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Essays and Travelogs

Shadow of the Giants by Rizwan Bajwa

July was greeted by the monsoon on its very first day with a downpour at 8:45 am, at the same time when 15 adventurers from LAS waited to board the Daewoo bus for Pindi. The rain did not subside and my very first trek was off to wet start, which made me skeptical as to what sort of luck the coming days would bring. The water level rose to alarming levels and the end result was the soaking of not only the fearsome ventures but of the supply cartons so that all fifteen boarded the ‘dry’ bus with arms loaded with supplies for the trip. We ignored the looks from other passengers who, for some reason or the other, had missed the downpour and looked perfectly dry. Hmm.

From Pindi it was on to Gilgit by the 4:30 pm bus. The endless journey up was finally over by ten the next morning as we had breakfast at the PTDC motel. The group was out in two hours on hired jeeps for our first camp that night, which was to be at some distance above Chillum post. I was thoroughly engrossed as I gazed at the majesty of the humongous dry rocky mountains that towered all around us. The jeep ride in this part was very dusty and hot, but soon we hit a better-defined jeep track, which took us to Astore village where we stopped for lunch. A slight drizzle followed by a chill gave me my first taste of the cold in the middle of the summer as jackets were pulled out of backpacks. After lunch we moved on from lush green Astore for Chillum, during the course of which it steadily got colder as we continued to gain altitude. It was late in the evening when we got to Chillum, which is basically an army post, got our entry tickets for Deosai National Park and headed another fifteen minutes ahead to a quieter spot. I was taught how to pitch my very first tent in diminishing light. Dinner was cooked and everyone was well fed and satisfied except for occasional run-ins with altitude sickness – Mudassir’s head was throbbing and I was experiencing shortness of breath. I still slept like a log that night. In fact that was the best night’s sleep that I got in months – but who wouldn’t after two days and one night of traveling?!

The next morning after the regular human rituals of deposition and washing up, I saw what an LAS trip is really like. Whereas anywhere in the world trekkers would be up at the break of dawn, packed up and halfway down to their next camp, the LAS trekkers would start to trickle out of their tents one by one, each one disappearing behind a hill to perform the natural functions of excretion after a great meal the night before. Soon the camp was up and humming with life as other functions were performed such as packing up and breakfast. By and by we were on our way by 11 am. I don’t know much about the others, but the only person I was in touch with during the course of the first day’s trek was Quasi as he and I sped ahead of everyone else. The mission was to cross Chachor Pass to enter the actual Deosai plain – Chota Deosai as it is popularly called. I got the chance to trek alone for a while and really feel the aura of the place; it really is something a little out of the ordinary. It is nothing compared to what I would experience on the third day as we moved from Chota Deosai on to Bara Deosai but nonetheless the flower-carpeted plains did manage to evoke something. The weather was warm when we started out, but kept on getting colder as clouds crept in and soon it started to drizzle. It kept on drizzling when Quasi and I started the steep ascent up Chachor pass. Shortness of breath became a real problem for Quasi as he found it really tough to go on but we pushed along as best as we could till we heard whistles down below. Apparently Clowney had a severe case of dysentery and had to be taken out, and because of the weather most people had voted in favor of immediate camp and so Hassan and Kami came looking for us.

It cleared up just enough for Rakaposhi to peek down at us as the sun set in. People with acclimatization problems rested in their tents, while the rest of us made attempts to dry out wet gear by a feeble fire made from borrowed wood from a camp across the river. A feast of Alloo Qeema followed by the campers creeping into their tents one by one. Quasi and Mudassir were my tent mates, although I can’t say much for their cooperation during that night’s rain as it was me who was most concerned and up early making sure that water didn’t leak in the tent. We patiently waited for the rain to subside and subside it did by late morning when the sun shone down on the beautiful lush green valley floor carpeted with flowers. We dried up and were ready to pack up and trek up the pass when a cargo jeep happened to come by and a deal was struck as all 14 of us clambered on the jeep. After about 20 minutes I saw Shaucer Lake, and the moment I laid eyes on it I knew that I would be mad to go on with a jeep ride to Bara Pani. Hassan, Mamu, Yasir, Kami, Maheen and I decided to camp by the lake and after setting up camp right next to the survey of Pakistan team, we had the late afternoon till sunset to ourselves. Yasir and Hassan went out on their regular photography excursions as they intended to utilize 80 rolls of film that they had brought on the trek.

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