The thought of a trip up north provides the perfect respite from the soaring summer temperatures these days. Instead of just daydreaming about the cold breeze on your face, however, you can translate it into reality, get your winter gear out and head to the mountains to take a chill pill (pun intended!).
Luckily, we are blessed with a country that offers us all four seasons all year round. A trip within Pakistan is more promising than a ready-made sweet escape to foreign lands, which is much more costly and not as diversely rich in culture.
We, the NCA students’ batch of 2017, arranged our last college trip to Naran and Shogran in May, hoping to clear our heads before starting afresh for our thesis semester. Whatsapp groups were created, lists of essentials were jotted down and the packing begun.
The prime surprise you’ll get when you travel up north in the month of May is the tremendous weather difference. You will definitely question your packing skills once you experience bonechilling weather, leaving behind the oven that is Lahore. Be sure to pack many layers of clothing (especially girls, since vanity is not enough to keep you warm in 1 degree Celsius weather). Also, keep loads of pairs of socks since the snow and drizzling wets your shoes and you need to keep dry at all times.
Embarking on our journey, all 85 students in coasters travelled by night and reached Ayubia by daylight. Although everybody was tired, we retired only briefly to our rooms booked at the PTDC and then headed out to enjoy the breezy weather.
There were measured cadences of the place, with the constant chirping of woodpeckers, the chairlift moving up and down and an occasional solemn neighing of the gorgeous white horses that would let you ride them on the steep slopes of Ayubia. It was just the right amount of cold if you wanted to retreat for a day or two; a cold that was bearable for all ages.
The next day we headed towards Shogran, jamming to songs all the while. We were booked at the Pine Park Hotel, which is located at a steep height. Guests are usually driven up in jeeps since coasters are unfit to travel up the horrifically narrow road. Kudos to our bus drivers that they managed to steer the massive vehicles safely up the mountain path. Talk about ‘living on the edge!’
The temperature was lower here than in Ayubia and the wind so cold, it made our teeth chatter. But who cares about the chill when you can see snow-clad mountains surrounding a small park-side hotel dotted with cherry blossom trees hanging over you.
The hotel consisted of luxury cottages as well as standard rooms; you can pick what suits your budget. After a quick meal, everybody gathered around in the lobby area for a bonfire. There was dancing, playing music on the guitar, singing and while some sipped their tea and coffee, they consumed in the night sky which was perforated with millions of shiny dots. It was breathtakingly beautiful and I was awestruck. It made me question how human interventions and our disregard for our surroundings can infest nature’s course because back in the city, you would rarely find a handful of stars in the entire sky.
If you’re in Shogran, you’d better be geared up aptly to go to Siri Paye. It is further up and can be reached via jeeps provided by the hotels in the area. Or, if you’re the athletic kind, you can undertake a two-hour trek to reach it. We left for Siri Paye after breakfast, undeterred by the canopy of drizzle and cold above us. I clutched my heart and recited all the prayers I could, witnessing the near-death experience of driving on an edgeless, rugged track. The jeeps were slipping but the professional drivers kept the mood light by reassuring their wide-eyed passengers that they were pros (no doubt about that, since we did reach safely!).
Siri – the land of clouds. The small green pastured valley, tucked cosily under a bed of clouds and huddled by snowy mountains, was a rare sight. The pasture enclosed a huge sparkling pond that shone as raindrops fell over it. It would be an understatement to say that we felt cold, as no amount of layers kept the icy wind from piercing us. Some of us headed to a nearby dhaaba where pakoras and tea were being served –covenants being made that tea was the ultimate saviour.
While some chose to relax, the rest of us went off on a trek up to Paye. The walkway was muddy and slippery, ruining our joggers that were not at all fit for rainy weather. Luckily, we found a few locals on our way; they had set up shop in makeshift tents and were renting trekking boots and walking sticks.
Without even thinking for a split second, I rented the gear and continued on the hike. It was serene to walk in the clouds, treading a path that was covered with snow on either side. I found beautiful, self-blooming flowers that adorned the naked green patches devoid of snow. There was no sound, just the crunching of the snow under our feet and the melody of the slow music beating in our headphones as we walked.
As evening fell, it started to get even colder and we headed back to our hotel. Tired and exhausted, we decided to put up a projector (we had brought with us) in the garden and screened movies late through the night. It was a great idea to relax and huddle in our sleeping bags after a long day.
The next morning we headed to Naran, which was even colder than the previous places. We arrived at the PTDC after a 7-hour journey. The huts were in a huge green compound and alongside a downstream that automatically blew the wind on to our faces. The mountains were covered in snow and the sky was a threatening blue while sunlight danced on the far-off peaks vivaciously. Naran is famous for its Mall Road so everybody headed down there for coffee and hot chocolate and some traditional handicraft shopping. Naran has great pears by the way, really crunchy and scrumptious, so if you ever go, make sure to grab a handful.
Since the snow hadn’t melted, Lake Saiful-ul Mulook remained frozen and closed off to visitors. Instead, we took advantage of the first sunny morning we encountered during our trip, and went rafting. We lay under the sun because the warmth, after the continuous teeth-jittering cold, was heaven. We either played outdoors, or went for walks outside the PTDC premises, exploring villages nearby, taking pictures while basking in the sun.
As the sun set, we decided to arrange for a bonfire and hold a BBQ. Since it was the last night of our trip, we got our trusted screen out again to watch a movie under the open sky. We sang and had fun all through the night around the bonfire until the first ray of the sun struck the PTDC grounds. Only then did people start leaving for their rooms.
I wouldn’t want to write about the journey back home because it filled me with sadness to leave the raw beauty of the places I had encountered. Yet it was also a promise that I’d be back soon to witness natural wonders that I wouldn’t find anywhere in the urban landscape.