I wanted to run. To run against the wind that’s tearing at my cheeks.
I wanted to kick. To kick the ball and play the glorious game of football once again with my buddies.
I wanted to dance. To dance with my two left feet and with not a care about the world.
I wanted to trek. To trek in the mountains where the trails meandered to a nowhere land.
But there I was lying in bed after an accident where a car had rammed into my bike from behind and left me bruised and battered on the road. Bedridden for almost a month, I knew I had started hallucinating at times and living out these dreams in my mind.
It was exactly a year since that accident and as I start off my journey of wanderings with this trek in Kashmir, flashback of those hallucinations keeps pouring into my mind. I dunno when exactly this desire to backpack across the Himalayas was first seeded in my heart but when I look back and connect the dots it could have been during one of those hallucinating moments while lying in bed. I had had a miraculous escape during the accident that left me immobile for such a long time but with not a single broken bone. Life sometimes sends us a message in bold and for me it was loud and clear. It is too short and beautiful and we gotta go out and live our dreams when we can.
Our trekking trail for today would take us through another high pass called the Zach Pass and then towards the popular twin lakes of Gangabal and Nundkol.
We start off by bouldering once again in a rocky terrain. The going is slow as the gang struggles past huge boulders that dot the slope of the hill. After an hour of strenuous bouldering we finally catch the shepherd’s path that winds its way up the hill.
As per elevation chart of the trek, during the first half of the day we would be climbing almost 1500 ft only to go down again another 2500 ft during the second half of the day! Quite a roller coaster day of trekking we had in store for us today.
However, the period of Yang (days of good weather) is extended for us today and it’s a perfect day for trekking. Our spirits are high and despite the calves that are cramping and the back that’s stiff now with the heavy backpack we enjoy the climb up the hill.
The Zach pass lies at 13500 ft above sea level and like all high passes in the Himalayas it had a patch of snow to welcome us to the peak. But it was the incredible view from the top that had us all mesmerized.
The twin lakes of Gangabal and Nundkol stood before us in the valley like postcards of a distant fantasy land. The wind and the clouds were at their games of catch-me-if-you-can against this backdrop of the magnificent Harmukh peak and the pristine lakes below it.
The linger-on fever has now got everyone in its grip and we spend almost an hour at the Zach pass wishing we could pause time and live in this moment forever.
The descent toward the lakes is through a narrow ledge across the slope of the hill and at every bend of the trail we are greeted with a view of the lakes that is closer and even more spellbinding than the last one.
I am struck with this sudden urge for solitude; to let go of the winding trail and just waltz down the green and inviting slopes of the hill. I bid adieu to the gang agreeing to catch up with them a little while later where the trail cuts through the slope.
I am thankful at this moment of all those of joyful hours spent playing football while growing up in the hills of Darjeeling as my legs respond to the challenge of giving up the trail and navigating the steep grassy slope with a heavy backpack. A few moments later the voices of the gang die down and it is just me….the mountains… and the wonderful silence of the wilderness. However, the mid-day sun is now beating down relentlessly and I soon run out of drinking water. I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of nature and wonder if I can hear a mountain brook or any sound of flowing water nearby (usually in the afternoon at this altitude, the sun melts the ice from the higher peaks, and you will come across numerous rivulets flowing down the hill with sparkling clear water).
I feel I can hear the flow of water somewhere, but very faintly and it sounds more like a gurgling spring rather than a flowing sound of water. None from our team of local guides had talked about springs anywhere in this trail but seldom do people let go of the trail and the land where I was right now showed no signs of having being stepped upon in the recent times. A parched throat makes me hurry towards the source of this sound and soon I reach this interesting place where the water was springing from the ground and gurgling its way up in a tiny pool before continuing its path down the hill and forming a small brook.
The mouth of this tiny waterfall is guarded with rocks laden with a thick and shiny green cover of moss and I had to watch my step carefully while making my way towards the source. Once there, I greedily push my face right into the face of the waterfall and start gulping down straight from the gurgling stream of water. There is something incredible about the taste of the water here. Perhaps, it is because its the source and the water here is as pure as it can get, perhaps it’s because I was dying of thirst, perhaps it is because of the filtration effect of the thick green moss that covered the source…I don’t know what exactly it is but I have never tasted water as refreshing as this before!
A little while later I catch up with some members of our gang and share with them the water that I had filled in my bottle and they agree that there was something different, something special about the taste of this water.
Before we reach our destination for the day, we pass through a lush valley of green meadows and come across the sheep and cows grazing peacefully on the grass, livestock of the lucky shepherds who call this paradise their home.
This last camping site of the Great Lakes of Kashmir trek seems definitely the most beautiful of all the places that we had camped so far. The horrors of the rain soaked Day 4 has somehow brought us all together as a close knit group sharing a great camaraderie and the camp is now abuzz with jokes and laughter (interspersed with the groans when we feel the twitches of those taxed bodies and pulled muscles when they go into a repair mode).
We still had a few hours of daylight left before the sun went down and the chill sets into the valley and we decide to make the most of it by braving to make an attempt to swim in the freezing waters of the Gangabal lake.
Nothing! Nothing can ever prepare you for the thrilling chill (or the chilling thrill!) that hits you when you ‘attempt’ to swim in these glacial waters. Your heart stops more than just a few beats when your body tries to absorb the shock and it blanks you out for a few seconds. And then when your sensory impulses return, it does so with such a force that your body feels like its going through an electric shock. Refreshing is an understatement….it’s more like being born once again.
Our amazing crew of local guides, horse-men and the cooks had a surprise in store for us in the evening. After dinner, as the stars start twinkling in the sky and the temperatures start dropping in the valley below, they get together and regale us by singing local Kashmiri folk songs using some kitchen utensils and empty kerosene drums as musical instruments and drums to go with the beat. They don’t just stop at that but also get into role-plays as they enact some of the scenes of the songs that they were playing. The revelry continues till late night as some of us join in the singing and dancing. It’s a bitter sweet feeling of having enjoyed great moments in this journey which has turned out to be more than just a trek amidst the incredible vistas of the Kashmir Himalayas.