The name sounds quite fascinating, isn’t it? I categorically recollect, scrolling through the Indiahikes.com and I came across this trek, new, never heard of, but topped the charts as one of the prettiest treks. Well, my interest only grew stronger with every google search result that rated this as an off-beat trek. Pradeep did not need any convincing and surprisingly 2 of our other friends also agreed for this adventure trek. So, we quickly booked our travel slot and were all set to leave in the first week of August.
Our journey kick-started from Bangalore airport, with an hours transit in Delhi; finally landing at 11 AM in Srinagar. We met couple of other fellow trekkers on the way out of the airport. The enthusiastic Indiahikes team was waiting for us with a 15-seater mini-van and after waiting for a moment for other trekkers, we headed towards the city. The city was heavily guarded by the Indian Army, with an armed-soldier placed every 200mtrs; monitoring every move of each vehicle or pedestrian. I was a little maddened at first looking at all the soldiers scanning us but then immediately realized the daily lives of Kashmiris.
Our base camp was at Aru Valley and we reached at dusk, just in time for Kashmiri Kehwa along with crispy vegetable pakoda, neatly set on the green grass, in the garden of a very basic guest house. Friends Guest House is run by Gauhar along with his brothers, who accompanied us on our trek too, with Gauhar being a part of the lead trek team and his troop helping us with all the food supplies. Aru Valley is situated at 5245feet above sea level and we were aiming to scale 13600feet over the course of next 5 days. Needless to say, oxygen level drops considerably and so our team of trek leaders very diligently monitored blood pressure and oxygen levels on a regular basis for each of us.
Our on way to Lidderwat
We grabbed protein loaded breakfast and began our journey the next day after having our oximeter and BP levels checked. Atleast 5 horses along with all our kitchen and food supplies, tents and luggage were already ahead of us. Aru valley as the name suggests is a spread of luscious green landscape, across till the horizon and to our luck, it was a clean, bright sunny day. I was excited to have a first-hand experience of walking through the pine forest amid infinitesimal streams of fresh glacial water, sniffing the musky fragrance of pine wood and singing to the birds chirping all throughout most of the first day. It was National Geographic for me! There were some serious photographers walking with us with their DSLRs and undoubtedly, we all had a gala time monkeying throughout the day. We reached out first campsite, Lidderwat a little later after noon as weather is known to change rapidly on the mountains. On such treks, we are always taught and encouraged to build a good balance between being self-sufficient and a team player. (Gauhar) Our trek leader quickly gathered all of us to conduct the cool down session, which is a must do at the end of every day during the trek and also taught us the knowhows of pitching tents. All my childhood I have known Kashmir as the Sone Ki Chidiya” and Lidderwat was proof. Our campsite was probably the most picturesque amongst all others on this trek with everything just in place, spotless white horses grazing the green, a picture perfect teal blue woodhouse belonging to the Forest Dept. posed as the most insta-worthy frame. We had brilliant in-house cooks who prepared delicious, wholesome meals and jalebis and hot onion pakoda with chai were to die for. The temperature plummeted rapidly after sunset and indulging into any water related activity really had to be the need of the hour, so we took turns among our smaller groups to wash our littered plates. All of us were super tired after a 7Km walk in the mountains and hence called it a day.
Campsite at Lidderwat on Day 2
Lidderwat - Forest Officer's Lodge
Scenery around Lidderwat Campsite
We started walking by 6:30am the next day and were on our 5Kms journey to Shekwas which was also a kilometre in altitude, so we had all started feeling the thinning of oxygen in the air as we stopped grasping for breath more often. However, as the greenfield continued, so every stop only meant more photos! The landscape turned rockier as we ascended with some sharp turns around the mountain, narrow climbs through crevasses lapped around roots of huge pine trees and a little boulder climbing was a treat towards the end of day 2 walk. We had reached before time, so we quickly pitched our tents and headed about exploring the campsite towards Zarsar Lake. This was a bonus lake and as it started drizzling lightly, deep thick clouds were passing through us and it was a thrilling experience, only if we had known what we were about to experience later. After a couple of rounds of Mafia post dinner, we called it a day.
On our way to Zarsar Lake - Shekwas Campsite
We started our walk as usual the next day, and only after about walking 10 mins, it started to drizzle and even before we paused to realize, it was pouring heavily. We were headed towards Tarsar lake that day and hence determined to not let the rain stop us. So, we quickly put our raincoats on and resumed walking, only to realize that due to heavy rains the night before, the soil got very mushy and as it started raining again, it would be dangerous for the horses with carriage to carryon. So, the trek leaders decided to not move from our base location, which meant we would have to go and come back the entire stretch, i.e. ~10-11 Kms alongwith the altitude difference. I spoke to myself, “It’s ok, this is a small hurdle, barely anything, let’s pick up ourselves and move, move, move!” We crossed huge herds of sheep, followed by their gooey marsh, walked across small waterbodies, jumped over boulder landscape and, Oh Boy! It rained, quite non-stop and continued to rain almost till we got back by 4PM. The trek would only be considered summitted if we saw Marsar lake as well, but as our campsite did not move base, we would now need to walk 10Kms one way and also return the same amount, in conclusion my first thought “This is not my cup of tea, Amu, let me not be a bond here! An emulsion of thoughts crossed my mind, however, the very thought of not completing something that I had decided to finish, bothered me quite a bit and I made my up mind to summit Marsar lake as well.
On our way to Tarsar lake
At Tarsar Lake
At Tarsar Lake
We were now a smaller group heading towards Marsar lake and quite expectedly, it started pouring again. We walked as fast as we could, plunging into our walking sticks. Half way through, we spotted a hut and the owners were sweet enough to invite us for Kehwa and some much-needed warmth from the fireplace, as we were quite frozen from the heavy downpour. We continued walking with all the determination to finally witness what we had signed up for and finally reached the last stretch of land about 300m, but at an angle of 65 degrees. I was on all fours, putting in all my might to pull myself up that last bit and there it was, the heart shaped Marsar lake. The crossing clouds only added more drama to the entire situation. We perched ourselves on a couple of rocks and humbly ate our packed lunch. I could only think of humility at that point as we had experienced many aspects of mother nature over the last couple of days. We were advised to descend as the weather worsened and it took us another couple of hours to reach our campsite.
Kashmiri family hosting us Kehwa on our way to Marsar Lake
Marsar Lake Summitted
We could not take the planned route to descent back to Aru Valley due to the weather conditions, hence we decided to camp at a different location when we stopped at Lidderwat, our last night in the camp. By now, we had bonded over all the hardships we faced over the last couple of days and decided to treat ourselves to spicy hot noodle soup at a small shop. We gathered around to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts that each of us had put in to make the trip possible, we were very grateful to Indiahikes for conducting the trek and meticulously taking care of every small necessity. We concluded the last night of our trip with few super long rounds of Mafia. I concluded the trip feeling very content, away from all the digital drama and deeply grateful for everything in life, many of which I had taken for granted in the vicious cycle of daily life.
Morning at Shekwas Campsite after the rain stopped on Day 6
Lidderwat Campsite in the evening on Day 6
Early morning at Lidderwat Campsite on Day 7
Trip Summary - My overall expenditure
Trek duration - 7 days
Trek conductor – Indiahikes
Trek expense - INR 24,000 for 2 people
Flights - INR 20,000
Total - INR 44,000 for 2 people
Please visit indiahikes.com to find your trek of interest
Food – Basic protein rich meals, included in the cost
Stay – Tents along with sleeping bags and sleeping bag liners, included in the cost
Trekking gear – You may rent trekking shoes, jackets, raincoats, walking sticks from Indiahikes or buy your own. I got all my gears from Decathlon.
Credit : https://www.amritanandi.com/post/tarsar-marsar-an-alpine-lake-trek-in-kashmir