Lost And Found In Untrodden Kashmir

Stepping into my 50th year with a bucketful of things to be done, I went on the Tarsar Marsar trek in Kashmir this year and experienced Kashmir's full glory in summer.
The Tarsar Marsar Lake in Kashmir
The Tarsar Marsar Lake in Kashmir

This September, I left a piece of my heart at an alpine lake in Kashmir, the Tarsar. Alpine lakes are high-altitude ones, situated above 3,000 metres above sea level and fed mainly by glaciers. And India is blessed with quite a few of these miracles of nature. The almond-shaped Tarsar lake is flanked by the Aru and Sind valleys and fed by the Kolahai glacier.

Stepping into my 50th year with a bucketful of things to be done, the Valley of Flowers trek was at the top of my list. Uttarakhand didn't have a call for me this year. I was disappointed about that, but then the Tarsar Marsar trek came my way. It was back to Kashmir again this year for me after my winter trip in January. It was time to experience Kashmir's full glory in summer. I was delighted that this was my first solo trek, not knowing that I'd make friends for a lifetime.

The best time to trek the Tarsar Marsar is either the months of May, June, August, or September. September brings little rain, transforming the valley into a colour palette dominated by various shades of green. The imposing meadows of Kashmir are no less than picture-perfect at this time.

We, a syndicate of 15 minds with a common agenda to enjoy nature and its pristine aura, walked the corridor to paradise on the first day from Aru to Lidderwat. The Lidderwat valley has impressive views of maple and pine trees, and it serves as a base camp for most high-altitude Kashmir treks. An easy 5-hour climb revealed sweeping green meadows interspersed with gentle climbs. We pitched our tents here on the banks of the Lidder river.

Day 2

The day began with much enthusiasm. Adjusting to the idea of packing up each morning and unpacking for the nights in the tent was set in. I learned newer lessons in management that no textbook could have ever taught. A morning routine of 6&ndash8 was to be followed, which meant waking up at 6am, having breakfast at 7am, and leaving the campsite at 8am to make way for another exciting climb. The sight of dawn breaking in the Kashmir valley proved that the phrase "Sleep is the best meditation" was wrong for me. The joy of little things was gift-wrapped up here, in the mountains. It was an exhilarating experience not having to dress up in formal clothes and instead getting ready in comfortable trek attire not wearing office heels but taking five minutes to tie the trek shoe knot correctly. 

Today was a day of traversing the gentle ascent through terrain ranging from vast meadows to stony trails and thrilling river crossings. We had walked past the Bakarwal and the Gujjar (high altitude goatherds/shepherds) huts sheep and goats accompanied us. We even stopped for sheer chai, popularly known as noon chai, at a Gujjar home. Noon chai is a Kashmiri tea made of green tea leaves, milk, and baking soda. Shekwas was the most scenic and tranquil campsite, nestled between three valleys.

Day 3

On the third day, we were still gaining altitude to reach the star campsite of the trek, the Tarsar Lake campsite (3,800 metres). We got a mesmerising coup d'oeil of Tarsar Lake two hours into the day's hike. We passed and crossed a few ridges to reach our tents.

Acclimatisation walks were a part of the evening activity to get the body used to the altitude and simultaneously prepare for the next day's ascent. I could write an essay titled "An Evening by the Tarsar lake," such was the beauty of this emerald lake. I spent a few hours at this enticing wonder of nature where the sun rays at dusk played their own drama and watching the lake in its grandeur was aesthetically satisfying.

By day 3, I had gotten used to living this nomadic life. Heavy breathing due to oxygen depletion was the only snag. Life was at an indolent pace in the mountains I had nothing to catch up on, and there was no fear of missing out, but only the joy of letting go. No network came as a blessing in disguise. This trek proved to be therapy for me.

Day 4

This was the most demanding day of the trek, with a steep ascent to 4,100 meters. We crossed over the Sonamous or Tarsar pass and descended to Zaji valley with resplendent views of the Kolahoi peak. I was awestruck by the magnanimity of the pass. The motivating words "shabaas" and "chalte raho" by our very own trek leader were echoing all through the way. Elated on summiting the pass, we had some exhilarating moments captured for life. The consequent descent was going to be hard on our knees since the path was only gravel and scree. The shifting stones could be nasty if not paid heed to. Guarded with knee supports and hats to beat the scorching sun, we successfully came down the mountain into the arms of the welcoming valley. The Zen-like feeling after resting in the meadows was inexplicable.

Balancing on a trail lined with huge boulders was something I had never done before, and the trail to Sundersar Lake was just that. The triumphal feeling of reaching Sundersar lake after the 5 km arduous trek and the gratification achieved was unfathomable. The captivating beauty of this lake proved its name valid &ndash 'Sundersar' &ndash a beautiful lake. This lake is surrounded by mountains all around, augmenting its beauty multifold. The evil twin lake of Marsar (another oligotrophic alpine lake at an elevation of 4,000 meters) is a treacherous hike and is sighted from above only. Touching the waters of this lake is considered inauspicious and brings a bad omen.

Day 5

This marked the beginning of our descent to Sonmasti (3250 meters). It was a short distance, but a steep decline of 700 meters. Sonmasti was a beauteous campsite where hot kehwa awaited us. The camp, in the full moon's glory, shone like none other. By now, the trekking group had become a unit, and we were enjoying the synergy. It was the last night in the tent we were thrilled that we would no longer have to pack our sleeping bags. We were also struck by the reality that this affair was now coming to an end. We headed towards Surfraw to reach a motorable road. We left behind the mountains, the meadows, the peace, and the serenity, the cold wind, and the shiny sky, yet took back memories and nostalgia. Although I lost a piece of my heart at the twin lakes, I found solace in the soundlessness of mother nature.

Lost and found in Kashmir &ndash indeed

Images courtesy Kinnari Shah

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