This was the trip that first got me really interested in travelling. Not in my wildest imaginations would I have known such wondrous and beautiful places existed just to the north of where I was living.
It was right after all of us had completed 1 year of endless hard work doing our house jobs, having graduated medical school. And we set off on this adventure in the summer of 2013. What a life changing experience it turned out to be none of us could have imagined.
It’s been four and half years now and I’m a bit rusty on the exact details (never thought I’d be writing about it in a post). I have tried to draw a rough map of the places we went and the routes we took:
Our journey actually started from our home town – Multan, which is about an 8 hours drive south of Islamabad.
All 7 of us (Me, Faisal, Farrukh, Waseem, Hammad, Asif and Awais), were on a really tight budget. We each contributed Rs. 25,000 (which amounts to $230). By the end we had still managed to save Rs. 6,000 each! and that was after having spent 10-11 days wandering around Skardu, Gilgit, Hunza and Fairy Meadows. So for a cost of around $170 / head we were able to take care of all costs including travel, accommodation, food and some extras. Most of the financial management credit goes to Faisal who made sure to get a bargain on everything.
I should mention that we were by no means living in luxury. The first night we spent in Rawalpindi was at a friend’s friend place, which was basically one room for all of us AND the friend. We slept any place we could find on the floor.
Starting from Pirwadhai, Rawalpindi we took the NATCO bus leaving for Skardu at around ~6 pm in the evening. The route initially takes you to the mountain town of Mansehra (see the marker near Abbottabad on the map). There is a few hours rest there and a good local dhaba (food place) at the coach stop, where you should eat your fill keeping in mind the long journey ahead.
From there following the Karakoram highway we made our way up all the way to Chilas and then Jaglot. Soon after Jaglot we left the Karakoram onto the S-1 which takes another 7-8 hours to get to Skardu. All in all the trip from Rawalpindi to Skardu took a menacing 32 hours! There were many many small stops along the way to recharge and our coach was one in a whole tribe of coaches, mini-coaches and vans. All of us tended to stop together on the small village stops in the otherwise uninhabited wilds of those northern roads.
Skardu city  was like a small town and had a very peaceful feel to it. The landscape around Skardu is certainly unique. There are flat lands interspersed with sheer cliff mountains here and there. The color is generally rocky and muddy but every so often you see small green hills and small forests.
The place to start at is the Shangrilla Resort . You need to pre-book a place there. We were lucky enough to stay for free in the army managed quarters around the lake (using Farrukh’s contacts). The lake there is also called the lower Kachura lake, it is man made. Following the same shangrilla resort road to more altitude, we got to the Upper Kachura Lake  which was absolutely stunning. Water so clear it felt like the boats were flying!
There is practically only one main road which goes further northwest towards the Siachen Glacier. Along this road we went to a man-made waterfall – Manthoka Waterfalls . On the way back we stopped at Khaplu lake  and then climbed up to the Kharphocho Fort  overlooking the town of Skardu. Another route goes north towards Shigar Fort  and that route is ultimately the starting point for many mountaineers (who we saw going on mini-coaches) going for Mt. K2.
Gilgit and Hunza Valley
Gilgit  is a proper small city and it has it’s own mini airport. We found a bargain priced Prado Landcruiser to take us up Hunza valley  from Gilgit. About 10 km from Gilgit city we first stopped at Kargah Nallah , here there is also an ancient rock carving of the Buddha  etched into the side of a cliff (how someone managed to carve there in that impossible spot is beyond me). We then made our way all the way up to the ancient Fort of Baltit . And also to the brand new Attabad Lake  which had only recently been formed following the devastating earth-quake in 2010.
I found the people of Hunza especially friendly. One very interesting place we visited was Altit Fort  where this Norwegian NGO – CIQAM had set up a small carpentry factory which employed only women. As a result we were told most of the women in that area were independent and employed.
The breath-taking Mt. Rakaposhi  is also visible as you get more north in the valley. It suddenly appears as an ice giant, it’s peak soaring above the clouds gravitating around it. As with many other such scenes, words won’t do it any justice. I’ll leave rest of the talking to the pictures above.
If I say words can’t do Mt. Rakaposhi justice, I must say not even pictures or the most well made videos can do justice to Mt. Nanga Parbat .
I’ve marked Fairy Meadows  with a green marker on the map above because it is literally in the middle of no-where. On our way back we parked the four-wheeler we were taking to Islamabad on the side of the road at the Raikot Bridge (where the Raikot river joins the Indus river). The river is coming from the Raikot glacier which is at the base Mt. Nanga Parbat.
We then boarded these heavy duty jeeps driven by eccentric local drivers. We were in for the ride of our lives. For 2 hours we went up this steep death road made by locals (nope not by the govt. or any building company). In fact on our way down the jeep in front of ours which had the rest of our group nearly plunged down the cliff! it was literally a miracle that didn’t by about 2 inches. Some quick thinking got everyone trying to jump out of the jeep at once.
Coming back to the ascent. The jeeps, after 2 hours, stop in the middle of the mountain. From there it was on foot we had to hike for another 3 hours to reach the peak. But that is where you get blown away. It’s all worth it and more. The view I got as I reached the meadow and looked around was one I had never seen and have since never seen (having been to 9 countries so far). This was not reality anymore, it was a dream. It seemed this paradise had been hidden and preserved in this state for millennia. But nothing I say or show you can describe the view of Mt. Nanga Parbat from this place. It seemed like the earth was reaching towards the sky. It had folded itself up into an enormous wall of white ice. Yet there were peaks soaring even further up from this gargantuan wall of ice. It is utterly indescribable.
We met some very rare and interesting people up there. There was a German wild-life expert making a documentary. There was also another European (I think he was from Scandinavia) he was on a quest to ride around the world. We also met a very famous supreme court judge and his family there. A fitting end to our adventure was our last night atop the Fairy Meadows. We gathered around a large campfire and discussed all manner of things from politics to the nature of truth and reality.