The gorgeous Fairy Meadows, is wide expansive heaven garden where you can lay on lush green grass and play with free spirited little lambs. You can chat with the hospitable local cottage owners, who will be eager to narrate you the details about your fairy tale surrounding. And soon you will find, as the mighty mountain will reveal itself from beneath the clouds, what a distraction everything else is.
I cannot do poetic justice to describe the Fairy Meadow experience. Let me take you through my short trekking tour to the base camp of Nanga Parbat. The trip was about 3 things:
1. The Road Trip
Our day one was a 18 hour road trip
We left from Islamabad around 12 midnight for what turned out to be a long but beautiful journey to Chillas. We covered 370 kilometres in 18 hours. There were 3 stopovers, one in Abottabad for late night tea, 7am stopover for breakfast and 1pm stopover for lunch. The most breathtaking moment of this journey was seeing the sun rise over Thakot town. When you leave a busy city at night and wakeup to lush green mountain valley housing tiny cottages; it is like waking up in paradise. If you are on this journey, make sure you are awake by 5 am.
When we finished our journey and reached the small town of Chillas, it was close to sunset. By this time we were looking forward to a warm shower and a cup of tea. Shangrilla Indus View is the nicest accommodation you will find in Chillas. Dinner buffet was served early and was followed by a what-to-expect-tomorrow session by our lovely tour guides.
2. The Hike
Getting to Fairy Meadows was entire day long journey: bus + jeep ride + hike
We loaded into our bus, to cover a short distance to Raikot Sarai, a stop-over point from where we said good bye to road and started our jeep ride. Five people, one jeep and an endless bumpy ride with mountain wall on our one side, and a deep steep valley on the other side. This journey dialed up our adrenaline levels. We trusted the skills of our local jeep driver Mr Khan, there was no way but to trust.
At the end of jeep ride, a small village called Tattu greeted us. It was our lunch stopover and starting point for the hike.
Hike to Fairy Meadows is a 3 hour long affair, for an average inexperienced hiker. You are accompanied by not only your fellows but also by the local porters who whiz by you all the time carrying your & others’ luggage. Not just local porters but also the local horses and donkeys keep crossing you carrying luggage and people who give up during their hike.
You would also like to have your camera handy during this hike because the further you walk, the more breathtaking the view gets. One and half hour down, the trail becomes flat, and you can enjoy for about next 45 minutes, the effortless stroll through the tall green trees and a forest like patch. In the last 45 minutes of the hike, the trail becomes steep again, and actually challenging in the last 15 minutes. At that point you are likely to be intercepted by herds of lambs and goats trying to cross the already slippery trail. But finally when you make it up to the top, it all makes sense. The 3 hour of sweat and blood makes perfect sense. Make sure you have your jacket handy, since it is chilly at the meadows especially when the sun is going down. But don’t worry, you will be served with steamy hot Tamoro tea (brewed with a plant that grows up there in the mountains) as a welcome drink, along with a sudden eerie calm.
There are a handful lodging companies up at the meadows. Each company run by a local is basically a fenced area which houses several wooden cottage rooms, a campsite, a lounge and a restaurant. Staying at one of these lodging sites, means that you will be taken care of from dawn to dusk by the owners and employees. Our stay was arranged at Raikot Sarai Camp Resort.
Sun sets and the dark sky brings a completely different mood. You truly feel you are in the wild, disconnected from the world, in the lap of nature. With absolutely no activity to do when it is dark, no networks, everyone is drawn to the fire, bound to listen to the crackling of burning wood and pay attention to conversations. This happens no more in city life.
3. The Sights
Only on day 3 we were able to see Nanga Parbat sans clouds & other breathtaking views on way to the Beyaal camp
The first morning divided our group into two; those who wanted to trek to Nanga Parbat’s base camp and those who wanted to trek till Beyal camp. Beyal camp is in between the meadows and the NP base camp; after which the trail becomes challenging, and requires willpower and good shoes. Those who felt ambitious, adventurous and counted on their previous hiking experience decided to hike up to base camp. Others (including me) decided to enjoy an easy
and lazy trek to Beyal camp.
This trek offered breathtaking views of Nanga Parbat and a soul-cleansing trail amidst the thick forest. The decision to not hike up to basecamp allowed me to stroll at an easy pace, say hello to grazing cows, snap selfies with them, sit by the water stream, observe the flora and fauna, and think a deep thought or two, along with enjoying my peanuts. I was not worried about making it or not making it up to the base camp and back to the meadows before sunset.
Lunch was served at Beyaal camp, but by then my stomach had already had enough of the heavy stream water. I requested for a bowl of noodles instead of the lentil-rice lunch plate and the Khan in the kitchen enthusiastically served me one.
Post lunch, we did a 10 minute steep hike to a view point from where we could see the glacier at the bed of Nanga Parbat. Unfortunately, it was too hazy and cloudy at that time to treat our eyes with a clear NP view, which we were expecting.
The hike down to the meadow was even more relaxed in pace. How many times in a year do you get an afternoon, when you have no agenda other than to aimlessly wander and inquisitively wonder about the sights and sounds around you.
Back to the meadows, this was the evening I heard my legs make complaint. Therefore to unwind, we curled with the warm quilts and cup of tea, inside the lounge, soaking in the Nanga Parbat, showing off itself against the setting sun.
This was our second and last night, fortunately we got to see the signature starry sky we had only seen in pictures. It was a sight I had never seen and will remember the rest of my life. Stars big and small tightly sewn like golden beads on a dark navy cloth.
After the dinner, local men gathered to dance around the fire. Chilly night, beautiful sky, warmth of fire and cheerful local men, enjoying their time while putting a show for us.
It was goodbye.