Nestled high up in the mountains of Kashmir lie two alpine lakes that remain relatively unexplored – Tarsar and Marsar. Connected by a high altitude mountain pass, a trek from one lake to the other offers stunning views of snow-capped peaks, verdant meadows, icy cold streams, and rich wildlife. This is a Tarsar marsar trek for those seeking pristine nature, challenging climbs, and untouched beauty.
The trek starts from the small village of Aru, which is the last stop before the high mountain roads end. From here, you steadily climb upwards through conifer forests to reach Tarsar lake at an altitude of 3,970m. The first view of the milky blue waters ringed by jagged peaks is breathtaking. Tarsar is shaped like an hourglass, with a narrow neck that flows into an open meadow. The area around the lake has abundant birdlife, with golden eagles flying overhead and chir pheasants calling from the trees. Marmots can also be spotted on the grassy banks of the lake.
After soaking in Tarsar’s beauty, the trail then winds higher over the 4,100m high Tarsar pass. As you trek up the pass, the views open up to show the Dachigam range in all its majesty. Braided streams flow down the barren mountain sides converging into waterfalls that thundering down the cliffs. The pass itself is covered in edelweiss flowers that sway in the cool breeze. There is a sense of being on top of the world at this height.
Once down from the pass, you then follow the gurgling stream to reach the Siberian crane nesting grounds near Marsar lake. The glacier fed waters of the lake change colors through the day from deep blue to light green. Trout swim in the cool waters while the occasional bear ambles on the banks. The stillness of Marsar lake with its crystal clear reflections of the mountains makes it seem almost unreal. Camping under the stars by the lakeside with some warm soup is the perfect way to end the days of the trek through these hidden gems.
The next day involves retracing steps back over the pass with yet another chance to marvel at the views. You then take a different route downwards getting a new perspective of the valleys and mountain ranges. The descent passes thick birch and pine forests that resound with bird calls. As the trail winds downwards, you see shepherds grazing their sheep and goats on the meadows. Scenic waterfalls and roaring rivers provide the soundtrack as you continue down through charming villages.
The trek ends back in Aru completing the journey through these remote Kashmiri lakes. While difficult, it is one of the most scenic treks allowing you to experience the raw and untouched beauty of Kashmir’s high mountains. The serenity of Tarsar Marsar, the challenging mountain pass crossing, stunning views of peaks like Harmukh, wildlife sightings and warm hospitality of locals makes this a hidden gem worth discovering.
So pack your rucksack and get ready to be enchanted by the alpine lakes of Tarsar Marsar on this Kashmiri trek. The journey will stay with you long after you have left this mountain paradise.
Best time to visit
The best time to embark on the Tarsar Marsar trek is in the summer months between June to September. This is when the mountain passes are open and you can fully experience the wildflowers blooming across the meadows. The weather is also more stable during these months with sunny days perfect for exploring the high altitude lakes.
The winter months make the trek virtually impossible due to heavy snowfall that blocks the passes. Late spring is still too cold with chances of sudden snowstorms coming in. Autumn sees shorter days and early snow that can hamper the views. So aim for the summer trekking season to make the most of the Tarsar Marsar trail.
Where to stay
The base camp for the trek is the village of Aru located about 2 hours drive from the capital Srinagar. Aru has a few small guesthouses and homestays for accommodation options. The hospitality of the locals in their mountain homes is heartwarming. You can even stay in eco-tourism cottages run by the Jammu & Kashmir tourism department that combine traditional architecture with modern amenities.
In terms of food, Aru has simple vegetarian fare like dal, rice and curries made fresh by the villagers. Carry plenty ofEnergy/granola bars and trail mixes to snack on during your trek. Make sure you carry enough water too as resources are scarce along the high altitude trail.
When trekking at such high altitudes, it is important to acclimatize and take it slow. Take a day to explore Aru town to get used to the altitude. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol or smoking. Once on the trail, maintain a steady slow pace. The thinner air means you tire faster, so schedule regular breaks to recover your breath. Stay alert to any signs of altitude sickness like headaches or nausea and descend to lower altitude if it persists. Use a day for acclimatization around Tarsar lake as well before climbing up to the pass. This will allow your body to adjust and make the trek more enjoyable.
The Tarsar Marsar trek passes through protected areas and tribal lands so you need to acquire the necessary permits beforehand. The Kashmir Alpine Lakes Sanitarium committee issues the permits for conservation and regulating tourism.
Permits can be obtained from tourist offices in Srinagar by providing photocopies of ID proof. Carry the permits with you during the trek as they will be checked at checkpoints along the way. Permits help support the indigenous communities while maintaining the ecological integrity of Tarsar and Marsar lakes.
Gear to carry
Sturdy hiking shoes, layered warm clothing, rain protection, sunscreen and sunglasses are essentials to pack for this high altitude trek. Bring along a good sleeping bag and tent as the nights get very cold. Hiking poles can help with steep climbs and river crossings.
Carry a medical kit with any required medications, blister kit, insect repellent and torch. Bring high energy snacks and also portable stoves to cook hot food. Keep electronics like cameras well protected against the elements. The right gear will make your trek through this stunning landscape more comfortable.
With its mesmerizing lakes, challenging climbs and rich wildlife, Tarsar Marsar provides the perfect off-beat trekking experience in Kashmir. Follow the permit rules, carry proper gear and take time to acclimatize. You will be rewarded with memories of untouched natural beauty in these hidden gems that will remain etched in your heart forever.