Trekking in Kashmir
Due to the strikes & rioting across Kashmir we had to leave the luxuries of our houseboat at 4am to avoid army road blocks on the way to our starting point, Sonamarg. After a few hours on the windy mountain roads we arrived bright & early to set up camp at the foot of the mountains. Our entourage included a guide, a cook, 3 pack ponies, and a random kid. Meadows carpeted the valley floor in greenery, the Sindh river rushed by in roaring white-capped waves. Above & all around us, the snow-top peaks of the Himalayas loomed, dashing in & out of the clouds.
We walked around the valley for our first day, passed a small rickety town toward a glacier encompassed by a jagged crevasse below the highest peak in sight. As if playing hide & seek with the clouds, the glacier kept popping in & out of sight as we crossed the river in search of a closer look. We passed by herds of sheep, cows, goats & horses, grazing freely in the fields, happy as Larry. A few hundred meters below the glacier a gypsy village lined the slope. Roofs of pine needles & hay, walls of rocks & clay, these hobbit-esque homes housed some pretty cute kids. 5 ran up, asking in the ONLY English they knew, “Hello one pen?”. Of all the random things to sought after! Do they even have paper?! Looking at their grubby little faces they should have requested soap! We fulfilled their random wish, but we only had one pen, prompting a repetitive frenzy of “Hello one pen” for a ridiculous length of time. We had neither the heart nor the communicative skills to usher them away politely, so plodded on with our followers before heading back through a sodden Sonamarg valley.
The rain persisted through the night but the downpour stopped at daybreak. We packed up our camp & slapped it all on the backs of our 3 pack ponies to set off up the mountains. The track up was M-U-D-D-Y! The rain had presented us with a more difficult hike up a slippery slope, & it was a lot worse for the ponies! Hooves + heavy packs + steep, slippery paths = ponies falling! The youngest of our entourage fell twice, sliding down-slope into the mud,… but no harm done. We walked along side the river passed nomadic families & lonesome herdsmen & by 3 o’clock we found an ideal site to set up camp. A flat plain next to the river with embers from a shepherds morning fire, surrounded by huge Himalayan peaks. Isolated. Ideal.
We set off from camp early with a 10 hour hiking day ahead of us. Our destination was the much talked about, highly anticipated glacier lake that was to be the highlight of our trek. The skies looked ominously grey but we carried on up through the river valley in hope the weather would hold off…
It didn’t! The clouds came rolling in, cloaking the valley in a mist of misery. We trudged on, in hope at least the rain would hold off…
It didn’t! As visibility continued to reduce, the rain came down in sheets… & worse was yet to come. We stupidly soldiered on, only to find the rain turn into sleet & snow. By the time we decided to turn around the ominous clouds had transpired into a snowstorm, drenching our clothes straight through. We returned to our tents, solemn & soaked, & set about trying to dry our only warm clothes!
Our descent was MUCH more pleasant. The sun was strong, reflecting bright rays off the newly snow-capped peaks. The valley looked different. The mountains more ominous in their new white coats, the valley a more vivid green & blue soaked in sunlight. We loaded up our poor ponies & headed down the beaten trail, continuously peering back at the secluded scenery we were leaving behind. As the valley opened up we stopped turning our heads. The landscape before us was breathtaking. The contrast of the green river valley & the inhospitable snowy peaks was a wonderful scene to witness. We passed by the native nomads & hard-working shepherds, passed more goats & cows & horses & sheep, until we arrived back at our original departure point to meet our jeep back to Srinagar. Long overdue showers & comfort awaited!… we finally passed through the roadblocks & riots, back to our luxurious houseboat for some relaxation.