Nestled amid the mighty Himalayas and Pir Panjal Ranges, Kashmir is rightfully called the Paradise on Earth for its unparalleled beauty. The region is home to several breath-taking trekking trails, including the majestic Kashmir Great Lakes Trek.
If you are looking for a fairytale adventure, then the trek to Kashmir Great Lakes is the answer.
The Kashmir Great Lakes trek is moderate-to-difficult with rocky trails and high altitudes. However, the crystal-clear lakes surrounded by the imposing Himalayas are spellbinding. The soft green meadows, tall trees, and colourful flowers provide a calming effect on travellers. The long, arduous trek is well worth experiencing heaven on Earth.
Kashmir Great Lake Trek – An Overview
For a trekker, it is impossible not to have the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek on their bucket list.
Himalayan treks will always include this trail as it offers a lifetime experience. The trail starts from Sonamarg and ends at Naranag after 8 days of life-altering trekking experience.
The trek is considered to be a moderately-difficult trek and hence is not suitable for complete beginners. You will be climbing up 13000 feet and covering a distance of nearly 75 km. During the 8 days, you will be witnessing some of the best visual vistas of your life. Vishansar, Krishansar, Gadsar, Gangabal, and Nandkol Lakes are the showstoppers of this high-altitude alpine trek.
The trail you will follow to visit these lakes is the ancient trade route followed by the nomadic shepherds of this region, called Gujjars. The trek retraces their footsteps starting from Sonamarg via Nichnai and Gadsar pass.
The entire journey features several lush green meadows with wildflowers, grazing cattle and horses in the distance, and gurgling mountain streams tearing them through. The grasslands blend into the foothills of the mountains of Pir Panjal, which nestle all valleys and passes your trek.
Best Time for Kashmir Great Lakes Trek
July to September is the ideal time to go for Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. As a matter of fact, this is the only time of the year when the trek can be done safely. The rest of the year it is covered in thick layers of snow, making it impossible to walk on.
While most treks around the country are closed during these months due to the monsoon, things are slightly different in Kashmir. The Pir Panjal Range stretches across 288 km, blocking monsoon clouds from floating across Kashmir Valley. Therefore, during these months, there is ample sunshine and pleasant weather, compared to the rest of the Himalayan trails.
The landscape also becomes greener and full of life, making the trek even more enjoyable. In early July, you can see the first of blossoms amid patches of snow at higher altitudes. Mid-July to August is the hottest in Kashmir, with full-on summer conditions.
In September, the weather is the most beautiful, with a slight nip in the air and brilliant blue skies. The end of September starts seeing some snowfall in the valley.
Kashmir Great Lakes Trek – Highlights of the Trek
Needless to say, a trek in the land known as “Paradise on Earth” is a heavenly experience. This challenging 75 km long trek is worth every bit of effort.
The seven stunning high-altitude lakes – Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar, Satsar, Gangbal, Nandkol, and Dal Lake are the main highlight of the trek.
The pristine turquoise waters with bits of ice floating on the surface are surrounded by ice-capped mountains. With lush green meadows, tall trees, and colourful wildflowers all around, the view is as pretty as a painting.
This trek is full of ascents and descents and includes routes through several mountain passes. The highest of which is the Gadsar Pass, at an altitude of almost 13700 feet above sea level.
The Green Meadow and Wildflowers of Nichnai and Shekdur
The base camp at Sonamarg is 90 km away from Srinagar and at 7,800 ft altitude. The 3-hour drive from Srinagar will give you a glimpse of the natural beauty of Kashmir as well as that of delightful Kashmiri Bungalows. The time of arrival will vary between afternoon and early evening with an overnight stay at the beautiful Sonamarg base camp.
The 11 km trek from Sonamarg will begin shortly after breakfast the next day and take you for an ascent up to 11,500 feet. The trails leading to Nichnai goes through Shekdur and is resplendent with dense forests of Silver Birch, Maple, and Pine trees. Trek through lush green meadows and follow wild streams to Nichnai.
The entire route is full of tall pine trees which will envelop you in their fragrance. The magnificent Silver birch trees and the colourful Maple trees lend the route a picturesque quality.
Vishansar and Kishansar Lakes
The next day, a 12 km trek will include an ascent to Nichnai Pass and a descent from there to Vishansar Lake. You may spot some of the hidden lakes of Nichnai pass along this trek. Vishansar is the foremost lake you will come across on this trek and it is about 15 minutes away from the campsite, on foot, situated at 13,100 ft.
The mid-point of the trek is utilized to let you get acclimatized to the high altitudes and low temperatures. You may visit Kishansar Lake which about 1.5 km away. You may even engage in light exercise at the campsite which includes a large open ground.
Gadsar Pass, Summit, and Satsar Lake
The trek to Gadsar on day 5 is about 14 km long and includes a steep ascent to the Gadsar Pass. At 13,750 ft., this is the highest point of the trek, height with a stunning view of the Gadsar Lake. The descent to the Gadsar campsite is fairly gradual in comparison.
Satsar Lake is 9 km away from Gadsar at a lower elevation of 12,000 ft. and it might take between 6 and 7 hours to reach. The trail is decorated with wildflowers in the summer months. Staying at the Satsar campsite overnight, in tents, surrounded by mountains is an adventure in itself. Depending on the season, you are likely to come across wild strawberries growing along the trail.
Twin Lakes – Gangbal and Nandkol
Climb up to 13,000 ft again for a visit to the twin lakes of Gangbal and Nandkol. This 11 km trek involves climbing through rocky terrain to the Zaj Pass. From here you can view several lakes, Mt. Harmukh, and its glacier. You will then descend to Gangabal Lake, which is the largest of the seven lakes. This trail affords the most spellbinding views of lakes and mountains.
The trek from Gangabal to Naranag, the last point of the trek, is about 15 km long. These trails are full of fragrant pine forests. From here you will be driving on to Srinagar which is 70 km away.
Even after the conclusion of the trek, you may visit yet another gorgeous lake in Srinagar. The Dal Lake. Here you may enjoy living in a boathouse and experiencing the local delicacies from the many floating restaurants.
How difficult is this trek?
Experts consider the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek difficulty to be mid-level. This means that trekkers that have prior experience in camping and trekking are more likely to complete the entire trek without many difficulties whereas complete beginners might find the trek quite challenging.
You will be covering a distance of 12kms almost every day; hence you need to be very fit. The trek will require you to ascend and descend 1500 feet every single day of the trek. The trail does not only include meadows, but also steep climbs which can be quite difficult for beginners.
To prepare for the terrain of Kashmir Great Lakes full of ascents and descents and covered in boulders, start exercising for days ahead. Begin to jog, run, and skip to increase the power of your legs and joints as well as improve your stamina and core strength.
The three most challenging points in the Kashmir Great Lake Trek are Nichnai Pass, Gadsar Pass, and the trek from Satsar to Gangbal. The terrains in these regions expose the trekkers to potential injuries such as ankle twists, bruises, sprains, and more. If there is a deep enough cut, tend to it immediately to avoid infection.
B) High Altitude and AMS
Acute Mountain Sickness is a very common problem. Most people expose themselves to it by cutting the itinerary short and ascending too much in too little time without allowing the body to get accustomed to the elevation.
Keep yourself hydrated during the trek despite the cold and keep measuring your oxygen levels with an oximeter. As a quick tip, we suggest you keep a keen eye on your health for the first couple of days till the Vishansar Lake camp. If you are not feeling well, turn back from there. Exit and evacuation post this point would be really difficult, even if you are in a group.
If you do the trek during the July to September time, you are likely to come across pleasant weather only. However, the weather in the entire Kashmir valley is very unpredictable. It can rain or snow anytime and at frequent intervals. If such a situation occurs in the middle of a trek, it can get very difficult to proceed. Trek leaders often halt the trek at the campsite if the weather is bad enough to go forward.
Despite the risks involved and the difficulty of the trek, it is a once in a lifetime experience. Wandering around the beautiful meadows, flowers blooming in a variety of colours is something that will stay embedded in your memory forever.
Weather and Temperature of Kashmir Great Lakes
Kashmir experiences a European climate with four distinct seasons including spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Though it attracts trekkers all year round, most trails in Kashmir are buried in snow for the better part of the year.
Spring (April to June):
With temperatures ranging between 15⁰C to 0⁰C, spring is the season when the lower regions of the valley start to blossom. However, high altitude regions are still covered in snow during this time making parts inaccessible. Trekking is not ideal during this time.
Summer (July to September):
This is the only time the trek is fully functional. The snow starts melting by the end of June and by July the valley truly begins to come alive. The lush green meadows and vividly colourful flowers blooming all around. The lakes may still be partly frozen but that just enhances their surreal beauty. With temperatures ranging between 3-20 degrees Celsius during these months, trekkers can enjoy bright sunny days and chilly nights.
August may bring sporadic showers but since the region lies in a rain shadow area, the rainfall is not as heavy. This is when the lakes are at their glorious best. Surrounded by thick green forests and wildflowers, the pristine waters sparkle under the warm sunlight.
With September comes the dip in temperature and the colours of fall start to set in. Trees start to shed their leaves and flowers start wilting as temperatures drop. By the end of the month, visitors may expect snowfall and strong chilly winds especially on higher campsites like Satsar. The temperature drops to sub-zero levels at night and remains around 3-5 degrees Celsius during the daytime.
Autumn (October to November):
This region experiences a relatively short autumn that quickly turns into winter. With temperatures falling drastically with a maximum of 17⁰C and a minimum of -5⁰C the weather turns harsh. Some trails may even become inaccessible due to snow.
Winter (November to March):
The trek reaches altitudes of over 13500ft above sea level. Winter in this region can be harsh as well as extreme. Heavy snowfall makes the temperatures plummet, ranging between -6⁰C to -20⁰C on average. In higher campsites, the minimum temperatures may drop as low as -30⁰C.
Kashmir Great Lakes Trek in December can be risky as most trails are closed off due to heavy snowfall. Trekking in the snow can be difficult as well as dangerous and the height may even cause altitude sickness. Trails covered in layers of snow and completely frozen lakes lend a surreal quality to the already stunning beauty of the trek. It is advisable to be well prepared if you plan to visit the great lakes of Kashmir in winter. Beginners should not attempt this trek without first gaining ample experience of trekking in snow.
*Hot water for bathing/washing on a chargeable basis, but that too only if resources are available
Health and Safety
- For any Himalayan Trek, Ideal BMI for a trekker should be 18.5 to 24.9
- To keep a check of this please calculate BMI here
- Below given Safety checks should be done to get prepared for any Himalayan Trek.
- Balance : As well said a balanced mind and body gives out best in every condition and that too works in Himalayan treks as well.
- Legs Strength : Body and Legs Strength is required to carry body weight as well as the backpack while trekking in uneven multi terrains. Generally, a good strength on legs works out good in any Trek. One can gain legs strength by doing simple Squats.
- Muscle Flexibility : While trekking in Trans Himalayan region with a flexible body one can easily achieve full range of movement and this can be really helpful for trekkers as well as trek leads. A good flexible will be an advantage while walking on trails, climbing and river crossing etc. Flexibility can be achieved by simple stretching, yoga etc.
- Cardiovascular Endurance : Cardiovascular endurance is defined as the ability of lungs and heart to transmit oxygen to the body muscles. All Himalayan treks are basically ascending descending the slopes and for this trekkers should be having a good cardiovascular endurance. Anyone planning for a Himalayan trek can attain this capacity by doing any cardio exercise like running, swimming, cycling etc.
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