Deosai: Anything but plain

Published: July 17, 2011
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“Ahead lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by 
minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of 
desolation” — Aleister 
Crowley.

“Ahead lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of desolation” — Aleister Crowley.

“Ahead lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by 
minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of 
desolation” — Aleister 
Crowley. “Ahead lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by 
minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of 
desolation” — Aleister 
Crowley. “Ahead lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by 
minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of 
desolation” — Aleister 
Crowley. “Ahead lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by 
minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of 
desolation” — Aleister 
Crowley. “Ahead lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by 
minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of 
desolation” — Aleister 
Crowley. “Ahead lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by 
minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of 
desolation” — Aleister 
Crowley.

The wide expanse of Deosai — only interrupted by occasional flower-beds and lakes — plays tricks on the eye of the traveler. As I approached the second highest plateau on Earth the clouds above appeared to be toucing the highlands and the hills seemed to be caving in on the plateau. Though as I stood in the midst of the Deosai plains, the sky above seemed higher than ever before and the mountain peaks studded the furthest possible  horizon.

The famous occultist and mountaineer Aleister Crowley said, “It (Deosai) has a devilish reputation for inhospitality” and indeed, these high plains remain covered in beds of snow for most of the year save a few months of summer. Though summer nights too see layers of frost every now and then around the lakes. Shunned by civilization, the sole human presence in the plains consists of travelers on foot crossing from Skardu to Astore during the short summer or occasional jeep-driven tourists. As snow begins to melt, few Gujar herders use this path to cross regions with their sheep, goats and cattle. There are hardly any permanent settlements in the area, though the air of desolation that surrounds this immense landscape gives it an aura of mystique if nothing else.

The Deosai Plains can be visited most reliably between early to mid July and late September. It is also noted for sporadic windstorms that are certain to test the sturdiness of your tent. Nowhere lower than 13,000 feet in altitude, the rolling grasslands support no trees or shrubbery and the Deosai’s ruling denizens are scattered colonies of large marmots. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, these plains give a unique combination of absolutely leveled ground and steepest of hills.  It is not simply a plateau offering a scenic view of the mountains; it is an immense stretch of land that has to be witnessed to be believed.

We started our expedition to the plains from Skardu in our rugged jeep, along the road that lead up to Satpara lake through Satpara nala, Burji lake and the exquisite Seosar lake. This was a five to six days long trek which gave us an excellent panorama of the central Karakoram range (including K2) and let us walk along the Deosai Plains. The route followed a valley just west of Satpara, crossed the 15,700 feet Burji lake, debouched onto the plains and circled back, following the seldom used road connecting Skardu and Astore. You could walk this route instead but be sure to do so only after you have trekked a few kilometers in the region and know how to plant your feet on steep terrains.

The view from here is once that has enthralled visitors for centuries. In 1912 the English physician and hiker Ernest Neve when writing about the Burji Lake said: “The view from here looking northward is one of the most magnificent in the whole of the Himalayas.” The same is true today.

This track eventually joined the rarely travelled road near a rock cairn. We then followed the road across the 14,000 feet Chachor Pass, where a wide lake sparkled just before the high saddle that comprised the pass. Here we bid farewell to the compelling Deosai and entered the Das Khirim Gah – a clear stream that drains into the Astor River. In the distance we could see forests of mixed pine and a valley seeping into the first village, with its small rectangular houses made of stones and logs. Continuing down the valley, we entered a realm of tall, scattered pines and finally had our first view of the majestic Nanga Parbat towering over the ridge to our left. We could not stand here for long though as we were still searching for the ideal spot for viewing the mountains.

We continued down the road to the mouth of Das Khirim Gah, where it joined the main Astor River at the western base of Nanga Parbat. The 26,660 feet mountain was spread out before us just a few miles to the west. At this ridge we could see the infamous Rupal valley at the southern base of the mountain. We scrambled down the hill in search of water and a flat piece of land to pitch our tents. And then came the sight that made our entire trip worthwhile … the spellbinding sunrise on the Nanga Parbat seen from this steep, deserted hill. We sat there for a while, simply staring at this miracle of nature.

We then continued down the small trail on the hill to the famous Rupal Valley which eventually leads to the village of Rampur – the hub of trade and culture during the 20th Century which connected India to Central Asia and Tibet. The Rupal Valley did not disappoint my imagination. Surrounded by some of the world’s highest mountain faces, the valley is nothing short of a traveler’s dream … but that is a story for another day!

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 17th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Iftikhar-ur-Rehman
    Jul 17, 2011 - 4:36PM

    Going from Skardu to Astore through Deosai Plains is an experience one must have at least once in ones lifetime.

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  • Sam
    Jul 18, 2011 - 11:00AM

    it looks stunning.. i home im able to go at least once.. im worried about the security situation there… any idea about that?

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  • Iftikhar-ur-Rehman
    Jul 18, 2011 - 11:23AM

    @Sam:
    I have been there and NO SECURITY PROBLEM

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  • Naveed
    Jul 18, 2011 - 11:38AM

    @Sam…..the area adjoining Skardu and Baltistan is completely safe not just for the locals but also for the foreigners. there has been just one incident in 15 years when two foreigners were kidnap for ransom and later killed. they were traveling alone in the region without the escort of local porters. it is described as one of the safest places in the world by the visiting tourists. you should check the explorersweb dot com for unbiased info regarding the security situation. the people are some of the most peace loving in the region and are famous for their traditional hospitality. many of the renowned climbers like Simone Moro and Mountaineer turned Philanthropist Greg Mortenson are regular visitors of the region apart from many of the other climbing expeditions for the Karakorum peaks. you should most definitely visit the area.

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  • Jul 19, 2011 - 1:43PM

    I am so sick of all these comments on security concerns, wake-up O my country men/women, please go to government schools and read your own geography, travel and explore your own country before going abroad. Gilgit-Baltistan is way out of so called dangerous zone; it is close to Chinese border, very tourist friendly people. There are more western travelers and mountaineers then Pakistanis, the westerners’ feel safe to travel in Gilgit- Baltistan, for Pakistanis its fashion to talk about security these days
    Step out and discover your own country.
    The article is nice but the main picture is of Mushkpuri not Deosai

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  • Jul 19, 2011 - 1:50PM

    Naveed Sahib when and where in Gilgit –Baltistan these travelers were kidnapped for ransom, which nationalities they were in my knowledge there is no such incidents took place in the last 30 years, please explain
    Najeeb

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  • TAHIR AHMAD
    Jul 20, 2011 - 8:33AM

    Our hiking club trekked from kel ( Neelam Valley) to sakardu in 15 days way back in 1986. In the final leg of our hiking adventure we crossed the vast DEOSAI PLAINS and even crossed the 5 big waters over there as there were no bridges at that time and those which were there, most of them were broken. However trekking in that soggy area was one great experience of our hiking club and during that crossing we just came across two men in 3 days.I suggest that our young men and women should visit the area and try to cross it on FOOT. It was the most loveliest, wonderful and one of the greatest adventurous trek of my hiking career.

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  • nadir ali shah
    Jul 20, 2011 - 3:42PM

    great job karim yes we have many the world best places like shandour ,wakhan,kurumber lake ,kalashvaly ,yaseen vally hunza&nagir barvally in nagir freemedose count les so deosai is on of the beautiful tourist pales ,the hole region wich fulfil your desire of enjoyment recherche work,camera work its gives a chance to fulfil of a compelet outdoor trip.

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  • Ahmad M. Qamar
    Jul 23, 2011 - 7:56AM

    I have personally been to the Deosai plains. And, frankly speaking, I did not find these high mountains which have been shown in the pictures to be there at any point. Deosai has rolling plains and small hills. The couple of lakes there are also not surrounded by such high hills/ mountains. I doubt if the writer of this piece has submitted authentic photographs of the plain. The Express Tribune must take note of this. For more accurate and authentic information, read ‘The Trekking Guide of Pakistan’ by Isobel Shaw, one of the best persons to be consulted on this.

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  • Secrecy
    Jul 23, 2011 - 6:56PM

    Heaven on Earth. One must atleast go there once – seems tremendous place. I have only gone to batakunda but that was back in 2004. I have to come up with plan – The places between Gilgit and Skardu are way to beautiful for a man; its beyond his imagination.

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  • Imran
    Jul 27, 2011 - 8:15AM

    Been there and crossed the whole range on a mountain bike!
    Some pictures are not of Deosai. all cheers.

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