Trek To The Source Of the River of Milk
Kashmir treks are known for their meadows. Lying in the bowl shaped valley under the shadow of Pir Panjal ranges, the Doodhpathri meadows with the river Shaliganga cutting through it’s green carpets is a gem in the region. Away from the eyes of tourist commercialization, these meadows and subsequently, the trek is a wonderful discovery.
The trek follows the river Shaliganga all the way to it’s source in Ashtaar glacier, with views of lush green carpet-like meadows and mountains. The Ashtaar glacier is the birthplace of two rivers – Shaliganga and Doodhganga, a river you meet in the later part of the trek.
It is said that the waters of these rivers are “milky” as they hit rocks in it’s path, giving the valley it’s name – the valley of milk (Doodhpathri). Legends also say that the famous Kashmiri saint Sheikh ul Aalam Sheikh Noor din Noorani was in search of water to offer prayers. He pricked the ground with his stick in his search, and milk gushed through the valley. He then confessed that milk can only be used for drinking and not for prayers. At once, the milk changed to water and the meadows and their rivers got it’s names.
Not only does this trek take you deeper into the valley of Doodhpathri, it also takes you to the alpine lakes of Bhansar and Damamsar. The lakes are hidden behind ridges, making for a lovely surprise on this trek. Each trek we explore in Kashmir justifies it’s title as the mythical heaven on earth.
Documented by Aashay Surve
Author – Aswati Anand
Day 1: Reach Doodhpathri from Srinagar
Day 2: Doodhpathri (8,943ft) to Marak (10,540ft). 5 km, 3 hours
Day 3: Marak (10,540ft) to Kooterlass (11,850ft). 5.5km, 3.5 hours
Day 4: Excursion to Damamsar (13,226ft) and back to Kooterlass. 6km, 4 hours
Day 5: Kooterlass (11,850ft) to Ashtaar (11,576ft) 5km, 2.5 hours
Day 6: Ashtaar (11,576ft) to Mujakhani (9,754ft) 9km, 4.5 hours
Day 7: Mujakhani (9,754ft) to Palmaidan and further to Srinagar (7,345ft) 8km, 4 hours
Day 1: Reach Doodhpathri from Srinagar
Doodhpathri campsite is 42km from Srinagar and 22km from Budgam. Take a cab from Srinagar or Srinagar airport to reach Doodhpathri. A private cab can cost you between Rs 1,800 to Rs. 2000. It is about 2 hours of road journey from Srinagar.
If you want to take a bus to Doodhpathri, take a bus for Budgam or Khan Sahib from Lal Chowk.
Day 2: Doodhpathri to Marak
- Altitude: 8,943 ft to 10,540 ft
- Distance: 5 km
- Duration: 3 hours
The trek begins from Doodhpathri. Five minutes from here, cross the Shaliganga river just over the small wooden bridge. The trail gradually ascends into a beautiful Deodar and pine forest.
A walk for half km into the towering pine and Deodar trees will take you to a beautiful small opening as you hear the Shaliganga river flowing on your right side into the valley. Follow a muddy trail through the trees for the next hour where you reach an opening among the trees. You will be able to see the Shaliganga from above.
This is the same river you crossed in the beginning of the trek. Looking at river makes you realise you are gaining altitude steadily.
A gradual ascent on a muddy trail takes you to a small opening from where you can see the Budgam district far away in the horizon. An hour’s walk from here will get you near a stream where you can refill your water bottles. The trail ahead is a climb for half a km, which is the last climb for the day before you reach the campsite. You are already above the tree line. There are two huts here on top of the hill.
As soon you reach near the huts, you see a panoramic view of the mountains surrounding our campsite in a huge meadow. Welcome to Marak!
Day 3: Marak to Kooterlass
- Altitude: 10,540 ft to 11,850 ft
- Distance: 5. 5 km
- Duration: 3.5 hours
Take the route behind the campsite till you get to the top of the ridge. A peaceful walk on the ridge gives you a view of the route for the next day.
A gradual walk on the ridge for an hour brings you to a wide-angle view of the Shaliganga river flowing in the valley in a long stretch. A bridge on the river is visible in the valley below.
This is your route towards the next campsite. Descend slowly for the next 700 metres till the bridge. Take the trail that gradually ascends just next to the river.
An easy but steady climb for an hour will take you to an opening between two hills. Follow the trail along the stream for the next 2 hours to reach the campsite. The campsite is a meadow surrounded by small streams. This is also our water source for the camping area.
Day 4: Excursion to Damamsar and back to Kooterlass
- Altitude: 11,850 ft to 13,226 ft and back
- Distance: 6 km
- Duration: 4 hours
Start today’s trek with a daypack because you will be returning to the same campsite. The trail quickly ascends up to the ridge behind the campsite as soon as you start walking. After ascending for an hour and a half, you reach the top of the ridge from where you can see the first lake, Bhansar.
It’s a beautiful glacial lake surrounded by boulders on the side. The next lake lies behind the smaller ridge across the boulder section. There is no defined trail to the next lake as the area is covered with huge boulders. Make your way cautiously over the boulders towards the ridge. A gradual climb on the ridge brings the beautiful Damamsar lake in picture.
Compared to the first lake, Damamsar is double in size. The crystal-clear water of the Damamsar lake is a sight for the sore eyes. After enjoying at the lake, head back to the campsite via an easier route on the left side of the boulders. Half an hour of walk to the main ridge and an hour of descent will get you back at the Kooterlass campsite.
Day 5: Kooterlass to Ashtaar
- Altitude: 11,850 ft to 11,576ft
- Distance: 5 km
- Duration: 2.5 hours
The day starts with a gradual ascent towards the right side of the campsite, just below the route taken on the previous day. The trail climbs gradually through open meadows and small boulder sections.
Keep climbing gradually for 2 km towards the end of the flat ridge which can be easily distinguished in the landscape. Once on the top of the ridge, you can see the Shaliganga river flowing in all its glory in the Ashtaar valley.
The river originated from the Ashtaar glacier which can be seen on the right side of the valley. Peak Tatakuti (4693m) is visible near the Ashtaar glacier. The meadows on the other side of the ridge are wider than the meadow you camped a day earlier in Kooterlass. In the month of July, the whole valley is covered with yellow and red flowers which give it a perfect dressing. Descend down into the Ashtaar valley on the trail which heads down gradually.
This walk on the long stretch of breathtaking meadows covered in a blanket of yellow and red flowers with the river Shaliganga in view is total bliss. After a level walk for the next 2.3km and you reach the Ashtaar campsite. The campsite is a huge meadow beautifully placed next to the Shaliganga river.
Day 6: Ashtaar to Mujakhani
- Altitude: 11,576 ft to 9,754 ft
- Distance: 9 km
- Duration: 4.5 hours
The day’s trek starts with crossing the Shaliganga river near the campsite. The river bed is shallow at one place where the river can be easily crossed. The water would be knee deep. Next, the trail ascends gradually on the hill right in front after crossing the stream.
Climb for the next hour to reach a flat area on the hill to get a 180-degree view of the surrounding area. Take the shepherd trail on the right just above the boulder field. Descend gradually where there is a small space to cross the boulders to the other side.
A half an hour walk on the trail will take you to another huge meadow with shepherd huts. The other side of the Ashtaar glacier is visible on your right while you walk on this glacier. As you go further, the river Doodhganga gets into picture which also originates from the Ashtaar glacier.
The view of the Doodhganga river is stunning as it flows gracefully in the valley below. Walk on the trail which heads down to the right towards the big meadow. The trail towards the next campsite and few shepherd huts can be seen in the distance.
A gradual descent along the Doodhganga river through a beautiful carpet of lush green grass for 2 km takes you to the shepherd huts and also brings you back to the tree line. The same trail continues further for another 2.5km till you reach the campsite.
The campsite is situated in a huge meadow near the river. You can see the Doodhganga river split into two ways. One is the original route of the river which goes towards Yusmarg and the other is made by the Hydro project.
Day 7: Mujakhani to Palmaidan. Drive to Srinagar
- Altitude: 9,754 ft to 7,345 ft
- Distance: 8 km
- Duration: 4 hours of trek
The last day of the trek is very easy as most of the trail is a level walk into the forest with openings every now and then. Continue on the same trail you walked on the day before in the same direction.
A gradual descent in the forest for a km brings you to a small stream on the right side. Follow the stream downwards till you hit the stone trail. Further, the trail goes through tall trees and openings on intervals for the next 2 hours.
The next half an hour of walk opens into a big meadow with 10-12 shepherd huts which marks the beginning of Palmaidan. The roadhead is visible right in front of you, but vehicles will have to pass through the huge flow of Shaliganga river to get here. Walk on the same road for 10 mins and you get a view of civilization on your right.
A gradual descent through the forest will bring you to a bridge built across the river. Cross the same Shaliganga river which you crossed on the first day of the trek to end the trek.
How to reach the basecamp – Doodhpathri
Srinagar → Doodhpathri
There are two ways you can get to Doodhpathri. A private cab can cost you between Rs 1,800 to Rs. 2000. It is about 2 hours of road journey from Srinagar.
If you want to take a bus to Doodhpathri, the journey will have to be broken down to:
Srinagar → Budgam → Khan Sahib → Doodhpathri
Catch a bus from Lal Chowk in Srinagar for Budgam. On the Magam route, you need to get down at Budgam to take a shared taxi for Khan Sahib. On a different route, there are chances that your bus may pass through Khan Sahib on the way to Budgam, so keep your ears open. From Khan Sahib, take a cab to Doodhpathri.
Only postpaid phones work in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There is good network connectivity until Khan sahib. You may get sporadic network at Doodhpathri.
The last ATM point is Budgam/ Khansahib.
Srinagar. Although you may get first aid assistance in Budgam.
How to prepare for Doodhpathri Trek
This trek requires a good amount of cardiovascular endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday. Start jogging at a slow pace and then keep increasing your pace day by day. In order to be prepared for high altitude trek, you should have a combination of distance and speed targets.
Here’s a fitness routine that works:
In case you’re just starting with a regular fitness routine, phase out your distance targets in the following manner –
–>Target completing 5 km in 45 minutes when you begin.
–> Gradually increase your pace by running 4 times a week and bring it down to 5 km in 40 mins.
–>If you are 45 years or above, try to cover 5km in less than 47 minutes.
If you are somebody you prefers cycling over running, then try to cover 22 km in 60 minutes.
Here’s a guide to help you prepare for the trek.
Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.
Useful videos to help you with your gear
1. Trekking shoes: You need good trekking shoes for this trek. Watch this video to learn how to choose the right trekking shoes.
2. Backpack (50-60 litres): A backpack with sturdy straps and a supporting frame. Rain cover for backpack is essential.
On a trek, carry fewer clothes than you would normally need. But enough to keep you warm.
1. Three warm layers: The highest altitude you reach in this trek is 13,322 ft and the climate may require you to have more warm clothes. You will need at least three warm layers (two lights layers such as fleece and woollen and one padded jacket) for this trek.
2. Two trek pants: Wear one pair and carry an extra pair just in case it rains. Denims and shorts are not suitable for trekking. Choose synthetic materials so they dry quickly in case of rain.
3. Three collared t-shirts: Carry light, full sleeved t-shirts that prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. Again, wear one and carry two. Let one of these be a dri-fit t-shirt. It will dry quickly in case you are trekking on a rainy day.
4. Thermals (Optional): If you are more susceptible to cold, carry thermals to wear at night.
1. Sunglasses: Sunglasses are to prevent snow blindness. There might be snow closer to the lake, so carry a pair of sunglasses.
2. Suncap: The sun is more harsh at high altitudes, which is why a sun cap is mandatory.
3. Synthetic hand gloves: One pair of water-resistant hand gloves for the evenings.
4. Woollen cap
5. Socks (3 pairs): Wear one, carry two. Apart from two sports socks, you can take a pair of woollen socks for the night.
6. Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
7. Trekking pole: Watch this video to understand why you need a trekking pole.
- Toiletries: Sunscreen, moisturizer, light towel, lip balm, toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitiser. Do not carry wet wipes since these are not biodegradable. We do not like biodegradable wet wipes because they take a long time to decompose in the mountains. Use toilet paper instead.
- Sanitary waste: Make sure you bring your used sanitary napkins back to the city with you. Carry a zip lock bag to put used napkins. Bring this ziplock bag back with you to the city and do not dispose sanitary napkins in the mountains.
- Cutlery:Carry a spoon, coffee mug and a lunch box. We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons. We do not allow biodegradable or disposable cutlery on our treks.
- Two water bottles: 1 liter each
- Plastic covers: While packing, use Ziploc covers to compartmentalization of things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes. You also need ziploc packets to keep soiled sanitary napkins if you use them on the trek.
Mandatory Personal Medical Kit
- Diamox – 1 Strip
- Crocin – 10 tablets
- Avomine (optional, in case of motion sickness)- 1 Strip
- Combiflam- Half Strip
- Muscle relaxant – Half Strip
- Digene – Half Strip
- Avil – 1 strip
- ORS – 6 packs
- Knee Cap (If you are prone to knee injury)
Looking for places to visit after your Doodhpathri trek?
Every place in Kashmir is worth a visit and possibly end up being one of the most beautiful places you end up seeing. However, we have listed a few places in Srinagar that deserve a visit after your trek.
The Mughal gardens in Srinagar are unmissable – from the aristocratic Shalimar Bagh, to Nishat Bagh and Chashme Shahi. Chashme Shahi is the perhas the smallest, and quieter of the two. Each have a very interesting story behind them.
The most well-known place to visit in Srinagar – the vast Dal lake and it’s famed shikara rides. It’s waters, covering about 21 sq kms, is filled with lily pads, lotuses and floating gardens. It runs along other sites of tourist interest in the city.
The Shankaracharya hill is a good 1000 ft climb above the lake. It houses a Shiva temple, associated with Adi Shankaracharya, who is known to have meditated there. The view it offers is perhaps one of the best views of Srinagar city.
If you have a day to spare, Gulmarg with it’s beauty and plethora of options for tourists, is a good place to explore. It is an hour and half away from Srinagar,