A brief chronological narration of our Baroghil Valley trip including the Karomber Lake trek is included with some recommendations for its environmental sustenance.

Visiting the remote Baroghil Valley was on my bucket list since long and a chance encounter with a young man who had trekked up to the Koramber Lake earlier this summer made me decide to venture before it gets very cold out there. I had a willing trekking partner in Asad Aleem, Asian Development Bank.

There were some delays and snags and we finally left Islamabad on August 25 for an overnight stay in the Hindukush Heights in Chitral and onwards to Mastuj on the next morning. We also added a visit to Astor District of Gilgit Baltistan and a trek to a Nanga Parbat base (from the Rupal side). The focus of this writeup is on the Baroghil and Karomber Lake trek, being more challenging of the two.

We opted to self-plan and execute it. Not much updated information is accessible on Yarhkun and Baroghil valleys on the internet barring some travel accounts and itineraries posted by tour operators. However, the Chitral Scouts and the Agha Khan Development Network (AKDN) furnished us with definitive planning inputs. We are grateful for their support. Dry food items, tents and camping gear were purchased from Islamabad. A friend from Mastuj helped in hiring an excellent cook and guide, Zorawar Khan, who had earlier been to the Koramber Lake. We hired a local jeep again with a skillful and a reliable driver, Essa Khan. Our team was complete, and we were all set to go.

The elongated Yarkhun and Baroghil valleys straddle a river and a narrow and largely ill-kept land route with the Wakhan strip of Afghanistan to its north and Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan towards the south. Numerous passes serve to connect the Wakhan region with the local people in Baroghil are mostly of Wakhi origin. Cross border cultural links with the adjoining Tajikistan survive with AKDN serving the local communities across the divide. Glaciers abound along the Ghizer watershed to feed water channels on either side.

Yarkhun Valley is served with the staple fruits of the region to include walnut, apricots, apples, and almonds. There is much room for improved yields to better serve the local livelihoods. Wheat was being harvested. The Baroghil valley is at a higher altitude with barley as the staple in a short cropping season. It is dotted with lakes and has lesser trees and rare fruit orchards amid cooler temperature. Its valleys, traversed by numerous water channels, are extensive and are known as maidans, with a gradual eastward rise. Yaks are bred and sold for winter subsistence.

We left Mastuj on the afternoon of August 26 and were confronted with a heavy rain spell at the outset. On local advice we drove through the adjoining villages to bypass the mountain side route to avoid slides. Our driver showed presence of mind to detour around a black mud and slime slide, resembling an oil slick, in village Brep. He made it back to the route with a great cross-country run along a nullah bed. Kudos. Brep has the last petrol facility on the route to Baroghil.

The night stop was at village Paur or better known as ‘Power’ as a hydroelectric plant is located opposite the Gul Mahal guest house. The next guest house is located at Yarkhun Lasht on the upper reach of Yarkhun Valley which we crossed next day. Cellular networks do not work beyond this point. Village Kishmanja signals the start of the Baroghil valley. Most of the Baroghil route is slide prone.

Chalibot glacier is prominently located on the Ghizer watershed. It has visibly receded from across the valley in recent years to post a live climate change advisory. The glacier figured in the Chitral itinerary of Prince Williams earlier in the year. We crossed a pass to enter Maidan where we stayed overnight. It is an eye-catching plateau served by the gushing Baroghil nullah set in a gorge configuration. Maidan is a rich and picturesque summer pasture. It houses the last Chitral Scouts post in the Valley and serves as the venue of the annual Baroghil Festival.

A rise in the Baroghil river at Garhil near Maidan, brought us in trekking mode earlier than planned on August 28. We hired ponies to carry camping gear and kitchen ware. We crossed Lashkar Goz at 11500 ASL after a two-hour trek. It is the last permanent village in the upper Baroghil valley. After another three-hour trek, we camped at Ishwar Sher, a summer pasture habitation at about 12000 feet ASL. We distributed medicines in the afternoon among the local villagers. Our tents withstood the extraordinarily strong wind that blew during the night. However, we gazed at an overcast sky with some apprehension early next morning.

Accompanied by Asad and the local guide we left for the Karomber Lake early on August 29. The trek traverses gradually rising ‘maidans’, interspersed with nullahs which one can wade or stone-hop across. The valley expands to lend the landscape with a certain infiniteness. One is overwhelmed by the utter silence and non-presence of a soul barring some grazing herds perched on mountain slopes or marmots plunging into their holes. The surface varies from being stony to having wetland characteristics close to the water sources. We came across wild garlic short of the lake as in one historical reference Chinese monks name Baroghil Pass as ‘garlic pass’. We reached the Karomber Lake in five hours.

The majestic setting of the Lake posts an end-of-the-journey note as the mountains drop towards its farther end. It is the second highest lake in Pakistan at about 14016 feet ASL. The imposing Chianiar Glacier feeds the Lake, the adjoining wetlands and the Baroghil water channels. Fresh snow glowed from the lower heights and snowflakes were floating even at the surface level. A breathtaking site. We started our return journey. It was, however, painful to see discarded trash at a camp site next to the Lake and some along the route.

We reached back Ishwar Sher in four plus hours. The camp was shifted to Lashkargoz due to the approaching rain where we stayed the night in the guest house. We trekked till Garhil next morning and boarded the jeep as the weather prompted us to head back. We left Maidan by mid-day on 30 August to once again overnight at Power. We reached Mastuj early next day. On a reflective thought, probably another day should have been spent amidst the grandeur of the upper Broghil Valley: a distinct land and its matching ways. We rarely savour the defining moments as we go along.

Some recommendations for sustainability of the Baroghil Valley as an adventure or touristic destination: The environmental and its fragile ecosystem’s sustainability should be developed within the paradigm of eco-tourism under appropriate governance arrangement; To this end it is strongly recommended that hydrocarbons, to include four and two wheelers, should not be allowed beyond Lashkargoz in the upper Baroghil Valley. The Karomber Lake should be approached either by trekking or on horseback. Plastics and non-biodegradable materials should not be allowed beyond Lashkargoz and all visitors must bring back their trash which should be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner; and finally; an advisory committee under the district government, comprising the governmental and non-governmental stakeholders should inform and guide such efforts.