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When getting down becomes the toughest part : Gangabal to Naranag

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.

Also read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes Trek

Nandkhol Lake in the backdrop of Harmukh peak

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.

Time to pack up for the journey.

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

Looking back at the tents, which were our shelter for the night.

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.

Stream that comes from Gangabal lake and goes down to Sind river

Also read: Romancing the rains at Nichnai Pass

Route along the stream

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.

Saying goodbye to the last of the higher camps of the trek

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.

Horses crossing the stream, but they were supposed to take a different route from us

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.

Stream goes down to the valley

Also read: Paradise regained- As beautiful as it can be

There were few boulders on the way, but they were easy to negotiate.

Climbing up the ridge through boulders

It was a beautiful view on the other side of the ridge. There were signs of reaching close to the civilisation, as we could see shepherds, flocks of sheep and some women from the nearby villages.

On to the ridge, you can see hundreds of sheep spread in the meadows.

Also read: A tale of seven lakes- Gadsar to Satsar

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.

A panoramic view of the right side of the trek

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.

Also read: Satsar to Gangabal- Photo Journey to the climax

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.

Treeline and a forest hut

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.

Curious looks of the cow give enough indications of the village close by

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.

Entering into the pine forest.

Almost after covering six kilometres we get a restaurant and it gives a welcome break with some kahwa, tea, biscuits and maggi.

Also read: Kashmir we know less about – Naranag

Ever changing vista of the route

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.

First view of the Naranag

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.

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Paradise regained : As beautiful as it can be!

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.

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- Romancing the rains at Nichnai Pass

Kishansar lake in full glory!

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.

Also Read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

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…

Also read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for great lakes trek

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.

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Kashmir Great Lakes : Romancing the rains at Nichnai Pass

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.

Assembled to take off!

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.

Also read: Thajiwas is perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes trek!

Off go the trekkers!

 

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.

Looking behind! You can see the Nichnai camp in the background at the edge, just before the clouds!

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.

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes – First day trek to Nichnai

Starting the ascent to pass

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.

Weather looks like getting clearer but it was not to be so

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.

Walking along the stream

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.

Taking turns and turns to reach the pass

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.

After crossing the Nichnai Pass. You can see the trekkers down in the valley

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.

Also read: Naranag – Kashmir we know less about

Descending the Nichnai Pass

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.

A beautiful waterfall.

 

Trekkers enjoying taking a breath and few snack after a tough climb

Once the descend is complete, we reach to the river formed by the same waterfall and adjoining other streams.

After completing the descend

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.

Crossing the river

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.

Walking in the meadows
As if a gladiator has cut this rock in two pieces with his sword!

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.

You can watch the video of highlights of this trek from Nichnai to Vishansar on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Feel free to share the post, but not so free to cop and paste.

Have you done this trek? Share your views in the comment section below.

Kashmir Great Lakes : First day trek to Nichnai

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.

Trekkers on the way

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.

Thajiwas glacier as seen in background from the Nichnai trail.

Although it is a moderate climb but can be heavy for all those who are bit underprepared.

You can see the Sonamarg town below located on the banks of Sindh river
Trekkers coming up from Sonamarg
Its a beautiful way upto the top with lots of green

There is a gradual ascent upto Shekdur, which is also called as table top.

Its a well laid out trek, as there are a few villages of Kashmiri gujjars who regularly move up and down
Table top is a mid of the trek resting place, a big meadow.

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.

My fellow trekkers enjoying some rest at table top.
…but this inhabitant kept looking towards me in a strange way…

Gujjar-Bakkarwal villages are very typical, built to bear the harsh cold weather and snow.

A gujjar village near table top
A gujjar hut meant to bear cold and snow as well as store items

Then there is a walk through forest which takes you to the other side of mountains into the valley.

Another look at the table top from the top

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.

Last of the trees, that we would be seeing on the trek.

Then there is a gradual ascent along a stream up to the Nichnai camp.

Looking back: Trekkers coming along the stream from the table top side.
This stream goes down and meets the Sindh river near Sonamarg.
Being deep inside the valley, it isn’t so hot here. That is the reason that even after harsh months of summer, we can find ice glaciers here along the stream even at this altitude
Two more small glaciers along the stream on way to Nichnai camp
Looks as if somebody has made a slant cut in this huge rock by a powerful sword!

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.

Getting closer… You can see a white sopt in the middle of the picture at the base of the hill on left, that is our campsite… You can also see some trekkers moving ahead of me

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-

 

Roopkund : Mystery under the watery grave!

It is one of the greatest mysteries of our times. It has been chronicled so much by historians, sociologists and scientists, alike that one can find internet abuzz with the different stories and theories. Hence makes not point for me to try to tell the history, at least not more than this that lake is usually called the ‘Mystery Lake’, since centuries old human skeletons and remains of horses are found here. By most accounts, these skeletons are almost 1200 years old. But besides this, Roopkund is also one of the most fascinating treks in Uttarakhand Himalayas, so much so that it always ranks among the top 10 treks in Indian himalayas. Hence it was always in my wish list for years, that ultimately got fulfilled.

Roop Kund7

Roopkund in this reference also becomes a mythological place and it indeed has quite religious importance for the region. This lake is located at an altitude of 5029 metres (16,499 feet) making it an high altitude himalayan lake. But lake is not big though. This area is uninhabited, surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow clad mountains, making it a very popular trekking destination for both summer as well as winter treks. Area remains covered under snow for most part of the year from November to April. Even in summers, we can find glacial snow around the lake.

Trek to Roopkund might be popular but is not easy though owing to altitude as well as rough weather and tough route. Roopkund is situated in Chamoli district of Garhwal, in the lap of Trishul massif. Deep virgin forests, gurgling rivulets, breath-taking campsites and miles of surging meadows gratify the soul of adventurers. The region is dominated by Mount Trishul (7120m) and makes for another pilgrim for the faithful Lord Shiva devotees, on the walk up to the lake we camp at the Himalayan meadows of Bedni Bugyal & Ali Bugyal and cross the Roop Kund ridge which is a an extension of one between Sutol and Wan and forms the divide between the catchments of the Badni Ganga and the Nandakini River. Nanda Rajjat Yatra that takes place once every 12 years also goes to Roopkund.

Roopkund can be trekked from many routes. You can take Lohajung- Didna Village- Ali Bugyal- Ghora Lotani-Bhagwabasa-Roopkund-Bedni Bugyal-Lohajung route. Lohajung can be accessed by road easily. But its a challenging but very enjoyable trek.

Owing to its mythological and religious importance, many locals come here to pay homage to their deceased elders as well.

Roop Kund3

Roop Kund16

The highlight of the lake are the skeletons indeed. We can find bones strewn around. Though these bones are of historical and archeological importance, but being at such a tough place, there is no way to regulate how people coming here treat these bones. The popularity over the years have drawn many adventure tourists from around the world to this place. But once here, these bones become things to play for them. In these times of selfies, many tourists pick the bones and put them at convenient place to take photographs. Weird and spooky, but that’s how it is.

But at the end, a place worth a visit for every body who loves trekking. Overlooking the Roopkund is Jura Gali pass, a high altitude pass to crossover to the other side towards the Homkund or the base of the Nanda Ghunti and Trishul peaks. Many trekkers will cross this pass after Roopkund on the lines of Rajjaat Yatra.