Just returned from a lifetime trip to the Land of the Giants (Deosai Plains)
I am supposed to be writing a storey about the fantastic trip. Well, hmmm...........................how do we start, all the superlatives have already been used.
Deosai Camping...........this was discussed as a possible destination for annual summer camp back in May, but eventually it was decided in the favour of Kalam for our various flood relief efforts, in any case the road to Deosai would not have been open in late June for definite. I did mention at the time to others, let's do Kalam now and Deosai later on.
I have been to Deosai 3 times before as well, but have never spent the night there, hence even during the summer camp I kept saying to Asad, we will do Deosai after Ramazan, and with Almighty's blessings our plan did come true.
Initially the group was much smaller but the temptation of the land of Giants got 23 of us together in 7 vehicles of wide variety for this 121 hour long tour. It had lots of driving on pretty bad roads i.e. if that's what you would call them. In fact I was on the steering wheel for almost 60 hours. The adrenaline during these tours keeps you going and I slept no more than 20 hours during the trip.
The tour started around 1 am on 2nd September. Special thanks to Zeb Chaudhry (Black-op) who specially came at the motorway junction at midnight to wish us well and see us off. Greatly appreciated Zeb!. The vehicles to leave from Islamabad were NPP with me and Asad Jadoon, Jero with Asad, Pinky and a friend, Mini Pajero with Sarmad and friends, Pajero V6 with Noman and his two friends, Shabab, Zohaib Jadoon, Hasan Rana and friend in Pajero 2800. Shahid Jeepaholic, Nomi and two friends were in the TLC 80. We headed briskly to Abbotabad where we were joined by Ali n his 3 friends on VW Van.
After a not so short break for tea and parathaas in Abbotabad we moved onwards towards Naran with a stop at balakot for fuelling. Due to constant light drizzle the greasy roads were very slippery and dangerous at places, and my Dala's rear tires would start spinning on most turns going uphill, and would lock easily coming down hill despite plenty fuel and luggage loaded on the back of the dala. Shahid's TLC had a brief venture offroad trying to turn, but thankfully escaped without any serious consequence. Every one was fairly careful afterwards and so progress was slow. We reached Naran around 8 in the morning, and to my surprise Naran was fairly full of tourists considering it was the start of 3rd day of Eid.
After a hearty breakfast at PTDC restaurant, we left for Babuser Top around 9 am. To everyone's dismay, we had constant heavy cloud cover with intermittent heavy showers, so the view to the top was fairly restricted. The muddy n slushy conditions made driving a bit more exciting. As expected the temps at the top were fairly low and with limited visibility our stop at the top was short. So far the conditions for any kind of photography were poor. The drive down towards Chilas was better with sky's clearing up a little.
At Chilas Asad wanted to do a run on the abandoned old runway, the rest joined him as well. So it was a proper drag with 6 vehicles lined side by side. Shabab wanted not to risk his 2800 engine so he remained at the finish line. As usual there are lots of excuses by several parties for not performing etc. I came third behind Shahid's TLC who jumped the start (he may say otherwise, but I am writing the write-up so consider this official :p) and Asad's Jero was neck n neck with him to the end. My excuse, I was carrying too much weight in my Dala, had a bad start, the wheel spun too much initially in gravelled road etc etc. Being thirds meant I bore the brunt of tiny pebbles being thrown back by both TLC and Jero on my NPP. I backed off after 3/4th of the way as I wasn't getting closer, and afterwards found a small crack in my front wind screen and also a cracked indicator light
After Lunch at Chilas roadside restaurant, we progressed slowly on gravelled KKH towards Astore for our night stay at PTDC Rama. During that part of journey we had double casualty of vehicles. Nomi's V6 generator stopped working somehow and he was driving on his batteries and when the battery packed up, his fuel pump stopped working and so car just shut down. To make matters worse it was raining constantly at the time. Eventually it was decided to swap my NPP's battery to the Jero V6 and his to NPP so that my alternator would charge it. The terminals on our batteries were on reversed sides so we had to do plenty alteration to the connections so that terminals could reach the batteries. Took over an hour for the swap. NPP was then jump started and we started moving forward again. Jero V6 used just parking lights and drove behind mini pajero rest of the way using his lights visibility.
Approx 5-6km from destination on extremely narrow uphill section, Ali's clutch oil pipe burst leaking out the oil. Without the clutch, he was towed up to the PTDC behind my NPP. The climb was steep enough for me to need 4L 1st gear part of the way. Finally we reached PTDC around 10:30, where we were greeted by Sohaib Kiani who had arrived there earlier with his father. After dinner we moved to our rooms for a much needed sleep, as it was nearly 40+ hours without sleep for most of us.
Next morning despite our best efforts getting all sleepy heads up early proved impossible. We swapped the batteries of NPP and V6 Jero back to original and low n behold the Jero generator also started working and didn't give any trouble for the remaining trip.
We made a short trip to Rama Lake for some quick snaps. On the way I gave lift to some foreigners on the back of my Dala, which made everyone else jealous as expected! After a few group photo sessions we returned back to the PTDC and towed Ali's van down to Astore, Anyone who has been to Rama would understand the steep slopes and so the van had a tow strap attached at the back with me providing some engine braking and when any incline would come, Asad would pull him from the front with the second strap. It was good fun driving down hill and taking the mickey out of Ali about his lovely VW! Finding the right pipe for a German vehicle proved a tedious job but with Ali's skill, he managed a very dependable jugaar which worked for the rest of the trip. But it did mean that our journey towards Deosai started around 4pm on the day, rather than planned morning start.
The drive towards Deosai was beautiful as expected but soon cloud cover came and rain started, and consequently any photography opportunities vanished. The progress was slow due to slippery roads, and soon it was dark. We reached Sheosar Lake around 08:30 and to everyone's disappointment it was pouring. Many were double minded as to return back to chillum for night stay, but eventually with rain turning to drizzle we decided to give camping a go. A wonderful decision it was, because soon it stopped raining and than the sky cleared up showing bright n beautiful stars.
The bonfire was lit, the food was cooked and music was on, a perfect camping scene. It was as good as it can get, everyone chattering around, mind you the temps were close to freezing and most huddled around the bon-fire. Sharing stories and telling hilarious jokes, the evening went on for quite some time, a few of us retired early in their camps, some decided to sleep in the car. The last few finally went to bed after 3:30am after a telling off by Asad, as the loud chatter n laughter wasn't letting him sleep.
The next morning I was up just before 6 am to a beautiful bright sunny morning with the most gorgeous view of the Sheosar Lake. A few keen photographers were up even before me and am sure we will see their work soon on the forum. I just lazed around, unfortunately the cloud cover began gathering fast and by 7ish it was all cloudy much to my dismay. We did get some sun now n again but it remained cloudy for most morning till after 10ish.
Zohaib Jadoon n Shahid got us a breakfast of most delicious Spanish Omelette n tea along with various other spreads for the bread. After packing up, our drive towards Skardu started and on the way everyone was just mesmerized by the beauty of the huge land. I think one can never have enough of all of nature's beauties. Saw plenty of local wildlife. The adventurous few had their generous share of off-roading in the surrounding areas. The water crossings at Kala pani, Bara-Pani and chota Pani were all done thru the water and was an exhilarating experience.
After Deosai the Satpara Lake with its most awesome water colours awaited us and most were snapping away like anything. Finally after a late lunch of delicious chappal kebab's cooked in Mobil oil we headed towards Shangrila resort Skardu for our night stay.
For those who have been to Shangrila would agree its one of the most gorgeous resorts with beautiful scenery n surroundings. As usual the chatter n banter went on till late at night. The next morning after a hearty breakfast some just roamed around, others had a go at boating in the lower Kachura Lake, before most went upto Upper Kachura for more photography, boating and even ride in the motorboats.
Finally around 1 pm we left for our return journey towards Chilas. For the entire trip so far I was at the back of convoy, but after a mid lunch break I left first and on the roads towards Chilas the NPP was in its element and soaked up the bumps and humps beautifully and I made it to Chilas in just over 6 hours! The rest of the gang were delayed because of a tire nozzle leak on Ali's Van requiring tire change. After much tooing n frowing and discussions regarding whether it was safe to cross Babuser late at night we decided to stay the night at Shangrila Chilas.
As usual in the hotel most were busy with our usual chatter and discussions and slept well after 2 am. The next morning it was planned to be up at 5 and leave by 6am. But as predicted we didn?€™t leave Chilas until 7am. On the way, Ali's Van's engine started over heating on the incline, so from half way up onwards, I towed him behind the NPP up to the top. At the top, our altitude meter showed height of 13700 ft. Asad wanted to try n reach 14000ft, so started a dramatic climb on the mountain by the side, not be left behind I followed him. Eventually I went up even further and the pic from the top posted is actually the highest possible point, the track beyond was too steep and with no turning point available even the Sultan Rahi (he was riding with me at the time) convinced me we should stop. At the top the meter read 4289 meters, which is 14070ft approx. Hurray!! We reversed back at snails pace part of the way, before we could turn round and than followed Asad down.
True to typical IJC style, we got off the traditional track and decided to go down to Jalkhad driving along the stream down below. A not too wise decision in the end. Ali misjudged a sharp protruding stone and his Van's engine got hit by it and poured out a lot of oil as a result. On closer inspection the filter got partially ripped and additional a part of chamber made of Alloy also got pierced. With the van disable for the rest of the trip we decided to tow it back to conventional route and towed him back behind NPP n Jero in turns. Our progress was resultantly fairly slow, after some deliberation in Naran regarding how and if any repair can be carried out, it was decided we will proceed as it is, slowly towing VW behind NPP. We had several stops on the way because of tow bar coming out, than tow hook breaking and the rest. Just half a km before Balakot, the Van's brakes completely packed up due to over heating. Ali managed to control it with quick reflexes and stopped on the gears. It had been a long day and we decided that we would leave the Van in balakot and rest of the gang would head back home. Ali's friend's Uncle came over later and towed Ali back to Abbotabad slowly once his brakes had cooled down and started working.
Rest of us proceeded non-stop back to ISB and reached home around 1:30 am. A long tiring day but totally worth it in the end. One cannot thank the Almighty enough for all his blessing upon us to be able to enjoy such wonderful trips and bringing us back safely. My thnx to all who made this trip possible in the first place and so enjoyable in the end. Everyone present was a true sport and team man and made it possible for the whole group to gel together even though many of the people met one another for the first time, but I am sure the trip will lead them to lasting friendships.
All our fellow IJCians who could not join on the trip were greatly missed, their well wishes and prayers were with us through-out. I am sure they will be in person with us next time! Am grateful for all the support and help all fellow IJCians have given!
It's been a long story and I hope some of you would have been able to read it completely, and in the end I would like to repeat Sarmad's words "Next is what!"