As I reached home one day, after a monotonous day at work, a friend had come over who seemed to excited about a recent trip he had undertaken on. It was a bivouacking trip in the Naran valley, all the way up to Babusar Pass. After hearing his stories of larking about in the wild, I too decided to follow suit.
My brothers and some close friends are ardent travellers and are always on the lookout for such destinations in the country’s picturesque north or any location possessing the lure, historical authenticity and cultural antiquity. So, together, we did some research regarding potential destinations, routes, transportation facilities and accommodation.
The first stop in our itinerary would be Shogran, from where we would proceed to Paye Top for a night’s stay. We made sure we travelled on local transport and experience the world as common commuters.
We departed at 9.30pm aboard a local bus. from Islamabad I clutched a book in my hand to turn to, as reading is the best recreation one can have while travelling. By the crack of dawn, undulating land gave way to rising pine-clad hills. We were in Abbottabad and on our way to Mansehra, and onwards to Shogran and Siri-Paye. We reached Mansehra in the wee hours of the morning, and swiftly negotiated bus fares for Shogran, since a long trek to Siri-Paye awaited us.
As we slouched in our bus seats, I sat next to a withered man. He gave an amiable smile and introduced himself as Bahadur Khan. As the bus slogged its way through the swirling road ahead, Bahadur Khan told me he was going to his village, near Paye for his son’s wedding.
He told me that he worked in Lahore once in his youth but had left due to the sudden demise of his father. “Life in a metropolis is uncertain, secluded and preoccupied with earning money” he sighed, with a melancholy whimper acknowledging the irony of his statement.
We slowly snaked up the winding way… when suddenly the bus shrieked to a halt. This was where Bahadur Khan bid farewell to me and trotted off to a life he deemed exponentially better and irreplaceable from that of interminable struggle and isolation which reaps even less rewards then its envisaged lure.
On reaching Shogran, two of us took a jeep along with most of our luggage while the rest trudged uphill on foot to Paye. Soon we reached the top and tarried there until we were all united. The weather was cool as the hilltops mangled in frothy clouds.
We quickly set up camp, dined on packed rotis and canned beans, and dozed off afterwards. I woke up to a light drizzle tapping at our tents, as we got out to acquaint ourselves with the terrain, we found ourselves perched on top of a hill.
Just north of our camp, wound a way through the clefts to the meadows and hills where I took a stroll to let nature permeate my senses. By evening, the hoards of visitors had abated and we sat there in the beautiful rain and prepared for nightfall.
The next day, we were on our way to Saiful Malook. Public transport deprives you of the luxury of timely travelling, as we reached Naran in the evening. We settled with all our provisions in a rustic restaurant, had a hearty meal and refreshed ourselves for the jeep ride to the lake.
One of our friends, Murad who is well versed with the local jargon arranged for two jeeps. After cramming ourselves along with our baggage, our jeep belched to a grinding start. The road was extremely rocky and our jeep swayed violently, to make anyone nauscious.
On reaching the lake we quickly set up camp to flee the chilling cold, augmented by the wind whipped from the surface of the lake. Surprisingly, a few travellers had also set up camp there.
Night drew in heavy rain, which subsided late enough to drench our camp. The next morning we dried our clothes and treaded the road further on.
On reaching Naran, we arranged for a bus to proceed to the infamous Lulusar Lake. The greenish tinge of the mountains faded as granite monoliths of stone gave way. Soon, we came near a town called Basil, about 10 minutes away from the lake.
It was a spectacular sight — the majestically clear lake was crowned by towering snow peaks throughout its periphery. The lake did not end there but flowed downwards into a meandering stream a few kilometres onward. After, spending a few hours there, we retreated to Basil, where we set up camp, lit a fire, and started preparing for dinner.
Our last destination was Dudipatsar Lake, a treacherous 18 kilometre-trek away. The river had to be crossed in a decrepit chair, precariously tangled to a cable, extending from our end to the farthest end of the river.
The trek was astonishingly beautiful. Gusty winds blew and the sun shone piercingly, but it was always very cold. We passed over ridges, rivers and glaciers until the rocky earth became a serene plateau. Further on, beneath the base of the rising plateau, rose a range of peaks covered in snow. That was where the lake lay, surrounded by bastions of rock.
Our destination was nothing short of perfect. The vast green valley was embellished with flowers ranging from magenta, to sunflower yellow, sea blue and lilac that scintillated our senses. Tired and weary, waddling our way through the rugged terrain, we finally reached our stop called Mulla Ki Basti, where we were to rest and set camp.
The cold stung our bones. A cup of hot tea was the perfect remedy for the gnawing cold.
Next morning, we to the lake. We sat there and tried to let nature sink in as much as we could since we had to leave for camp and trek back to Basil. Upon reaching Basil, our bodies ached from utter exhaustion as we waited for our ride. We had earlier on informed our bus driver to pick us up from this spot after two days at around noon. We had taken the driver’s phone number in case of any confusion. But, on calling the number, I found it was switched off. It was getting late; we had no means of transport and had to wait for a ride. Our sense of adventure quelled any fears of being abandoned in the wild but soon a van approached and agreed to take us to Naran