The beautiful Loire Valley, with its romantic chateaus, the flowing river and the picturesque countryside.
Nature is very often my spiritual home and Kashmir truly transported me.
With a group of long-standing trekking buddies, I set out to discover the newly-opened trekking route in Kashmir which passes through high altitude lakes and meadows. The journey lasted seven days starting from Sonamarg a few hours east of Srinagar, snaking through the mountains in the north, and ending at Naranag, north-west of Srinagar.
We set off on a bright Sunday morning from the base of a hill overlooking Sonamarg with the Thajiwas Glacier glistening in the background. Porters, horsemen and guides made up the party and helped us get organised for the departure. As we set off on the gradually ascending path, curious, bright-eyed children from the nearby villages looked hopefully for some treats – sweets, hair bands, pencils, anything was welcome.
A gradual climb for a few hours along a hillside dotted with beautiful pine trees and shepherds’ huts with a 360° view of the Sonamarg mountains and glaciers brought us to the first meadow.
The path then passed through what seemed like the Middle Earth forest and then opened up, winding gently uphill next to the gushing, boulder-strewn River Sindh. After a long day’s walk, we arrived at Shekdur camp overlooking the river and the pass we had to climb the next day.
Morning started with a tricky river crossing and then it was up; up all the way to the Nichnai Pass at over 4000 metres. After this, came a short descent and a flat walk along the stream with towering mountains on either side as we made our approach to the Vishansar Lake, which was our camp for two nights.
An expanse of mesmerizingly clear turquoise, nestled at the base of snow-capped peaks, Vishansar Lake is a beautiful start to discovering the alpine lakes. We spent the day enjoying the lake, the overflowing streams and fishing for trout!
It was time to continue on the lake trail. Kishansar Lake, framed by a brooding, dark peak dotted with ice. Coming up was the toughest pass on the route – the Gadsar Pass – which was an initial steep, straight, vertical climb followed by zigzags all the way to the top at 4200 metres. The climb down from the Gadsar Pass took us through stunningly colourful meadows of wild flowers framed by several small lakes in all shades of blue and green. It was pure happiness walking down from the pass. It had it all – green meadows with flowers, snow-covered mountains, blue-as-can-be lakes and many Himalayan red marmots prancing around.
Soon, we arrived at Gadsar Lake – a deep trough with ice floes in the water. Local folklore has it that the Gadsar Lake is also called Yemsar Lake or Lake of death, with a mysterious monster that drags people from the shores into the lake.
A short break for lunch and we walked on to check-in at the Gadsar army camp we before reaching our own camp. Our next day’s journey was to find Satsar or seven lakes. Starting with a sharp climb over ice from the Gadsar camp, the path hugged the hillside which was filled with sheep and goats herded by the local shepherd community known as Gujjars. A stop at another army camp flying the Indian flag, and onward we went over hundreds of boulders to the Satsar lakes which glistened calmly under the sun. Camp was made at Maegandob, a little clearing dominated by towering peaks where it can get very cold on windy days and nights.
Our last stretch was the walk to the famous twin lakes of Gangabal. The day started misty and cold but we moved on. Initially it was a hard uphill climb over a steep pass with poor visibility; you could barely see up to two feet ahead of you. Then began a nerve-wracking descent for a few hundred metres until the twin lakes came into view – a picture that made it all worth it!
It was downhill all the way thereafter, and after crossing some streams we arrived at Camp Gangabal. The lakeside was dotted with many colourful tents as Gangabal is also accessible from Naranag at a distance of a short picnic hike. The Gangabal lakes are a sight to behold – stunning and perfect, the best place to end our trek. We relaxed at Gangabal before setting out for the last day – a few hours walk along the ridge and meadows, followed by a steep, dusty downhill climb to Naranag, where we finished our trek and bid farewell to our wonderful guide, Khurshid, the porters and the horsemen. From there, it was back to Srinagar, a hot shower, clean clothes and some Kahwah! (Kashmiri tea flavoured with saffron and almonds.)
I have found time to travel to many countries and live in 2 countries (3 if Scotland ever does becomes one!) and 6 cities during my career in finance. I was a diplomat first and started in the Indian Foreign Service with my first posting being Paris – The City of Light. And began my lifelong love of travel and coffee there! An MBA followed and I’ve been in finance since.