If I were to compile a list of scariest, hair-raising moments in my travel history, this jeep journey to Fairy Meadows in Northern Pakistan would have to be in the top three (probably alongside mountain bike riding down death road in Bolivia and jumping from the highest bunny jump in the world in Macao).
The journey started early in the morning when we made our way by road to the base of the winding road that makes its way up toward Fairy Meadows. It was here that we packed our overnight bags, swapped from a bus to the jeeps, and were advise to “hold on!” As we climbed up the mountains.
The first 10-15 minutes of the drive were abuzz with excitement. Somewhere between the wind blowing in my hair, Indian pop music blasting from the jeep radio and my comrade Zeeshan dancing and singing along to add to the hilarity of it all, I was completely amazed by the epic mountain ranges we were surrounded by.
“Save your camera battery” yelled the driver in Urdu which was then translated by Zeeshan, as he insisted there were better views further up the road. I began to relax in to my seat and enjoy the views, right when we turned a bend and entered a much more narrow, steep, and gut-wrenching section of the road that we later learned would take us almost the entire (one hour) journey up to the base for the hike to Fairy Meadows.
The scenery is something words can’t even begin to describe. At a distance the hills roll in to one another effortlessly like a mirage, but upon closer inspection they are characterised by their sharp, rocky edges… something you try to put in the back of your mind with the cliff’s edge within arms reach!
Some hour later the road plateaus and we enter an oasis of greenery, horses feeding, chickens running wild and school children running to grasp out jeep and hang off the sides. The driver asks us not to film the village out of respect for the local people who very likely welcome many guests to their corner of the world daily, as the road to Fairy Meadows has become a bucket list destination for travellers to Northern Pakistan (though in the scheme of things tourism in the country is still very low).
We stop for lunch at the base of the hike to Fairy Meadows which takes somewhere between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours, depending on your hiking ability. Altitude peaks at 3,400 metres when you arrive at Fairy Meadows, creeping higher if you choose to hike to the Nanga Parbat base camp (another 10 or so hours and advised to be undertaken the following day).
Arriving at Fairy Meadows feels like somewhat of a mirage after running our of drinking water before the hike had even commenced – but within minutes of arriving the local hosts are rushing to provide chai tea and water provisions.
The Swiss-style cabins at Fairy Meadows feel luxurious considering the remote location – featuring a queen bed, electricity, hot water and plenty of blankets to stay warm in the cold evenings. Later in the evening we are all welcomed to the main cabin for a home-cooked meal around the wood fire. All the usual suspects are here – dal, naan, spiced chickpeas, mixed vegetables, and chicken for the meat eaters. A couple of people in our group start to feel the effects of higher altitudes – so be sure to pack plenty of water and if you’re prone to altitude sickness, some counteractive tablets wouldn’t go astray.
After a night in the meadows, we enjoyed a slow morning watching the sun rise before 6:00am, wandering around the hidden valleys, lakes and viewpoints. After a hearty Pakistani breakfast (fried omelette, fried eggs, naan bread and of course chai) we made our way back down the mountain by foot and onwards to the jeeps to return to a reasonable altitude (and yes, it was even scarier coming down!)
My visit to Pakistan was as part of an organised group tour and you can book the same tour by contacting Atta, our guide, here: