Gilgit, Kargah Buddah, Gahkuch, Japuky, Gich, Singal, Yangal, Gupis.
Odometer: 129395, 14th July 2000
Route: The road to Chitral leaves Gilgit to the west, passing the turn off to the Kargah Buddah. The jeep road passes along the south side of the Gilgit river. Some 27 kilometers from Gilgit is a rope suspension bridge leading to the villa of Bargo on the north side of the river. The road then passes through the small village of Shenote (4 kilometers) that marks the boundary between Gilgit and Punial District.
The road continues through Gulapur (4 kilometers) and the jeep track passes through the tiny settlement of Dalnati (3 kilometers), then through Goherabad (4 kilometers). Singal is 48 kilometers from Gilgit. The road then passes through the small village of Gilmiti (16 kilometers), where there is a PSO petrol pump. The track then climbs high above the river for several kilometers, drops down a little, and then climbs once more. Just beyond the sign reading ‘Gupis 22 kilometers, Yangal six kilometers’, there is a sharp bend in the road this is the point at which, in August 1995, a jeep plunged over the side killing the driver and three backpackers. It is a reminder of just how challenging this trip can be.
14 kilometers beyond the Ishkoman valley bridge are the green cultivated fields belonging to the village of Yangal, and beyond here are bridges across the river to the settlements of Sumal (three kilometers) and Moula Abad (two kilometers) respectively. A sizeable river joins the Gilgit river from the south just before the jeep road reaches Gupis.
The mileage on the speedometer read 129395, and we topped up diesel both in the Jerry cans and the vehicle’s tank. There was news that diesel was only available at Gupis and not at Phander. So to be on the safe side we have a 20-liter jerry can of spare fuel in each vehicle. The 4×4’s were all rigged up and raring to go. Amjad had acquired a Toyota hilux from the Gilgit police, as an escort, the driver was a local and familiar with the terrain, so he was to be our guide too. Kabir had hired a long wheelbase jeep for this part of the journey. By the time we were all ready to leave it was again late in the afternoon, last minute shopping at the bakery for munchies has become a ritual and invariably it delays our departure by at least an hour if not more.
We finally set off towards Gupis driving through the Gilgit town center and then the residential area to emerge on the crossing where we take the left fork to Phander. The road is pebbly and rough though wide enough for trucks to travel on. The Gilgit river flows alongside the road to the right as it gushes down the slopes at tremendous speed roaring like a lion. We crossed a tanker carrying fuel just a few km out of Gilgit, Hamid was lagging behind so we made a stop for him to catch up, it started to drizzle as we waited. The road is in a much better condition than I had anticipated, and we made good ground to Gakuch where the police have laid out a lavish lunch for us. Amjad knows the DC of Gilgit and he has been kind enough to look after the group along the way. The lunch was a good spread, we were not expecting such ‘khater’. The mongrel puppy that the kids have adopted from the Gilgit PTDC is having a jolly good time too.
We set off again towards Gupis after lunch and stopped for tea a short distance from Singal as Hamid has again fallen behind the group. Taimur and the boys were playing by the riverside when they disturbed a nest of bees, the girls too at that time were down by the river. The bees were a mild bunch and only flew past a couple of times though that was enough to scare the kids and they ran up the bank to the tea stall. Anika who was wearing sandals slipped on the rocks and injured her left toe. I initially thought the cut was only superficial but the bleeding would not stop, on investigating the wound at close quarters it appeared quite deep and I decided that it would need stitches. Luckily I carry all sorts of medicines and surgical equipment with me on such trips which I have learned with experience over the years to collect. The tea table was suddenly converted into a mini theater table to the horror of the locals. The area was cleaned and after injecting local anesthesia around the site the wound was stitched with catgut and prolene. The wound was then draped and sealed with gauze and tape. Anika all throughout the procedure was very brave and only screamed once. In our family cuts and bruises are not given too much importance therefore the children dont make too much of a fuss.
Hamid had still not arrived when we set of towards Singal to meet the Aga Khan doctors, who will be waiting for me as we had earlier informed them that we might drive through Singal, and stop for a quick cup of tea. The Aga Khan hospital in Singal is a small concern compared to the hospital in Karachi where I work but the set up is similar. The surgeon and the anesthetist were trained at the Karachi campus and are known to me. They took me around the hospital and showed me the O.R. and the emergency room, the wards are also very clean and well managed. I promised to spend more time with them on the way back.
The road past Singal is broad and rough, the river flows to the right of it, as it roars down towards Gilgit. The scenery along the way is quite spectacular, the white frothy water of the river spreads across the middle of the valley and shimmers in the sun light, the trees and shrubs that line the banks give the valley a green hue. On both sides of the valley are steep vertical mountains rising up to meet the sky. These huge mountains are bare and tinge the scenery with their shades of brown. Some of the slopes are almost vertical as sheets of rock rise up to the blue sky. The clouds mingle with their peeks as they are trapped between the ridges high on the top. The road climbs and descends as it travels along the valley, streams that cross it from the left sometimes forming pools of mud on the road as the water scuttles down to join the river. We reached Gupis, which is a small town, be early evening.
The Rest house that we had booked is situated just as you enter Gupis. They were all waiting for us, as they had been informed in advance that friends of the DC were coming. The rest house is an old building and dates back to the times when the English were here playing “The Gilgit Game” here in the northern areas almost a hundred years ago. The rooms are more like barracks of the officers with a typical verandah and the wooden latticework “Jafrey” netting typical of that era and to keep the mosquitoes at bay. The new building is situated to the rear of the main barracks and is well furnished with modern attached bathrooms. The lawn of the rest house is lush green and Sun flowers in the flowerbeds are big and look lovely against the drop of the green lawn.
The Chinar tree in the front lawn of the old building is enormous, the girth of the tree trunk is so big that one cannot encircle it with both arms. It must be over a hundred years old, its presence gives the whole place a very calm serene feel. We unloaded the luggage from the 4×4’s and gave the “Massala” to the cook to prepare food. The locals had caught trout for us and it would be served for dinner. The boys put up a tent in the lawn and we played cricket till dinner was served. The trout was delicious and the other food was good. The cook was an old jolly fellow who was more than willing to entertain us with his specialties “Mumlett” being one of them, he was a full of energy and ever ready to please, we enjoyed his company and cooking. After dinner we sat in the drawing room of the new building overlooking the lawn with Taimur and Amjad were in their element as they narrated dramatic accounts of mishaps from our past trips, our laughter echoed in the valley till late at night.