“Touristan invites you on a trip to Skardu. For all the intrepid explorers and those interested in sight-seeing, this promises to be a once in a lifetime experience”.

I was waiting for those magical words for God knows how long. After spending some beautiful five days on Touristan’s winter trip to Kashmir back in December 2014, I became an admirer of this group of passionate wanderers. Unfortunately, I missed a couple of trips since then but this one was a must. It was the first time Touristan was going to explore Skardu, one of the many goldmines of nature in the north of Pakistan. So, on Sunday April 24th, I found myself securing a seat on one of the three Touristan coasters headed for Skardu via Mansehra, Besham and Chillas. Usman Lone, my friend of all highs and lows accompanied me on this trip. We started rolling around 4:45 pm and left Lahore behind us. The sun was coming down and till horizon all I could see were the fields and villages of Punjab showered golden in thick extinguishing sunlight. I had made myself comfortable on the back seat of the coaster (which was fortunately half filled) and was immensely enjoying the music on my headphones which had somehow synced with the scene outside the window. Beyond the realm of my music and thoughts, a completely different world was slowly unfolding and the whole lot was getting into the “trip mode”. Loud music was on and folks started smoking and playing cards. My neighbors were two young men from the senior year of LSE’s business school. One of them was Salahuddin aka Sallu who was polite enough to take my permission before lightening his cigarette. Later in the night we ended up playing some dozen games of rummy.

Night had fallen by the time we were nearing the capital. Leaving Islamabad on our right, we turned west and soon crossed the towns with magical names Hassan Abdal and Haripur. In the dark of the night, the railway station of Sarai Saleh passed like a flash. There was a solitary light on its main arch and only God knew whether its roof which was near-to-collapse a couple of years ago was still intact or not. Every new journey has some nostalgic traces from the past journeys. Sarai Saleh invokes such happy memories. Abbotabad, beautiful Abbotabad was quiet and deserted like a strange dream at this time of the night. Somewhere between Abbotabad and Mansehra, a girl announced that their final semester’s result was out. Nearly entire coaster shrieked in excitement and I realized that most of them belonged to the graduating batch of LSE’s business school. Now everyone was telling their roll numbers to the girl and she was announcing results. There was a sigh of relief at every C grade and those who had scored As were nothing short of traitors. It reminded me of my time at university which was just four years ago but seems like an eternity. I think now I am entitled to say “oh to be young!” We were travelling on the beautiful Mansehra road which makes its way through mid range mountains and serves as the gateway to Naraan and Gilgit Baltistan. It was a full moon and for a couple of hours I had a mesmerizing view of the night from the back window. By dawn we were travelling on the Karakoram Highway along the muddy waters of Indus River. We reached Besham around 6 am. Breakfast was served at PTDC motel. Besham is a small town on the banks of Indus River surrounded by green mountains. PTDC motel has a scenic garden terrace opening towards the river. We sipped our tea and took a little nap until we were ready to hit the road again around 9 am. The destination was Chillas and we started the most difficult part of the entire journey. A serious earthquake had hit Pakistan just a couple of weeks ago which had resulted in a lot of land sliding on the Karakorum Highway. FWO (Frontier Works Organization) worked diligently and cleared the road in just a few days. For most of the time between Besham and Chillas, we were travelling in dry, rocky valleys surrounded on both sides by high mountains and having for a companion the muddy Indus River which was flowing in the opposite direction. Sun was the real enemy. All this was quite off putting but we kept moving slow and steady all day long and finally took a short break at a scenic turn of the road. From here we could see the snow capped peaks in the distance. A roaring tributary was falling into the river and there was a bunch of small roadside eateries and rest areas on its banks. Weather became quite pleasant at dusk. We rested there for a while and continued on the road. It took us another four hours to reach Chillas. By the time we entered the city, night had fallen. We were booked at Shangrila Hotel which is a blessing in disguise amidst the boring landscape and heat of Chillas. It’s a beautiful hotel on the river bank. The interior is adorned with beautifully carved wooden doors, windows and arches. Alas, I didn’t have a zambil like Amar Ayyar or all that intricate wood work had been transported to Lahore by now. We had a good dinner and went to bed for a much needed sleep.

View from a village on Deosai Raod

PTDC Motel, Skardu

Shigar Valley

Next morning, I woke up with a loud banging on the door. You can call it rude awakening but it was necessary. For the rest of the trip, every morning the deputy organizer banged all doors at least a couple of hours before we started the day so that we could have ample time to wash and change and have breakfast. A delicious breakfast was laid in the dining hall. By 9 am we had loaded our bags on the roof carrier of the coaster and were ready to leave. It was a bright sunny morning. Half of the group was going to part ways from a little further from Chillas and leave for Fairy Meadows. That included most of the people I had travelled with, the previous day and the night before that. I got a place right behind the driver’s seat and kept one for Usman too. But I think he hasn’t developed a good chemistry with the seat and prefers moving around or standing and taking pictures rather than settling down. Two young men came and took the seat I had kept for Usman and the one next to it. People often have this optic illusion that I am plump. I couldn’t care less about their faulty perceptions. I avoid a full body mirror but I’m pretty sure I just have broad bones and thus take more room than a normal seat offers. So I was a bit conscious that the bearded man sitting next to me may be uncomfortable and frankly confessed it. He most generously relieved me of my worry and we became friends. This was Ali Khan Niazi. His pal Mateen came as a bonus with the package. Touristan had also hired a professional guide for Skardu. This gentleman was Sakhi Hassan. A mountaineer and trekking expert in addition to an excellent guide, Sakhi happened to be much more than a guide and became a friend. We had common interests and a lot to talk about which we did and bored others to death throughout the trip. Ali, Mateen and Sakhi Hassan became my companions in Skardu and made this trip so much more interesting. We came out of Chillas and started on this marvelous patch of Karakorum Highway which heads straight to Hunza and the Khunjerab Pass which is the boundary between Pakistan and China. Apart from its scenic beauty, the condition of the road is excellent and there is a fence wherever it is needed. We didn’t see a lot of sun that day. It was mostly cloudy and pleasant. A few hours from Chillas, around the middle of the day, there came a point called Thailchi. My sight caught a prominent board on the road “See Nanga Parbat on your right”. And there it was the mighty Nanga Parbat, a dream made of rock and snow which killed so many mountaineers. The second highest mountain in Pakistan, the ninth highest in the world was standing with all its majesty and grandeur in front of my eyes. The coaster kept rolling and we had the view of Nanga Parbat for a good ten minutes. It was difficult to sink in the beauty. I am at a shortage of words to describe this moment. All I can say is bless my eyes. Sakhi Hassan also indicated a point where all three mighty mountain ranges of Pakistan, Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindukush meet. It was a majestic view. Karakorums were the snow capped and highest amongst all. After some time, we left the Karakoram Highway at the point where Gilgit River falls into the Indus, crossed the river on an iron string bridge and took Skardu Road. This road is perhaps one of the most dangerous roads ever built. It’s nothing short of a miracle. For most of the journey there are narrow valleys. Waters of the river touch the mountain bases and mountains are so steep that they seem like a mighty fortification. The road is mostly carved out of mountains. There are a lot of places where rocks make a roof over the road. Two vehicles cannot easily cross each other. On top of that, occasional land sliding makes it even more dangerous and difficult. There is no question of a protective fence and at times, the road is tens of thousands of feet high. Apart from all this danger, one has to admit that travelling on this road is so thrilling and exciting. The landscape is strange and beautiful at the same time. For hours and hours, reddish and grayish mountains stand like mighty walls between you and the snow capped Karakorums. I noticed something strange. There were cave like holes in the mountains and apparently no tracks to reach them. On a few caves there were actual steel bar doors. Sakhi Hassan told me that these holes are openings to mines. Gems like topaz and emerald are extracted here. The roaring river flows between the mountains. At times, the scene opens up and you see signs of a small settlement or a village with green fields, stone walls, little houses, young women covered from head to toe walking a most dignified tread and rosy cheeked children running in the fields. Around 4 pm we made a stopover at PTDC motel Astak which was a quiet place on Skardu Road. We had lunch there, went down to the river bank, admired giant roses in the garden and took a group photo before finally setting off for Skardu which was still four to five hours away. We finally reached Skardu at 9:30 pm and settled down at PTDC motel. It was quite chilly at night. The rooms at PTDC were high roofed and spacious. We had dinner and went to sleep with the wish of not waking up for a hundred years. We had finally reached Skardu.

I was staying in Room 15 of the PTDC motel. It was spacious enough for six people but I and Usman were sharing it with two others. That morning it felt like we had been on the road for an eternity and had finally reached destination. I came down to the dining room and found Ali and Mateen sitting on the first table. I took my breakfast and joined them. Usman joined us shortly afterwards. This is where those interesting conversations started which never ended. It took us another couple of hours to hit the road. We were going to Shigar Valley, focal point of which was the Old Shigar Fort which was situated some 30 kilometers north of Skardu. We came out of the bustling bazaars of Skardu and entered the Shigar Valley by crossing a scenic bridge over Shigar River which is a tributary of the Indus. The scene opened up into a vast semi desert plain surrounded on all sides by the usual brown rocky and snow capped mountains. The river was making its way through the plain and there was scant greenery and settlement at places. The road leading towards Shigar was winding its way through the desert like a black line marked on earth. It was an amazing landscape. In the middle of nowhere, coasters stopped and a lot people climbed on the roof for a small part of the journey where no electricity wires hung on top of the road. We crossed the vast plain and mountains and reached the small town of Shigar which is surrounded by lush green fields and trees. Shigar Fort is built at some height from the town. It’s a 400-year-old construction recently restored and preserved. The old building houses a museum and the rest of the buildings have been converted into a hotel by the Serena Hotels. We entered through the main wooden gate. A stone path leads towards the old building which was constructed on a huge rock visible from beneath the building. Another path takes you to the beautiful gardens towards the left. Organizers bought the tickets which were inclusive of a post card and we made a queue at the beautifully carved wooden door of the museum. The local guide was educating us about the history and architecture of the fort. Marvels of antique wooden carving, jewelry, utensils, wooden trunks, carpets and other handicrafts are displayed at different levels of the museum. The palace has a mesmerizing architecture with thick stone walls, hanging wooden balconies and jharokay, small and carved wooden doors, miniature windows and cozy little chambers and ante chambers. Romantic is one word to describe it. Besides the main building there’s a beautiful recreational garden with a square pool and a handsome wooden and stone pavilion at its center. Water channels were flowing in different directions and flower beds were full of roses of different colors. A takht (throne) was laid under the shadow of a tree. We stayed in the peace of this garden for some time before leaving for Skardu. One could spend all day in this garden. On our way back as we reached the desert plain, the coaster halted once again. Now it was our turn to sit on the roof. Sun was shining over our heads. The wind was very strong and a sandstorm was emerging from far. It was a completely different world under the open sky. There was nothing between me and the nature. The mighty mountains seemed so near that it felt as if either I am one of them or they have pierced my heart. This was one priceless moment of this trip. At the end of the desert we came down from the coaster roof and had an amazing group photograph. Once back in Skardu, we headed in exactly opposite direction towards the famous Sadpara Lake. While crossing a square near the city park, Sakhi Hassan informed us that it’s called “Pareshan Chowk” (The Upset Square). Pakistanis do have a good sense of humor. Some 8 kilometers after rolling on a bumpy road, aqua blue waters of the Sadpara Lake came into sight. And it was a sight I was seeing after nineteen long years. It always happens to me, especially in the case of lakes. When I reach a place I have visited years ago, it feels like meeting an old friend after ages. When I came to Skardu as a child with my family back in 1997, there was a boating facility at Sadpara Lake. Presently, since a dam has been constructed on the lake, boating is prohibited. Sadpara was at one of its rarest beautiful moments. Half of the lake was in the dark due to the heavy clouds looming over the sky. For the rest of the lake, bright sunlight was piercing the clouds and falling into the waters making them glow in the most beautiful golden and aqua colors. The lake is spread on a good 2.5 kilometers square. The other side of Sadpara is even more interesting. It’s a vast plain of white sand which must have come under water during the rainy season. A little ahead of Sadpara, lunch was arranged for us in a charming little rest house. It was in a small village. The shepherds were bringing their herds back from day long grazing, children were playing in the streets and the road was lined with trees. The same track leads to the famous Deosai Plains which were completely hidden under snow at this time of the year. After lunch, we had a group picture at Sadpara Lake and left for the cold desert which was the last place to go on that day’s schedule. I was expecting some wilderness as a prelude to the cold desert but the coasters stopped in the middle of a small street. The sun was setting. After a few yards on a sand track at the outskirts of a village, we started climbing and reached the top from where the desert started. What my eyes saw was an unreal view. I could see the river flowing in the far south. Then there were green fields, villages and a lot of trees. Then a semi desert muddy terrain where I was standing. Ahead of me were actual sand dunes, their shapes fine tuned by the blowing desert air. And behind the desert were snow capped peaks. All in a 180 degrees view. The desert had a spell bounding beauty and solitude. I stayed quiet and tried to make some sense of the moment and my place in it. Folks started taking pictures and sliding down the sand dunes. We came down to the village when the day light was fading away. A large camp had been erected beside a water reservoir and a party was preparing barbecue for us. It grew very cold. Once inside the camp we were overcome by fatigue and laid down to rest. I had Ali, Mateen, Usman and Sakhi Hassan for company, and God is my witness, it was a good company. The day dissolved in the heat of our conversations.

Shigar Valley

Inside Shigar Fort

Falling clouds over Shangrila Resort

Potato fields and the mountains from Shaheenabad

Somewhere in Skardu

On our second morning in Skardu, we were sitting in the garden of PTDC motel, appreciating the panoramic view of the mountains and river. Sakhi Hassan joined in and revealed that day’s program. We were to check out of the hotel and move to Shangrila Resort which was around 30 kilometers east of Skardu. The day also included a visit to Upper Kachura Lake which was not far from Shangrila. We set out a little before noon and stopped in the middle of a bazaar in Skardu. There were local handicraft shops on both sides of the road. I, Mateen and Usman started looking into the shops. The local and Afghan carpets were worth looking at. They were in all bright colors and adorned with floral and geometric patterns. Raw gems and semi precious stones extracted from the mountains of Skardu were at display. Another attraction was the exquisite jewelry which ranged from rings and earrings to waist belts and tiaras and heavy crowns. We finally landed ourselves into an antique shop which was full of specimens of traditional wooden carving, statues, jewelry, stamps, utensils, coins and many other eccentric things. My eye caught a cabinet full of Buddha statues. The shop keeper was a very courteous local young man. He got nervous when we raided his shop and asked Mateen to keep an eye on things. In other words he was asking help from the same people he was afraid of. And who can be dishonest in front of such innocence. Now Mateen was acting like a boss and showing me different Buddhas from the cabinet. When I asked the price of a statue which was showing Buddha meditating while sitting on a platform, the shop keeper gave me a smile and said that it’s not for sale. I gave the cabinet a second chance and it came up with a handsome Buddha head some four inches in length and a half broken, curious piece of art which was showing some twenty seven Buddha like faces. When I inquired about the material it was made of, the shopkeeper went into a deep thought which made his red face redder. He was trying to come up with an Urdu translation of the Balti word for it. All he could convey in his lisping speech was that it was made of something which hangs from the trees. I decided to leave it at that and buy the item. Then suddenly he asked Mateen to bring back a glass from the other counter. “It is made of this”, he put his finger on “HONEY” written in bold green letters on the glass. So I was holding a piece of such delicate art in my hands which was made of a beehive. That was incredible. I pocketed my treasures and paid the price. I tried to trick the shopkeeper that a crisp new currency note is worth more than the old notes but of course he didn’t buy it. Then I turned to Mateen and winked “Dil badshahon jesa hai aur jaib fakeeron wali” (I have heart of a king and pocket of a beggar).

We arrived at Shangrila Resort around 1:30 in the afternoon. What I saw was so much more beautiful than my old memories and all the pictures of this heavenly abode I had ever seen. Surrounded on all sides by majestic mountains and snow capped peaks, lower Kachura Lake rests like a sleeping beauty at the center of Shangrila Resort. Its waters are aqua green and reflect all the beauty they see. A beautiful garden adorned with trees, flower beds, water channels, walkways and benches surrounds the lake. A series of red roofed huts encircle the garden and the lake. The most stunning feature is the nearness of mountains which seem like hanging over the lake. Everyone was mesmerized by the beauty of the resort. We settled down in our rooms. Hiace wagons had been arranged to take us to Upper Kachura Lake. Half of us climbed over the roofs. A muddy trek took us to the lake which was just behind the Shangrila Resort. We passed through beautiful villages and had rare chance to closely observe the rural life. We must have been a sight for the rural folk, strange people from a different way of life getting excited at seeing the mountains which they see every day while working in their potato fields. Young boys were cheering at us. Old men mostly gave a subtle smile and middle aged men didn’t approve. A group of female students was coming out of a school holding clipboards. They were clad in cloaks from head to toe. Whenever a vehicle passed, they stopped walking and stepped on one side of the road. One of those girls was an exception however. She was very happy, smiling all along and dancing more than walking on the street. Perhaps she did very well in the exam that day. We were cheering at the local villagers and they were waving back. We must be looking very silly because one of the boys on the street exclaimed “C’mon” in sharp American accent and we all laughed to death. The wagons halted beside a huge rock. A stream was flowing nearby. Sakhi Hassan led us into the beautiful village called Shaheenabad. The whole village was shaded by trees. We were walking on a path through the fields which was once interrupted by a broad water channel. The only bridge over it was a fragile wooden ladder. Houses and gardens were encircled by stone walls. In short it was a sort of village where people wander in their dreams in fantasy movies. A small building emerged at the end of a passage lined by stone walls on both sides. “This way to the lake” was written on its door. It was a small restaurant and our opening to the lake. A ladder from the main eating area went down towards the lake view. I have experienced that sometimes a scene is so unbelievably beautiful that for a moment you shy away, taking it for an illusion and your eyes take some time to comprehend what they see. First proper glance at Upper Kachura Lake was one of those scenes. The lake remains frozen during the winters. During the monsoon months the water level rises to many dozen feet and covers nearly all the area up to the foothills. The lake was moderate at this time of the year and one could see sand dunes at its banks. We had lunch at the restaurant and most of us went for boating in the lake. Ali and I preferred to stay behind and enjoy the serenity of the lake from the view point. On the contrary, we were surrounded by a bunch of local kids who were eager to introduce themselves and have a nice chat. We loved talking to them. One of them who had been to Lahore was all praises for Hyperstar. Another boasted about swimming in the deep waters of Kachura. They told us about their school, life in the village and different seasons in the area. Later on, we discovered that they were making fools out of us. They hadn’t even told us their real names. We sat in that grove beside the lake for a couple of hours and kept watching sun and the clouds playing hide and seek with the aqua green waters. We were back at Shangrila Resort by 6 pm. Before we had left for Kachura, I had seen Ali and Mateen boating in the lake. I didn’t want to miss the chance and not much time was left till dusk, so I took Usman and Mateen along to the small jetty which led into the lake. A small yellow rowing boat was tied to the jetty. We sat in the boat, Mateen untied the chain and there we were, rowing in the lake. Mateen was moving blades for most of the time and Usman was taking pictures. Then he couldn’t resist, handed over the camera to me and joined the sport. We rowed to the middle of the lake. The sun was setting, changing color of everything from the lake side flowers and the waters to high mountains. There was a peace, a deep tranquility in the air. And it felt as if we were at the center of universe. In Tibetan, Shangrila means heaven on earth. The resort couldn’t be named more appropriately. Once in the middle of the lake, the boat started rotating and no matter how hard the boys tried, it refused to move in any direction. The boys lighted cigarettes to concentrate on finding a way out. Usman and I thought about singing a song about boating. I started singing casually and soon we found a way to reach back. Later in the night, I came to know that the echo of mountains was so strong that everyone in the resort had heard me singing. Ali told me that he was sleeping in his room and woke up with my voice. It was very embarrassing and there was no way out except singing for them once again.

Pavilion in the gardens of Shigar Fort

Sadpara Lake in light and dark

Upper Kachura Lake

Charming village of Shaheenabad

Back in 1954, a DC-3 Dakota aircraft of Orient Airways crashed moments after taking off from Skardu Airport. Fortunately, everyone on board survived. The owners of Shangrila bought the crashed aircraft for 150 rupees and fixed it at the resort. It was converted into a café, one of the wonders of Shangrila. On our way back from boating we went inside the aircraft café. Two staircases are fixed to reach its doors. The interior of the aircraft is dimly lit. Half a dozen coffee tables are fixed with the walls. It’s a cozy little space. The history and pictures of the crash are displayed inside the aircraft.

Night had fallen. Lights of Shangrila Resort were reflecting in the water. It had been cold since the sun had set. A breeze was coming from the mountains, making waves on the surface of water. Across the lake, restaurant designed like a Chinese pavilion was glowing in its lights. Sakhi Hassan and I were sitting on a bench in front of my room. He was reciting couplets of the great Persian poet Hafiz Shirazi and translating them for me. An overwhelming majority of Skardu’s population are Shia Muslims. It was Shab-e-Jumma (Thursday night) and I could hear beautiful recitation of Dua-e-Kumail from the mosques. The boys came out shortly afterwards and we walked across the lake to have dinner at the restaurant. It’s a beautiful square building the shape of a Chinese pavilion almost floating over the water. The interior is absolutely marvelous, adorned with beautiful lighting and carved wooden doors and furniture. We took a table and settled down. An interesting debate followed the dinner and in the heat of our conversation, we didn’t realize that everyone had left for their rooms and the management was waiting for us to leave before they could close the restaurant. It was later than 10 pm. We walked back to the rooms. Sakhi Hassan was very tired so he retired soon. Usman went to bed too. Mateen stayed for a while then he was gone too which left only me and Ali. It was so cold that I had clad myself into a shawl over a warm hood and still I was trembling. The sky was full of stars. There was a complete silence. We started having a heartwarming discourse on mysticism which was the major topic of discussion between me and Ali throughout the trip. The discussion turned to poetry. I recited my favorites and Ali enriched the night with his own poetry. The magic of words unfolded and took us dreamers to a world of ecstasy. Such moments are rare.                                                                    

Let me be the land on which you may flow like waters

Is it the miles which scare you?

There’s a place where heart finds its way to another heart

Then a fragrance is all that is felt

Then you are nothing but a star of a galaxy in someone’s heart,

And you spring out and flow like a stream, all day long

~

Let me remove the word ‘love’ between I and You

How can love follow the word I?

And how can it come before You?

As when there’s love, what else is there except love?

And when there is You,

I forget about myself and even about love itself.

~

Beautiful people of Baltistan

The Cold Desert

Ali and Mateen far inside the Cold Desert

Barbecue camp beside the Cold Desert

We had reached Skardu after two days and a night on the road. To think of going through all of that again on our way back was nothing short of a nightmare. I and Usman decided to part ways with the group on fifth day and take a private jeep to Khaplu which was another beautiful town a hundred kilometers from Skardu. Plan was to spend a day at Khaplu and take the flight from Skardu to Islamabad on Saturday morning. However, the plan for Khaplu tossed up and we decided to leave for Islamabad on Friday morning. We booked tickets for an 11 am flight. A few others joined us in this betrayal. Rest of the group was boarding coasters for Chillas and a Hiace wagon had been arranged to take us to the airport. We said our goodbyes to old and new friends and boarded the wagon which transported us to the airport in twenty minutes. Skardu has a small terminal not very different from the one we used to have at Lahore before 2003. We took our boarding passes and moved to the passengers lounge. There was a beautiful view of Skardu’s vast runway and the mountains from the lounge. An hour later, we stepped inside a huge shuttle bus with just a few seats for senior citizens and a lot of bus holders hanging from its ceiling. It conveyed us to the runway where a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus was standing with majestic snowcapped peaks in its backdrop. We took selfies and group pictures in a rush and boarded the plane. In a few minutes, it started rolling on the runway and took off. I grew sad and felt like being exiled from a heaven. But another mind-blowing experience was yet in store. It was the Ariel view of Karakorum Mountains. The aircraft gradually started gaining altitude, first rising to the level of mountains then leaving them far below. The view from the aircraft window was one worth dying for. The magic carpet was flying over majestic Karakorum Mountains spread across the horizon. It was a dream made of snow. For nearly half of the time, we flew above the snow capped peaks. Familiar sound of the microphone came. The pilot announced “See the K2 Mountain on your right”. I couldn’t believe my luck. There it was, the mighty emperor of all mountains, standing out amongst dozens and dozens of peaks surrounding it. Its majestic pyramid was piercing the sky. I quickly grabbed my phone and started making a video. The battery was dead at ninth second. Those precious nine seconds are one of my most prized possessions now. I was the only one to have a video of K2. Some of us even missed the sight from aircraft. Soon, the mountains were left behind and I could make the shapes of Tarbela Dam and Khanpur Lake. The aircraft descended and took a turn. Now we were flying over Islamabad, world’s second most beautiful capital city. We landed at Islamabad airport at 11:45 am. In other words, we had made a journey of 45 hours in 45 minutes and Touristan must have reached no further than the outskirts of Skardu by this time. I had never made a journey back from the high mountains in such a short time. It was hard to believe that at 9 am I had a delicious breakfast at Shangrila Resort and by the time of afternoon tea I was in Lahore. The exhaustion of long and difficult journey on your way back makes you yearn for home. When I reached home this time, I realized I wasn’t even a least bit home sick. I was Skardu-sick and the feeling didn’t go for many days. How can you be at peace after seeing so much beauty?

 Skardu Airport: PIA boeing ready to fly us away from heaven

John Steinbeck once wrote “We don’t take a trip. A trip takes us”

Until I hit the road again…