Archive by Author
05. Jul, 2014

Excuses people make not to travel in Pakistan

Excuses people make not to travel in Pakistan

I have been traveling across Pakistan since quite a few years now. It’s easy for me to travel within the country keeping in view my low budget and nominal income. The point is, it is not at all expensive to travel within Pakistan as compared to travel abroad for vacations and it is as unsafe and safe as any other country could be.

So i get appreciation by friends, fans and random people around on how awesome my lifestyle is and how great it is to travel and explore the diversity and beauty of Pakistan. They show their concern that they also want to do it, but then come up with excuses that i want to address and then, they travel abroad instead of Pakistan.

It is really normal for them to say “Oh I have been to Thailand twice, once to Malaysia and Turkey and I have seen quite a few countries in Europe. In Pakistan, I have just visited Lahore and Karachi, that too for work. Oh yes, i went to Islamabad once during my childhood.”
Really?

and here are their top 4 excuses:

1. Halaat kharab hien

These are the city dwellers. Haalat is their fist biggest excuse. They think something will happen to them if they travel in Pakistan. Of course that is not their fault, it is the media that makes them think that way. Though reality is different. People all over Pakistan are same and they face the same problem as you do. Ok so what about your phone that got snatched on gunpoint in Karachi the previous week? you still live in Karachi right?

2. Leaving my comfort zone

“I don’t know if there are any hotels, or good hotels to stay. I don’t know if i can find wifi there. Can i check my emails while going to the base camp of K2?”
Do I need to say anything? YES. STAY AT HOME.

3. Lack of infra structure

You know the roads, and all flights getting cancelled. Isn’t it better to take overnight flight to bangkok then a road trip to Karakoram highway?
Hmm…Yes, then go to Bangkok and never see what this country has for you.

4. I don’t have the budget

Oh so what about your last vacation to Thailand? You probably need half the amount of that to go to the base camp of K2.

I say, yes, you should travel and explore other countries. But don’t make excuses not to travel within Pakistan.

Pakistan has a unique diversity. The coastal area of the south, the sufi shrines in Sindh and Punjab, the green mountains of Kashmir, the high snow caped peaks of Baltistan and what not. And the good news is, there are hotels and most of the places are safe. What’s unsafe is in your mind. Of course that doesn’t mean that the places are all safe from crimes and all. But dude, do you know the crime rate of Bangkok in specific with reference to tourists? and what about the cities you live in?

Can you think of more excuses? Post them in comments icon smile Excuses people make not to travel in Pakistan

Happy Traveling.

 

 

04. Jul, 2014

Chailogue launched: Chai chronicles of a traveler

Chailogue launched: Chai chronicles of a traveler

 

10390312 256507854537271 7421204466335105921 n Chailogue launched: Chai chronicles of a traveler

Chai (tea) became an important part of my travels across Pakistan. Not just the place, but inspiring common people of Pakistan with whom i shared my cup of tea. I have launched a dedicated series of stories that revolve around chai during my travels in Pakistan. You can follow the series at: www.Chailogue.com.

Post in your comments and do give me your feedback.

07. Oct, 2013

3 weird myths people have about me

3 weird myths people have about me

I am a storyteller, a traveler, i love tea, i work and save to travel more from time to time. I am always bombarded with questions from people having different perceptions about me. I try to clarify things via mail and now finally decided to write a blog post about it. Though the list is long, but there are 3 most weird myths people have about me :

1. Your work as a tour operator/guide

“So when are you taking your next trip? I so want to join your group.”  I DON’T work as a tour operator or a tour guide. I do travel a lot but that doesn’t make me a tour operator.  Yes i can guide you by sharing my travel experiences but i can’t make itineraries for you. I travel randomly. I leave home with a vague idea about my destination. How can i plan it for you?

2. You are a chai addict.

No doubt i love chai (tea) but that doesn’t mean that i survive only on chai. I have had beautiful experiences of my life around chai. Evening time with family was always chai time when Abu would get home from work and sit with the family for chit chat. During my school days, i would often meet my friends and we would go for chai gathering in evenings. While traveling, the bus driver always stops at chai hotel for chai. It is a mandatory thing that revolved around every day of my life. I enjoy tea. 2 cups a day and if i am having too much of it then not more than 5 which is extreme when i have to meet different people in a day. I enjoy tea. Thats it. I AM NOT A CHAI ADDICT. or Does that make me one?

3. You are super rich hence you travel a lot

“Dear Danial. I love what you do. i wish i could do the same but i don’g have enough money. I work at the bank and use all my savings to travel to Thailand every year for vacation, spend nights in 5 star resorts doing nothing but watching TV. I wish i was rich like you to travel”.

Thank you! but your perception of travel is i assume “luxury travel” that you take once a year to escape your cubicle life and spend all your money you’ve saved all year in traveling abroad, a business class ticket and a luxury hotel with a nice swimming pool.Thats what i don’t do. If i am taking assignments that provide me travel, that doesn’t make me rich. And if i earn some money and save the rest to spend it on an another adventure, again that doesn’t make me rich. Don’t make money an excuse for not traveling.

The list goes on and on. I am sure people would still ask me questions related to that and  I enjoy answering icon smile 3 weird myths people have about me So what is your question/myth about me? icon razz 3 weird myths people have about me

11. Aug, 2013

Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

It was a very restless night. As I lay on a glacier, in my warm sleeping bag, over a cold, hard, inhospitable and uneven surface. The silence of the wilderness was absolute and I was trying to get some sleep but the erratic and terrifying sounds of the heavy avalanches did not allow me to do so. To make it worse, the diluted oxygen level of the high altitude made it difficult to breathe. Thus, I spent the night tossing and turning in my constricted sleeping bag with some hope of catching much needed sleep.

Concordia camp site under snow Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

Concordia camp site under snow

 

It was still dark when I heard rain drops over my tent. And around 5:00 am, my tent lit up by the first light of the day. I inched forward to sneak out half way from my sleeping bag and unzipped my tent to catch a glimpse of the outside. The beauty of the scene had the celestial aura of a fantasy world! The sky all bright and clear, the camp site all carpeted with snow. Everything within my view was pure and white, surrounded by high grey mountains. A moment truly magical and of pure bliss!

Concordia camp site under snow 2 Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

Concordia camp site under snow

I am at Concordia, ‘The Mountaineer’s Paradise’ in the extreme north of Pakistan along the borders of China.

Amongst the tallest 14 mountain peaks of the world that are above 8000 meters, Pakistan proudly bears five. And, of those, four peaks can easily be seen from the Concordia, a camp site at the elevation of 4600 meters. The tallest and most magical of the four is K-2 (8611m), the second highest mountain of the world, also known as ‘Choghori’ by the locals. The other three peaks are Gasherbrum I (8080m), Broad Peak (8051m) and Gasherbrum II (8035m). This is the very reason why Concordia has been labeled as “The Mountaineer’s Paradise.”

Danial Shah When concordia was all carpetted in white K2 shining in background Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

When concordia was all carpetted in white, K2 shining in background

At Concordia, the Godwin Austen glacier from K-2 flows into the Baltoro glacier from the north. The name Concordia is of Latin origin, meaning ‘harmony with the heart’ and was first used by a British mountaineer, John Frederic Hardy for a place where two or more glaciers meet, thus the name was then adopted for this camp site in the Karakoram Range.

Mitre Peak and Concorida camp site Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

Mitre Peak and Concorida camp site

Other than the 14 above-8000-meter peaks, the landscape of Concordia is also distinguished by the recognisable silhouette of Mitre Peak’s remarkable elegance, despite the fact that it is “only” 6017 meters.

As I stood out of my tent, with the sun still behind the mountains, light rays broke through high peaks to present to me a remarkably spectacular view. To my east, shining brightly were Gasherbrum I, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II, whereas to my south was the majestic Mitre peak. To the west, were countless peaks all above 6000 and 7000 meters. While towards my north, proudly stood and stands still the breathtakingly beautiful, K-2, shining in front of my eyes in all its glory.

In late 19th century, the Englishman Sir Francis Younghusband, the first westerner to have witnessed the mountain up close, described K-2 as “A mountain of stunning dimensions. It seems to rise like a perfect cone, but incredibly tall” and he surely did justice to its brilliance.

50 rupee note Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

50 rupee note

It’s the same mountain that we see in our daily life on a 50 Rupee note.

I have always been befuddled by the coinage of the name K-2. “K” means Karakoram and rightfully, it should have been K-1, being the highest mountain in the range. But because of inattention of a British surveyor Thomas George Montgomerie who during the Great Trigonometric Survey in 1850s sketched the two most prominent peaks in Karakoram, labeling the 7280 meters Masherbrum (ranking 22nd highest in the world) as K1 and 8611 meters high Chogori as K2. The former came later during his journey hence, unfortunately the name was carried forward and the second highest mountain on earth became “K2”.

K2 second highest mountain on earth Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

K2 – second highest mountain on earth

My initial motivation for going to Concordia was only to see the K-2 with my naked eye. That mountain has been haunting my imagination since childhood, a dream to fulfill. But I never knew I would come across such spectacular beauty along the way. Reaching there is a formidable feat. It took me a week’s trek to actually get to Concordia, another day’s wait to to get the mountain in my sights and descend back in four more days. The route that runs to the Concordia camp site is a remarkable journey of exploration and truly a mountaineer’s haven.

I had been yearning to visit that place and after years of vague planning right at the 11th hour, I started preparing for all the possible trekking gear I could get a hold of. In the mid summers when all of Pakistan suffers an infernal heat wave, I was shopping for warm clothes for extreme cold weather. Though I had a general idea of mountains and trekking equipment, breathing in low oxygen levels at such high altitudes never crossed my mind.

I flew off to Islamabad from Karachi and then to Skardu in the north of Pakistan and tagged along with a group of trekkers in there. The first day was an 8 hour bumpy jeep ride to Askole, the last village before the start of absolute wilderness. Our camps were based at an empty site in the village. The real trek on foot started the next day.

Due to lack of research about the trek, except for the type of gears and clothing I would need, I didn’t know about the terrain, or the difficulties involved in it. My whole idea of being there was to experience the great outdoors and treat myself to the experience of the second highest mountain on earth.

first camp site in askole village Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

first camp site in askole village

The initial trail from Askole that follows a sandy and rocky valley ends at a lovely green park of Paiju camp site that lies just before the Baltoro glacier. This place marks the beginning of the famous granite towers: the Cathedrals, Paiju peak (6600 meters) and the renowned and wild Trango Tower (6237 meters). The Baltoro glacier starts right after the Paiju camp site and goes all the way up till Concordia. Further along as I ventured up the glacier, I spotted the regular pyramid of K1 (Masherbrum). There only, did I realise why Thomas George named it K1, not K2. K2 was still far.

Sketch by Thomas Montgomerie made during his exploration of the Karakoram photo from wikipedia Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

Sketch by Thomas Montgomerie made during his exploration of the Karakoram – photo from wikipedia

First day of the trek Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

First day of the trek

Baltoro glacier is claimed to be one of the longest glaciers outside of the polar region alongside the famous Siachin and Biafoh. I had always pictured and imagined glaciers to be very beautiful, pure and white, while growing up watching documentaries about Antarctica, on TV. The real scenario was totally the opposite. I found them as dark, rigid, with rubble of rocks all over it, slippery and not so appealing until the 3rd day, I finally saw some pure white, huge boulders of ice that gave a spectacular landscape to it. Only penguins were missing to add to their allure.

Ice boulders Baltoro glacier Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

Ice boulders – Baltoro glacier

The glacier went all along up till Concordia, I reached there after a day in the jeep and 6 days on foot and in one piece, except with blisters on my feet and severely tanned skin.

Trekking on Baltoro glacier Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

Trekking on Baltoro glacier

We spent a spare day at Concordia enjoying the spectacular view. The time was spent playing volleyball, eating pakoras and drinking a lot of hot tea. By mid-day, K-2 was shrouded in clouds. It’s a shy mountain and likes being behind the clouds most of the time. The sunset over Concordia is undoubtedly one of the most wonderful moments in the trek as you tend to see last rays of light hitting some of the highest peaks of the world.

Now the joy of being at Concordia was over, but not the journey. We had to descend back then either by the same harsh route or through the dangerous top of 19,500 feet high Gondogoro La which was shorter but more difficult. Regardless of the difficulty, we all chose the shorter one as everyone was in favor of avoiding the path we came from. Those who wanted to challenge themselves were happy and those who didn’t want to had no other option. I was indifferent.

To reach the pass, we started early in the morning from Concordia, crossing through deep soft snow on Vigne glacier and reached “Ali Camp” after 6 hours for a stopover. Ali Camp is a stopover for trekkers to prepare themselves for their journey towards the pass. If the weather goes bad, they stay at the camp and wait. For us, the weather was clear and that meant no rest.

Gondogoro can only be crossed during night as it is more prone to avalanches during day time. We filled our stomachs, took a short nap and started preparing for our ascend during the night. The group left Ali Camp the same day around 10 pm, and all of us tried to pace up respectively in a hurry to cross the ‘La’ before daylight appeared.

Gondogoro glacier Concordia: The mountaineer’s paradise

Gondogoro glacier

The sky was shining bright with stars, snow capped peaks were lit up with the dim moon light and the sun started to appear as I reached the top. The sky was now turning from deep dark blue to bright orange and then light blue. A few of my trekking mates had already crossed over and most of them were still behind. I enjoyed the view from the top, of a world unknown to many. Especially the first rays of light on mountain peaks, a view that I will never be able to see down in the country where I dwell.

Luckily, everyone crossed the pass without injury, it was a difficult climb, however, much harder was its descent, which was longer and more prone to accidents. The path to the next camp site after the descent was again longer than expected. After falling countless times on melted snow and saving myself from stones falling from high mountains, I made it to the Khuspang camp site at 1 pm in the afternoon while most of my mates made it in the evening. For amateur trekkers, it was a difficult yet possible task. It was an achievement and we were proud of our selves.

Khuspang was the first camp site, dominated by the breathtaking, 6096 meters, Laila peak and a water stream. We stayed there during the night and trekked towards Siacho camp site the next morning.

Siacho is a summer settlement of shepherds coming up north from down country. This camp site has lush green pastures, surrounded predominantly by the willows, cedars and junipers. Reaching the camp site alive, it was a marked achievement for the whole group. We celebrated our success while cheering with expensive soft drinks and sacrificed a sheep for dinner – the first meal of fresh meat on our entire expedition.

Finally, the last day became the easiest day of the trek. Comprising of a very short hike of 3-4 hours to Hushe village, where we finally came across electricity, people and vehicles. We were to stay for a night at Hushe and leave for Skardu in the morning. Luckily, we got the jeeps ready therefore, we headed towards Skardu by road, the same day.

It felt rather odd then to travel in a jeep after trekking our ways through the rocky mountains for almost two weeks. Our feet had gotten used to those hard, rigid walks. No matter how hard and bumpy the jeep ride was, it was the most comfortable leg of the entire journey.

Eventually, from Skardu onwards, our expedition ended and everyone bid farewell and headed home, leaving the majestic K-2 far behind, to carry on playing its signature game of hide and seek with the clouds. I returned with the desire to revisit and experience this wonderful magical place.

The article was originally published in Dawn Blogs dated March 10, 2013

13. Jul, 2013

A starry night & the second highest mountain

A starry night & the second highest mountain

As i have always mentioned in my articles, K2 is a shy mountain. It’s always hidden behind clouds and if you are lucky it might sneak out for a while.
To view that mountain, i trekked for 6 long days starting from Skardu town and reached Concordia camp site. During the first night, while every other trekker went to sleep, i sneaked out of my tent to see how the second highest mountain looks like under stars.

k2 concordia danial shah 141 A starry night & the second highest mountain

K2 hidden behind clouds, from Concordia campsite

 

Initially it was pitch-dark, i used my flashlight to find my way, skip rocks and went to an elevation, a place where i could easily spot K2. I started to setup my camera on tripod while found myself lost in that area.

 

k2 concordia danial shah 16 A starry night & the second highest mountain

Mitre peak (6017m) shining under stars

 

I got scared. I had never been scared of the places while travelling. i have been to places, felt things in my surroundings, felt things happening to me, could be super natural or whatever, but this time it was way too different.

The mightiness of nature overtook me. I found myself in a different world.

Those ten minutes i was not in this world.

It was too difficult for me to grasp the hold of that reality around me.

What i saw was silhouettes of giant big cony mountains all around me, from front to back. I gazed at all of them and could see nothing but black huge structures with snow shining on top. And above them i saw a different world. Millions of stars, not just bright but colourful stars, i saw galaxies and it was very easy to spot them all with naked eye. In my front was K2 hidden under stars.

10 minutes were too difficult for me to bear such moments of glory.

I got scared, I was alone and without any further delay, i packed my camera and went back to sleep in my tent.

Have you ever had any such experience?

26. Jun, 2013

Off to Nanga Parbat Basecamp

Off to Nanga Parbat Basecamp

I had been waiting so long to go to Fairy meadows and Nanga Parbat base camp. The recent incident at the base camp was sad and i had to give my plan a second thought.

Fairy meadows is one of the prior places i wanted to go back in my childhood. I still remember that i saved an old low-resolution photo of Fairy Meadows somewhere from the internet in a folder called “places i want to go”. Later in life the expeditios i took, i always kept Nanga Parbat for some other time.

I have to go now. Firstly, if i don’t go, i will be compromising on my dreams. Secondly, those people who try to disturb law and order in my country , affecting tourism in the region will be successful if a traveler cease to go.

Therefore, i am ready and packed up to go, camp there for two-three nights, take photographs, connect with nature, collect my thoughts and enjoy stars at night.

nanga parbat expedition Off to Nanga Parbat Basecamp

 

08. Jun, 2013

I am in Swat

I am in Swat

I had been waiting for so long to visit Swat and after years of wait, I am finally here.  The place is getting back to normal day by day. After facing major flood and a strong military operation, i can see hope in locals for getting back to their normal routine as it was in previous years.

swat 03 I am in Swat

I took a bus from Islamabad to Swat (Mingora) that took me 5 hours to reach with only one major military checking in between. The journey was comfortable. However, for the next major town called Behrain, i took an another van that took me 3 hours of bumpy road journey and where i had to prove my identity on several military checkpoints.


swat 02 I am in Swat

After staying a night in Behrain, i went to see Kalam valley, the famous of all and a major tourist attraction. The journey was again not welcoming with several military check points and a bumpy road but as soon as the valley started, i could not believe my eyes on surrounding beauty. The bumpy and dusty road turned into a smooth jeep track surrounded by green high trees. The road goes through a thick green forest with snow caped mountains of Hindukush all around. It ended at a beautiful lake called Mahidhaan (Mahudand) where i enjoyed the local trout fish, deep fried with traditional roti.

 

swat 011 I am in Swat

My curiosity to see swat was over but i realised that there are a lot of valleys and lakes still unexplored.

I sensed here that the locals are in great need to get back to normal. They want tourists here all year so that they can revive their economy back. So i would suggest all my dear Pakistani fellows, take some time out and explore Swat. It is not really that far from the capital. Despite of the under-construction road, you’ll experience countless beauty and hospitable people.

19. Feb, 2013

Ten minutes on top of the world

Ten minutes on top of the world

It was just before dawn as I pulled the ropes to climb to the top while taking deep breaths. The summit was a only a few feet away. I paused for a while, caught my breath and looked behind. The sky was a palette of orange and blue hues as spectacular mountains were silhouetted in the foreground.

The weather was bright and clear, I was at the top of one of the highest mountain passes on earth — “Gondogoro la Pass” at an altitude of 5,940 meters above sea level, was viewing some of the highest peaks on earth including Four of Eight-Thousander peaks K2 (Choghori), Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II.

On top of Gondogoro Pass image by Attique Badar Ten minutes on top of the world

 

I’d been advised to spend no more than 10 minutes on the summit and then descend to the other side.

Those 10 minutes very easily became the most beautiful moments of my life where I saw the first beam of sunlight hitting K2 — the second highest mountain in the world.

My journey to the top started at 10:00 am in the morning on July 10, 2012 when a team of 27 trekkers left for Ali camp from Concordia. It took us all about six to eight hours to reach to the camp. We crossed through hard rocks and the Vigne Glacier. In many places, the snow came up to our waist and it didn’t take long before our shoes and socks were drenched.

After reaching Ali camp in the evening, we tried to dry our shoes on the stove in the kitchen tent, but with little success. The trek to the summit was in just a few hours and we were back on our way, in the dark, without much rest.

We’d been told to reach the summit before dawn. Gondogoro Pass can only be crossed during the night; it involves steep climbs and abrupt descents. Without the sun, temperatures fall below freezing causing the snow to harden, hence lessening the chances of slipping or getting caught in an avalanche.

desend on Gondogoro 2 Ten minutes on top of the world

 

Time is a commodity in this environment and even minutes wasted can prove deadly.

While at the Ali Camp, we had our meal and then prepared ourselves for the treacherous pass. Taking a limited supply of food packs and water, we started our hike at 22:00 hours towards the pass in complete darkness aided by a little moonlight and our head torches.

The initial trek was difficult to navigate, with the snow being so hard, but eventually our path evened out to a more manageable climb. It took us an hour and half to reach to the base of the Gondogoro pass.

The enormous snow walls were illuminated by the moon light, as I watched a few head torches at a distance going to the top. A few of them were my trek mates, while the man ahead belonged to the rescue team for the Pass who was trying to make the route easy for those following.

Ropes were fixed on the steepest slopes and I had to fix the carabinar into it to prevent a fall. It was hard to climb, especially as the air thinned with altitude and breathing became more laborious.

desend on Gondogoro Ten minutes on top of the world

It took me almost six hours to reach the summit. Even though there was a fear of avalanches, I had come too far to turn back. Reaching the top would be a seminal achievement in my life and a memory that would last me forever. After spending the allowed 10 minutes on the summit I began my descent.

To my surprise, the descent was steeper and harder than the ascent. We had to do it in daylight. I managed to descend down with the help of ropes while snow started to get soft. It took me two hours to climb down. Then I started my hike towards the beautiful lush green camp site of Khuspang, again crossing through soft snow and rocky patches for what seemed like hours.

The grand Gondogoro Pass quest ended at 1300 hours, the next day at Khuspang . Upon reaching the camp site, I joined my trekking mates for a meal.

As I lay in my sleeping bag, I thought back on the events of the day and realised how memorable the entire experience was. Despite the ropes and gear that we had, it had been an arduous and dangerous climb. I wondered how difficult it must have been for those before us who didn’t have the facilities that I had been provided with.

It was not just another adventure or exploration, for 10 minutes of my life I was literally on top of the world, and any number of words is not enough to define that.

 

The article was originally published in Dawn Blogs dated 21st August, 2012

 

 

01. Jan, 2013

Not a Happy New Year but…

Not a Happy New Year but…

vigne glacier Not a Happy New Year but...

It’s been a long time for me now that I’ve lost track of days and dates. Everyday is a new day for me. I’m not sure if it’s a new year or not. All i know is that I’ve a new day, just like yesterday, today and tomorrow. This will also be loaded with similar ups and downs of life as it was before and as it will be after with a lot of new challenges and new travels, as everyday.

I’m happy to have this new day in my life, like everyday, and waiting for an another one tomorrow. Wish you a lot of travels.

Happy New Day

22. Nov, 2012

Never let someone else live your dream

Never let someone else live your dream

vigne glacier danial shah Never let someone else live your dream

 

It has happened to me many times and now is the time i think i should say that publicly  People have been calling, texting and mailing me, telling me how lucky i am to do what i am doing. They want to do it themselves as well, and they start comparing their lives with me.

Please, DO NOT compare yourself with mine. You are awesome, you have your own life, your own set of rules, your own way of living, your own dreams, don’t see someone else’s life and wish to make that yours. I tried that and its of no use. I have gone through my own experiences and you have to go through your own.

Find yourself, dig deep into your heart, see what your circumstances are, how strong you are inside, what opportunities do you have, and then give it a start.

But never compare your life to someone else’s. Never let someone else live your dream, live it yourself.

 

-Danial Shah