An adventure lover from Bangalore gave up her job to pursue dream of trekking and has successfully trekked over 110 high altitude Alpine lakes in Kashmir.
Before quitting her job in March 2021 to follow her passion, Anshu Lakhmani was working as a Chartered Accountant from the past 12 years.
She said that before leaving her job, there were many questions in her mind about her identity beyond education and work.
"These questions kept juggling in my mind every day and with each passing day, my desire to find my true self deepened till I turned 40 in February this year," she said.
Anshu said despite being a Chartered Accountant with more than a decade of work experience, she started losing her inner strength.
Back in 2021, Anshu had explored Kashmir four times which made her fall in love with this beautiful place. This year her journey of trekking more than 100 high altitude Alpine lakes turned into reality on September 24.
“I was tired. But I did not stop. When I was on the top of the mountains and I could see the mountain ranges in front of me, I was totally overwhelmed. The whole surrounding was mesmerizing,” she said.
Recalling her journey, She said a turning point came into her life when she came across an article on the high altitude Alpine lakes in J&K which was shared by one of her friends.
"The chunk of information in the article fascinated me and forced me to dig out more into it. As per my findings, the 100 plus lakes have been approached by some Kashmiri men only, none of them were women," the 40 year old trekker said.
Anshu says the article created a spark in her and compelled her to cover the goal of 100 plus high altitude Alpine lakes in 2022. These majestic lakes are spread over a minimum altitude of 11000 ft and extended to 16000 ft which are accessible through treks only, she said.
"Deep into my heart, I knew that this trekking journey would be difficult for a person like me who is a non-regular trekker. Usually the time period for trekking in J&K was 3 to 3 and a half months which was very short allowing less breaks in between," she said.
Anshu says despite these challenges, she stood tall with her decision of choosing “courage over fear” and boosted her physical strength with cardio and endurance workouts under her friend's guidance.
"I arrived in Srinagar on June 30 with 2 things with me- “Goal and Faith”. A Goal - to cover 100 plus high-altitude Alpine lakes and faith- that I am finally doing it," she said.
Anshu says she was supposed to start with easy treks but due to some issues, she had to start with the difficult ones.
"Generally, trekkers cover 6 lakes in a week but I covered 15 lakes in just 9 days which boosted my confidence level and then there was no looking back," she said.
Since all her treks were solo, Anshu could touch on offbeat serene locations and lakes in J&K including Langnai Valley Lakes, Phamber, Margan Top, Warwan- Nagendra Valley Lakes, Yemsar-Khemsar, Handilsar, Basmai, Wattice Sar in Satlanjan, Harnag-Harbhawan Lakes, Chunsar, Chumnai, Katarnag, Sheshnag-Sonsar, Tosamaidan, Kaunsarnag (the biggest lake in Kashmir) etc.
Alongside, she also touched an altitude of 15,091 ft (Sapi Lake) and covered more than 1,000 Kms in total.
Anshu not only takes pictures and videos of the places she treks, but she has documented all the places she has trekked so far.
She said her journey was thrilling and exhilarating, “but at the same time, it was tiring and lonely. I faced many hurdles including inaccessible trek guides, accidental fall, lack of physical strength and feeling lonely at times," Anshu said.
"Some comments like ‘how slow I am?’, ‘treks are impossible for urban girls’, ‘how I could trek being away from my family?’, etc. pinpointed me but didn't stop me from moving ahead. I instead chose to focus on my consistency as my strength and continued trekking," she said.
About her experience in the mountains, she said she had spent multiple days without any shower, long walks in soaking wet clothes and shoes, sleeping under extreme weather conditions and sometimes, being injured in accidental slips or falls.
"Such incidents were painful yet encouraged me to stay grounded and enlightened me to respond with kindness, humility, and love even in harsh circumstances," she said.
Anshu says in the mid of September, she had covered more than 80% of the lakes. “Now I was marching ahead to the last trek- the Hirpora Lakes trek which lies in the Shopian district and is one of the least explored treks in Kashmir, she said.
"It was very tough for me to get the right people for the trek and moreover, the bad weather was another concern. But when you want something with true intention then the Universe makes it happen for you," Anshu said.
She got a call from Sameer and Shahid, the trekkers from Shopian on 19 September and they started trek on 21st September together.
"The group later split into two. I and Shahid couldn’t reach the base and eventually, we had to spend a night under a boulder amidst heavy rainfall with extremely low temperatures as we couldn’t even find a dock or shed in the dark," Anshu said.
She says it was her 2.5 months of continuous trekking experience which inspired her to address this “do and die situation”. Anshu expressed her gratitude to Shahid for being with her through thick and thin. “With courage and dedication, both of them came out as survivors.”
"It was possible due to the efforts of Shabir and team; Shahid, Sameer and team; and Baba Mudasir and team for leading me. My heartfelt gratitude to my husband Sumit who single-handedly looked after our 6 years old daughter along with his full-time job for the last 3 months," Anshu said.
Recalling her journey in Kashmiri hills, she says that for the last 3 months, every time with 3 men in my team, she never ever felt unsafe or scared.
"In fact, I received lots of love and care from local residents. Kashmiris living in the hills would offer us tea, lassi, food and shelter whenever they would see us passing by. Being a solo lady traveler, I found Kashmir- the safest place to travel and explore," Anshu said.
About her message to women trekkers, she said she will share her “life-changing trekking experience” with the world.
"I would be happy to see more women coming forward and exploring the Kashmir mountains, green meadows, lakes, and its unmatched beauty," she said.
Anshu says meeting new people along trails, walking together with people of entirely different backgrounds will teach us how to cooperate with the team, act, and respond.