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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

 

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

 

 

11. Sep, 2012

In between fantasy and reality

In between fantasy and reality

I just came out of my hotel room, its dark outside  and i started to walk on the road. There are no street lights and i can see giant mountain silhouettes all around. With each step, i am gaining a distance between me and my hotel. It is black pitch dark. I am walking under the light of zillion stars. For a moment, i felt scared. This is so unlike i have experienced in the city. I have to go back to my hotel.

star trail pakistan1 In between fantasy and reality

 

I couldn’t understand what was so scary about it. Was that the mightiness of nature or the dark odd surrounding?

[at the hotel lawn]

I grabbed a chair, rested my neck at back and started gazing at the sky. I see a lot of stars, shining and sparkling all over. After few moments, i found myself lost in those stars, far away from reality,into a fantasized world. It was very difficult. The sky was all shining as if there is some celebration going on. I felt as if those stars grabbed and pulled me towards them. Or the sky came closer to me. While lost into them, i felt my heart beat getting faster and tears dripping down my eyes. For the first time in my life, i felt alive….

June 19, 2012 – (From my travel diary – Yasin Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan)

02. Sep, 2012

Memories of Mantu

Memories of Mantu

Mantu is like a samosa, not fried but steam boiled. I was first introduced to it while roaming in the bazaar of Chitral where I came across a boy selling mantu on the road side. Locals in singles and groups were sitting around, enjoying mantu and a good gathering.

The first Mantu, which i ate in Chitral, was not freshly made. However, on my second try, I discovered fresh and delicious Mantu in a small restaurant in Gilgit Bazar, right behind PTDC Motel. This is the only famous mantu shop in the city, with a chef that hails from Kashgar (southern China). It is not a very fancy place: there is a kitchen by the entrance, and a few tables on which to dine.

Mantu dumplings consist of a spiced mixture of minced lamb or beef, couched alongside onions and spices wrapped in dough that is then steamed in a special circular steel utensil. It is steamed by placing number of mantus in a row on a circular tray with holes which is placed in the utensil a little above from boiling water and is then covered. Mantu can be served according to your appetite. The taste can be enhanced by adding black pepper, vinegar and chili sauce. Once can easily eat a dozen of mantu in one sitting.

During ancient times, mantu was considered to be the food for travelers along Silk Route: they carried dried mantu with them and boiled it to eat at stopovers. Mantu is widely eaten in Asia, especially in Afghanistan, China and Turkey, though with some variations.

People in northern Pakistan, who are said to have received the dish from southern China, are fond ofeating it in small-sized mantu- but i also came across some Chinese engineers while traveling on the Karakoram highway who were seating a much larger version of mantu. Mantu-making is now a family activity in most parts of Gilgit-Baltistan, where a small utensil can be purchased from Gilgit bazaar and mantu can be prepared at home.

(The article was published in Herald by dawn, June 2012 travel edition)

 

27. Jul, 2012

Lake in the rocks – Kharfaq

Lake in the rocks – Kharfaq

Gilgit Baltistan is famous for its high mountains, water streams, sand dunes and far away lakes. Some lakes are famous, more touristic and very much accessible. I have been to most of them. But there are some lakes into the wild, far away and difficult to access.

I was staying in Khaplu Palace and Residence with Serena Hotel in Khaplu when Abid, the Guest Relational Manager of the hotel pin pointed Kharfaq lake out of a general conversation at dinner table.

“It’s sad that I haven’t been to this lake in our own Ghanche District. I’ve heard it’s beautiful and hardly any people go there.” Said Abid.

This triggered me. I still had a spare day in Khaplu so I decided to explore that lake.

route to Kharfaq lake 1 Lake in the rocks   Kharfaq

Route to Kharfaq Lake, Khaplu

Abid got excited with my intentions and hence we left hotel early next morning for the town called Kharfaq, a 45 minutes drive from Khaplu. We parked the car in bazaar on main road and Abid went out inquiring about the lake.

Everyone in the bazaar encircled Abid. He inquired with locals about the lake. We had to take permission from the local committee. I tried to understand their conversation but I found out Balti Language to be one of the most complicated one till now. I picked few words from their conversation like Jheel, Kharfaq, angrez, Karachi and Pakistani.

Some kids sneaked into the car’s windscreen and whispered “angrez”. I don’t know what gesture of mine made me look like a foreigner to them.

The committee there has a rule. One local guide must go with any outsider going to the lake and a fee must be paid. For foreigners, it was 1000 Rupee. Abid convinced them I am not a foreigner but a local journalist and hence they agreed on Rs. 500.

We left the car on road side and took my camera and lunch along. Meanwhile, Mohammad Amir from local village joined us as our local guide. Amir is a student of Matric, farmer and works as a local guide when not studying. I inquired about timings with him:

“I go in 45 minutes daily up to the lake”, said Amir.

Is it easy? I asked.

“Yes it’s an easy trek and you’ll take an hour to reach if you rest en-route. “

Amir did not know that I have spoiled stamina of city where we prefer walking less, travel in cars, and take lift in buildings rather stairs and try to park our car as closely as to our destination. And here Amir says pointing on top of the mountain “ONE hour”

We started our hike going through the village of Kharfaq, leaving the main road aside and taking a short cut. It leaded us to a beautiful path made of stones with lush green trees on both sides and a water channel flowing downwards.  The path then turned into a staircase made up of huge big stones, all the way up where your sight ends but stairs don’t. It didn’t scare me at all since I had that ONE hour hike in my mind.

Abid took lead while Amir was with me all the way up. Abid was in interesting character, he would talk with no expressions on his face and very difficult to guess what’s on his mind. He was always hiking ahead and the moment he realizes that he has gone too far, he would then wait sitting at some stone for me to arrive. He has good taste of music. He played his favorite ghazals of Munni Begam and Jagjit Singh in car. And on trek, his mobile with loudspeaker had the same music all the way up.

I was busy taking photos on the way while Abid kept intruding into my frame every now and then, posing for the camera. He was fond of getting himself photographed. He didn’t miss the chance of getting himself photographed with that big camera I have. He would pose in every possible way. I could do nothing but smile, click and ask him politely to sneak out.

The staircase never ended, I kept on stepping from stone to stone uneven, some low and some extremely high.  Big giant zigzag steps were taking us high. Hike was difficult and steep, but the only thing in my mind was the lake. Lakes always sound something beautiful and serene. That’s what kept me going. I had to take stopovers of 3-5 minutes after every 10 minutes of hike to give my spoiled city lungs some oxygen and rest.

Sometimes I would stop to take rest and pretend as if I am taking photos just not to embarrass myself in front of my guide since Amir was in no mood to rest. I kept on inquiring about the lake. Amir would only reply “not so far, just 10 minutes” pointing somewhere on the mountain up.

The way these mountain people hike is different. They are fast, used to of altitude while we are not.

The staircase ended up in beautiful mountain fields. Step by step, field by field all the way up spread miles and miles. The women were working in the fields while the view of the fields and river Shyok in the background was awestruck from top.

2 hours later while there were no staircase but a high mountain in front, Amir again said “10 more minutes”. The steep hike ended with the start of a dry rough patch. The green field ended and dry terrain with dark rocks all over started appearing.

Walking with no rest, hungry and getting disappointed with the timings, Amir finally said: we are there. That’s the lake. He pointed again at the piece of rock on top that according to my calculation was not more than at 10 minute distance. Adrenaline in my blood rushed me running towards the lake. I saw a glacier on top of mountain, and a patch of turquoise green water at a distance started to appear. It took us 2 hour 40 minutes to finally reach to the lake.

This lake was totally different then other lakes I have been to. There was no greenery around, just dark mountains and shady rocks that gave it a wild look. But it was astonishing and different in its own wild way with no sign of human around it.

I threw my bag aside rushed towards the water, sat on a stone, took rest and indulged myself in that tranquility. It was calm, peaceful and serene there. I could listen to the silence of water, birds flying and chirping high above.

No wonder best moments don’t come easy way. You have to work hard to get them.

The three of us had our limited lunch, I made some photographs of the lake and Abid again sneaked into the frame. I started taking his photos and couldn’t realize I missed the frame of lake without Abid in it.

Kharfaq Lake 1 Lake in the rocks   Kharfaq

Kharfaq Lake, Khaplu

We headed back taking nothing but the beautiful silent memories of lake side. I has happy that descend would be easy and take less time. To my surprise, it was easy until the big staircase. It became much more difficult, I had to step down carefully, taking care of myself not to fall.I had to put a lot of pressure on foot and knees while getting down every step.

We reached the road in 1 hour 45 minutes. It wasn’t easy way back. Amir asked if I feel pain in my legs. I couldn’t feel them at that moment. He said that I’ll get good sleep that night, with lots of pain in legs that only time can heal.

I said good bye to Amir, and thanked him for his support all the way. If he was not there and wouldn’t have motivated us with “just 10 minutes”. We would have had difficult time hiking.

Reaching the hotel, everything around me was circling like a 3d cartoon movie. I couldn’t think of anything except a warm shower and bed. I couldn’t feel my feet. It was all stiff and difficult to move. This usually happens if you take such hikes after a long time especially with a lot of pressure during descend.

After a warm shower, I jumped straight into my cozy bed, switched off the lights and tried to take a power nap. The moment I was about to lose my senses into sleep, the phone next to my bed started ringing. It was Abid online and said in one go; “How are you Sir? Have you taken rest? Can I send my USB now so that you can copy my photographs?”

I obviously had to copy the photographs or he wouldn’t have let me sleep that night.

Dan Millman in his book Peaceful warrior says “It is the journey that brings happiness, not the destination”. I realized that it really wasn’t the destination, but the whole journey that brought charm that day to Kharfaq Lake.

(The edited version of article was published in The News Sunday, July 01, 2012)

16. Jul, 2012

Hide and seek by k2

Hide and seek by k2

Trekking after 7 days, crossing through harsh tarrain and difficult baltoro glacier, i finially reached Concordia where you get to view four 8000+ peaks that includes world’s second highest mountain “K2″.

I was excited all the way from Skardu to Concordia, just to see a glimpse of that mighty mountain that have been playing with my thoughts and dreams for such a long time.

k21 Hide and seek by k2

Upon reaching Concordia, i tried to concentrate on my west side to see if i can view the peak. The peak was hiding behind dark clouds. This saddened me. I wanted to see that mountain. I came all the way up there just to see a gimplse of it.

I found myself a big stone to sit and waited aslocal guides told me that this mountain plays hide and seek, will sneak out its peak from the clouds for a moment and will hide again.

I pointed my camera towards the peak, and waited for the right moment to click. It took almost 3 hours to the peak to show its first glimpse.

That day, we couldn’t see the whole k2. But it became clear the next day. But that’s true that this mountain loves to play hide n seek.

29. Jun, 2012

Journey to the mountain of my dream: K2

Journey to the mountain of my dream: K2

I couldn’t have imagined going to k2 base camp, in my wildest dream ever. But with time, I started developing this passion for mountains that initially took me to Himalayas, Hindukush and Karakoram as a tourist and then as a photographer. With time, I started developing this curiosity to explore whats beyond off the road in those mountains which required trekking. I started trekking, from day treks to two and then week long. I went to Rakaposhi base camp, Wakhan Corridor and other small treks, crossed glaciers, wild mountains, forests, rocks, rain and snow which then prepared and motivated me to do k2 this time. The mountain of my wild dreams.

Danial Shah Wakhan Corridor1 Journey to the mountain of my dream: K2

Trekking along the Wakhan Corridor (Sep 2011) - photo by Ameer Hamza

I am all set with the accessories I will need on this trek and I’m tagging along a group, heading towards k2 base camp from July 01 onwards and I hope I come back, safe and sound to share my stories and photos of wilderness.

And I will not have any regret if the wilderness out there takes my life away, and let my tireless body be with the wild mountains forever. This could be my last blog post of life, or could be one of the first of an epic journey.

See you!

-Danial Shah

15. Jun, 2012

When night falls

When night falls

The whole Hunza Nagar view was right in front of me while i was sipping tea at Hunza Baltit Inn in Karimabad. I could see High Rakaposhi peak on my left while Ultar peak and Baltit fort were shining on my right. The sun was already about to set, sky was getting darker and dim lights on wooden hotel gave that evening a mood.

 

Hunza Baltit Inn When night falls

Hunza Baltit Inn, Karimabad

I kept on sipping tea in veranda till night fell. I saw a pitch dark rugged mountain right in front. Shining white snow was leading on the top. Above that, i saw stars. Not billion but zillion stars.

stars When night falls

Star trail shining right in front of the veranda of Hunza Baltit Inn Karimabad

I ordered one more cup of tea, took my tripod and started taking pictures.  I started observing them. It felt like as if someone has sparkled shining  white pepper in sky. I tried to talk to them. They were calling me, showing the proof of their existence, shouting out aloud  “We exist”.

Its very common in mountains that you get to see stars, uncountable stars shining above your head. My daily routinne every night had become to get out of my hotel room, order tea and watch stars. I like making shapes with stars as we would used to do in childhood.

If you are somewhere in mountains, be it in Balochistan, KPK or Gilgit-Baltistan. Get out of your room this evening, watch and talk to zillions of stars waiting for your call.