The ethereal trekking expedition to Mawarnag is to be experienced to be believed.
I expected it to be a routine weekend trek to yet another Alpine Lake. It turned out to be unlike all other trekking expeditions I had undertaken. Mawarnag expedition left all of us in the team – including many seasoned trekkers – spellbound and pleasantly surprised. Starting immediately after morning prayers, our team comprising some from Shopian and others from Srinagar, reached Ahlan Gadol in the Breng Valley of Kukarnag by 8 am. After parking our vehicles right in the forests of Upper Ahlan amid barely paved and bouldered hill road amidst pine and fir forests, the thirteen of us set off for our destination high up in the Lower Himalayas of South Eastern Kashmir.
The trail for most part turned out to be moderate but grew steeper and hence tougher towards the last leg which was rocky and slippery as Ahlan Nullah flows down from the ridges of Mawarnag and surrounding peaks. We tread on boulders, crossed swift waters of Ahlan Nullah, rested and sprinted through lush green meadows of Gaderwani, Girad, Alifbraed and Inderwal, weathering the rocky final patch with surreally beautiful snow clad Mawarnag peaks towering above them and finally at around 1:30 soaked in- breathlesly with our hearts skipping beats for a whille- the indescribable beauty of lower Mawarnag Lake. The serene turquoise waters of the lake are just out of this world. Delicate Wild flowers, pink and yellow, on the banks of the lake and on the far end of a small island of sorts that fuses into the lake waters is a sight to watch. We simply couldn’t take our eyes off the lake and the snow clad peaks in its backdrop. Lower Mawarnag Lake or Mawarnag-I is more or less an oval shaped alpine lake approximately 0.75 kms in length and 0.5 kms or may be more at its widest with babbling brooks flowing from the Upper Mawarnag or Mawarnag-II and glacial melt from the peaks above entering it from three sides, North, South and East. The Southern banks of the Lake are strewn with boulders which we negotiated to ascend to the Upper Mawarnag some hundred metres further ahead of Lower Mawarnag. We had to walk on snow and marshy land to reach the Upper Mawarnag lake tucked away in the eastern bowl of the foothills of peaks rising above 4500 meters with a lot of snow still there, huge chunks of which were breaking and flowing into the Upper Mawarnag lake. The lake is apparently almost the Lower Mawarnag lake size, may be a notch too deeper and with ice and snow still floating on it.
Hypnotized by the beauty of the lake and the surrounding snow-clad mountains for a good one hour, the team members decided to descend back to Lower Mawarnag to spend some time there and to have lunch carried in backpacks left on the western banks of the lake. The eyes of the team members were caught by a captivating sight. To their right we saw an islet awash with little beautiful pink flowers. We decided to go there and spend some time. Lunch could wait for another thirty forty minutes! The islet is just out of this world, small patch of heaven with little flowers swaying with breeze emanating from all the four sides of what rightly could be called the Mawarnag Bowl. What made this islet so breathtakingly appealing was how it just gelled with the blue waters of the lake, so much so that many of us just sat on its edges, drowning our feet in the glacial waters of Lower Mawarnag. Overwhelmed by the divine allure of the islet, the lake and all that surrounded it, the team spontaneously fell on its knees in prayer to thank the Creator for giving it the opportunity to witness all the grandeur and magnificence firsthand in its pristine form. No one wanted to leave the islet. No one could for quite a few minutes, even though all were hungry. It took some effort to convince the members that it was getting really late and that the lunch was waiting on the far end of the lake. Back on the western banks, we finally unpacked our tiffins at around 4 pm. Done with the meals, the team, as if in trance, kept watching and soaking in the charms of the lake and the surrounding peaks. It was with great effort that we got on our feet again at around 4:45 pm and walked back, with a heavy heart from the Mawarnag heights. We boarded our vehicles at around 6:40 or thereabouts.
All were of the opinion that Mawarnag Trek was unlike all their previous treks. The forests, the meadows, the entire trail was different. The entire trail above the tree line is dotted with wild flowers of different hues and colours. One minute it was like as if we were in the woods of Pahalgam, another minute in the meadows of Sonamarg and yet another minute somewhere in the high hills of Gulmarg to be finally somewhere in the lap of legendary Nandansar and Kotorisar in the Heerpora Wildlife Sanctuary. The entire trail is so enchanting and mesmerising. Another refreshing and joyful thing we noticed was the trail, and the lakes are not littered with plastic bottles, cans and other hazardous non-biodegradable stuff. We could guess that these are rarely trekked parts and that is why and how the pristine glory of the mountains and tarns is still intact. One could only wish and pray the ethereal beauty remains unsullied for times to come.
Shahnawaz Khanday is a college teacher and an avid trekker who also loves to travel and read.