Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Kashmir Great Lakes Trek | August 2021 Updated Route and Timigs


The Great Lakes is one of the signature treks in Kashmir and has become extremely popular especially in the busy summer season of July and August. There have been reports that in late July this year there were more than four hundred trekkers on the trail at one time! However, our South Col Expeditions team went in second half of August 2021 and we did not encounter many groups - the rush had eased  by then. This is very rewarding trek and more so if done in the shoulder seasons - last week of June and last week of August into mid September. 

The trek is usually done in six days - some of the days are long and tedious - but we did the route in seven days breaking up the first day into two days for better acclimatisation as we were flying straight into Srinagar and then driving immediately to Sonamarg. This approach gave a gentle start to the walk and was appreciated by all our trekkers. 

The timings for the walk was recorded on Strava by one of our trekkers Dr Rajesh Tope and these screenshots are included here for reference. It should be noted that the timings recorded by Strava are the actual walking timings so stops for rest,  lunch, photographs etc. should be added.

 Day 1    Srinagar to Sonamarg Altitude: 2670m        Time taken: 3 hours drive - 

We fly into Srinagar by noon and then after quick lunch we drive from Srinagar airport to the base camp at Sonamarg which is called Shitkadi.Night at Shitkadi campsite.

Day 2     Sonamarg (Shitkadi) to Shekdur (Tabletop) Altitude: 3250m Steep Ascent 5.8  km short day

·         Time taken: 3 hours - within the first 15-20 min into the trek we come to the meadows. A steady uphill climb of approx. 1½ hrs brings us at the level of the Army Camp. We further climb to the ridge and crossover and pass through meadows and Maple & Silver Birch forests to reach our beautiful campsite for the day. Dinner and overnight stay at camp in Shekhdur also known as Tabletop. 

Day 3    Shekdur (Tabletop) to Nichnai Altitude: 3,680 m short day

·     Time taken 3-4 hours, 5.7 km    moderate.  A steady uphill 15 min. climb from our campsite followed by ½ hr of more or less flat walk through Silver Birch forest  and another 20 – 30 min. Walk gently down to the stream in Nichnai Valley. The route from here onwards initially is through a rocky terrain, later on interspersed with meadows. From the stream it takes about 2½ hrs steady climb to reach Nichnai Base camp.   We camp in the flowery meadows of Nichnai.

Day 4    19th Aug Nichnai to Kishansar/Vishansar Valley Altitude: 3,650 m

·         Time: 6 hours, 10.28 kms   Moderate. 1.5 hours of gradual ascent followed by an hour-long climb to the pass. A steep descent from the pass for about an hour easing off into a flat walk.

·         We ascend into the Kishansar/Vishansar Valley—a beautiful valley with two lakes resting soothingly before two lofty mountain peaks. The lakes abound with colourful trout fish. Both of these lakes have a religious significance and they drain into Kishanganga River that meanders through Gurez valley.

Day 5    Kishansar/Vishansar Valley to Gadsar Altitude: 3650m 

Time taken: 7-8 hours, 15 kms Moderate. 1.5-2 hours of steep ascent followed by 1 hour of steep descent, easing off into a level walk.

·         We enter into the Gadsar Valley over Gadsar pass. The pass gives a view of both Kishansar/Vishansar valley on one side and the Gadsar valley on the other.  Enchant yourself with long wavy meadows dotted with multi-coloured flowers. The Gadsar Valley is famous for its lake and sinking watersand. We pitch the tents beside a shimmering canal that comes out of the Gadsar Lake. Legends say the water and fish from the Gadsar Lake have healing powers.

Day 6  Gadsar to Satsar Altitude: 3,600 m

·         Time taken: 5-6 hours, 14 kms Moderate; 1.5 hours of steep ascent followed by a level walk.

On the sixth day of the trek, the trail becomes mild and relaxing with a repetition· of mild ascents and descents through large meadows that stretch along a succession of a fascinating mountain range. The Satsar valley holds seven alpine lakes; we camp for the night beside one of the canals that snake around this valley

Day 7     Satsar to Nandkol Altitude: 3,587 m         Time taken: 6 hours, 9 kms Difficult. 

30 minutes each of gradual ascent and descent followed by a steep ascent for about 45 and then by a steep descent. Similarly ascending and descending trail all the way through.

The seventh day takes us over the Zajibal pass 4110 metres. The pass cuts the Satsar Valley and Gangbal valley.  We cover a mild gradient that leads us to the Nundkol Lake lying judiciously at· the foot of Harmukh. The Harmukh, the lake and the reflection of the Harmukh in the lake make it majestic.

Day 8    Gangabal to Naranag Altitude: 2,271 m

      Time taken: 6-7 hours, 14 kms Moderate. A mix of ascents and descents for 6 km followed by a very steep descent all the way down. We lose 1300 metres in the day. On the last day of the trek, we descend into the Naranag valley.  The same day we will drive to Srinagar for the night stay.

We plan to do the Great Lakes trek again in August 2022. For more information on our treks and workshops do visit  www.southcol.com and for photographs from the Himalaya do visit www.sujoydas.com

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Ladakh | Markha Valley Route and Timings Update July 2021


Update- Though we did the trek from Skiu, the road now goes as far as Sara and possibly if the river is low as far as Markha. We therefore suggest that to drive from Leh to Sara on the first day (around 3 hours) and then walk after lunch to Markha. This will reduce one day from the trek and it will now become four to five days. Due to the pandemic the home stays were closed but it is possible to do this trek as a full home stay trek without tents and pony support once the covid situation eases up.

View of the peaks from Leh

July 13 2021 drive Leh to Skiu and trek Skiu to Sara
We started from Leh at 8 am and reached Chilling at 9 30 am. The road is now excellent and black top and there is now a permanent bridge over the river so it is now possible to drive upto Skiu - we reached Skiu around 10 15 am where our ponies met us and we started at 10 30 am. The dirt track road continues to Markha in the dry season so it is now possible to drive to Markha and start the trek from there - we had planned to walk the first day to Sara which is about 4 to 5 hours away. We followed the dirk track which has been built on the old trail and in about 90 minutes to reached Pendse where the tea shop run by the Skiu Women's Cooperative was closed due to the pandemic and lack of tourists. We had lunch next to the tea shop on the culvert and then started out for Sara at 12 30 pm . The road climbs gently gaining altitude slowly and in about an hour you reach a diversion with a road going down to the Markha river - the road going straight reaches a bridge which has not yet been completed and so it is not possible to walk up that way. The river crossing was about knee deep and took us around 30 minutes to get the group across - change shoes into sandals dry your feet etc. The road then continued for another 75-90 minutes and we reached the home stays of Sara - we camped in the garden of a very nice Home stay
Skiu to Pendse 90 minutes Pendse to River crossing 1 hour  15 min; River Crossing to Sara 1 hour to 1 hour 15 min
Skiu 3361 metres 33 58 46 N 77 16 25 E N Pendse 3446 metres 33 57 27 N 77 18 1 E Sara 3558 metres 33 55 20 N 77 21 15E
Skin to Sara 14 km One river crossing 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Mallory and Irvine | Everest Tibet side 8th June 1924


‘The question remains – “Has Mt Everest been climbed?”  It must be left unanswered, for there is no direct evidence. But bearing in mind the circumstances ….. and considering their position when last seen, I think myself there is a strong probability that Mallory and Irvine succeeded.’ Noel Odell, The Fight for Everest 1924.

On 8th June 1924, two men left Camp VI (26,700 feet) to attempt to reach the summit of Everest, 29,029 feet. Camp VI was the highest camp of the British 1924 Everest expedition.

On the same morning, another British climber, Noel Odell, was making his way up from Camp IV to Camp VI. Odell was a geologist and he was collecting fossils from the slopes of Mount Everest. Odell recalls that it was not the perfect morning to climb Everest. “Rolling banks of mist" were sweeping across the mountain and covering the north face. There was also a sharp wind which made climbing very difficult. Neither the north face nor the summit ridge could be seen by Odell. 

At 12.50 pm, there was “a sudden clearing in the atmosphere” and “the whole summit ridge and the final peak of Everest unveiled.”  Odell spotted high above on the ridge, a black dot climbing a rock step, which Odell at that point identified as the Second Step. Soon after Odell saw another black dot following the first black dot. But before Odell could be sure that the second black dot had joined the first, the mist rolled in and blanketed the mountain and this fantastic vision was lost forever.

The two dots that Odell saw were George Mallory and Andrew Irvine "going strongly for the summit of Everest".  Mallory and Irvine were never seen again.

But even today, ninety seven years after the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, the legend of George Mallory is still alive. Books are being written about Mallory, expeditions are being planned to find Andrew Irvine and his camera because Everest researchers believe that the camera will unlock the secret of Mallory's last climb. 

In 1999, Conrad Anker found Mallory at 26,750 feet lying face down on the slopes of Everest - Irvine has not been found.

In 2019, an expedition  was organised to climb Everest from the North side and attempt to find Irvine. The team summitted Everest but Irvine was not found. Mark Synnott one of the expedition members has written a book on the expedition which has been recently released: The Third Pole. The detailed account of the expedition is here https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/our-team-climbed-everest-to-try-to-solve-its-greatest-mystery-feature

This year 2021, is the centenary of the first Everest Reconnaissance Expedition 1921. To commemorate the event the Alpine Club has organized an exhibition in London and released a book in two volumes on the Everest Expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924. 

The link is here http://www.alpine-club.org.uk/news/club-news/825-everest-by-those-who-were-there

In this post we take a look at some photographs and other memorabilia from the Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Everest | 29th May 1953 - The First Ascent

Today is sixty eight  years since the first ascent of Everest.

On 29th May 1953 at 11.30 am, a Sherpa and a New Zealander became the first men to stand on top of the highest peak on this planet.  However the intervening years has seen a sea change as far as Everest is concerned. The mountain  has now become a playground for guided expeditions, with clients paying between thirty thousand  to  eighty thousand dollars or more to stand on the highest point on earth. The South Col route climbed in 1953 is now disdainfully referred to as the “yak trail”. The dangerous icefall below the Western Cwm is maintained by a team of sherpas right through the season led by a senior “Icefall Doctor.” and ropes are fixed from Base Camp to the summit to allow "clients" to reach the top of the mountain. 

Due to the covid pandemic there were no attempts on the mountain in 2020. 

A record number of 400 plus climbers and 40 plus expeditions were  issued climbing permits in 2021 despite the covid wave. 

The large number of climbers, sherpas and support staff at base camp around 1500 or so resulted in a covid outbreak at Base Camp  and as per information received around 100 to 150 covid cases were detected – a majority were evacuated to Kathmandu hospitals and the rest which  were milder cases remained isolated in tents at base camp. Lukas Furtenbach, an Austrian operator, decided to cancel his expedition midway due this high covid risk which he deemed unacceptable.

In an interesting development, a team from Mountain Professionals set out from the South Col at 5 am on May 23rd 2021 and reached the summit by afternoon - possibly the first time in many, many years that a team has climbed Everest in the day enjoying sunny weather, gazing at the magnificent views, warmer temperatures and above all no long lines, headlamps and struggling along in the cold dark night.  There were advised by a  meteorologist  that there would be a day window on the 23rd May and they gladly seized the opportunity and had the mountain to themselves.

However the effect of the two cyclones over India and Nepal hampered the progress of the teams. As I write this post Cyclone Yaas is over Nepal and depositing heavy snow on the slopes of Everest. 

For the first time the Icefall Doctors team have agreed to keep the Icefall open until 3rd June 2021, to allow the remaining teams on the mountain a chance to summit if they are able to get another weather window on 30/31st May 2021.

 Kami Rita Sherpa created a new record this year by summiting Everest 25  times as a part of the Sherpa team who fixed the ropes to the summit  -  perhaps next year Kami will break his own record.

However, this post recounts through photographs,  the 1953 climb, the historic ascent of the first two men to summit Everest and the team of climbers and sherpas who supported them through this endeavour.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Everest West Ridge | The First Ascent May 22nd 1963


Tom Horbein

Evenings were peaceful, smoke settling in the quiet air to soften the dusk, lights twinkling on the ridge we would camp on tomorrow, clouds dimming the outline of our pass for the day after. Growing excitement lured my thoughts again and again to the West Ridge….

There was loneliness, too, as the sun set, but only rarely now did doubts return. Then I felt sinkingly as if my whole life lay behind me. Once on the mountain I knew (or trusted) that this would give way to total absorption with the task at hand. But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find what I really sought was something I had left behind.” ― Thomas F. Hornbein

Today is the 58th anniversary of the first ascent of the West ridge of Everest and the first traverse of the mountain.

On 21st May 1963 at six o’clock in the evening two climbers reached 27,205 feet (8300 metres) to set up Camp 5W on the west ridge of Everest. Tom Horbein a US anesthesiologist then 32 years old and Willi Unsoeld , a mountain guide then 36 years of age were poised for the final push to the summit of Everest by a new route.

It had not been easy for these two men. The 1963 American Everest Expedition led by Norman Dyhrenfurth had squarely set its sights on a first American ascent by the South Col route. On May 1st 1963, Jim Whittaker accompanied by Sherpa Nawang Gombu, Tenzing’s nephew, made the first American ascent to become the fifth and six men to stand of the summit after the British in 1953 and Swiss in 1954.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Everest Reconnaissance Expedition 1921 | 100 Years Ago


Members of the  1921 expedition Standing: Wollaston, Howard-Bury, Heron, Raeburn.  Sitting: Mallory, Wheeler, Bullock, Morshead. The ninth member Alexander Kellas had passed away en route to Everest on 5th June 1921

2021 is 100 years of the first Everest Reconnaissance Expedition 1921. On January 11th 1921 this is what Sir Francis Younghusband said in The Times London:

From The Times: January 11, 1921

Sir Francis Younghusband, President of the Royal Geographical Society, announced at a meeting of the Society last night that the political obstacles to the proposed attempt to climb Mount Everest have been removed, that a preliminary reconnaissance will be made of the ground this year, and that the actual attempt on the summit will follow in 1922. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

THE FANTASTICAL KINGDOM OF LO | Guest Post by Persis Anklesaria



Persis Anklesaria, is a veteran South Col trekker, keen photographer and gifted writer. In this post she recounts her journey to the once forbidden kingdom of Mustang  - a fascinating part of the Himalayan rain shadow.

Wedged between the Himalayas and shuttered Tibet, lies an ancient Buddhist kingdom within the borders of Hindu Nepal. 


The kingdom of Lo.


 In the year 1380, the warrior chieftain Ame Pal, gained control of the trade routes between India and Tibet, established a kingdom and built Lo Manthang --- a grand walled capital of palaces, monasteries and gompas.


Nothing much has changed since then.  Sheltered behind 26,000 ft. high peaks, the Lobas continue to live a centuries old existence, farming, raising livestock and preserving their ancient faith. Today, this domain of approximately 13 settlements is the last bastion of pure Tibetan culture, its monasteries the finest example of Buddhist art, and Ame Pal’s capital the best-preserved medieval fortification in the world.


Till the 1950’s the only route into Mustang was on horseback via treacherous passes. Now, a Chinese road extends from Lhasa to Kathmandu, daily flights bring in a gaggle of tourists.  Before a way of life disappears forever, eight Southcol Expedition trekkers including me, embark on a 7-day, 64km climb from Jomsom airstrip (9000 ft.), northwards to Lo Manthang (12,400ft.).  




As the Tara Air, 16-seater lifts off, Pokhara’s lake and green fields slip away, melting into puffy clouds.   Within minutes the skies darken as we tunnel between the world’s two greatest mountain ranges at wingtip distance. The Annapurna Peak metamorphoses into her fabled fish tail, while across the aisle, the east face of Dhaulagiri, 26,000ft of dazzling beauty floats past the windows. Below us the light-speckled Kali Gandaki River, its plunging gorges, valleys and tributaries, bisect the terrain.  Half-an-hour later we are in Jomsom, a brown, barren, rocky desert.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Kanha National Park | Safari Permits and Charges


Kanha National Park Safaris

The updated safari charges and other rules for 2021 as on date (January 11th 2021) are given below:

Safari Permit bookings

All safaris except full day safaris can be booked on the official site  https://forest.mponline.gov.in/     . One has to register on tis site & after going to wild life section you need to fill details like name, age, gender, nationality, photo id proof numbers. For Indian nationals Aadhar card, passport, driving license, voter id etc are valid. For Non-Indians passport details & country is mandatory. Permits to enter the park must be booked on line prior to the date of visit. These permits get exhausted quickly so they should be booked well in advance. We had booked one month ahead. The cost of the permit of the full Gypsy (maximum six persons plus driver plus guide) is Rs 1550/-. 


There are four core area zones in Kanha – Kanha, Kisli, Mukki and Sarhi.  There are also four buffer zones Khatia, Khapa, Sijora & Phen. There are two entry gates for all these zones Khatia and Mukki. The core areas are in great demand as sightings are usually better in the core area though tigers have been regularly seen in the buffer areas.  The vehicles permitted in each zone are given in the screenshot below.

Cost of Jeeps
The cost of hiring a jeep (gypsy) and driver at the park gates is Rs 2500/- per safari and usually from the hotels/lodges depending on the distance from the gate is around Rs 3000/- per safari. A maximum of six guests are allowed in each  jeep plus guide and driver.

Guide Fees
The forest department provides a guide with each jeep – cost of the guide is Rs 600 per safari. 

Single seat safari bookings
It is also possible to book single seat safaris on line – the cost for this is Rs 260 per person excluding jeep cost and guide. 

Khatia Night Safari at Kanha
Night Safari is organised at Khatia Zone in the buffer. The ride is in an open jeep from 7 pm to 10pm – only three vehicles are allowed and booking is on first come first serve basis one day before the safari. The cost of the full vehicle, permit, guide is presently around Rs 5000/- per night safari for six guests.

Full Day Safari
There is a provision for booking a full day safari at Kanha covering all the zones without restriction – this is often used by photographers and naturalists – there are six permitted in a jeep along with guide and driver. Charges are not quoted on the MP Tourism web site but can be are very high. Permission needs to be taken from the Field Director for the full day safaris.

For photographs from Kanha please do visit -


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