Spending time in Kashmir and its valley is something every nature lover craves for. Its quaint mountains, tall trees, lakes, apple orchards, Shikaras make it a must place to visit. But beyond this tourist melee, Srinagar’s beauty can be experienced as one moves beyond the main city, in the lap of mountains. While most tourists strictly stick to the ideal ‘baghs’ and lakes, there are many adventurous activities one can plunge into.
Recently I planned a trek in the Kashmir Valley, all in all a six-day trek at Tarsar Lake, at about 13000ft.
Solo trekking can be wonderful in these rocky terrains, but for the first timers, it would be good to go through a registered trekking agency. I made all the bookings through IndiaHikes who organise treks throughout the year and arrange everything from pick-up to food and camps at a reasonable cost.
Day 1 - Aru Base camp (If you start from Sringar, reach Pahalgam which is roughly a 3-hours drive. From there take another cab to reach Aru, which will take half an hour).
The first day is to become accustomed to the chilling climate of the mountains at about 8000ft and get to know the rules of the mountains, the dry bathrooms, and getting to know the potters and fellow trekkers. Apart from that enjoy the surreal hilly terrain with the sonorous sounds of the stream, and get lost in the riot of stars at midnight trying to locate the constellations in the vast ocean of the hydrogen bulbs.
Day 2- Aru- Liderwat (10km, takes about 6-7 for a turtle like me to cross)
This was going to my first stint with the mountains. The temperature rises just as readily in the morning as the mercury drops at night, so avoid woollens and keep your ponchos handy. As a cost-cutting technique I carried my own luggage instead of giving it to the potters, but it proved against me as mother gravity kept pulling me down, giving me serious muscle cramps, although the pain got immediately compensated with the scenic beauty. The abundance of meadows and constant bleating of sheeps make you realise why Kashmir is called ‘heaven on earth’ and why exploring Kashmir is not just about Srinagar, Gulmarg and Sonmarg.
We left the camp at 8am and by the time we reached Liderwat it was twilight and some of us were already high on morphine. I settled my camp little away from the common din and night passed recuperating as I recited Rumi. By dawn I realised that it had rained all night, as the essence of petrichor filled the air. Sun coupled with rain and cloud gave an iridescent effect which was hard to miss.
Day 3- Liderwat to Shekwas-6.6kms takes 4-5 hours)
It was a relatively easy trek. The terrain being less rocky, I decided to offload making the trail less dreadful. But as I moved uphill surrounded by nothing but blanket of cold air and sounds of the clouds and streams, I could hear the thumping of my heart. Thinning of air was hitting me hard. It was only later that I realised it wasn’t the spiritual awakening, but lower oxygen. Luckily it stopped as soon as I had glucose to stabilise it.
The campsite was not totally different from Liderwat, but you get to see lots of sheep and horses, just about all the time. We had enough time on this day to explore the surroundings and get to know other trekkers. Campsite fire really did calm our senses and many of us got lost looking at the embers. It was a photographer’s paradise with the galaxy stealing the show.
Day 4- Shekwas- Tarsar 5kms takes 3-4hrs
This was the second last day of our trek and and also an easy uphill, with no heartburns, headache and the summit with a 10km long Tarsar lake in the view was enough to ignite all the romantic cells. The majestic sunset and sunrise is a must to watch and also if you are lucky you can experience some spitters (snowfall) as the scotts like to call it. The ineffable beauty of the place was such that most of us remained awake the entire night just to be by the lake and look at the effervescent water as the sky changed colours.
Day - 5 and 6 (Tarsar -Liderwat 14km downhill takes 5 hours) (Liderwat to Aru base camp- takes 5 hours )
The descent was most strenuous as it rained the entire day making it really difficult to not fall. By the time we again reached Liderwat we all were too tired to do anything other than sleep a long night.
The final day of the trek started on a low note as the realisation dawned that many of us have to join work as soon we head back. Group photos, chilling together over Kawa become a custom and we bid goodbye with a smiling promise to return again to the mountains.
During our descend to Aru most of us were engrossed in looking back at the last 6 days of our date with the mountains. They say, mountains bring out your true self. Although as a first time trekkers things were difficult for me, I would definitely like to return to the mountains and enjoy all hardships again just for the sake of it.
Do’s and Don’ts while trekking
1 Make sure you eat very light food 2-3 days prior to the trek. If suffering from diarrhoea, pop medicines and intake glucose, as salt are must needed uphill.
2 Carry light. Only the bare essentials is what you need. A single pair of clothes can be worn for more than 2 days, make sure you keep changing the socks and undergarments.
3 Always keep Ponchos, jackets handy. One of the porters while travelling told us an interesting thing ‘Mumbai ka fashion, Kashmir ka mausam, Delhi ki sarkar aur Biwi ka mood kabhi bhi badal sakta hain’ (Mumbai’s fashion, Kashmir’s climate, Delhi’ Government and Wife’s mood are susceptible to sudden changes). So keeping that in mind, be prepared.
4 Don’t eat too much on treks and keep yourself hydrated all the time, as water is the immediate source of oxygen in such areas.
5 Make sure you workout at least a month prior to the trek so that your body is in tune with it.
6 And most importantly stay protected from the sun, keep an SPF 40-70 always handy; and also a sun cap.
Apart from Tarsar Marsar you can try ‘The Great Kashmir Lakes’ a relatively difficult trek due to its rocky terrain. It takes about 10 days.