Goddess of Light: A valley glacier in Kashmir
The Kolahoi Glacier trek can be described as the trek of a lifetime. This valley glacier is revered by the locals as the “Goddess of Light” for being the perennial source of water that powers major rivers such as Jhelum and Lidder. Sadly, this five-kilometer long hanging glacier has depleted over the years due to the effects of climate change.
Trekking in Kashmir has a certain charm. In other words, it has a different air about it. The five-day trek to Kolahoi Glacier categorically captures the essence of that feeling. As it is often said, the journey is as important as the destination. The trekking trail to Kolahoi Glacier stands testament to this sentiment. The trail starts at Aru, a gateway to more than 25 stunning alpine lakes and innumerable high-altitude ponds. The route winds through the greenest meadows, sprawling banks of Lidder river and wide-open Himalayan valleys. Throughout the trek, you’ll be greeted by acres and acres of beautiful coniferous forests that extend as far as the horizon goes. The pinnacle of the trek is of course, the magnificent Kolahoi Glacier.
Whom is the trek meant for?
Do you wish to trek in a terrain filled with tall trees, meadows decked with flower beds and and pristine high-altitude lakes that have snow capped peaks as their backdrop? On the Kolahoi Glacier trek you get to experience all this and much more. You get to camp next to an alpine lake and enjoy stunning views of a historic valley glacier. This is one of the best ‘short-treks’ in Kashmir. This is a perfect introductory trail for trekking in Kashmir.
What are the risks involved?
Over the past three decades, the Kolahoi Glacier has lost half of its mass. This insides of this retreading glacier have hallowed out. It is said that one could hear a sharp cracking sound from either side of the glacier, which is a warning that needs to be taken seriously. It is highly advisable that you get a glimpse of the glacier from a safe distance. Walking atop the valley glacier is highly dangerous and it is not recommended.
The trail to Kolahoi Glacier does not involve any technical sections that require special skills . The terrain is undulating but not physically exhausting for those who have stuck to the recommended fitness schedule. Although some trekkers have concerns about the safety of trekking in Kashmir. As troubled as the state might seem, it is relatively safe to trek in the Kashmir valley, as long as you’re cautious and know where to go.
In this trek, you’ll be trekking upto an altitude of 12,600 feet and there are chances of being hit by Acute Mountain Sickness, which can be avoided by going on a course of Diamox. You can start the course 2 days prior to the trek.
How difficult is the trek?
The Kolahoi Glacier trek is classified as a trek of easy to moderate difficulty. The trek has sections with a few ascents and descents which require considerable preparation. The numerous mountain stream crossings along the trail need to be negotiated with care. A physically active child above the age of 14 can do this trek.
How to prepare for the trek?
Start slow with your fitness regime. You need to be in good physical condition before the start of the trek. On the 5th day of your trek, there is a rocky patch for which you will need trekking shoes with good grip. Expect intermittent rainfall on your trek and carry a poncho and backpack cover to avoid wet clothes.
Author: Ajay Nagaraju
This trail was explored and documented by Ankit Naithani, Trek Leader, Indiahikes.
Kolahoi Glacier Trek Guide
Day 1: Getting to the base camp – Aru
Pahalgam is about 100 km from Srinagar and Aru is 12 km away from Pahalgam. Pahalgam is a more familiar place around Srinagar so if you are reaching on your own, take a shared vehicle from Srinagar to Pahalgam. It takes about 3 hours to get there.
From Pahalgam, Aru is right across the Lidder River. It takes another half an hour to cover this distance. Today, after a 4 hour drive from Srinagar you reach Aru by 6 pm. There are plenty of places to stay at Aru, though they are a tad expensive. The acclimatisation process starts today.
Day 2: Trek from Aru to Lidderwat
- Altitude: 7958 feet to 9131 feet
- Distance: 10 kms
- Time taken: 6 hours
- Trail type: Gently climbing long trail
It is a gentle but long climb from Aru to Lidderwat covering a distance of 10 km in 6 hours. The trail to Lidderwat starts to climb straight out of the village, following the course of the Lidder River. Follow the wide trail past the agricultural department’s fence. Look back to take a commanding view of the entire region of Aru. The trail gets into a cluster of fir trees and continues to climb. Half an hour later, the trail pops out at a clearing called Dalla near Gujjar huts.
At Dalla, the trail is no longer a climb, but a gentle undulating walk through thick pines. Another 20 minutes later, a wide fork on the trail under a giant fir tree signals the diversion to Nandkei. Nandkei is nothing but a cluster of Gujjar settlements across the Lidder. Continue on the trail with the forest thinning out progressively. Half hour later, the trail leaves the cluster of trees completely and threads through open grasslands. Spot Gujjars and their families criss-crossing the meadows on horse backs. The trail climbs over so gently that it is hardly noticeable.
Another half hour later, the trail crosses two clear streams – the second one over a wooden bridge. The streams are clear and the water is safe enough for drinking. It is another hour’s journey to Lidderwat from the bridge. Soon after the bridge, the trail climbs into another small cluster of pine trees. Sometimes, during peak season, there’s a tea stall on the right – it serves as a good place for a quick breath and a cup of tea.
Out of the pine trees, the trail gently climbs a mound, from the top of which is one of the most fascinating sceneries of the day. The Lidder River meets with the trail at the valley bottom, spreading out in springs. Next to the river are grassy glades where the trail runs. Beyond, the Lidder rushes out of a curve around more gorgeous fir forests. It takes about half hour to cross this lovely section of the trail and enter the cluster of firs once again. Across the forest and ten minutes later, are the superb meadows of Lidderwat. There are a few Gujjar huts that signal Lidderwat.
A sensible option is to drop down to the wooden bridge, climb out of the meadows on the other side and camp anywhere. On the other side are lovely clear streams running across the meadows – this is vitally important if you are camping for the night. There are Pahalgam District Authority huts for accommodation. There are also plenty of places to pitch camp.
The PDA caretaker runs a private shop and there are quick bites to eat here. The Lidderwat camping site is a dream. Clear streams run across the meadows. Spare time to take long walks that stretch to either ends of the meadows. It is a delight that you will rarely come across.
Day 3: Trek from Lidderwat to Dudhsar Lake
- Altitude: 9131 feet to 12600 feet
- Distance: 8 kms
- Time taken: 6 hours
- Trail type: Steep ascents, grasslands, boulders, mountain streams, waterfalls, high-altitude alpine lake
You have to crossover to the right bank of the river to access the trail to Dudhsar Lake, which will be your campsite for tonight.
After the crossover, walk along the right bank of the Dudhsar nala for 1.5 kms to find a Gujjar hut ahead. The entire area is surrounded by tall coniferous trees. The water of the gushy mountain stream is as white as milk and it’s a sight that leaves an everlasting mark. From this checkpoint, you have to continue walking towards a place called Satlunjan.
About 2.5 kms from Lidderwat, you will reach a place called Susrin. In this section, the Susrin nala flows in from the south-west corner to merge with the Dudhsar nala. This is an interesting section, riddled with boulders on either side of the valley and patches of snow close to the mountain tops. The meeting point of the two mountain streams is beautiful. The Kolahai Base Camp is towards your north from here. A short walk will take you the Susrin nala crossing point. Cross the stream and continue walking towards Satlunjan.
Satlunjan is just half a kilometer away from Susrin. The mountain stream from Rohil flows down and breaks into seven tributaries at this place, thus earning the name Satlunjan. The huge mountain valleys in this region and the cascading mountain streams will fill your hearts with glee.
A flat 1 km walk along the trail will lead you to the Chainbal waterfall. At this point, we’re approximately at 10,200 feet. This is a small yet gorgeous waterfall. This is a good spot to take a breather. The route to the Kolahoi Base Camp is a gradual ascent.
From the Chainbal waterfall, it’s 1 km steep ascent to the Kolahoi Base Camp. The terrain has a brief section filled with boulders and you will be trekking along the banks of the Dudhsar nala.
The Kolahoi Base camp is located at an atltitude of 10,450 feet. The terrain is riddled with stones and minerals of various colors, brought down by the cascading mountain streams.
From the Kolahoi base camp, take the trail that goes right, up the valley. A brisk climb will take you to the cliff point of Hoksar nala. The view of the mountain valleys from this point is gorgeous. The trail continues upward to a green patch of land. Navigate through the boulders to reach the meadow. From here on, it’s a flat, easy walk to the Dudhsar lake.
The untouched beauty of the isolated Dudhsar lake will leave you spellbound. The swirling clouds are literally within your arm’s reach. The reflections cast by the grass-covered mountains and snow patches on the lake gives it a new dimension. The best part is, the banks of this lake will double up as your campsite for tonight.
Day 4: Trek from Dudhsar Lake to Kolahoi Glacier Viewpoint and Back to Satlunjan
- Altitude: 12,600 feet to 11,170 feet (Kolahoi Glacier View Point) / 11,170 feet to 10,450 feet (Satlunjan)
- Distance: 7 kms
- Time taken: 6 hours
- Trail type: Steep slopes, crevasse, grasslands and mountain streams
From Dudhsar Lake, retrace your steps to the valley below. The distance is not more than 600 metres. Continue walking on the right side of the Valley for 1.5 kms. It’s a gentle climb and will take you only an hour to reach the crevasse, which is also called the Kolahoi Glacier Viewpoint. Do not at any point in time, try to walk on the glacier. The insides of Kolahoi Glacier have hollowed out many years back and it’s extremely dangerous to walk on the glacier. From the crevasse, retrace the same trail back to Satlunjan, which will be your campsite for tonight. The 5 km trail winds through grasslands, boulders and mountain streams.
Kolahoi Glacier Viewpoint
Day 5: Trek from Satlunjan to Aru
- Altitude: 10,450 feet to 7958 feet
- Distance: 14 kms
- Time taken: 6 hours
- Trail type: Grasslands and mountain streams
Today is a longest day of the entire trek. However, the trail does not pose too many challenges. You will be trekking along lush grasslands that wind through broad-open valleys covered with trees. The route is blessed with mountain streams, which is always a relief. The milky white stream water is fresh and rejuvenating. It’s important that you take short five-minute breaks and hydrate yourself well today. You will be losing an altitude of 2492 feet within a single day and that can be tricky if you don’t pace yourself well. Predominantly, it is a gentle climb. If you get off to an early start, you will reach Aru no later than 3 pm.
How to get fit for the Kolahoi Glacier trek
Kolahoi Glacier trek is classified as a trek of easy to moderate difficulty. This trekking trail does not pose any serious questions. On the first day of the trek, you cover a distance of 10 km at a stretch. This portion requires persistent preparation and stamina. You can begin by jogging everyday. This helps increase your lung capacity. Ideally, you should be able to jog 4 km in 25 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Start slow and increase your pace everyday. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too.
The steep climb to Dudhsar Lake is the only challenging section in this trek. The muscles on your legs need to be strong enough to endure this patch. To strengthen your legs do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set.
Trekking with a backpack requires some effort and agile muscles. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. On your trek, it is important that you arrive on the slopes with your muscles relaxed.
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.
What you need to carry on the Kolahoi Glacier trek
Once you’ve decided to go on any trek, the first two things you need to purchase are trekking shoes and a backpack.
- Trekking shoes: Not sports shoes. The shoes need to have soles with good grip and ankle support. We recommend FORCLAZ 100, 500, and 600 from Decathlon. .Wear the shoes for a week prior to the trek to avoid shoe bites/blisters on slope.
- Backpack (40-60 litres): Backpack with sturdy straps and a supporting frame. Rain cover for backpack is essential.
The best season to do this trek is between March to October. Expect light showers during these months. So carrying a poncho is absolutely essential.
- Full sleeve woolens (2 pairs including the one you are wearing):We endorse fleece over wool as it is light weight, compact and warm. It is better to layer your clothing with multiple light sweaters than to carry one thick heavy jacket.
- Thick jacket: Carry 1 full sleeve windproof jacket/down jacket.
- Trek pants (3 pairs including the one you are wearing): We highly endorse synthetic quick-dry pants as they are light. Plus, when it’s cold you can wear one over the other. While trekking, a pair is what you would carry apart from the worn. You could keep the third pair for your return journey. Alternative would be cotton pants with many pockets or track pants. Jeans, shorts and 3/4 pants are not suitable for trekking.
- Collared t-shirts (3 pairs including the one you are wearing):Preferably light, full sleeve t-shirts that prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. Avoid loud colors that would distract birds and animals.
- Thermal inners: 1 pair of lightweight, upper and lower. Thermal inners are optional for those who are more sensitive to the cold.
- Sunglasses: Curved ones will cover your eyes well. No blue coloured sunglass — they don’t block UV. Blacks, greens, browns are fine. Avoid multi tone sunglasses. Sunglasses are to prevent snow blindness. People who wear spectacles, choose either contact lenses or photo chromatic glasses. If both are not possible, wear your spectacles and carry big sunglass that can be worn over your spectacles.
- Suncap: To protect your head from the direct heat of the sun, protect your face and neck from sunburns. The cap must cover your ears and neck.
- Synthetic hand gloves: One pair of fleece or woolen hand gloves. One pair of water proof/resistant, wind proof gloves.
- Balaclava: . You may use scarves as an alternative to balaclavas.
- Poncho: A lightweight poncho is preferred because unlike raincoats, it covers your rucksack as well. A poncho is indispensable for the Kolahoi Glacier Trek as light showers are expected
- Socks (3 pairs): 2 cotton pairs, 2 woolen pairs (mostly to be used on campsites and while sleeping. Keep them dry.)
- Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
- Trekking pole: Trekking pole is mandatory.
- Daypack (20 litres): It is mandatory to carry a daypack if you choose to offload your backpack. If you decide to carry your backpack, day pack is not required.
- Toiletries (Sunscreen – SPF 40+, moisturiser, light towel, lip balm/chap stick, small soap, toilet paper)
- Repair kit (needle & thread)
- Camera: Carry all accessories – spare batteries, charger, etc.
- Cutlery: Carry a spoon, coffee mug and a lunch box. We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons. To save weight, you may use your lunch box instead of carrying a plate separately.
- Water bottles: 2 bottles, 1 Litre each. Packaged drinking water bottles like Aquafina, Bisleri and others are not allowed.
- Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
- Plastic covers: While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalize things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes. While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalize things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes.
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Mandatory Personal Medical Kit
- Diamox – 10 tablets (to prevent AMS)
- Crocin – 6 tablets (fever)
- Avomine – 4 tablets (motion sickness)
- Avil 25mg – 4 tablets (allergies)
- Combiflam – 4 tablets (Pain killer)
- Disprin – 6 tablets (headache)
- Norflox TZ & Lomofen– 6 tablets each (diarrhea)
- Digene – 10 tablets (acidity)
- Omez/ Rantadine – 10 tablets (antacids)
- Crepe bandage – 3 to 5 meters
- Gauze – 1 small roll
- Band aid – 10 strips
- Cotton – 1 small roll
- ORS – 10 packets
- Betadine or any antiseptic cream
- Moov spray (aches, & sprains)
The much revered Kolahoi Glacier has been receding for years. According to sources, it is believed that the insides of the glacier had hollowed out and the sound of cracking ice can be heard from a distance. The crevasse near the glacier functions as the viewpoint. It’s highly dangerous to even contemplate setting foot on the Kolahoi Glacier, which is feared to be in a very fragile state. Exercise extreme caution and do not walk on the glacier at any given point in time.
How to get to the base camp – Aru
Delhi → Srinagar → Aru
Private cabs from Srinagar to Aru are available. The average cost of a cab ride is Rs. 2,700 one way. The average time taken to reach Aru is 3.5 hours and it’s recommended that you plan your journey in a way that you reach Aru no later than 6 pm.
After the completion of the trek, private cabs are available for your return journey to Srinagar. The same charge of Rs. 2,700 applies.
Review of the Explorer: Ankit Naithani
“The Kolahai Dudhsar trek is an exceptional trail as it offers all the perks of trekking in Kashmir in just a 4 day trek. The trail snakes through beautiful open valleys, lush green meadows, a spectacular mountain lake and finally reaches one of the most famous glaciers in the country. Trekkers should also look forward to seeing the Kolahai peak in the backdrop of Dudhsar lake. The magnificent peak stands tall at 5425 mts and is an awe-inspiring sight!”