It may have only been the foothills of the Himalayas but a week trekking at 3500 metres and higher was going to be an experience neither myself or Emma had endured before. As we packed we were unsure how much to bring in terms of wet gear, summer gear, cold gear and even medical kit, therefore in the end we packed it all. We were fortunate enough to have a guide “Liyakat”, a horseman “Mustafa” and three horses. This meant we were able to give the horses most of our gear while we carried day packs. Our trek would be from Naranag, just to the North East of Srinagar. An hour and a half by car up into the foothills and we met our guides at about 10am to set off on our first day.
Before I get into the journey I would like to talk about some gear a little. I bought a pair of Salomon 3D hiking boots before the trek, they were new and not broken in. In my past experience I haven’t needed to break any Salomon shoe in, therefore, I decided to take a chance on the boots for the trek. I carried a 33 litre Osprey back pack and a Salomon front pack with two bottle holders and space for some snacks. We would vary between shorts, tights, t-shirts, raingear and all together with fluctuating temperatures throughout. All our food was included, tents and cooking gear etc, so no worries this end with weight.
Our lift arrived at our accomodation on the Houseboat in Srinagar in the morning and the windy roads took us away from the noise and dusty streets of Srinagar up into the foothills of the Himalayas and into our adventure. Liyakat and Mustafa met us with friendly smiles and we were off within minutes. Not unlike Ireland, there is Kashmiri time and it appears our driver was traditionally late. We met our three four legged companions briefly, added two small bags to their backs and we were on our way. May is considered off peak season. This meant the trails were quiet and it also meant our weather could be very unreliable with alot of snow above 3500 metres. Our first day would be a tester day, staying low in the valley, finding a camp site and exploring our new surroundings. We followed a river up the valley, a gorge really as the glaciers and snow were melting this time of year. We met one or two local farmers en route, however, the sheppards had yet to arrive in the mountains. They were due soon with grass growth and heat starting to come. The sheppards, their families and their 500 sheep and goats would arrive soon according to Liyakat.
After a very quick hour hiking we reached a clearing by the river in an area called Domail. We set up camp here and chilled out, drinking some Kashmiri Chai tea. So far this trek was a real holiday!
Shortly after lunch we set off on a trek up the valley. This was a area called the Marchoi Valley, with mountains rising quickly on either side and mini glaciers sliding down the mountains into the river below. We hiked for an hour and a half, passing abandoned sheppards huts and building bridges with rocks to cross some tricky streams. We reached a big clearing where we had views of the small glaciers below and a look back down the valley towards Naranag. Liyakat pointed out Mount Shary on our right and explained that would be tomorrows hike. It looked steep, and steep would become the norm over the next few days.
We made our way back down the valley through the ferns, forests and vast lands desserted of all life that would soon be buzzing with goats, sheep and horses.We arrived back to be greeted by Mustafa who had cooked some lovely traditional Kashmiri food. Some rice, Haakh (not unlike spinach) and spicy tomatoes. We had some tea and were asleep by 9.30 sleeping almost 10 hours.
Trek map.(Day 1 red, day 2 blue, day 3 yellow, day 4 purple, day five and 6 light blue, day 7 grey.)
Our average hiking distance was probably about 10km per day and 4 hours of trekking on average. The extreme gradient made things slow at times.
The map could be anywhere to those of you looking at it but it may help have an idea where we were going during my posts over the next few weeks. If you google or bing map Srinagar and then Gangabal Lake it will bring you pretty close to where we were.