Embarking on my first visit to the Kashmiri countryside was exciting and this Himalayan heaven lived up to my expectations and beyond. Our 5-day trek covered the Tosa Maidan and the Greater Lakes in the Bugdam District to an altitude of 4010m. I totally recommend this hike mainly because I was completely seduced by the unspoiled nature!
About Tosa Maidan
Lying within the inner Himalayas, Tosa Maidan, meaning ‘King of Meadows’ in Kashmiri, deserves its name as this area in the Bugdam district of Jammu and Kashmir is so vast. It was leased to the army for 50 years which ended in April 2014, J&K Tourism was set up in September 2014 to open up the area to trekkers and campers alike. In the Summer, the camps of the Gujjar community and be seen along with the shepherds that head to the mountains to rear flocks of sheep.
Itinerary for Tosa Maidan and Greater Lakes Trek
Day 1: Srinagar to start the Tosa Maidan trek
Travel: 6.30 am leave from Srinagar, 1.5 hrs travel to Shanglipora
Trek Time: 5 hours from village to camp
Height: 3180m camping spot
Driving from the city of Srinigar after staying on a houseboat moored on Nigeen Lake, we headed to the country passing rice fields, apple trees, corn plants, and a lovely rainbow which was a beautiful sign for the trip ahead. We stopped to get a lassi and the cooks grabbed some last-minute food shopping, the locals walked over to the bus, one local man looked straight at me looking very shocked, one lady crossed the road to smile and wave at us, I’m not sure what they were thinking. Our guides told us we were the third group of international tourists on this trail since J&K Tourism was set up so we were clearly a rare sight in these parts.
We arrived at the village of Khag Shanglipora where we would meet the porters with the horses to carry our tents, backpacks, food including live chickens, again we were big news, the locals wanted photos with us, girls were shy and giggled when we smiled at them, very endearing. The trek was started from here at around 2150m into the luscious green forest.
There were a lot of local Kashmiris on this stretch, so if you need to pee, go before you set out as you will not be alone as different groups joined us as we walked up the mountain. We were joined then by a group of girls off to chop wood balancing the axes on their heads, the 15-year-old was super chatty. They wanted to carry our backpacks for us, feeling guilty I checked with our guide Ajaz, he said they were having great fun with us and they insisted!
The dense forest turned into a steep rocky path and after 3 hours we found the first level to rest in the clouds, it was wonderful. We proceeded down the stream and across the meadows to reach our camping spot for the night. The rain greeted us but the sunshine soon came out for us to lie in the sun on the green carpet of the meadows and take in what lucky people we were. We could see the stunning views of Haramukh Mountain, Kolahoi Peak and the Nun Kun Peaks into the distance.
Day 2: Tosa Maidan to Gadtarsar basecamp
Trek Time: 6 hours
Altitude: 3920m camping spot
Considering the peace and tranquility, nobody needs an alarm up here, the horses and daylight will wake you up nicely! Breakfast at 7am ready for moving to basecamp for 2 days. We had a visitor to camp, Syed from Department of Sheep Husbandry, who stays in the mountains in the Summer to help the shepherds care for their flock. He said “I felt it was my duty to come and say welcome”. How hospitable!
The 6 hour trek to basecamp wasn’t difficult; we were ascending higher which slowed down our pace. Endless beautiful views and the snow we had seen from lower down became a reality. A local couple helped us find a perfect place to cross the stream, they were off to find medicinal herbs, the meadow is so rich in flora and fauna. At one point, sheep from all around the hills came rushing towards us nearly knocking us off our feet, don’t think they see many other people to say hi to. Just as friendly as the two ladies who sat on a rock and sang us a Welcome song.
We reached camp about 2pm feeling a bit weary. The porters were fishing for trout for dinner, not with a rod though but their method seemed to work. As the sun went down, you could really feel the drop in temperature compared to the first camp in Tosa Maidan. The thunder started as we went to bed which lit up the sky behind the mountains, you could hear the horses going crazy in the rain all night, poor things!
Day 3: Gadtarsar Lakes and more
Trek Time: 5 hours
Altitude: 3920m camping spot / 4010m trek
We took it a little easier today, a few people in the camp were feeling some effects of altitude. I wasn’t alone with symptoms, mine was evident for all to see, I woke up with a completely swelled up face and I looked like The Elephant Man, not a good look (no selfies on this day)! We live at sea level so it probably affected us more, altitude sickness meds next time. This trek can definitely be done in quicker time if you’re feeling tip-top!
Our trek passed the streams, over huge rocky boulders and green meadows to reach GaadtarSar I, II, III. Each alpine lake was tiered one above each other. Gaad means fish and Sar is Lake in Kashmiri, hence the name! We moved over the snow to check out Damam sar, about 800m in length, and a nearby lakelet. Their beauty is simply breath-taking. A shepherd told our guides that an endangered snow leopard was sighted in the night, it made sense why we heard barking dogs to scare them off the flocks of sheep (and keep us awake), mind-boggling to think what is going on outside the bubble of our tent.
The cooks in the camp ordered in mutton from a local shepherd as a treat to us trekkers. After I took a peak around the cooks tent, I can confirm this was halal meat for dinner, you can imagine what I saw!
Day 4: Boadsar to Tosa Maidan
Trek Time: 5.5 hours in the morning / 4 hours in the afternoon
Distance: 9k morning trek / 11k morning trek
Altitude: 4100m morning trek / 3920m camping spot / Original camp 3180m
We set off over the running stream by our camp to make our way up the opposing, steep hill; a mix of rocks, grass and snow. That was an early morning struggle to summit over 4,000m. To reach the lake called Boad Sar and the neighbouring lake, Pamsar, we traversed across many huge rocks and met many flocks of sheep and goats herded up by Kashmiri shepherds. The weather changed from a cold start to warming up when the clouds cleared to reveal the lovely sun shining down on your back. This soon changed the higher we got, the layers of clothing were applied, taken off then reapplied until the rain hit. With all seasons in one morning, you’ll be feeling pretty smug if you’ve packed for this trek wisely. This was the most challenging trek for me with the weather and the higher ascent but I loved every minute!
In the afternoon, we headed back to original camp. Even though it was a descend in altitude there were many ups and downs but the blue skies came through for us. After the morning trek, this 19km day was a challenge for this average hiker!
Day Five: Tosa Maidan to Srinagar
Trek Time: 4.5 hours
Distance: 8k to Shanglipora
Altitude: Descend from 3200m to 2150m
The camp was packed up for one last time to head back to the village of Shanglipora. Syed the vet came to say his goodbyes as he had spotted the camp from afar. So just a small matter of descending that super steep mountain! We walked through fog that cleared as quick as it came and felt pretty delighted to rest my feet at the village with a cup of kava tea in hand and reflect on what a truly memorable experience this has been… and then more thoughts turned to the shower I desperately needed when we arrived in Srinagar!
SRINAGAR | TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Visa requirements for India
You would be applying for an Indian tourist visa valid for 60 days (as a UK citizen). It’s a simple online process but beware, there are a lot of questions. If you’ve travelled before, you will need your visa number from your previous trip. Check the Indian Government website for eligibility with your passport. Once you have filled out the form, uploaded the documents, and paid, your visa will arrive within 4 days, usually sooner in my experience.
IMPORTANT TIP: I recommend you DO NOT use any 3rd party visa company. I did this in error once and missed a trip for Diwali, they generally do not respond and are extremely slow in processing your application.
The registration process for Kashmir
There are special requirements are in place for Jammu and Kashmir due to security concerns. If you arrive by air, you will be registered at the airport on arrival. Coming by road, you will need to fill in a registration form at a police checkpoint. The registration process is free, you just need to show your valid passport and visa.