If the world were a museum, Kashmir would be its most captivating painting with a mix of infinite colors. This is not an exaggeration, for Kashmir is known far and wide as the "Paradise on Earth."
This paradise nurtures a variety of landscapes- snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes, rocky trails, riveting flora, and fauna. The peaceful ambiance and beauty of the place will truly transport you to earthly heaven.
The best places in Kashmir are often inaccessible by road, and the innermost folds of any mountainous terrain are explored best on foot. The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek is one such coveted trek that should be on the to-do list of every trekking enthusiast. The KGL trek route is lined with lush-green meadows in the backdrop of which lie the majestic Himalayan ranges. In the lap of a dozen alpine lakes amidst such varied vegetation and wildlife, this week-long trek will mark one of the highest points of your life.
The Great Lakes Trek is about a week-long trek with five days of ascent and a day's descent. The journey uphill itself is not marked by a continuous ascent but alternating ascents and descents through three splendidly high-altitude passes, namely the Nichnai (4115 meters), Gadsar (4206 meters), and Zaj (4140 meters) Pass. The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek price is not exorbitant- such a singularly beautiful trek experience can be arranged within USD 161 to 175 (INR 12,000 to 13,000) per person, and even lesser if you make all arrangements by yourself.
The unique characteristic of the Great Lakes trek is its diverse features. Most trek routes are lined with lush-green meadows that are dotted with vivid wildflowers throughout. However, the meadows are bounded on all sides by majestic mountain ranges, the snow from whose peaks run down in glaciers and collect in the resplendent lakes you find along the route. The trek route has more than a dozen alpine lakes. Camping on the side of these lakes amidst the mountain ranges and shades of green flora will be the experience of a lifetime.
The trek starts off from Sonamarg (2730 meters), which is a three-hour car ride from Srinagar. Sonamarg is a tourist spot and offers its own distinct attractions. Moving out of civilization slowly towards the remoteness of Gadsar and Sat Sar, where you will only receive the occasional company of shepherds, can be amply rewarding. This trek is classified as a moderate to difficult trek involving 8 hours' worth of climb on an average each day. Read on to find out in detail about every aspect of this much sought-after trek.
The Great Lakes Trek is named after over a dozen alpine lakes, which form the major attractions of this trek. You will witness at least one lake every day on your journey and get to set up a camp on its bank and enjoy the serenity of the ambiance wholeheartedly. However, before the lakes, the trek route offers a dense forest of pine, maple, and birch trees which you will encounter right after you start your trek from Sonamarg the first day.
The Vishansar and the Kishansar are two of the most splendid alpine lakes you will encounter on the way. These lakes are adjoined by large stretches of meadows, as are all other lakes.
Little later in the trek, you will reach the Gadsar Pass after a steep ascent which will be the highest point of your trek at 4,206 meters. This pass will overlook the panoramic beauty of the villages and hamlets that you had left behind on your way up. You can also witness the sheer beauty of the majestic Nanga Parbat from up close.
While crossing over from Sat Sar to Gangabal campsite, get a glimpse of Mt. Harmukh (5142 meters) from the Zaj Pass, another high-altitude pass in the region. From Gangabal campsite, there is a continuous descent till Narang Valley. Once at Narang Valley, you can end your trip by visiting the 4,000-year-old Narang Temple.
The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek is classified as a moderately difficult trek. Though not altogether impossible to execute by first-time trekkers, they need to engage in considerable body fitness before embarking on the trek. The trek covers 85 kilometers over a span of 6 days with an average of 6-8 hours' climb per day.
The first day of the climb covers an altitude increase of 914 meters, which can be difficult to handle without sufficient lung capacity. Day 5 and day 6 of the trek involve climbing Gadsar Pass and Sat Sar. These entail steep ascents, which are arduous and demand good stamina and physical fitness. The section between Sat Sar and Gangabal does not have any trekking trail. This 40-minute section is lined with boulders which can get difficult to navigate for someone without any experience. The downhill journey from Gangabal campsite to Narang Valley can mount pressure on your knees as the trek takes long hours, and the trail is quite steep.
However, if you are mentally determined to carry out the trek, there is little that can prevent you from doing so. On the other side of the trek, you will get a complete glimpse of what the whole world calls the "paradise on earth." Truly heavenly in all splendor, with the right amount of fitness training, you have every reason to embark on the Great Lakes Trek.
The Great Lakes Trek is open during the monsoon season only, which is also the best time to go Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, i.e., from the beginning of July till the beginning of September. The rest of the time, this region is mainly covered in snow, thus blocking the incredible views.
Kashmir is a rainshadow area. This means that while it is monsoon in the rest of the country, the Pir Panjal range separating Kashmir blocks out the rain clouds and prevents them from crossing over to the Kashmir valley.
Thus, Kashmir is at its most vibrant during this period, exhibiting a diverse range of landscapes. While the areas with high altitudes still retain some snow, a variety of flowers and vegetation blooms in the lap of the meadows and valleys. The palette of colors is akin to the most spectacular painting and allows you to have the best of Kashmir.
Below you will find a detailed list of our recommended gear for the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek:
Mandatory Clothing Essentials
All your wearables should be quick-dry and take up minimum space. Carrying at least one waterproof and windproof jacket is a must. The trick to packing for mountain expeditions is to pack light. Avoid carrying unnecessary items and extra clothing other than what is absolutely necessary. It is because either you will need to carry them all through the uphill climb or pay extra to have them carried. Both are inconvenient, financially and physically, and should be avoided.
Wearing clothes in layers is another way to survive the high altitude weather with its varying temperatures. Layers provide maximum protection from the spine-chilling cold, and this way, you can put up or take off extra layers as and when required. Three t-shirts and two-track pants should suffice for an eight-day trek. Carry full sleeves, for they will protect you against the glaring rays of the sun.
The weather here, especially from Gadsar to Sat Sar, will be freezing cold even on the hottest summer day. You will need two light fleece sweaters and one full-sleeve sweater along with one padded jacket, besides the cotton wearables inside for sufficient protection. Carrying thermal innerwear is a must. Do not carry heavyweight sweaters and jackets, which will take up all the space in your backpack, instead carry lightweight down/feather jackets.
Essential Accessories and Gears
These essential accessories, which have been enumerated, are almost indispensable for carrying out a successful trek amidst the extreme temperature of Kashmir. First and foremost, a backpack of about 50-60 liters is appropriate for any standard trek, including this one.
Your rucksack should be ideal for your weight and height, with good hip support and multiple pockets. A suncap, UV-protected sunglasses, waterproof synthetic hand gloves, woolen cap, balaclava, at least three pairs of socks, headlamp and torch, essential rainwear with both upper and bottoms, and a rain cover for your backpack should be carried.
The sun rays reflected against the mountains' snow can cause snow-blindness, which should be avoided at all costs. Thus, carrying sunglasses is a must. Protecting your head and facial regions, including ear, nose, and throat, is of utmost importance in hilly areas, especially in such high-altitude regions as Kashmir. Here, you lose maximum heat from the head and not from any other part of your body. A balaclava will protect the entirety of your head and keep it warm.
Toiletries and Hygiene Products
Basic items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, a small pack of soap, soap paper, moisturizer, cold cream, lip balm, deodorant, sanitary napkins, and menstrual cups for women should all be packed into a lightweight toilet kit. Don't overload on unnecessary beauty products. If you are not doing the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek solo but traveling with a group, try sharing to eliminate the extra weight.
Carry a basic cutlery set containing a tiffin box, a cup, and a spoon to pack your lunch. Carry a stainless steel/aluminum water bottle, preferably a lightweight thermos, which should be filled and carried at all times to keep yourself hydrated. Finally, carry tissue papers, toilet paper, and a pack of old newspapers. These items always come in handy in your Kashmir Great Lakes Trek guide.
Important Travel Documents and Identity Proofs
These are the essential permits and documents that will be required for entry into certain zones in the span of the Great Lakes Trek. Without these documents, you might not be allowed to continue your trek, so make sure you double-cross them out of the list before setting out on your journey.
Carry identity proof such as an Aadhaar card, driving license, or passport. Carry both the original and multiple photocopies. At the start of the trek, this needs to be submitted to the Forest Department. The other documents will be required either by your local guide if you are doing the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek solo or your trek leader if you are traveling with a company. Those documents are a disclaimer certificate which you need to print out and sign, and a medical certificate licensed by a practicing doctor declaring you suitable for this trek. The latter also needs to be submitted to the forest department to gain permission to venture on the trek.
Miscellaneous Essentials- Sleeping Bag and Footwear
A sleeping bag is a wonderful discovery. Needless to say, whenever on a trek, a sleeping bag is indispensable. In the absence of comfortable and warm hotel rooms, a sleeping bag will provide you with top-notch protection against the cold at the time of sleep.
Select the trekking shoes after considerable inspection because they will determine the comfort level of your trek. The shoes should be resilient against snow and rugged roads, with a good grip, high ankle support, and a comfortable fit.
The Great Lakes Trek spans over 7 nights and 8 days. 5 days of continuous ascend will be followed by one day of descent, with a day in the middle reserved for acclimatization. This Kashmir Great Lake Trek Guide covers 72 km and will pass through 4,300 meters as the highest altitude point.
The KGL trek demands a considerable amount of physical strength and flexibility. If you are traveling with a trekking company, which is usually the case in such treks, they can refuse to take you on the trek if they feel you lack the physical fitness for the same.
You should start with a regular fitness routine at least three months prior to the trek. You may begin off with less demanding exercises but must eventually move on to high-intensity cardiovascular workouts. Gradually intensify these workouts with swimming, cycling, or running as you approach the time of the trek.
Increasing your lung capacity and improving stamina should be one of your top goals to elude severe effects of High Altitude Sickness and AMS. Increase lower body strength and grip to be able to navigate the rocky trails with ease.
The Gadsar Pass at the pinnacle of the Great Lakes Trek is at an altitude of 4,206 meters. Trekkers often preoccupy themselves with becoming physically fit only, but the psychological impacts of such high altitudes and extreme temperatures can be quite severe too.
It is essential to mentally prepare oneself for difficult and unforeseen situations before setting out on the trek. On some days, the temperature might be unnaturally cold, a sudden accident can lead to a complete plan change on another day, a member may fall sick, or the trail may appear impossible to navigate. Whatever the situation, whether you are in a herd or doing the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek solo, you should listen to your tour guide or trek leader who has the experience to make the best decisions in such cases. Also, believe in yourself and be confident of accomplishing what you have determinedly set out to achieve.
The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek is bound to be an enriching experience for any trekker. With the right amount of planning and fitness training, this trek will provide you with some of the most enjoyable and cherished moments of your life.
Remember that prepaid connections do not work inside Kashmir. You can either get a postpaid connection or bid adieu to the urban hustle-bustle for a week or two to soak in all the splendidness that Kashmir has to offer.