It had been seven long days of steady climbing, stumbling over fields of rock and snow, crossing high passes and camping out in the extreme cold. Sleepy villages had given way to alpine meadows carpeted with flowers of every colour; and past the snowline, to a forbidding rock and snow-strewn terrain.
Finally at the far end of the Panchodar valley, as we trudged over a hill, we got the first tantalizing glimpse of our destination. At first the vast, semi-frozen lake, surrounding by jagged crags of snow, looked like a mirage. But as we edged closer, disbelief gave way to awe at the size of the lake, which at its widest stretched out for nearly a kilometre; and then delight, at being the first hikers to visit the Kanasar lake in western Garhwal.
Top of the world: Nearly 1km in length, the spectacular Kanasar lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the region. Percy Fernandez
The lake, which derives its name from two small islands that rise from a corner of its eye-shaped expanse, is just one of the many undiscovered lakes in this area. Even though western Garhwal is one of the most popular trekking destinations in the country, these glacial lakes had remained a secret, known only to a few local shepherds. If it weren’t for them I would never have found them.
In 2005, on a trek to the popular Har ki Doon valley, I’d mentioned a desire to explore the area to Surinder, a shepherd from Kasla village who was moonlighting as my guide. I then forgot all about it until a few months later, when he called with news of a lake known locally as Baraadsar.
That started off a series of treks to three hidden, high-altitude lakes—Baraadsar, Maldaru and Kanasar.
The lakes, and the journeys to them, are spectacular. En route I’ve stumbled across stunning peaks such as the 5,400m-high Ranglana, the sheer face of which remains unconquered despite five attempts; worshipped at intricately carved wooden temples festooned with shields won by the local cricket team; and eaten what have got to be the best apricots in the world.
As told to Akshai Jain.
Maninder Kohli is an avid trekker, and head of the Delhi chapter of the Himalayan Club. He will be talking about his travels to the lakes at 6.45pm on 18 September at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi.
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