15th July 2000
Route: The jeep track heads west from Gupis, passing through the tiny settlements of Hamardas and jandrote, before arriving at the stunning Khalti Lake (10 kilometers).
Beyond Gupis, the river is referred to as the Ghizir river, and at Dahimal (13 kilometers beyond Khalti Lake) it is joined from the south by the emerald green Bathraiz river flowing from Swat Kohistan. The Bathraiz valley leads south towards the Tangir valley. This was one route that the early Buddhist pilgrims used on the journeys from China to Gandhara, Swat and other pilgrimage sites in South Asia, as well as the means of access for invading armies from Chitral and the Kingdoms to the north. 10 kilometers beyond the bridge over the Barthraix river, and on both sides of the Ghizir river, is the settlement of Thingai. As the jeep track continues west, look out for the numerous petroglyphs on the rocks just past the village of Pingul (six kilometers). The road then carries on through the picturesque Phander valley to cross the river to the right and climbs a hill to reach the Phander Lake. The NAPWD rest house is perched on the top of a hill on the bank of the lake.
We were ready to leave for Phunder by late morning, the 4×4’s were loaded again. It has become routine now to load the luggage in a set fashion so that the vehicle is not top heavy and is balanced with a low center of gravity, the ritual also includes the plastic sheet cover in case of rain.
The drive from Gupis to Phunder is similar to the Nalter track with a bit more width of road to drive on. The incline at some places is very steep and tests the ability of the engine to pull the rig. The river flows to the right of the road at terrific speed. The PTDC hotel of Gupis, which is complete but not yet open, is situated on a high point, it is a sight to behold. The building is perched on a hilltop and is similar in construction to the PTDC hotel at Hunza. The view of the Gupis Valley to the rear from the top is exquisite, with tall green popular trees, some towering over fifty feet and more, and swaying in the breeze. The river flows through a narrow gorge to enter the Gupis valley where it spreads out into many branches bisecting the fields at many places and the many streams interlacing with each other as they shimmer in the sun to give it a unique look as it travels along the valley towards Gilgit. The mountains on either side of the valley tower up towards the sky and in some areas the clouds hug the sides of the mountains to cover the peaks.
The other side of the hilltop is the Khalty Lake towards Phunder, the expanse of lake stretches to about 12-15 km and is 1-2 km wide. The water is as calm as a satin sheet. We reached the lakeside by two-o-clock in the afternoon and spent half an hour by the lake. Shamu went in the water to check the temperature and was pleasantly surprised to find it almost at freezing point.
The road travels on the left side of the lake to a wooden bridge, where the emerald green Bathraiz river from Swat joins the Ghizir river. The road narrows at many places with only one way traffic possible. There are many places where streams flow from the mountainside across the road and collect as large water pools on the tracks of the road with running cool crystal clear water. I stopped along the way on many occasions next to these streams and poured water on the radiator to cool the engine temperature. The 4×4 has performed better than I had expected and I have had no problem in driving it through these mountain roads as they climb and descend with sharp curves. The surface of the track is pebbly and loose gravel edges facing the riverside are dangerous.
The road narrows as it climbs leaving the river to run down in the valley. The drop at times is over five hundred feet, which is quite frightening as there are no shoulders on the road. The road climbs at a precarious gradient and the gear of the vehicle needs to be engaged in low range 4×4 in order to pull the weight of the vehicle up. The speed of the rig at twenty/km/hr is just enough to pull the vehicle to neither stall nor heat up. I was tense as I negotiated the sharp bends on the road as well as maintain the vehicle speed as it climbed. There was a large rock protruding on the road on the left edge of the cliff, it was half embedded in the rubble and to my horror I felt it would come in the way if the left tires. I could not swerve to avoid it for fear of going over the edge on the right, I could not reduce the speed of the vehicle either as it would stall. The slope of the road was too steep for the brakes to hold the vehicle stationary, it would roll backwards and I would loose control. I had no other option but to try as much as possible to avoid the inevitable and keep the impact to a minimum. The left front tire hit the rock and the vehicle jumped as the coil springs damped the shock, the sound was a loud thud and I thought I had burst the tire. The vehicle tilted at a precarious angle and then straightened up as it lugged up to the top. The thought of having almost toppled the vehicle niggled me for the rest of the journey. I had been very lucky. Many jeeps have toppled over the edge of these roads to oblivion. In 1995 during our trip to Chitral we winched a jeep that had skidded down the edge, the driver and the helper had jumped in time and were only scratched, though the vehicle had been almost a write off, some are lucky.
The river flows to the right of the road for quite a distance but switches to the left as you enter the Phander valley. The view of the valley is breathtaking as it broadens out with green fields laced with popular trees. The road transverses to the right and then climbs up to the Phander Lake, which comes into view suddenly while turning a bend as you reach the top of the hill. Phunder ” WOW”, what beautiful, wilderness.
Some guests of an NWFP minister occupy the rest house so we have to find alternate accommodation, which is scarce in these parts of the woods. We managed to hire three rooms from the Chokidar of the rest house, he runs a guest house of his own which is very comfortable and situated on the left of the main rest house, he also serves food which is to our advantage. Taimur cooked delicious “Aloo ki Bughia” which takes forever to cook, as it simmers in this altitude of over 3000meters, water does not boil here easily. Hamid, Amjad, Kabir and family are staying at the school down near the main bazaar due to lack of accommodation in one place.
It has been decided that the fishing party will leave for Teru early in the morning. We have come so far with news of good trout fishing here that it would be unjust of us not to give it a try. Hamid keeps calling on the walky talky talking to Susan reminding her to wake me up early in the morning he is in his element tonight. ‘SUSAN’ he bellows in the dark night as we sat on the verandah of the inn. ‘Get Doc up early’ his voice echoes in the valley as the walky talky broadcasts his message with no interference, just the noise of him pressing the button on the set.