• Ajaz Shaikh

Kashmir Great Lake (KGL): A Piece Of Heaven On Earth

Kashmir is not just a place but an emotion that every person wants to experience. The surreal beauty of this gorgeous paradise has been defined by several poets, authors, and philosophers. The beauty of the Kashmir Valley is beyond description but yet many celebrities have tried to quote the beauty of Kashmir in words. With the gushing rivers, shiny waterfalls, picturesque surroundings, and lush green forests, it has always appealed to tourists & trekkers. Amir Khusro's famous quote on Kashmir "Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast" (If there is a heaven on earth, it's here, it's here, it's here) has justified the splendour of this place in the most perfect way.

Kashmir Great Lake (KGL) is spellbound, not just by the trek but by the eternal beauty that the trail has offered me. This blog is a very humble tribute to this great valley, its people, culture and nature.

You’ve probably never heard of this trek before, or maybe you’ve just heard about it. That’s because, according to our trek guide, the trail reopened only some 10 years ago. Before that, it had been cordoned off due to the increasing military unrest.


How To Reach?

Shutkati is the base village for the Kashmir Great Lake Trek located right on the Srinagar-Leh highway and falls under Sonmarg Town. Shutkati is 80 km from Srinagar. There is no direct connectivity to the base village or Sonmarg from Mumbai. But Srinagar has decent connectivity from Mumbai and from Srinagar you can reach the base village easily for Kashmir Great Lake Trek. From Srinagar, it would take you 2-3 hrs with breaks to reach our base village Shutkati. The route to reach Shutkati: Mumbai - Srinagar - Nagbal - Ganderbal - Shutkati (Sonmarg). So, the closest city to Sonmarg is Srinagar which is also well connected to other cities by all means of transportation. Here are some of the options for the people directly coming from Mumbai.


Via Train From Mumbai: The journey from Mumbai to Srinagar by train is a little long, however, it is the best way to commute between the two destinations if one is travelling with a big group or friends. There is no direct train to Srinagar but there is one to Jammu. The train Jammu Tawi Special (09021) is the most preferred train from Mumbai to Jammu. Other trains are Vivek Express (19027) and Swaraj Express (12471). From Jammu, travellers can either board a train or hire a taxi to reach Srinagar. The train journey will take 36 hours to cover Mumbai to Srinagar distance by train. The distance between both places is around 2208 kilometres.

Via Air From Mumbai (recommended): Srinagar has flight connectivity from Mumbai, but there is only three direct flight. So if you plan this trip well in advance as I did, you can get a round way direct flight for ₹ 13,000 and with a layover of between 2-3 hours, you can get it for 10,000. Sometimes, flights to Srinagar can be quite expensive.


I recommend taking the earliest flight possible so that you reach the base village in daylight or travel a day earlier and take a night stay in Srinagar (Coming Soon: Things to do in Srinagar Blog).


Via Delhi: If you are on a budget, please consider flying via Delhi and travelling to Srinagar by bus or train. This option is cheaper but demands more time for travel.


How to Reach KGL Base Village (Shutkati, Sonmarg) from Srinagar?

Once you reach Srinagar, you can continue your journey to Sonamarg through various means.


The best journey of life comes in a short and sweet package and this road journey will be nothing less. The drive of 100 km from Srinagar Airport to Sonamarg just takes around 3 hours. The roads to Sonmarg are flat throwing open views of expansive landscapes. Once you cross 30 kilometres, the roads run parallel to the mighty Sindh River on one side and have village-style villas on another side. About 50 kilometres into the drive, the cityscape ends and the roads open up to apple orchards, lush gardens, snow-capped mountains, and a few military check posts on either side.


Cab / Taxi:

If you are travelling in a group of 4-6 members would recommend hiring a direct car, you can hire a private car to Sonamarg right outside the Srinagar airport. The journey takes around 3 hours and costs Rs. 2400 (fixed rate) but stick to travelling in the daylight. The distance between the airport and the base village is 80 km and it will take 2-3 hours.


Another option is via shared taxi, which will overall take 4 - 4.5 hours and cost around Rs. 360 for the complete journey from Srinagar to Sonmarg, but not worth it. The route would be Srinagar Airport - TRC Stand - Soura - Kangan - Sonmarag.


Public / Private Bus:

To travel by bus, you will first need to approach the TRC bus stand counter one day before the journey. They have daily buses going from Srinagar to Leh at 8 am. Sonamarg is on the way and the ticket costs around Rs. 240. However, it usually takes a long time (at least 5 hours) to reach there as they are mail buses.

There is also a JKSRTC bus network with direct buses to Sonamarg. However, these are not very frequent, so, it’s better first to contact the JKSRTC to get all the required details.


By Trek Organizer Transport:

This is the best & safe option to travel from Srinagar to the base village. The vehicle can also pick you up from any point that falls on the route to Sonamarg upon prior notice. The cost of the cab is usually split amongst trekkers or the charges are included in the trek cost.


Where to Stay?

Shutkati is a small village, so it has a limited number of homestays & food points. You can find a few along the highway and at the Zmorh Tunnel deviation point, but nothing fancy. So your first night in "Meadow Of Gold" (Sonmarg) would be in the tent pitched along with the Sindh River. (Drop a mail at thetravelblueprint@gmail.com if you want any help to plan this trek ).


Kashmir Great Lake Trek

Day 1: Base Village Shutkati

Campsite: Shutkati (Start Point) | Max. Altitude: 7800 ft.

After a full day of travel, your body needs to rest, so on day one you would just travel to base camp and get your body to acclimatize to the new climate. The temperature at the base camp would be 25°C during the day and at night drop to 19°C. So your body must get acclimatized to the climate. Before going to bed you need to prepare your bag. You can carry your bag and trek or you have an option to offload your bag to be carried by the horse. Since KGL, is the pass trek, it will start from one point and end at another point, so you cannot leave your things at the base village. Incase of offloading prepare two separate bags one with the thing that you will need during the treks and one big one with other things. Do checkout the what to pack section for details.


Day 2: Sonmarg to Nichnai

Campsite: Nichnai | Max. Altitude: 11,500 ft | Distance: 14 km approx.

The trek begins at 8 am and across the campsite is the starting point of the trek. The trails from the starting point are well marked and gain elevation with gradual ascends. The beginning is a very steep climb that goes for about thirty minutes and the trails open up to expansive meadows painted in a royal green shade. Once you reach the meadow area, do not forget to look behind. You can witness Shitkadi, a charming village at the banks of the Sindh River, and Sonmarg Village. The rustic Kashmiri architecture and the flow of the river blend to paint a picturesque portrait along with gorgeous surrounding peaks. This is just 2 km from the campsite On the other side you can see the Maple and pine trees forest, rocky terrains and pretty meadows.

Another 30 minutes of walk and you will reach the first army checkpoint post, where your id and registration details would be verified by the army. If you have a message to send or a call to make to your love once, do it here. Because you don't get a phone network beyond this point.

The target of the day is to cross five hamlet hilltops (the best I remember), and a long forest walk. The initial steep climb will continue for 3-4 hours more than 1 hour of the moderate climb through the forest area, the view grows wider and more spectacular. After the moderate climb, the elevations stop and a flat stretch of grassland, resembling the top of a table, comes into view. This point is known as the Table-Top Point and has a "dhaba" (food point). The smooth grasses and the gentle breeze here will remind you of the familiar warmth of a mother's lap. During small breaks, you can sit on the silky grassland, stretch your leg and enjoy the true comforts of nature.

The trail and the climate drastically change from the tabletop point. The trail penetrates a forest area filled with Himalayan Birch trees and open terrain with absolutely no place to take cover but lots of places where you can stop and soak in the view around you, go ahead and sit and lean on those hammock-shaped trees.

Although, I got exceptionally good weather on all the days, however, the last 45 min on the first day gave us a good experience of how bad & dangerous it can get. I was about to reach the campsite in the evening when all of a sudden, the skies poured down in vengeance and it caught me by surprise. There was lightning & loud thunder for a few minutes. Strange thoughts ran into my head. I wondered whether I would be hit by lightning & probably this was how I was to die! Rain & hail lashed down on us really hard.

The one thing which is completely unpredictable on this trek is the weather. Half the time you will be getting yourself in and out of a fleece jacket or by the time you put on your poncho, you might get wet or the rain will stop. So keep everything handy.

It will take another two hours to cross the forest area and land on the valley side. You will notice that a silky stream of glacial water flows to your right hand aside, on its way to join the Sindh River. The ascents from this point will be smooth and directly lead us to the Nichnai campsite where you will be with curious neighbours Mehhhs! (large herds of sheep) and the stunning views of snow-capped mountains.


Day 3: Nichnai to Vishansar

Campsite: Vishansar | Max. Altitude: 13,100 ft | Distance: 17 km approx.

After a good night's sleep, now it's time to start a fresh day with a blue sky and the golden rising sun behind the mountains. The trail on this day crosses the Nichnai Pass and is very different from the previous day. You'll walk around 7-8 hours, during which you will ascend and descend and cover vast meadows before finally making camp at a plain area, a hill away from Vishansar Lake (camping next to the lake is forbidden).

Following the fixed morning ritual 6-7-8 (Morning Tea - Breakfast - Walk On)


Started the march at 8 am with a moderate climb for a couple of hours having small boulder sections gradual ascents and easy descents before the gruelling ascents to Nichnai Pass. The pass feels like a wide tunnel with a series of snow-clad peaks on one side and an elevated land mass on the other side. Nichnai Pass is at an altitude of 11,500 ft. The ascent to the pass is moderate, a bit daunting, and strenuous but the smooth transition of colours and scenic views will keep you motivated to keep going.

Nichnai pass holds spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, small peaks, and a wide range of the Kashmir Valleys.

Once on the pass, you will be exuberant with your first success. Standing there on the rocky top, the roving eye could just see rugged peaks all around, jutting out into the sky. You might have to turn around many times to get a complete 360 view of the place. You can fill your cameras with the moments, selfies one after the other, not wanting to miss anything and indulge in some hot food at the last "dhaba" (food point).

Marching onwards will be a steep descent from the pass for about a couple of hours followed by hours of flat walk through meadows with grazing sheep. This day is not about gaining altitude but walking on flat trails with tremendously beautiful green views at every turn, through the grasslands of heaven which almost felt unreal to me.

It will take about 2 hours to cross this grassland and at the end of the stretch lies your campsite for the day near the Vishansar stream.


Day 4: Vishansar to Gadsar

Campsite: Gadsar | Max. Altitude: 13,750 ft | Distance: 12 km approx.

The trail on this day has everything, beginning with two-star attractions of the KGL trek the twin lakes Vishnasar and Kishanasar lake, a difficult upward ascend to Gadsar Pass than steep descent and another star attraction Gadsar Lake.


Following the fixed morning ritual, on this day you start marching by 8 am.


About a15 minutes walk you will get the first glimpse of the first lake of the trek, Vishansar Lake from the top of a slope at a distance - shining, calmly in the morning sun under Vishansar Peak. The first sight of this alpine lake and words will vanish from your mind. It's like an emerald gem, half of it surrounded by mountains that had glaciers melting into the lake. An indomitable focus will take over your sight and make your travel inwards, deeper within the realms of reality and truth. You will experience a speechless moment with a clear state of mind.

Spend some time here before moving on to Kishansar Lake. It takes another 15 minutes to reach the second lake. The diameter, texture, look, and feel of the Kishansar, look similar to the Vishansar Lake. Even nature's offsprings come in pairs. They are no less than identical twins.

This day is the toughest day, though that's not what the guide will have you believe. Not that the other days are easy, but on this particular day, the trail teases you and plays with your head like never before. That's how I felt atleast as I reached camp after 9 hours of walking. It starts right at the Kishansar Lake which has a big meadow spread out on its right and in front, a ridge line rises sharply, this is what you have to cross today. The trail initially ascends gradually and transforms into a narrow ridge and from halfway you can see the beautiful top view of Twin Lake - Vishansar & Kishansar.

Walking on the ridge for about two hours and enjoying the surreal beauty of nature and capturing every moment in your camera and gifted storage and wondering how the colour of the lake changed from olive green to a dazzling blue. About midway to the top, the incline will suddenly become very steep, so the heaving and painting starts, with each step you are getting acclimatized to higher altitudes, so it's natural to affect everyone's breathing patterns. The view of the lake lasts and gruelling climbs end only at the top of the ridge which is the Gadsar Pass at 13,750 ft - the highest altitude that you would touch on this trek.

The moment you will step onto the Gadsar top, all the fatigue & exhaustion will vanish, and you will feel ecstatic because you had made it through the toughest part! On looking down towards the side you can see the twin emerald-blue pools of Vishansar & Kishansar, looking like two gems studded in the grey mountainside!

And another look on the other side, that you need to descend from, you would see three more gems of blue-green, sparkling lakes one behind the other - Yamsar, a nameless lake, and Gadsar. The locals believe in the superstition that going too near to Yamsar or camping there for the night can be fatal as it’s Lord Yama’s lake!

Around an hour of descent from the Gadsar top lies an opulent terrain filled with different hues of flowers, literally in a valley of flowers. Two ranges running on either side, notice how the flowers align themselves in a striking pattern at the corners of the trail and guide you towards Gadsar Lake. You walk through miles of yellow buttercups, purple irises, blue geraniums and many more beauties!

Gadsar is the prettiest lake on this trek, perfectly shaped and emerald coloured nestled in a valley under rugged majestic mountain peaks surrounded by lush grasslands and colourful wildflowers. The view will leave you spellbound.

You will break for lunch at Gadsar Lake for 30 minutes and continue to walk for another 1 hour to reach the campsite through mild ascents and descents on the meadows. But as much as the beauty awakens your senses, the walk tires and numbs you. They don’t call it the endless meadows for anything.


Day 5: Gadsar to Satsar

Campsite: Satsar | Max. Altitude: 12,000 ft | Distance: 19 km approx.

The trails on this day is easier as compared to the previous days and you don't need to carry a packed lunch but you will get a hot meal at the campsite as you will reach around 2 pm. Usually, you have to carry packed lunch every day and eat it next to a running stream anywhere in the middle of the meadows or next to a mountain brook!

Satsar means Seven (Sat) Lakes (Sar). Satsar is a group of seven lakes connected by small alpine streams. Although these lakes are scattered around in the same area, however, it's difficult to cover them all in a single day. You will get three of the seven lakes on your way to the campsite. To explore the other four lakes you can utilize the evening time, which sits hidden behind the huge mountain wall.

The grassy plains of Satsar look almost manicured with a pretty stream lazily running through them.


The trail from Gadsar is a narrow strip initially. The gradient will slow as you cross the Kasturkoth Pass. There is no top for this Pass but the trail moves by the side of the ridge, finally leading into a huge meadow called Rasbal. If you have a sharp eye you can spot Himalayan Marmot along the narrow trail.

Another noteworthy detail is that midway through the trek, from one of the bends in the trail, one could catch a glimpse of the very distant Nanga Parbat peak which is an 8000-meter peak in the POK Gilgit range, only if you are lucky to have a very clear day so the snow-capped peak was easily visible.

The day will be mostly moderate inclines but not without a couple of hours of a steep climb in between however there were stretches of boulders, that you have to manoeuvre and stop at an army checkpoint for some serious checking and clearance. (Please keep your IDs handy throughout the trek).

After the security check is done, you resume walking on the rolling meadows of the Kashmir Valley all the way to the campsite.

Out of the sevens lakes which form Satsar Lake two are on the way to the campsite for the remaining five you have to take a diversion just before the campsite. Due to bad weather, I wouldn't do all the remaining five but have covered one of them. Remember Satsar campsite has the most unpredictable weather condition since it's an intermontane campsite


Day 6: Satsar to Gangabal

Campsite: Nandakol | Max. Altitude: 13,000 ft | Distance: 11 km approx.

Today's gradient is riddled with boulder crossings, steep ascents and crossing the magnificent Zaj Pass. The main attraction of the day is the view of Gangabal Lake and Nandakol Lake nestled below the immense Hara Mukh peak.

Following the fixed morning ritual, on this day you start marching by 8 am.


For the large part of the day, you would be climbing over huge boulders, hopping from one boulder to another. You definitely need to watch for tricky & sharp crevices between them in order to avoid a fall, which could prove injurious. While climbing the boulders, feel free to go down on all fours, using both hands and legs to navigate them. This stretch is intimidating and fun. Once you cross half the surface area, your body will get used to the terrain and easily make it to the top.

The boulder section will continue for 3 hours and lead you onto a flat surface. Within a few minutes, the flat surface narrows into a ridge trail running in a zigzag manner covered in scree. A total of three ridges had to be climbed over to reach the top of enigmatic Zaj Pass, the last of the passes to be crossed at 11,500 ft. As soon as you reach the pass, curtains rise and a cinematic view of the enormous Haramukh Peak, presents itself in front of you. The scene gets more appealing when coupled with the view of Gangabal Lake on the right and Nandakol Lake on the left foot of Haramukh peak. You can spot two more nameless lakes on either side of these lakes on the mountain.

Just stop here and enjoy this Nature's masterpiece. This moment is the highlight of the entire trek. The pains & aches of the past few days were worth every bit. Sitting there looking at these lakes & Harmukh together is a sight to behold.

Gangabal & Harmukh are mentioned in ancient scriptures & are very sacred places of pilgrimage for Kashmiris. A yatra to Gangabal is undertaken every year on Ganga Ashtami which falls around September.

The royal greens of the Kashmir valley make their way back as you descend to Gangabal, which is undoubtedly the most spectacular and impressive of all the lakes on this trek.

Sitting there, looking at the calm waters of this sacred lake with Harmukh blessing you. A stream, Krenknadi, connects Gangabal to Nandakol which thereafter flows out from Nandakol to join Wangath nallah which further merges with river Sind at Naran Nag. There’s a thin log bridge that we needed to cross to reach our campsite at Nandakol. Watch out for the golden-brown rodent Marmot along the way.

Once you reach the Nandakol campsite get relax for a bit and take a small stroll to the Nandakol Lake. Remove your shoes and dip your feet in the cold waters of the lake. You will feel the soreness ebb away.


Day 7: Gangabal to Narannag

Campsite: Naran Nag (End Point) | Max. Altitude: 7500 | Distance: 14 km approx.

The long trek ends today. Even on the last day, until the last minute, the trails won’t cease to amaze you with their exquisite landscapes. The gradient for today begins with minor ascends for 2 kilometres; flat meadows for 3 km and a drastic descent with steep scree sections until Naranag. Watch out for abrupt turns and slippery slopes while descending. Proper footing and the use of a trekking pole can help you descend without falling.


Following the fixed morning ritual, on this day you start marching by 8 am or early so that you can make it to the Naran Nag by 2 pm.

The initial descent will be across a huge undulating meadow with thick conifers all along with way. A few kilometres into the day and you will be stopped at an army check post where they check your documents and after a friendly banter, you can move ahead.

After getting clearance from the camp, the trails disappear into a tall pine forest. For the initial few minutes, you descend linearly. As you get closer to the gravel section, the trails drop down with steep slopes. 3 km into this trail, you come across the first "dhaba" (foodpoint). Your phone network works from this point onwards. Naranag is still 3 km away. Expect to get there by 2 pm.

The last part of the trek might annoy you due to trail-going unending serpentine rounds - one after the other.

To sum it up, the last stretch of the last day is an endurance test. Once you spot the Naranag temple ruins through a clump of pine trees, its means you are almost there. The rocky trail finally led to the stone-paved village road which ended on the main road of Naranag.

Before departing to Srinagar, you can enjoy finger-licking food at the restaurant that served authentic Kashmiri fare. Clicked the last group pictures & said your goodbyes to fellow trekkers with a promise to meet again someday on some other Himalayan trail.


Kashmir Great Lakes (KGL) trek is undoubtedly the most beautiful trek in India. Someone has rightly called it a 3D IMAX movie watched live! And it’s equally challenging too! You climb rocky mountains with endless glaciers melting into gushing streams, walk through vast green meadows with sheep lazily grazing in them and colourful wild flowers splashed all over the trail. And the icing on the cake is a minimum of 10 out of several emerald-turquoise alpine lakes, 5 different valleys and 3 very high passes, that you get to explore. The whole trek is like a huge canvas in front of you, painted in myriad colours & hues. The experience is nothing short of overwhelming!

Good To Know FAQs

Q. Is it safe in Kashmir?

Yes, Kashmir and the Kashmir Great Lake trek is safe. The trek trail is in a remote region of Kashmir away from the turmoil and unrest which also happens to be a touristy region. Further, there are about 3 army camps on the trek trail which ensures that the trail is safe even in Srinagar I didn't encounter anything to make me feel unsafe. In fact, I felt pretty alright going out alone at night, in the pitch dark.


Q. Will I get mobile connectivity on the KGL trek?

Only for a brief patch on the 1st day of the trek, till the first army checkpoint. In general, BSNL (accessible in most areas), Airtel, Vodafone & Reliance Jio work in Srinagar. The crux is only postpaid connections of other states would work.


Q. What kind of toiletries do I bring?

The minimal kind, because you won’t be taking a bath at all on the trek. Unless you’re brave (silly?) enough to jump into a chilled lake. So get face wash, detergent and two rolls of toilet paper.


Q. Do I have to carry my own rucksack daily?

You can either choose to carry your backpack or you can hire a porter for an extra cost. The same can be conveyed during the time of booking. If you opt for a porter then every morning you will leave everything except your day pack at the camp. The trek crew will tie your stuff onto horses and bring it to the next campsite. Relax!


Q. What about food and water?

The crew carries food supplies with them from Srinagar and would serve standard vegetarian food on the trail. So, expect some fresh and delicious meals every day. Water is even fresher because you get a running supply from the streams that you camp near.


Q. What’s the best time to do Kashmir Great Lakes Trek?

The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek trail is open for just three months – July, August & September. Throughout the rest of the year, the three passes (Nichnai, Gadsar & Zajibal) are covered in snow. Thus they become inaccessible or become too risky to cross throughout the rest of the year.


Q. Can I do KGL Trek Alpine style / Solo Trek?

No. Currently, authorities don't allow Alpine-style/solo treks. But you can do it as an expedition (minimum group of 4 trekkers required), still, you need the local guide.

Q. Things to carry for Kashmir Great Lake Trek?

Packing right for your trek is as important as physical training that helps you prep for the trek. This will not only ensure you have all that you need during the trek, but it will also ensure that you have a great trek experience which can otherwise be ruined when you find out you’ve either carried too much or too little.


As a part of this Kashmir Great Lakes trek faqs, we have created a detailed guide on what you need to pack for the trek.

Bags & Footwear

Clothing

Toiletries

Accessories

Food & Medicines

Documents


Q. What are the permits required for the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek?

The only permit needed for this trek is a forest cum wildlife permit from Sonamarg or Naranag. If you are doing it through any trekking company they will get the permits on your behalf. You just have to share & carry the same photo ID for verification at the check post. I recommend carrying a masked Aadhar Card with VID Number.


Q. Any suggestion on a trekking company that has regular batches for Kashmir Great Lake?

Some of the trekking company which has regular batches are Bikat Adventures, Indiahikes, and Trek the Himalayas. But if you like to do it as a private batch, I suggest doing it with Paradise Adventure (a local company), do it only if Mr Lone Tariq is leading the batch.


Q. Best time to do Kashmir Great Lakes trek?

The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek trail is open for just three months – July, August & September. Throughout the rest of the year, the three passes (Nichnai, Gadsar & Zaj) are covered in snow. Thus they become inaccessible or become too risky to cross throughout the rest of the year. The snow cover starts melting in June and in July the trail opens for the trekkers. However, during July, you will still be able to find patches of snow throughout the trail. It is in August when the trek truly comes alive with blooming flowers and lush green meadows.


By the time September arrives, the trails become barren and dry. Sometimes it even feels like we are walking through a mountain range in a cold desert region. However, even this barren and dry landscape can offer you views that are full of colours.


Catch As Catch Can Gallery:


Snapshot:

Base Village: Shutkati, Sonmarg, Srinagar

Altitude Range: 7500 ft to 13,750 ft (2286 meters to 4191 meters)

Time Required: 7-8 days (For beginner and moderate trekker)

Region: Sonmarg, Srinagar


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