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Archive for the ‘Trekking’ Category

We left Ath Muqam just after 3 o clock in the afternoon. The drive was immensely scenic. Road though narrow was metallic to start with interspersed with springs and water falls that bisected it, every now and then. The roaring river Neelum flows all along, it’s boundaries marked by lush green thickly forested slopes. Heavily guarded, we encountered the Military check posts and structures frequently. At the scenic spot of Karen, the divided states of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir converge together with only the narrow strip of river separating the two. The picturesque villages, fields, houses and mosques were clearly visible across the border as the drive along the line of control continued for quite a few kilometers. Just when the glittering and pearl white murmuring stream flowing down the hills near Dawarian intersected our course, it reminded us of our climb across the pass from the far side a few years ago. The more we travelled, the more we were enchanted to the sublime atmosphere and the raw beauty of the valley. What adds to its rapt charm is the typically quaint and colourful architecture and embroidery that is evident even deep  in the heart of the valley. This delightful architecture is the hallmark of the remarkably attractive valley of Sharda along with its camp cities that were visible once we crossed a wide stream just before the town. Sharda is typically known for the remains of an ancient university that have stood the test of time and survive to date.

The lovely corn fields that swayed and greeted us

The lovely corn fields that swayed and greeted us

Amazing valleys of Kashmir

Amazing valleys of Kashmir

A quaint mosque across the river in Indian Kashmir

A quaint mosque across the river in Indian Kashmir

Yes! You have to cross that on wheels just short of Sharda

Yes! You have to cross that on wheels just short of Sharda

 

The scenic valley of Sharda

The scenic valley of Sharda

 

From Sharda onwards, the road became increasingly bumpy and muddy but equally mesmerising. Located at just about 23 kms from Sharda, it still took the jeep more than two hours to reach Kel.

The valley of paradise! Kel

The valley of paradise! Kel

Nestled between the lush green mountains and plateaus_slopes rolling down from everywhere, all the way down to the twisting serpentine of gushing river Neelum that bisects the verdant meadows and Military setups and checkpoints sprinkled here and there, marks this stunning small paradise of Kel.

Having negotiated the worst of road and weather conditions, when the jeep approached the lovely settlement, it felt truly unbelievable. What rendered the whole episode dreamlike were the unbelievable sequence of events that had unfolded during the course of the day, one following the other, while at the same time we were overwhelmed by the pristine beauty and simplicity of the town and the engrossing atmosphere that was prevailing. Tiring, cold and rainy as it was, we took a simple but delicious meal, rented a room in a small hotel and went to sleep.

Crossing the river bridge downstream of Kel

Crossing the river bridge downstream of Kel

The jeep that took 2 dozen people to Domail (Like a herd!)

The jeep that took 2 dozen people to Domail (Like a herd!)

Our jeep track to Domail

Our jeep track to Domail

When we got up next morning, it was still overcast and damp. Our next destination was upper Domail. Under normal circumstances, there is a probability that one can hire a jeep right from Kel. However, the heavy rain had dismantled the makeshift wooden bridge located a couple of kilometers downstream. This necessitated taking about half an hour long walk along the Shaunter nala while we marvelled at the amazing beauty of the valley. Since we crossed the quaint bridge and moved to the far side of the stream in the morning, the probability of finding a jeep was higher. Fortunately, we were able to find a jeep parked there that took about another hour to amass the passengers and initiate its journey. From there, it was nearly twenty kilometes long jeep ride that took more than two hours as the jeep tootled along the twisting ascends while literally exposing the virtual heavens to the travellers. The bumpy mud and rocky track laid on a steep gradient eventually led us to upper Domail_ a lovely mountain village located near the confluence of two mountain streams. We pitched our tent, hired the porters for the next day and took our lunch. The scented breeze was immensely refreshing and invigorating whilst the serene charm and intoxicating aura of the isolated narrow valley trapped within the towering peaks far from the reach of civilization was truly fascinating.

More to follow…..

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It was challenging from the very onset. Approaching from the Garhi Habibullah’s side,  bus came to a halt at a sharp turn a few kilometres short of Muzaffarabad. The near vertical fragile face of the mountain was bleeding. A slurry of mud and rain water flowed across the eroding muddy road channeling its way into the river deep down.

In a steady down pour and a welcoming moist breeze on a very pleasant August morning, we wore our raincoats and backpacks and began to stroll. Once we were able to cross the heaps of soft mud and make our way watchfully across the landslide, the road became more stable. A couple of hundred meters ahead, walking on a higher platform, the beautiful valley of Muzzafarabad met our eyes surrounded almost completely by the roaring serpentine of river Neelum.

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Few minutes walk down the road accompanied by the scenic views of the valley washed by the rain,we were offered a lift by a random UN vehicle that was gratefully accepted. The roads were noticeably vacant and the traffic was understandably sparse but what was most revealing and shocking was the fact that the bus stop was completely vacant. It had been raining heavily and incessantly for days and all the approaches to Muzaffarabad were reportedly blocked. There was no public transport entering or leaving the town.

Determined and not prepared to let our plans fizzle, after much deliberation, we finally convinced and negotiated with the sole rent a car driver to take us a few kilometres further to the verge of landslides blocking access to the Neelum valley. Twenty minutes later the driver dropped us pointing towards a series of weeping and melting slides containing abundance of water and mud but equally considerate to the innocent desire and cause of an occasional stone or a piece of rock that hastily wanted to find its way down the slopes. The driver greeted, shook his head in disbelief but then thought the better of it, charged his bill dutifully and drove back.

WELCOME! LANDSLIDES THAT GREETED US ON OUR WAY!

WELCOME! LANDSLIDES THAT GREETED US ON OUR WAY!

Walking in the rain, keeping an eye on the weeping mountain while balancing ourselves, we began to cross the series of intermittent land slides that spread for a couple of kilometres. It all went smoothly supposedly until a couple of slides later, we were halted by a man on duty. He was supervising the clearance of the road while the machinery was at work. We were advised to wait until the reach was clear and no one was allowed to walk across.

As one testing ordeal followed the other, much to our delight and hope, the approach was cleared shortly and we were allowed to stroll further. Soon we realized there were heaps of mud and gravel scattered along the road with vehicles and bikes stuck in between. Some of the guys who had gone through some miserable conditions over the past couple of days had a strong warning to utter. However, our resolve kept us going.

Short of Khori, when it all looked highly improbable, with a stroke of luck, we were able to negotiate a deal with a pick up driver who agreed to give us a ride till Ath Muqam. We embarked on our next leg of journey. There were intermittent slides posing serious challenge but the driver full of commitment managed to cross every barrier skilfully. The landscape became increasingly scenic while the rain lent even more lively tinge and glow to the exuberantly rich and green panorama. Even though we were thoroughly wet and the torn canvas spread over the top of the vehicle was also leaking, the bewitching beauty and atmosphere of the valley was truly gripping. As much as it seemed improbable, it took us three hours to be transported to Ath Muqam. Not surprisingly, the place was equally deserted. The bus stop presented a sorry and disappointing look with no signs of conveyance visible. Just when it seemed, it was over for the day & possibly the trip, the invisible divine hand came to sort things out for us mortals again. Lurking behind the torrents of rain, there appeared the owner of one of the two jeeps parked in the deserted compound of the bus stand. Spirited by his unexpected offer to take us to not Sharda but even Kel in that inclement weather with a lot of premium understandably led to some heated negotiations under the thundering . He finally settled for a demanding price but hoped to drive us to Kel in another four hours by the sunset. Hungry but much conscious of the precious time that was lapsing, we settled for the sizzling pakoras, the only relishing delight available that we could lay our hands on, at the deserted bus stand.

More to come…..

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It has been one bewildering week. Soaked in freshness, permeated in raw beauty, bathed in exuberance. Loved every minute and moment of it_ Like being transported to a surreal land and heaven of fantasies, dreams and fairies_ And it all felt so intoxicating and unreal; So out of this world! 

 

Felt like reaching out to the skies and touching the naked face of vertical cliffs and majestic mountains. A cluster of glorious peaks encompassing the mere mortals, from one end to the other, making everything look so ordinary and microscopic in comparison with the grand scale of the surrounding universe.

 

  

More to follow. Until you begin to get a feeler and a vague idea what the experience must have been like!? And just wondering, if you can figure out and name the places, I have been most fortunate to set my foot on. Lets see!?

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The bewildering 39 kms long trail that runs from Thandiani to Nathiagali and unveils the heavenly beauty of pine covered ‘Galiyaat’.

 
 

Dilapidated kitchen look alike at Dagri Bangla

 

Ruptured forest bangla at Dagri. Never repaired following the massive 2005 earthquake. The word is that the structure is going to be demolished soon.

 

A sublime sunset

 

Our sweet lil abode 🙂

 

 

A breathtaking view of Nathiagali from Miran Jani top; The heighest point of 'Galiyat' 9,561 ft ASL overlooking pine clustered Nathiagali

 

 

The poor natives; The unwashed masses

 

The quaint Church at Nathiagali

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In contrast to one of those momentous narrations & ostentatious bragging about scaling some monumental peaks or heights that go on endlessly, this is a recount of one of my recent preposterous misadventures. It was the last day of our sojourn at one of the newly established cosy hotels in Donga Gali during last August.

I woke up early in the morning only to find a chilly breeze and drizzle greet all of us. Unfortunately, no one was interested to saunter by. The atmosphere was too tempting enticing me to set off for the enchanting world stood waiting to be explored with all its besotting charm. Soon, I took the turn and started to climb the metalled ascent along the drive that runs through the historical buildings and hotels built in stone masonry and the vacation cottages with gaily coloured tin roofs and gables.

Along the highway from where the trek originates

Mushkpuri hotel; One of the oldest nestled in the hills

The mist was lowering veiling the breathtaking landscape in mild rain gradually. I continued to walk along the steep grade as the rain picked up.

Along the drive- One of the many views I found mesmerising

After a few minutes I approached the end of the paved lane marking the beginning of the thick forest. It had started to rain hard by then. But the mud track that lay before me bisecting the dense calm green was too irresistible. It was all unplanned and all I was carrying was my camera and cell phone- No backpack – No rain coat ; But as soon as I inhaled the moist heavy breeze laden with intoxicating scent of pines, I knew it was unstoppable. 

The ever gratifying encyclopedia courtesy Forest Department

Just in case you are inclined to hire the asses

As drawn by some invisible force, taking larger strides, I walked towards Lalazar and Mushkpuri top. Strolling along the face of the hill, looking down along the shelving dense green slopes covered with tall pines, for a short distance, I could make the diminishing signs of the meandering highway far below. Soon the trek disappeared in the dense jungle where I encountered all sorts of protesting voices, ranging from insects to monkeys, evoked by my unexpected foreign presence. 

Was I wandering in a fairyland?

 

It was a strange strand of intertwining and inseparable emotions, I was subjected to, being lost as a tiny speck in this wide expanse of wilderness. To be honest, I was sweating in rain and chill owing more to excitement and fear than exertion. But in the end the curiosity that had once killed the cat got the better of me and I continued. 

Once you start there is no looking back

 There was a huge log of a thick tree that fell across the narrow trek. Only way to cross the barrier was to climb and jump over the thick trunk. Having hiked for half an hour or so, there was a diversion and a sign reading Lalazar pointing towards a steep ascent. The grassy layers were subsiding making the steep trek muddy and harder to climb. Slithering, I tumbled upon one of the slopes and rolled on for quite a while discovering only much to my dumbness having recovered my senses moments later that the dearest wifey’s camera was all smeared in mud_ Lens, view finder, batteries compartment and all (how I went through the trial and painstaking process of detailed sapping interrogation is an adventure saved for another day) and its batteries gone and lost. The pair of jeans I was clad in was all daubed in mud as well and so was my sweatshirt. Not to worry about the joggers as those were already drenched and soaked.

In a shroud of haze

 

A drape of mist or green?

I moved on. My biggest regret and worry being, I would no longer be able to take photographs. But we all know, life can be so unkind at times. Nothing more eventful took place during the rest of the climb.

 On my return, I was consciously aware that it was cold and I was drenched and getting late. I hurried down the hill and jogging wherever possible. The last scare came from the barking stray dogs as soon as I stepped into the civilization again. But perhaps they soon realized that I was as harmless and astray as their wretched souls and they decided against it when I came to a complete halt.  

 I took a sigh of relief as I approached the hotel. But the shopkeepers looked at me with gaping mouths and bewildered eyes when I told them that I was just back from Mushkpuri. That didn’t count much. But what really counted was that I made it before the breakfast buffet was over and hungry as I was, I had the opportunity to unleash myself and devour all the food laid on the tables.

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As the spring sets in, everything springs up including our trekking plans for the year. To start the season, those who know of it, we go through the annual ritual and pilgrimage of walking through a breathtakingly beautiful trek that tears through the verdant meadows and alpine heavens running from Thandiani to Nathiagali. 39 kilometers in walking length, oscillating between 6500 and 9000 ft ASL, the warm up trek is known as a bed of roses amongst the trekkers of Pakistan. Forest rest houses provide lodging and camping options at Biran gali and Dagri, both 13 kms ( 8 miles )  apart. 

As it is not humanly possible to narrate the beauty and charm of the hike, a few pics taken during the last year’s hike taken by my friends ( all credit to them) , are uploaded to exhibit a glimpse of simplicity, purity and natural aura that pervades life in those mountains and valleys. 

A picture, as they say, is worth more than thousand words…….

 

 

As I relived all those moments, craving all the more to go through that remarkable experience all over again, how was your journey through the snapshots? Like to share a word or two?

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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.

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