Majestic mountains ranges blanketed with snow constantly hovered above us. Sunlight filtered through the clouds and collapsed upon the mountain peaks, making them as luminescent as ever. As we passed through luscious forests and plains, it began to rain. Fed by glaciers, streams of icy water rippled beside us for almost the entire journey, and every now and then, we would pause to quench our thirst with this pure water.
By evening, we finally reached our campsite adjacent to the famed Naltar Lake. Known to feature seven different shades of green, the lake left us in pure awe. As night approached, we huddled around the fire, shivering with excitement and gulping down our cups of warm soup. In the meanwhile, food was being prepared for us. With the fire blazing and the chilly wind encircling us, the joy of having Qeema Roti next to the lake was beyond comparison.
The next morning, we geared up for our second trekking day, after freshening up with the freezing water from a stream close by. Only this time we were met by diversity in terrain and much longer distances. We were headed towards Lower and Upper Shani, the two major challenges of the day. The trail to the campsite entailed trudging through stony plains and rocky ascents. After a trek of around five hours, we set camp in the foothills of misty mountains heavily sprayed with snow akin to leviathans. Amidst soft snow and drizzle, we left our trekking bags and began our almost two-hour long ascent to Lower Shani.
Beginning with simply wading across a stony plain, the trek morphed in to a climb on rock-strewn mountains. Requiring extreme caution, it demanded that we keenly maneuver our way through a myriad of rocky hills, steep inclines and narrow paths carved in the slopes of mountains. Short of breath, we scrambled on to Lower Shani, a beautiful green pasture nestled in the foot of a majestic snow-cloaked mountain range. Resting here for a while, we wondrously gazed at wild horses freely dashing across the meadow. Reaching Upper Shani was trickier due to the slippery patches of snow that had to be crossed. The trek halted at the site of Upper Shani, the base camp for the Shani Peak. Just north of the peak, one could see the Shani Glacier and the Pakhora Pass in all their majesty. We began our descent to the campsite, determined to complete the challenge. After a tiring eight-hour long trek, the organizers pleasantly surprised us with Biryani! Rejoicing over the food, even more so than the triumph of the trek, we snuck into our sleeping bags and slumbered under the lustrous silhouettes of the mountain peaks.
Woken up by cramped-up muscles and sounds from the stream drifting by, we readied ourselves for another day of trekking. Surprised by a relentless downpour of rain, we rushed to pack up. Instructed to leave the campsite totally clean, we cleared up to begin our last ascent. Although this trek was shorter in terms of distance, the tricky landscape and the constant rain lengthened it to around 7-8 hours. With our bags and not-so-waterproof clothes weighing down on us, we began marching towards Shani Lake. Although this trek was an easy cruise through plains with creeks meandering through it, we were often confronted with slippery, rocky hills that made it impossible to cross. Nevertheless, the scenery that revealed itself at every turn left us in awe. After a couple of steep ascents, we finally arrived at the lake. The uncanny cerulean of the lake, tinged with hues of turquoise, was breathtaking to say the least. After a long day in the rain, we attempted to dry our supposedly water-proof clothes and jumped straight in to our tents.
With dawn approaching fast, we bid farewell to the rain and began our descent with the sun finally in sight. The Shani Lake can be accessed through a route made specifically for cars, and this was the path on which we began to move. We passed by the babbling blue brooks, the forests, and the snow-stroked mountains for the last time, finally reaching the point we began this arduous journey from. Within four days, we had experienced the wonder that was Naltar, all with the relentless effort of our enthusiastic trek leaders, guides and porters.
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