KARACHI: The might and majesty of Fairy Meadows enchants locals and foreigners alike. Every step you take towards this cosmic giant is no less than a spell that keeps on building but never breaks. In short, you’ll understand this once you get there.
Quite befitting of its name, Fairy Meadows was named by German climbers and is called Joot in the local Shina language. It’s not an exaggeration to say the place is dreamy – which is perhaps the reason why many travel to such great lengths to reach the meadows. Think rolling hills and soaking in the sun, where horses and goats graze away happily until sunset.
Skirting the cleared area are thick pine woods with flowing freshwater streams to inspire your inner wanderlust like you are exploring the forest of an imaginary land. And, of course, the celestial skies at night are simply magical. Nanga Parbat is the perfect and final backdrop of the awe-inspiring snow-clad Himalayan mountain range. In some local inns surrounding the area, you can get a clear view of the towering summit which is a stunning 8,215-meter peak.
It’s also known as the Killer Mountain, for good reason. Nanga Parbat is notoriously difficult to climb, so it was leant its nickname due to numerous mountaineering deaths in the mid and early-20th century. Austrian climber Hermaan Buhl made the first ascent of the world’s 9th tallest mountain in 1953. If you don’t want to risk your life, however, trek to some spectacular viewpoints where you can safely gaze at the exalted Nanga Parbat and almost feel like you’re on top of the world.
Despite all these wondrous descriptions of Fairy Meadows, it’s important to note that getting there is a notorious two-day journey that is not always made clear by travel guides. They say it’s about the journey, not the destination. Unless you’re used to transitory uneasiness through the Karakorum Highway (after Islamabad), be prepared.
Like any epic quest, the journey is riddled with scorching heat, dangerous road networks, no washroom facilities and a perilous 2-hour Jeep journey which comes to a rude end after which you have to walk uphill (not straight, like our local tour guides reassured) through boulders. You also have the option of a horse. And honestly speaking, it takes longer than expected!
This by no means is intended to discourage you from finding Neverland but a gentle reminder that it isn’t a piece of cake. Here are some important points to consider before adventuring to Fairy Meadows which you might not get told – we were not, so it’s better to be prepared than learn the hard way.
Unless you’re used to high landscapes, this one is a biggie. Even for a country girl that has trekked through many places around the world, shortness of breath was experienced reaching 3,500 meters above sea level. It’s not just about fitness levels.
Altitude sickness can affect anyone, even our physically pertinent foreigner trekking buddy who could not go on after reaching Beyal Camp. It’s a well-levelled path through a thick forest out of Fairy Meadows and along the ridge with stunning views of Nanga Parbat and Raikot glacier on the left.
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After passing through several streams for an hour through the forest, you will reach Beyal Camp. If you are experiencing shortness of breath and dizziness, a hot cup of kehwa awaits. The locals add an herb called tumuru (smells like oregano) that helps ease altitude sickness. It’s best not to take pictures near the village homes as we were told off, understandably.
Continue for about 30 minutes where a wonderful 3,667-meter viewpoint awaits. If you want to hike further, you can continue to trail to Nanga Parbat base camp. This trek is more difficult and rockier, so hardy hiking shoes are vital. Ice blocks and rocks replace the fairy-tale forest. Be sure to spend at least a day at the meadows so your body can adjust to the altitude before indulging on this journey.
Foreigners with fairer skin beware because the sun at Fairy Meadows is surprisingly direct and extremely harsh. This includes Pakistanis not used to the fresh rays. Even with a 90+ sunscreen and constant applications, sunburn occurred. Slip, slop, slap. Wear a cap and cover-up.
Baby, it’s cold outside
If daytime is heavenly albeit the drastic sun, then dusk and nightfall are surreal. The mountains turn marigold at dusk (be sure to see a love-heart shaped lake behind the meadows during this time) and then the sky lights up with millions of exquisite stars that are simply otherworldly. Around midnight, when the moon comes out, you see how the forest illuminates mystery. The snow-clad mountains are lit up.
It’s also freezing. Depending on the season, temperatures drop drastically into the minus. Pack thermal wear and warm socks for sleeping, especially if camping in a tent. You’ll thank us later.
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