Small Steps, Big Leap

A five-year-old boy surprised even his parents by insisting that he will go on a day-long high-altitude trek between Pir Ki Gali and Nandsar Lake and back, reports M A Shah

Muhammad Hasnain, the 5-year-old who trekked 25 km of high-altitude terrain to reach a distant lake near Mughal Road. It could be a record.

Paediatrician, Mudassir Maqbool was apprehensive about his five-year-old son’s ability to trek from Pir Ki Galli to the Nandansar Lake, down south, almost 25 km apart, in a single day. It was too tender an age to permit a young boy to take such a high-altitude trek, especially for a doctor knowing the realities of the human body.

Muhammad Hasnain, however, insisted and eventually proved all his doctor father’s reservations wrong. He successfully accomplished the tough mountain trek and proved that big leaps are not impossible even with small steps.

Nandansar, an oval-shaped alpine lake falls in the Pir Panjal range in the Poonch district. Located at an elevation of about 3500 meters, the lake is one of the biggest in the Poonch district with a maximum length of over 1 kilometre and is famous for its deep blue water. Its waters run from Jadi Marg Nullah and flow down into Kashmir from south Kashmir’s Shopian district where it is famously known as Rambi Aara. In fact, Nandansar is the second origin of Rambi Aara watercourse after Kousarnag, another wonderful lake in the mighty Pir Panjal range.

A student of Upper Kindergarten at Foundation World School, Srinagar, Hasnain started and completed the trekking triumph on August 7, 2022, from Pir Ki Galli on the historic Mughal Road to Nandansar lake. Walking behind his son, Mudassir, was trying to safeguard Hasnain from slipping on the dangerous slopes, knowing little about the little master’s nerve, perhaps higher than the mighty Pir Panjal. Hasnain had already made up his mind to touch the ‘dream peak’, which his father had revealed before him during conversations, days before the expedition.

“I have learnt the lessons of commitment from my mother, a teacher by profession,” Hasnain said when asked how he was ready to accept the challenge at this small age. Talking innocently but knowing the meaning of his utterances, he added: “I walked tirelessly, enjoying every ascent and descent on the mesmerizing meadows”.

His father says that Hasnain walked for the first three hours with short breaks of rest on the rocks scattered all around the landscape. He was so involved in the trip that even his favourite snacks could not distract him and he would start trekking after not more than ten minutes.

“Every time I felt that Hasnain’s little mind was leading him to the other side, I would loudly say – ‘look up ahead, what could be around that bend?’. Such small things worked miraculously,” said Mudassir while giving details about his son’s expedition.

Small yet constant steps of Hasnain on the tough trekking terrains from deep meadows, tundra vegetation, glaciers, trails and rock crannies, scaling gorges and a few peaks finally led him to the beautiful Nandansar Lake at around 3 pm.

Standing on its bank, Hasnain looked down the blue waters of the lake, seemingly saying to the child ‘there was even more deepness he has to explore in his coming life.’ But Hasnain had made his first trek and his body language was loud and clear. He would feel on Mars.

Hasnain’s morale even surprised his father and the whole family. “This was unimaginable,” they say.

Jubilant Hasnain restarted his return journey after around an hour. His father was anxious to reach Pir Ki Galli well before it gets dark as there is no reasonable halting place around to stay put for the night making the area not preferred for the common trekkers. A stunning place that literally separates Kashmir from the Poonch, Pir Ki Gali is a very popular day destination for nature lovers. Even though located on the Mughal Road and quite busy during the day, the hospitality sector is yet to look at it as a destination to create basic infrastructure.  This could possibly owe more to the fair-weather nature of the road rather than reluctance to invest. Mughal Road is Kashmir’s shortest access to Poonch-Rajouri but is a hugely regulated road that is open mostly during summers.

Hasnain did not complain about anything though amidst loud thunders, lightening and showers in the pitch-dark meadows, adding to the difficulties of his return journey.

His father tried to ease him a little by his mobile torch when the shepherd dogs started barking aggressively. But little Hasnain did not show any signs of fear, he otherwise thought as if the barking dogs were applauding and saying ‘bravo’ to him.

Hasnain’s father claims that his son is the youngest trekker to reach the fascinating Nandansar lake, off course, apart from those brave tribal children who are in fact brought up in the area. The entire landscape has huge meadows where, for most of the summer, the sheep-breeders and the goat-herders live with their flocks. Home to Markhor, the belt is rich in wildlife and witnesses man-animal conflict quite often.

What makes Hussain’s trek special is distinct that he lives in a world where virtual reality is keeping his peers from engaging with the real world. Ideally, nature should have been the perfect playground for children. His story requires retelling, as Hasnain’s mother aptly asserted:  “small steps can do wonders”.

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