A side trip to Fairy Meadow, then back on KKH
Trip Start Apr 26, 2005
15Trip End Aug 03, 2005
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Up before the alarm, out at reception to arrange bag storage by 7, have the quickest breakfast (fried eggs) but have trouble getting them down in a hurry, and out in the street looking for a taxi by 20 past. The atmosphere in the street is entirely different this morning, as everyone out and about and has something to do. Walk a fair way before seeing a taxi, negotiate R60 for a high speed, urging trip to be deposited at the #1 Chilas Minibus Stand.
We're heading back along the road a couple of hours, a we're going to Fairy Meadows, which is in the Raikot Valley, and provides access to Nanga Parbat's North face.
There is a ticket booth, and we put our names down at the top of the page, never a good sign, MP's bag goes on the top. Are allocated the front two seats the scariest, but with the best view, and the most room, as this is the only seat that has three people. The bus station is a hive of activity everywhere but at the #1 Chilas, with big and small buses being loaded with boxes and cartons of fruit going on top, people milling, armed police, and other minibuses filling and leaving.
We gradually fill, get a consignment of pharmaceuticals for the top, and finally leave at 8.30, about half of the seats filled,. Pick up a woman outside the station, and set off, to be stopped at the police post half a kilometer down the road. No problems, and head on down the road which is familiar as we are now backtracking, but looks different looking the other way from a better view point.
Stop for diesel at a service station and truck depot, which has lots of the wonderfully painted trucks parked there. Get some good photos,
and get involved in a game of bluff with a truck which wants out, even though it would be simpler and quicker to let us out first.
We pick up people on the way, and are full by the time we get to Jaglot. The speed of the van seems to vary a fair bit, and we are going slowly after we pass the mosque where we stopped for prayers on the way in. Stop at a stream running across the road, and we have to get out so they can fill the radiator, after throwing lots of water on the radiator and engine to cool it enough to open the radiator cap. There are plates of apricots for sale, and DP buys some to add to the peaches previously purchased. R10 seems to be the standard price. Get photo of the transaction, plus a good shot of a colourful truck behind the van and passengers.
We are dropped at the bridge, and are immediately claimed by an old bearded man, who points to a green jeep, and says this is the next cab off the rank. We want to look around a bit, try to determine a price, are quoted 2500 by a large bearded type in overalls. MP says he was told 1200. Bearded man snorts in disgust and walks off. We retire to regroup, and look for a toilet, but there is none, as the hotel at the turnoff was closed. DP has to go behind a rock, with MP on guard. Stand around looking hopeful. Try to talk to some German trekkers, but they are unusually reticent .Finally talk to a Westerner who had just come down, find it is 2500 RETURN, which is higher but acceptable. Approach our man, check by hand action that it is, indeed, return, and saddle up. By this time he had backed the jeep up to our position, so he must have expected us to do a deal. MP, the agist, was expecting that he was just driving in the yard, and a younger man would take us up, but not so. We take off down the highway to where our road heads up the rugged screeslope, and turns north on a road half cut into the slope, and half on a stacked stone wall, for the 1320 metre climb to the trailhead at Jhel. The road first ran along the slope down to the Indus, then turned a corner into the canyon of the Raikot River, where it was cut into, or glued onto the side of sheer rock walls falling hundreds of metres to the raging river below. The edge was marked by occasional rocks, and the road was snaking around ridges and into gullies, with occasional streams across the road. When MP first brought out the camera, the driver stopped the jeep, which was good, but after, MP made sure that he only brought out the camera in a spot where stopping was safe, if anywhere was safe. We only encountered two vehicles on the way up, one fairly close to the bottom, the other in a steep narrow section, where our man held his way, and forced the other to back up and park out on a point while we, thankfully, passed inside.
The second quarter of the trip was the scariest, as the fall was a couple of hundred metres sheer, but going off the side almost anywhere would have had the same result.
Toward the top, the valley opened out, and we could actually see the top of the mountains without craning the neck to see out of the narrow window of the jeep. (we were hoping for an open jeep to maximise our chance of bailing out if we looked like going over).
At the top, we weren't required to pay, but did need to advise our date of departure, which was problematical because there was confusion about today's date, and DP wanted to leave her options open. It seemed to be possible to advise from the top, get the number of the jeep, and give them our name. Sit at the rest house at Jhel (2,666 metres) and have a bottle of what we think is expensive coke for 40, then head out uphill, having refused offer of guide or porter service. The track starts out almost wide enough for a car, but narrows to a donkey track where it cuts across the face of a big slide, with the track supported by dry stacked walls, in a similar manner to the "main" road.
The track has fallen away in one place, and there is a road gang working on it, and we have to edge past them on the sloping earth above a fair drop. Later the track opens out, and we make fairly good time, although the altitude is starting to affect us. We make a fair few stops, as we have all afternoon. Eventually it starts to rain, first just hard enough for the umbrellas, but later we have to put on the rain coats.
We pass the "Halfway Hotel", and have a rest under their new, but alarmingly leaning shelter, but no-one is in residence, so head on up hill. We are passed by two men and a donkey. One of the men is associated with one of the hotels at the top, and gives us a spiel. We tell him we are going to stay at the first hotel, and he gives us the impression that that is his. Gives us a card, but we don't really read it, just carry on up the hill. The track has deteriorated again as it switchbacks up the final escarpment, and he gives us a hand across a couple of collapsed sections, then directs us up what he calls a shortcut, turning off the major track. There are a couple of rocks across the track at the short cut, so we think he might be right. The short cut zig-zags up the bed of a running stream, then through some pine trees and emerges at the top right at the "Camp in the trees" we have been told to avoid.
We thank him for showing us the short cut, even though it just about did DP in, and walk across the lawn-like grass, and across the creek to the Raikot Sarai Hotel (3306 metres), which looks a lot better organised, with a row of colourful hikers' tents on the flat lower section, full-height tents, of suspect water tightness, we have met elsewhere, and cute sod-roofed, dressed-pine cabins on the hillside above. It all looks very cute, in spite of the drizzling rain, so we front up to the restaurant/office area to book in and have a drink., and start talking to the guests at the table.
We have Steve, an Australian from the Gold Coast, podiatrist, Army Reserve, adventurer who has been to most of the 'Stans, Russia, through northern Afghanistan, plus Herat, Kabul quite recently, and had no trouble. Has just taken a taxi from Peshawer to the Khyber pass to get a better look at it, next planning Ethiopia and down to Cape Town. We also have a 26 yr old Australian from Perth, with his Kenyan/Indian father, and an American who answered an internet offer to join them. They are on a planned trekking trip through a major tourist agency, and have done some major trek and climbed one of the lower peaks, but the main feature of their trip has been battling with the industrial relations aspect of hiring 25 porters to carry all their gear. Two of them have taken the donkey option up from the trail head at Jhel.
We find that the accommodation is 400/800/1200, and, feeling pretty cold, we opt for the cabins. Get a large one around the corner from the main view, with a verandah, two beds with thick doonas, a bathroom with waiting room, and a blood red sit-down toilet, cistern and washbasin setting. It still has the protective paper on it, but has suffered a bowl failure, and has been repaired with cement. We go back to the restaurant and sit and talk till the evening meal arrives - vegetable and chicken rice, plenty of it, plus chapatis and a dessert like a sandy custard. Feeling pretty cold in the 300 Polyfleeces, but sat up till quite late talking before going to bed in all our warm gear, both in the single bed until we had thawed out. The doonas were pretty effective, and DP had to get out of some, but not all of her warm gear in the night. It rained a lot of the night, not hard, but enough to make us glad we had sprung for the room with bath option.
Sunday 3rd July Fairy Meadow
Wake early and find that the mountains are clear of cloud and sunlit at 5.30, with the nearby lower mountains covered in a dusting of new snow. Dress and walk around for a look and photos,
then back to bed till after 9, when we have a brief ablution in water that is surprisingly warm, as it runs a long way across the grass in black polypipe. Pack gear for a walk in alpine conditions, and go looking for breakfast.
On the way, we talked to a guide we had met before, and asked him how we could get a message down the mountain to our driver to set a time for tomorrow. He said to advise the hotel manager, but when he saw the number of the jeep written on our slip of paper, he recognised it as being his uncle's jeep, and he would organise the message, without the need to tell the manager. This, we thought, sorted out one of our uncertainties in getting back to civilisation.
There are no eggs, so settle for porridge which MP thinks is OK if you put enough sugar on it, plus chapati and honey, and milk tea for MP. Pickings pretty slim on the drink front for DP, and has to settle for water.
We started off with most of our warm gear on, shedding it on the way as the sun came out. It was a beautiful walk across the meadow
to the other hotel in the trees, then up through trees and along a creek bed until we emerged at the edge of the escarpment over the lower end of the glacier, which was very grey ice, topped with boulders and gravel Sat in the sun for a while admiring the view and drying DP's sock, wet in a creek crossing by a slippery log.
From here the path led back into the trees, and along another stream, which widened out into the upper meadow, surrounded by mountain and scree slopes. There was an abandoned village just short of the meadow, and an active one on the East slope above the stream at Beyal. Here we were attacked by a horde of children, and we have photos to prove it.
They all wanted to look through the binocular, look at the compass, look through MP's glasses, and have their photo taken so they could look at the playback images. With ages from 15 to 4, including a little girl, it was difficult to get them all to share, and not miss out. Photos had to be repeated as new members of the mob turned up. DP tried to locate the group so the village women would show up in the background, but MP could not get far enough back without them following. The use of the binoculars was complicated by them being out of line, so you can only use one eye. Finally made most of them happy, and we were able to continue the walk past the tourist cabins at Beyal (3500 metres), putting on our raincoats as we approached the climb to the view point
at the big rock called "View Point" (3,667 metres). We were pleased to turn a corner and come on it suddenly, as a party ahead of us was climbing up a formidable slope to the ridge 100 metres above and beyond it.
The sun came back out, and we sat for a long time under the umbrellas, beside the enormous rock perched on the cliff edge, looking at the view, waiting for the cloud to clear on the main mountain, and catching up with the diary. We could hear rocks falling on the glacier as the sun melted the ice, and occasional small rockslides on the cliff face below us. These were caused by a small herd of friendly goats, which joined us on the cliff edge. It is always amazing to see goats picking their way across sheer rock faces, or having a good look over the edge.
About 4 o'clock we were still waiting for the clouds to clear, but didn't want to leave it too late, as some of the path was on steep hillsides, difficult to cross in the dark.
We had a look at the grounds of the camp
with a view to crossing to the far side of the valley, but were advised by a guide that there was only one proper path. Negotiated some rickety bridges to get back to the village,
where we had a shorter session with the older boys, and carried on at a good pace down the valley. We encountered several groups of villagers on the way back, minding goats, or carrying rifles for a pot shot at anything left of the wildlife. We were pretty puffed when we got back, but managed to check out who had gone, who was staying, who was new.
A large family group from Lahore arrived, with the younger members screaming encouragement over the side of the cliff to the older women still toiling up the steep, switchback top section of the path.
DP talked to a young man from the USA, of Pakistani background (had lived here for eight years), and now going to University in the U doing medicine, who was back for a holiday with the extended family of a friend. Seemed to be suffering a bit of culture shock. The family group was all in a dormitory with its own fire place, and they had brought a large, presumably live, chicken with them for dinner.
At the dinner table, we got our own basic serving of vegetable rice, daal, vegetables. Our Indian friends waited a long time, and ended up with mutton ribs, and a new group, with a South African and his son, got similar. They also paid more, but could talk the language, and knew what was available. Talked for a fair while with the South African, who was working in Islamabad, and seemed to have some sort of Indian or Pakistani heritage. He told us that while Northern Pakistan was as we saw it, little changed after 30 years, Islamabad and Lahore were quite modern, and linked by a genuine expressway, and there were lots of new, flash cars to drive on it. They were only lightly dressed, and were feeling the cold, particularly the son, who seemed like a nice sort of a young man, but very quiet, maybe because he was too cold to talk.
Passed another night with most of our warm gear on, but were pretty comfortable.
Monday 4th July Fairy Meadow - Gilgit
Another early look at the scenery, but the mountain was not clear, so back to bed. Up and breakfasted, took some more photos, including some of the village animals
and on the way by 9. Pleasantly surprised by the bill, as we had not really priced anything. Cabin was 1000, meals 250, water 80. The coke was also 80, but it tasted pretty strange, so were not our usual honest selves when it did not appear on the bill. All up, we got out for about 3000, which isn't too bad for three day in paradise.
We made much better time on the way down, but still encountered rain early and hot sun later. Passed donkey teams plus villagers bringing up supplies,
including a fair number of women. One group wanted some sort of present, so DP gave them her breakfast omelette, wrapped in tissues, for 'ron.
When we arrived at the trail head, there were 5 jeeps, but none of them ours. We explained to the same English-speaking student who was at the "Hotel" when we arrived that we had sent down a message, and were expecting our jeep at 12 noon and it was now about 11 am, so we had a cold drink, and sat down to wait in the shade house.
One of the group of drivers, hangers-on, and guides at the trail head said he could see a blue jeep, but it never turned up. By 12.30 no action had occurred, so DP started to get pro-active, asking if it was possible to send down a message with one of the jeeps. It turns out that none of them were going down, and as we knew we weren't supposed to use a different one, we were in a bit of a bind. The driver of the black jeep made an offer to take us down for free, provided we did a R1500 charter to Gilgit a well as paying our proper jeep. This didn't seem like too good a deal, and we didn't like the attitude of the driver. By 1 pm, having been told that it was 7 km to the bottom (which we doubted, as our book said 15kms), we decided we could walk in spite of the guide's protestations that we were too old.
Bought an extra bottle of water, and set off down the hill, on a pretty gentle slope past the interesting villages and fields. Had only gone about 1 km when the black jeep caught up to us. He had a full team of locals aboard, and said he was prepared to take us no charge. This still looked like trouble, so we walked on a while until we could see the second village, with the mystery blue jeep unloading supplies. The black jeep driver made another offer, which we refused again, then someone from the blue jeep came sprinting up the hill. Turned out to be our messenger of the day before, the nephew of our driver. The message had got through after all, but out #27 green jeep had died, and the blue one was the replacement, but was running late due to unloading.
This changed the colour of our day, as MP was looking forward to walking the more spectacular parts of the road, and not sorry to be missing the risk associated with old jeeps going down steep, narrow roads with big dropoffs. We decided to walk ahead while they sorted out their load, and when we walked off, there was a continuing argument between the blue and black jeeps, and the hood of the black jeep was raised for repairs.
It was a pleasant walk down the road with overcast sky and the occasional sprinkle of rain. The villages and terraces look better looking downhill, and we could take photos without having to get the driver to stop. We were still well short of the steep, scary section of the road when the jeep caught up with us and we piled aboard. This jeep had similar side doors and canopy to the green one, but the hood was rolled back so you could stand and take photos.
We met a jeep coming up with a full load of tourists on a particularly bad corner. Were about to bail out to look at the passing manoeuver from the safety of the track, but the other jeep went to the drop side, and we sneaked through OK.
A we got closer to the bottom, we emerged into full sunlight, and it was suddenly roasting hot in the open top jeep. At the bottom, we unloaded and tried to find our original driver, who was not present. We made sure that everyone understood the situation, and our driver was to share with the previous driver. A bearded bandit-type, who appeared to have some authority, confirmed that they would share, and made us a special offer of R400 to take us to Jaglot (where we could get a minibus), instead of the usual R700, which we accepted, with a different driver and jeep. It actually started to look, to MP, that we would make it to Gilgit before dark, and at a reasonable price (at no stage was Dianne worried).
The driver was non-communicative, but not unpleasant. Wasn't in any particular hurry, and used a fair bit of "angel gear" on the long downhills, but did stop for MP to take a photo looking up the barren, narrow mouth of the canyon which led to the amazingly green and pleasant upland area we'd just visited.
In Jaglot we were let off in the same general area as we stopped for a break on our incoming marathon journey.
There were no obvious Gilgit-bound Minibuses, and we were eyeing off the taxis before sitting down with a cold drink to consider our options. MP got up to scout around, and waved at a minibus going in our direction, and got a return wave, but it didn't stop. Meanwhile DP has spotted what must be boxed cherries in a fruit shop, and is in the process of doing a deal when the minibus returns, with the driver beckoning to us to get a move on. MP glad to get a seat, and a good one at that, DP not so sure, mourning her lost cherries.
Apart from stopping to see if a minibus driver with a front wheel hub in his hand wanted assistance, the trip into Gilgit was uneventful, and we were taken right into town, around the back road, but ending up fairly close to our hotel. There seemed to be a lot more security and checks coming in to Gilgit this time. We had been told earlier in the day that the Polo game has been cancelled by the Government, and has something to do with things happening in Peshawar. They are obviously worried that something is afoot here.
There was a Polish tourist couple in the front seat who could speak Urdu, or some common language, and they had arranged to be taken to the Madina for an extra R10 each. We agreed, even though MP thought it was walking distance, so we set off, but seemed to drive forever along the river, ending up at the New Tourist Cottages halfway back to the bus station. DP had thought we had done a good deal, getting a tour of the town, but for a while it looked like we would be doing a long walk. The security in place seemed to exclude minibuses from the main street, and it looked for a while that we would have to do a long loop, but the offsider knew a way through the back streets, and we came to a spot where we had been 15 minutes before, 200 metres from the hotel.
Being cunning types, we unloaded quickly and headed into the hotel for first go at the rooms, while the Polish couple had to get their bags down, but through either having a booking, or knowing the management, they got first pick, while we had our welcome drink. The only room left was a no-bath room in the "annex" across the road. We have had a bad run with annexes, but ended up with no choice, but it wasn't too bad as we could use the facilities at the hotel, book in for the buffet, and catch up with information.
The annex wasn't too bad - it was the original hotel with 6 rooms around a courtyard, and two bathroom/toilets. We left MP's daypack, and went back to socialise, sweat on the power supply and the satellite both being available at the same time, and cutting a photo CD, which was a drama in itself, requiring the driver CD for the card reader, but the price was right at R60, using one of our spare CD's from London.
The Australian from Fairy Meadow was back, as were the two Englishmen we had talked to before. They had taken a bus to the Astor Valley, where they had encountered a landslide which required them to climb up and over the top of it. They figured on a short climb, with their packs, but the landslide was so big, it took 1 1/2 hours to make it to the bus waiting on the other side.
They wanted to see the spectacular sheer slope down to the valley on this side of Nangar Parbat, but only saw it up a far as the bottom of the rain clouds. Not that big a deal for two full days hard travel.
Asked the staff about the Polo match, and told that it IS back on, but the Government is not giving them any money to run it, which they usually do. Sounds like they are expecting trouble. Definitely a good thing to avoid!
The buffet was pretty good at R100, meat, vegetables, daal, chapatis, with an apricot based dessert, but we had dented our appetite with a plate of chips earlier, our first food since breakfast, and didn't really do it justice.
The staff insisted on carrying our bags back to the annex, and at least one of them was staying, and there were another two couples there also, so we felt secure, and confident of being let out of the locked compound if we decided to leave early. There was a bit of waiting for the bathrooms, but we really needed them after 3 days of minimal washing, and endured the icy cold water in the name of niceness to be near. The beds were pretty good, and we didn't need too much rocking