Trekking alongside a crowded yatra is a completely different experience from trekking on an isolated trail. Although Prashant Jha went solo on the Amarnath Trek, there were almost no moments he spent alone. Besides, thanks to Day 1 of the trek being washed out, he had to complete the trek in just two days. Read this interview to know how he did it.
Q. Tell us about your Amarnath Trek?
I did it on July 8 and July 9, 2011. I went from Gujarat to Jammu by ADI-Jammu Tawi express. From there, I took a shared taxi to Pahalgam. Jammu to Pahalgam (290 km) by taxi takes about 7-8 hours and by bus it takes about 12-13 hours.
Night stay at Jammu was in Vaishno Shrine Board accommodations (Saraswati Dham and Vaishnodham) near Jammu-Tawi train station. Night stay at Pahalgam was in tented accommodation for yatris in Nunwan, Pahalgam. Next day, I took a shared cab to Chandawari – the starting point for Amarnath Yatra. The day I reached, due to heavy rainfall, the Yatra organising security forces (BSF and CRPF) decided to stop the Yatra for a day.
Almost all the yatris took shelter at different bhandaras at Chandanwari and surprisingly, the Bhandara people had enough blankets to meet the need of all the yatris in that dreaded cold weather. The Yatra resumed the next day. It drizzled that whole day. I hiked in extremely muddy conditions.
At the end of day one, I reached Panjtarani and stayed at a tented accommodation. As I was running short of time, I tried to cover as much distance as I could. Next day, I began early morning and soon after Darshan, began my journey back to Chandanwani and made it by 8 pm.
Q. How are the roads from Pahalgaon to Chandanwari?
Pretty good but landslides are frequent especially when it rains. So the roads are quite bad during monsoon.
Q. Any difficulties faced in reaching Chandanwari?
Not at all. There are lots of shared cabs running the whole day in Yatra season.
Q. Generally Amarnath involves 3 days of trekking. What was your trekking itinerary?
Day 1– Washed off by rain
Day 2– Chandanwari – Pissu top – Seshnag Lake – Mahaganesh(Mahagunah) Top – Panjtarani
Day 3– Panjtarani – Sangam- the Holy Cave Darshan – Sangam – Mahaganesh/Mahagunah top – Seshnag lake – Pissu Top – Chandanwari
Q. Tell us about your first day’s trek from Chandan wari
Day 1 began from Chandanwari to end at Panjtarani.
There was a variety of food throughout the way, available free of cost at Bhandaras in Pahalgam, Chandanwari, Seshnag lake, Poshpatri, Panjtarani and Sangam.
Q. How was the weather?
Disappointing. It rained continuously both the days, making visibility minimum. On Day 2, the afternoon got somewhat sunny and believe me, in a short span of time, I saw the best of the Himalayas.
I have trekked a lot in Uttarakhand and Himachal but the weather, especially the cold and the breeze of Kashmir was harsher and a lot more uncomfortable compared to those places.
Q. Are the trails well-defined?
Q. Do you have to carry reserve drinking water or are there ample drinking water sources?
No need for any reserve water, you will get enough water – even hot water – along the trail.
Q. The initial climb from Chandanwari is said to be steep till Pissu Top? What is your take on this?
Yes, its probably an incline of 75-90 degrees and can take the breath out of you. But it’s a short distance and can be easily finished in 20-25 minutes if you are good or maximum 45 minutes with ease.
Q. How long did it take you to reach Seshnag?
3 – 3.5 hours
Q. We heard the Seshnag lake is truly magnificent. What was your experience of it?
Yes, magnificent is the word for it. Inspite of bad weather, I found it extremely enchanting. I am sure it would have taken my breath away on a sunny day.
Q. Is the campsite at Seshnag overcrowded? Are there spots to pitch tents of your own?
Yes, the whole trek is overcrowded. Not at all fun for real trekkers, who are looking for Himalayan vistas. But there was enough space available to pitch our own tents along the Seshnag. I’m not sure if you need a permit for that or not.
Q. What kind of accommodation is available at Seshnag for the pilgrims and travelers?
Very basic tented accommodation. Mats and blankets with sleeping bags are available, but as I mentioned earlier, it gets bone-freezing cold by evening.
Q. How is the weather at Seshnag camp after sunset?
Biting wintry cold.
Q. What kind of gears in terms of clothing and others would you advice trekkers to bring with them here?
Woollen caps, woollen gloves, woollen socks, a pair of trekking shoes, a full sleeve sweatshirt, a sweater, woollen inner, a wind-stopper, rain-coat and torch are the bare minimum requirement. But I did see yatris in sleepers, dhotis and sarees too!
Q. Was the stretch till Mahagunas Pass a difficult one to negotiate on Day 2 of the trek?
Yes, this was the most difficult part of the trek. We ascended 3,000 feet at a stretch and then climbed down 2,000 feet right away in the most muddy stretch of the trek with no plateau spot in between.
Q. How long did it take you to reach Amarnath Cave?
Q. Tell us about your experience when you reached Amarnath Cave.
It was great to see such a huge cave at such an inaccessible place and I wondered how these thousands of untrained people reach here facing such unfavorable climate. The view around the cave is unique, surrounded by serrated spiky mountains.
Q. How was the camping experience at Panchtarani on Day 2?
Good. You don’t expect luxury at 13,000 ft barren terrain, right?
But the food at the Bhandaras was nothing less than any luxury indeed, it was superb.
Q. Any advice you would like to give trekkers and travellers headed to this place?
If you’re taking it as a pilgrimage, go for it, but be ready for all adverse experiences. If you’re going for fun and photography – stay away. I never enjoy my treks with thousands of people around, peeing and pooping along my trek route!
Guru Prashanth Jha is a 28-year-old paediatrician, working in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. He was born and brought up in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Prashanth’s hobby is trekking and travelling. He has trained in BMC at JIM & WS, Pahalgam, J&K. He has done quite a few solo treks in Himachal and Uttarakhand.