My hitch hiking in the past has strengthened the conviction that with all the necessary paraphernalia in my back pack, I can walk straight into hell and back but as the events gradually revealed themselves to me on that rugged merciless day en route to Fairy Meadows, I realized I have overestimated a few things in the process.
I have started off the Raikot Bridge to Fairy Meadows on-foot, negotiating the bleak twists and turns of the narrow curvy gravel road forged out exclusively for 4 x 4 Jeeps. The cool temperate morning gradually caved into the scorching sun of the Himalayas, draining me of water and ruthlessly back stabbing my will power.
The 20 kilo or so ruck sack was a painful reality which I had to bear with at all cost since it carried the elementary items of my emergency retreat to a probable overnight stay on the road.
My journey continued for a slithering six hours during which I had consumed all of the water I carried with me, yet a relief was nowhere in-sight.
The jeep track is about 15 kms from Raikot Bridge to Tatto Village, deep within the Western Himalayas. From Tatto onwards, one has to trek for another 3 hours to reach Fairy Meadows, a beautiful mountain resort right in front of the ninth highest mountain in the world, the Nanga Parbat.
My midway breaks were getting more frequent as my dried up throat gasped for water. The afternoon was now cooling down to a cool evening and the trek had finally started showing signs of life and habitat and vegetation although in my eight hours long trek I have not encountered a single jeep or a human, except for a big burly black dog which came out of nowhere and had disappeared in a similar fashion.
The relief came in the form of a small stream of water originating from the top rock and carried cold delicious water rejuvenating my spirits to unexpected levels. It had been a serving from the Fountain of Youth by all means. My journey finally ended at Tatto village after a gruesome 12 hours tracking and I could feel my sole burning inside my boots.
The village offered a few log huts, a make shift hotel, a shop for necessary items and small canteen which provided for food for the weary travelers. I established my camp on a plain ground at the backside of the canteen, had a meal of lentils and roti and decided to call it a day.
“I remember, years later, his describing to me the effect of the sudden view you get of Nanga Parbat from one of those Kashmir valleys; you have been riding for hours among quiet richly wooded scenery, winding up along the side of some kind of gorge, with nothing very big to look at, just lush, leafy, pussy-cat country of steep hillsides and waterfalls; then suddenly you come round a corner where the view opens up the valley, and you are almost struck senseless by the blinding splendour of that vast face of ice-hung precipices and soaring ridges, sixteen thousand feet from top to toe, filling a whole quarter of the heavens at a distance of, I suppose, only a dozen miles. And now, whenever I call to mind my first sight of Lessingham in that little daleside church so many years ago, I think of Nanga Parbat.”
The trek very next day was no less than barging into a hidden paradise without prior permission. Thick coniferous forest filled up with cacophony of chirping birds, the cool temperate trek is often trespassed by gushing streams of melted ice from top rock nourishing the weary mind and soul of the trekkers. While the seemingly endless trek persisted to linger on, you would suddenly make a turn to finally have the first glimpse of her, standing right in front of you smiling.
Rising above a colossal 16000ft from base, a gigantic mass of ice and rock, beyond a freckle of doubt as I would recall, it was the most beautiful smiling face I ever saw in my life.