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Spectrum Tours » Adventure Tour Indian » Trekking in Kashmir

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Trekking in Kashmir

A lush green bowl, 129 km long and 40 km wide, Kashmir is surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains. In the south-west, the Pir Panjal rising at places to 5,000 metres separates the valley from the plains. The principal pass in this mountain range is Banihal through which vehicular traffic flows into the valley from the Jammu area. On the north-east, the valley is flanked by the Pangi range, the principal summits of which are Harmukh and Mahadeo, both close to the capital 16 city of Srinagar. To the north is the majestic Ladakh range, and the Lidder Valley is protected by the Kolahoi massif.

A potpourri of lakes, rivers, high altitude meadows, fruit orchards and snow capped peaks, Kashmir offers unlimited variety for those who look for un spoilt natural beauty. Modern infrastructure has made Kashmir a lot more accessible and enjoyable than in the past. Good quality hotels, houseboats, air links, bus services, golf courses, trout fishing beats, heli-skiing, water sports and mountaineering are just a few of its outdoor possibilities. But, for the adventure lover, trekking remains the most popular way of exploring Kashmir.

Trekking in Kashmir does not mean just walking over forested mountains as it combines nature and the local culture. As the trekker climbs higher, the landscape changes. Chinar and poplar trees are replaced by fir, pine and oak, the alpine meadows and a profusion of colourful wild flowers. The simple villagers in the plains with their fruit orchards and paddy fields are replaced by migrant families of Gujjars, herdsmen who cross the high mountain passes with their cattle in search of greener pastures.

The main areas of attraction for the trekker in Kashmir .are the Lidder and Sind valleys which support a number of high altitude meadows or margs as they are locally known. 'The townships of Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Pahalgam are the main trekking heads, both for short hikes and longer treks in Kashmir's mountains.

Srinagar, the capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is the nodal point for trips and excursions to the smaller satellite hill townships in Kashmir. Srinagar is well connected both by air and by road to the rest of the country. The capital city's main attraction are its twin lakes, Dal and Nagin on and around which most of the city's life revolves.

Accommodation in Srinagar includes hotels, guest houses and houseboats to suit all budgets. Of these, houseboats are the most popular and an attraction by themselves. Information about tourist facilities and approved rates for hotels and houseboats can be obtained from the Tourist Reception Centre located conveniently in the heart of Srinagar. Tourist information officers at the Tourist Reception Centre will also be able to advise the trekker on routes, itineraries. and equipment. The trekking cell at the Centre also hires out good quality trekking equipment at a nominal charge. There are also a number of private outfitters in Srinagar who can make arrangements for porters, ponies, cooks, guides etc.

Just 50 km east of Srinagar, Gulmarg or 'meadow of flowers' is at an altitude of 2,900 metres. Dominated by a large bowl shaped meadow covered with wild flowers in the summer months, Gulmarg is still a quiet township. It also boasts the highest 18 hole golf course in the world which offers some interesting challenges and hosts a number of prestigious tournaments every year. The town's main attraction, however, are its walks which run through thick pine forests rich with bird life. Gulmarg is also the base for short treks into the Pir Panjal mountains. A popular day hike is to Khilanmarg and then on to the Alpathar lake. Khilanmarg, 5 km from Gulmarg, is at 3,000 metres and is a lush meadow surrounded by thick pine forests. Alpathar is 8 km from Khilanmarg on a pony track. A frozen lake, Alpathar is one of the most scenic spots in the Pir Panjal range. Ningel Nallah is a pleasant 8 km walk along brooks and through forests and meadows. The Gulmarg-Tosamaidan, five day return trek is one of the most popular in Kashmir. The trek originates at Gulmarg and branches of from the Ferozpur Nala and beyond to the hamlets of Danwas, Tejjan, and Tosamaidan.

Literally translated, Sonamarg means a 'meadow of gold'. The most important township in the fertile Sind valley, Sonamarg is the last major township in Kashmir on the road to Ladakh. Sonamarg is also the staging point for some of the most popular treks in the higher altitudes. A pleasant one day excursion from Sonamarg is to the Thajiwas glacier, 8 km away, and approachable by a pony over a well maintained track~ The most popular trek originating from Sonamarg is the Kashmir Lake Trek. It covers the lakes of Gangabal, Vishansar, Kishansar, and close to the Harrnukh peak. The trail first crosses the Nichinai Pass (13 ,387 ft) and then enters the alpine valleys that eventually lead to the Gangabal Lake. Vishansar, Vishnu's Lake, is just over 12,000 ft and slightly larger than the 12,500 ft Kishansar, Krishna's Lake. Gangabal lake is the highlight of this trip. Protected by the three peaks of Mount Harrnukh, Gangabal is 5 miles in circumference and offers the finest trout fishing anywere in Kashmir.

Situated on the banks of the Lidder river, Pahalgam at an altitude of 7,000 feet is a picturesque township. Cloaked by dense forests of pine, this hill resort is dominated by one main street with shops selling a variety of handicrafts and local bric a brac, restaurants and hotels. For the day visitor, the favourite pastime at Pahalgam is to hire a pony and ride along the Lidder river and the Aru stream. There are also a number of trout fishing beats in the pahalgam area, but permits have to be obtained in advance from Srinagar. The resort also offers a number of short day hikes to the neighbouring mountains and glades. One popular day walk is to Aru (12 km) on a trail that follows the road almost all the way to Aru. Enroute are spectacular views looking back down the valley to Pahalgam. Another excellent day hike is to follow the pony trail to Bhai Saran (7,500 ft) just 5 km from Pahalgam. The trekker can also continue from Bhai Saran to the Tuliyan Lake, 12 km further, for an overnight trek.

Pahalgam is also the staging point for one of Kashmir's oldest and most popular treks. The Amarnath Yatra is undertaken by more than 30,000 pilgrims every year and has been a continuing tradition for the last 300 years. This 5 day trek which covers 92 km is usually done in the full moon of Sawan (July-August) as this is considered to be the most auspicious time to visit the holy ice Jingam at the Amarnath cave. Located in the Amravati valley, Amarnath is best approached from Pahalgam over a pass at 14,000 feet. The Pahalgam-Kolahoi Glacier-Pahalgam trek takes 6 days and covers approximately 70 km. At the Kolahei glacier the trekker can get a glimpse of the Kolahoi Peak and see the source of the Lidder river. Excursions to the Tarsar and Marsar lakes in the Upper Dachigam area can also be made from here if the trekker has an additional two days. A trek from Pahalgam to Sonamarg via Aru, Lidderwat, Sekiwas, Khemsar and Kulan can also be done in about four days.

Kishtwar to Kashmir Trek
Kishtwar is an isolated district in Jammu & Kashmir, accessible from both Jammu and Srinagar. This trek is a revelation of the culture of 19th century Kashmir, and also offers opportunties to the trekker to explore some of the valleys that lead to the heart of the greater Himalayas. Trekkers can also deviate from the main path to explore the Kiar and Kibar valley at the base of the Sickle Moon or Bhrahmah peaks.

Trekkers can either take a bus or walk to the Palmer village. From Palmer, Ikhala is only a few kilo metres away and there is a good rest house and camping sites at the base of the trail. The second day's trek to the Sirshi village initially passes through heavily forested gorges to the confluence of the Kibar and Kiar nullahs and rich farmland. From Sirshi, the trail passes through farmlands offering a spectacular view of the Brahmah peak. Gradually the irrigated area gives way to thickly forested gorges which lead to the village of Hanzal. A little beyond Hanzal, forests are once again replaced by farmlands and orchards of walnut and apples at Marva and Yourdu. From Yourdu, the trail first runs along the .west banks of the Warwan and then on the far banks to Inshin. Inshin is a major village with a general store and even a bank. The last stage of this trek begins with a steep climb to the Margan Pass with breathtaking views of the Warwan valley and the Nun Kun peaks. From the pass, it's an easy descent to Lehinvan from where buses are available to Anantnag. and then Srinagar.
Season: June to October.
Duration: 6 days.
Grade: Moderate.
Stages: Kishtwar to Palmer to Ikhala, Ikhala to Sirshi, Sirshi to Hanzal, Hanzal to Yourdu, Yourdu to Inshin, Inshin to Lehinvan.
Note: Rest houses are available at all stages. Provisions at Kishtwar.

Pahalgam to Kolahoi Glacier
The first stage of this trek, from Pahalgam to Aru, can be done by vehicle. It is, however, recommended that the trail be walked as it is ideal acclimatisation for the tougher routes ahead. This trail follows the Lidder river to the open meadows at Aru, where excellent campsites as well as private hotels and campsites are available. The short trek from Aru to Lidderwat runs through thick pine forests to undulating meadows where the trekker can see the local shepherds grazing livestock. From Lidderwat, the trail follows the west bank of the Lidder through Gujjar encampments to the largest nomadic village in the area at Satlanjan. The Kolahoi peak (5,734 metres) is usually clouded over by midmorning and it is, therefore, wise to start early from Satlanjan. The trekker does not have to go to the glacier to view Kolahoi and has the choice of either ascending the ridge opposite Kolahoi or climbing to Dodsar after fording the Lidder stream. The trekker can return to Lidderwat the same day and leave the next morning for Aru and then Pahalgam.
Season: May to October.
Duration: 6 nights. Grade: Moderate.
Stages: Pahalgam to Aru (11 km), Aru to Lidderwat (11 km), Lidderwat to Satlanjan (4 km), Satlanjan to Kolahoi to Lidderwat (14 km), Lidderwat to Am (11 km), Aru to Pahalgam (11 km).
Note: Ponies can be hired at Pahalgam or Aru. Basic supplies and food rations are available at Aru and Lidderwat. Aru and Lidderwat have accommodation.

Kashmir Lake Trek
One of the most popular trails in Kashmir, this trek from Sonamarg to Harmukh crosses four picturesque high altitude lakes, offers spectacular mountain scenery, flowered campsites and rewarding trout fishing. Starting at Sonamarg, a quaint township at the base of the road to Ladakh, the trail follows the traditional route of the Gujjars, the nomadic shepherds of Kashmir. The first day brings the trekker to the meadows of Shok Dharan. which offer panoramic views of Zozila and Sonamarg. From Shok Dharan, the trail climbs to the Nichinni Bar at 4,000 metres and the tired trekker is rewarded by uninterrupted views of the Baltoro Glacier in the region of K2. From there, the trail descends through lush meadows covered with wild flowers to the glittering Kishensar Lake. The lake has excellent trout fishing and the trekker will be able to find enough time to fish before the next stage. From Kishensar, the trail climbs to the Vishensar Lake through open marshland culminating at a pass at 4,300 metres. From here, a magnificient view of the Nanga Parvat is possible on a clear day. The trail descends to the small town at Gadsar and trekkers can spend the night in one of the gujjar encampments that spring up here in summer.

From Gadsar, crossing over a permanent snow bridge, the trail winds through a tough climb along the Satsaran ridge and down to open pastures to the village of Jowdor. This is the only permanent settlement in the area and the villagers who are migrants from Gurais depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The rare musk deer and the Kashmir stag are also reported to have been sighted quite regularly near the village. From Jowdor the trail climbs steeply to Megandob and then descends to the lakes of Gangabal and Nudhkhol. The pass at 5,755 metres, just before the descent to Gangabal, offers a spectacular view of Mount Harmukh (5,755 metres).

Gangabal is the best lake on this trek for trout fishing. The local fisheries guard will help the trekker in identifying the best locations and on choosing the most effective 'flies'. Trekkers also have the option of climbing to the south ridge of Mount Harmukh to get a clear view of the valley of Kashmir. On the last stage, the trail descends steeply from Nundh Kohl to Naranag through dense forests. The 9th century temple at Naranag is worth a visit. From here to Wangat, the road-head, is a 6 km easy walk. Wangat is connected by bus to Kangan and from there to Sri nagar.
Season: June to October.
Duration: 7 days.
Stages: Sonamarg to Nichinni (13 km), Nichinni to Kishansar (13 km), Kishansar to Gadsar, Gadsar to Megandob, Megandob to Gangabal, Gangabal to Naranag.
Note: Carryall provisions including food and fuel. Pack ponies are available at Sonarnarg. Obtain a fishing license from Srinagar. Acclimatise before attempting the trek. Hotels and rest houses at Sonamarg. Rest houses at Kangan and Wangat.

Amarnath Trek
Thousands of Hindu pilgrims trek to Amarnath Cave every year to pay obesiance to an Ice lingam, said to be symbolic of Lord Shiva and his immortality. Whereas the main pilgrimage takes place in August to coincide with the full moon, a trek to Amarnath is a lot more tranquil when the trekker is not accompanied by singing and chanting devotees.

The trail begins at Pahalgam, though it is possible to drive till Chandanwari, and ascend to the exquisitely beautiful glacial lake at Sheshnag. From Sheshnag, the trail climbs steeply to Mahgunas pass at 4,580 metres and then descends to Panchtarni, crossing the Sheshnag stream over several points. Along this route are many vantage spots from where the trekker can admire the spectacular mountain ranges behind Sheshnag. From Panchtarni, the final stage to the Amarnath cave crosses a snow bridge and follows the Amravati stream. Once at Amarnath, the trekker has the option of returning to Pahalgam or backtracking till Panchtarni to take the trail to Baltal, close to the town of Sonamarg.

Season: July to October.
Duration: 5 days.
Grade: Moderate.
Stages: Pahalgam to Chandanwari (13 km), Chandanwari to Sheshnag (11 km), Sheshnag to Panchtarni (11 km), Panchtarni to Amarnath to Baltal (21 km).
Note: Camping sites available on the route. Pack ponies can be hired at Pahalgam. Hotels and guest houses at Pahalgam and Sonamarg.

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