Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kalash and Fairy Meadows: Itinerary

A random scene captured by Nadeem from inside Chitral-Gilgit bus
Karakoram Express: Karachi to Faisalabad and Beyond
First took the train – Karakoram Express – to Faisalabad which departed from Karachi Cantt Station at 4 pm, as per the schedule. To our further pleasant surprise, it proved to be a smooth journey with clean bogies, comfortable berths, and a neat dining car until we hit the inevitable.

PKR 1,400 Karachi to Faisalabad Karakoram Express - Economy Class

Nonstop to Chitral
Early in the morning, past Khanewal Junction, when it was just two hours away from Faisalabad, oil seals of the train engine started leaking. So we had to wait for around 4 hours – at a small railway station right in the middles of the wheat crops – for the contingency to arrive. Luckily it was not that hot due to the mist in the air and then the crop reaping was not a common sight for us.

Reached Faisalabad at around 2 pm and hastily jumped on the Rawalpindi bound bus – Skyways – which was standing outside the train station as we had already missed the Sammi Daewoo booking. Then reached Mandi Mor of the Pir Widhai Bus Station at around 7:30 pm to catch the Chitral bound overnight coaster which left at 9 pm.

PKR 500 Faisalabad to Rawalpindi Skyways Bus (AC + Motorway M2/M3)
PKR 1200 Rawalpindi to Chitral overnight coaster

Reaching Kalash via Lowari Tunnel
It was around 10 am when the coaster reached Chitral town after passing through the masterpiece Lowari tunnel. From there we hired a station wagon type car for the 2 hour journey to Rumbur, one of the three remaining Kalash valleys, to end our non-stop marathon from Karachi.

PKR 500 Station Wagon Taxi (Actually PKR 1500 for 3 of us. Public transport would cost 125 each)

Joshi: When Spring Arrives in Kalash
No traveling today as we attended the Kalash spring festival: Joshi.

Trekking to Pakistan’s Last Village
Today we trekked all the way to the last Pakistan village along Afghan border called Sheikhenende. The uphill walk was not that easy for the urbanite us and took 3 tough hours to cover the distance which was only one hour on the way back.

Woke up early today to catch the shared jeep to Chitral, which was not there unfortunately. In order to explain this surprise unavailability of the public transport, our host gave us an interesting account. According to him, most of the labors – including drivers – were busy searching a precious herb found in the surrounding forest, which earns them more money than the cheap labor!

After a bit of search a cab driver agreed to take us to the nearby town Ayun (one and a half hour) with the condition that we would pay PKR 500 and he would be free to take more passengers enroute, if he would find any. It turned out to be a complete win-lose situation on his part as he easily got 3 more passengers whom he charged the regular fare! From Ayun, we took another shared cab to Chitral town (one hour) where we waited a couple of hours for the shared Land Cruiser jeep to Mastuj (4 hours).

PKR 250 Rumbur (Kalash) to Ayun (PKR 500 for 2 of us)
PKR 100 Ayun to Chitral
PKR 300 Chitral to Mastuj

After spending the cool night in Mastuj we took the NATCO bus – just after the sunrise – heading to Gilgit via Shandur Pass. We booked our seats the night ahead to ensure the front portion of the bus. The scenic journey – full of colourful twists and turns – continued for the next 11-12 hours until we reached Gilgit. There the bus rather stopped at a small NATCO station in the city outskirt instead of going to the main station so the journey was still incomplete. An opportunistic taxi driver quoted PKR 300 assuming that we were rich tourists but to his disappointment we settled for a vivid public Suzuki to get to the city center. 

PKR 860 Mastuj to Gilgit by NATCO
PKR 20 Suzuki for Gilgit city center

NATCO was unwilling to take us to Raikot Bridge because of the short distance so we had to take resort on the hi-ace van going towards Chilas. The van was stuffed to the capacity making it quite uncomfortable and then the road was also under construction. We had to bear that for more than 2 hours until it crossed the bridge where mountain jeeps were lined up for their turns. Next 2 hours were quite adventurous as the jeep track was quite steep and narrow leaving behind a rugged and barren landscape. Soon the tracks ended at Jhal village, after Tattu village, from where we had to trek to the hilltop after handing over the luggage to local porters.

PKR 230 Gilgit to Raikot Bridge (a Singaporean traveler later shared that he paid PKR 200)
PKR 3000 Jeep to Jhal. PKR 6000 for the whole jeep (max 5-6 people) which also includes the downward journey.
PKR 425 Porter. (PKR 850 for 25 kg)

The Killer Mountain
No traveling today as we were mostly busy in capturing Nanga Parbat – the world’s 9th highest peak – which is also known as the Killer Mountain due to its easier said than done ascent! Took some rest too after the neck breaking journey.

Snowfall in May!
Wow it was snowfall there and that too in the month of May! Enjoyed the intermittent clouds and sun the whole day.

And Some More Snowfall
So we had more snowfall today so canceled the trek to Beyal Camp!

Return Journey Starts
The trip ended on a high note and we decided to make it to Karachi non-stop as we did at the start of the trip. The walking trek down the hill was much easier but there was a landslide on the jeep trek which caused a little delay so we could hit the KKH around noon at Raikot Bridge where we hailed hi-ace vans going in the direction of Chilas. Luckily one of the vans had two uncomfortable seats available which we happily grabbed for the next 2 hours. After reaching Chilas we headed straight to the NATCO office and booked the Executive Liner – which had to come from Gilgit at around 5 pm – to Rawalpindi.  

PKR 300 Porter (PKR 600 for 2 backpacks)
PKR 200 Raikot Bridge to Chilas
PKR 1660 Chilas to Rawalpindi NATCO

Nonstop Once Again
It was 6:30 am when we reached Pir Widhai where we booked 8 am Kohistan Coach for Faisalabad which actually did not move before 9 until all the seats got filled up. After reaching Faisalabad at around 1:30 pm, we obviously headed to the train station only to know that Karakoram Express cannot be booked before 5 pm so we settled down for the Millat Express which departed for Karachi as per schedule on 4:30 pm.

PKR 450 Rawalpindi to Faisalabad (AC + Motorway M2/M3)
PKR 3120 Faisalabad to Karachi Millat Express Lower AC Berth

Pleasant Surprise
The Millat Express decision proved correct, in fact it was once again a pleasant surprise as we reached Karachi Drig Road before 10am! Happy ending indeed!

PKR 14,515 Total expenses on logistics