In about three hours from Gilgit, is the small town of Astore, the launching pad for Tarshing, Deosai Plateau and Minimarg. From Astore, a road snakes up through the town leading to villages and terraced farm valleys with Nanga Parbat dominating the landscape. The air becomes cooler and fresher as you arrive at the Rama meadows in about half an hour from Astore. This is also the route to Rama lake with turquoise blue water and views of soaring Nanga Parbat.
The 8,126-metre-high Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest peak in the world, is infamously known as the killer mountain. It is considered one of the most dangerous mountains to climb and has claimed numerous mountaineers since it was first scaled by German mountaineer Hermann Buhl in 1953. Nanga Parbat has a special place in the German mountaineering history, as Germans came in droves to scale this magnificent peak. Many of them are now remembered with commemorative plaques at various base camps.
There is a nice PTDC motel in Rama meadows and a few not so nice Forest, PWD and Police resthouses. The best location award goes to the Forest resthouse with meadows, dense pine forest and views of the rising Nanga Parbat, combining to make the spot ideal for evening tea. PTDC motel has less character but more comfort, and at times you definitely prefer comfort to character, especially if you are tired after a long journey.
Talking of character, I was reminded of the 1959-built PWD resthouse atop a hillock overlooking meadows and views of Nanga Parbat. The PWD resthouse is a two-bedroom building with drawing and dining rooms and spacious lawns but it is presently barely livable. The lively caretaker for 42 odd years, Anwar Ali, told me many stories of famous people who stayed at the resthouse but under relaxed Chatham House rules.
Anwar Ali told the story of Raja Tridev Rai, a famous Bengali politician who chose Pakistan over Bangladesh in 1971, and how he arrived at the resthouse one evening from Lahore, apparently with a woman he helped elope from her home. The guest book mentioned many interesting names however Imran Khan stands out by his frequent visits especially in 1990s. Anwar Ali talks fondly of him. Imran, while scribbling in the guest book, stresses on the need to better maintain the resthouse. Fortunately, the rules did not require mentioning names of every member of the visiting party in the guest book, and Anwar Ali is indeed a gentleman who instead of giving you spice, gives you a sheepish smile.
Nanga Parbat dominates the Rama valley and meadows, and its sheer size is overwhelming. The peak is in the form of a ridge running north-east to south-east, and it is a tremendous mass of rock and snow. Its south-west side is known as the Mazeno Wall due to its shape. Nanga Parbat speaks to you loud and clear and leaves you speechless. The glow from the moonlight, reflecting off the snow at night, lights up the whole valley. It is indeed a surreal experience.
The real gem of Rama meadows is however Rama lake, and like all good things in life, you must work hard to see it. From Rama meadows, you can either trek for about an hour or take a jeep on a barely six feet wide dirt trek in a narrow gorge. While the gushing water stream from the glaciers throws cool breeze on your face, the hair-raising drive makes you sweat. But that is the fun of it! The jeep ride is no more than 15 minutes, thereafter it stops before a glacier, and you can either trek or be daring and ride a motorbike to cross it. Further on its an easy 30-minute walk, along a stream. After crossing a couple of more glaciers, the landscape widens and a turn around a ridge to bring to you the turquoise green Rama lake — with the majestic Nanga Parbat reflecting in the pristine waters.
Once there, order tea from the makeshift kiosk and sit back, relax and enjoy the sunset over the snow-covered peak of Nanga Parbat.
Rama lake is also one of the lesser known routes to Nanga Parbat base camp, known as the Chongra route, besides the more famous Fairy Meadows and Rupal route via Tarshing. A day trip to Rama lake from Gilgit or a night stay at Rama meadows is definitely recommended if you want to unwind after months of slaving in your office.