“Fairy Meadows”, close your eyes, try to imagine – I guess you see a lush green meadow spread across miles, try hard, and you see fluffy beautiful animals grazing, try harder, and you feel the cool breeze coming from snow-laden peaks …. So did I. Whenever I heard or read about this place I got more and more anxious to see it myself. I started reading about it, prepared for the tour and finally did it. When I did, then I realised how misleading all those blogs were, every writing I came across about this place only talked about the beauty but none gets you prepared for the journey. I decided while sitting at Raikot Sarai (a hotel at FM), that I’ll do this if I got back in one piece.
It was August of 2014, took flight from Dubai and flew to Pakistan, where two friends were waiting for me to finalise the plan. It was our first tour to the north, so we wanted to cover maximum areas. We reserved seats in NATCO (Northern Areas Transport Co.) for Naran. Naran is a beautiful small town in Mansehra district of KPK province, surrounded by mountains and boasts the noisy Kunhar river flowing through the town.
Many tourists make Naran a base camp for many nearby sites; we chose Lake Saif ul Malook. This lake is like the trademark of Northern tourist areas of Pakistan. There are many folklores about this place – especially one involving fairies descending to the water during full moon nights. So we headed towards the lake after having a night sleep in Naran. The sky was clear, no clouds at all. When we reached the lake, unfortunately, it was nothing like we had imagined. Forget about fairies even witches will think twice to descend, – it was unbearable under the sun, and the water was freezing cold. Surrounding mountains were barren and black as if they were burned by the sun. Highly priced and unhygienic dhabas were offering substandard food. Tourists and these local shops had littered the place with plastic. It was such a shock for us to see the lake personally after listening so much to its beauty. Back in Naran, a friend was telling his brother about this experience over the phone; “it was like a pond of water in between burned black mountains”. One would say that it was due to bad weather, I agree, but what about all that we have done to nature? What about the behaviour of locals who have only one ambition – to milk (cash) the tourists as much as they can in that short time.
We shortened our stay at the lake and came down back to Naran and decided to move to our destination, Fairy Meadows. Hired a jeep for Chillas and started our journey immediately. It was a beautiful ride through the mountainous road; there were many spots where we wanted to spend some time but the driver was in a hurry, so it was all just jeep ride except a break at a river hotel for lunch. A notable point was Lulusar Lake which we liked more than Saif Ul Malook Lake.
Chillas is the nearest city to FM; we reached there in the evening and weather was no different than central Punjab. Same burned up mountains that we had experienced earlier; locals had a harsh behaviour, no tourist area in and around the city and no AC in the room. There was only one good restaurant Shangrilla, but it had no vacancy. We spent the evening in the lawn of hotel and then headed to a nearby restaurant for dinner. We ordered mutton and waited for almost an hour to get served with plates full of gravy and a few and tiny pieces of meat. We were amazed to see the quantity as compared to price. It is no tourist spot, no quality restaurant, just a small unhygienic restaurant with very high prices. We sat in the lawn of hotel and laughed away all the mishaps that we had met so far and headed towards another mishap – a sweltering night without air conditioning! There was a desert room cooler, but it was not able to serve the purpose. Somehow we spent the night and reached bus stop in the morning to take a bus to Raikot Bridge.
We boarded a small van that soon overloaded and started from the bus stop. Instead of leaving the city, the bus entered a residential area and stopped in the street. Then a lady wearing shuttle Burqa came out and boarded the van – her husband had kept a seat for her beside him. We were amazed to see this and pretty much annoyed due to waiting in a jam-packed non-AC van under the sun. One can find many faults with this – keeping all the persons in heat, kept them waiting etc. but imagine the honour and respect that society offered to the lady, and she was just an average person, no VIP not from a higher class.
That van dropped us at Raikot Bridge – it is built over Indus River, and ascend towards FM and Nanga Parbat starts from here. There are two parts of ascending – first 2 hours jeep ride and then a trek of about 4 hours to FM. There were many jeeps parked to take the tourists. We finalised the fare and then asked which jeep will take us. When we saw the vehicle, it had very worn out tires. We asked the driver of a jeep with better tires he said no, we take tourists by turn and this is that persons turn so I can’t go. We were not ready to ride in that jeep but they were united and it was their monopoly on that route. It is said that no other driver can drive on that route. So we had no other option but to take the risk – a risk to die at the hands of a person driving a jeep with worn out tires over a treacherous route. Last night in Chillas, I received a call from my cousin who told me that a jeep met an accident on FM track and the tourist family from Faisalabad died in it. But the drivers were so calm and saying us to trust in Allah and take the “leap of faith”. But those illiterates didn’t understand that God helps those who help themselves. So it was like go or no go situation, we didn’t want to go back from this stage so we agreed to ride that jeep. The fare included the return journey as well – we told jeep driver to come and pick us after 2 days.
Jeep driver started the jeep and started telling us about faith and religion. The track was very dangerous – there was no road, a path just enough for one vehicle, covered with rubbles and stones that make steering even more difficult. We were impressed with the skills of the driver who was driving very calmly on this route. There was a mountain on one side and deep very deep valley on the other. We saw another jeep coming down that was overloaded, even some were hanging outside. Our driver told us that the driver of the misfortunate jeep was a drug addict. And we were speechless – how local administration or tourism department can allow these greedy, illiterate, drug addict drivers with worn out jeeps to play with lives of tourists. How will tourism flourish in such circumstances?
I called them greedy, yes I did because – when we reached the spot where we could see people recovering the wreckage of that jeep from the river, our driver said, ok I could take you this far, my jeep can’t make the ascends that are ahead. You can walk from here, the start of the trek is just around that turn. We were amazed to hear this from the person who had been telling us about faith and religion throughout the way and now dropping us before the committed drop point. We said no, we are not walking you arrange to drop us where it was decided. Halfheartedly and annoyed, he went down to the people who were working and came back with a person. Who took us on foot a couple of hundred yards where his jeep was parked. Our journey started again – and here let me take the liberty to call the first driver a liar as well – it was nothing like he said, after completing the journey we realised it was quarter of total that he was saying it is just around that turn.
Jeep dropped us at Tatto Village from there it is 4 hours trek that takes to FM. We were told, and we read about this trek, and everyone would rate this trek as an easy trek, and anyone can do it easily. We had only one bottle of water with us – as we had imagined it a walk through the forest (after reading blogs). Porters offered us to lift our luggage, but we said no we’ll carry our bags. But right after first ascend we realised the difficulty of the trek and hired a horse and porter. And then it was 4 hours test of our office accustomed bodies to go through dangerously narrow path swirling through cliffs. At some points there was no way at all – rain waters tore down the track and washed it away, you need to jump over cracks with a couple of hundred feet deep valley below where noisy waters coming from Nanga Parbat are flowing. Scorching sun and steep ascending make you thirsty, and you want to gulp in half a litre of water every 15 minutes – but we had only 1.5 litres. There was only one water-spring on the way where we drank to our maximum and filled the bottle.
We were told there is a midway stop, a cabin, where you can get some food, a cabin was there, but it was empty and looked abandoned. The porter we had hired kept giving us false hope that the destination is just around that cliff, but every cliff revealed another long way ahead. An expert lonely trekker passed by us shared his water with us and moved forward. If you ask me, then I’ll rate this trek “very hard” for persons like us who sit in office. I’ll sum up my recommendations at the end of this blog to help you plan your tour in a better way.
While we were on trek a local couple came from behind us. Guy ordered us in harsh tone to stand at the side of path to give way to his wife/sister. They were accustomed to this trek so soon they disappeared in front of us. His tone was so rude that we didn’t even dare to ask him about the remaining path. Our porter had already gone far ahead from us. So we kept resting every now and then and finally reached the FM and fell on the grass outside the hotel. We were not in our senses to look around and enjoy the beauty. Porter took us to the hotel, Raikot Sarai, we booked a room (wooden cottage) and fell on beds. Management assured us that there will be electricity around the clock and food will be served in room. A kid came in to get our order when we asked him prices it gave us a big shock. We were told about high prices but we were not expecting this much. We placed our order and asked the kid to bring meal to our room. Suddenly clouds started thundering and it started to rain by cats and dogs. Rain went away as quickly as it came. It was already too late since the kid took our order so we decided to go to the dining hall. We complained about no room service and they said we don’t serve in room (another shock). After rest and dinner we felt re-energized and came out of room and sat in the lawn.
It is hard to put the scene in words, in the beginning, we tried to imagine about FM, let’s do it again. This time imagine that whole meadow and surrounding mountains have risen so much that you are in space, pitch dark sky, stars and planets at arm’s length, some clouds zooming by the mighty Nanga Parbat. And the moon rises, moonlight starts to light up the Nanga Parbat from top to bottom, it feels like the mighty giant is growing even more and more. Snow all over the mountains sparkles in the moonlight as if stardust has been sprinkled on the mountains.
The main attraction at night is the bonfire in the lawn of the hotel. All guests gather around the fire, listen to the stories and songs from the locals, a truly mesmerising experience indeed. You genuinely feel yourself in fairyland.
We returned to the room late night, and there was no electricity to charge phones and camera. Next day we woke up to the intensely shining sun. We were taking photos in the lawn when a local again ruined the moment when he “ordered” us rudely to not turn our camera towards the houses on the far side of the meadow. We were using a 50mm lens and taking portraits with the meadow in the background but instead of arguing and explaining this to the guy we changed the direction. All the blogs we read had suggested visiting Biyal camp which is situated towards Nanga Parbat and requires 2 hours of hike. After our yesterday’s experience with FM trek we decided not to go to base camp, and since there was no other spot to visit so, we decided to return. We knew our driver would come after one day as we had told him but we were so fed up that we decided to go anyway. When we went to check out, the manager said you lied to me; you said you’d stay two days, we said and you lied to us that there will be room service and electricity round the clock.
The descending was easy. We had already got the sunburn by that time, so the weather was not bothering us anymore. When we reached the Tatto village there was no jeep, so we decided to cover jeep track on foot. We had just started when a jeep came, and we got space in that jeep. When we reached Raikot Bridge, we called our driver and settled the payment with him. We decided to go to Gilgit to get better transport for our journey back home.
My readers might blame me that this blog will discourage tourists from going to FM. But I think one must get a view of all the aspects and decide if one is willing to go through all this to visit that place.
If you are still determined to go here are some tips for you as I said at the beginning of my post:
- This is a hard level trek for a person who sits in office and has no physical activity. So its highly recommended to work on building up your stamina before attempting this.
- Keep sunblock with you to avoid sunburn.
- Wear a big hat on the trek to avoid sun.
- Be prepared to face extreme hot temperatures while going from Naran to Raikot Bridge.
- Be ready to rely on those jeeps and their drivers, just hope yours isn’t a drug addict.
- Keep sufficient water with you while trekking up.
- Don’t expect hospitality.
- Taking family with you is not an option especially if there are kids in family.
- If possible take your food with you to avoid highly priced food items at FM hotels.
- Keep basic first-aid kit with you.
That’s my tale of Fairy Meadows journey, have you been there? Do share your experience in comments.