I first started hearing about the Tarsar Marsar trek in 2011 from our staff in Kashmir. They told me about this beautiful trek to some lakes near Pahalgam. They told me it was even prettier than Kashmir Great Lakes trek that we had just started to run.
I almost pooh-poohed them. I couldn’t imagine another trek in Kashmir that could beat our Kashmir Great Lakes trek.
They told me there were three lakes in a series. Tarsar, then above that Marsar and then further above Sundersar. I imagined the lakes were in tiers. One level after another.
The hype around Tarsar Marsar
Our Kashmir staff continued to gush about the trek almost every other day. I thought they were being a bit pushy. I felt they just wanted Indiahikes to open another trek in Kashmir. The economic benefit was there for everyone to see.
Yet, at the back of my mind, the thought of these lakes nagged me. What if they were indeed prettier than our great lakes?
Finally, one day I decided to end the conflict once and for all. I asked Rahul, at that time our senior most trek leader, to lead a small exploratory expedition to these lakes.
During a break in our trekking season, Rahul set off with a motley group of our Kashmiri staff to explore the lakes.
A week later I heard from him. They were extremely tired. They had taken a difficult route on the return. They had made their way through unknown jungles, rough terrain but found a shortcut to reach our base camp.
In the excitement of describing their adventure somewhere the trek was lost.
When I asked Rahul about the trek, he said it was a wonderful, beautiful trek, but he hurried back to tell me how they had walked almost 25 km to reach camp.
Rahul also told me about some of the local shepherds who he met on the way. They had warned him that this trail was not very safe. That infiltrators with guns frequented the trail. Some foreigners were abducted some years ago. He said it would not be wise to run the trek, and even in our documentation we must put up a cautionary.
I was left with a mixed feeling about the trek. First, I couldn’t figure out how beautiful the trek was. With bad weather Rahul didn’t have many pictures either. His adventure on the return trail overshadowed the goodness of the trek.
A month or two later the documentation of the trek was up on the website — it came along with a red box that cautioned trekkers against doing the trek.
That was the end of Tarsar Marsar.
A few years later…
Until few years later the nag returned. Even though we had a new team of local Kashmiri folks there was a constant buzz about Tarsar. The topic would come up whenever we were in small informal chats.
Somewhere in all this, a comment that Rahul made kept coming back to me. He had said, “Tarsar Marsar is even more beautiful than KGL.”
At that time he had made this comment almost in passing. The implication of which had escaped me. With the local buzz that I was hearing, his comment was becoming increasingly significant.
Taking the plunge to explore
Something else happened around the same time. On a working holiday with my family, we went to Aru, the base of the Tarsar Marsar trek. I wanted to see first hand what the start of the trek looked like. I was bowled over by the stunning meadows and pine forests that surrounded Aru. This looked too idyllic to believe. I had to find out more.
The next day, along with my 3 year old daughter riding on my shoulders I went to Lidderwat, the first camp of the trek. I had never seen such wondrous grassy clearings in the midsts of forests on my treks. I was palpably excited when I returned to Aru the same day. I had no doubt by then that this was going to be one of the best treks in India.
Back in our office, we quickly made plans to explore the trek fully. We didn’t know much about the route. We didn’t have GPS readings to go by either. We decided to take a local shepherd along to help with directions.
In July 2014 my partner Sandhya, our Chief of Operations, Manish and I formed a three member team to explore these exciting lakes of Kashmir. The terrain was desolate; our destinations sketchy. We were rather nervous, but the chance to discover something new in Indian trekking filled us with excitement.
I cannot remember spending more happier moments than we did exploring Tarsar Marsar. The trek turned out to be spectacular. I had never imagined this side of Kashmir could be so pretty that it defied any description. But there it was — a trek that in every way matched our Kashmir Great Lakes trek.
Soaking in the beauty
We were bowled over by the vast grasslands, the sunlit clearings, the pine trees, the rivers and streams. Closer to the lakes the mountains took on grand imposing shapes with snow patches at their crowns.
Then the three lakes. They were much bigger than we imagined them to be. Tarsar on its own was around a km long. The colours were a magnificent royal blue, pearly white snow patches surrounded them. We camped besides the shores of Tarsar and Sundarsar. We thought we had attained nirvana.
Unlike my previous impression, the lakes were not in levels, but in three different locations, forming a triangle of sorts. There were multiple trails to access the lakes. We forced a new route over a saddle that connected Sundarsar with Tarsar. The saddle also gave us a commanding view of the flower strewn Jagmargi valley.
Forcing our way through another little known trail past a col behind Sundarsar got us to a overhang above Marsar. I couldn’t have imagined a better viewpoint than this to see the grandeur of the lake.
When I look back at some of these discoveries that we made, I am sometimes astonished at the permanent mark they have left in Indian trekking. The great campsite of Shekawas. The new route to Sundarsar over the Tarsar pass. Camping at Sundarsar. The trail past the col at Sundersar to Marsar. All of them have now become de rigueur of trekking to Tarsar Marsar.
Sometimes I do feel very nice about our work at Indiahikes.