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In search of fairies
By Omar Mukhtar Khan
Standing under the scorching sun and drinking chilled water, my friends were staring at me with certain disdain. We had just arrived in Chilas after a five hours drive from Bisham which is an ideal midway break for all those travelling from Islamabad to Gilgit. Our destination was actually the famous Fairy Meadows, near the base camp of the formidable Nanga Parabat.
After about an hour's break, we set off for the Raikot Bridge on Karakorum Highway. En route, we came across the famous rock carvings dating back to between 5000 and 1000BC and the sulphur springs considered by some to be of high medicinal value. The typical 'Pagonda' style building of Shangrila Resorts welcomed us at Raikot Bridge.
From Raikot Bridge one has to hire a local jeep to travel to the lush green hamlet of Tato due to the rough terrain. A few years back there was no road and one had to trek all the way up to Tato. The whole path is quite hostile. Scorching heat of the summers, huge boulders detached from tall dry surrounding mountains and not a drop of water during several hours of trekking. However, for the comfort-loving traveller of today, trekking is a thing of the past and a jeep takes you to the village of Jael even beyond Tato.
The jeep took us through wide plains with boulders spread all around before finally reaching the base of mountain. This is where the limit of the jeep ends and you have to walk all the way up.
A little history about the jeep track, it was actually financed by the owner of Shangrila Resorts. The local villagers, who sold their Pine forest to the owner at throwaway price, built this track with their bare hands. Artfully, but loosely placed, hundreds of rock form this track. It may be interesting to note that due to the continuous shifting of small rocks, at times you may actually find yourself tilting towards the deep gorge you are travelling along. However the competent driers make sure that your don't go that way. So are they, that when want to steal wood from the Pine forest, they go into the forest at night, with their light out, in order to escape officials of the forest department.
However, we were now at Tato. This place used to be a camping site for trekkers before the jeep track was built. But now one has to pass the village to reach the village of Jael. From Jael, one can easily find a porter to carry the luggage as well as horse in case one is not physically fit for some difficult trekking.
The scenery changes from Jael and its no more that dry rocky landscape. All around you are lush green pine trees and roaring Raikot Stream coming straight from the glaciers of Nanga Parbat. The trek, although breath taking, is quite tiring because of the continuous upward gradient. The key to success is slow but continuous walk and of course a water bottle which may be refilled from fresh water streams crossing the trek all the way to Fairy Meadows. Tourists with weak digestive systems are advised to refrain from drinking such water as a precaution. After an hour of walk in the green woods, Nanga Parbat unveils itself along with surrounding peaks and glaciers. The peak is usually hidden in clouds after midday and can be best seen in the morning.
The last stretch of the trek is really wanting and steep but the reward of reaching Fairy Meadows keeps you moving. It takes around three hours of steady trekking to reach the legendary Meadows.
Fairy Meadows are actually vast green pastures surrounded by thick Pine forests and lofty peaks. A number of camping sites have been developed by the locals for tourists here. We choose the one owned by the talkative Rehmat Nabi.
At 3200 meters above sea level, one can camp anywhere at the meadows. And even though smart wooden huts are available, but the real fun is camping outdoors at the meadows. The night is freezing and Rehmat Nabi ensures a campfire which soon attracted its fair share of singers and dancers. If you are lucky and it is full moon, you can see the beautiful silhouette of the saddle that forms at the top of Nanga Parbat. The moonlight reflects from the snow-covered Nanga Parbat and makes the whole mountain visible. The noise of Raikot stream gushing from a Nanga Parbat glacier becomes even louder at night and together with wind blowing through tall pines, the atmosphere becomes quite romantic.
Nanga Parbat is actually not a single peak but a series of ridges, the highest among them having a height of 8125 meters. It is the ninth highest mountain of the world. The top ridges are usually devoid of any snow due to sheer fall hence the name Nanga Parbat or 'Naked Mountain'. The mountain is also nick named the Killer Mountain as up till now the death toll of the climbers is somewhere around 50. The mountain was first conquered by Hermann Buhl in 1953.
Mornings at Fairy Meadows are pleasant. One can just sit under a tree and enjoy the beautiful scenery for some time. If you are going to be there for a few days, be sure to take with you some reading material. If not then you can go swimming in a clear water lake just a few hundred meters away. Other options include a lovely quite walk through the green woods to Bial Camp. This trek is actually part of the trek to the base camp of Nanga Parbat.
The walk is easy and refreshing and one reaches Bial camp in about one and a half hour. Camping at Bial camp is a recommended option as it is much more peaceful than a bit crowded Fairy meadows. If you have finally reached Bial camp, Drexel's Monument is a must place to visit which is almost an hour away. Drexel's Monument was built at 3967 meters in the honour of those who lost their lives while climbing the formidable Nanga Parbat. Sitting idly at any of these places, whether in the meadows or under a pine tree, enjoying the view of the snow-capped Raikot and Ganalo peaks or the Siver Saddle (Diamer Gap) at the top of Nanga Parbat while munching your snacks, is something that you don't get to do everyday.
Visiting Fairy meadows means at least five days vacations, starting and finishing in Islamabad. If you are heading for Fairy Meadows, the ideal break would be to stay the night at PTDC Barseen, about ten hours drive from Islamabad. This would make your next day less hectic with only four hours of driving and three hours of trekking up to Fairy Meadows. One can take personal camping gear or it can be hired from Fairy Meadows at reasonable rates. The best time to visit Fairy meadows is from June to August. Fairy Meadows is peaceful and clean. Please let it be so for our future generations.
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