Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kashmir great lakes trek: Vishansar lake

14th August 2012

Previous posts:

It had rained slightly during night. Weather was still cloudy when I woke up at 6AM. This was what I saw when I came out of my tent.

We had to cross to the other side of the stream. The frozen ice on the helped us to easily reach the opposite side.

Then the climb to Nichnai pass started.

Near the pass was a small lake. It was a preview of the things to expect in the coming days!!

We climbed on the side of the waterfall (Not the one near the camp) to reach the top of the pass (or so we thought).

But then we found that we still need to climb higher!!

Finally after two hours of climb we reached the top of the pass.  It was 12,500 feet above sea level.

Other side of the pass was an icy slope with steep descent. We took a long time to cross this stretch. Our guide Altaf showed us the way to walk in ice to avoid slipping.

Now we knew why Himalayas were beautiful. The valley after Nichnai pass was filled with flowers!!

So much variety and it was a treat to our eyes.

Carpet of flowers.

A waterfall on the way.

The meadows were simply beautiful and the walk was long but pleasant. I never felt the tiredness.

We were walking at the backdrop of a mighty mountain.

The campsite was next to a stream.

In the evening we went to Vishansar Lake. We had to cross the stream and walk upstream. The stream itself was originating from Vishansar Lake.

Vishansar Lake.

When weather turned windy, the reflections were all gone!!

Vishansar Lake seen from the top.

It was a beautiful day. But there is something called “Calm before storm”. Next day would be the toughest day of my life!! 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kashmir great lakes trek: At Sonamarg

12th August 2012

I never thought that I would be going for back to back treks in Himalayas!! Having never done any serious trekking in Himalayas (Expect for the short ones at Yamunothri and Kedarnath), the sudden splurge on Himalayas was surprising.Lot of people thought that I was insane and crazy. Even sometimes I was thinking so!!

While the trip to Manasa Sarovar was the result of long cherished dream and extensive planning, the trek to Kashmir was completely in contrast. It was during our “Kaveri river trek” that I, Subbu and Srikanth decided on this trek.  All that I was looking was for a way to spend the long weekend during August.  I had no ideas about this trek but the word “Kashmir” itself was convincing. Within couple of days Aishwarya, Naveen and Sharath joined us.

What is this trek?
As the name suggests, this trek is about some of the most beautiful lakes nested in the higher reaches of Kashmir region of Himalayas. It starts from Sonamarg, which is at the base of Zozila and goes though Kishansar, Vishansar, Gadsar, Satsar, Gangabal and Nundkol lakes not to mention about few unknown lakes that dot the beautiful landscape. The route ends at the village of Naranag. Beauty of the trek is that you will never walk on the same path twice!!

Deviation to the base camp at Sonamarg

Day 1
We were the first ones to reach the basecamp at Sonamarg.  It was an exhilarating experience to see the camp next to the pristine Indus River.

We spent some time photo shooting the meadows near the camp. Other team members had arrived by the time we came back. We spent time in getting to know each other.

A large glacier seen from the camp. I had to use a zoom lens to get a closer shot.

Day 2
Today is the starting day of the trek. As the sun rose, our spirits were high.

Initial climb from the basecamp.

It was a continuous climb on the meadows.

As we climbed higher, Sonamarg and Baltal was visible.

A lone tree that has passed its prime.

After steep climb of two and a half hours, we reached the top of the meadow. It was a plain land with some huts.

The difference in speed between the first group and the last was enormous. Hence we had to wait for nearly an hour before everyone reached the place.

The trek was then downhill passing through forests which finally led us to the base of the valley.

This was Nichnai stream and the rest of the day’s trek was along the stream.

It was a gradual ascent on the left side of the stream. Looks easy but it was the most difficult part of the day. We were already tired and hungry and looking for a place to rest and relax.

Few ice patches were still left on the river.

Finally, we reached the campsite at 2PM. It was taken us about 6 hours from Sonamarg. The altimeter showed 11,000 ft.

Nichnai stream was next to our camp site. On the other side was a waterfall.

Unfortunately, the ponies carrying our food and tents had not arrived. So we had to wait for some time before everyone and everything turned up!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

12. A journey into Tibet – Back to Kathmandu

July 2012

Previous posts:

A journey into Tibet - Kailash Manasa Sarovar
1. A journey into Tibet - At Kathmandu
2. A journey into Tibet – Mountain flight
3. A journey into Tibet - Manakamana
4. A journey into Tibet - Kathmandu to Nyalam Mu
5. A journey into Tibet - Rest day at Nyalam Mu
6. A journey into Tibet - Nyalam Mu to Zhongba
7. A journey into Tibet - Zhongba to Manasa Sarovar
8. A journey into Tibet - Manasa Sarovar, Darchen and Ashtapad
9. A journey into Tibet – Kailash parikrama from Darchen to Derapuk
10. A journey into Tibet – Kailash parikrama from Derapuk to Zutulpuk
11. A journey into Tibet – Kailash parikrama from Zutulpuk to Darchen and back to Zhongpo
July 2012

We started from Zhongpo at 6:30AM.  It was still dark but Sherpas had woken up early to prepare tea and breakfast. What better hospitality we can ask for? Their service was unmatched and will be remembered for long.

A destroyed fort near Saga
The town was completely silent when we left Zhongpo. After about 2 hours of travel, we reach the town of Saga. Here driver and guide decide to stop for breakfast while we roam around the town. The town seems to be in construction and renovation mode. I avoid taking photos as there are major military establishments. I think I should mention some precautions to be taken by travelers in Tibet:
  •           Do not take photographs of military buildings, army people, and immigration office and check posts. It will cause lot of diplomatic issues and result in your deportation from China.
  •           Do not try to talk to Army or Police. It is not India.
  •           Do not talk sensitive issues about Tibet with local people. Not even with Tibetans.
  •           Do not carry Tibetan flags, books related to Dalai Lama or Tibet independence. If you are lucky, you will be sent back by customs!!
  •           Keep passport with you. It will be checked at many places.

The journey after Saga was uneventful. At one place, driver stops the vehicle to take bath at a stream close by.

Our guide at Paiku Tso

The weather changed after we cross Nyalam Mu. It was raining heavily on the other side of Tibet. As brown mountains give way to green ones, rains lash heavily. What a striking difference in the matter of few minutes!! My dream of taking snaps of waterfalls during return journey had to be abandoned as fog covers the area.

At a check post, Police with an emotionless face comes near our vehicle to inspect. He takes our passport and opens them up in that heavy rain unmindful of the fact that they get wet (he is wearing raincoat). Our heart beats fast looking at the way he treats our passport. Unable to contain our anxiety, we ask him to come inside the vehicle and check so that the passports do not get wet. He stares at us and reluctantly comes in.

It was still raining heavily when we enter Chinese immigration Office. While our guide does the formality of group visa break, we stand silently in the immigration office. Guide returns back and we proceed towards immigration. Now I get a chance to see the drama in immigration office because while entering I was at the end of the queue and missed lot of actions!! The guide goes towards an Officer and gives the documents. Lot of “chin chau chu” chat happens between them. Officer seems to be unhappy. Guide gives more documents. Repeat of “chin chau chu”. This repeats for some time and at some point Officer seems to be satisfied and asks us to proceed further. By then there is a big queue of local people behind the main immigration counter. The Officer asks us to directly go to the front of the queue. When locals object, Officer tells them that we are “Passport people” (Locals on both side just carry ID cards).

On the other side, there is a huge crowd of pilgrims trying to enter Tibet. People were standing on the friendship bridge. It is raining heavily but people have to stand in the queue. It was tough.

Nepal immigration is cakewalk. Guide takes care of that. During that time we have lunch at a restaurant. The journey now is relaxed. Though we are in Nepal, we experience Home coming.

A waterfall that I had missed during onward journey.

On the way back, we see a bungy jumping spot on Bothe Kosi River. Known to be one of the best bungy jumping spot in Asia, It was fun watching people perform the act. It would have been more fun if I had done it!! But that has to wait!!

Can you think what the first thing I did in Kathmandu was? Took bath!!!!

Final words:
The greatest trip of my life ends!! Let me tell you, it was not an easy job. The preparation, effort and money put for this trip was enormous. One has to be either religious or adventurous to undertake this trip. My suggestion is to visit when you are fit and healthy. Do not postpone to the last part of the life. There are many other places to visit during those old ages!! If time and fitness permit, try Indian route. I hear that it is different experience. 

And go as soon as possible. With Tibet opening up, lots of changes are taking place. If there are no disturbances in Tibet, I am sure that the facilities improve dramatically making this trip very easy and simple. Signs of road construction are visible in the parikrama of Kailash. When Chinese can build road to Everest base camp, it is not a big deal to tame Dolma La. The remoteness of the place is decreasing!!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

11. A journey into Tibet – Kailash parikrama from Zutulpuk to Darchen and back to Zhongpo

July 2012

Previous posts:

On the third day of Kailash parikrama we would be walking for 8km. The remaining 4km to Darchen is covered by vehicles.

There was some commotion during night. A person in our group had turned mad. The comfortless journey, lack of clean toilets, high altitude and tough trek was too much to handle for that elderly person. At midnight, he started shouting. He was silenced by giving sleeping tablets. Given his condition he should never have come do far for this trip.

Morning, I saw him digging a hole in front of his tent. He had turned insane. An ambulance was called in to take him to a hospital.

The weather was bad on that day with continuous rains. But it did not matter as the trek was easy. It just took me 1.5 hours to reach a place where vehicles would pick us up. Horse people had some difficulty for last 1 km. A steep gorge was next to the trail and was dangerous to sit on horses at such places.

Back in Darchen, I made a quick call to my Home to inform that I was safe and healthy. The long return journey started.

At 5PM, we were at New Zhongpo. It was 10th July. Until now I had not thought much about return journey from Kathmandu. Now that the objectives in Tibet were achieved, it was time to think about the plan for return.

Manasa Sarovar seen at the end of the trek
Due to the delay in permits, the Tibet plans were changed. But as I had planned my trip long back, I had booked my return flight on 12th July. But most people had their flight on 13th July!! No issues if the old plan was honored. Now that the dates of Tibet journey were changed, we would reach Nyalam Mu on 11th, cross the border on 12th and reach Kathmandu by evening. There was no way I could reach Kathmandu before the departure of my flight!!

Sand dunes with Brahmaputra river in the background
I had booked the flights several months ago and had got it at damn cheap price. I have to shell out lot of money for last minute booking. Having Amrith, head of the travel agency helps us now. He proposes a new plan.

He and five of us (who had return tickets on 12th) would take a separate vehicle and start very early from Zhongpo and head directly to border. Cross the border and reach Kathmandu by evening. Sounds cool and we were excited!! But there was a catch. We were travelling on group visa and can only enter or exit China as a group!! And we cannot just go on own but the Tibetan guide must accompany us. A moment of joy turned into gloom.

Back to beautiful roads of Tibet
But solution exists for all problems. And money does its trick sometimes. If we are breaking from the group, we need to pay some money to Chinese immigration to exit!! It is not a bribe but a legal procedure (Mainly to cater for people who had to return back due to health reasons or emergency). And Amrith was able to convince the guide to wake up early and start from Zhongpo. Having an understanding guide helps a lot in the trip.

Next day would be long and hectic!!