The Birthday I’ll Never Forget on the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek

What started out as a simple whim to do something different on her birthday, turned out to be one of the best decisions of Shreya Gautam’s life! Here’s a blog penned by her

The year is 2018, and in less than a month I was going to hit a milestone in my life; turning 18!

I wanted to do something different that birthday; something that I’d never done before…something I’ll never forget. I had been to Kashmir in 2016 and fell absolutely in love with the place.

While almost every place was drenched in the August showers, Kashmir was one of those few places which had its peak season then.

I enjoyed hiking around Mumbai and a Himalayan trek was anyway on the list.

As I read through the itinerary of Kashmir Great Lakes trek and went through the pictures, there were butterflies in my stomach.

This was going to be my first Himalayan trek

To add to the list of ‘firsts’, I also decided to travel alone for the very first time. So I booked my trek with 25 unknown people and even though it was a gutsy decision to spend my birthday away from everyone I’ve ever known,  not once did I have doubts about this trek. I knew in my heart that it’s going to be one of those trips I’ll remember all my life.

Shreya Gautam Indiahikes
Meeting these strangers for the first time on the Kashmir Great Lakes trek

Since there was nobody in my circle who had done a trek like this, I resorted to YouTube and trek-related articles on the Internet about what to take with you and ended up packing things I didn’t even need “just in case”.

Why my first day of the trek was incredibly challenging

Cut to, the first day of our trek. My legs pained, my chest hurt, and with the 90 litre rucksack filled to its utmost capacity, I literally couldn’t even look up because the overhead section of the rucksack weighed on my head. Besides, I thought since I was young I didn’t need any preparation for the trek. (huge huge mistake!)

I was the last one to reach the first break spot. And last to the extent that just when I reached, people were done with their break and started moving on. And these were 25 complete strangers mind you, so there was no comfort there either. If someone would’ve asked me whether I can do this trek on the first day, I would’ve said a big no! Within the first hour of it I was wondering what did I get myself into! (It does gets better though 🙂 )

Shreya Gautam Indiahikes
Taking a break

During this time, one of the trek guides noticed my struggle and offered to carry my huge bulky rucksack. Shakeel Bhai trekked with my bag for 6.5 hours through an elevation of about 4,000 ft with a lot of discomforts but without saying a word!

Even after offloading my bag, he carried my lunches and water with him so that it gets easier for me.

Most of the people from the group had done at least one trek so they had some experience. For me: it was hard matching the pace, walking for such long distances and even without any weight some climbs felt strenuous.

With all that being said, I felt really lucky to have the most amazing people in my batch! We went from strangers to thick friends real quick.

We covered long distances with a number of ascends and descends along the way.

The degree of some ascends was pretty scary for a first-timer. But the most beautiful part about them was the way we all stuck for one another and climbed up.

It’s the small things that go a long way.

The way everyone walked with me – despite some of them being very seasoned trekkers who could easily get ahead, all those photo sessions and Shakeel bhai very patiently putting up with it, all the impromptu dances, the counting together while climbing, the craziness and the way everyone made me feel so special on my birthday! Or even the extra desserts that Shakeel bhai gave for that matter.

People were like family. They’ll take care of you, wait for you and stick around when you feel like you can’t do this anymore. There’s so much a trek can teach you!

Shreya Gautam with Indiahikes
Special Chhabbis on Kashmir Great Lakes trek

We called ourselves the “special chabbis”. All the 26 people in my batch came from different cultural backgrounds, some from different countries too, and were at different stages of their lives. Everyone had their own reasons for coming and I’d never seen strangers bond this well.

The way a lot of them look at life, the things they’re doing, adventures they’re embarking on and the way they’re simply living their life is so inspiring.

By the end of it, it felt like we’d all known each other since years!

My birthday fell on the toughest day of the week-long trek

The night before, while camping in the valley, I looked at that peak we had to scale the next day and I genuinely didn’t think I would make it. But thanks to my lovely trek-mates, I very effortlessly made my way up and what breathtaking views! No words can do justice to the view of Kishansar and Vishnusar lakes from 13,850ft.

I sat there for a while just to soak in its beauty.

As the trek continued, it took us through lush green meadows, besides beautiful crystal clear Alpine lakes, on valleys laden with tiny colourful flowers, walking next to herds of sheep, on a glacier, and on lots of boulders. Each terrain had a charm of its own.

After doing KGL, I understood why Kashmir is called heaven on Earth. There were mornings where we woke up right in front of a lake and I had to pinch myself every time to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Now here’s my best memory of the trek

I will never forget this day, even as I’m typing this 2 years later, miles away, it still brings the biggest smile on my face!

First off, at an altitude where freshly cooked supper itself was a blessing, the whole team decided to bake me a cake. How special is that? Absolutely beyond imagination. At 13,850 ft when it’s freezing cold the last thing you’d expect is a cake in front of you!

Kahsmir Great Lakes Shreya Gautam blog
Shreya relishing jalebi and cake on birthday at the high altitude

While crossing Gadsar Pass we got talking with a few army men and upon knowing that it was my birthday, they offered me some Kheer they’d made for themselves and later came for a stroll around our campsite in the evening.

That day everyone did their bit to make me feel special in their cute little ways. As if the cake wasn’t enough I was also treated with Jalebis as the dessert of the day! And extra desserts for me after every meal was a gift from our dearest guide.

How do I sum this up?

Even though I was far far away from home, out of reach, doing something I’d never picture myself doing, with people I’d never met before, I felt at home. I felt happy and wholesome and that day was just filled with so much love & adoration.

This will stay warm in my heart for as long as I can imagine.

I wonder if I hadn’t felt all that love the first time, I don’t think I would’ve been this passionate about trekking today! I fell so much in love with the mountains that I’m soon going to be pursuing a mountaineering course to hopefully give the same experience that I got out of my very first trek.

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