IJCians have always had a very special spot for northern areas of Pakistan. This year again, when the weather started getting warmer, plans were being discussed to head north for our annual summer camp. Several venues were discussed for IJC summer camp and we were almost decided, when we got a call from the army personnel stationed in Kalam inviting IJC to the Swat Summer Festival (12th – 16th July) and asked us to hold a small event at Lake Mahodand.
IJC has been in touch with army since the floods of 2010. Initially in connection with flood relief, when IJC members went with relief goods to Kalam via Chinook Helicopters when no land transport was available. Earlier this year when we were in Kalam for Our snow cross, where we had discussions with the army area commander about how to promote tourism in the area, and we promised IJC participation in any promotional plan.
Overall the festival was truly successful with a large number of attendees (over 2,000 vehicles entering Kalam city on Friday alone) to enjoy the various cultural and sporting activities including tent pegging, horse show, karate, paragliding, bungee jumping, RC planes, boating, jet skis, remote controlled small 4X4 vehicles, fireworks and our 4×4 event. The overwhelming response to the festival had the organizers stretched thin with scarce availability of hotel accommodation and severe logistical issues with limited infrastructure across the valley. Despite all the issues, the IJC team received cordial treatment from the Army and we were provided hotel accommodation and food in Kalam.
For IJC and particularly members who had been active in the Kalam Flood relief and rehabilitation activities, it was very comforting to see the same valley which was devastated and deserted after the floods and reeling from issues with the Taliban to be swarming with tourists. It did mean however was that on all days, there were long lines at checkpoints and traffic jams in the towns making our drive to Kalam and Mahodand longer and more tiring.
Due to various work / office commitments, the departure on Friday was divided in groups. First group of Suhaib’s team in Baltoro and Shahzad’s team in CJ left around 8 in the morning. Second group of Nomi’s Gang in his Safari, Zohaib and Hasan Rana in Safari Cruiser and Shabab n Jahangir in TLC FZ80 left around 11 in morning. Later around 5ish in evening Asad’s team left on Pajero V6 5dr and Akif n team in the BJ40. Yasir n Tufail joined from Peshawar on their Prado. And finally Juma khan joined up with Asad in Mingora. Due to tremendous traffic in the whole swat valley there were several delays for all parties on the way.
In some way’s I was the lucky one, I could not travel on Friday, so I had planned leaving on early Saturday morning. Now I will tell you the usual story…………..the last minute packing and than the excitement factor meant, that once again I had absolutely zero sleep. But the good part is that leaving early meant that from my home I was in Kalam in less than 6 hours! Others had varying travelling times from over 8 hours to over nearly 13 hours!
The IJC gang of 9 vehicles with 24 participants initially gathered in Kalam grounds from where we left in a convoy towards Lake Mahodand. The road to the lake was in pretty rough state, but it was amazing to see how thousands of people were heading there in their own cars / SUVs / rented jeeps and Hiluxes. The huge traffic meant progress was slow, at least with climbing altitudes the weather was rather pleasant and the surroundings made the prolonged drive rather enjoyable.
On the way I picked up crates of chilled mangos and peaches for our camping. The best part of travelling in NPP is that you can dump almost all the stuff in the dala without any concern. Also on the way saw local people walking towards the Festival site at Mahodand Lake, all of them were happily provided free lift at the back. At one time I had 13 men sitting/ squeezed at the back of Dala! The powdery clay and gravel meant that steep inclines were a struggle for most 2 wheel drives. I had the tow strap ready thru out and pulled up well over a dozen vehicles in all. I was jokingly asked by many IJCians to charge for each tow, and that would have happily covered for the trip fuel bill. BTW, to my surprise some drivers took their wallets out and offered money without me asking!
The Lake grounds had a quite an extensive entertainment setup for all visitors, and people really seemed to be enjoying the lovely atmosphere there. I saw many vehicles from all provinces + the usual plenty local NCPs. IJC was provided a separate playground, if that’s what we can call it. Where we marked a small track thru mud slush grassy fields with cones etc. And than all us drivers just simply had too much fun. Some more than the others! Controlling the vehicle is grassy slush was almost impossible with almost constant drifts by all, and a certain driver even managed to nudge back corner of NPP. The crowd gathered were very appreciative and thoroughly enjoyed our show! A few even came up and asked if they could be taken along during the run!
Finally in the evening we moved onwards towards smaller lakes beyond the main Mahodand Lake and we camped in most gorgeous luscious grounds next to a beautiful green flowing river / lake water! The camping atmosphere for me was just perfect! I say “for me” because I have learned very wisely to make best use of my age, so usually I just put-up my chair n table and relax, sorry supervise others putting up the tents and setting bonfire etc! Oh and I forget, the chilled mangoes were absolutely yummy! Hope the mango stains from my white IJC T-Shirt will wash off completely.
While we were waiting for Juma Khan to do his magic with the food in the evening, the bonfire was lit up. Suhaib n Jahangir songs n music had almost all mesmerized! It was a most thoroughly relaxing n enjoyable evening, ending for me around mid night, as I hadn’t slept a wink the night before.
The next morning, almost all were up before 8. After a breakfast of hot omelette by Juma, the first group of 4 vehicles left for the return journey. Their return journey was again very slow due to traffic on the way, as well as several car troubles of various natures. That group finally managed to reach back home after well over 12 hours journey! I stayed back with second group. After pack-up, we initially moved forward to the furthest of Mahodand lakes.
Than our return journey leg started. Our initial plan was to visit the Ghabral side once we reach Kalam, however the dark cloud cover and subsequent rather heavy rain made us change our plans. We had lunch n more mangoes next to mighty river passing thru Ushu. Afterwards Asad n I also went over to the Anakar Village, where IJC has been helping to run the small local school, to meet up with the teachers.
Finally our return journey started from Kalam around 4pm. Progress as predicted was rather slow, but Alhamdolillah we all managed to reach home safely by 1 am. Our deepest thanks to the Almighty for taking n bringing us all back safely, and for repeatedly providing us with these great opportunities to enjoy its beautiful creations in our absolutely stunning country. Many thnx to Pak Army for their invitation, hospitality and for this opportunity to do our bit for our fellow countrymen.
Finally, many thnx to all the fellow travellers (both IJCians n non-IJCians) for their simply wonderful company during the trip. It’s always a pleasure to be travelling with such good friends. So what’s the plan after Eid………………..???
BTW, total distance covered home to home 780km.
For more pictures and details; IJC Summer Camp 2012 – Maodand Lake