The afternoon was dedicated to the visit of Shaunter lake. A dirt jeep trek lead to the lake from the village. It was an enjoyable hour long walk along a gradually ascending grade. On our way, we crossed a couple of lively fresh water falls that bisected the trek along its twists and turns. Located at the verge of a vast plain along the base of high mountains, Shaunter lake is a surreal spoon shaped aquifer surrounded by abundance of colourful wild flowers that mark its bank and periphery.
The hike to the picturesque Chitha Katha lake started from Domail early next morning. We crossed the bridge at half past six and took a narrow trek that descended quickly along the stream. Walking on a precarious mud path and loose boulders, a quaint bridge led across the stream to lovely green plains and fields. A crystal white babbling brook snaked and flowed along the green mountains lending even more charm to the atmosphere. Descending further, soon we crossed the third bridge amidst those verdant slopes and plateaus that brought us face to face with our first real challenge of the day.
What confronted us was a steep contour of a mountain with exuberant growth. We continued out walk along the trek that now clung to the steep recline of the mountain laid on a high grade. We trekked through swarms of shoulder high wild flowers, thick bushes_thorny at times, trees, birch forest and undergrowth that was immensely mesmerising. It took us more or less an hour to climb the mountain that got increasingly steep near the top.
The view on the far side was even more mesmerising. We had to descend to the same milky white murmuring brook at a wide plateau with a small settlement known as Duk I. Another small wooden bridge carried us across the stream at Duk I. After brief refreshments, we took the steep trek that ascends up the rocks. A continuous and more or less uniform climb made us gain the elevation quickly. Guarded by huge rocks, the trek snailing through the narrow gourges eventually opened to a wide expanse of a large plain surrounded by high mountains. Comfortably placed above the tree line with a stream bisecting the plain in the middle, rocks and stones_ big and small_ that keep rolling down every now and then responding to every call of thunder, slide, avalanche and vicissitudes of nature laid and scattered along the slopes marked our next milestone named Duk II.
As we crossed the fifth and final simple wooden bridge over the stream, it led us to the final and most demanding leg of the climb. All we could see was a strenuous ascent of the mountains dotted with precariously resting rocks and murmuring water courses. A couple of pearl white glistening water falls dropped down insanely, one quite high and the other almost midway between us and the upper one, their free fall only checked and resisted by the rocky protrusions and bed of the vertical cliffs that stood right behind the sparkling sheets of water. Perched high up in the snowy mountains, beyond the highest point that was visible_ still remote and not easily accessible, rested peacefully in its tranquil environs the divine chalice that overflowed and splattered its crystal aqua streaks through the mountains and valleys.
We took the spiral course that negotiated the rocky slopes of the mountains along its strenuous and demanding ascent. Low oxygen levels at high altitude coupled with the steep grade made the hike tiring and thoroughly testing. Nevertheless, the splendid broad vista that was visible from the heights was amazing. The demanding climb along the contour of the mountain continued only to get even tougher once we crossed the lower waterfall following an exhaustive effort. We were thoroughly tired but the tantalising appeal of the upper water fall that now seemed accessible rendered all the inspiration. Step by step, we trailed along the steep spiral closing on upon our next milestone. Looking behind from the precipice, the wide expanse of Duk II now appeared more like a distant turf spread way down along the base of the mountains. The relative distance and proximity of the upper water fall in comparison was motivating. Scrambling up the steep recline of the mountain almost adjacent to the water fall, we were ultimately successful in moving over the highest rock one after the other. But by the time, we were able to negotiate those cliffs and heights, it had started to drizzle.
Over the final rock it was a whole new world and landscape. There were relatively wide plateaus that spread over the top with protruding rocks and a stream marking the edge along one end. Although the grade had flattened a good deal but since we were already drained and our energies were sapped, it was still quite challenging to continue to walk in the drizzle in that cold. The snowy peaks and glaciers now stared down from relative proximity. Trekking easily at an approximate altitude of 4,000 meters or beyond at that instance, even the mild slopes rendered us breathless after every few yards. Progressing and elevating slowly, the trek led us to a wide plateau. As we approached the end of the plateau what lay bare amidst those majestic peaks was truly breathtaking. We were simply awe struck by the sight of the vast shimmering crystal clear water sheet that stretched there in such serenity and grace. The divine splendour of the place was heavenly and entrancing beyond words.
As we stood there transfixed and motionless, it transpired that it had been such a worthy and rewarding effort. The absolutely draining and demanding hike of seven hours that elevated us by more than 4,000 ft etched itself vividly as a life time moment. We pitched our tents and roamed along the banks of the lake relishing and absorbing the magical aura of the fairy land. The pristine calm, majestic grandeur, rapt and dreamlike quietness and the fantastic natural charm, raw and original was absolutely stunning. Soon it began to rain and we got busy in making soup, coffee and noodles. It got very cold and savouring a hot meal in the cosy warmth of our tent and sleeping bags was soothing and delightful. Rain continued intermittently during the deeply quiet length of the night giving rise to a beautiful damp and chilling morning. The early morning view of the heavenly lake and its idyllic environs was even more sublime and priceless. We packed our things collected and disposed off the waste carefully, took our breakfast and tea hastily and set off in the drizzle under overcast sky wondering at the unique sight and gift of nature. Feeling spirited, having accomplished another dream, soon we were drifting down the damp and slippery slopes as the mountains and rocks echoed and thundered at one point or another bidding us farewell while the rain jolted and triggered a sudden landslide or disaster within the immense folds and expanse of these splendid mountains.