Fairy Meadows: Picture of my dreams
March 14, 2010
This year, I finally got the chance to spend a night in Fairy Meadows
By Aoun Sahi
The picture of a flock of sheep grazing in a lush green grass field with a backdrop of a thick forest of tall pine trees and majestic mountain peaks culminating in ice crest has fascinated me since childhood. I always dreamt to be at this serene and stunning place. This year, I finally got the chance to spend a night at my dreamland — Fairy Meadows, green plateau situated at a height of more than 3,000 meters at the foot of Nanga Parbat. It is situated in the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan.
This is perhaps the most mesmerising place I have come across. According to a local legend, “The demons blow their horns and fairies cook their food here”. The locals strongly believe the plateau is home of fairies and demons. The name is also part of the local myth that this is the paradise of fairies.
It took us seven hours from Skardu to reach the Raikot bridge, one of the most strategic bridges on the Karakoram Highway between Chilas and Gilgit. Luckily, we had Abbas Ali Khan as our travel guide. He is in this business for the last 25 years and also runs a company named Touristik Travel Service. He visits Fairy Meadows at least thrice a year and knows the area and people very well. We were tired and wanted to take a two-hour break before starting our journey towards Fairy Meadows, but there were no basic facilities, not even a washroom, clean drinking water or electricity on the Raikot bridge. There is no greenery at this point; it is hot and humid, and is therefore not easy to imagine that a place like Fairy Meadows is just some 20 kilometres further up from this point.
Accommodation for tourists here is scarce. The only hope for tourist though is medium-sized Shangrila Hotel, which is under-construction and will be ready by January 2010. “The government departments instead of facilitating us have been creating problems. So far, the government has not provided us electricity or clean water. They have been asking us to work with it on self-help basis. This clearly shows the government’s ‘commitment’ for promotion of tourism in this area,” says Arif Aslam Khan Chairman Shangrila Resorts. According to him, his father (late) Brigadier Muhammad Aslam was the person who made it possible for travellers to reach Fairy Meadows.
Fairy Meadows, a Treat for Mountain lovers
Brigadier Aslam purchased land from the locals at Raikot Bridge and Fairy Meadows and constructed a 24 kilometre private road up to the plateau of Fairy Meadows in 1992. He had also finalised a deal with some of his Austrian friends to set up a chairlift from Raikot to Fairy Meadows which could not materialise because of his death and hitches from different departments. The road has deteriorated ever since. Only about 15 km of a newly-built stretch of the road up to Jhel village is accessible by jeep and the rest has to be travelled either on foot or on horseback.
The 15 km stretch of road from Raikot Bridge to Jhel village is steep and narrow, having dozens of sharp turns. Our driver, Muhammad Ismail, believes that the old road was better. He needs to reverse the jeep twice or thrice on every road turn. “The old road was also very steep but driving on it was relatively easy. Two weeks back, a jeep fell down the road into a pit while taking a turn killing three travellers,” he says. “If Fairy Meadows sounds like heaven, the way to reach there is not less than a road to hell. But Sir you need not worry because you have Ismail driver!” he says laughing out loud.
From Raikot Bridge to Jhel village, the view gets better and the road gets dizzier. From Jhel one can either rent a horse or track on foot to reach the Fairy Meadows. We reached the village around 2pm and opted for the latter. It was not the obvious choice for us — going on a mountain track for the first time — but our guide Abbas Ali Khan motivated us to the extent that we started believing that we could easily hike up to the peak of Nanga Parbat. It was not a bad decision but tiresome.
The four-hour track up the pine forests is one of the most revealing experiences of my life. The most memorable moment of the journey was when we saw the peak of Nanga Parbat. There it was standing right in front of us. The clouds covered it during the first three hours of the journey and Abbas Ali Khan had predicted that it could be near impossible for us to see the peak in such weather. “It might be covered with clouds for the next 24 hours,” he announced in a gloomy tone. Almost at the same time, however, wind started blowing and in seconds the weather cleared, to reveal the peak.
Nanga Parbat from Fairy Meadow
According to our guide Abbas, Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world but “it is the hardest to climb — as more than 50 climbers have lost their lives trying to conquer it during different expeditions, which is perhaps the maximum number in the mountaineering world. According to local myth, fairies and demons frequently curse the unwanted ‘intruders’ in shape of roaring avalanches. The locals also warn mountaineers to keep stay off this adobe of fairies and demons,” he told TNS.
We reached Fairy Meadows by the evening to the most spectacular views. We stayed at the traditional wooden cottages that overlooked the mountain. I couldn’t sleep that night. The first thing I saw in the morning was the Nanga Parbat. But I wanted more. I wanted to capture a picture of a flock of sheep grazing in the lush green grass field in the backdrop of Nanga Parbat. For the next 10, I looked around for the picture-perfect scene. But could find no flock of sheep. I asked a local about sheep, he did not reply but smiled. After 15 minutes I saw the same person coming towards me with his flock of sheep. He smiled again and I found the picture of my dreams.
Tags: Fairy Meadows, Mountain Forest, Nanga Parbat