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.
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.
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)