"Guten Morgen aus dem Land der Wunder, Pakistan" arshadthetrekker's Profile

Exploring Pakistan

Ich heisse Arshad Ali aka arshadthetrekker, dwelling in the north western areas of Pakistan. My interest in trekking and mountaineering sparked off in 1996 and 1997 respectively. I had a typical camera in 1996 and toured Kalam Valley. While hanging around there it revealed to my curious mind that the only way to quench my thirst of exploration is trekking and taking shelter in the mountains. The same year I backpacked and rendezvoused with my comrades at a glade in a thick conifer forest in my village. In December 1997, I visited Chitral, the crown jewel of beauty, in North Western Pakistan. I had my lunch in an Afghan restaurant on Shahi Masjid Road and the lively bazaar of Chitral fascinated me. I enjoyed the Afghan cuisine for the first time there and moved by its piquant taste. In Chitral in whichever direction I gazed I found lofty mountains dominating the horizon. Tirich Mir 7708 mt, the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush Range, was overlooking Chitral Town and instantly enchanted me. It was there in the vale of Chitral that I pledged that I will explore the valley at my leisure and will publicize its unique diverse culture, history, geography and breathtaking natural beauty. Swat Valley was my next popular destination and it was that beautiful valley which stirred up my mind to enamour trekking. The jagged mountains of Mankial, overlooking Kalam Valley, were throwing down the gauntlet but that time I was a novice and didn't take up the gauntlet. After that I intended that I will explore Pakistan at length and will show to the foreigners its natural beauty, mountains, valleys, diverse cultures, history and geography. So I am here to do that stupendous job.

Swat Valley, where my interest sparked in trekking

In May 1996, I toured Swat Valley, “the Switzerland of Pakistan” and fascinated by its stunning natural beauty, lush green forests, lakes, lofty mountains, fast running streams and fantastic landscape. It is indeed a “mini Switzerland”and attracts huge number of tourists every year. In first glance I fell in love with that spectacular valley and pledged that I will explore it whenever I get an opportunity. Swat Valley is narrow in the north and gradually becomes widen in the south. The narrow north has some of its beautiful spots such as Madyan, Bahrain, Kalam, Ushu, Utror and Miandam. Swat Valley has some of Pakistan's most beautiful lakes in its north. These lakes have lured nature-lovers across Pakistan and even abroad. Mahodand Lake, Kundal Lake, Daral Lake and Saidgai danda are some of well known lakes in Swat Valley. I ever wished to explore these lakes and bivouac on its banks to fully enjoy the nature in its unspoiled state. In October 2007, I arranged a trekking party of four people and trekked to Swat Valley via Skyland, a resort in Dir Upper, and fully took delight of that challenging trek. Descending Swat Valley, we missed the track and appeared in a small hamlet; an aged man entertained us with Swat's traditional hospitality and guided us to reach our destination. November 1, 2009 was another lovely day when I again trekked to Swat Valley with two fellow trekkers along the same route. The weather was idyllically pleasant and serene and the picturesque landscape around us was stunning. It was a challenging and strenuous trek and drained all of our energies. Our group of four launched the 2010 trekking expedition to Swat Valley via the same route and fully enjoyed it. When we got to Skyland it began to rain and due to poor visibility we lost for a while but at last re-tracked. The 2011 tour of Swat Valley was a unique experience due to snowfalls on our route.

My first trek of Tirich Mir base camp in 2009

I have been to Owir Valley two times...August 2009 and September 2012. I wanted to get to the base camp of Tirich Mir and both the times I encountered Mard Gul fall in the way and couldn't cross it. I had been there in August 2009 and in the halcyon days of summer it was an unusual experience to head for the base camp of Tirich Mir. My host was a nice guy and his father briefed me about the pros and cons of the trek to the base camp.
According to his account, Mard Gul was an audaciously bold and expert hunter in the Owir Valley. He used to hunt Markhor (wild goat), ibex, doves and pigeons in the rugged mountains in the immediate vicinity of Tirich Mir. Hunting was perhaps his livelihood and he used to do it with primitive tools in that remote and isolated valley. One day Mard Gul was in search of markhors high up on a steep mountainside near the fall. He struggled all the day to get one but all his efforts went in vain. He gave a long weary sigh on a steep ridge after a strenuous struggle. Considering his returning back to home before dark, he stepped downward the ridge unwillingly when all at once he slipped. His body gained momentum as the ridge dipped. He struggled hard to save himself but unfortunately couldn't succeeded. A few seconds later his body dragged into the fall by the ever-increasing momentum of his body downward. The fast-flowing glacial fall and its slippery banks proved fatal for Mard Gul. His body never found instead of thorough search by the local people. The fall is an important tributary of Barum Gol which drains the Owir Valley and empties itself into the Mastuj River downward. After that tragedy local people of Barum, Shahbronz and Riri named the fall as “Mard Gul Fall”. The fall is formed by the glacial stream, emerging from a glacier and flows over a precipice downward into Barum Gol.

An irrigation-ditch is excavated by the local people to harness the water of the fall for irrigation and drinking. The aforesaid ditch is dug in the most difficult terrain of Hindu Kush and it wonders everyone who ever manage to get there and see it. Government support is nowhere and local people dug it for their livelihood. Geological processes are active in this region and it causes small earthquakes which in turn cause landsliding. Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates collide and in result the three great ranges of the world namely Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush are formed. The above-mentioned irrigation-ditch is dug in a most dangerous place and every year landsliding destroy most parts of it.
We started our trek on 20 August 2009 at 8:20 AM and soon arrived at a vantage point. It was Thursday the most auspicious day for me. I was born on Thursday and most events of my life happened on that day. We had a binocular to view far-off avalanches on the steep sides of Tirich Mir and surrounding mountains. I was taking shots along the trekking trail and was awed by the impressive mountains straddling all along to the base camp. We followed the above ditch for about 7 kilometres and then encountered the fall all at once. We swerved toward the edge of the fall but the slippery rocks which were scattered there couldn't allowed us an inch forward. My fellow trekker recommended an alternative route to follow but the time was too short for making it to the base camp. We returned unwillingly to Lasht Ghari, a small hamlet where my host dwell. I had my lunch with them in their mountain-cottage and then embarked on a tedious back journey to the main road where I would catch a vehicle for Chitral Town. I arrived at Chitral Adda at night and hired a taxi for Ayun. Ayun is where my journey began for Tirich Mir. It is a beautiful village along the Chitral River and gateway to the Kalash valleys of Bamborate, Rumbur and Birir. I got to Ayun at midnight and retired to bed as I was exhausted. I woke up at 10:00 AM the next day and began exploring Chitral River.

Kalam Valley, a popular destination for tourists

Kalam is a beautiful valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It lies in the north of district Swat and has fantastic natural beauty. Ushu and Utror rivers meet there. The valley has thickly-wooded pine forests, fast-flowing streams, beautiful lakes, snowcapped mountains and fantastic landscape. It lures trekkers, mountaineers, hikers, nature lovers and everyone who wants to see nature in its unspoiled state. Mahodand, Kundal Lake, Daral Danda, Saidgai Danda and Bashigram Danda are some of the spectacular lakes in Kalam Valley. Each year thousand of people visit these beautiful lakes. Mount Falaksir is the highest mountain in Swat Valley. It straddles in the Ushu Valley of Swat district. Its elevation from sea level is 5918 metres. I had been there for the first time in May 1996. I had heard a lot about that valley and decided to tour it one day. So I got an opportunity in May 1996 and toured that crown jewel of beauty in Pakistan.

I got a van at Mingora Adda for Kalam Valley. Mingora is the commercial hub of district Swat. It was 11 May 1996. Transportation fare that time was Rs. 30 from Mingora to Kalam. Last year in 2011 it was Rs. 250. When we arrived in Bahrain the van stopped for lunch and I got an opportunity to hang around. It was a lively bazaar and having lunch there had its own taste. I enjoyed my brief stay fully at Bahrain. The van headed again for Kalam Valley and after an hour it got to Kalam bazaar.

It was my first appearance into that splendid valley. I got into a hotel and took tea. It stimulated me and I hiked up a small hillock to take photos and had beautiful views of Kalam. I had a typical roll-film camera and therefore limited to 36 shots to take. I took gorgeous shots of Kalam bazaar, Mankial Mountains and surrounding valleys. I came close to the bank of River Swat and its water was very cold. Now after 16 years later when I look at the pictures of that tour I become happy. I delight in imagining about the adventures of childhood I had that time. I have been curious since my childhood and adventure is in my blood. So I undertook that adventure and quenched my thirst of travelling I had that time.

After a hiatus of 16 years I got again to Kalam Valley with my trekking comrades last November and explored it at length. But I didn't feel what I felt in 1996. A lot of changes have occurred in Kalam. The terrible floods in 2010 had swept away the main road from Bahrain to Kalam. It had also damaged considerable parts of Kalam bazaar and the hotel industry was in bad recession. It will take time to restore the splendidness of Kalam Valley again after the floods.

Chitral, an awesome region of lofty mountains

Chitral is an area of outstanding natural beauty and unique cultures. It boasts massive mountains which offer endless opportunities for trekking, hiking, hillwalking and climbing. Chitral is also home to a fascinating variety of peoples, including the non-Muslim Kalash, Pathans and the semi-nomadic Wakhi. As in Hunza, the people of Upper Chitral are Ismaili Muslims and much more open in their outlook. Compared with Northern Areas, Chitral receives few tourists, though it has as much as Northern Areas to offer the visitors. The people of Chitral are friendly, hospitable, cooperative and very peaceful.

More than 320 kilometres long,1500 metres high above sea-level, it is separated from Tajikistan by the narrow Wakhan Corridor, and from China by the Hunza region. The valley is drained by the Mastuj River and its numerous tributaries and is encircled by majestic peaks of splendour. The rugged and heavily glaciated Hindu Kush Range raise a formidable barrier along the western and northern border with Afghanistan. Averaging over 4500 metres above sea-level and dominated by Tirich Mir 7708 mt and Istro Nal 7327 mt, these mountains mark the watershed between the valleys draining the Oxus and the Indus basins. To the south and east, the Shandur Mountains (also known as the Hindu Raj) separate Chitral from Gilgit, Swat and Dir. The Chitral River, known by different names at various stages along its course, rises in the area of the Chiantar Glacier, a 40 kilometres sheet of ice which is also the source of of the Oxus and Gilgit rivers. Here, is the Yarkand, it flows down from an altitude of over 5000 metres to be joined by the Laspur River which drains most of the northern slopes of the Shandur Range. It is then known as the Mastuj until joined by the Lutkoh branch, draining the Tirich Mir region, where it becomes the Chitral River for much of its course until, close to Afghanistan, it becomes the Kunar. In total the river valley runs to over 300 kilometres. Close to Chitral Town the river plain widens to over four kilometres in width and runs in a broken pattern of cultivated alluvial fans right down to Nagar, 10 kilometres south of Drosh. It enters Afghanistan near Arandu. It is a major tributary of Kabul River and re-enters Pakistan where it and other tributaries are known as Kabul River.

River Chitral has plenty of potentialities for generating hydroelectricity in Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But our government couldn't generate a single megawatt of it and it remains un-utilized. It is our government's incompetence that such rivers are not being utilized for producing cheap electricity. We have the year-run rivers and still facing the agonizing load-shedding...it's a question for our government. If Chitral River harnessed for hydroelectricity it can generate hundred of megawatt and can remedy the issue of ongoing power-breakdown in our country.

Skyland, a beautiful resort in Dir Upper, Pakistan

Skyland is a beautiful resort in Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It is entirely lie in Dir Upper and it is the furthest extent of Dir district toward Swat Valley in the east. On its east and north sides lie Swat, on the west is Nehag Dara and Karo Dara lies in its south. It is thickly wooded with coniferous forests. The thick forests are its natural assets and widely used for furniture, pulp, turpentine and fuel.
The forests could be divided into pure stands of oak, mixed broad-leaved with conifers and, pure stands of deodar and blue pine, and mixed forests of conifers. The forests are habitat not only to birds like Monal and koklass pheasants but also to a large variety of songbirds.

Gojar (nomad) bring their livestock in late April and early May and remains here until the end of September. Within their limited locality around Skyland, the community moves around in a cycle to use their pastures and fields. They have built a few huts to sustain themselves in these five/six months and with the beginning of October they move into lower valleys due to snowfalls. In July 1998 when for the first time I stood on Skyland Top, our party on its way to the summit had been stayed in a tumbledown mosque within the locality of those nomads. They had entertained us with maize-bread, yoghurt, curry and milk. Skyland and its adjacent valleys provide habitat to a variety of wildlife including monkey, markhor, black bear, snow leopard among mammals and monal pheasant, koklass pheasant, snow cock, chukor partridge, and a variety of small song birds.

Every year in June/July local people of Karo Dara and Nehag Dara hold a cricket tournament there in the serene environment. A lot of people gather to support their teams and enjoy their stay away from the hustle and bustle of cities and towns. They stay in their makeshift tents. When a major military operation launched against Taliban in 2009 in Swat valley, security forces began to perch on the higher passes to keep an eye on the movements of Taliban into Dir district. Army dropped airborne units from its gunship helicopters on these higher passes and blocked the escape of Taliban from Swat Valley so they may be crush in a pincer movement (Large number of troops were advancing from the south and intend to converge on the enemy near Mingora). Now security forces have vacated these higher passes and people again started going there.

A great threat to Skyland is the deforestation going on there by the local people. Skyland and its surrounding valleys are among the few forested areas in Pakistan. Timber is used in increasing quantities for construction of houses for a fast growing population, while firewood is still the main fuel source for domestic use. Far more damaging is, however, is the logging carried out by external contractors. Ultimately however, the only way to protect the ecology of the region would seem to involve a complete stop to commercial logging. Without forest cover, the steep-sided valleys of Skyland with their large catchment areas are exposed to heavy erosion and flash floods, both of which are occurring with increasing intensity and frequency. The deforestation process in Skyland for immediate profit seems likely to trigger an ecological disaster.

I have been several times to Skyland and its adjacent valleys for trekking and sightseeing. In July 1998 our party of four launched a trekking expedition to Skyland. We got stepped the Skyland Top and had unobstructed views of the surrounding areas even we saw Tirich Mir from the top.

For further info about Skyland and trek into Swat Valley from Dir please send email to: arshadali7690@yahoo.com

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“Ich w�rde gleichgesinnten Kameraden lieben mich auf Trekking und Klettern expedittions begleiten. ”

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Arshad Ali
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