My first Kashmir Trek for five days was in the Tosa Maidan and the Greater Lakes in the Bugdam District. We started in the village of Khag Shanglipora where we met the porters and the horses who were tasked with carrying the tents, big backpacks and the food including live chickens!
Off we went into the dense forest which turned into a steep rocky path and after 3 hours we found the first level to rest in the clouds, it was wonderful. We proceeded down the stream and across the meadows to reach our camping spot based at 3180m altitude. The rain greeted us but the sunshine soon came out for us to lie in the sun on the green carpet of the meadows and take in what lucky people we were. We could see the stunning views of Haramukh Mountain, Kolahoi Peak and the Nun Kun Peaks into the distance.
Our guides told us we were the third group of international tourists on this trail as the land was leased by the military until 2014 and J&K Tourism (Jammu & Kashmir) was set up. It was evident we were a rare sight in these parts as the locals were very intrigued by us, the girls going to chop wood wanted to carry our small backpacks and the shepherds looked at us in disbelief.
The handy wake-up call by the horses and bright daylight got us moving to our next basecamp at 3920m. The 6 hours trek to basecamp wasn’t difficult, we were ascending higher which slowed down our pace. Endless beautiful views and the snow we had seen from lower down became a reality.
A local couple helped us find a perfect place to cross the stream, they were off to find medicinal herbs, the meadow is so rich in flora and fauna. At one point, sheep from all around the hills came rushing towards us nearly knocking us off our feet, I don’t think they see many other people to say hi to! Just as friendly were the two ladies who sat on a rock and sang us a Welcome song.
Once the sun went down, it was time to layer up. The temperature dropped, then the thunder started. It was quite something seeing the lightening forks behind the mountains but a little part of me prayed they didn’t strike by our tents. Poor horses were going crazy out there!
I got the shock of my life when I saw my face in the morning, it had swollen up with the altitude, definitely no selfies on that day! There were a couple of others in the group feeling symptoms too although mine was evident for all to see.
Our 5 hours trek passed the streams, over huge rocky boulders and green meadows to reach GaadtarSar I, II, III. Each alpine lake was tiered one above each other. Gaad means fish and Sar is Lake in Kashmiri, hence the name! We moved over the snow to check out DamamSar, about 800m in length, and a nearby lakelet. Their beauty is simply breath-taking. A shepherd told our guides that an endangered snow leopard was sighted in the night, it made sense why we heard barking dogs to scare them off the flocks of sheep (and keep us awake), mind-boggling to think what is going on outside the bubble of our tent.
The cooks in the camp ordered in mutton from a local shepherd as a treat for us weary trekkers. After I took a peak around the cooks’ tent, I can confirm this was halal meat for dinner, you can imagine what I saw!
The next morning, we set off over the running stream by our camp to make our way up the opposing, steep hill; a mix of rocks, grass and snow to summit over 4,100m. To reach the lake called Boadsar and the neighbouring lake, Pamsar, we traversed across many huge rocks and met many flocks of sheep and goats herded up by Kashmiri shepherds.
The weather changed from a cold start to warming up when the clouds cleared to reveal the lovely sun shining down on your back. This soon changed the higher we got, the layers of clothing were applied, taken off then reapplied until the rain hit. With all seasons in one morning, you’ll be feeling pretty smug if you’ve packed for this trek wisely. I was sure glad that I spent all that time before my trip geeking out on gear on sites like EffortlessOutdoors.com, I had everything I needed and it made all the difference in this climate. This was the most challenging trek for me with the weather and the higher ascent but I loved every minute!
In the afternoon, we headed back to original camp. Even though we were descending in altitude which should help, there were many ups and downs to deal with. After the morning trek, the 19km day was a challenge for this average hiker but the blue skies, striking meadows and snow-capped mountains made it all worthwhile.
On day five of our expedition, the camp was packed up for one last time to head back to the village of Shanglipora, only a small matter of descending that super steep mountain! We walked through low hanging fog that cleared as quick as it came and I felt pretty delighted to rest my feet at the village with a cup of kava tea in hand and reflect on what a truly memorable experience this had been… and then more thoughts turned to the shower I desperately needed when we arrived in Srinagar!
My experience of this Himalayan heaven with Trekkup truly lived up to my expectations and beyond. Kashmir, you will be seeing me again! ■
Words + Photos by: Vanessa Ball from Wanders Miles