The caravan is blocked by a glacier on the way to Naran
We start hitchhiking towards the mountains. The driver of Shah and Fatima leaves us at the end of the town and a car stops right away. For me Pakistan is on the top of the list of all the countries, I have been up to now, regarding the hitchhiking. Almost everyone stops, most of the drivers speak English and the new and luxurious cars stop the most.
The next town is called Mansehra and is located at the road fork between Kagan valley and the town Naran from were we plan to step on the Karakorum highway. We start hitchhiking to Balacot – the first town in the Kagan valley, but the only vehicles that pass by are minibuses and taxis – there are no private cars. One minibus stopped but we told the driver we hitchhike and he continues. But only 10 minutes later the minibus came back and the driver took us for free.
We cross the mountain and we enter Balacot. The town was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake several years ago but now it teems with life. The people here are rougher and one can say that they are mountain people. We see many jeeps that people use to go to the nearby village because the roads are difficult to pass.
We walk through the whole town and we start hitchhiking at the exit. Here even minibuses and taxis pass by rarely and almost no cars. We waited for quite some time and at last a guy took us – he said he just wanted to get out of town.
The next people who take us drive us to Kiwai – from this town one can do an amazing trek to mount Musa ka Musalla (4500 m). The deeper we enter the Kagan valley the more beautiful it gets but there is almost no transport. The road winds down on the slope and there are pine tree forests and waterfalls everywhere.
We reach Naran at sun-set – it is very beautiful. The town is situated at 2500 m. above sea level and around us we see many peaks around 4000-45000 m. high and the weather is cool. Before we enter the town we pass by several glaciers that are dug up by the people in order to uncover the road. Some of the glaciers form 2m. high walls on the side of the road.
View from Naran
We personally seе glacier for the first time. When we reach the town it results that it is packed with hotels. Someone told us the road was opened on the 15 April – this is only two weeks ago and that the season starts now. During the winter the road is unpassable and everyone goes to live in Balacot and Mansehra.
An unpleasant surprise awaits us – the people told us that we cannot continue on the road North because it is still blocked by some big glaciers. This means we have to go back to Mansehra and step on the Karakorum highway there. We have only 130 km. to go back to Mansehra but we will lose two days.
The last person who took us in his car turned out to be hotel owner and he drove us to his hotel. We explained to him that we will pitch our tent and he proposed to pitch it on his roof-top. The view from there is incredible and we decide to stay. The owner gives us mattresses, pillows, a lamp, water and tea – to summarize: we will sleep like royalties this night.
On the roof-top of “Manila” hotel
We go out for a walk in the evening. The town is quite small it only has one street but there are many building sites of hotels. The local people seem very nice, all of them wear wool blankets and we feel like we are into the wilderness. The tourists from Islamabad deepen the contrast walking around in their high heels and long hair with no veil – I am sure the local people (especially men) go crazy when they see them.
When they have some free time the people from the cities escape from the unbearable heat and come here. After the dinner we head to our hotel named “Manila” but some people come after us shouting and waving. It resulted that Mr. Shushtari took by mistake one other’s person sandal. The guy came running after us wearing two different sandals and we had a good laugh.
Today we plan to go to Saif-ul Malik lake. We get up and we head to the trek’s beginning point. First we walk 3-4 km. to the village from where the trek starts. There is a road that goes directly to the lake but we are lucky that it is still blocked by snow. We start climbing the rocky pathway near the village.
Last stop of the jeeps – the beginning of the trek
The houses of the village are made of stones and their roof is covered with soil and plants – like this they blend almost completely with the surrounding hills and mountains and they are hard to see.
Traditional house with grass on the roof
There are some people in the village who either sell, or rent rubber shoes – these are for the tourists who came on high heels or with sandals because the pathway up is covered with snow.
While we climb below us we see some pseudo mountaineers coming. They come with jeeps to the village’s exit and then take horses to the lake. I can’t imagine the crowds that gather here when the snow melts and the jeep can take the tourists directly to the lake. We consider ourselves very lucky to be here now without being surrounded by a million Pakistani tourists.
Are you coming?
The trip from Naran to the lake is no more than 12-13 km. but the slope is steep and there is a lot of snow at this time of the year. I wear sneakers and Mr. Shushtari – sandals. We didn’t want to take our winter equipment with us. Anyway we manage to reach the lake because the snow has formed ice crust you can walk onto and the weather is quite hot.
Mr. Shushtari walking with sandals in the snow
Saif-ul Maluk lake
Tea on our way up
The ice of the lake has started melting already. The lake itself is surrounded by huge snowy peaks and we are not sorry that we came to Naran to see this. On our way back we slide down on our jackets and it is really funny.
Only in a few short hours great amount of snow has melted and everywhere formed new rivers and waterfalls and it is muddy. The sun is strong and our jackets become dry in minutes. We manage to go back to our our tent pitched on the roof-top of “Manila” hotel in the evening. Our faces are burnt and we feel exhausted.
We start hitchhiking quite late. First we go out Naran by foot and we settle near a glacier. Suddenly the police came, stopped close to us and started walking around. We explain to them that we want to go to Mansehra and we are waiting for transportation. Luckily at this moment a truck passed by and the policemen stop it for us.
The truck is driven by a 15-16 years old boy (!?!?!?!) and leaves us 30 km. down the road. We go out happy that we manage to escape the police, we go out the village and start hitchhiking again. But another set of policemen appear – did their colleagues warned them for us or we are out of luck today?
Riding inside an open truck carriage is awesome. You have 360° view and you see the amazing slopes and peaks covered with snow, the tens of gullies with winding rivers that often become waterfalls, the tall pine trees and green meadows. All of this accompanied by the wind in your face and the crazy driving gives you feeling of euphoria and absolute happiness of feeling one with the Earth.
The policemen start asking us right away how we came to Naran without escort and force us to take a minibus to Mansehra. Furthermore they instruct the driver to leave us at some special hotel where they eill reserve us tickets for the bus to Gilgit.
The moment we reach Balacot I tell the driver I feel sick and have to get off – he is protesting but we get off anyway. Hurriedly we hide ourselves in the backyard of a hotel to take a rest and escape the authorities.
We reach Mansehra around 5 in the afternoon and we start walking towards the exit of the town. We pass through some miserable neighborhoods, all the people look terrible and look at us with amazement. Good that a guy drove us to the outskirts and saved us 2 km. walking. We star hitchhiking and after passing by two villages we enter some very beautiful mountains.
On the road
The so called Karakorum highway is two lanes road that is so narrow that two cars barely pass each other. The last people who took us leave us on top of a hill, around it it is all trees and villages and it is very calm and quiet.
We ask the people from a nearby hotel if we can pitch our tent on the front lawn and they agree. It is getting dark now and the valley is echoing with the prayer coming from the Mosque – Allah Akbar – Allah really is Great!