Warwan Valley Trek

Rajneesh Anand
Our Union Territory, J&K, is blessed with Shivalik range, middle Himalayas and the mighty Himalayas. Thus, trekking and hiking routes are in abundance.
Trekking in Shivalik range can be relatively easy as compared to high altitude trekking in the great Himalayas where fast flowing rivulets, glaciers and rocky barren tracks test the endurance level of a trekker. But then where there is a mountain there is a trekker.
Recently, participated in Warwan Valley trek with a group of seven trekkers from various parts of the country. Warwan Valley administratively lies in Kishtwar district of the UT but is practically and culturally better connected with Kashmir valley. Parts of Kargil district of Union Territory of Ladakh also adjoin Warwan valley towards its north end. This valley is beautiful and less explored region of the state. One can trek from south end of this valley in Kishtwar and reach Kargil district or vice versa. Our trek initiated from village Panikhar on Kargil-Zanskar road and ended in small hamlet by the name Inshan in Warwan valley in Kishtwar district. And we took seven days to complete the trek reaching to maximum altitude of around 4500 metres on the way. I would like to classify this trek as of moderate level as it requires on average around fifteen kilometers trek everyday on high altitude barren track.
Our trek was organised by a local, relatively new, adventure tour company by the name Climb Kashmir. All the eight trekkers- three from Nagpur, one from Lucknow, one from West Bengal, one Romanian national, one Indian settled in Canada and me from Jammu – were to reach Srinagar, from where the group became responsibility of Climb Kashmir. We were transported to Panikhar by road passing through beautiful high altitude areas of Sonmarg, Zojila, Drass and Kargil. We stopped enroute at Drass to pay our homage to Indian army martyrs at Kargil War Memorial which is beautifully maintained by Indian Army. It was a poignant and emotional moment when army personnel described the details of the war and how our brave soldiers laid their lives to save the Indian territory under adverse conditions in 1999 Kargil war.
At Panikhar our camp was setup on the banks of a stream. It was already getting dark by the time we reached there. Two of us were put up in one tent meant for three, thus providing some limited luxury of space. Sleeping bags and pillows were also provided. There was a separate kitchen tent and dining tent along with a toilet tent. A cook, few porters and two guides were provided by the tour operator. Good care was being provided keeping in view the fact that all but one trekker, were senior citizens.
It was a beautiful morning the next day with bright sunshine and deep blue sky. Two snow covered Himalayan peaks – Nun and Kun – were shining brightly in the morning sunshine along with other associated peaks. Both these peaks are more than 7000 metres high and popular among mountaineers. All hills and mountains around us hardly had any vegetation. This was our first day of trek and by evening we moved to the next camp at a place called Dug. Porters and horses were used for transporting tents, kitchen items and our extra luggage. Each one of us was carrying a backpack of around 5-6 kgs having our warm clothes, eatables, water bottles and other essentials which we may require on our way.
Beyond Panikhar, there is no village on this track. Mobile signal and electricity too is absent. At this altitude there are no trees. Thus, could not have a bonfire in the evenings. Therefore, the evenings were utilised by doing Yoga. One of the trekker was a Yoga teacher under Art of Living organisation who guided us in these high altitude Yoga classes.
On the way we met some Gujjars and Bakarwals who were spending their summer months in this area in search of green pastures. They had large flocks of sheep and goats. We witnessed how they shear the sheep off their wool. These nomads had temporary houses which were very well maintained by the ladies in the group and we enjoyed fresh buttermilk which they offered to us. In the winters, they move down with their herds to areas around Jammu.
On the second day of the trek we climbed up further and reached our camp at Kali Pari. We passed through beautiful area of Donard where two fast flowing icy streams met. We had to cross these streams of cold water which were flowing out of glaciers. Had to remove our shoes and fold up our trousers before attempting the crossing. Cold water with fast flow and rocky unstable base made it tough to maintain balance while crossing. Fortunately, we all could cross the streams smoothly.
Third day of the trek was the toughest when we had to walk on a glacier while crossing the highest point in the trek. As we climbed up we were greeted by azure waters of high altitude lake which had small icebergs floating in it. Adjacent to the lake began the glacier. Excitedly, we walked on it. It was hard ice covered at places with mud and boulders. Our trekking shoes and walking poles provided ample grip on the ice. We crossed the highest point which was a pass with an altitude of around 4500 metres. On the other side of the pass we witnessed the mighty Botkhol glacier. We all were awestruck by the hugeness of the glacier. A large part of the glacier was covered with moraines. Again had to walk on the glacier after climbing down from the pass for several kilometres. One has to be careful while walking on the glacier as crevices can appear anywhere. By evening we reached our camp at Kaintal and realised that we had walked for more than thirteen hours on that day.
From here on it was downward climb all through. Next camp on day four was around four to five hours away. We faced a light rain on the way and had to cover ourselves with our raincoats. Luckily, the rain didn’t last for long.
On day five we took more than six hours to reach our next camp at Wamkadal. The trek route passed through beautiful scenic places and Hampet was one of them where trekking camps are generally put up. No permanent residential areas were there though shepherds and their herds of sheep could be seen every now and then. We had lost lot of altitude and the tree line was now visible. Initially, only birch trees were there. The bark of these trees were used for writing many manuscripts in ancient times and these trees are called Bhojpatra trees in Hindi. Further down pine trees started appearing. To reach our camp site we had to cross a bridge made of log of woods on fast flowing stream. Kadal in Kashmiri language means bridge. So this area might have been named as Wamkadal because of this wooden bridge.
On day six, we reached the first village after leaving Panikhar. We had to trek for around five hours to reach village Sukhnoi. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful small village on the banks of a stream having around fifty odd houses and surrounded by green hills. Small fields had wheat and millets planted in them. Villagers were thrilled to see us and we were invited by one of our ponywala Abdul, in his house. His hospitality was excellent and we were served hot tea with some snacks. A thick green coloured fermented roti made of local millet was enjoyed by us all. Abdul informed that the whole village of Sukhnoi was burnt in a fire few years ago. The houses are made of wood and can easily catch fire. Most of the houses were constructed again and many of them were still not fully complete.
Our camp here was on the banks of a stream with clear cold water which was very inviting for many of us and we took a bath in the stream, the first after the trek began. Since wood was available here, so a bonfire in the evening became highlight of the stay at Sukhnoi.
Day seven was the last day of the trek and we had to walk to village Inshan which was around ten kilometres away. A motorable road connects Sukhnoi with Inshan and vehicles ply on this road. But we preferred to trek along. On the way we passed through three-four villages. None of these had electricity and there was no mobile signal. Beautiful areas without any modern amenities. Hot lunch was served on the way and it was quiet enjoyable. At Inshan, we were put up in a guest house. After many days we were to sleep in rooms on beds and not in tents and sleeping bags. One of the trekker wondered how to fill so much room space as the space in the tent was very limited!
On eighth day we started our journey back to Srinagar in two Innova vehicles. From Inshan, the road climbs up to a pass called Margan top. This is a picturesque pass where one can stop for tea and snack break. Nun-Kun peaks, which we had seen from Panikhar, were again visible from Margan top. At this place we met a solo bike rider from Delhi who was exploring various locations of Kashmir on his bike. He had been to many remote areas of Kashmir including Gurez valley. But he rated the Warwan valley the best.
From Margan top we climbed down to Daksum and reached Srinagar in the afternoon after crossing Kokernag and Anantnag. Our stay at Srinagar was in a houseboat near Nehru Park. It was a unique experience. Next day, we all had to catch our flights to our destinations. After saying good byes and promising to meet for the next trek, we all reached Srinagar airport in the morning. So the journey back to civilisation began. We had sweet memories of the trek with us in the shape of hundreds of pictures clicked on our mobile phones.
It was a great experience and I made new friends. Also, my confidence in my ability to endure physical high altitude stress at this age increased several times. Though we all have a huge collection of photographs, but they hardly do justice to the actual visuals which we were lucky to see with our own eyes. Wishing for many more such treks in future.