We experienced snowfall in July, walked on the glaciers, drank from the mount streams and witnessed the rugged beauty of the northern Pakistan
By Irfan Ahmed
Rain lashed against our trekkers camp and the wind howled menacingly. Camping at a height of around 5,000 meters, we were in the middle of a storm which had confined us to our tents at our camping site on Biafo Hisper trekking tour.
For twelve days we had endured the fatigue, altitude sickness, sun burns and frigid winds that swept across the glaciers. We were in the company of the gigantic Mango Barak, the twin Terango Towers, the Latok peaks and the Dastgil and Pumarchash peaks. We experienced snowfall in July, walked on the glaciers, drank from the mount streams and witnessed the rugged beauty of northern Pakistan.
We were a group of eight men representing students, professionals, bureaucrats and businessmen. All of us had varied experiences in trekking, but were new to our intended track.
The Snow Lake Track has certain features, first; it is a one way track, Second, it is the longest glacial traverse outside Polar region and the trekker covers two of the largest glaciers in the world beside crossing Hisper Pass with an altitude of 5,153 meter, Third; it leads a trekker from Sakardu to Hunza Valley with no human habitat on the track of around 100 kilometers from Ashkole to Hisper Village, Fourthly; the trekker watches spectacle of the mountain sceneries in the world including peaks over 7,000 meters.
Stormy weather forced us to abandon air travel, as a result of which a comfortable high roof 10 seat van was booked directly from Lahore for Sakardu. I cannot forget the excitement and thrill of the departure.
As we passed through the Karakoram Highway (KKH), the landscape around turned brown from green. We crossed Besham Bazar under heavy showers and saw mountain nullahs falling into the majestic Indus flowing deep in the valley.
The next day we left KKH for Skardu road at Jaglot. It is the point where world's three largest mountain ranges. Karakoram, Hindu Kush and the Himalayas converge.
Since we were in Sakardu, a visit to the Satpara Lake was essential. There we found an under construction dam on the lake. A mottled road leads up to Shigar, a valley with a historical fort and a mosque at an hour's drive from Sakardu. A treacherous road leads up to Ashkole, where the track starts for the two famous and amazing destinations namely K2 Base Camp and Biafo-Snow Lake- Hisper track.
The real test was the Biafo, the sixty km long glacier. Our progress on the glacier was excruciating slow as we had to trek on rocks. But we plodded on, gaining altitude at the same time.We camped at Shafung initially coming down the track and then crossing a high rock.There was a huge stone called Yatee's Stone and skeletons of Markhors at the camp site.
We trekked all day long to our destination at Morphoghoro (White Rock). We also had a view of the Trango Towers. Morphoghoro had a huge statue like rock standing like a wall along the campsite.
Then we reached Korphoghoro (Black Rock) and camped on large boulders. Over the last two days we had been trekking on the glacier with visible crevasses.
I am not sure if it was a matter of chance or a result of careful planning that we crossed the magical snow lake under the full moon.
We started our track to Khani Basa (High resting place) 4,500 metres. It was very pleasant to walk on a greener track and hearing the melody of chirping birds since leaving Biantha. On the other side of Hisper glacier there was an awe inspiring sight of snow covered mountains standing tall like a solid wall whose immaculately white snow had slid down on to the dirty surface of Hisper.
Now we were on that portion of the track which was flanked by Hisper glacier and here we had to trek on the side of the glacier unlike Biafo where we had to walk on the snow. It was very surprising to see everything including our camps covered with fresh layers of snow as we woke up next morning at Khani Basa. Snow was falling and, considering the difficulty of trekking under snowfall, we waited for it to stop. As per schedule, we had to camp at Shikam Brees but adverse trekking conditions forced us to halt somewhere before the crossing of Khani Basa Glacier.
Crossing a nullah, we stopped at a place called Tarrar Stop. We crossed Yatmahu Glacier and reached Yatmahu (Green Place) Camp Site.
We had been trekking on, largely green, right flank of Hisper and mountain bases on the other side of the wide glacier.It was followed by a hike on a passage which was more like a goat track. It was a sensational hike as the steep slope with slippery surface, which was falling into the Hisper was well beneath us. It was our ardent desire to reach the first human habitat at Hisper Village
Eleven days had passed since we stepped off our jeeps in Ashkole. In these eleven days our resolve and fitness had been severely tested but it was worth it. The glaciers, the streams, the rain, the snow, the sun, the moon, the pain, the companionship, and above all, the first sight of yalks grazing at a distance giving us hope that civilization is nearby.º
A 'Tourist Village' has become the focus of a controversy between environmentalists, concerned citizens and CDA
By Ishrat Hyatt
There is an old saying, 'As old as the hills', and this can be applied to Saidpur village which lies in the foothills of the Margalla range and nestled in these hills much before the capital came into existence. Recently this village has become the focus of a controversy between environmentalists, concerned citizens and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) because the authority decided to make the site into a 'Tourist Village' based on a French project the CDA Chairman visited when in France -- as claimed by the 'opposition'. While the authority says it is trying to restore the village to its previous state before being spoilt by encroachments and land grabbing mafia, those against the 'restoration' say the CDA is ruining the original architecture and infrastructure.The Rajas, who claim they are the descendants of people who lived here since time immemorial, appeared happy when work began to clear up encroachments but are now wondering what will be the fate of the village.
Since there are always two sides to a story, it depends on how you look at the situation; what your preferences and priorities are and whether you are in favour of restoration in the true sense of the word or restoration according to what certain 'experts' have come up with. As work is in full swing, the controversy will go on even after the project has been completed and the village is functioning as a tourist attraction, which is what the CDA is aiming for.
As you drive up the beautiful, tree-lined road past the sign placed on the main Margalla Road and pointing the way to the village, you notice that dirty shacks have been removed and the goat and sheep market that used to flourish here has been done away with. While it made a good photo opportunity for foreigners, it was an eyesore. As you come upon the main village nestling in the foothills of the Margalla Hills, the sight is picturesque -- and if your imagination is inclined to dwell on the past, you can picture what it must have looked like many years ago.
It could be observed that the CDA has knocked down those buildings which have been built illegally and haphazardly, eating up the green area and creating a concrete jungle where a natural, more open one once existed. Now that the structures have been removed, the road is being widened to the further end of the village where the famous potters of the village are located -- but those who are against what is happening here say this road will not be 'original', since roads found in villages all over the country are narrow. The darker side to the road widening is that locals say it will eventually lead up to a restaurant that has been built by carving out a large section of a hill in the Margallas -- a project that was also criticised by environmentalists but sees hundreds of visitors going up to eat and revel in the view It shows that a majority of people don't care about such things, so environmentalists and traditionalists have a tough time getting their point across.
The beautiful building of an old temple (mandir) which was being used as a school for many years, has been reclaimed and 'restored' but the 'restoration' has seen the embellishing of the walls inside the temple with mirror work and colours of a different hue and though it looks pretty and is admired by those who don't know better, it is certainly not 'original'. The mandir's other rooms have been turned into a museum which houses photographs of Islamabad in its early years in one room; the second will house paintings on Islamabad and the third will be reserved for photographs of the developing phases of the capital.
There was some talk of restoring the original baths and waterworks and making them functional by opening blocked drains and cleaning up the stream, which has become as dirty as other natural streams in Islamabad because of sewage being drained into them. This may or may not take place, since the stream is presently a dirty nullah full of garbage. Roots of the trees which were saved from the choppers axe have been enclosed with stone and this looks aesthetically wrong.
What has disturbed preservationists is that the original wall just alongside the temple has been extended using brick shaped rocks and these do not fit in with the rest of the architecture, while a flat area in front of it has been designated to become a seating area. Also, the original path leading to the shrine of a saint known as 'Zinda Pir' (living saint) has been hidden. This shrine is situated near some banyan trees and is an interesting place to visit. It can be seen from the road and you can mange to get to it on a Thursday when it is lit up with candles and 'diyas' (oil lamps). Pilgrims from around the area will now have to pass through one of the arches that have been built into the wall, which is approached by steps, cut into the hillside by generations of people climbing up to the spot.
The poor people who have been coming to pay homage to the saint will be intimidated by the thought of passing through here to go through the arch which has disturbed those who want the village to look traditional, who are afraid this may lead to the death of a local custom. The saint in question was known for travelling all over Asia and resting under banyan trees and has devotees all over this part of the world, thus living on in the tradition of many Sufi saints.
Other buildings along the main village are claimed to have been restored with their facades covered with stone while doors and windows left they were. It is believed that working places for the potters who have lived here and have carried on their traditional pottery-making for many generations are going to be renovated at their original site and visitors will be able to see the potters at work. There will also be outlets for selling their goods in the same area.
A new modern school is being replaced with the old one but this is outside the area reserved for the Tourist Village the entrance to which will be a gate now being erected in the image of those which allowed entry into fortified places of yore. Until the project is complete there will be many pros and cons discussed; stories written and 'experts' on both sides of the divide airing their opinion. The rest of us will just have to wait and see whether the means justify the end, since not much can be done about the restoration that has already taken place though it is rumoured that an advisory committee has been formed to help out.
The average tourist at an amusement park in the summers does not seem too amused. Here's why...
By Tamania Jaffri
Treading along with heavy tired feet, carrying the weight of water bottles, bags, cameras, and the emotional guilt of a compulsion to enjoy, the average tourist at an amusement park in the summers does not seem too amused. Having paid a heavy ticket to enter the Happiest Place in the World, they soon realise that the dream comes with a limited shelf life: a day, 2 days or at best the season. And so starts the race for amusement, how much pleasure can I get in one day to get the fair return from my ticket.
As the fervour to enjoy at all cost increases, the enjoyment seems to go down. Children cry as they are forced off free rides by parents to join the two hour-long queues for 30 second rides. Girls have fake smiles on their faces, as they stand under the sun in torture to capture moments of their 'happiness'. People spend lavishly on low quality souvenirs to stamp their visit with authenticity, when they go back home. The entire park crawls with determined tourists, vowing to have fun at all cost, despite the sun, the fatigue and the torture. Every ride must be experienced; Îevery cheesy moment on the park brochure must be re-lived, including the kiss to the dolphin, the screaming picture down the roller coaster and the hug with your favourite fuzzy character.
This self-inflicting behaviour is not surprising, considering the expectations that an average tourist visiting a park for the first time comes with. These expectations have been built over years of anticipation, fuelled by persuasive advertising and the supporting commercial circus.
So what is the best way to bring back the amusement to your favourite park? Having experienced various similar painful experiences, I can probably suggest a few.
• Slow Down: it's okay if you cannot map the entire park with your footsteps. Some corners are best left uncharted.
• Prioritise the rides that you wish to get on.
• Expect the worst waiting times, you have a better chance of being pleasantly surprised.
• Don't step in the Souvenir shop. You do not need the key chain with a donkey suffering from a feline identity crisis, or the post card that you will never mail. There are also many water bottles that your kitchen cabinet can handle.
• It's not a race, there is no prize for whoever finishes all the rides first. You do not need to be in physical pain when you leave the park. So it's okay if you do not get on the odd roller coaster resonating death defying screams all over the park.
Of course this advice is as valid as all your vows for frugality next summer. The parks seem to cast a spell on all visitors as soon as they cross their gates, only to be relinquished as they leave the park tired, beaten, defeated, but with a seeded determination to return soon enough for another heavy dose of 'Happiness'.