Tuesday, June 10, 2008

NALTAR

Naltar

I arrived at Upper Naltar in the afternoon (ca.3: 30pm) .The driver of the jeep, Mr. Karim Chauhdari left me at the door of the “Naltar Guest House” which is run by Mr. Asif Hussain. I found the room acceptable and the price for the night was agreed at Rs.120.-.
At once, I felt very much pleased and relaxed at Nartal. I began asking Mr. Asif the usual questions concerning the area and matters related to the planned trek. I was missing Shahana; she wasn’t here to share the beauty of this scenic place. Concerning the trek, Mr.Asif employed himself to discourage me crossing the pass. He had numerous and quite valid reasons which somewhat later altered the quality of my sleep. However, I wouldn’t just give up. I spent some time that evening taking notes, copying the map of the area and looking at pictures of the pass from a guidebook.
For dinner, I was served the chicken that I had seen busy around us in the garden. I would have been more content with vegetables or pulses but there wasn’t much choice. I got a copious serving but could only finish half my plate. At Isha, there was only one fellow at the mosque whom I chatted with for a while. I went to bed immediately after that. As I have already mentioned, I didn’t sleep very deep as I kept on thinking if it was wise and prudent to proceed alone.

First day:
It might have been around 7:30 am when I left the guesthouse. The weather was perfect, the surroundings most delightful. I walked for a while with a Japanese tourist but he was walking too slowly and so I went on at my own pace. For a mile, I got a lift on the cart of a tractor. I got off when I saw some angrez. We got acquainted and they informed me that they were heading for the Pakora pass. I rejoiced at the prospect of having company which meant safety. The three of us reached after a while the three lakes. Pavel and Martina – the two angrez; they were from the Czech Republic – decided to remain there, and I continued alone, now reassured that I had someone at my rear in case of difficulty. I spent some time near the three lakes resting. These three lakes have each a different colour: one emerald, one dark blue, one almost dark. I then proceeded to an area called “Shing” where the valley broadens. It is stony and flat vale which the Naltar River winds it way through. In the middle of this area is settlement called ……….. A boy accompanied me from the lakes to………… At that time, I remember that I began to be tired and while I was resting, contemplating the surroundings, I noticed the advance of two trekkers who I eventually identified as Pavel and Martina. They seemed to be marching with a good and regular pace. How tiny did they look in this immensity. I eventually joined them by a bridge at the end of the Shing. They had decided to proceed to Upper Shani the same day. I didn’t aim to go so far. They walked ahead. I didn’t meet them again that day .I reached a meadow called “Lath”at the foot of the Twins Peak. It was 4:00 PM. I made a sign to a fellow standing afar and he came towards me. I had thought that a glass of goat milk would do well to me. I had a chat with Mr. Tota Khan. Two of his children later joined us. After a few biscuits for dinner and the prayers I got into my sleeping bag for my first night in the open. The beautiful starry night prevented me to sleep but tiredness eventually prevailed.

Second day: from Lath to Sentinelle
I left early with the first rays of the sun. There wasn’t any path as I took across hips of boulders of the tip of a moraine. It was a tiresome job setting one’s feet on uneven and unstable ground. On the other side, at Lower Shani, I joined P. & M. who were leaving camp. As their pace was faster than mine was, I let them go ahead. Later on, as I was resting on the path, I saw my two Czechs returning. Was the path blocked? No, Pavel had a bad stomach and they had decided to cancel their programme. I immediately realised that I now stood alone on the trail unless the Japanese guy was planning to cross the pass. I proceeded slowly along the Shani glacier with the Twins Peak (____m) towering above me. I soon reached Upper Shani, which was, at this time of the year already deserted. Following the moraine, I reached the end of the Naltar Valley where I found horses grazing. Among the summits I could now spot the pass. I decided to use the rest of the day to endeavour to come as close to the pass as I could. Now, it was going up steeply. Very often I felt asleep while lying on the grass to recover my breath. I yet have to learn to walk slowly in the mountains to retain my breath. At 6:00 pm, I was quite close to the pass and I stopped there to settle for the night. This time I was quite serene and I slept with great comfort with the great feeling of being surrounded by three glaciers.

Third day - Pakora Pass (4700m)
I departed at 6:00 am, strong and resolute even with though my stomach was empty. The batteries were charged. And the spirits high. I reached the top at 8:15 am. I can’t describe the beauty of the spot. I recited the adhan and read surah Yaa Seen. While reading, three men appeared from the white wilderness. They were local folk. One of them orientated me but the way was obvious, at least from this point. Around 9 o’clock I proceeded, quite aware of the lurking dangers. I had been told that the crossing of the glacier was 30 to 45 minutes. It took me in fact three hours to walk to the end of it. One is supposed to keep walking as much as possible to the left of the glacier but I wasn’t then aware of it. I eventually chose to walk on the lateral moraine but this led me to a place which was cut by deep crevasses and had then to redirect my steps toward the middle of the glacier. I surveyed the glacier with my camera with zoom on 110. I estimated that I could make my way through an area where the ice seemed to be flat. I walked along crevasses and when I reached the middle of the glacier walked down in its length. At that time, I thought I had done the greatest part of the ordeal. I yet had to descend the glacier and that was to be a slippery business but again that I was lucky as I managed to reach the left bank of the outgoing rivulet, as there is no path on the right bank. At some point, I was compelled to perform some acrobatics in order to jump over from one icy bank of the torrent to the other. I had to throw my bag while standing on precarious ground. It was only when I had reached the firm ground that I realised that I had done something rather risky. I was now in a vale called “Lal Pather” (Red Stone)and though the most difficult was done, I refrained to become too exultant as I didn’t know what was ahead and I was still alone. I prayed two nafl to thank God for His protection and guidance. For a while, the valley remains broad and green and than slowly narrows. Thus, I had to walk higher and closer to the side of the mountain. I than discovered there were goats higher up following a trail. An indication that I was coming closer to a village. The goat trail saved me some trouble to walk up and down. I soon found myself in a juniper forest just as those found in fairy tales where gnomes and spirits dwell. At the time when the sun was shining low through the leaves and that I was resting, appeared two young shepherd girls who had come to gather wood. They startled at my presence and when I spoke to them, they began to giggle and chuckle. They eventually led me to their camp. The father hadn’t yet come. I asked for a cup of milk. I shared with them a few biscuits and asked for the right direction. They were Gujjars. The old lady indicated the other side of the river and the bridge I was to cross to find myself then on the Right Bank. It was late however and I was tired and I didn’t deem it necessary to exhaust myself to reach the settlement of Utz and so I slept a last night in these mountains near their encampment. Later, Juma Khan, the father, came to inquire if I needed anything. I was too sleepy to entertain him.


Day Four (the last)
When I woke up. The sun was already illuminating the tops. Breakfast done, as usual consisting of LU biscuits, I crossed the Pakora River and walked along the Right Bank until I reached Utz half an hour later. The folk over there didn’t display much friendly attitude which I interpreted as their being blasé seeing so many angrez passing their village. They consider them, as devils for devil must you be to walk through these difficult valley with apparently no purpose. Being a Muslim does help though but only they have to know I am a Muslim. Being conversant in Urdu also increases my chances to be accepted. At Utz, I crossed the river to the left bank. As one proceeds down, the valley narrows and so does the path, which is carved on the slope of the mountains. It took four or five hours to reach the town of Pakora. In this part, there are very few trees and very little vegetation. It is quite desolate and dangerous due to falling stones. At noon, I came in view of the Ishkoman Valley and at 12:30 I reached Pakora. An hour walk under a strong sun brought me to the village of Chattorkhand where I took a meal before going to the resthouse. I couldn’t phone Shahana as the telephone over there operates locally.

The task had been hard but as I am writing these lines, I have already forgotten it and I am now planning for a next trek. This time, however, I will prefer to have a companion as danger does lurk around. Are you interested to join me!

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