by Syed Aamir Sharief Qadri
I am not a superstitious person who believes in magic and miracles. We were very disappointed to see him in pain. However, I know at that time a miracle happened.
Everyone has a passion to do something in life. And my passion is to climb the snowy mountains. When I set foot on the lofty peaks of the Himalayas I feel like I have conquered the whole planet. I don’t know what magic these lofty mountains contain. They help me to clear up confusion and get rid of all worries.
The fun of walking in the wilderness away from human habitation on an unknown path is something else. You would love to enjoy these moments. But remember venturing on lonely paths is not always safe. One has to walk carefully on these paths.
Trekking is enjoyable activity but there are certain risks involved in it. It is not easy to walk through the thick forests, which are home to wildlife. Sometimes they run after you to hunt you down. Walk on sharp slippery stones, crossing streams and rivers and climbing rocky snow mountains are not so easy. It is quite a tough job. If you are not used to walking on rugged mountain paths a small mistake can put you in danger.
Most people do not go trekking considering the difficulties encountered during the journey. Even in the club, I lead, some people prefer camping over trekking. The reason is trekking tests you in every way. First, it tests your natural abilities such as dedication and determination. Your body is also examined because trekking cannot happen without having good stamina and strong muscles.
Over the last six years, some fresh faces have been trekking with our Glacial Trails club. During one trek most of them swore they would never go trekking again. But I salute the spirit of the club members who still dare to climb the mountains.
People ask me the same question again. Why do you go trekking frequently? What is hidden in these forests and mountains? I always give the same answer: Sokoon- Jo mere jism aur rooh ki dawa hai. Just remember that along with many hardships and difficulties, trekking also brings many joys which are difficult to describe in words.
Glacier Trailer’s recent tour to Mawarnag Lakes was put on the list at the request of Dr Waseem. It was the third trek of this year that we planned on June 17, 2022.
On June 17, as usual, we were late to leave home. It was already 6 pm and we left for the trek from Kaprin (Shopian), my home. Leaving Kulgam and Anantnag behind our vehicles were speeding on NH 244. We were heading towards Vailoo situated in Breng Valley. Even before we reached Kokernag people were striding toward Mosques to offer dusk prayers. We were travelling in two vehicles and communicating with each other through WhatsApp group. To keep abreast of every move we were tracking each other through GPS by sharing live locations.
The advantage of sharing location in a group was that other people in the group could track us. We wanted them to know where we were going so that they convey this information to our families in our absence.
Bashir Sahab was driving his car and Mohsin and I accompanied him. Another vehicle was coming behind us in which Dr Wasim and my elder brother Naseer Ahmed (Big B) were travelling together.
We all five met at Kokarnag. Vailoo was still 4.5 km away from Kokarnag. After that, we had to take the right turn from Vailoo and travel another 8.6 km to reach Ahlan (Gadol). From where our walking journey would have begun towards the first campsite which was located at a distance of one and half hours.
After explaining the situation we were stuck in, I asked my teammates to drive vehicles straight to Daksum which was at a distance of 14.5 km from Kokernag. Ahead of Vailoo, this place is located on the other side of the trek. To avoid travelling on foot at night we choose this place for a night stay.
Daksum is a popular place for camping. We reached there by 9 pm and pitched our tent on the bank of the river Brengi at a short distance from the road. For dinner, we had Mattan Kanti with Basmati rice. Then we unrolled our sleeping bags and turned off the tent light.
For two hours we were tossing and turning and rearranging the pillows. The morning call to prayer dismissed our festivity. It was half past four in the morning. We got up, came out of the tent, performed ablution and prayed under the sky on time. Bashir Sahib is the chosen imam of our club.
After breakfast without wasting time, we left Brengi valley at 7 am. From Daksum we came back to Vailoo, took a left turn and led the way to Ahlan (Gaddol). It was 8:30 am A beautiful foot journey to Mawarnag Lake Trek begins from Ahlan (2500 m). We left the luggage in the vehicles knowing that we would return in the evening. We made ready day packs to carry essential food items.
We completed our trek in three phases. If we talk about trail status then it was easy in the first phase followed by moderate and difficult levels. The first leg of the journey had begun. Bashir Sahib, the trek leader, was leading us. And we followed him. The river on our left was flowing almost with us for kilometres. To our right was a beautiful dense forest. We were walking on a muddy trail between the river and the forest. Beautiful cascades greeted us on the way. The further we went, the more beautiful the journey became.
Meanwhile, we reached Guddarwani (2800 m). It was 10 am. There are few Kothas in this place. This is the first campsite on way to Mawarnag Lakes. If we had arrived on time yesterday, we would have camped at this place.
The second phase of the journey has started. It was getting difficult to move every step towards the destination. In an hour and a half, we reached the second campsite Alim Brari (3300 m). A little away from the Gujjar settlement is a beautiful place ideal for camping. It was half past eleven and here we sat for some time. We had soup, bread and a few pieces of meat for brunch. After consuming a little, we continued stepping.
In this way, we entered the third and final stage of our journey. Above the tree line, we had left the thick forest behind. The whole vista around had changed now. We were getting a different landscape to look into. Further, we entered a sloppy valley that was blooming with flowers and filled with green pastures. When we looked up, there were traces of snow on the steep rocky mountains. A stream embellished with the largest cascade was coming down from the lakes situated at the foot of these mountains. The water of this stream divides the valley into two parts.
We were exhausted by the time we reached here. The feet had flatly refused to move forward. But the obsession to see the lakes forced us to walk. After crossing one mountain we were preparing to climb another mountain.
The destination was right in front of us. At most, we had to climb 200 m to reach the top but two trekkers refused to move on. Their courage and spirit were all low. But the trek leader did what he was supposed to do at the time. He shared positive vibes to make them feel good and stick to the plan. The same is true with our lives. When we run after something, we get dizzy when that thing is right in front of us.
Eventually, we reached the top and Mawarnag Lake 1 (3850 m/ 33°27’18” N, 75°28’41” E). We finally found the gem we were looking for since morning. It was half past two. We walked continuously for six hours and covered a distance of about twelve to fifteen kilometres.
We stood silently on the shoreline when the clouds surrounded us from all sides. It is common in the mountains that the weather changes frequently. In such places, it is often sunny for half a day, then it suddenly rains heavily sometimes along with hailstorms. If the weather turns bad, snow is possible. A few days ago 4 inches of snow had accumulated in this area.
Both the lakes of Mawarnag are beautiful but the circular-shaped lake 1 is slightly more beautiful than Lake 2. There is a lot of space around it that can be used for camping. The lakes and surrounding areas look even more beautiful due to the good presence of snow in May and June.
The nearby Mawarnag Lake 2 was about 20 minutes away. Except for Mohsin and me, none of the trekkers had the strength to see that lake. We were also completely exhausted and we did not have the courage but still, it was necessary to go. We had made up our minds that we would come back after seeing both lakes.
It was becoming more and more difficult to take one step forward. We were feeling dizzy due to fatigue and weakness in the body. I felt like my blood pressure and blood sugar level had come down.
When it comes to survival, man can eat anything to survive. I had two packets of Hajmola (consisting of eight tabs) in my pocket. I emptied both packs into my mouth at once. Look at the intensity of my hunger, I used the medicine as food. Besides I knew it will increase my appetite.
I still hoped that when we return our pals would have prepared something for us to eat. But if you ever find yourself in such a situation, do not avoid even the dead flesh lying on the ground.
Mawarnag Lake 2 (3900 m/ 33°26’55” N, 75°29’02” E) is smaller in size than Lake 1. The water of this cashew-shaped lake flows into Lake 1. Small chunks of ice were floating on one side of the lake. At the lake, we stopped for ten minutes only. Our hands and legs were trembling. We were walking with the support of trekking sticks. With great difficulty, we held the camera in our hands. But even so, we could not click good shots.
We came back and met our people again. They were waiting for us to return so that we could eat together. By the time we saw another lake, they were busy preparing a meal for lunch.
Soon after the meal, the weather turned so bad as if the days of Chil-e-Kalan (winter season) wore on. It was hazy and cool. We quickly put on the second layer of clothes to avoid the cold. The lake was hidden beneath the fog. The clouds hovered around us. It was a sign that we should leave this place as soon as possible. We quickly clicked some group photos and left for the base camp.
At exactly 4 pm we left this place. While returning to base camp, we were descending fast and due to this, our trek leader suffered a minor injury on his leg in a midway. Unable to walk, the result of his knee injury was unbearable pain. When Dr Waseem examined his leg, he took out the first aid kit from his bag. He gave him a tablet perhaps it was a painkiller and said it would not be enough. He needed a flat piece of wood or cardboard to make a splint. Despite our huge efforts, we were unable to do anything.
For usual everyday knocks and sprains, unfortunately, an important thing was missing in our first aid kit- a crape bandage. Finally, he made a temporary arrangement by wrapping a handkerchief around his knee.
But it was not enough. He was facing a lot of difficulty in walking. We wanted to bring him on horseback to the place where we had parked our vehicles. When we didn’t get any help from people walking on the same route, we offered our shoulders to carry him. At once he rejected this offer and then started walking with the help of trekking poles while dragging his injured leg.
After going a little further, we met a 15-year-old pious child. He had memorized 15 chapters of the Quran. The little boy applied salty mustard oil on his leg and recited some holy verses from the holy Quran and then blew on his whole body.
When he stood up and walked a few steps, all his pain was gone. He then started walking without any support. I am not a superstitious person who believes in magic and miracles. We were very disappointed to see him in pain. However, I know at that time a miracle happened.
If Bashir Sahab had not recovered quickly, we must have been in trouble. Still, along the way, we faced many difficulties. The sun had gone down and the journey was long. Walking through the forest path in the dark is not without danger. There is a high risk of wild attacks in such segments of the forest. A few days after the end of our journey, news came out from this area that in a bear attack a woman lost her life.
We didn’t have lights to walk in the dark. But we had an axe and combat knife to defend ourselves. To what extent could they defend us? We were worried about this. On the other hand, I was vexed by the recurring horror scenes in the Wrong Turn movie. How one by one they were falling victim to accidents.
The five people were divided into two groups. Earlier we had urged Dr Waseem and Big B to go ahead and choose the best campsite for the second night. At that time we were sure that we would arrive late. When they left, after some time Bashir Sahib get some relief from pain and we also started walking behind them. The tormenting thoughts constantly haunted me until I crossed the timberline safely. My heart was pounding hard but I didn’t appear to Mohsin and Bashir Sahab.
After coming back, we again turned towards Daksum, passed through Rajparian Wildlife Sanctuary and camped on the premises of Sheep Farm. Before going to sleep we guzzled the famous Kashmiri salty tea – Nun Chai.
Yesterday we travelled about 25 km on foot. Because of this, we had a good sleep last night. The next day in the morning we feel more at ease. Immediately after the early meal, we bathed in the river. Then we sat in the vehicles and explored the surrounding area. About two kilometres from Daksum we found a good place named Harkhen to cook food for lunch.
At this place, we prepared a special veg Thali. Our veg Thali included Rajma Chawal, Beanganka Barta, Achar, Chatni, Salad, and Dahi. It was the best meal we had during this trip. After lunch, we left for home at 2 p.m. Thus in this way, our beautiful journey came to an end.
Our Green Trails Programme
Two things disappointed me during this trip. First, I have seen many people cutting trees in the forest. Second, the polythene was scattered along the way to lakes. A lot of polythene has also gathered around the Lakes. We thought of cleaning this mess but unfavourable weather and lack of time didn’t allow us to do so. What we left unfinished here, we accomplished in Daksum on Day 3 of our trek. We gathered a heap of polythene in one place and then set it on fire. Wherever we go camping or trekking under Green Trails Programme we clean the surroundings around the campsite to make it fit for future use.
Blogger, Syed Aamir Sharief has a master’s in history and MPhil from Punjabi University Patiala. Since 2017, he runs 15-member Glacial Trails, a trekking, hiking and mountaineering club. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)