In my final year at LUMS and as a member of the LUMS Adventure Society (LAS), I had made it a personal goal to embark on as many adventures as possible.
To accomplish this goal, I trekked to the beautiful Kutwal Lake, in the Haramosh district of Baltistan.
It was a physically demanding journey with both exhilarating and disappointing sights along the way.
Despite the challenges of the trip, I consider the three-day trek through Baltistan to be one of the most scenic and impressive adventures I have undertaken.
My trip to Haramosh began as the buses started rolling onward from our university campus for our Adventure Society’s annual hall-mark event, the May Trip.
There were seven treks, six of which were based over four days after which they would converge at Karimabad, Hunza in typical May Trip fashion. The bus I was on was going for the Haramosh trek.
The ride toward our first stop at Besham was a grueling one. Travelling was slow and we arrived at our destination in just over 16 hours, having covered around 600 kilometres. We stayed at the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation resthouse in Besham, located on the bank of the Indus tributary, which makes for serene viewing.
The next day proved to be even more tiring – the metaled Karakoram Highway was characteristically broken at several places and we crossed Kohistan and Diamer at snail’s pace.
At Jaglot, we got off our bus, transferred into a small wagon and left for the Sassi Hydel Power Station, some 70 minutes away from the Skardu Mor at Karakoram Highway.
We reached Sassi at 3 am. The whole of the LAS senior batch was here. The eight of us managed an uncomfortable nap on the floor of the power station as we waited for dawn.
As light emerged, so did our guide, Shahid bhai. He was accompanied by two jeeps, one of which carried our tent, food, and utensils.
Traditionally, this trek is divided into four days. The itinerary is as follows:
Day 1 – Dassu to Iskere Day 2 – Iskere to Kutwal Day 3 – Kutwal to Iskere Day 4 – Iskere to Sassi
We had planned to go the extra mile and combine the first and last two days to make it a three-day journey (with one rest day).
Our jeep bounced along the rickety track, throwing us like skittles at every turn, as we travelled to the village of Dassu. The road is dangerous, maneuverable only for someone well-acquainted with the locality and possessing strong driving skills.
Nearly two hours along the barren surroundings, we were treated to wonderful views of the quaint little village. It was a sight that reminded me of the fictional village of the Shire in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
After disembarking from our jeep, we started our trek right away – straight up the hill that marked the end of Dassu, and toward the stream that runs alongside the rest of our journey till the Mani glacier.
The trek to Iskere was fairly easy. My friends and I raced forward without our guide and lost our way a couple of times in the process. But we finally made it to Iskere, a large clearing amidst a whole host of peaks including the Dobani and Miar.
At Iskere, I was horrified to see how the charm of the campsite had been ruined with litter and overcrowding. The inconsiderate behaviour of tourists polluting such a beautiful place left my blood boiling. I hurried forward and into the Iskere jungle.
The trek turned difficult here as the incline began to set in. The jungle was a beautiful density of willowing trees – we had walked nearly 10 kilometres to get here and had to walk eight kilometres more.
I was determined to get to Kutwal right away, so I continued my walk, keeping a porter in close proximity so as not to lose the trail.
We crossed the Mani glacier, a short expanse of dirty ice and moraine, and much easier to cross than the glaciers at Hopar. The lake was still 45 minutes away, but we had entered the Kutwal valley, and the beauty of Haramosh came into full bloom.
Once again, the beauty of the place was marred somewhat by the burgeoning presence of campers and their accompanying litter. The Haramosh and Mani peaks loomed large in the background.
The lake turned out to be much farther than we expected. I took a short nap in a patch of grass far away from the babble of noises of the campsite. Half an hour later, the rest of the group joined me, and we made the final trudge to Kutwal Lake.
The walk was simple, but our legs were ready to give way. Muttering curses under my breath, I made my way along the meadows and forgot all my qualms when the lake came into view.
Day 2 - Rest day
Most of us were too tired to eat after the trek, so we lined up in a single mess tent and got a long stretch of much needed sleep. The weather was pleasant though we were disturbed, albeit infrequently, by the distant braying of donkeys.
We spent the next day lounging around the meadows, bathing in the lake, and exploring the surrounding areas.
The feel of the whole area was surreal – it exuded a certain tranquility and presented an awesome diversity of landscape. In particular, I was amazed by the Kutwal village and the Haramosh Base Camp as well as the large glacier to the right.
The area is known for its elaborate avalanches and we were treated to the sight multiple times throughout the day. The event is usually triggered as the underlying ice struggles to withstand the weight of that above and the effect is multiplied as the snow rolls down the mountain.
We spend the rest of the day admiring nature’s many wonders and are joined by the other LAS group at night. We feast on a goat we had bought from the Kutwal village nearby, which boasts a sizable population despite its proximity from the nearest town center.
As night falls, we are huddled around a bonfire. My friend Mubariz has pitched the society flag next to our tent – it looks very captivating. We have to return to Dassu tomorrow as quickly as possible. Nearly 800 metres of descent over 17 kilometres.
As the sky gets darker, I hope that we can get a good rest so that none of the members lag behind. My friend Basil has fallen sick, so that is a concern – fingers crossed.
Day 3 - The journey back
I’m writing this from our coaster as it rumbles away from the Sassi power station and towards the Skardu Mor leaving the narrow, rickety roads behind.
Our start to the day was delayed – it had rained incessantly the night before, which caused our tent to leak. We were vexed at our oversight since we had forgotten to pack some of the tent connectors. After two uncomfortable hours of shifting around in damp sleeping bags, we forcibly put ourselves to rest and woke up at 8 am.
We left alongside the other LAS group who camped at Dassu that night. We had to trek back the entire 17 kilometres to get to Dassu early and leave for Sassi and Karimabad the very day. So we picked up the pace and sped off across the Majaharai meadows in the Kutwal valley, past the Mani glacier (where we encountered some dead ends) and took our first real break near Iskere.
The constant descent was taking a toll on my knees, however the littered sight of Iskere made me less eager to take a breather. Seeing such pollution yet again, I made a mental note to take this matter up with the Central Karakorum National Park (CKNP) authorities.
The second leg of the journey was quite barren and monotonous. It had not seemed this long on the way to Kutwal. The sun had now come up and was shining overhead with brazen fury.
Nearly five kilometres from Dassu, one has to cross a sizable stream to get to the opposite side. In my hurry, I ended up at the wrong crossing point and had to check back with the porters I had left behind. Nevertheless, I reached Dassu in three hours with my group way behind.
It had started to rain again, so I scampered for shelter, but to no avail. I put up the hood of my jacket and lay underneath an overhanging rock, finding whatever solace that I could.
Drenched in the rain, I waited and was eventually joined by the rest who trickled onto the Dassu jeep track in twos and threes.
My friend Ahsan cleared the arrears with Shahid bhai and his team, and we wasted little time in getting onto the jeeps. We said our solemn goodbyes and reached Sassi in nearly 70 minutes.
This has possibly been the most beautiful trek that I have been to yet, albeit I could have enjoyed it in much more detail had we decided to stick to the prescribed itineraries.
Nevertheless, we are one day ahead in reaching Karimabad which will spell the end of my tenure at LAS.
All in all, Haramosh is a largely unfrequented wonder of Pakistan. It is a trek that I would encourage others to explore. However, it is of paramount importance to keep these areas clean and to support the local populace. This entails respecting local sentiments and culture and avoiding unnecessary haggling over porter rates so that they are properly compensated for their valuable services.
Lastly, it is always important to keep adequate, sturdy trekking gear without which any trek becomes doubly difficult.
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