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Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage!


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Yamuna river at Sayanachatti

When the District Tourism Officer of Uttarkashi, Prakash Singh Khatri told me that before taking us to Sayanachatti rest house in the evening, he wants to take us to a majestic waterfalls, enroute Yamunotri, which is hardly visited by anyone, I was thrilled. There were two reasons to get excited, having been to Kempty Falls in the morning, I desperately wanted to see some real waterfalls. Secondly, I wanted to explore the non-mythological aspects of this fantastic valley. That was also the brief for us during Uttarakhand Tourism’s first ever Blogger Bus in the state.

First view of the Narad Falls

Yamunotri has got all sort of mythological importance. It is indeed known as the source of river Yamuna. Although the actual source of river lies somewhere 14 kms up in the mountains, river Yamuna is worshipped at Yamunotri. Besides the mythology associated with the story of Yamuna itself, this place has many references to Mahabharata. Moreover, places like Janaki Chatti and Hanuman Chatti also associate this with epic of Ramayana. Every year, the annual Char Dham Yatra starts from Yamunotri and then proceeds eastwards to Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally Badrinath.

Narad Ganga river flowing down to Banas

But the charm of Yamunotri is not limited to this pilgrimage. There are many places around worth visiting, and above all, this also acts as a base for many treks in this region. Visit to Narad Falls (Narad Ganga) was actually just the prelude to the potential this region holds for the adventure seekers. I have trekked earlier in adjoining Tons valley. But both the valleys are well connected through trekking routes and also to other parts of state as well as neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

Closer look at the Narad Falls

Narad Falls on Narad Ganga river was very interesting. This river is a tributary of Yamuna and meets Yamuna at Banas, where the road diverts to this place. Banas is between Hanuman Chatti and Phool Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Janaki Chatti is hardly 5 kms from Banas. Trek to Yamunotri starts from Janaki Chatti. Falling under Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Banas is a small village in Naugaon block and also has a girls middle school. Mythologically Banas (बनास) is said to be a place which is abode of trinity of gods- Brahma (ब), Narayan or Vishnu (ना) and Shanker or Shiva (स). Well, you might not find too many references to it, its word of mouth and either you believe it or not.

Hot springs at Narad falls

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri!

Colour of water has been changed due to high presence of sulphur
You can imagine how hot this water from the natural spring is

Narad Falls isn’t very high but has tremendous force that makes it look very beautiful. It is hardly a couple of hundred metres aways from the main road leading to Yamunotri but it is slightly hidden off-route. Hence not many people take notice of it. It was also the first time, I was noticing any natural destination dedicated to mythological saint Narad. There was another phenomenon. The falls had a natural stream of hot water running along the river at this place. Hot springs are not uncommon in this Himalayan region. But they certainly add to the charm of a place. Here at Narad Falls, the hot water from the spring has also been mixed into the cold freezing water of river into a pond to make it suitable for taking bath. This small valley thus has a falls, a hot spring, a temple, a bathing pond and a small trek to the base of the falls—thus making it fit for a small adventure trip.

Temple at Banas
Another view of Banas temple from the Yamunotri highway

You can watch a video of Narad Falls and the hot springs along it on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

But this place is actually base for many bigger adventures. Actual source of river Yamuna at Saptrishi Kund itself is a tough trek of 14 to 18 kms from Yamunotri. Base for many of such high altitude treks is Kharsali village. This village also has a history. Kharsali is just across the Yamuna river from Janaki Chatti. Janaki Chatti is base for Yamunotri as last road head. Here the trek starts. During the Yatra season, Janaki Chatti is heavily crowded with thousands of pilgrims, ponies, porters and palakis and hundreds of vehicles parked there. For all those who are aware of this, Kharsali village provides a lot of relief as you can altogether skip going to Janaki Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Road to Kharsali takes a diversion from main road a kilometre before Janaki Chatti, hence you can escape the traffic jam that usually happens just before Janaki Chatti. You can park your vehicles at Kharsali and just cross a foot bridge on Yamuna towards Janaki Chatti and head to the trail to Yamunotri. Kharsali also has a few resorts to stay. 

Yamuna temple at Kharsali, this is the newer construction

Also read: World Environment Day – Where even the source is threatened

Front view of the Yamuna temple at Kharsali
Idols of goddess Yamuna at Kharsali temple

But there is lot more about Kharsali village. Locals take pleasure in claiming it to be the last Indian village on this side of the border towards China. But Kharsali is also known for its Yamuna temple. Every year in winters when Yamunotri temple is closed down, Yamuna is worshipped at the temple in Kharsali. On second day of Diwali on Bhaiya Dooj (भैया दूज या यम द्वितीया) Yamuna’s idol is brought down in procession to Kharsali temple. It is than worshipped here for next six months until Akshaya Tritiya (अक्षय तृतीया) when it will be taken again in a procession to Yamunotri temple. Kharsali also has s Someshwar Shani Temple. Shani (शनि) is said to be the Yamuna’s brother from her father Sun’s second wife. Shani temple at Kharsali is five storied and said to be 500 years old. 

Kharsali village

Kharsali is also the base for the proposed ropeway to Yamunotri. It also has a helipad which is used by helicopter services for Char Dham Yatra. On a clear day, you can view Swargarohini peak, Kalindi peak, Kalanag (black peak), Bandarpoonch range and few other mountains from Kharsali. Black peak is also said to be the source of Hiranayabahu river which meets Yamuna at Kharsali. Kharsali has developed itself into a trekking base with facilities for camping, porters, guides, equipments and lot more. Kharsali has many apple orchards as well as herbal gardens for traditional herbs of medicinal values. 

View of the Kalindi mountain range

Trekking routes

One of the most prominent trekking route from Kharsali is the one which links Tons valley to Yamuna valley via Bali Pass (4800 metres). This trek is done from both the sides. One can ascend either from Kharsali in Yamuna valley or  from Seema in Tons valley. Bandar poonch range is said to be source of another river Hanuman Ganga which meets Yamuna at Hanuman Chatti. From Hanuman Chatti, there goes another trek along the Hanuman Ganga river upto the Dodital. Kalanag (6387 metres) in the Bandarpoonch range is said to be the highest peak in Ruinsara-Yamunotri region. Normally this peak is done from the Osla-Ruinsara side. Seasoned old man Jayendra Singh Tomar of Kharsali village also told us about a beautiful trek from Yamunotri to Gangotri, This trek starts from Kharsali and goes through Sunapada, Mala, Sangasoo, Kanatal, Chaya Baamsaru, Dayara Bugyal and Bharsu towards Gangotri. A long but beautiful, unexplored trek. 

Sneak a view
Another view of the snow peaks on the way

So next time you think about Yamunotri, be sure that there are many things that you can do else than the routine pilgrimage to make your trip a bit adventurous. 

Have you trekked in the Yamunotri valley? How was the experience. Please share with us in the comments section below.

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Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri


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Yamunotri temple on the foothills of the Kalind mountain

Rubbing your shoulders against the ponies, fear of being hit by wooden sticks protubering out of palakis (पालकी), getting squeezed between rush of pilgrims on one side and rocky hillside on the other and a long tiring journey–nothing deters you from your faith that drives you to reach the Yamunotri temple on the foothills of Kalind mountain.

Janaki Chatti as seen from Kharsali village
Another view of the Janaki Chatti village during Char Dham Yatra season

Here faith sees no fear. And you have enough of motivation to do that, even if you are not a traditional pilgrim type–a breeze of fresh air, song of the river flowing deep in the beautiful lush green valley on your right and a majestic sight of snow-clad peaks of Garhwal Himalayas.

THE YATRA
Yamunotri is the westernmost shrine of this region. Hence it is traditionally the starting point of the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand which then goes to Gangotri and then Kedarnath and finally concludes at Badrinath. There is a pattern in this pilgrimage–you keep moving from west to east. Two of these Char Dhams are the source of India’s two most important rivers- Ganges and Yamuna, which themselves meet down at Sangam in Allahabad. Other two are dedicated to two of the most important deities which happened to be source of two streams of Hinduism- Shaivite and Vaishnavite, i.e. Kedarnath dedicated to Shiva and Badrinath dedicated to Vishnu.
Waiting for the riders
Also all these four dhams are at almost same altitude zone- Yamunotri being lowest at 3293 metres and Kedarnath being highest at 3553 metres. Factually speaking, all these four dhams have trekking routes connecting each other. No doubt, these would have been the travel routes centuries ago for the pilgrims until the roads came up. Not just the route, there are many legends connecting these dhams, few of them dating as back as times of Mahabharata.
View of the Kalind mountain in backyard of Yamunotri
But another existing fact of interest is that out of the two dhams with river sources, only Gangotri is accessible by road, whereas there is a almost a six kilometer trek from Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri. Similarly, in the other two dhams of deities only Badrinath is accessible by road, while Kedarnath has to be reached by a arduous 18 kms trek from Gaurikund.
THE EXPERIENCE
A lot has changed in this region after the devastating floods of 2013. Being in the same region, all of them had to face to fury of the nature. Immediate after effect was the reduced number of pilgrims. But these four dhams command such a respect in the Hindu mindsets that, five years down the line, the number of pilgrims coming for Char Dham yatra has reached back to the pre-2013 levels. We were told that as many as 7000 pilgrims go to the Yamunotri temple from Janaki Chatti daily.
Happy with what life gives. Two porters with their dolis
That’s how the palakis are carried on the four shoulders

Personally, rivers always fascinate me and honestly speaking I will try not to let go any chance to jump in the lap of nature. Hence an invitation from the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board to be part of its first ever Bloggers Bus was indeed a blessing in disguise. We were seven in all, four from Kolkata–Rangan Datta, Amrita Das, Subhadip Mukherjee and Anindya Basu; Namita Kulkarni from Mysore and besides me Swati Jain from New Delhi. (We will know more about my co-travellers in later posts. In the meantime you can click on their names to go to their lovely blogs). We travelled for six days in a bus in Yamuna and Ganges valley of Uttarakhand, exploring some so far unexplored areas. Yamunotri was the first major destination of the trip.

Walking trail alongside the valley
THE ROUTE
The trek to Yamunotri is a mixed bag. The trail is paved and has a protective railing towards the valley side throughout the trail. Although regular trekkers will find it easy, six kilometres is a no mean task at such altitude. At times it is steep enough to make you sweat and breathless, more so if you are not habitual of walking and being at an altitude of over 10 thousand feet. There are shelters every half kilometer or less. There are sitting places in these sheds. There is facility of drinking water and there are numerous shops on the way selling food, snacks and drinks. Walkers can even purchase a stick to support as a third leg. Down at Janaki Chatti, there is a well developed market selling almost everything of daily need.
Time to quench the thirst
Kalind mountain in full glory
Corns for the time pass!

There are other ways to cover the distance and most common is a riding a pony. You can hire a pony either for the round trip or the one way. Then there is a palaki where you are lifted and carried by four people on their shoulders in a seat. Then there is a doli, generally for kids and lighter people in which one people carries you on his back in a seat carved inside a basket. Now the problem is that everybody has to share the same walking trail to go and return from Yamunotri. At times and at certain narrow points the trail becomes quite crowded and there are instances of traffic jams, and even walking becomes tougher and bit of ordeal. Moreover, the cemented trail also becomes somewhat uncomfortable for the ponies and gets slippery. Imagine, there are around 2000 ponies at Janaki Chatti to take pilgrims to Yamunotri. But one thing for sure, despite few grims and whims here and there, everybody is fine with everything and considers it as a part of their journey to the deity.

THE SOURCE
Interestingly, just like Gangotri, the actual source of Yamuna river is also not at Yamunotri. As Gaumukh is further 18 kms from Gangotri, similarly actual source of Yamuna rives is said to be the Saptrishi Kund which is a small glacial lake fed be Champasar Glacier in the Bandar Poonch massif. This lake is said to be some where between 14 to 18 kms far from the Yamunotri temple at an altitude of over 16,500 ft. Saptrishi kund is also named so because of its mythological association with the seven great sages– Kashyapa, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Vasistha.
Bridge just after the Bhairav temple
Shelters for the pilgrims on the trail to take much needed rest
Time to move again with the crowd
Pilgrims from all corners of the country converse here
Views like this keep you fresh and energised

Treks to this place are very less and hence very little information is available about it. It might be bit tough but not impossible one. Actually this is indeed a very beautiful trek and legends connect it to even Ramayana and it is often said locally that this was the place where Hanuman came search of Sanjeevani all the way from Lanka. Not for the legend, but certainly for its charismatic beauty, I hope to do this trek some day. Legends say that the actual source of Yamuna being so tough to reach, temple to worship Yamuna was built down in the valley at the present site. As the secretary of the Yamunotri Temple Committee Kriteshwar Uniyal said to us, that it was impossible for the lesser mortals reach at the original source.

THE SHRINE
Yamunotri temple has three-four main parts. First one is the sprout in the rocks from where river Yamuna emerges. That is the place where the river is worshipped by the devotees ritualistically. The sprout is covered by a cage to protect it. Then there is a proper temple nearby which has three idols- one of the Yamuna, second one of the Ganges and third one too of Yamuna which is taken out during the procession and festivals. Between these two sites is a hot spring called as Soorya Kund (Yamuna is believed to be the daughter of Sun god). The water in this spring is so hot that it is used to cook rice which is taken back by the devotees as a Prasad (blessing). We have seen this phenomenon at many places in Himalayas.
With the uphill journey over, time to hand the palakis
Porters having time to rest after a tiring climb
Meanwhile these innocents wait for turn to go downhill again
Remains of faith polluting the river!!
Temple and the river flowing alongside
Where Yamuna sprouts beneath the rocks inside the shrine
The main temple of goddess Yamuna

Then there are also bath ponds for the devotees to take bath before the pooja where the hot water is mixed with cold water of Yamuna to make it more bearable. There are separate baths for men and women. Besides, there are numerous shops lined up selling food, snacks, drinks, prasads, offering and souvenirs. There are also few options of stay for the devotees who are late and might not be able to return Janaki Chatti before dark.

 
Fast Facts
1. Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri temple is a trek of 5.5 kms. A normal person will take 2 to 2 and half hours to walk down the trail.
2. Ponies charge 1200 rupees one way and a palaki 4000 rupees one way.
3. Travelers are normally allowed to leave till 5 pm in the evening from Janaki Chatti towards Gangotri.
4. There is enough of water and food available on the way.
5. There are also sheds for the shelter from sun, rain and wind.
6. Always walk towards the hillside to be safe as there are lot of pulls and push from various elements.
7. Avoid travelling in dark on the walking trail.
View from the bridge that leads to the shrine across the river
How to Reach
Yamunotri is located in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand at the far end of the Yamuna valley in westernmost Garhwal Himalayas. Janaki Chatti is the last road head. One can reach to Janaki Chatti by public transport i.e. buses or any private means- buses, taxi, personal cars, two-wheelers etc. All of them have to be parked at either Janaki Chatti or Kharsali village.
Walking back to Janaki Chatti
It becomes really crowded at times
Turning back for some lasting views
Meanwhile, he has found the best place to have a undisturbed power nap
A fulfilling journey comes to an end

Nearest rail heads are Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Nearest Airport is Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun. Dehradun to Yamunotri is roughly about 180 kms. Roads are generally very good up till Janaki Chatti baring for a few landslide zones. Route from Rishikesh to Janaki Chatti goes through Dehradun, Mussorie, Yamuna Bridge, Naugaon, Barkot, Syana Chatti and Hanuman Chatti. It is almost an eight hour journey from Dehradun to Janaki Chatti.

You can see a video of this trek to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you ever been to Yamunotri? How was the experience? Please share with us in the comments section below.
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Tibetan wood carving : Craft for the Art

Different types of Dramyin

Tibetan wood carving is a sublime art. Everything from Dalai Lama’s throne to incense boxes and Chemar bowls, has imprints of it. The signs of art of wood carving can be traced to as far as 7th century Tsuglakghang in Lhasa constructed during reign of King Songtsen Gampo. Wooden table paintings were also unique and popular during those times. That was said to be another branch of Tibetan art. Subjects and pictorial composition of these wooden table paintings are similar to those of thangka paintings. 

Two well-crafted and decorated dramyins

Beautiful wooden engravings have lavishly decorated the columns, beams, doors, windows, cross beam supports etc in Tibetan monasteries and temples. Even shrines, platforms for deities, altars, stupas and other ritualistic objects were usually adorned with wood carvings. It has also been used in decorating traditional musical string instruments…like Dramyins and Piwangs.

Passang Tobgyal playing a Piwang

Motifs normally used in wood carvings are similar to other Tibetan arts. Various types of flowers, mountains, clouds, other elements of nature as well as religious symbols are represented. Since in Tibetan Buddhism there is a typical style of drawing of every symbol, hence craftsman have to master the art of carving the vast repertoire of motifs and designs. Tibetan culture is so much influenced by Buddhism that although wood carving itself is not a religious art but many the motifs used have religious significance.

A craftsman working on an instrument

Though not a flourishing art, because the younger Tibetan generation has different choices, still there are some craftsman, giving their life and dedication to wood carving. Passang Topgyal is one of such master craftsman at Mcleodganj. He studied Tibetan traditional art of wood carving at Norbulingka Institute at SIdhpur in Dharamshala for six years and now designs many items including traditional musical instruments. Most of them go as souvenirs with foreign tourists to different parts of the world.

Passang’s shop and the factory attached to it

Playing such instruments is now limited to monks at monastic functions. Although there are attempts to improvise these instruments by modernising them in use, while retaining their traditional design and craft. For example Dramyins are designed also to be used as electric guitars. 

Musical instruments at Passang’s shop

Lack of patronage among the younger generation for the traditional music as well as the craft is posing a huge challenge for craftsman like Passang to keep the passion alive and rewarding.

Imprints of a beautiful art piece!

So next time you go to Dharamshala, don’t forget to visit Passang Tobgyal’s shop.

Where: Passang Tobgyal’s shop of Tibetan Wood carving and Musical instruments is near Dharamshala Cantt on way to Dal lake (in Naddi village) from Mcleodganj. It is approximately two kilometres walk fro Mcleodganj town.

You can watch a short film on Passang Tobgyal on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below.

Have you ever tried your hands on a traditional Tibetan musical instrument? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Embracing diversity with open hands, loving world my way!

Being born to a typical north Indian brahmin family is no mean task. There are many prejudices one gets to live with throughout their lives, there are so many strings attached and a long list of do’s and don’ts always hanging above your head. Many preconceived notions lay hidden under the skin and there is misconceived veil of purity always around. Everything making them misfit to be a world traveller.

We had been tourists since childhood owing to father’s railway job giving us privilege to travel and army postings of other relatives privilege to logistics. We were certainly not travellers. Sense of purity was always a hindrance to explore the world. There was indeed an ‘under the wraps’ attempt to ‘depurify’ us with an egg-curry by a then family friend but that didn’t help a lot. It turned out to be an pen and shut case. Things started changing only when I finally moved out of the house for my future endeavours.

Too good to be a food! Live food in Bali

But the first moment of truth arrived, when more than two decades ago, after completing a winter trek to Dalhousie and Kalatop, we decided to have a detour to Jammu and Patni Top. One evening after spending the day visiting temples of Jammu, we reached to a small restaurant for our meal. One of our friend wanted to have a chicken for food. Third friend was a brahmin and vegetarian too like me. He chose to sit on the other table, to not watch somebody licking a leg-piece. Somehow, I decided that I will not change the table and instead share the table with my chicken-loving friend. I not only shared the table, but also made no pretension to not notice him whatever he was doing. I enjoyed my dal-makhani but I also kept all eyes on his dish and actually enjoyed the way he was enjoying his food. That incident changed my perspective for good. It was a bold first step in direction of making me a traveller.

Too beautiful to be a food! Live food in Bali

I still had a long way to go. I was still a vegetarian and was still fighting some food prejudices. I can’t say, I have overcome them all, but I am sure I was on the right direction after that incident in Jammu. I remember that another day, too far at Sepang in Malaysia, where I was present as a sports correspondent to cover the inaugural season of A1 GP at the Sepang Formula 1 race circuit.

As an accredited journalist, I had the access to official food area. That was more than ten years back. After the Saturday free practice in the morning session, we were off to the lunch. And I had to admit that it was a huge shock for me, I had not been to any such place before. I had heard that Malaysia is a heaven for sea-food lovers, but I never expected to be at any place for lunch where all I could see around was crabs, prawns, and that too huge ones, hanging everywhere. Honestly, I was bit terrified at the onset, but than I worked upon my mind and instead of moving out to some other place for the lunch, I stayed there and managed my meal from whatever I could find for myself. I thought that incident to be as big as the Jammu one in my transformation towards a traveller.

Too cute to be a food! Live food in Bali

While I had adjusted to meat and chicken but fish was still a taboo because of its smell. That too was something for me to fight for. Time came for that too, when on a trip to Sri Lanka, we stayed for a night at Negombo. And our stay their also included a visit to the fish market in the early morning at the trading time. I still can’t believe I did that. But in an instinct I was inside the market deeper and longer than anybody else in our group clicking photographs while standing in the midst of piles of all types of fishes, prawns, oysters, crabs, and what not. And, to win a battle within, I didn’t even cover my nose. I kept talking to people in an attempt to know more about the market. But somewhere inside, I knew that I was doing it more for my own sake, to probably Say Yes to The World. And, I am glad, I did that.

Don’t you want to Say yes to the world? Why don’t you do it this way!

What was your moment of embracing this world? Please share with us all.

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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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Satsar to Gangabal : Photo journey to the climax!


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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.

How to prepare? Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes Trek

So, lets travel through the day’s trek in photos. Starting right from the first light of the day-

Its early morning after a wonderful night of stargazing. You just can’t imagine, how this sky looked like in the night. Its cold still, but all ready to move.

Its getting brighter and campsite is buzzing with early morning activities.

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

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)

They were indeed moment of pure joy. Everybody assembled on the pass with twin lakes in the background. Tricolour was unfurled and numerous pictures were clicked with every possible angle.

What was one of the best places to click an image of the lifetime… our guide stands here.

Harmukh Peak in its full glory. See hoe the snow cover its edges.

The view of Gangabal lake (also called as Harmukh Ganga) located at the foot of Harmukh peak, as seen from the Zach Pass. It is one of the most sacred places for Kashmiri Hindus.

This is Nandkhol lake at the base of Harmukh Peak, it is smaller than Gangabal, but is used more often for the camping.Also read: Paradise regained- As beautiful as it can be

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.

Light falls on the Gangabal lake and the whole colour of the nature changes once again.
Also read: Kashmir we know less about – Naranag

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.

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Rub your eyes to believe this amazing view!

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.

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A tale of seven lakes : Gadsar to Satsar

The best thing about six day Kashmir Great Lakes trek is that every day, you get a new landscape around and that prevents it from getting monotonous.

Early starters: trekkers crossing the glacier

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

Fodling up: Gadsar campsite

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.

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

The altitude for the day hovered around 12K feet. Trek starts by crossing a glacier and there is small climb after that. Albeit small, but it was first glacier to be crossed on the trek.

Looking back towards Gadsar from the ridgeside trail

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

Zigzag climb upto the hill top

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

Lonely at the top, well above the treeline, a tree stands alone on the ridge

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.

In no time we are at a high again
With the trail getting easier, the walking moves turn to dancing
Landscape to the right across the stream. See the waterfall emerging just from middle of the hill… amazing!

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.

Meadows on the left of the trail
The perennial trekkers giving us the company

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.

Turning left to the plateau, leaving the valley behind
Along the stream towards the lunch point. You can see the ridge in the front, across which will start the seven lakes of Satsar

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.

First of the lakes of Satsar

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.

First lake is the biggest of seven lakes of Satsar

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.

Meadows have now turned into big boulders

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.

We keep moving and passing by the lakes

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.

Lake on the rocks! Lake no…

There is a stream flowing close to the campsite, but there is no lake here. This is Satsar campsite.

First view of the campsite from the top of the ridge

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.

Early signs of autumn!

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.

That is the mountain in whose lap are hidden two beautiful lakes
Shepherd huts on the way up to the two hidden lakes. Far down you can see the Satsar campsite along the stream

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.

First of the two lakes… second lake is further up in the mountain in the bowl
View of the first lake from the other side (on the base of the second lake)

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.

Finally we reach to the second lake and you can see the glaciers around. This should be well above the altitude of 13K ft
An iceberg flowing in the lake!!!
In this image, you can see the tail of the first lake and the mouth of the second lake, although there is a difference in the altitude. I would have certainly liked to take a shot with both the lakes in same frame but for that another climb of half an hour was needed and that would have been tougher than all what was done so far

All these water bodies were being replenished with glacier waters. Both lakes were quite beautiful, just like a bowl in the lap of mountains.

View of the first lake from the height of the second lake

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!

View from the top. The peak you see on the centre left in the background is the Harmukh Parvat, base of which was going to be our destination of next day, a culmination of the great trek

Also read: Kashmir we know less about- Naranag

We could have enjoyed the views from the top for ever, but than the sunlight and clouds signalled us that it was time to be back to the camp.

You can also watch a video of this lovely day’s trek here on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you been to Kashmir Great Lakes trek? Share your views 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.