lakes change as per the light and time of the day. As we cross the lake, the climb to the Gadsar pass starts. You can see the trail taking us to the top of the pass, but it in’t as easy as it looks from below.
As we were on our climb, suddenly there were hundreds and hundreds of sheeps following us up to the Gadsar pass and then to he meadows on the other side. These sheeps and the shepherds had camped close to our campsite in the night. Sheeps were in long queues on every trail leading to the pass (below).
While on other side, you can see the mighty peak shining with moon in the background in bright daylight (below)
Roughly after 45 minutes to one hour in the climb from Kishansar peak, you turn back and see the view which is one of the highlights of this trek- Vishnusar and Kishansar lake together. A frame which is photographers’ delight.
This fascinating view of both lakes together will last till we reach the top of the Gadsar Pass. So after the ascent is deep descent on the other side, but the view only gets better and better with many small lakes visible with meadows on one side and peaks on other (below)
The climb for the day is over and now it is a leisure walk upto the campsite. Just a shortwhile in the descent and we can see a lake which is called as Yamsar lake (below).
After some descent, we reach the meadows and the entire topography changes. We feel like having reached to the valley of flowers. You can see the entire stretch carpeted with small flowers- blue, purple, yellow, pink, white and all. These flowers growing out of green grass make it a fascinating sight as in images below
There are few more small unnamed lakes after Yamsar, but they all are connected to each other by a stream flowing down from one lake to another.
Looking back you can see the trail from where we came down from the Gadsar Pass and even the mules coming down with the bags and camping equipments (below)It is a trek worth enjoying each and every moment as these two fellow trekkers below are trying to soak themselves in
Even the mules are having some time of breathe before start of another descent to the lake belowFor trekkers, it is time to have some refreshment and packed lunch by taking rest alongside the stream connecting different lakes on the way
After lunch and some well deserved rest, it is time to make final push towards the camp, but wait… there is something else on the way. This is one of the most beautiful lakes on the trek- Gadsar Lake (below). Our next campsite is named after this lake, although campsite is another few kilometres ahead.
After spending some more time in the company of this lake, we move ahead towards the camp.
See the way, the stream is passing below the small glaciers on the way (below)
The valley widens as we move ahead (below)
It is like nature’s playing field, as vast as it can be (below)
Then there is final descent to the campsite. You can see the tents far down in the valley (below). First come few shepherd huts. Just before the campsite is a small army checkpost, where every person has to register themselves with full identities and a proof of identity. This place being close to Pakistan border, is considered to be highly sensitive. Besides authenticated identities, trekkers also need valid permission to trek in the region from authorities in either Sonamarg or Srinagar. Don’t forget to get it before you leave Sonamarg, although normally your trek operator will arrange that for you.
You can watch a video of the day’s trek on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
Have you been there? Please share your views in comments section below.
Trekking in rain might seem however romantic but it is quite challenging when you are up in Himalayas constantly over altitude of 11K ft and you have to cross a pass in chilling wind. In last almost two and half decades have trekked in rain at numerous occasions. However beautiful it might look in the beginning, but if it prolongs than it is certainly going to trouble. It does more to all those who are ill-prepared for the happening.
Well, continuing with the Kashmiri Great Lakes trek, second day trek was from Nichnai camp to Vishansar camp. Rain had started the previous evening even before we reached Nichnai camp from Sonamarg. It kept raining the whole night continuously. It was quite damp and chilly. It was quite certain that we won’t be having an early departure in the morning but on YHAI treks, likelihood of group overstaying is almost impossible as there is another group approaching the camp from down, hence earlier group have to vacate the camp and go ahead, until weather is so drastically poor to make further trekking virtually impossible. It wasn’t so, it was just rain and hence we had to leave the camp. We did that at 9.30 in the morning.
It was like moving through the clouds. It wasn’t raining heavily but still enough to give you the damp feeling, walking with raincoats and using sticks to be safe from slipping. But it was so chilling that you had to were the gloves, otherwise fingers were getting numb with freeze.
Nichnai camp is at an altitude of 11,500 ft and Vishansar camp is at an altitude of 12,000 ft but on the way we have to cross Nichnai pass at an altitude of 13,500 ft. So a steep ascent followed by a steep descend.
Normally the ascent to the pass should take around two and a half hours but surely not in rains. Than, in a trekking group, normally speed and stamina differs from trekker to trekker. It is imperative to remain close and let nobody be left too far behind. Climbing in the rain got so difficult that some of the trekkers had to wait for some ponies to unload their backpacks and send them to the next camp.
While looking from the Nichnai side, pass looks quite close but it isn’t so as looks are quite deceptive because what we see is actually the ridge quite below the pass. Initial climb after Nichnai camp is through the rocks until the river. After crossing the river, the boulders continue for a while and then path gets smoother as we get close to meadows.
Ascent is along the stream and no amount of rain was capable of hiding the beauty of nature around us. Streams, snow and small carpets of pink flowers here and there are good enough to mesmerise anybody.
Moving ahead, you can see some small glacial ponds. There is another lake at the foot of the mountain. It was first sight of any lake formation on Great Lakes trek, thus building the expectations of things to come.
It took more than four and half hours for the last batch to cross the pass. It was still raining and in between there were also hails making there way down to us.
Interestingly, I was able to get network on my mobile phone at the Nichnai Pass, last time till reaching Naranag on the last day. On the left of the pass are peaks covered with freshly fallen snow. Reaching from 7,800 feet to 13,500 feet in just one and half days of trek was no mean task.
Trek descends after the pass. And it gets more and more beautiful. Initial descend is through rocks but eases down gradually. You can even see a large waterfall towards your left.
Once the descend is complete, we reach to the river formed by the same waterfall and adjoining other streams.
We have to cross the stream and go to the other side to move ahead towards the Vishansar. Just after crossing the river is a dhaba offering some hot Kehwa and maggi, very refreshing after a tough trek.
After that, trek to Vishansar camp is beautiful through the wide green meadows and along the river. Its a pleasant walk between mountain ranges on the both side. Luckily, rain had also stopped by now, making the rest of day’s trek more beautiful.
It was a beautiful but tough day of trekking as most part of the day was covered in rain and hail fall. Otherwise moderate trek of 12 kms was made difficult by rains. Hence what could have been covered in six to seven hours was completed in eight to nine hours. But it was as if weather’s way to test our will. Here onwards, weather turned out to be good for the rest of the trek. Luckily all the charm of the trek was about to come our way from the next day.
Shashi Kapoor was certainly one of most watchable Bollywood actors of his times- pure grace and handsome to the core. Personally I had one great memory of this star, one of the lifetime, which I never had with anybody else. It was of watching him on the sets of a film. His passing away yesterday took me back to that incident four decades back.
It was summer of 1977 and I was in Kashmir with the family, my first trip to the paradise. I was quite young that time. Forty years have passed since than but I still remember it very well. We stayed in Srinagar, courtesy my uncle who was the commanding officer of the Army unit at that time. We had gone to Sonmarg, Khilanmarg and Pahalgam. Those were peaceful times in the valley. And it was during one of these excursions that we had a chance encounter with shooting of the Hindi feature film ‘Atithee’ (अतिथि). Film’s script or storyline had nothing to do with Kashmir, but as it was a trend during those days to shoot at exotic locations, hence Kashmir used to get fair chance of few shots in every other film. So, there was this scene being shot in the film.
Scene was between Shashi Kapoor and Shabana Azmi, the lead pair of the film. Being guest of the Commanding Officer of the Srinagar, we got the chance to watch the shoot closely. Actually this particular incident was so itched in my memory that I always remembered that particular dialogue which was being filmed- Shabana’s character says to the Shashi Kapoor’s character, “जब से मैंने फ्रॉक छोड़कर साड़ी पहनना शुरू किया है, तब से हर आदमी मुझसे अकेले में ही मिलना चाहता है” (..ever since I have stopped wearing a frock and started wearing sarees, every man wants to meet me in alone). It was all retakes and retakes for those couple of dialogues between these two. There were so many retakes that I forgot the count even. However fantastic a dialogue might seem on the screen, watching so many retakes on a shoot is rather irritating. But than, a director needs a perfect shot. It was a chance close encounter, first one with a star of his calibre… encounters that we cared least about when I entered into mainstream journalism, more than a decade later after that event.
Film ‘Atithee’ released in July 1978 in theatres, but I got to see it more than a decade later when it was telecasted on Doordarshan. I was so anxious to watch that particular scene on the screen and was really quite happy after that. Film wasn’t that big commercial hit as was his other films around the same time. Actually 1978 was one of the most extraordinary year of Shashi Kapoor’s career because his as many as 12 films were released that year, most in a calendar year in his entire career including much acclaimed Satyam Shivam Sundaram and Trishul.
Shashi Kapoor was so different in that movie (Atithee) than his usual self- in somewhat pencil moustache and a different hairstyle. That’s what I always loved about Shashi Kapoor, although being a romantic, handsome mainstream hero, he dared to be different.
He crossed boundaries like none of his contemporary greats tried to do. For all his superhit films, Shashi Kapoor’s bigger contribution is perhaps the way he gave life to Prithvi Theatre; the way he produced films like 36 Chowringhee Lane, Junoon and Utsav, and certainly the way he chose to act in films like Muhafiz, New Delhi Times, Siddhartha and the Shakespeare Wallah. He was also one of the earliest mainstream top stars to act in a TV mini series- Kissa Kathmandu Ka in 1986, where he played the character of popular Bengali fictional detective Feluda.
He was undoubtedly one of the first international stars of Hindi cinema… and indeed my first introduction to the world of cinema, as I don’t remember even seeing any film before that incident. Surprising!!!
Its is one of the India’s most popular ghost stories. I wouldn’t say that this story originates at most unlikely of the places, as it is one of the most wilderness of places you will come across. It can unnerve you and mesmerise you, both at the same time. But I will certainly say that I am interested in ghost stories only for sake of reading thrill, not at the point of believing them.
Those who have travelled to Leh from Manali by road will have certainly passed through Gata Loops and would have heard story about it. Now a days those who ride or drive on this road, do good research before hand and hence have a fairly good idea of the place. On Manali-Leh road, after you cross Sarchu, 24 kilometres later you come across a series of hairpin bends or loops popularly called as Gata Loops. These loops take you to a climb of almost 2000 ft upto Nakeela pass.
Actually Gata Loops are to Manali-Leh road what Ka zigs are to Shimla-Kaza road. Both are nothing short of engineering marvels. Ka zigs raise from level of Spiti river to Nako through various hairpin bends. Similarly Gata Loops start at 4201 metres or 13,780 feet and 21 loops take you to altitude of 15,302 feet. Both these roads have been created out of nowhere to get human access via road to most improbable of places.
But these loops are also part of India’s most popular haunted stories. Those who have been to this place might be well aware of the hearsay. I am just briefing it for the sake of those, who haven’t heard about it.
This story is about a truck cleaner who died here a lonely death when the truck broke down in increment weather and the driver walked to nearby village to get some help. Cleaner waited at truck to guard the belongings. But it was late October (as per stories) and no vehicles were passing through as behind that truck the Rohtang Pass (which provides vehicular accessories to Lahaul & Spiti valleys) was already closed down. Moreover snowfall had blocked all approach roads. Driver got stuck in the village for days. Hence the cleaner was left to fend for himself without an help, food or water which resulted in his demise. Stories say about his ghost still wondering around loops and begging for water to all passerby. Locals have constructed a makeshift temple where lies a human skull and believing the story people leave water bottles at the place.
But as always happens with the ghost stories, there are many versions and another version says about a tanker finding it difficult to climb the loop and driver asked its cleaner to get down and put some stones behind the wheels so as to stop it from rolling behind. But accidentally cleaner came under the wheels and seeing this driver ran away with the vehicle, leaving the cleaner behind left to die.
Nobody knows when these so-called incidents took place. Nowhere I have even read the name of that so-called village where driver went to get the help. There are no accounts to corroborate and it is surprising as by any means story would have been just a couple of decades old. Irony is, now there are hundreds of plastic water bottles scattered at that serene place.
I went biking almost end of the season on this route. I was pretty alone in the sense that I was biking solo and that particular time that stretch was devoid of any other vehicles. I captures whole climb of Gata Loops on video. But I was not able to see or capture anybody or any abnormal activity. Though interesting, it was hard for me to believe that story! I will tell you another thing, while returning back from Leh to Manali I crossed this particular stretch alone in pitch dark as I had decided to take the night halt at Sarchu instead of Pang. But still there was no ghost on the way.
Well, such stories might keep your travel interesting. But even without this story this particular stretch of road is quite fascinating for the views it gives while climbing up. I will say, it is actually a photographer’s delight to be here. You can just stop at every bend and keep clicking. Its amazing how the landscape changes as you climb, down from the river bed.
As with every part of this route, it is quite different in different seasons. End of the season in late September or early October would be without any snow but different colours.
Gata Loops actually takes you to a different topography, once you are through, towards what Ladakh is actually famous for.
You can just forget all the ghosts and wonder at this nature’s marvellous creation.
You can see a view point in the image above. It also works as a resting point for travellers after all the effort taken to climb the Gata Loops and enjoy some beauty, which they would have missed in all labour to climb up.
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-