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Trekking to tranquility

Published Jul 08, 2011 02:12pm


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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. – Photo by Kulsum Ebrahim/

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.

Comments (19) Closed

KB Jul 08, 2011 08:10pm
Ahmad Jul 08, 2011 08:59pm
Beautifully written article about a beautiful place.For a Karachiite it would literally be so heavenly to visit a place like that.I am not entitled to ask but still is travelling safe?
saadat Jul 08, 2011 10:14pm
beautiful pic and great article.... lines and words to match the place... some more pics would have been so welcome...:) bravo sat
Ofmoria Jul 08, 2011 11:05pm
@Ahmed. Ofcourse traveling is safe. what exactly are you afraid of? Surely not thieves cause do you think they would bother to go all the way to that place just to get a few bucks from the travelers.Of all the concenrs, security should be your last one!
Hina Rashdi Jul 08, 2011 11:25pm
Beautifully portrayed by Zofeen T. Ebrahim, who I know to be a an extremely articulate writer! One feels like packing ones' suitcase and scurrying off to this heavenly abode right away. Just reading about it bought so much pleasure! Thank you, Zofeen!
hitesh Jul 09, 2011 12:10am
its such a beautiful place...wish i could go thr!!!
Ammar Jul 09, 2011 12:44am
Visited Fairy Meadows a fortnight or so back, and I can totally vouch for the author's description. Fascinating scenery, and if one's lucky an amazing view of the killer mountain (or perhaps an avalanche on the mountain - which I was able to witness). Although the trek is a bit treacherous, as one gains roughly 1300m in altitude while trekking for a good 8-10km but every step is just worth it. And yea, on the way down - one really needs to be easy on the knees. Chapstick is surely a MUST, as I had to roam around with refugee lips till I reached civilization. @Ahmad: the route is absolutely SAFE - as long as you are fit enough, both mentally and physically.
Usman Jul 09, 2011 01:18am
A sight for my sour eyes indeed!you are singularly gifted with a style of creative writing known as "Stream of consciousness technique". Cheers
Matri Jul 09, 2011 08:54am
Searching Nanga Prabhat in google maps shows a region in Utharakhand in India. how to be more specific?
Husein Jul 09, 2011 09:25am
For people's who's livelihood depends on tourists you can bet your bottom dollar that they do what ever it takes to keep them coming .... experienced this at Saif ul Mulk during the initial Swat attack days .... safe and sound no issues .... I went to Fairy Meadows last year and they had a nice 3kW power plant up and running ... They were burning wood to heat the water for us ... A gift of electric water heaters would be pretty nice ... It's rather expensive up there ... 50 re per egg!! hahah! :)
irfan Jul 09, 2011 11:53am
spell it as "Nanga Parbat, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan"
Zofeen Jul 09, 2011 03:40pm
Hi Saadat. If you click on the line "perfect grasslands of Fairy Meadows" in the story above you will see some pictures too!
Natasha Suleman Jul 09, 2011 07:31pm
Fawad Malik Jul 10, 2011 02:32am
When i was reading this it was like everything went same with me actually, visited last month. An unforgettable place & the whole journey was quite adventurous. Captured video of avalanche, made many HDR's & Excellent described by Zofeen, Hats off to her. Good work! also sharing link of my HDR's
Asad Jul 10, 2011 05:24am
Excellent article. Here are some more nice images of Fairy Meadows :
Nasir Ali Khan Jul 10, 2011 09:13am
I was there about a fortnight ago and I can tell you it was a trip of a lifetime! I have seen the whole world except Australia and New Zealand and been to a lot of beautiful places like the yellowstone national park and the Grand Tetons. I have also been to the fifth level of Mount Fuji in Japan but there is no place more beautiful and serene place that I have experienced. I just turned 55 and had decided that this year I would make the trek, training for it for about three weeks. The walk from Fairy meadows to Beyal Camp is even more beautiful, as you walk through a pine forest with a gushing, crystal clear stream accompanying you most of the way. If you are an early riser, the sight of the first rays of the sun hitting Nanga Parbat between 430 am and 5 am is worth the ardous trip alone.
Tariq Jul 10, 2011 12:19pm
My friend and I were at Fairy Meadows at the same time as you, and your description is perfect. But words (or photos for that matter) really cannot convey the sensation of witnessing for yourself the shear magnificence of the whole setting with the great Nanga Parbat bearing down on the meadows. This is reward enough for the effort to get there – and it is quite an effort, but once there the tumuru tea helps in easing the exhausted limbs! And the light show performed by the stars at night, truly mesmerising. Fairy Meadows is a little off the beaten track of the more popular, and more easily accessible destinations in Pakistan’s wonderfully raw and natural landscape of the Northern Areas, but this makes getting there even more enticing. Feels like a million miles away from city life – and safer too!
Sameen Gauhar Jul 10, 2011 07:31pm
a marvelous piece.i would suggest everyone to write such articles about our country Pakistan so that we can expose our country's beauty to other nations too and let them know that we have far more than just inflation and terrorism here. and now its time that we develop our tourism. about the article, it's beautiful and about the place, that place is inexpressible just in words.
Altamash Haroon Jul 14, 2011 12:57pm
how was the jeep track between raikot and tatto, examining the pixtures, i think its a deadly one!