At the end of a trail 3300 meters above sea level, nestled between the mountains and forests of Diamer in Gilgit Baltistan, lies a small patch of serenity.
The journey, for those in Lahore, is long to say the least. But at the end of hours of cramped bus rides, hurried meals, hastily arranged hotel stays, a terrifying jeep ride and a long but refreshing trek is the satisfaction of falling down and seeing yourself surrounded by green, endless pastures framed by a skyline that has the most breathtaking mountains and trees as far as the eyes can see.
In this small, remote corner of Diamer, the much famed Fairy meadows are a tiny taste of heaven. One of the base camps for Nanga Parbat, the meadows are a much coveted destination point that has fortunately remained elusive.The three hour trek that is needed to get to the meadows has been enough of a deterrent to keep many away and the amount of visitors down to a sustainable amount. The majesty of it aside, the remoteness of the location is one of the things that makes it special.
The trek aside the journey is a difficult one. Starting from Lahore it is hours on the motorway as one makes their way slowly upwards towards Islamabad and beyond. The stops on the way, of course, are for the individual traveller to decide. But a straight journey of nearly ten hours will take you straight to Balakot, just ahead of Naran and Kaghan. So set off near midnight and you can safely be having breakfast in Balakot before setting out again towards Naran.
Beautiful in their own right but marred by an excessive flow of tourists, the rush in these areas is one of the reasons that more tourists are seeking out more remote locations like Fairy meadows. Still, it is worth stopping over at certain points on the journey, if only to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. Moving ahead from Naran there is Lulusar lake, another point not as frequently visited despite its mesmerising, clear, green water. From here, there is another long drive, now on roads not nearly as smooth or comfortable as the motorway or as familiar as those in Naran. The destination is Babusar pass, a bitterly cold, endless pile of rock and stone 4000+ meters above sea level that makes you step back and stare when the sun hits just the right spot.
After the basic sight seeing, enough time will have passed that one would go on ahead to Chillas, a dry, hot and unattractive place, to spend the night before setting out early next morning for Raikot. At Raikot, of course, the traveller can make a call. They can go on ahead towards Khunjrab pass and see Astor before circling back and spending the night in the hauntingly beautiful and terribly cold plains of Deosai. Or, they could get a jeep and make the 90 minute long, 15 kilometer jeep ride to Tattu village.
The jeep ride in question will have your heart in your throat throughout. A certain amount of nerve is needed to make it, and a lot more durability given all the bumping around one is going to do in the jeep. The faint of heart would be advised not to look down the ledge that leads to an endless pit with nothing but jagged rocks and rough waters at the bottom. One would also do well to appreciate the nerve and skill of the locals that so effortlessly navigate the route from Raikot to Tattu.
From Tattu begins the trek. This is the part that most terrifies those wanting to go to Fairy meadows. Despite the presence of porters and offers of mule rides, it has been enough to keep the inflow of tourists to the meadows at a minimum. For the inexperienced, the trek is going to be a pain. What they don’t realise is that the incline is gentle and the rocks firm instead of slippery. The weather is unassuming and the sound of the river and streams throughout the trek make it a refreshing excursion to say the least.
At the end of the near three hour trek, reaching the meadows is entirely surreal. Even though it is a large patch of pasture, the arrival at the meadows happens suddenly. There is no real gradual increase of trees and grass but an abrupt end to the trail that leads to a sea of green. The travelers that make it always end up saying the best part is falling into the grass when the trek is finally done with.
But as the dust settles from the trek, one realises the sheer magnificence of the surrounding. Again, the meadows are a large patch of hilly grassland with defined edges. From these edges, from which there is only a downwards fall to look down to, one looks up to see the Nanga Parbat staring them in the face.
Visitors often spend nights upon nights in their cabins or in their tents waiting for the clouds to clear to get a view of the killer mountain. It is beautiful even with the clouds, with the sun dancing around the edges at dawn and giving a blurred golden tease of the tip of the mountain at times. But when the clouds do eventually break and the rains stop, the sun shines down from the edge of the Nanga Parbat.
From Fairy Meadows, the adventurous can go on ahead to Bayal camp and get closer to Nanga Parbat. From there they can go to Pakistan view point and then to the German view point. Or, you can stay at the meadows and make the most of the silence, the only connection to the outside world being the PCOs set up by locals.
The trek down is naturally quicker and simultaneously more dangerous. At the end of it, it is a fulfilling experience. One that the traveller will miss. And despite the hardships of the journey, one wouldn’t bat an eye if asked to go again.