The oval-shaped Sat Sars (seven lakes), located on Poonch-Shopian border of Pir Panchal range, seventy km from district hqrs., are located at a height of 3500 meters. These include Nandan Sar, Gum Sar (hidden lake), Kal dachni (dark water lake), Sukh Sar (dried lake) Neel Sar (blue lake), Katori Sar (bowel lake) and katanan or Sarota Sar (blocked lake). Nandan Sar, two km long oval-shaped lake, is the largest and most beautiful of all. All these seven adjacently located lakes fall in Girjan valley. The valley’s name “Girjin” meaning elf’s thunder, is derived from Garj means thunder and jin means elf. Hardly any day passes without loud thunders followed by light to heavy rain. But these aren’t the only lakes in the area. At a little distance, southeastwards, from these lakes, there is a group of five more lakes. Notable among those are Handu Sar (ram lake), kag alna (crows nest) and Janj Sar (marriage lake). Likewise, towards the northern flank of Nandan Sar fall two more lakes. Most of these lakes are located in district Poonch. Nandan Sar, the biggest, partially falls in district Shopian.
The local folk stories make one believe that Sat Sars (seven lakes) are a living entity, each possessing a distinct supernatural power. To mention just a few among a long list of myths – One, these are six brothers and a sister. Five younger brothers are saved by the wrath of eldest, Nandan Sar, by the benign and persuasive sister, Kal Dachni. Two, If the carcass of a sacrificial animal sinks, it shows the sacrifice is accepted and if carcass doesn’t sink, it shows the sacrifice is not accepted. Three, bathing is strictly prohibited as the saintly jin (invisible being) inhabits these lakes. Four, if the red cloth is displayed around the lakes, the supernatural forces present in water start making loud sounds.
Like seven lakes, there are mythical stories woven around every other lake. The stories explain the genesis and power of each lake. The complex mountains that formed these lakes must have led to these stories. As always happens, everything complex and intricate must have an equally unusual and illogical explanation if not attended by scientific and informed view. The myth mongers and believers in superstitions sometime forget that a supernatural being is above cognitive faculty as well as the act of creation. Therefore, an object created and devoid of cognitive faculty even can not be supernatural.
This segment of Pir Panchal range offers unusual spurs, spreading both South and north wards. First, the spurs sprout out at a distance of less than one km. Second the spurs lateral spreading on either side have smooth surfaces where snow accumulates in huge quantity, while as the main range is extremely rugged and badly broken that doesn’t permit snow accumulation. This led to much greater glacial activity on spurs than on the main range. With the result the area at some distance from main range gets blocked with material brought down by moving glaciers and the portion on the bottom of main range converted into a depression, that formed lakes. The formation of lakes like Neel and Sukh Sar and many tiny lakes in Sarota meadow, located considerably away from main range, may have been formed directly at the head of retreating glaciers, formed by uneven payload of terminal moraines, which signal the glacier has gone as far as it can go. Notwithstanding the myths and folk stories, one thing that even an ordinary student of geology can make out is that these lakes’ formation, at least the front ones, must be a very recent phenomenon. Rise of temperature during recent times has led to considerable retreat of glaciers from their erstwhile terminal points leaving behind depressions and uneven spread of moraine resulting in lake formations.
The beauty of the lakes, the majestic height of surrounding peaks, perennial glacier around, , lush green pastures a little downwards, murmuring birds on and around lakes, reverberating sounds of singing shepherds, absolute serenity, vast unpopulated swaths offering an opportunity for spiritual reflection, slow moving clean water, and the flocks of sheep make the scene an ultimate beauty that human eyes can hold. A visitor would always like to return here again and again. But non-availability of basic infrastructure like night staying facility and extreme weather make it difficult to stay there for a reasonably longer period. Unpredictability of weather and fast blowing night wind make tent pitching difficult near the lake area. One has to move a long distance downwards either side of the lakes area for night stay. The local dhoka structures area at a distance of more than three hours journey on Poonch side. They offer the only place for night stay. A tent can be pitched nearby dhoka structures only for reasons of safety from winds and wild animals.
There are four traditional routs that can be taken to reach these lakes.
One, Pir ki Gali to Nandan Sar route. This is the easiest route to reach lakes. It involves four hour walk. Nandan Sar is the first lake one reaches while taking this route. This route, on the whole, offers a plain walk. It’s, therefore, preferred by people who find it difficult to walk a steep rise. But there is a problem. A visitor can’t return seeing all seven lakes in a day. While getting back there is no reasonable place to stay put at night away from lakes until one gets back near Pir ki Gali. Therefore many people don’t prefer this route. People who take this route mostly return via other routes after a night or two stay in dhokas. Two, Baramgalla-Girjan-Bayarwali-lakes routes. This is the lengthiest but most beautiful of all routes. It involves the first 7 km steep rise from Baramgalla to Girjan Galli. Thereafter the other 8 km (approximately) is the most enjoyable plain walk through lush green Girjan dhok all along the bank of slow-moving musical Girjan River. One forgets the physical stress of steep rise reaching Girjan meadow. Towards the end of Girjan there is the other one and a half km patch of steep rise up till Bayar meadow. Ahead of Bayar meadow up till lakes is like a stair landscape of 7 km (approximately): a flat meadow followed by a gentle climb, again a flat meadow and a gentle climb, repeated four times. The first lake one reaches taking this route is SukhSar followed by Neel Sar. The visitors who have four or more days at their disposal must take this route. There are many dhok structures en route where one can pitch a tent alongside or stay inside a dhoka for the night. This route’s upwards trek takes not less than seven to ten hours depending upon the speed.
Third, Baramgalla-Hassan Tham-Panjtari-lakes: This route involves first 6 kms (approximately) very gentle gradient up till Hasantham. From Hasantham to Panjtari Gali is a steep rise of 5km (approximately). Further onwards there is a plain walk of 4 km (approximately) through Panjtari meadow. Towards the end of Panjtari up till lakes the landscape is almost similar to that from Bayar meadow to lakes. This route involves not less than six to nine hour walk. While taking this route a visitor hits Gum Sar first followed by nandanSar, khaldachni, sukhSar, Neel Sar, Katori Sar and Katanan Sar.
Fourth, Darhal-Budhkhawari-shakermarg/ladhiMarg-Sarota-lakes: This route is taken from Budhal in district rajouri. It involves a mixture of steep to gentle rise of 13km from Budhkhawari to Shakermarg or ladhimarg. From shakermarg or ladhimarg uptill Sarota Sar, a distance of 3km, is a walk full of enjoyment passing through meadows and fast running tributaries of Girjan river. From Sarota meadow the first lake that one hits is Katanan or Sarota Sar just 2km gentle rise from Sarota meadow followed by Katori, Neel, sukh, Kal dachni, Nandan Sar and Gum Sar. This route, if taken, offers an advantage of visiting other lakes like Jang Sar (Marriage lake), Kag alno (crows nest) and Handu Sar (Ram lake) provided one has an additional day at his disposal. These lakes fall on the right flank of Shakermarg-Sarota Sar portion of this route.
Having trekked on these routes, except a patch between Hasantham and Pajtari, I would suggest visitors to take Pir ki Gali route for the upward journey and return via any of the other three routes. This is the best to avoid steep upward trek that most people find difficult to take. This may not apply to those committing journey on horse. The best route for on horse journey is either via Panjtari or Girjan on account of spectacular natural settings enroute from beginning to end.
What makes a visit to these lakes difficult for most people is complete absence of any tourism infrastructure, from night staying facility to non availability of anything to eat en route. One is either on the mercy of people in meadows who are there to graze their cattle or will have to fetch eatables and night sleeping facility along. But fast blowing wind and presence of wild animals make it difficult to pitch tents anywhere. This compels a visitor to take local help compulsorily which may or may not come. Though a majority of flock rearing people in the meadow are extremely hospitable and warm but there are instances when some of them may not entertain. It’s therefore important that tourism department must make some arrangement, at least for night stay, preferably in the form of tent-accommodation at few places en route. Or, alternatively, the local private initiative may be encouraged with easy modes of permission to provide the basic facility at few defined places.
(Author is Senior Superintendent of Police in J&K Police).