Archive for the ‘Mountains’ Category

The weather has taken a delicate turn and spring with all its exuding charm and flavour has overwhelmed the landscape once more. Rampant grassy patches have sprouted to life and flowers are seen blossoming everywhere. Spring, this year, has been characterized by frequent rains and heavy moisture laden caressing breeze has been the signature so far.

It is a beautiful evening awash with fragrance and dampness sprinkled with light rain and drizzle. The overcast makes it darker unlike the last night when the glistening moonlight filtered and tore through a haze of thin clouds that sailed across the sky, captivating everything in its glow. As I take a stroll inhaling all the freshness, it reminds me of my scribbling on the heralding of the spring last year that I shared with my adorable friends and readers on the other blog. It goes like:

Nothing is more colourful than the spring of the mountains. When it descends upon the lush green valleys, pastures and shelving slopes with all its relentlessness and might, it renders life and vitality to everything. The green turns brighter and vivid. Growth gets luxurious and abundant. Sprouting buds transform and develop into blossoming flowers. Frozen brooks and streams begin to gush into cascades. Birds migrate back to their dwellings succumbing to irresistable temptation. Their chirping complements the murmuring of water courses. Fragrance laden breeze roams about intoxicating the atmosphere.

In short, spring is a demonstration of nature exuding all its purity and charm when it is at its brutal best. It is worth something to penetrate deep into these mountains and valleys, far from materialism and commercialization, to savour a feel of this extravaganza. Breathing in purity and inhaling the densely perfumed scents is such an enviable experience.

If on a mountain trek, at the end of a day’s hike, while exploring those treasures of nature, there is something that really intrigues my mind. Even before pitching the tent and as soon as I’ve liberated my aching shoulders from the burden of the haversack, the impulse is to get rid of shoes and sweat drenched socks. If there is no fresh water, the next best thing that implores my mind is the thought of a stroll on the moist soothing turf and blades of fresh green grass. And then I am possessed as I lie on the grassy stretch staring at the endless expanse of the bright blue sky. Under a lively invigorating sun, the heavenly feeling or sensation, the state of a trance or a spell that binds, is overwhelming.

While the craving is at its peak and almost assumes nostalgic proportions, the spring sets in once again. The sun was moderate and clouds flirtatious. On a lazy Sunday morning, I felt enticed to walk barefooted in my lawn and later in the park. Amidst all this buzz and chaos that dominates life, I lied down and looked at the sky. Before too long, still stretched, I found myself seeking respite getting engrossed in the wonderful and intriguing leaves of the book that I was holding.

Read Full Post »

    Picture Sourced from internet

It was a cold day in early December. There was a biting chill in the air with familiar over cast conditions. I was returning to the town after a lapse of nearly six years. The overwhelming aura of the place and its enchanting environment had preserved the childhood memories not letting the tide of time wipe or wash them off. I could vividly remember a similar damp day, years ago, during early summer when we had departed and left the town one late afternoon.

The car was moving up a gentle steady ascent along the road that tore through the profusely green environs. Winter and cold had sucked the life out of rich grassy patches rendering them lifeless and fiery amber. Trees were abundant but no longer bore the burden of fresh leaves that wilted and dried away only to be scattered in irregular patterns here and there. A deserted trail of straight, tall and bare poplar trees filed like a continous row of defeated soldiers on either side of the road. An array of fields, spread everywhere in a delightful terraced arrangement stretching as far as the vision ensued, waiting for the days when the whole landscape would be daubed in an undulating vibrant coat of mustard.

As the journey progressed and the kaleidoscope of colour accompanied, the wide vista bounded by rising hills narrowed gradually. The road crossed over occasional streams of splashing water rendered brownish and muddy by the drizzle. Atmosphere was calm and the world was serene all around.

The mountains seemed to advance and step closer, their skylines jagged and jutting out at places, covered partially with snow; the higher ones veiled in a shroud of mist and clouds_their slopes rocky and steep at places blending with thickly clustered growth at others.

Once we crossed the bridge over Haro following the cantonment, POF and town of Hawailian, we were greeted by a series of spiraling ascents. The meandering curls led to elevated passage with steep curved face of the hills marking the boundary of the narrow road on one side and a precipice terminating into a deep ravine and stream on the other. The freezing cold breeze was getting heavier now. We could literally inhale the fragrance and freshness with every breath. A drape of green seemed to curtain and shield everything. Rampant clusters of trees sprawled across while occasional patches were dominated by sturdy pines swishing and dancing merrily in the wind flowing along the shelving slopes.  

There were orchards and fields and a series of graves dominating those fields wherever there were signs of settlement along the outskirts of the town. Wooden huts with gabled and corrugated glittering aluminum or asbestos roofs stood obliquely across the road. Their delightful colours and simple yet attractive designs and outlines together with eye catching placement on the ridges and slopes presented a splendid view. Thick timber doors hinged in the middle and painted in a variety of colours, braced and nailed with slanting cross bars added further to the beauty and simplicity of the glimpse of life. Mud and block construction diversified and augmented the captivating charm of the scenic beauty.

Amidst the draught of scented damp breeze, the road took a couple of sharp turns and entered a broad spectacular valley. Lovely multistoried buildings followed by a market and a fuelling station came into the view. A huge arena displaying a fleet of Bed Ford buses and wagons approached next. This was the crowded general bus stand and soon we took a busy road that passed before a variety of motels and hotels, Eid gah ground, Army Burn Hall School and the DHQ hospital as we drove through the heart of Abbottabad. Soon we drove before the lady garden and headed towards Mansehra road which is the start of the silk route leading to China. The maple leaves had died and fallen, their red glow making the world appear as if on virtual fire.  Verdant training grounds of Baluch and FF centre presented an absorbing view. Governor house perched up high, visible as a dot on the contours of pine covered Shimla hill stamped its mark like it always did. Road rose and depressed passing by the CMH and later we took the divergence leading towards Kakul.

The long boulevard bisected the scattered residential pockets, picketed fields, stone masonry walls and hedge bounded bungalows. We drove passed the dairy farm and polo ground as the road rose along a gradual grade on its way to PMA.

It was getting dusky and extremely cold after a splash of rain when we reached our destination. The weather was getting unbearably cold and dislodging our luggage, we retired to our room in the mess raving about our first dawn in the city of Abbottabad after many years.

Read Full Post »

To what heights can I not rise!?

2009 was an unusual year featuring prolonged winters and heavy snowfall followed by a wet monsoon spell during the early July. That’s when we decided to trek from Saif ul Muluk to Lalazar in Kaghan valley across the Dhadar pass. Northern areas were under a continual wet spell. There were frequent land slides and traffic suspensions occurring beyond Balakot. Considering the inclemency of the weather, we deemed appropriate to travel on public transport instead of personal cars.

Daewoo bus and shuttle service provides convenient and reliable means to commute between Lahore and Mansehra.   Breeze was refreshing but it was a damp and unusually cold morning in Mansehra even in July that gave us only the slightest taste of the medicine that we were going to have. Pecking at the bits of information from here and there, amassed at the large bus stand (unfortunately there was no horse or his mouth in distant sight to disgorge, spew or vet the accounts), we embarked upon the first van that volunteered to leave for Naran.

The news was contradictory. But one fact was confirmed. The torrential rains had instigated heavy landslides causing wiping of road and blockades at certain points along the highway. There was even a word, of tourists and families getting stuck in Kaghan and Naran, in the air.

Only a few ventured to travel during such uncertainty, and those too, mostly the natives. The weather was lovely and the rain accentuated, washed and purified the natural green aura of the valleys and hills. During the course of the gradual journey, the panorama exhibiting a bonanza of natural beauty and charm kept creeping along. While, the roaring muddy water of Kunhar river made the landscape surreal.  
Munching a couple of pulpy pears during a brief stopover was a thorough delight. Their taste was exquisite that we graciously relished as they dissolved and melted away sweetly in our mouths. We were passed Kiwai now and approaching Paras and Mahandari. That’s where the dreaded proceedings commenced.

Crossing a portion of the river Kunhar
A wide portion of the road had been swept away by the rocky and muddy falls. The van could go no further. Those who wanted to continue needed to walk across with their luggage and hire vehicles that were offloading the passengers at the far end. That involved passing through a portion of the river balancing and hopping on slippery pointed rocks in the drizzle. As we did so, much to our bewilderment, the rocks started falling. The stones, small and large, came crashing down bouncing and rebounding like ping pong balls above our heads. We bolted and rushed with our haversacks as quickly as we possibly could. It was quite a terrific sight. Scampering through the water, rocks and mud as we breathlessly made to the other side, there were only a couple of jeeps ready to take a return journey. Not surprisingly, they discovered themselves in excellent bargaining position_an advantage they exploited to perfection to extract the last possible penny out of our pockets. At the same time, the food, fuel and supplies were getting scant and the transport was getting increasingly thin at this side of the divide.

It was extremely chilly and the journey proceeded slowly in the rain. We encountered a few more landslides and the usual glaciers but nothing noteworthy. After a tiring journey and a lot of uncertainty we were able to reach Naran during late afternoon.

People were trapped in the valley and the inventories were running dry with little hope of replenishment. Naran, located at nearly 8000 feet ASL, appeared quite different from its usual self as against what it normally looks like during this part of the year. Even the lower peaks and hills surrounding the valley were still snow clad. The brooks and streams flowing down the mountains into the river Kunhar were frozen for the most part. It was extremely cold and required proper heating and warm clothing to attain some comfort.

Our next activity was to check in the familiar seedy hotel and look for our friend cum host cum guide Naseer. This was part of acclimatization process aimed at gradually shedding away the luxuries of civic life. As usual, maintaining his track record and fulfilling our hopes and expectations, Naseer was nowhere to be found. However, his cottage stood firmly across the river on the mountain with a dead telephone line that we kept staring at wistfully and dutifully with intermittent breaks. His cell was not responding which was again not beyond the realms of our expectation. We devoured a lavish late afternoon lunch, just in case, to mark the occasion.

It was still raining and very cold when eventually we were able to locate and contact Naseer. Pleasarities were exchanged and smiles were extended, ear to ear, upon his arrival. Weather permitting, the brewing plans and the adverse conditions plus the challenges likely to be confronted on the track were discussed. The prospects looked bleak and there was a big question mark upon our intended departure next morning.

After savouring a delicious spicy dinner of nan and chappal kababs, we resorted to the safety of our sleeping bags instead of the beds and dirty linen. Thanks to Naseer, negotiations and departure plans were finalized with the jeep driver, hoping for the best for the following day. Essentials like oven, lighters, batteries, cans, milk, noodles, dates, tea/coffee bags, chocolates, mints, medicines and lemon were stuffed neatly in the ruck sacks.

Following dawn rose with a miraculous change in atmosphere. The sky was all clear, awash and turquoise, with golden glow of the sun rising across the horizon.  Rain had given way to snow at some point in time last night that now glittered along the contours and jagged skylines of the surrounding hills and mountains.

A refreshing morning view from the valley

The early morning jeep ride to Saif ul Muluk offered a unique and different experience. There was absolutely no traffic on the track that remained crowded during this part of the year. Never had I seen the surroundings of Naran draped in such lustrous white during July before. Snow line had descended to the levels that were unprecedented according to the locals and the glaciers had thickened, at places, virtually assuming the shape of ice walls.

A view from the jeep on road to Saif ul Muluk

View of a rivine and muddy jeep track

We reached the legendary Saif ul Muluk lake early in the morning that was the starting point of our trek. Surrounded by an indenting outline of snow all round, the breathtaking view of the lake was captivating to the core. The serenity and sublime charm of the reservoir made it appear dreamlike. In the morning rays and ripples induced by the chilly breeze, the stars danced and glittered on the mirror like reflective sheet of water reminding me of my earlier camping nights at the place. Grand peaks and icy slopes flowing into the lake captured their majestic and mesmerising  view in the trembling surface of water.

A breathtaking view of  lake Saif-ul-Muluk
At more than 10,000 ft ASL and already above the tree line, we started our walk. It was a gradual rise, snow covered almost from the start, narrowing down slowly into a gourge. There were occasional ridges and climbs on the way. Looking back and stealing a look of the lake from an occasional vantage point was fascinating.

In life and hiking there is no looking back….but when it is worth it!!!??


On our left lofty Malka Parbat, the highest peak of Kaghan valley, stared down with all its grandeur. The trek curled to the left along the mountain ascending steadily. To our right, a steep trail went up the mountains leading to Aansoo lake.

It was a bright sunny day and the sun was beating down with all its blaze. The rays were being reflected by the wide expanse of fresh and pure white snow and piercing our eyes and skin. Anything bare and exposed was beginning to feel the effects of sun burn. Chilly breeze, that blew across , made it worse. We walked steadily as the virgin snow crackled and crumbled under our feet. Our foot marks left a continuous trail on the paths unraveled. There was no sign of life left in the wilderness except for occasional herds of ibex that crawled like moving dots on the sheets of ice and slopes.  

The murmuring streams and brooks, weaving their way across to the reservoir downstream, were partly buried under the folds of ice and snow. Crevices were visible at certain points. Crest of ice was hard for the most part but softer layers made us stumble and flop. With thickening layer of snow underneath, it got progressively harder to climb. Our energy and strength slowly sapped.            


Considering the conditions, we had to jot down a realistic plan. We had been on the trek for more than four hours and to give ourselves a fair chance to camp somewhere at a decent spot before the sunset, there were another couple of hours available to cross the pass before we could start a speedy descent.

Not well equipped, we still decided to give it our best shot. The gourge narrowed and the grade steepened assuming the form of successive hills. Wading our way through the mass of snow, we climbed one after the other, narrowing in on the skyline.

Etching our foot marks on virgin snow

It was getting increasingly tiring and we were forced to take frequent breaks. With continuous gain in the height, the oxygen levels in the air depleted. Straps of our rucksacks penetrated into our flesh as we sweated profusely and got breathless. Our pace slowed down considerably as our strides became smaller. Still our motivation and drive kept us going.

Unfortunately we were lagging much behind the schedule now. Having been for  six hours on the trek, the top was inching closer but staring down upon us menacingly. There were still a couple of ridges separating us from the top. It was late afternoon and we were left with almost three hours before the sunset. With the darkness swallowing everything, it would get extremely cold in this wide expense of snow. Apparently there was no reasonable spot where we could camp with some degree of surety. The best we could do was to trail back and find a piece of bare land at some lower altitudes.

At that point, we eventually decided to get back. Retracing our steps, we commenced our descent marveling at the barriers that we had crossed and the height we had attained. It was steep and quite slippery making us tumble at places. Legs were stiff and heavy now, and once off balance, the body offered little resistance to fall. Still, it was quicker and faster to trek along the descent. With the sunset approaching, our progress was satisfactory now.

Finally along a wide curve, we were able to redeem that classic distant view of Saif ul Muluk from a higher pedestal. The shadows were lengthening and the breeze was getting bitingly cold slapping our faces and caressing our contours.

Pitching our tent
A brisk walk ensued. Before dusk, in dying day light we were able to find some narrow stretch of soil and rocky ground. Dead tired but relieved, we pitched our dome tent amidst those towering mountains. Washing our faces with the ice cold water was a refreshing and terrific experience simultaneously. Saving our plans to accomplish the trek on a better day in future, soon the cups of tea and servings of noodle made a round and hence a memorable day and an exciting adventure that we shall treasure for the rest of our lives drew to an end……

Read Full Post »

(Dedicated to my dearest and adorable friend Mani!)

A news clip invites my attention. There has been light snowfall in Murree yesterday evening that triggers my journey down the memory lane.

Three years ago I called Mani up in Islamabad in mid Jan. We were in the middle of an uncharacteristic prolonged wet spell. ‘Pull up your socks dude; I am on my way to Isloo and we are driving as far up the mountains as we can on your jeep this afternoon’ I told him. ‘But I just came back from Murree yesterday’ He interjected. ‘Why does it matter?’ I exclaimed and finding my argument implicit and thoroughly convincing, he innocently gave up.

Later that afternoon, we were in a haste stashing and stowing all the junk food in Mani’s ol’ Pajero from a Kohsar super store. It was raining and pretty cold by Islamabad’s standards. The incessant rains had caused the temperature to fall close to the freezing point.

Anxious to make the most of  (whatever was left of) the daylight, we left Islamabad. Furtively, Mani was on a bunk and officially I was eager to conduct some surveys along the highway _ just an odd case outta my ever growing tally of mixing pleasure with business trips. For those who claimed it was the other way round, I was always blamed to be on a paid vacation. But who really cares for a jealous and snoopy lot or their big spouts and long sniffing noses!?

It was my maiden journey on newly constructed Murree expressway. Being in company of Mani was a bonus. In mist and drizzle, we enjoyed our drive. The most exciting part was the steep climb up the winding curls during the last kilometer or so, where the highway was temporarily connected to the Mall. Fortunately, the rain had washed away the layers of ice on the surface, it had received previous night. That’s precisely where Mani got the unyielding opportunity to demonstrate his driving antics and his vehicle’s mettle to my heart’s content.

Instead of turning towards Murree, we decided to move on. As we curled round the Murree from Jheeka gali, we discovered the layers of snow to be quite thick along the adjoining face of the mountain as opposed to the far side that we had approached earlier. The visibility deteriorated considerably and we began to encounter sleet and light snowfall.
We took the divergence from Kuldana towards Nathiagali. Temprature guage inside the jeep fluctuated between -2 and – 3 deg C as the altitude meter registered almost continous ascent following Barrian. The layer of the ice beneath the tyres got thicker causing whatever negligible of the tootling traffic had left to stop. Virtually, we noticed the last car give up at the toll plaza before Khaira gali.
But not our daring Mani or his well groomed Pajero. He switched the gears and literally tore through the underlying blankets of ice negotiating the sharp bends along the steep ascents. The engine roared, growled and yelled as if pleading for mercy following the unrelenting dictates and commands of the driver. Atmosphere was enchanting and almost dreamlike while I was watching those hills and mountains lost in reverie. Shrouded and veiled in a white drape of snow, everything looked beautiful. Trees, ground, leaves and mud houses had concealed themselves in a white spotless uniform alike.  

Advancing resolutely, we approached the highest point along the road. Daisy dot hotel and the makeshift shops and restaurants at Changla gali that buzz with life during the normal days were desolate and peacefully locked.

Fortunately for us, a rickety temporary kiosk across the road was the only sign of life ushering in the wilderness. The look of the thing vehemently opposed and belied what it signified or stood for. Thanks to mild contemplation and a good guess work backed by excellent judgment on our part, we were finally able to assume and establish slight similarity with endeavouring wanna be single room restaurant. The corrugated aluminum roof sheets were uprooted at places and the walls were caving in. A set of creaking chairs and a small rusted table augmented the ambience and decor of the partially open to sky novel concept. A blazing tandoor struggled to assert its warmth against the extreme cold and precipitation trickling down the perforated roof. The inhabitants comprising the chef and the helper were at least as disbelievingly excited to see us as were we. The feeling was mutual.

Chicken karahi and the cup of tea look-alike were the only things on the menu. They were accepted gratefully and ordered gracefully. It would take the ailing stove the best efforts and some consistency to prepare the meal in hours to come.  
Meanwhile buoyed by our insatiable thirst to explore the nature at its very best, we took the jeep and decided to have a short round. No sooner did we approach the descent, the vehicle started skidding. Despite some daunting maneuvers by Mani, we soon found ourselves reposed and conveniently dumped against the steep face of the mountain along the edge of the road. The rear wheels were partially buried in a shallow ditch of snow. At this point Mani’s engineering sense was maliciously incited and provoked. “Down you go and push the vehicle from behind” came the instructions. As the only soldier in the ranks, I dutifully obliged. Defying the laws of physics, my senseless power coupled with the engine’s horse power only helped vehicle sink deeper in the ditch, somehow. The only consolation came in the form of sludge showered and sprayed upon me as the wheels rolled on the snow.

While we were still mulling over upon what we had just landed ourselves into, luckily for us, a local jeep came by. Well equipped to counter such uncertainties, they offered us help and we readily settled for the meager amount they asked for. Shortly, our jeep was towed and pulled up the hill. The chain provided beneath the tyres helped a good deal.

Soon we were back to the den where our hosts were impatiently waiting for us and as hungry we were, we devoured the karahi to the best of our chewing abilities. We were hardly in the middle of our tea when an unwarned and sudden hue and cry was raised. A jeep with closely packed, painfully compressed and loaded dozen or so captives came whining and wailing down the road honking all the way. It turned out that it was the last jeep to Nathiagali for the day. On its way, it was supposed to drop our hosts at their village. They quickly wrapped everything up and locked as we paid the bill.

Our return journey started in the lingering twilight. It was still mildly snowing and there didn’t seem to be a soul around. We carefully set off well aware of the fact that there was hardly any margin of error. Another blunder could easily translate into spending the night in the jungle. Not an enviable proposition by any means!

Gradually we were able to graze pass the high risk zone. The ice sheet on the road was getting thin progressively. Following the late ascent, we reached Murree after an hour or so. The Mall was frolicking with life and the people, families with their kids and even infants were enjoying themselves. We drove to the Kashmir point and sipped espresso in light falling snow. Following a brief stopover, we headed back and reached Islamabad late in the evening.

It was a memorable trip suffused with fun, excitement and adventure that will always treasure my memories in the days to come.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts