By Riyaz Kazmi
IN Kashmir, trekking has become ubiquitous and the latest fad among youngsters. They have evinced their keen interest and readiness to visit there. Having heard or seen its breathtaking visuals, anyone can fall for it. Among the most sought after adventure destinations, this place has also got the highest footfalls. One such oft-adventure spot is Kounsarnag.
Kounsarnag is a high attitude oligotrophic lake located at an elevation of 3850 meters above sea level. Trekkers have to foot a debatable to and fro distance of 34 kilometers to 37 kilometers from Aharabal via Sekijan or Kongwattan. Both these routes finally merge at Mahinag. Kounsarnag represents nature’s rich tapestry. It is swathed by snow capped mountains of Pir Panjal range in the district Kulgam of Jammu and Kashmir. The pure and pristine lake is ice cold and crystal clear in appearance. Its dimensions approximately 3 km length and half a mile width makes it conspicuous and majestic. Its mesmerizing beauty is distinct which makes it a dream destination for the intrepid trekkers and nature lovers.
As they say, be patient as the best things take time to happen. One should wait for the appropriate opportunity and time. I felt an unfamiliar thrill when I came to know that AJKMF (All Jammu Kashmir Mountaineering Foundation) is planning a day trip to Kounsarnag. I was anxiously looking forward to this day. I was excited but at the same time felt uneasy when many experienced trekkers told me that it’s going to be a daring and daunting task. Out of sheer excitement, I kept my fingers crossed.
AJKMF is one of the fastest growing clubs in the Kashmir Valley. It has carved out a niche and name for itself. The best thing about this club is that they plan treks very meticulously. They are very professional when it comes to the success and safety of others. Nothing is being done out of impulsiveness. Each trek is planned keeping in consideration many factors and the fitness level of the trekkers.
It behooves us to understand and respect the dynamics of nature. The weather vagaries can sometimes be cruel. The forecast was carefully analysed and luckily Sunday-18th July 2021, was the only day before Eid Ul Adha when weather was predicted to be very pleasant. On this beautiful day, we time boxed the day schedule. I was picked up at around 4.45 am from Aali Masjid, EidGah. The levels of excitement were palpable. I was surprised to find one person dressed in an operation theater uniform. The frazzled medico had just finished his shift and was with us to slog for this adventure.
We felt a breath of fresh air when we reached Aharbal at around 7a.m. I was in awe to see the beauty of gushing waterfall and enchanting wilderness around it. I felt short of words to praise our own Niagara Falls. We quickly backpacked our way towards the serpentine trail. The weather was balmy. The cool breeze swayed our body and soul. The savage and serene settings of nature are beyond our comprehension.
Only hands of God can create such wonders. We felt as if it’s a veritable piece of paradise when we had a first glimpse at the milky water stream trickling down beneath the wooden bridge at ‘Gaorwattan. To the right side of Gaorwattan, the river Vishew which Kounsarnag mothers and another tributary originating from ‘Zajji Marg’ the Queen of meadows meet at ‘Sangum’. The picturesque surroundings are so captivating that one gets absorbed in it as if taken over by some magical spell. It is a divine experience. Away from the cacophony of urban life, it was therapeutic for us. We didn’t want these moments to pass so quickly but before time one is helpless. The show must go on.
The group was led by the dynamic Danish Dhaar, managing director AJKMF and the tail end was monitored by another compassionate group leader Amir Lateef. For next one and a half hour, we trekked incessantly. We were dead tired and decided to have a quick break. We had tea, coffee and other refreshments. We were satiated for another couple of hours hike. Indeed, a great team was creamed off for this trip. The discipline and respect shown for one another were highly praiseworthy. We tried to be in harmony with one another and with the nature as well, so as to enjoy the enthralling beauty. It was soul soothing and surreal experience.
Our cut off time to reach Kounsarnag was 1.30 pm. We didn’t aim to reach our goal post only but we ensured to enjoy the journey in between. We paused, took a deep breath and felt the calmness of nature inside us. We were amazed to see the vastness of Kongwattan. The lush green meadow is an ideal place for highland pasture grazing. It is also a haven for the weary trekkers who can pitch their tents to have a comfortable night stay here. Adjacent to it is another meadow by the name Gaorwattan. The canopy of pine and coniferous trees in the backdrop of Kongwattan is breathtaking. It is noteworthy to applaud the efforts of Choppans and Bakkerwals who were constructing a small beautiful mosque there. One is tempted to spend the rest of his life there. The ambience looked so heavenly. We were touched by the hospitality of these generous people who offered us water and tea.
To accomplish this arduous trek in a day, stamina and speed are the keys to success. There has to be no indulgence in dilly dallying. One has to stick to the timelines and do the hard yards. Its the competition within oneself to push the limits. We have to keep an eagles eye on our destination and at the same time ensure, to uplift the morale of others as well. We stood by those for whom this was the first trekking experience. The trail ahead of Kongwattan was very challenging. I along with others shared the best moments together. We didn’t swerve and remained steadfast to notch up victory in our efforts.
En route, we had our share of hardships. We didn’t grumble and tried to have fun in every situation. We didn’t want to turn it into a dreary day for us. We kept our spirits very high. We captured every beautiful natural thing in our frames. For one day, these spotlight moments would become lifetime memories for us.
I must admit the entire place is a photographer’s paradise. This place has so much to offer. The babbling brook under the huge glacier looks very magnificent. At every mesmerizing place we felt at peace in the lap of nature.
We felt as if we were healing deep inside. We had to be barefoot and felt almost frozen the moment we had to cross the cold, fast running stream of Charasar and Bramasar which had merged at Hakwus which later also joined the flow at Sangum. It was a “cold water therapy” which refreshed us to wind down. We felt alive and active.
Thousand miles seem nothing, when your best companions walk side by side with you towards the same goal. We give each other solace and strength that is much needed. While I was busy in treading the treacherous path, I was taken aback when I heard a familiar voice from behind. I was more than happy to see my friend Syed Shabir Rizvi from Lal Bazar was also heading towards the same place. It is always a blessing to have such a happy go humble person by your side. His offbeat jokes and anecdotes made our journey truly fulfilling and profound.
We followed the terrain along the river bank and reached our next stop ‘Mahinag’. This place has an ideal ambiance for night camping. It is located at the perfect distance when one is literally drained off energy. We were also feeling very low and languid. We had some respite and a frisson of delight. After Mahinag, on the way we could see 7 small ponds for which the local belief is that they are the 7 daughters of Kounsarnag. This place is famously known as ‘Sethapokhran’. The sun was radiating over this place making it very scenic by its gleam and grace. We relaxed there for a while and took a heart from the fact that we had reached this far. Driven by the deadlines, we wrapped our short retreat quickly as we had to trek the gauntlet of toughest trail ahead.
Over the steep gradient of Kounsarnag Mountain, the scorching sun and rocky stretches made our uphill journey very enervating. We couldn’t afford to flounder on rough rocky edges as it could land us in a big trouble. We treaded very carefully. At many places we had to scramble over the rocks. It seemed as if there was no end to the rocky ascend. The moment we crossed one mound, another two were in place. We became impatient. It seemed like an interminable endeavor. We comported ourselves with grace and guts. We braved all odds and inch passed every obstacle. During my summit push, I felt so happy when I saw my another friend Fayaz Bhat Sb. We bantered with each other and at the same time buckled down to reach our destination at the earliest possible.
We were dead on our feet by the time, we reached Kounsarnag at around 1.30 pm. Our joys knew no bounds. It was an awe-inspiring sight. The first glimpse of this majestic Alpine Lake with the encompassing blue sky sent us into trance. It furnishes a spectacular panoramic view. Everything looked so hypnotic and heavenly. We were surprised to see the families from Rajouri putting up and staying put in the stone structures around the lake for their livelihood and livestock. We had the best time with their children. The fellow trekkers exuded cheerful bonhomie. We shared and enjoyed our scrumptious meals together. People who eat together, stay together.
I had a lifetime experience with the coven of comrades. We captured this stupendous beauty in pictures and videos. On our return journey, we tried to spend more time at many prominent places. Few of us took a bath in a cold stream. Some offered Nimaz. We shared our happiness, juices, sweets and chocolates with the children from Gujjar Community. It was a heartwarming experience. We had a Nun Chai with delicious chappattis in a Dhoka. The fellow trekker who had been hobbled by his twisted ankle, was also taken proper care. This trekking experience was worth a flurry of activities and tireless efforts. We did everything with perfect aplomb. We ensured everyone reached back safely. This journey has become the treasure of motivating and marvelous memories to cherish and spur us into action for achieving the bigger goals in life.
- The author can be reached at [email protected]
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