J&K Spring 22 – Kusar to Kalasant peak

We had a comfortable night stay in a cosy room in the home of the local head of JK Police at Judda village. Next morning we got treated on a sumptuous breakfast. Rottis with home made ghee and country chicken complemented with some bufalo milk.

We bid goodbye to our hosts and jumped into a tempo taxi back down into the Chenab valley to our starting point. The AK47 armed guard accompanied us to the police station of Arnas where we met the superintendent of police. We received a warm welcome but were not allowed to proceed mentioning the presence of militants in the mountains.

We decided to resume from Chenani bypassing the first planned ridgeline. We had lunch and took a local bus to Sudh Mahadev village where we packed up food for our next 3 day rudgeline traverse. We packed up aloo paratha, samosas, rottis and some in between snacks.

This 2nd ridgeline separating Tawi and Chenab river valleys would take us from Chenani to Bhaderwah. After a short climb we decided to settle down in the last hamlet of Kusar. A kind farmer invited us to stay in home, a beautiful house made of wood and mud. The balcony was offering a birds eye view on the Tawi river below.

He was farming onions, potato and garlic and had a few goatties and buffalos in the basement. He offered us salty tea and bufallo milk. We kindly refused dinner as we had packed up our own food. We slept on the wooden balcony as a thousand lights appeared in the valley below.

Next morning we climbed out of the valley along a wide path to the top ridgeline. A solid 800m ascent. Unlike my last journey in March, the alpine meadows above were full of life. We passed several summer dwellings used by shepherds and villagers to graze their cattle in the snow fed meadows.

Some 300m below the main ridgeline we found a spring where sheep were quenching their thirst. We settled down for breakfast gobbling up one aloo paratha. The Survey map was – as always – an accrate guide in these unexplored mountains with a myriad of trails going in all directions.

Once we hit the main ridgeline between Chenab-Tawu valleys we gradually ascended to 3000m altitude. Impossible a month ago due to winter snow. This time we were hiking in lush green meadows. The snowline had retreated to 3800m. Where I hardly met anyone on top in March this time we had umpteen encounters.

We met several shepherds along the way whom were curious to know where we heading. Being non touristic we were probably the first outsiders passing by. In two sevtions there was no trail on the Survey map but we were successful in connecting the ttop ridgeline, miniming elevation loss.

We passed a scenic lake and temple called Dera Top. Sometimes the ridgeline was covered by wide green meadows, sometimes it became a steep trail negotiating a narrow rocky traverse. We kept ascending, descending and contouring small peaks along the ridgeline passing by numerous mud-wood houses along the way providing summer shelter for people and animals.

In the afternoon we crossed another picturesque location. A lake and temple called Dhunagalak which appeared to be an annual pilgrim destination. We saw remains of tent camps and lot of garbage left behind. We were now at the base of the Kalasant peak (3300m) which appeared to steep to climb.

I noticed a nice contouring path on the Survey map to get us around this steep section. A wide rock path took us through mesmerizing pine forest. Small gullies descended from the Kalasant peak providing us with drinking water. We also had the negotiate a few snow covered gullues.

The path eventually too us to a gentle slope from where we could ascent to the main ridgeline again. Two shepherd families from Jammu had put up camp here in beautiful meadows. Men, women, kids, 10 horses, 100 sheep, 5 dogs and all gears necessary to stay the entire summer high in the mountains.

They kindly incited us to stay over and gave us some salty tea freshly milked from goats small kids were playing in grass, teenagers were helping with various activities, women were cooking and men were grazing sheep in the surrounding meadows. We settled down next to a warm campfire as the night temperature at 3300m dropped soon.

We pitched up our minimalist tent nearby. The outer cover of a quecha T2 tent put up with a single hiking pole. Comfortable shelter for two just weighing 500 grams. We shared dinner with families – rottis and dhal. As the night set in a thousand stars appeared in the skies above. Dogs were guarding the herd from nocturnal predators roaming in these forests