When men and mountain meet

With some trepidation, I sign up for this latest travel expedition.

Ameer Hamza December 11, 2011

They don’t even sound like they belong in Pakistan, these strange and exotic place names that are popping up in my inbox. Immit, Mithramdan, Wargoth glacier, Sokhtarabad, Chitti Boi. With some trepidation, I sign up for this latest travel expedition and agree to pay Rs10,000 in advance to the travel guide who e-mailed this odd-sounding itinerary to me. Feeling the need for a travel partner as I depart to these uncharted territories, I call my just-returned-from-the US friend, Adeel. He gamely agrees to tag along, though he does wonder out loud if good food will be available in these places.

A few days later, we find ourselves munching breakfast in Gilgit, having got here from Rawalpindi via the breathtaking Babussar pass. We’re waiting for the wagon that will take us on to Immit and, while we wait, I keep asking our tour guide, Tanweer babu, if it’s really such a good idea to travel to the Northern tip of Pakistan in the rainy month of September.

Scoffing at my fears, he paints a picture of chirping birds and multi-coloured flowers waving in the breeze … all under a cloudless sky. This is the North, I am reminded, and in any case, September is not the rainy season. Of course, at this time half of lower Sindh is submerged under floodwaters and Karachi is experiencing its heaviest rains in a decade.

I’m reassured, and we proceed on the rather bumpy road to Immit. On the way, we cross a flooded nullah, and a little voice in my head whispers, ‘Turn back…it’s not too late!’ But I pay no heed and then we’re there. Immit is the last outpost of civilisation on this side of the border, the last major town before you enter Afghanistan. This is where the road ends, literally. For us, this means that this is the last chance to buy whatever we may need before entering the wild.

Of course, our tour operator ‘forgets’ to purchase extra oil, wheat and rice and all we have is his vague assurance that we’re well-stocked for the 12-day trek that awaits us.

It’s dusk when we reach our Mithramdan, our first campsite, and there’s just enough sun for us to glimpse the jagged peaks of the mountains against the dying light. It’s freezing cold, and we sleep in a government-run school rather than camp out. Even Tanweer babu looks a little worried as he zips himself into his sleeping bag.

The next day is just as advertised: crystal clear air, beautiful mountains and a veritable aura of happiness. Awaiting us at the school gate is an army of locals, all vigorously bargaining with Tanweer babu. They know the next lot of visitors will only come in June and this is their last chance to make some tourist cash. Eventually one lucky local wins our custom and we head out at 9 am.

As we move on, the stark beauty becomes starker, the water becomes colder the gloves start to come out, and the grumblers (a necessary part of every trek) start grumbling a little louder. At 2 pm, after crossing many beautiful but potentially deadly paths, we reach Chota Yasin. This is the place I really wanted to visit and finally being here is like a dream come true. Ancient Sanober trees dot the landscape,and a single herdsman remains here with his family. the rest having left for warmer climes.

To me, it’s heaven on earth. Imagine a place surrounded by mountains, heavily forested with magnificent Sanober trees and dotted with streams of pure, clean water. Here, the formidable-looking Yak roams free along with the herdsman’s other animals and the conversation revolves around fodder, kids and more fodder. Life is good and all blood pressure patients should come here and stay for a while to sort things out.

The next day we reluctantly pack up and move towards the promised Wargoth glacier. Despite its dangerous sounding name, it is not as formidable a glacier as Baltoro or Hispar but is nevertheless treacherous enough. This is not a place to lose your footing, because falling into one of its numerous crevices won’t just be potentially fatal, but also deeply insulting to someone who considers himself a bonafide trekker. Luckily, no one falls. We soon reach the Wargoth campsite, light a bonfire, and celebrate our first glacier crossing with some warm, salty tea. But it seems the rain gods frown upon our victory as this is when the first (and very heavy) rains begin to fall. All eyes turn towards our sheepish tour operator, who had been insisting ever since we left that rains would not be a problem. We drag ourselves along on slick and slippery paths, cursing him under our breath but still in awe of the landscape.

Twelve soggy hours later, we finally reach Sokhtarabad. It is eerily dark and the rains have resumed after a short break. The sound is so thunderous that it is just impossible to think about anything except how to keep yourself warm and dry. Soon our tents start to leak and we are all wading in cold water, fending for ourselves as our tour operator inexplicably remains fast asleep in his tent, his snores somehow still audible through the sound of the rain.

The next morning, the rain is gone but the clouds remain, hovering around the jagged mountain peaks towards the northwest. I get my first glimpse of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. As a traveler, I am constantly in awe of border regions. I don’t know why, but there’s something about political borders which compels me to visit them. However, I really don’t like visiting Mummy-Daddy-Burger-Baby borders like Wagah, which everyone can get to. I like these tough borders. Rugged places like the one I can see from the Sokhtarabad campsite. Places with names that give you an adrenaline rush.

The next day our tour operator gets sick (or is he fooling?) and we cancel our trek. I give a last, longing look to that now snow-capped peak from where you can hop across into Afghanistan, and return after photographing local yak walking across the landscape. Although we ultimately failed to reach Karomber lake we did manage to see what few Pakistanis ever will in their lifetimes. Leaving the border areas I recalled that remarkable verse by William Blake,

‘Great things are done when men and mountain meet

This is not done by jostling in the street’

A few days later, Adeel and I are back jostling away in Karachi’s streets, wondering when we will meet the mountains again.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2011.


Hamza | 11 years ago | Reply

Ameer Hamza: I totally agree with the fantasy of jagged-mountaineous-border regions. Its absolute mysticism.

Good work with the article.

Ameer Hamza | 11 years ago | Reply

Thank you Mr. Danial. The scope and space in the magazine did not allow for after-trek details. I hope another article will cover those areas.

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