About Kashmir Great Lake Trek
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.
- Kashmir Great Lake Trek
Day 1: Arrival at Sonamarg from Srinagar
- 90 Km drive
- Time Taken 3 Hours
The first day of your Kashmir Great Lakes trek will take you from Srinagar to Sonamarg, where the basecamp for the trek is situated. From the bustling beauty of Srinagar complete with gardens, tree-lined lanes and shimmering lakes to the ‘Meadow of Gold’, Sonamarg, the 3 hours’ drive will set you up perfectly for the next 8 days of trekking. The winding lanes follow the beautiful Indus River for most of the distance. We will have our official team introduction at the Shitakadi Base Camp at Sonamarg with fellow trekkers and team leaders. The route and schedule for the trek will also be discussed before dinner.
Day 2: Start from Sonamarg to Nichnai via Shekdur
- Sonamarg (7,800 ft) to Nichnai (11,500 ft) via Shekdur
- Trekking distance of 11Km
- Trekking time around 8 hours
You will be starting your trek on Day 2 with a steep ascent towards the meadow of Shekdur, where the team will have a break before heading towards Nichnai. At around 3 km from the starting point, there is a Dhaba on the right side, which is the last place one can collect dry food items, water, and any other essentials. The trail twists and turns through a lush green meadow and then into a forest of maples and pine trees, with the clearings between trees offering stunning views of Sonamarg valley. You will know you have reached Shekdur when the scenery changes to Bhoj Patra or Silver Birch trees. The meadow of Shekdur leads you uphill through forests of birches and then starts going downhill. The last stretch of today’s trek is a riverside trail through a valley with snow-clad peaks on both sides. The river valley marks the beginning of Nichnai and further downstream, there will be plenty of flat green meadows to put up our tents for the night.
Day 3: From Nichnai to Vishansar Lake via Nichnai Pass
- Nichnai (11,500 ft) to Vishansar Lake (12,100 ft)
- Trekking distance of 12 Km
- Trekking time around 7 hours
On the third day, the trek will be more or less of the flat gradient, with a small climb and descent near Nichnai Pass. The trek starts along the right side of the river by which you camped at Nichnai and after an hour’s walk, you will have to cross the river to start walking along its left bank and then ascend through a meadow. The Nichnai pass comes up soon, which resembles a wide tunnel. Soon afterward, the rocky path full of boulders gives way to lushness again, with wildflowers starting to pop up beneath your feet. Magnificent views open up as well along the descent from Nichnai Pass, augmented by the presence of occasional waterfalls feeding the mountain brooks. There will be another crossing of an icy cold stream before you reach your day’s destination, the first of the many alpine lakes on this trek. Vishansar Lake is half a km away from the campsite, nestled at the foot of four towering peaks. Kishansar peak is the closest, whose reflection shimmers in the lake during the day. Like all Himalayan lakes, Vishansar changes its colour depending on the day’s weather.
Day 4: Explore Vishansar and Kishansar Lakes – Rest Day
- Rest at the campsite
Vishansar Lake and its twin, Kishansar Lake are such mesmerising creations of nature that a whole day is best kept to explore their beauty. Kishansar is located only half a kilometre away from Vishansar, at the base of Kishansar peak. It would also let you catch your breath halfway through the trek and get acclimatized to the surroundings. Today would be perfect to notice how the two lakes change colour over a day. In the early morning, they reflect the redness of the dawn. During the day, when the sky is clear, the lakes are blue striking blue in reflection and on overcast days, they are a dark, murky grey. Fishing of trout is a popular activity in the lakes but you will need a special permit from Srinagar to do that.
Day 5: Vishansar Lake to Gadsar Lake via Gadsar Pass
- Vishansar Lake (12,100 ft) to Gadsar Lake (12,000 ft) via Gadsar Pass (13,700 ft)
- Trekking distance of 14 Km
- Trekking time around 10 hours
The trail to Gadsar Lake passes by Kishansar once again. Crossing the big blue lake and the meadow on its right, the trek will continue along a ridge which has the first sharp ascent since you started. It will go sharp uphill and lead to its top. At the top of the thin ridge is Gadsar Pass at 13,700 ft, which is the highest point of your Kashmir Great Lakes trek. Reaching the pass will reward you with the most picturesque views you could imagine, with both Vishansar and Kishansar Lakes in full view, as well as a few other peaks, lakes and valleys which fall beyond LOC. From here, a more comfortable downhill walk will first take you to Yamsar Lake, which the locals believe to be associated with Lord Yama, then another small nameless lake and finally to the pristine Gadsar Lake at the base of high-raised cliffs. Red and purple Iris flowers lead you to the crystal blue water body, and when the blossoms turn blue, you will know you are almost in the vicinity of Gadsar Lake. The blue irises continue with abundance on one side of the lake, while the other side sees fallen snow slabs from the high peaks. Gadsar Lake is an epitome of beauty and camping by its side will be a rewarding way after a tiring day of trekking.
Day 6: Gadsar Lake to Satsar Lake
- Gadsar Lake (12,000 ft) to Satsar Lake (12,000 ft)
- Trekking distance of 12 Km
- Trekking time around 8 hours
The landscape changes significantly on your sixth day of trekking. When you set off for Satsar Lake from the banks of Gadsar, the first thing you will cross is a small but important army camp. Leave the camp behind to find your way by the stream once again and eventually cross it to follow the trail further uphill. If you don’t want to get your feet wet, there is a bridge a kilometre ahead. But it is best not to detach from the team in treks such as this. Since both the lakes are at the same altitude, there is not much ascent or descent scheduled for today. However, the flat trail is no less spectacular, as it takes you along a path right above a deep river valley and dense line of trees. When the trees line end and an open meadow begins, pay attention to your right to spot a few mountain craters, possibly awaiting to become bigger lakes anytime in the future. This place is named Maengandob. Satsar Lake is a little distance ahead from here. It is actually a carefully camouflaged collection of seven interconnected lakes, which can be differentiated depending on the season.
Day 7: Satsar to Gangabal Twin Lakes via Zaj Pass
- Satsar (11,800 ft) to Gangabal Twin Lakes (11,500 ft) via Zaj Pass (13,000 ft)
- Trekking distance of 11 Km
- Trekking time around 7 hours
Your encounter with pristine Himalayan lakes will continue as today you will come across two more – Gangabal and Nundkol. The trek starts in the usual ascent and descent manner, which has been the characteristic of the trail since the first day. The route will take you through three ridges, which are green in patches and barren otherwise, except for local Gujjar huts. From the top of the third ridge, the two lakes situated side by side can be seen clearly. Descent from the top and crossing a stream over a log bridge will bring you to your first destination. Nundkol, although not quite as clean due to regular camping, is still beautiful to see. It lies at the base of Harmukh Peak. It is connected with Gangabal, which is 20 minutes away, with a stream that runs rapidly and windingly between the two lakes. The stream has to be crossed to reach Gangabal from Nundkol, where you will camp for the night.
Day 8: Gangabal Lake to Naranag
- Gangabal Lakes (11,500 ft) to Naranag Drive (7,500 ft)
- Trekking distance of 11 Km
- Trekking time around 7 hours
- 70 Km drive back to Srinagar
The last day of the trek will test your resilience as you will have to prove your mettle in a steep downhill walk. Descents are comparatively easier and less tiring than ascents, but they are murderous for the knees and toes. What makes it even more difficult is the muddy nature of the tread. Pine trees accompany you all along the route, with green meadows with yellow blossoms separating one forest from another. In the last 4 kilometres of the trek, you can expect to descent more than 3,000 ft altogether. The stone-paved village roads of Naranag come as a relief sight, as it marks the beginning of flatter terrains. From Naranag, you will be driven to Srinagar in a 2.5 hours’ drive, which will be the end of your 8-day Kashmir Great Lakes trek.