I’ve always wanted to stop in the middle of a journey and venture a little off the road to see what lies hidden in the unreachable, to get the feeling of some place which is left unseen or unfelt in the rush of a road journey.

It was a late July evening and we were stranded in the middle of a beautiful valley beside Karakorum Highway near Jaglot . The traffic was next to none. Every few minutes, a vehicle would pass and silence would settle in again. The great mountains, Nanga Parbat among them, were painted in beautiful colours of dusk. I took a little walk off the road into the desert valley. Emotionally, the peace and quiet of that time and place wrapped me in its arms.

Stranded on Karakorum Highway

We were in the middle of a crisis. Our destination for the day was Astore, a beautiful area with abundance of attractive natural scenery in lower Baltistan, adjacent to the regions of Naran and Kashmir. We had started our journey the night before in Islamabad. By the time we reached Naran that morning it was announced with greatest regret that our sole conveyance wasn’t in any fit condition to climb the treacherously high Babusar top, the famous mountain top you need to cross to enter Gilgit Baltistan from Naran. After wasting some three hours making, breaking and remaking plans we compromised on travelling further on jeeps. By the time we reached Thailchi, the sun was setting. Half the party proceeded to Astore and we stayed behind waiting for the driver who was especially called from Gilgit and was to facilitate us for the latter half of the journey. The old driver from Mansehra drove at a snail’s pace. He arrived very late and by the time we struck a deal with him and took the road to Astore, twilight was giving in to darkness.

Bonfire in the rainy night at Rama

Mudassir, our excellent jeep driver asked us to recite prayers because not just the night was dark and full of terror but the road too was treacherous. We left the highway and took the road winding its way through the valley and across the river, disappearing behind the mountains. We were a total of six people inside the jeep. Mudassir was a young man but tough and cruel life of the mountains had made him look older than his years. Then there was Sher Ali and his nephew Ayyub Khan who both were organisers of the trip. Sher Ali aka ‘The Silent Traveler’ and I had become friends when we met in Chitral during Chillam Joshi festival last year. I came on this trip on assurance that Sher Ali would offer good company and just like every other trip I would make a bunch of new friends. Last two were a most resilient couple who unlike the rest of us, went through all perils and difficulties of the trip without uttering a single word of complain. Both husband and wife were serving at PIMS Islamabad. Dr Ahmad is a cardiologist in the making and regardless of his area of expertise, he knows the way to people’s hearts.

First view in the morning, mountains over Rama lake

From what I was making out in the dark, the high mountain road was carved out of huge rocks. It was mostly unpaved and narrow and there was no fence on the other side. Far below, a roaring river was flowing through the valley. Sher Ali nudged me from behind: “Don’t look down!” The road was mostly empty. A couple of times when a vehicle came from the opposite direction we either had to reverse the jeep or halt at the dangerous edge of the road to let it pass. On top of everything, it started raining. Luckily, it wasn’t a heavy downpour. We had been foolish to take this road after sunset but fools are usually lucky. So were we.

From the jeep trek, clearing in the middle of forest is Rama meadows

After some three hours of driving on the dangerous road, we reached Astore. Only a couple of shops were open and the rest of the town was asleep. We moved on to Rama Meadows which was just a few kilometers from Astore. Nothing was clear in the darkness and it felt as if we were travelling in an obscure dream. We were reunited with the other party at Rama. Sher Ali went to make enquiries at a PTDC motel. They guided us to a campsite just a few yards away. We were in an open area in the middle of a dense forest. The jeep traversed through the campsite. There were a dozen or so camps and even a makeshift restaurant. We preferred a rather peaceful part of the campsite close to the road.

Glacier on way to Rama Lake

Young apprentices at the campsite built a bonfire and we gathered round. A mild drizzle started again. It took us another two hours to unfold and erect camps and have dinner. I was tired to death and my body was aching from the constant journey of the last 24 hours. I crawled into my camp which I was to share with Sher Ali. Once wrapped in an extremely warm and spacious sleeping bag, it took just a couple of minutes to fall asleep.

Sher Ali crawled into the camp sometime around 2am. The man who took all pains of unexpected predicaments on the way added to a 24-hour long journey had to solve another crisis at midnight. One of the drivers ran away with some money. Luckily, he was immediately intercepted thanks to Gilgit Baltistan’s excellent wireless system. Locals too are extremely particular about the comfort of tourists and reputation of the area. A civilian heard the message on the wireless and stopped the fleeing driver at a forest department check post masquerading as a police man in civilian clothes. Fortunately, the matter was resolved immediately by giving the driver a benefit of doubt.

It kept raining all night long and we slept in our water proof camps huddled inside warm sleeping bags. Camping in the mountains puts your biological clock right like nothing else does. I woke up fresh just after a few hours of sleep. It was very early in the morning. I zipped open the camp and a stunningly beautiful scene was revealed. We were in the middle of a vast green meadow, surrounded by a dense cedar forest spread all the way to the slopes of the adjacent mountains. In far distance, snow capped peaks and high slopes of a great mountain stood out in grandeur. I could hear the sound of a flowing river nearby. It felt like I’d woken up in a completely different place. Everyone was asleep. The ground was wet with rain. There was something very refreshing in the air of Rama.

The mountain over Rama lake

Plan for the day was to visit Rama Lake and then leave for Deosai. After a delicious breakfast at the campsite, we were off to Rama Lake. The jeep traversed its way through the meadow which ended at the river. Across the bridge, a jeep trek led up the mountains towards the lake. Astore and its adjoining areas are generally greener than the rest of Gilgit Baltistan owing to its proximity with Kashmir. Across the river, vast panorama of the beautiful valley, dense forest spread in its lap and the surrounding mountains opened up to us. After some distance, Rama looked like a green clearing in the middle of a vast forest. The jeep track gradually gained height. After some half an hour, the jeep stopped on a narrow turn of the track by a roaring stream coming from Rama Lake. Due to never melting glaciers on the way, this was the farthest a jeep could reach. Rest of the trek which was hardly a hundred meters was to be covered on foot. I crossed the glacier with the help of a technique learnt in another time, another space, on a beautiful trek some years ago.

Sher Ali and his cameras, Rama lake trek

Sher Ali was walking just a few paces ahead with his heavy cameras and tripod which definitely weighed more than him. Every turn on the track revealed a new world of nature’s beauty. Miniature flowers of most exquisite colors were blooming on the green slopes. At one turn, water flowing out of the lake had formed a stagnant semi circular pond, at the very next turn it was roaring out of a glacier. It was a sunny day but all mountain tops were covered in clouds. We finally reached the beautiful Rama Lake. It is an irregularly shaped, medium sized lake (greater than Dodipatsar, much smaller than Saif ul Malook). One of the mountains surrounding the lake was the one I saw right after unzipping the camp that morning. The great snow capped mountain directly above the lake was part of the Nanga Parbat ridge. The lake’s aqua green waters reflecting the mountains are a sight for sore eyes. I chose a spot at a height and settled there to enjoy the beautiful scene. Mesmerising is one word to describe the place and that moment.

Rama Lake

We had been early. A surge of tourists arrived at the lake when we were leaving. An hour was wasted on our way back because the narrow jeep track was blocked. When we reached the campsite, our camps had been packed and those who stayed behind were having breakfast. Just a few minutes later, we boarded the jeeps and off we went to Deosai, land of the giants and the roof of the world.

Back to the meadows

Continued….