We embarked on the jeep_ the first one in the queue offering a standard deal. Soon we found the fit for purpose, strange modern day innovative invention ascending and negotiating unbelievably sharp twists and turns disappearing into the barren mountains. The narrow stony track laid on loose rocks and soil along the precipice was an amazing engineering marvel; As if cut and laid to perfection just to accommodate the pair of tyres separated by a standard tie rod and nothing more. Extension of a singular inch would have meant a complete waste of resources. A negative error in width, however, remains both acceptable and a possibility.
Driving that jeep-like requires special skills and merits particular mention; Whereas, the right hand stays firmly on the steering wheel, the left continuously juggles and orchestrates between the steering wheel and hand break moving in exemplary rhythm and in sync with the foot juggling between the clutch and brake pedal. The spasmodic juggling and dancing of the struggling driver continues for well over an hour before you are transported to a lovely green speck amidst the towering barren mountains named after the hot springs flowing there_ Tato.
The collapsed old bridge provided the first taste of the exciting challenge on the trip. While the re-erection was going on, all pedestrian traffic across the bridge was stopped. The only alternate was to cross the stream along a narrow reach where the makeshift path on reposing face of the muddy formation of the mountain was continuously dissolving and sliding.
If you are lucky and a chosen one, you are able to hire another jeep across the bridge for a short ascending ride to a place called Jhail. Welcome to the reality. Yeah! That bites. That is where you have to start the trek officially. Standing in the blazing sun that is beating down; Amidst stony rocks radiating all the afternoon heat; Landscape sparsely vegetated; A gushing mountain stream flowing through the gourge and the towering snow clad Bulder peak, from its immense heights, staring down at you.
You trail down, cross the stream and continue to walk upstream along a moderate grade. Half an hour or so on the trek, along a path that begins to sprout junipers and pines, you are led to the Fairy point; The first potential stop over in a peaceful spot at an elevation of 2,666 m with abundance of water.
Brace yourself up for all the challenge and excitement that ensues. The hike to Fairy Meadows is amazing but a bit demanding. You start your walk along a stony and muddy trek laid in a narrow gourge surrounded by lofty mountains. Following a moderately steep grade that ascends sharply, the distancing raging stream and the ravine getting farther down, the landscape begins to widen and unfold, exposing the overflowing treasures of immense beauty. With Rakaposhi at a distance right behind you, rapt charm and glory of Nanga Parbat peeping occasionally from behind a shroud of sky rocketing peaks, though dwarfed miserably in comparison with the matchless heights of the giant, all clad in white for kilometers, in particular, is almost spell-binding.
The higher you rise, the bewildering it gets. Pine growth thickens_ Their fragrance permeating and suffusing the air. There is plenty of water and the landscape turns green and rich. Finally a sharp ascent and a demanding walk leads to the top of the wide plateau and an unbelievably amazing clearance marked by verdant meadows and thick clustered pines. The magical place is called Fairy Meadows.
Located at an elevation of (3,306m), the resort offers basic wooden cottages and camping to the tourists. Hot water facility, wash rooms, dining halls and basic electricity are the ultimate luxuries unknown to the trekkers else where in Pakistan where we have to thoroughly plan and organize it to the last nail.
Fairy Meadows offers the most stunning views of the Nanga Parbat round the clock_ its changing hues and shades, glistening in moonlight and sparkling in sun rise. The aerial views of the surrounding slopes, gourges, streams and mountains, once you walk to the edge of the ridge showcase mesmerizing beauty. Serene ‘Phantoora’ lake exhibiting its mythical beauty is known to host and attract descending fairies, unfortunately, not when the devils (like me) are around. Murmuring water courses with refreshing and revitalizing ice cold crystal clear mineral rich water add another scale and dimension to the dreamlike atmosphere. Natives are extremely hospitable, courteous and welcoming yet you are not supposed to take pictures of their settlements and ladies in particular.
A gradual uphill afternoon walk on a trail that runs amidst a thick cluster of pines along a murmuring stream unravels the idyllic heavens on way to the scenic Beyal camp. Beyal camp ( Beel camp in some books) is a small romantically tranquil camping spot located right at the foot of towering peaks by the stream at few kilometers from Fairy Meadows at an elevation of 3,500m ASL. Well clear of the pines and growth, the vista is wide and clear, the place appears as if captivated amidst a cluster of magnificent heights.
The trek traveling upstream along the stream from the Beyal camp is gentle to start with. You encounter lush green grassy planes and junipers along the course. Gradually, the ascending trek leads you to a lone giant rock standing at the verge of a vertical cliff. As if the skies shift and part, an unbelievable and mind-blowing horizon of surging peaks, huge masses of snow and glaciers encompassing the world around you appear in close proximity invading your field of view. This is lower view point (3,667m ASL).
From thereon, it requires shifting gears with the trek offering greater degree of challenge and resistance. First of all, it is a stiff walk up the steep hill along the inclined face covered with birch trees. You part ways with the stream and gain height quickly, the views becoming increasingly scenic. Frozen Rai Kot glacier running for miles endlessly, the crevices with gaping mouths belching at every drop of a slide or an avalanche. Once you climb to the top of the hill and further beyond to the upper view point, the vistas expose a whole new surreal world before your eyes. You literally see the clouds of snow soar to the skies accompanied by thundering sound of avalanches intermittently at one point or another. That is where you find yourself enclosed within a cluster of peaks surging jointly in formation of a half circle comprising the most lethal, naked and vertical north face of the killer mountain Nanga Parbat (8,126m ASL) as if offering an insurmountable resistance and line of defence with howling terrifying seracs and avalanches guarding the majestic heights, ridges and cliffs of royal Nanga Parbat. From north to south, roughly, the peaks stand in order of Bulder (5,602m), Rai Kot (7,070m), Chongra ( 6,448-6830m), Silver saddle or Daimer Gap, Ganalo (6,608m), Juliper North and South( 5,245m & 5,206m) together with immense unruly glaciers running for miles and miles.
On your trek to Nanga Parbat base camp following a walk on a narrow goat path along a ridge overlooking Rai Kot glacier, it descends to a stream originating from the melting Ganalo glacier. The water level soars significantly as the day progresses thus making it harder to cross later in the day. Once you cross the stream, the trek rises to the top of a ridge on the base of the snowy mountains. Another descent leads you to a narrow reach of Ganalo glacier marked by ice walls and big boulders affording access across the glacier where you listen to the melting and trickling of ice blocks right under your feet.
Following the glacier, the trek rises again leading now to a wider grassy plane and meadows in the wilderness with wild flowers above the tree line. Nestled between the monumental peaks, Nanga Parbatbase camp (3,967m ) offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and huge masses of snow and frozen world. Situated at a stone’s throw is Drexel’s Monument built in honour of four Germans and six porters who lost their lives in 1934 in a storm followed by death of seven climbers and nine porters who were buried alive in an avalanche that swallowed their camp in 1937. The latest in line was Karl Unterkircher who lost his precious life in his quest to climb the bloodthirsty monstrous North Face in 2008.
Steeped in exotic thrill, fun and adventure, the hike is besieging and ecstatic right from the word go until that nostalgic moment when you cross the dangerous wooden bridge over the hundreds of feet deep ravine and throw your backpacks into the jeep again only to return to the dins of life across that land of fantasies that gradually sinks and engraves itself into the layers of your memory with each distancing moment and mile.