Chilas, Thalpur, Gonar Farm, Raikot Bridge (hire jeeps here). Tato 2600 meters. Fairy Meadows 3155 meters. (Flower-strewn high altitude alpine pastures situated at the base of Nanga Parbat)
Distance: Odometer: 128548, 3rd July 2000
Route: The KKH continues east from Chilas, crossing the Batogah Nala after 1 kilometer and the Thak Gah Nala after 4 kilometers. The KKH then crosses the Bunar Nala, before arriving at the small settlement of Bunar Das.
On continuing east from Bunar Das, look out for the clumps of vegetation next to the road on the right (south) side; they conceal a hot spring. 2 kilometers from Bunar Das is Gunar Farm, with its police post and a petrol station. A further 8 kilometers is the tiny settlement of Jalipur, which was used earlier this century as a British staging post.
Some 6 kilometers further along the KKH is a troublesome area around Tatta Pani that is plagued by landslides that often block the road. 5 kilometers beyond here the KKH crosses to the West Bank of the Indus over the Raikot Bridge. There is a police check-post and the Shangrila Motel. A jeep track runs up to Fairy Meadows 15 kilometers distances from Raikot Bridge: Gilgit 78 kilometers north, Dasu 179 kilometers south, Pattan 215 kilometers south, and Rawalpindi 520 kilometers south.
We were ready by 8.30am in the morning all excited about the prospects of what that enchanted land of fairies would hold for us. The drive out of Chilas is a straight road, which was in very good condition. The outside temp was 31 degrees. It was bright and sunny and promised to be a nice day. Raikot bridge which is about an hours drive is 55km from Chilas. The drive was a mere hour and a half which was nothing compared to what we had become accustomed to, it didn’t feel like a drive at all. We reached Riakot bridge at 10:15am.
Dr Anis Rehman who is an old friend is based in Islamabad, he had arranged the accommodation at Fairy meadows. He knows the proprietor of the log cabins a Mr.Qari Rehmatullah. The local jeeps were arranged by him, there were five jeeps, all long wheelbase CJ 5’s which are supposed to take us to Tato. The garages that were available at Riakot bridge were for Rs.50 a day, the fare of the jeeps to Tato is Rs.500. The necessary clothes and luggage that we are supposed to take to Fairy meadows had been distributed amongst the five jeeps. We were all raring to go. The boys were in one jeep and were trailing behind. The drive from Riakot to Tato is a lesson in four wheel driving, the vehicle is in the low range four wheel drive most of the way. The road forks right from the main KKH and travels up hill on a wide plateau, the gravel on the road is loose and unstable as the tires of the jeeps skid while pulling the vehicle up hill. The first “U” turn bend requires expertise to negotiate as the road is narrow and at a steep gradient. The relentless climb in four-wheel drive makes the engine roar and heat up, but the vehicles keep chugging along. A few kilometers drive up the hill the jeep carrying our boys called on the radio complaining that the drive shaft had broken and that the vehicle was stranded. I walked back a kilometer odd to check, the cross of the rear drive shaft in pieces, the boys were shifted into the other vehicles and we moved on. The valley was narrow and steep as it climbs up to two thousand meters. The road was barely wide enough to accommodate the jeeps and the road curves in hairpin bends as it climbs. The barren terrain of the Karakorums gradually changes and different types of shrubs and trees start to appear along the road. We finally reached Tato after a two-hour drive, which covers only 20km. It is a steep ascent up to Tato, a small settlement situated at an altitude of 2400meters. Here at Tato the luggage was distributed amongst the local porters. They carry the luggage up to Fairy meadows at RS 400/20kg. Lunch was severed at two-o clock, which constituted Dal, Kherras and roti a large table was set up for us on a clearing next to an old inn.
The walk up to Fairy meadows is not for the faint hearted. It is a steep climb, first along a broad track that zig zags through the valley, which is very green, compared to the barren terrain of the Karakurums. Sabiha, Biba, Patricia and the young girls including Shehryar took horses, which had been arranged for them, while the rest of us are on foot.
The foliage on the mountain varies from flowering bushes to shrubs and green grass. The pine, birch and juniper trees are scattered around the landscape. The forest becomes dense as the climb becomes steep with large trunk trees and dense shrubs. The wild flowers that include rose bushes of different colors. The climb up is very exhausting and meant only for the fit. Taimur, Kabir and Hamid are all lagging behind and in a desperate state. They have no water and are calling for help on the “walky talky”, they need someone to leave behind a water bottle on the track. Half way up the road there is a caf� to the left that sells tea and cold drinks, we sat on the wooden benches to rest for a while, Susan and kabir’s wife are the only females that have made it up to this log cabin tea stop on foot, the rest are all on horse back. The top of Nanga Parbat sneaks into view as one carries on past the tea shop, it then comes into full view and what a magnificent sight it is too. Snow covered peaks that transverse the horizon appears through the dense growth of Pine and Juniper trees. The track then turns right and uphill to become a narrow path that is barely a foot wide at places. The Raikot Glacier is a vast expanse of muddy snow covered with a blanket of boulders and rock. The stream running through the glacier appears as a trickle from this height as the water gushes down the slope of the valley towards the main river downhill. It Glacier stretches for miles uphill along the valley and disappears as it blends into the surroundings. Different shades of green and white as the eye follows the valley to its origin the base of the mighty mountain. The Nanga Parbat is awe-inspiring here. One has to be a nature lover, to appreciate the grandeur of the area, the smell of the flowers, and the tranquility that prevails in these valleys. To most of us who are city dwellers it is a treacherous walk, an exercise in futility. It took me two hours and fifteen minutes to reach the log cabins of Qari Rehmatullah. The cabins are located on a meadow facing the Nanga Parbat, perched on the side of a hill they are a picturesque sight. The view from the log cabins of the Nanga Parbat is truly magnificent. The cabins give the place a very ethnic look as they blend into the surroundings.
The locals brought the luggage up and we paid them after calculating who owed what. The cabins are made of the local Pinewood, the hotel is not complete as yet and Mr. Qari Rehmatullah is in the process of building another toilet and other facilities too. There are six cabins in all and we have asked for a tent to be put up in which the boys will sleep.
The height at Fairy meadows is 3155meters according to my Casio mountain climbing watch. Dinner was served at the camps dinning room, which consisted of soup, rice, with meat stew and dal. After dinner we sat around the campfire and had green tea. The night was cold and Susan had to resort to her old hand in the sock trick to keep the cold away. Biba’s idea of baking the patatoes in the fire was great, they tasted delicious half burnt and baked in the firewood. We slept in the log cabin that was the furthest away from the camp site, it was small and had no bed, the quilts and sleeping bags on the floor acted as mattresses. Anika, Susan and myself huddled up together to keep warm.