Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog
Kashmir Trek Day 1




It's my first day and I'm ready for trekking. I'm up early and I have everything I need in my backpack, tent, sleeping bag, mattress, stove, pots'n'pans etc and 7 days food, or at least I hope so. The only thing I am lacking is a map and any clear directions, but I'm hoping these will be found along the way.



It was three years ago I saw a quarter page photo of a lake in the lonely planet guide, it looked awesome and the caption said "breathtaking scenery west of Sonamarg, look but don't touch". That was it, I locked it into my 'things to do before you die, or at least die trying' list. I googled 'trekking-Sonamarg' and that’s how I ended up here being hounded by pony drivers....



I have an early breakfast and set off before all the pony guys wake. The pony guys constantly hassle tourists for work and I’m getting pissed off with them.


There are a few around and they ask where I'm going, I decide not to tell them Gangabal lake 7 days away but instead only the Nichnai  Pass.As if by magic no more hassle but real conversation. I've cracked the secret pony code. No longer do they want to flog me a horse for they know I'm only going for a nights trip and trying to push a horse on me would indeed be trying to flog a dead horse!


Now I'm being showered with information and route directions and I'll be honest I don't even know which hill I'm climbing yet. I only know I have to walk 2 miles back towards Srinagarby road
One of many thousands of army who guard these roads

Now I feel confident. I walk for 1hr past shit bored army dudes sat all on their lonesome, waiting for a terrorist threat that they will probably never see.



I hit Shitkari, a small 2 hut stop and hang a right and almost start to double back on myself. I start to climb and soon the Indian army are specks in the distance.



Everywhere is green, really green as I traverse a wide sheep track heading steeply towards woodland. I can see Sonamarg in the distance. I climb very slowly having 25Kg on my back and very little fitness. I climb a small steep hill and sit for a rest, a local kid on a pony rounds the corner and say one photo, I oblidge and he asks for photo backsheesh....the little tosser. Of course I tell him to get stuffed which he does....after 30mins of following me on his horse watching me struggle and offering his services, for a fee of course.



It's a sign I'm not the first white eye past these parts. A sign that tourists have been through these parts to discover a different world from their own but don't want to leave it the way it was. Trekking in this area is slowly growing, not from individual trekkers but very expensive pony tours arranges in Delhi, often without the tourist having much choice or even knowledge of the area.


Seep Wallah
Shepherd near Sonamarg

The steep hills are full of sheep and goats being tended by Gypsy kids. The gypsys live around Jammu and each year they make the 300km journey to greener pastures. Until 3 days ago I never even knew they existed. I approach to pass my first Gypsy house, a good looking log cabin filled in bit mud. The kids run out begging for pens, sweets and moisturiser. I ignore them them one of them says"Kashmiri chai?". Now shes talking my language. I ask how much and she says nothing but I tell her how much I'm willing to pay and enter.

Horse Boy
Local Gypsy boy

It's really cosy inside. The walls are smooth, hand finished clay. The roof made fron thick pine trees covered in straw and clay to withstand the weight of the heavy winter snows. There is a rear section where I can hear someone making butter and a small section to the side for storage. The front has holes for windows and ventilation from the fire and below the windows the two pot clay made fire, fuelled by wood and flattened out and dried cow patties.



They are really friendly while the chai and chapattias are on the go, asking for photos. Then as soon as I start to eat they start asking for everything I have and pulling poor-little-me faces to try and work me around. They want my shirt, my camera, my shorts, my GPS, my watch and most of all they want my really thick Nepali socks....dream on.


Eventually I'm full having enough of the milky salt tea and I'm ready to leave. I ask how much, they reply only one or two. I say 'you mean one or two Rupees', they laugh. 'One or two hundred rupees' comes the reply....I laugh louder. I give them 20 rupees and leave. They must be happy as they give me 2 more chapatis for later....


Gypy House
My first encounter with local Gypsy hospitality and salty milk tea

Soon after more begging kids. I hope it won't be like this all they way. I sing a pen, no sweet, no chocolate, no backsheesh, no photo, no pant, no socks etc etc and add new topics as they continue to beg.


I have my tee shirt, my socks and my undies drying on the outside of my rucksack which is why they want them. But wait, they never begged for my undies and I have a great idea. What if I put a big skid on my shirt and socks and that way they wont beg....but I soon realise it's a crap idea as I roll my spare clothes up at night and use them as a pillow!



Good looking gypsy kids near Sonamarg

I leave the meadows behind and start walking through shady proud pine trees then the Nichnai valley opens up ahead climbing steadily into the distance.


By 4pm I'm totally knackered having climbed over 1000m and look for somewhere to make camp. I want to sleep out of sight and find


a sloping site behing large rocks. I make pasta in soup and sleep at 7pm.



Then....9pm I wake feeling dodgy and I'm farting pretty regular and fade in and out of sleep until 12 when I feel totally shithouse and literally farting every minute and they stink....really stink and I have to sleep with my head sticking out of the inner to avoid self gassing myself to death. I'm in a bad state with almost zero energy. At 3am my bottom calls me....'hey Kev my son, you'vegot 30 seconds mate'. It's amazing how fast one can summon up energy. I zoom outside and have the most incredible case of the trots. I climb back in my bag and take the big boys tablets. If I'm right I'll at least be able to move some distance tomorrow.


Lush meadows on the lower slopes heading to Nichnai Pass
1st Night campsite