Late in the evening, I behold a breathtaking view.
A white mammoth dominates the skyline.
It’s chilly, even through four layers of warm clothes.
The cloudless sky has a life of its own, with stars spread across.
Magnificent, snowy – with a presence of its own
I catch my breath as I look upon the northern face of the mighty Nanga Parbat.
They say the path to heaven runs through miles of burning hell. While the latter part of our drive through the sweltering, arid mountains of Kohistan brings life to the axiom – what with the taste of sand in our mouths and dust all around us – the bus journey from Lahore to Raikot Bridge wasn’t all that bad.
Spending nearly a day in a bus traversing provinces, and having the opportunity to appreciate the most stunning landscapes, is an experience unlike any other. Leaning out from your window, you feel the wind on your face as you look down at a gorge, hundreds of feet deep with the River Indus nestled in between mountains. Add to this some diffused white light early in the morning after just having left Besham, as you look upon grassy terraces lining the high mountain-side just opposite you, or marvel at a little bird flying at eye’s length, only a few meters away – suspended in air, thousands of feet above sea-level – and you’ll have to swallow; take it all in so you won’t forget a second.
After reaching Raikot Bridge, it takes about an hour and a half to reach Tato Village (the starting point for the trek up to Fairy Meadows) on 4x4 jeeps. While some may describe the jeep-ride up a narrow road carved into mountains as a harrowing journey, others who aren’t shy of heights or an exhilarating adventure may find themselves choosing the seat at the very edge of the jeep, sticking their heads out to get a peek at the occasional snow-capped precipice up ahead. Being one of those people, I enjoyed the ride up immensely. Our driver’s taste in Pashto music made things all the more amusing (I recall a lady singing something along the lines of “bye bye bye” over and over again, in a song that must have lasted over ten minutes).
The actual trek up to Fairy Meadows is scenic to say the least – but if your stamina isn’t in a good place, you might find yourself pausing and gasping for breath often. The ascent takes its toll on first-timers. But to be fair, I found that stopping every now and then on the rocky, winding track that made the first half of the ascent was quite nice, particularly with a good view – of a deep, narrow valley below marked by a flowing river, and at other points by either rocks or tall trees. While I found the first half of the trek to be challenging, the latter part (beyond the mid-way resting point) was much more enjoyable.
After walking through what seemed like a forest lined with streams and pinecones, I found myself at the narrowest part of the trek up until then, where glimpses of Nanga Parbat started becoming more consistent. Shortly after, it became a challenge to maintain balance, when these glimpses gradually turned into a proper view of the mountain – I had to make sure my footing was alright in order to keep from falling over the edge. From time to time, holding onto the rocks behind me, I would glance at it – Nanga Parbat, in all its glory – and try to take it in, until I would hear a horse or a group of people following close behind, only to realize I had to keep moving.
The remainder of the path up to Fairy Meadows required sticking close to the rocky wall on my left, and treading forward carefully. Solid footwear is important – I wore trekking boots that were a bit too heavy and made the ascent needlessly tiresome. While joggers seemed like a better idea for the descent back to Tato Village, I learned that the right trekking boots would have made the path much less slippery. It is advisable for trekkers to invest in the right footwear, particularly so if you want to go all the way to Nanga Parbat Base Camp.
After a steep climb up, I reached the end of the winding path, and realized I had made it: this was Fairy Meadows, a luscious green valley stretched wide. After almost four hours of going up, it felt great to walk on plain grassland. With Nanga Parbat even closer than before, on one side, and green mountains surrounding the valley, I remember telling my friends that this was what I’d imagined heaven would look like. They agreed. Shortly thereafter, I heard someone call out to us, “We’re not there yet; keep moving”.
Physically exhausted, yet mentally replenished at having made it far enough to witness this stunning view, we walked about ten minutes longer to reach our campsite. Nanga Parbat was now before us. Right there, facing the raised platform upon which our tents stood. Next to our tents was the Pakistani flag raised on a tall pole, swaying wildly in the wind. It was more beautiful than I could have imagined; more spectacular than any picture could do justice to.
The trek up, the ride through Kohistan, and the ascent that could leave one panting, had all been worth it. Glorious, it stood there – Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world. I counted my blessings while watching the sunset, as the sky turned pink around the white mammoth.
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