Monday, October 29, 2012

Kashmir great lakes trek: Gangabal and Nundkol lakes

17th August 2012

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Today would be an eventful day for us as we would be seeing the last but the most picturesque lakes of Gangabal and Nundkol.

The days trek started with ascend to Zach pass. The initial path was strewn with bounders. It was basically jumping from one boulder to another.

While we were crossing boulders, the peak opposite to us was covered by pine trees. Amazing to see such a contrast.

The top of Zach pass was at the height of 13,500 feet. It took me little more than 90 minutes to climb up the pass.

Top of Zach pass
The view seen from the top of the pass was unforgettable. What a magnificent sight!! It was mighty Harmukh parvat with two lakes of Ganagabal and Nundkol at its base. A welcome respite from the tiredness of climbing the pass!!

Nundkol (at the left) and Gangabal lake
We sat there enjoying the scenery for more than an hour while people at the back took time to climb the pass. Here I must mention about “Uncle” of the trek. A retired person, he was doing the trek solo with couple of helpers to carry tents and luggage. He was limping but that did not stop his energy. He always started before us and walked at a steady pace and showed no signs of tiredness. Just before this trek, he had trekked to Amarnath cave (He was the only person in Amarnath when he visited!! But that is another adventure he narrated!!!!) . And he had planned one more trek in Kashmir after this. Amazing person!!

Harmukh parvat
If watched closely, two more lakes could be seen in the area. The lake on the right was a very high altitude.

Another lake was above Nundkol.

Climbing down was more difficult than I thought. It was a long walk which took us to the campsite next to Lake Nundkol.  We were now in the area frequented by trekkers. Couple of foreigners were basking next to their tents.

Since it was the last night of the trek, cooks were given rest and girls in our group took charge of cooking. An exciting evening, I must say!!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kashmir great lakes trek: Satsar lakes

16th August 2012

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It was our fourth day of the trek. Everyone was anxious hoping for weather to improve. With previous day’s experiences still fresh Organizers does not want to start the trek until the weather improves. The ridges had to be crossed again on that day which makes walk dangerous during rains. Horsemen suggest an alternate but longer route to avoid slippery stretch but we follow and wait policy.

The weather gods finally showed mercy on us. We jumped and cheered as the clouds cleared giving way to sunlight. That cleared our hurdles of the day!!

We had to cross Gadsar river and climb over the mountains on the other side. Thanks to a glacier bridge, river crossing was done in a jiffy. It was then walking along the shoulder of the mountain.

It would have been a daunting task to walk on these mountains if it was raining. With deep valley on one side and narrow path would make walking challenging and dangerous. But with great weather, it was a perfect heaven.

We found a flock of Himalayan griffon feasting on a dead animal.

There is an Army check post high up these mountains.

After climbing for an hour and a half, we reached a huge meadow. The beauty again cannot be explained but only be experienced.

Beautiful landscapes.

At the meadow was Rasbal, a hot water spring. It was flowing into the tunnel. Locals say it exits 200km away but I doubt it!!

At the end of the meadow was an Army camp. They were overjoyed to see us and welcomed us with hot water and chocolates. Being a remote area, they rarely see outsiders. We rested at their camp while our Ids were checked and verified.

After Army camp was Satsar Lake. As the name suggests it is a group of seven lakes. But depending on the season, we can only see 3-4 lakes.

Here is the second Satsar Lake.

And the third one. 

The progress was slow as the path was rocky. The camp site was just after the last Satsar Lake. It was next to a stream surrounded by rocky mountains. Adjacent to these mountains were hills with pine trees. What a contrast!!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Kashmir Great lakes trek – Crossing treacherous Gadsar

15th August 2012

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It was Independence Day. But the trekking group will also remember that day for a different reason!!

When I came out of the tent at 5AM, the scenery outside stunned me. The mountains covered by clouds provided a beautiful backdrop across the stream. It had rained heavily during night stopping just before the daybreak.  According to organizers, the days trekking would be long and difficult. Rightly so as we would be crossing Gadsar pass at the height of 13,750 feet highest point of the entire trek. The rains would make trekking even more difficult.

Things were not so rosy when we started our trek. The gloomy weather appeared to play spoilsport of our plans. By the time we reached Vishansar Lake, it had started to drizzle. From Vishansar, a steep climb of about 500ft brought us to Kishansar.  The drizzle had by then turned into downpour.  It was a pity that we could not enjoy the beautiful Kishansar Lake. We had to wait for a while for other to catch us before proceeding further.  A few shots are fired from my camera from the shelter of Altaf’s umbrella.

Vishansar lake
As streams were abundant in the trail, we had made a habit of carrying very little water. But at Kishansar Lake our guide Altaf tells that the next source of water would be found after we cross the pass. To reach the water in the lake we had to take a deviation of about a km which most of us hated to do. An irony that we face paucity of drinking water when it is raining heavily!! Only Sachin goes to the lake to fetch water. I hope that my water reserves can be sustained till Gadsar pass.

Kishansar lake

The path to Gadsar pass went right next to Vishansar Lake climbing up several hills and disappearing at the shoulder of a hill. It was steep.

In general there was nothing for me to worry about the rains. Armed with raincoats and bag covers, there was no chance of being wet. But it was the nature that we need to tackle. Troubles started as we started climbing Gadsar. The path to Gadsar was steep and narrow. On one side was a steep drop to Kishansar and the path was just wide enough to keep our two legs together. The worst part was that it was muddy and slippery.

I and Naveen were at the leading the group. I suddenly slip and fall down. I scramble to hold on to the grass and somehow come back to the path.  I find myself not able to control the walk. Put one step and my legs start to slide. It would not be an issue on normal roads but here was the steep drop to lake where we cannot afford any wrong doings. Each step had to be taken with almost caution.

We see Aravind (not me) slipping at the same place where I slipped. But he drops down a couple of feet and shouts for help. That was a scary thing to watch. Altaf comes and rescues him but he slips again leading to panic in the group. Equally alarming was when the horse carrying our tents falls down. It survives miraculously. It was then sent back.

By now it was clear that the main path was not usable. People started climbing wherever they can walk leading to confusion and chaos. Looking at the situation, I felt that the day’s trek may be cancelled and we return back to the camp at Kishansar. So I asked Naveen not to walk up. The entire group was struggling down.  We wait for 30 minutes but none of the team members come up.  Amit who is the organizer of the trek comes and asks us to move up. We would be continuing our trek, he told.

During such times all forgotten Gods come to the mind!!

I and Naveen start to climb up further. We were slipping at each step. It was sad that I could not take any photos of such difficult scenes. One reason was the rains that were continuously lashing but it was my hands completely covered with mud and slush that made me unable to use camera.

We reach a major slush point where Naveen struggles to keep from falling. If he is finding it difficult to balance then I can never control the fall. So, I decide not to take that path but climb up directly. It was a steep climb of more than 70 degree slope. But at least there were some plants which I could hold on unlike on the main trail where nothing would stop you from falling down. I walk and crawl on all four and hold on to plants wherever possible.

The dangerous stretch had ended. Muddy path had given way to stony one which was easy to manage. But in all those difficult time, the nature was still at its best. The two lakes were now visible together. That was a scene to watch.

Vishansar and Kishansar lake
It was a moment of joy when we reached the top of Gadsar pass. But it would not remain for long. Since we were at the top, there was no escape from the winds blowing from all directions. It is not good to stay for long pass on top of the passes. But unfortunately we had to wait for other people as we were the first ones to reach the top. One of the horsemen asks us not to get down as we could lose our way in the foggy weather.

With shivering cold, I sit behind a rock hoping it would save me from wind. My fingers were stiff due to cold and I could not feel any sensation. It was definitely not a good idea to stay there any longer. How small we are in front of nature. Few weeks ago, I had climbed Dolma La at 19,000 ft easily thanks to nice weather. But Gadsar at 13,750 feet was proving to be difficult to handle.

The last stretch of the pass
After waiting for 30 minutes, we see Subbu and Aishwarya coming in. Our cook also joins and gives us an alu paratha. That was the best thing to happen in that inhospitable weather. Now that the stomach is taken care of, we start with descent. The descent from Gadsar pass starts with an icy patch. Fortunately for us, the descent was gradual. While the path was still slushy and slippery it was safe as we would fall on the path itself. 

Climbing down Gadsar pass
Three lakes could be seen from Gadsar pass. The lakes appear nearer as we start descending the pass. The first lake was called as Yamsar. 

Yamsar lake
The second was a lake without a name!!

Finally the Gadsar Lake. It was the most beautiful lake that we saw during the trek. What made it stand apart from the rest were the ice parts floating on it, the glaciers and the carpet of flowers around the lake.

Gadsar lake
The walk was long and tedious. Reaching the elusive camp seemed to be eternity. Hours and hours of walking brought us to a small army camp. Here we had to register our name and show our ID cards. The army men were friendly and helpful.  Our camp was few minutes away.

It was 4PM when we reached the camp. All we wanted was to pitch the tents and settle down. That had to wait as the horse carrying our tent had fallen down in Gadsar pass. In the mean time, cooks prepared hot tea and noodles.  The last batch came at 7PM. The days trek had taken a toll on all of us. It was evident y the absence of the evening activities like anthyakshari and mafia. But in spite of such adverse conditions everyone had come out unscathed.