Spectacular mountain lakes, large, green valleys and impressive rocky peaks made the Great Lakes trek in Kashmir one of the most beautiful treks we’ve done. Every day of this 7-day trek in the Indian Himalayas gave stunning views.
Since the trek requires tents, we joined a local trekking company’s group trek. There were 15 trekkers in total, including trekkers from India, Poland and Australia. Over the next 7 days we got to be good friends and gained a lot of valuable information about India for the rest of our trip. For details on doing this trek click here.
Our first campsite was at the start of the trek near the town of Sonemarg. We spent this first afternoon exploring the nearby hills and got a glimpse of the incredible valleys we would see in the coming days. The next day we started trekking up rolling, green hills where we saw a few nomadic shepherds’ rustic, summer huts.
Near these huts is the 1st of 4 army checkpoints. The trek passes close to disputed territory with Pakistan. A few Pakistan-funded Kashmiris are unhappy with India’s rule and want to separate. Some of these separatists are violent so the army is there to keep an eye on any disturbances. We didn’t see any signs of this and didn’t feel unsafe, until the last day of our trek. Continue reading for these stories.
The trek continued up wide valleys to reach Nichnai Pass (4100m) by the second day. From this pass we had amazing views of the high snowy peaks of the Indian Himalayas.
On the second night we camped near the 1st Great Lake, Vishansar with Krishnasar peak reflecting off its glass-like water.
After Vishansar we saw the 2nd Great Lake, Krishnasar. These two lakes are named for the Hindu gods Vishnu and Krishna. We had a breathtaking view of both lakes from Gadsar Pass (4200m) above the lakes. Walking down the wide valley on the other side of the pass, we saw the 3rd Great Lake, Gadsar with its hanging glacier draining into the lake via a gorgeous waterfall.
In July, the valleys are filled with many different types of gorgeous alpine flowers. They provided even more beauty to the area. As well, the grassy valleys provided ample food for the grazing sheep and goats of which we saw many.
On day 4 we had to check in at another army check point. There were 5 soldiers with large guns at this check point which was a little unsettling, but they were quite friendly. They actually recommended a short side trip to see another amazing alpine lake.
Our campsite that night was in a picturesque rocky cirque. Across the valley was a stunning waterfall being fed from one of a group of 7 lakes called Satsar Lakes. It is often a very cloudy area, so we frequently had interesting cloud formations to view. We hiked up to Satsar Lake in a low, misty cloud, but when the clouds lifted for a few seconds, we were rewarded with a great view of the lake and the mountains behind.
Our last campsite was at the edge of the 5th Great Lake, Nundkol. A 10-minute walk away was the 6th Great Lake, Gangbal named after the goddess Gange. Both of these glacier-fed lakes are popular sites for locals to visit. While setting up our tent we met a group of young men from Srinagar. They seemed friendly as we spoke with them in broken English. After dinner, however, they started chanting the names of martyrs and loudly singing separatists’ songs. The Indians in our trekking group recognized the martyrs’ names. It was quite unnerving to be so close to these angry, young men, but there were no incidents and they were probably trying to scare all of the Indian campers.
The final day was a rainy descent over green hills leading to a steep, muddy trail through a forest of birch, fir and pine trees. The trek led to the small town of Naranag where there was an ancient temple ruin that no one knew much about. It did have a lot of stone lingams which are popular in both Hinduism and Buddhism.
We had a 1 ½ hour drive to return to Srinagar. After 30 minutes we were warned about stone throwing rebels ahead, so we rolled up our windows and were nervously looking outside. Between the heat of the day and the high anxiety it was getting pretty hot in the car. When we finally came to the stone throwers, our driver got out and walked towards them. He explained to the rebels that we are foreigners so not to throw rocks. One of the rebels ran down the hill to see us. He was only 12 or 13 years old and yelled in Kashmiri that he hates Indians. Luckily the 6 westerners were in the first 2 rows and the 2 Indians from our groups were far in the back of the jeep and he didn’t see them. The rebel kids dropped their rocks and let us pass. We later learned that it was Kashmir’s Martyrs’ Day. Unfortunately, these last 2 incidents put a damper on our trip, but over all it was a great trek and we still recommend it to other trekkers.
Coming up next: Markha Valley in Ladakh
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