The maximum altitude gain on any day of the Kashmir Great Lakes trek is on day 1. We gain 1124 meters while trekking from Sonamarg to Nichnai campsite.
Stats for the day:
Elevation gain: 1124 meters
Time taken: 7 hours, 42 minutes, 32 seconds
Distance: 12.47 kilometers
Day 1 starts with an ascent from the base camp at Shitkari, 3 kilometers before Sonamarg, into a meadow overlooking the valley. The trek route climbs towards the North, North West from Shitkari and runs along the Sind River for a few hundred meters. The River separates the meadow from Sonamarg which is to the East. Towards the South East lies the Thajwas glacier. I was hoping to get a good view of the glacier, but with the sun behind the it, the view wasn’t astounding.
As I ascended the valley, I saw a lush forest patch in the distance. After a short easy pace walk, I found myself under a dense canopy of trees. Several times while walking through this forest, I spread my arms to feel the sunlight streaming through the trees caressing my face. The rustling wind cooled my sweaty body and that’s when I switched from city to mountain mode – I was home.
A short climb later, the forest gave way to a verdant green meadow. Somewhere in this meadow is a dhaba serving maggi, chips, tea, biscuits, omelettes, kahwa etc. The Kahwa was terrible, as per the people who enthusiastically had it! While everyone ate, I basked in the sun and stuffed my face with my ghoda (Horse) mix. The ghoda mix in question is a mix of roasted chanas, peanuts, almonds, cashews and raisins. At least psychologically, it gives me tons of energy to climb mountains! So yes, it helped!
The Lunch Break
The trail gave way to a long rocky section by the stream as the green landscape changed to hues of gray. Boulders smattered around the stream claiming their share of the Earth. We stopped for lunch by the stream, and I nestled amidst the rocks to dip my feet in the water. The freezing cold water massaged my feet, the fresh wind and the sunlight filtering through the clouds kissed my face, the gurgling brook drowned out all other sounds and mountain fragrance wafted through the air. I found myself lost!
After a little more climbing through the rocks, we reached the campsite. It was on a gently sloping meadow cocooned within the high mountains. I walked to the stream a hundred feet away to wash my face and saw the distorted reflections of the stunning mountains in the last light of the day. They glittered in a million shades of golden, orange, green and brown. I lost track of time as the evening turned to twilight.
Twilight gave way to night and billions of stars showed up. Once again I found myself lost in the galaxy. The spiral arm of the milky way ran from one to the other end of the sky. As always, that feeling of insignificance dawned upon me and yet, it felt incredible to be able to witness this.
I sleep well in such environs and thankfully the night wasn’t different. I woke up from deep slumber the next morning, feeling happy and ready for the climb to Nichnai pass.