As you take a minute to soak up the scene, you know for sure it is the closest thing to heaven. That is the first thought that comes to mind after a four-hour treacherous uphill and breathless trek from Fairy Point, the last stop before you head for the enchanted land where they say fairies and demons have ruled forever.
It is no exaggeration if I say, the place is right out of a children’s story book – rolling hills and sun- drenched meadows where cows, horses and goats graze away happily till sunset. Skirting the meadows are thick pine woods and then the perfect and final backdrop – the majestic snow-clad Himalayan mountain range.
And if you are lucky as we were, you can get a clear view of the towering Nanga Parbat, an 8,215 meter peak, also known as the ‘killer’ mountain. Google the name and you will find out it is the ninth highest mountain in the world and the second highest in Pakistan after K2. More so, if the heavens are kind on you, you may just see a full rainbow, or even a double rainbow, after the rains clear the sky.
These picture perfect grasslands of Fairy Meadows, locally known as ‘joot’ are located at an altitude of 3,000 metres at the foot of Nanga Parbat, in the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas.
But getting to the meadows is a torturous two-day journey – scorching heat, a bad road network, no washroom facilities, but plenty of boulders to go behind and brooks to wash up. Good mash ki daal and hot tandoori roti downed with scalding cups of sweet doodh-patti make up for these transitory uneasiness.
When the metalled road ends at Raikot Bridge, you change over to a 4X4 jeep for a perilous journey to Tato village. Halfway there, the road comes to a rude end and so you lug your backpacks and begin over through rock-strewn, uneven surface. Thankfully just a hundred meters ahead, just when the luggage begins to take its toll, you find a pick-up waiting to take you (almost) to Fairy Point, a halfway inn to get your bearings before the big trek to Fairy Meadows. The journey from Raikot Bridge to Fairy Point can take a good two to three hours.
So as I was saying, once at Fairy Meadows you are on an altogether new high. The heady smell of heather mixed with pine and the sight of sparkling streams, an endless variety of flowers strewn all over is breathtaking.
Peering closely, you find artistically crafted webs, mushrooms and orange coloured moss on precariously perched boulders. The forest floor is littered with pine cones, big and small for you to take your pick. The magical place brings out the child in you as you explore the woods. The figment of your imagination goes at break-neck speed as you go deeper and deeper into the forest, finding a branch shaped like an elephant’s wrinkled foot, or an emperor’s throne to sit on, a photo-frame made of jumbled roots....
The sight of a herd of baby goats scampering and scuttling stirring up a cloud of dust with their tiny feet, or cows munching away lazily, soaking in the sun and the horses knee deep in the marshy grasslands are sights that behold you and you know will remain embedded in your memory.
You can amble aimlessly for hours and at every few yards you discover something new. You see at close quarters how the power of flowing water is harnessed and used to generate electricity in the most primitive but effective manner, only to marvel at man’s ingenuity.
A hot cup of kehwa awaits you at your quaint little cottage after every trek. The locals add an herb called tumuru (smells like oregano) that helps ease altitude sickness. You get an instant shot of tranquility and peace, maybe ten-folds more potent than you would find, say when you reach Nathiagali.
And yet there is not complete solitude. How can there be when young and able-bodied men and women come in droves. But there is something nice about these people. They are happy, courteous, helpful and friendly. Maybe it’s the clean mountain air you think. Nature does that to you, keeps the beast away and brings out the goodness in you, one realises.
And if daytime is heavenly, the dusk and then night fall are surreal. First the mountains turn gold at dusk; next the sky becomes silvery, speckled with millions of stars. And that’s not all. Around midnight, when the moon comes out, you see how it lends mystery to the woods, lighting up the snow-clad mountains. But it’s not eerie at all, just magical!
Most people visiting Fairy Meadows usually go to Bayal Camp, about two-hour trek (not as arduous) and then further up to View Point. Serious trekkers spend the night there, and make a journey to Nanga Parbat’s Base Camp the following day. Bayal is also meadow-like but with small hillocks and Nanga Parbat seems a lot closer. If you ask me I prefer the Fairy Meadows area and the forests around it.
Warning: The journey is not for the faint-hearted, the fuss-pots or those used to luxury hotel stays. Toilets (desi style) and showers are communal. There is plenty of water but hot water is available in the morning for the early birds only. In the night, you may have to brush your teeth with icy water with the help of a torch. Bedding is provided, but if you are a cleanliness freak, I suggest you keep a couple of sheets in your backpack.
Must Take: A chapstick is a very good idea as are small bottles of sanitiser and liquid hand wash. Shoes should be a tried and tested old faithful pair. A good sturdy walking stick if you are fifty plus, a small water bottle that can be slung around the neck or one shoulder, sun-glasses, a good sun-block and cap will all come in handy. A camera to take your own set of pictures!
Zofeen T. Ebrahim is a freelance journalist.