One of the best short treks in Kashmir is the Lidder Valley trek to Kolahoi Glacier. My wife Ann and I made this trek in July of 2014 and here is little bit about the experience. This is a great first trek in Kashmir although if you have a little more time the Great Lakes Trek is perhaps the better option.
Having spent a few days in Srinigar exploring the old town we decided it was time to get out of the relative heat of Srinigar and hit the mountains. The snows were particularly heavy this year so the Great Lake Trek was still in snow despite it being early July so we decided to make the journey to Kolahoi Glacier. We left Srinagar around 8am and headed by private vehicle to Pahalgam where many locals were preparing for the Amarnath Yatra. This is an amazing pilgrimage taken by more than 100,000 pilgrims every year. It is itself a spectacular 5 day trek to a holy ice cave where an ice stalagmite thought to represent the Linga of Shiva forms every year. Legend says this is the cave where Shiva explained the secret of life and the universe to his consort Parvati. This was not an option for us as it takes foreigners about a month to a get a permit for this although it would be great to someday have the opportunity to trek alongside the thousands of devotees.
Nonetheless, we continued from Phalagam up the beautiful Lidder Valley to the small village of Aru where we met our horseman and began the actual trek. If you have never trekked in Kashmir it is quite an experience compared to other regions of the Himalayas. Majestic pine trees, wildflower laden meadows, rushing cream blue rivers and snow capped peaks almost overwhelm the senses.
The trail climbs a bit steeply before leaving off in the forests and tracking along the course of the Lidder River high up on the side of the canyon. Before long the trees give way to sweeping meadows and panoramic vistas of the peaks back down the valley. One might find wildflowers if the green grasses were not so closely mowed to perfection by the many sheep. The valleys of the region are home to the Gujjars a nomadic people who for centuries have herded sheep in the region during the summer and returned to the valleys in the winter. The valleys are spotted with their log dwellings covered by a thick layer of sod. They are curious and friendly towards trekkers and of course appreciate some treats or candy if you bring them along.
We camped the first night along the rushing Lidder River which is only crossable thanks to a footbridge long ago put in place by the local government. The second day we headed up canyon on horseback until the meadows gave way to the rocky moraines. The meadows closer to the glacier are incredible green and almost like wet sponges. We finally made it near the glacier which our guide claims hadn’t receded in the past 20 years but fresh terminal moraines indicate that it certainly has at least since the Little Ice Age probably 150 years ago. We had clear skies so were able to take some fantastic pictures of Kolahoi Peak 17,799 ft (5,425 metres). As we returned to camp down the valley the skies darkened and thunder rocked the valley as a quick mountain thunderstorm drenched us and we sheltered under an overhanging stone.
If we had an extra day we could have hiked to Tarsar and Marsar two lakes which are a days hike from our base camp on the river. Unfortunately, short on time we had to make our way back on the third day for our vehicle waiting in Aru to take us back to Srinagar. To sum it up this was a fantastic experience and one we highly recommend. A few years back the route was getting very few foreign visitors but we saw at least 20 trekkers from different countries and the security concerns of a few years ago seemed to be in the back of most people’s mind (Read – Is Trekking in Kashmir Safe?).