Kashmir….there is perhaps no other land on earth that is referred to as a Jannat (Urdu word meaning heaven on earth) by all who have set their foot on it, yet it is a land that is marred with a never ending political conflict.
Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto (If there is heaven on earth…it is here…it is here…it is here) is the famous Persian couplet that one often comes across as tagged to the description of Kashmir, yet the stories of the horrors faced by the people living here, is nothing short of hell on earth.
It is with these contradictions that the image of Kashmir had been painted on my mind and I jumped at the idea of starting my three month long sojourn in the mountains with a trek across the Great Lakes of Kashmir. I also hoped that I would get a chance to spend some time interacting with the locals and experience their food, culture and if possible live with them for a few days.
Great Lakes of Kashmir trek would also mark the first time that I would be part of an organized trekking group (had booked the trek online through IndiaHikes.com) and I was a little uncertain on how that would go as all my previous treks till then were independent and only with a close group of buddies.
We arrive at Kashmir on an early morning flight from Delhi and as per the plan we venture out for a bit of sightseeing around Srinagar, before joining the rest of the gang and heading towards Sonamarg, the starting point of our trek.
Sonamarg is a couple of hours drive away from Srinagar. A beautiful drive where we leave behind the din of the bustling bazaars of Srinagar and meander along the Sindh river, passing by green and soothing farm lands of rural Kashmir leading unto the expansive mountains of the Himalayas.
The first glimpse of the peaks and the beautiful landscape had the shutterbugs in us come out of the jeep and start firing our first shots of the trek.
Now this act of sudden act of us city folks, taking out our cameras on the slightest pretext when on a trip, always amuses the locals to no end. Tauji, our old but boisterous driver is also amused at first but quickly loses patience with us and starts honking when we don’t look like making it back to the car at all.
And as it turns out we are the last to reach the camp. Everyone else had almost settled in and selected their tents and tent partners. Three in one tent is a kinda stuffy affair and god save the tent mates if one is suffering from a little indigestion!
After taking care of the initial formalities of being part of an organized trek (disclaimers, passport photos, medical certificates et al) we head out to explore the area around the camping ground.
Out tents were pitched by the bank of the Sindh river and the shallow backwaters nearby turned out to be a great place to spot some of the colorful Himalayan birds coming together for their evening drink. It wasn’t long before I too take off in pursuit of a twittering and wheezing flash of colorful feathers.
Later in the evening, as we sit huddled around our tents, the group starts getting acquainted with each other and it looks like my initial fear of an organized trek was unfounded after all. The diversity of the group and the first few conversations that ensues, points to the fact that the next 5 days together was going to a memorable affair.
I hit the sack wondering what could be the significance of the name Sonamarg. Perhaps tomorrow when we start the trek, I will get to know the reason why it is called the Meadow of Gold.