Trek to Gangabal twin lakes from Naranaag

Early morning rain washed Dal lake with numerous shikaras plying at an easy pace presented a beautiful site. After pouring most of the night clouds were resting among snow clad peaks. The usual tourist activity has not yet taken over the lake, from the deck of houseboat I could see Shankracharya temple standing proud on top of the hill in misty haze.

The lake presented a soothing picture at 5am. Javed, the caretaker at houseboat rowed me over to the ghat where my car was parked in the overnight parking. Armed with packed lunch and snacks I started my drive towards one of the most beautiful valley of Kashmir.

At this early in the morning roads were deserted and quietness was welcoming. Passing through quaint villages, beautiful countryside studded with step farms I was inching towards Kangan following Srinagar Leh highway. The serpentine road leading to Naranaag passed through villages and Alpine forest. I just rolled down the windows and the fresh air took over my senses.

As I was unsure of road I got down and inquired about the route from the village folks enjoying tea outside their homes basking in feeble sunshine. I was offered Noonchai and I gladly accepted their generous offer. It was a friendly couple sharing tea with me, telling about the acute winters and difficult life during winters with heavy snowfall. I could imagine the beautifully green valley turning white, streams frozen to stillness. Life would come to standstill in those months.

After thanking the couple I resumed my journey towards Naranaag. I was to meet Abid, my local contact at the famous Archeological site.

Reaching Naranaag was simple as there was just a single road leading to the temple complex. Abid was waiting for me on the roadside, short of the temple site. As I drove up I was greeted by the gurgling sound of tributary of Sindh river. The gushing milky white water amidst lush green valley struck me, the scene had magnetic power over me and I just stood there soaking my senses in the beauty.

Abid was approaching me with steaming cup of tea and Kashmiri bread, the cold breeze was cutting through me and feel of warm cup in my hands warmed my nearly numb fingers. After feasting on Kashmiri bread, tea and reshmi kabab rolls we started walking towards temple complex.

As we entered the gate structure with work in progress situation we saw one of the most impressive temple complex spread in 1000 meter area with restoration work in progress. The sprawling complex had impressive structures standing amidst Alpine greens.

I was standing at one of the most significant archaeological site of Kashmir. The remains of the temples that once stood ground majestically in this small hamlet called Wangath were still impressive. The village of wangath was situated in the lap of dense forest on the periphery of bhuteshwara mountain range bordered with Kanka river, a Sindh tributary. As we moved further towards the stream we came upon the small tank studded with rockery of Linga temples  and fresh water perennial spring of Naranaag. Water was really very refreshing and I couldn’t resist filling my bottle to savour this natural mineral water during the day.

As per historians, the temples were dedicated to Lord Shiva by Lalitaditya Muktapida, an 8th century ruler of Kashmir, built of greyish granite found in abundance in this area.

Naranaag reference is found in the Nilamata Purana as Sodaratirtha, the sacrad tirtha in Kashmir valley. The locals shared that till the last quarter of 20th century Kashmiri Brahmins after consecrating the ashes of their relatives in Gangabal lake came to perform last rites at Naranaag.

The first group consists of seven temples, the largest temple of the group has two entrances opposite to each other in North East and South West direction. Temples were built of huge rectangular stones laid in dry masonry with interlocking system. The interior is square and ceiling is domical built of horizontal kanjur stones and apex stone crowned by a full blown lotus.

As we moved towards the further end of the complex Abid pointed the remains of Bhairav temple. It was almost afternoon now and I was feeling hungry, my taste buds were itching to sample kathi rolls of my lunch pack. Abid guided me to boulders on the riverbed, we had our lunch discussing next day plan of trekking to Gangabal.

After lazing around and photographing the temples from all possible angles I wanted to rest for a while. Tents were erected near the stream and I just dozed off with sound of gushing water in my ears and fresh pine smell tingled my senses.

After a quick nap I came out with a book and made myself comfortable on a camping chair, it got dark little sooner than expected, transforming the valley into a magical picture. Moonlit valley was mesmerizing experience as snow on higher peaks reflected silver in moonlight and gushing milky waters of Kanka river looked like molten silver. The temples were striking quite a pose, with their huge intertwined stones and pillars, standing tall alongside glimmering river presenting a commemorative site of Naranaag. The quite valley was filled with sound of fast gale at night. We retired early speculating on the next day climb to Gangabal lake.

Day started a little early and at 6am Abid and myself were all set to setout for Gangabal expedition. I was trying to curb the wild excitement I was feeling, the look of pine forest was inviting. Ascend from Butsheri was steep through Alpine forest, as the gradient became easier after a steep ascent I was able to enjoy the crystal clear brooks, lush green meadows and beautiful gorges and ridges.

After creating a sizable picture bank of lush green meadows, grazing ponies and gushing streams we reached Trunkhol. I gorged on the Biryani Abid has organized early morning and then leisurely enjoyed my energy bar from Wengers.

After an hour break we resumed our journey towards Gangabal lake. An arduous walk through the beautiful and refreshing meadows of Budpathri strewn with wild flowers lead us to magnificent Gangabal lake. Also known as Harmukt Ganga, lake holds religious significance to the Kashmiri Pandits and is considered Haridwar of Kashmir.

The expansive site of 2km plus azure blue waters at this high altitude took my breath away. The Harmukh snow covered peeks were lending mesmeric view to the valley. It was evening and we camped near Gangabal lake for the night. The shepherd accompanying us prepared trout for the dinner, the delicate fish in dinner was like cherry on the cake. As I lay down experiencing the kaleidoscopic frames from my memoir of the day sleep claimed my tired body.

Early morning at 6am we set off to Zach pass, ascending the upward slopes with view of snow on the shaded slopes of mountain we reached a point where we got the most stunning view of twin lakes of Gangabal and Nandakol. It was definitely worth the effort the view got even better as we hiked further.

After capturing all possible views in camera and memory we started on our backward journey to Naranaag. We had quick lunch at a shepherd’s village short of Trunkhol and set for onward journey.

At 5pm we reached Nara Nag where my car was parked. We had a quick cup of Noonchai at the village tea stall and departed for Srinagar.

As I was driving back I was reminiscing over the last two days exhilarating experience full of fresh air, picture perfect scenery and serene environment.

An experience I would like to repeat again till my senses are surfeited !

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