Trekking in Kashmir : The twin lakes of Tarsar Marsar

‘Miles and miles of unhindered grasslands and forests’, said someone and I was excited from the moment a basic internet search had revealed Tarsar Marsar to be the most beautiful trek in Kashmir. I had just returned from a path-breaking solo effort arriving in Zanskar by Darcha – Padum crossing the 5080m Shingo La.

Our cozy tents with the picturesque surroundings!
Our cozy tents with the picturesque surroundings!

Everyone met at the Tourist Reception Centre at 2 in the afternoon and we proceeded towards Aru Village, a three hour drive from Srinagar. Pampore; famous for its saffron fields that come to a purple bloom in mid-october, came right after Srinagar. The road was lined with tall poplars and a number of bat producing factories made from the famed Kashmiri willow. A bat was duly picked up, after drawing a hard bargain. Dry fruit wholesalers are based out of Pampore too and its better to buy walnuts, almonds and saffron from here than Srinagar.

Mornings such as these; the clouds had come to welcome us...
Mornings such as these; the clouds had come to welcome us…

We are cruising on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway as the ruins of Awantipora pass us by. Prettily set amidst greens, there’s also a thousand year old Sun Temple in this little town dotted with bakeries that make a stupendous variety of kashmiri breads and naans in the traditional charcoal tandoor.

We leave the dust and grime of the highway behind and apple and pear orchards welcome us into Pahalgam as we have our first view of the milky white Lidder river. Fresh fruits are brought as valleys merge into one another and the beautiful hamlet of Aru arrives. The road ends here and this is also the last place to buy supplies before we ascend higher into the Aru Valley. Our tents have already been pitched beside a briskly flowing stream, we marvel at the grasslands with a cup of chai in hand. The sunlight glistens and creates a magical effect as the evening light fades.

Read : Stunning Beauty of Kashmir, in Pictures – Part I

Beautiful horses run unhindered while the milky white Lidder river quietly flows by
Beautiful horses run unhindered while the milky white Lidder river quietly flows by

Our guide Jaichand is a jolly fellow; we tease him to be a Rajesh Khanna lookalike! Portable stools and a dining tent is pitched too. This feels like luxury to me. I am used to bare necessities in the mountains. My fellow trekkers are four; everyone from the cities. They tell me that I’m living a dream life. I tell them that I like my everyday difficulties when I travel solo in the high mountains.

Blue skies, glacial streams, and clean mountain air!!
Blue skies, glacial streams, and clean mountain air!!

Its a mesmerising morning; horses graze, cows amble with the shepherds while they cut wood in the pristine landscape. A fellow trekker exclaims “What a simple life and how the city folk have complicated it!” Breakfast is omelettes, coffee and cornflakes. The staff and guides treat us like family, we feel blessed.

We set off for Lidderwat amid a pitter patter of raindrops, auguring well for the journey ahead. Glorious panoramic views of the rolling grasslands dotted with animals greet us as we climb higher. We cross dense pine and devdhar forests crossing an occasional Gujjar or Bakarwal home designed uniquely in a manner that only the roof is visible at a first glance.

A flock of sheep grazes in the plentiful grasslands of Aru Valley
A flock of sheep grazes in the plentiful grasslands of Aru Valley

This feels like a dream; there’s so much natural beauty for the eyes to feast upon. Lidderwat is located right beside the Lidder river and is a temporary home to 10-15 families of cattle and sheep herding Gujjars. Its been a relaxing walk with a mind climb and we comfortably reach our picturesque campsite by 2 in the afternoon. Fayyaz; our cook has made Pulao today and we relish it with delight. A Gujjar family invites me home for some ‘namkeen chai’ or salt tea. I click pictures of their cute kids. Their dialect and songs feels similar to Punjabi. Later we also taste ‘doodh roti’, unique to these Gujjars.

These waters remain milky white even when you fill them in a container!!!
These waters remain milky white even when you fill them in a container!!!

We go to the river and dip our feet in the icy cold waters. It pours ferociously in the evening making us shiver in our cozy tents. Our guide, Jaichand teaches us card games and we cheat like little kids. The milky way is prominent, the sky is now clear after the torrential downpour. We have altered the itinerary a little bit and decide to start the next day at 7.

A group photograph at the highest point of the trek
A group photograph at the highest point of the trek

Crystal clear blue skies mark our morning and the steep climb in the beginning is easily dealt with, the cool breeze is our saviour. The bare sparkling mountains resemble the Dolomites in Italy. I am faster than the others and that results in a minor scare when I try to cross a glacial stream on my own. There is one temporary settlement at Hamvas, and we are surrounded by some 3000 sheep! (as the shepherd family claims).

The almond shaped Tarsar Lake
The almond shaped Tarsar Lake

The full splendour of Kashmir is laid upon us as we cross Sekhwas; Kolahoi peak dominates the skyline. We climb the meadows and reach the azure blue lake of Tarsar. Other trekkers experiment with horse riding as an euphemism to avoid climbing after a lovely lunch beside a stream. Tarsar is a glacial lake, the waters of which are considered sacred.

My entry for picture of the year! :D
My entry for picture of the year! Lovely landscape

I walk in solitude along the periphery of the lake clicking pictures of the various hues as the sunlight plays hide and seek with the clouds. There is another trekking group nearby and they play antakshari. I join them for some fun in singing in that beautiful environment. The water of the lake shines like diamonds wherever the sunlight falls.

This is the highest campsite of our trek at 3600-3700m. The stars are twinkling brightly, we also spot some satellites moving quickly among solitary shooting stars sometimes. Our tents are sprinkled with dew in the morning. We set off at 7 to encounter a long day ahead of us. An hour’s climb later, we are atop the 3950m Sonamous Pass, the highest point on this beautiful trek. The lake has incredible views from this vantage point. On the opposite side the valley opens wide and small marshes enable growing of plentiful grass for the sheep to graze upon.

A riot of flowers on the banks of Sundersar Lake
A riot of flowers on the banks of Sundersar Lake

We reach the small lake of Sundersar around noon, perfectly located with flowers blooming and immediately find the trail to the hidden lake of Marsar. Me and Jaichand are the only ones who are adventurous enough to climb rocks and boulders and when we finally set our sights on Marsar, we are in awe. The lake is shrouded in mystery and the name literally means ‘death lake’. It is engulfed around a thick cloud cover on its adjacent mountains which reveal to us the paradise that lies beneath.

Jaichand, does a classic yoga pose with Marsar Lake in the background
Jaichand, does a classic yoga pose with Marsar Lake in the background

The rest of the group has marched ahead and we catch up to reach the lovely village of Sonamasti around 4. I gorge upon the pulao and qahwa accosted by the hard working Gujjar kids. The famous meadows of Sonamarg are visible in the far distance. The sun has been taken over by the clouds today, I feel cold and rush to my tent to read more of ‘Gone Girl.’ Everyone else plays games with the affable kids gifting chocolates and I join them later.

Carefree kids play and make us ponder, 'Do we really have to grow up?'
Carefree kids play and make us ponder, ‘Do we really have to grow up?’

We laze in the sunshine next morning knowing we will get back to civilisation after a relaxed downhill walk to Sumbal. Pine forests are back as our company and the sweet aroma rejuvenates us all as the descent is completed comfortably in three hours. We say heartfelt goodbyes to our trekking staff and hastily search for a dhaba to devour food on our way back.

Read : Stunning Beauty of Kashmir, in Pictures – Part II

These words rang in my head as I lay surrounded by water lilies on my houseboat in Srinagar.

If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.

This trek was in association with GIO Adventures. 

20 Comments Add yours

  1. Yours is one of the best post I have read today…. Tq

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That comment brought a big smile to my face. Thank you Rakesh. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. arv! says:

    Your picture and description of jai chand -guide was a pleasant surprise. I met him during last year trek at sankhri. he was in his village on leave but was helping other GIO guides. Happy to have come across your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jai Chand was a super cool fellow. See you around in Jaipur sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. arv! says:

        I have been more than happy with GIO in terms of guides, and so have all the fellow hikers.Yup, he is a cool & happy guy!

        Sure, it’ll be great to meet in person, let me know!

        Like

      2. arv! says:

        Will shoot out you email on the above

        Like

  3. UnrestingSea says:

    Wow, your photos are so beautiful!

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, Amanda. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. wow! this is one incredibly beautiful blog. made my day. undoubtedly one of the best travel blogs i have ever come across!!

    Like

  5. Ashish J Vaishnav says:

    Nice pictures & description.

    Like

    1. Thanks Ashish, great time to go there now in the summers.

      Like

  6. ishan says:

    Great post. Bookmarked your blog.
    Did this last year in October and was the only group there that time. This brings back memories.

    Like

    1. Thanks Ishan. That is amazing to know. How was it in October, the water of Lidder river must have been even more prettier!

      Like

  7. travelerinme says:

    Simply superb and the pics bring out the magical essence of Kashmir! Loved the pic of Jai Chand and carefree girls…… 👌

    Like

    1. Thank you so very much. Glad you like the pics too 🙂 Cheers

      Like

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