The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek: An iconic shepherd trail from Sonamarg to Naranaag
“perhaps the most beautiful walking trail in the country”
There are some scenic slices of our heavenly Kashmir that are only accessible on foot. One such trail is the spectacular Great Lakes of Kashmir Trek. This adventurous voyage is a unique blend of local cultural rendezvous and a lifetime trekking experience. Starting from Srinagar, our journey first takes us along the beautiful Sindh Valley and Sonamarg for a curated local Homestay experience. From there we start a multi-day trek that follows age-old routes taken by the Gujjars and Bakharwals (the nomadic shepherd communities of Kashmir) looking for greener high-altitude pastures for their livestock. Over the next few days, we traverse some of the remote high passes and few hidden jewels in the Kashmiri mountainscape – the pristine, alpine lakes of Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar, Satsar. Nundhkul and Gangabal. From rolling lush green meadows filled with colorful wildflowers, meandering trout-filled streams and secluded turqoise-coloured lakes to breathtaking views of rugged snow-capped mountains and thrilling crossing of high passes, this is a dream trail for every nature lover and adventure enthusiast out there.
Day 1: Srinagar to Shitkadi in Sindh Valley
- Pick up from Srinagar Dal Gate/TRC
- Drive from Srinagar to Shitkadi near the Sindh river (80 km | 2-3 hours)
- Overnight Camping at Shitkadi village
Day 2: Trek Starts: Shitkari (7,800 ft) to Nichnai ( 11,500 ft)
- Drive from Gagangir to Shitkari (30 Mins)
- Trek to Nichnai: 11 Km | 7-8 hours trail duration approx
- Overnight Camping at Nichnai
Day 3: Trek Nichnai to Vishansar Lake (12,000 ft)
- Via Nichnai Pass (13,100 ft)
- 12 Km | 6-7 hours trail duration approx
- Overnight Camping at Vishansar
Day 4: Trek Vishansar Lake to Gadsar (12,200 ft)
- Via Gadsar Pass (13,750 ft) – the highest pass of the trek
- Pass by the Kishansar and Gadsar Lakes
- 14 Km | 7-8 hours trail duration approx
- Overnight Camping at Gadsar
Day 5: Trek Gadsar Camp to Maingan Top via Satsar Lake (12,100 ft)
- Today is one of the prettiest meadow walks
- 10 Km | 5-6 hours trail duration approx
- Overnight Camping at Maingan Top
Day 6: Trek to Twin Lakes – Gangabal and Nandkol( 11,500 ft)
- Via Zach Pass (13,000 ft)
- 8 Km | 6-7 hours trail duration approx
- Overnight Camping at Nundkul
Day 7: Rest/Exploration Day at Nundkul
- Rest and soak in the mountain vibes camping at a meadow below the mighty Mt. Harmukh
- Hike around the lakes and explore the meadows
- Overnight Camping at Nundkul
Day 8: Trek from the Twin Lakes to Naranag and Drive back to Srinagar
- The entire trail is a descent to a heritage village called Naranaag
- 13 Km | 6-7 hours trail duration approx
- We hop on to our cars and drive from Naranag to Srinagar (60 Km | 2-3 hours)
1. Prettiest adventure in the himalayas
The Kashmir Great Lakes trek is considered by many as the most beautiful walking route in the Indian Himalayas. The soul-stirring multi-day trail takes intrepid travellers into one of the most gorgeous mountainscapes out there. During the season, trekkers traverse an inaccessible and old shepherd route on foot crossing bubbling streams, pine and birch forests, boulder-laden rocky terrains, massive rolling meadows teeming with wild flowers and especially the multiple turquoise-coloured glacial lakes located at the foothills of imposing snow-clad mountains.
This moderately challenging trail with some steep stretches and sections demands good physical and mental fitness including proper acclimatization. Along with hiking through some thrilling high trails, trekkers also ascend three exhilarating mountain passes with an average altitude of 4000m above sea level. The climb towards the passes is physically demanding and rain is a factor that remains unrpedictable in these mountains. All this makes the trek a unique but a rewarding challenge to complete.
Stunning sunrises and sunsets, breathtaking views from passes, reflections in the shimmering lakes, terrific night skies and some dramatic landscapes also turn the route into a photographer’s paradise. Staying under magical starry skies, a physical challenge in the remote wilderness, some of the most attractive campsites and the spectacular sceneries at every step of the way, all this makes the Kashmir Great Lakes trek an all-encompassing lifetime adventure.
2. The Great Lakes
Home to innumerable known and unknown high-altitude alpine lakes, the land of Kashmir can easily be termed as the lake country. Most of these lakes however cannot be approached by a four-wheel drive. Like rare natural gemstones, they lie hidden away deep in the inhospitable recesses of the mighty mountain ranges that criss-cross the paradise land.
On the Kashmir Great Lakes trek, we get a chance to come across few of these mesmerizing natural wonders. The stellar natural beauty of these lakes makes the trail even more captivating and is one of the primary highlights of the trail. Named Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar, Satsar, Nundhkul and Gangabal lakes, these glacier-fed water bodies are classified as alpine oligotrophic lakes. Each an astonishing shade of green, blue and turquoise, these lakes reflect the surrounding giant mountains on their crystal-clear waters. Some of them are also home to rare trout fishes including the Rainbow and Brown trouts.
The lakes on the trek are indeed some of the most scenic and picturesque lakes once can find in the region. The enchanting bird’s-eye views of Kishansar lake from13750 ft at Gadsar Pass, seeing a tiny iceberg float on the glistening waters of the Gadsar lake or camping on the meadows close to the sacred twin lakes of Nudhkul and Gangabal at the base of the majestic glacier of Mt. harmukh, are just some of the unforgettable experiences these lakes offer.
3. The margs of kashmir
The alluring beauty and breathtaking vistas of any Kashmir’s ‘margs’ or meadows attracts many tourists every year. Sonamarg, Gulmarg and Baisaran are some of the most popular meadow destinations in the valley. There are however hundreds of remote meadows spread throughout the region that are still unexplored and untouched.
The Kashmir Great lakes trek takes us to some of these alpine fields far away from these crowded touristy places. These are some of the lesser-known and pristine meadows that very few people get to see every year. From Shekdur to Satsar, from Nichnai to Nundhkul the trail passes through some very picturesque grassy slopes dotted with a variety of colourful wildflowers. Walking on such meadows surrounded by giant mountains is a complete bliss for nature lovers. During the summer, the fields are also home to the nomadic camps of Gujjar and Bakharwal community. These seasonal nomads visit and stay here for months at such high altitudes with their grazing sheep and livestock. In fact, the shepherds from these communities were the first ones to explore the Kashmir Great Lakes trek which eventually became synonymous with trekking in Kashmir.
During the season, this entire setting in these meadows presents a riveting picture and the grandeur of the whole trek gets enhanced with these rolling fields stretching for miles and providing the travellers a visual treat every day.
The Great Lakes of Kashmir trail is considered a moderately challenging route. The multi-day camping trek involves covering a distance of about 70 Kms in 7 days (including one rest/buffer day), with an average trek duration of 6-7 hours daily. With 3 high-altitude Pass crossings, there is considerable altitude gain as well and requires proper acclimatization to be factored in the itinerary. The highest altitude reached on the route is 13750 ft above mean sea level.
The fairly long route coupled with average daily trek duration along with the altitude factor makes the KGL trek an adventure that should not be taken lightly or casually. It is ideal for hikers with prior trekking and camping experience but is also suitable even for the beginners or people who are just starting to trek, provided they have good physical fitness and have prepared well before the trek departure.
The best time to hike on this route is from the beginning of July to the middle of September. The reason being in all the other months, the high passes on the route are engulfed in snow which makes them difficult to cross. Depending on the snow conditions on the trail we may also open this as early as the later half of June which generally ensures much less crowd and more pristine conditions compared to the later months.
The temperatures on the trek range from 15-20 degrees Celsius during daytime and may drop to 4-8 degrees Celsius in the night. If it rains, it may feel colder and so one needs to be prepared in terms of clothing and gear. The months of July to September is when the summers in Kashmir transition to Autumn and Kashmir is at its most vibrant during this period, exhibiting a diverse range of landscapes and the best shades of green with colourful wildflowers all over. Although rains are generally unpredictable in the mountains, it is definitely expected on this trail during this season and afternoon showers are more common offering a good window to trek during the morning.
The Great Lakes of Kashmir is a gorgeous alpine trail that many people would like to experience. But one of the first questions that comes to their minds is that, is the Kashmir Great Lakes trek safe. Kashmir has indeed been a disturbed region for quite some time and disturbances, unrest and curfews have been common in the past. These have come down significantly and whenever nowadays a situation builds up, it is invariably far away from touristy places in distant towns and villages.
The kashmir Great Lakes trail starts from the famous Sonamarg area and goes deep into the remote mountains. The local economy and the residents there are heavily dependent on tourism and trekking and in their own interest always ensure complete safety for all travellers. The security is also heightened during the Amarnath Yatra times which coincide with KGL trek season. It is also important to note that the great lakes trail has multiple army camps and posts along the way. The alert army men do continuous and strict patrolling every day ensuring a safe passage for all trekkers every year. Thousands of trekkers have traversed this route so far and there has not been a single incident on this trail. The Kashmir Great Lakes trek is therefore completely safe and must be experienced by all nature lovers and trekking enthusiasts.
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