Have you ever experienced something, that turns your life around, makes you re-define everything you believed, and broadens your mind to a wide spectrum of possibilities? For me, this defining moment arose in June 2017, right after I completed my GCE’s. I had always wanted to join my cousins on their adventures to the mountainous northern areas of Pakistan, and my time had finally come. However, little could I anticipate the challenge that lied ahead.
It was the second day of Eid, and we had spent the previous night packing our camping equipment. Consequently, we got a little late the next morning, as we departed for Swat. We were a team of seven members, in two cars. After reaching the city of Bahrain, in the Swat Valley, we parked our cars, since the road was better suited for off-road vehicles. We hired some local transport, which transported us to the end of the road. It had been raining lightly from Bahrain onward, which meant that the terrain could be a little challenging. Our target for the day was to camp at the Gabin Jabba Meadows (2400m above sea level), which was the starting point for the track leading to Daral Lake.
It was near sundown, as we started the trek with our headlamps turned on; as a first-timer, I soon began to realize not only the physical test but also the trial of courage and willpower. After ascending in marshy terrain for four hours, we reached the campsite at Gabin Jabba. Since it was the occasion of Eid, there was a large number of tourists visiting the region.
The next morning, after breakfasting and disassembling our tents, we started the grueling hike at mid-day with two local guides, one of whom did not understand our language, Urdu. Moving through the serene surroundings, we faced much adversity.
Rapid streams had to be crossed, and rugged mountains had to be conquered, but I was determined not to show weakness, being a first-timer. Crossing a melted glacier, I naively stepped on an unstable rock, toppling right over into freezing water. Drenched below the chest, I shivered uncontrollably against the penetrating chilly winds. My confidence also took a hit after this blunder, as the rugged terrain became increasingly daunting. With two hours of daylight remaining, we continued to hike, crossing one mountain after another.
Entering higher altitudes, I felt my chest tighten and lungs start hurting, this was the first time I discovered my problem of breathing in higher altitudes. Aggravating my altitude sickness, the steeply-inclined mountain was a major hardship, forcing me to rest frequently. With much difficulty, we summited the final mountain to reach Daral Pass (3700m) at sundown, only to be caught in a merciless storm. We could see the majestic Daral Lake (3400m) down the other side, but the descent was potentially life-threatening, at that moment. With grey thunderclouds, and rain heavily involved, we hushed downwards. After crossing an icy glacier, a rocky landslide with giant, slippery boulders had to be descended. With nearly zero visibility, everyone was immeasurably terrified.
Making it to the lake, let alone setting up camp alongside it, now seemed nearly impossible. Spotting a desolate mud shelter built by some local shepherds, we decided to spend the night there. As we gathered inside, the small room, saving ourselves from the storm, we were shaken by a haunting realization. One of our members was missing.
It was my first time, the biggest problem in my life up till now had been finding the Xbox remotes, that my mother would hide. All of a sudden, everything was so intensely real. As we unpacked our equipment in a state of panic, a local shepherd, accompanied by his two hounds, appeared with some dry wood. Our two porters and the local shepherd, both set out to find our missing member. We lit a fire and sat around it, understanding what helplessness truly was. For two hours, all we could hear was the storm, and the dogs barking.
All sorts of dark thoughts clouded our heads at that moment, but no one spoke out loud. Where could he possibly be? Was he hurt? Was he alive? How to rescue him in a storm, in the middle of nowhere? How do we confront our elders? These questions burned inside our heads, as we prayed like never before.
Thankfully, our captain was found unhurt, near the lake, as he had missed the signal to stop at the mud shelter amidst all the chaos. We thanked God and took a sigh of relief. But, the joy was short-lived as the roof of our mud shelter started dripping, soaking us and all our equipment. We were unable to sleep the entire night, shivering uncontrollably in the below-freezing temperatures.
The sun eventually rose, shining with all its might and ending our misery. We rushed towards the beautiful lake, as soon as dawn broke, trying to forget the trauma from last night. It was glorious. To feel the warmth of the sun again, who would have thought that it could feel so splendid.
The blinding sunshine allowed us to dry all the wet clothes and sleeping bags. The initial plan had been to set up camp and relax near the lake for the remainder of the day. But there was a problem, we did not know the route from there onward, which is why we decided to follow some locals, who were headed in the same direction. After a sleepless night, we were forced to walk another day, as we had no other option. After eating breakfast next to the lake, we packed up our gear yet again, as we readied ourselves to mobilize. Only if fate had allowed us a little more time at the lush green lakeside, next to the sapphire blue water.
Day 3 was all about descent. In the first two days, we had ascended to the lake after crossing a pass, now it was time to climb down into the valley on the other side. There were some extremely tricky patches, that brought me face to face with potential death for the first time in my life. It was terrifying, yet beautiful.
The scenery was beautiful throughout the day, however, the exhaustion from the day before made it the ultimate test of will and determination. We walked for almost seven hours that day, and near the end, I was ready to drop. It stretched my limits of perseverance beyond my wildest imaginations and helped me realize the true human potential to some extent.
We walked and we walked, and near sundown, we arrived at a small settlement. We spent the night inside a small mosque, the hospitality of the locals was unlike anything we had ever seen. They brought dinner for us from all over the village and prepared a feast. At the time of the morning prayer, we were sleeping inside the mosque, and considering our tiredness, they did not wake us up. They held the prayer silently, so much so that we remained completely unaware.
The next morning, the locals had yet again prepared a sumptuous breakfast for us. We thanked them wholeheartedly, as we prepared to make our way to Bahrain, where we had parked our cars. All the difficult terrain had been covered, and we thoroughly enjoyed the final bit of our descent, with light music and good vibes. The End.