Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Great Lakes of Kashmir Trek

Trekking has not been too high on my wish list. All said and done, no shower and loo for 7 days is not very fun. But I have two very dear friends who become starry eyed at the thought of walking through mountains and I do adore them. So, the seven days long, 65 kms hike to the seven alpine lakes of Kashmir happened in July 2014. We went with India Hikes. There is a sense of security going with a group (about 25 people). There were porters to carry the tents, food and other necessities. We carried our backpacks, but you do have the option of offloading them to the porters (at a cost). Even for a first timer like me, offloading did not make sense. It was a trek after all and carrying our own bag was the bare minimum we could do. Before I actually write about the trek, a quick note on all the preparation and shopping required for such a trek. This was a moderate weather trek. Minimum temperature was about 3-5 degrees Celsius if I remember correctly. Days were mostly sunny and pleasant. All these treks give Decathlon (and Quechua) a ton of business. Must-haves for the trek -
  • Good waterproof trekking shoes. Though I didn't have the high ankle ones, those make sense in a lot of snow and slush. You might just be better off buying those. We were blessed with good weather during the trek.
  • Waterproof backpack. Again we had our old ragged ones. So, we bought rain protection for the bags. 
  • Quick-dry, well-fitting slacks and tees
  • One light jacket
  • One down jacket (if you are a Bong). Or you could be like S, and just loan the Bong's jacket on cold nights!
  • Sunglasses
  • A monkey cap (if you are a Bong). It gets cold in the tent! Any which way, get ear protection.
  • Cap to avoid face tan. If you saw my nose post trek, you would know why this is so important
  • Energy bars, chocolate, glucose, dry fruits - These keep you going during hours and hours of hiking
  • A bottle, plate, spoon, toilet paper and tissues (wet and otherwise) 
  • Trekking pole (got mine for INR 250 from ebay)
  • Small torch or head lamp. Very handy this one.
  • Vaseline, sunscreen
  • Poncho
  • Risk appetite and some physical stamina
  • Camera (A necessity for me. Might not be the case for everyone.)
The starting point for the trek was Sonmarg (7,800 ft). We reached Srinagar, just to figure that there was a bit of chaos in the city and the route to Sonmarg was closed out. Spent the night at a seedy hotel and left at an ungodly hour for Sonmarg base camp. So, the first day started really really early. Took about two hours to reach base camp. Taarak, the trek guide and Noorani Bhai rounded us up and gave the initial load of warnings and instructions. Air gets thinner as you walk up. Take deep breaths. You will get tired easily. First two days are the toughest. Drink a lot of water. Small sips at regular intervals. Might get mild headaches. Don't panic. By the end of it all, my Bong self had put all the warnings together and stitched out a near death situation. S said one step at a time. One day at a time. With that in my head, we started off. 

The first day was extremely strenuous and long. To top it, S was not feeling too well. We hiked for about 12-13 kilometers that day. Walking that distance is okay, but climbing from 7000 something ft to about 12,000 ft is quite a stretch. First two days of the trek are make or break. Either you acclimatize or you don't. The trek route is unbelievably beautiful, and it keeps getting prettier by the hour. I was carrying the D90, and the weight of it along with the backpack and the thinning air was not very fun. But the pics that came out of it were totally worth the effort. :) So, the first day, we walked right up till 7 pm. En route, saw a bunch of Kashmiri kids playing on a rope swing. Those swings looked easy enough, bur city butts are not used to such things. Needless to say, we provided free entertainment to those kids, who were in splits seeing our pathetic attempts. There is minimal to no civilization on the way. Stopped at a small tea/maggi shop in the middle of nowhere. They knew they were the only ones around, and made the most of it. Charged a premium for everything. Our bill for omelette, maggi and tea for three people was over 500 bucks! The camp site was one of the most welcome sites we had seen in a while. :) First day was done and we had come out of it without any injuries or AMS. Being that tired is actually a good feeling. Every muscle hurt. Hot food tasted divine and the Bournvita served right after, seemed like a cure for all maladies. The Milky Way had lit up the sky beautifully. Barely 9.30 pm, and I was out like a light in the tent.