Himalayan Club report on Kashmir.
My good friend Raja, (who has facilitated mountaineering trips to various parts of the Indian and Nepali Himalaya for Irish Mountaineers every two years or so), contacted me after Covid had done its worst, and said, “where would you like to go next”?
“Is Kashmir safe”? “Yes, Kashmir is stable”, but reading between the lines, I felt he would rather we chose somewhere else.
Having read a couple of Salman Rushdie’s books, I had been captivated with the idea of a visit for some years. The UK foreign office is still advising against travel to Kashmir, but there are many on-line testaments as to how beautiful the country is, and how safe and friendly the people are. No insurgent activity since 2019 apparently, (and being from Northern Ireland, we have certainly had terrorist incidents since that, and would never consider that our country was unsafe for visitors).
We would go, unless things went pear-shaped in the meantime.
September 2024 arrived in due course, and so to Srinigar.
The plan was put together following a recce by Raja. Avoiding the most popular Lakes Trek, we would do a 14 plus day trek through the Pir Panjal, climbing 3 peaks, Shin Mahinu, Tatakooti and Sunset Peak, all between 4000 and 5000m. It would be a first, and he had a contact who could provide everything we would need.
It started badly for Margaret and I, when British Airways cancelled our flight from Belfast to London, (and got much worse), but we caught up with the other 8, (whose travel went as planned), on day three, as they headed into the mountains. The mountains of Kashmir are unlike the other parts of the Himalaya that I have visited, being not as high, and heavily grazed, with spacious and extensive open pastures. Undoubtedly very beautiful with lots of alpine flowers, particularly Edelweiss. More like a mixture of Alpine meadow and the Mongolian steppes, with the less spectacular mountains not unlike those we have in Ireland or Scotland, except 3000m higher!
We started from Tosamaidan and two days later, chose to climb Shupnag 4400m rather than Shin Mahinu, as it looked more attractive. Despite a thunderstorm, the entire party summitted, and we trekked to Navkan Sar Lakes, Chaanz, and then to Dumail. Dumail is a stunningly beautiful spot and the base camp for Tatakuti. Our Baggage was carried by horses, who were well suited to most of the terrain, except the boulder fields, which were pretty much everywhere, and difficult to avoid.
Our headline peak, Tatakuti, didn’t go quite to plan, due largely to unfortunate decision making.
In trying to avoid the notoriously loose rock, we opted to reach a lower part of the ridge via the glacier. Rather than explore the possibility of a traverse to where we needed to be, a hasty decision was made to descend to another glacier behind. A difficult descent on loose shale, and exhausting re-ascent meant that most were timed- out, but two did make it to the summit, (and were disappointed to find graffiti on the rocks). The descent of a loose and icy gully was tricky, but everyone made it down safely.
A rest was scheduled for the next day, but four made it to the top of Hundru 4200m, a neighboring peak, with a fine solid scramble up a ridge to the summit.
Another day’s trek took us to the equally picturesque Chaskinar camp, from where two other summits were bagged, the Cairngormesque Bodanglan 4248m, and the more dramatic point 4400m
Two more days trekking took us to Bargah Maidan, ?? and the end of the trek at Yousmarg .
The trek route seemed to me to be an unnatural line, skirting around the mountains over numerous low ridges, then following a valley up into a picturesque camp, then back out again. A more direct route through the mountains would probably work, but the boulder fields would rule out the use of horses for the baggage.
A couple of camps, from where we could access summits, might possibly have been a better option in retrospect.
Still, we got 5 summits between us, more than we expected, the weather was lovely throughout, and we had a few days to recover, enjoying the fleshpots, and amazing houseboats at Srinigar.