By Shams ud Din: Started traveling from Chitral town to village Istoor (2,619m/8,592ft) of the Golen valley with general transport by 02:35 AM. The driver was Azam Shb, his vehicle bearing ‘NWFP D 1727’ number. The named village is the last formal settlement from where it would be convenient to launch the trek as early as possible so that maximum daylight could be used to reach the next stage on time. My trip from Chitral town was facilitated by Shams-ur-Rehman Shb, an employee at the Civil Judge office, and Wali Shb, an employee in the University of Chitral, both coming from village Birmogh.
After entering the Golen valley to the east, Mosheech was the first village that came to view. The village in addition to few other small hamlets constitutes what is called Golen Pain or lower Golen. A little above on the right side of the road is located the village Chashma (literary means spring), perhaps the raison d’etre for the nomenclature associated with the cold and fresh spring that gushes out from under the gigantic boulders here. The quantity of the spring water is so huge that the air in the surrounding is conditioned, and the passerby prefers it to stop, take cold water and wash their faces. Seeing the flow of people to the spring, a person has installed a small teashop near the spring. When I went to the spring, the owner of the teashop showed generosity and offered a cup of tea along with biscuits. I tried to pay, but he flatly refused to get the payment. After Chashma, we crossed the villages of Bobhaka and Darban on the way to village Istoor.
Beyond Chashma, the villages and roads of the beautiful Golen valley have been destroyed by the flash flood two years ago. The whole area is strewn with huge boulders, and debris deposited by the flood. For vehicular service, the road is very difficult. Further above, the valley branches off into two. Rogheli vale (2183m/7,162ft) leads towards Madaklasht in the south-east whereas the one diverting to the north-east leads to village Birmogh and further onto Istoor, the last permanent settlement in the valley. The Golen valley has an estimated 400 households in total whereas the households of village Istoor are around 50.
We reached village Birmogh by 05:20 PM to end our vehicular travel and embarked on trekking to village Istoor. I was accompanied by Mukhtar Azam Shb, an employee in the vet hospital Denin Chitral, and a resident of Istoor. We reached the village by 06:30 PM and Mukhtar Shb welcomed me to his newly built, single-roomed, and clean guesthouse, which is located amidst the towering poplar trees all around. The temperature dropped to 18 Celsius by the night and I had a sound sleep. He was kind enough to serve me traditional foods and took care of my comfort. He also went around in the village to find a suitable guide and came along with the one, Nabi-ur-Rehman Shb, to join me on the trip. He is a brisk-footed 40 years old man, having substantial knowledge about the route coupled with linkages in the valley. He also has a passion and energy to withstand difficult situations—fatigue, cold weather or difficult routes, and so on.
After breakfast, along with Nabi-ur-Rehman Shb, I left for Krui Och (literary means red spring), the name is perhaps justified by the red color of the landscape, which surrounds the spring as we observed upon arrival at Krui Och in the late afternoon on June 26, 2021. By 08:37 AM, we reached Romen (3057m/10,029ft), a beautiful temporary settlement, where we came across nomads involved in the cultivation of potatoes, sweet potato, and beans, for which the soil is ideal and trucks after trucks of potato are marketed in the season. The location is very beautiful. One will find huge juniper trees, and the air is redolent with juniper fume as the nomads here use the precious wood for energy purposes. We came across a variety of wildflowers including thorn bush, the aroma of which intermingled with other flowers, filled the vale.
Reached jungle (3044m/9,986ft) by 09:18AM. It is a grassland through the middle of which flows a clear stream along the white stone beds. It must be originating from Phargram Pass further to the northeast. In one place, we chanced upon meeting a young nomad boy, who was busy fishing in the stream with a big wooden
pole. Upon our inquiry, he informed us that the stream is stocked with trout fishes, and he was trying to catch them. We had to wade through the icy stream to get to the other side. It is worth noting that at Jungle, there are two routes: the one to the north-east leads to Phargram Pass and further on to the Raman village of Laspur valley, whereas the other to the southeast heads to Krui Och and further onto Madaklasht valley. This location, too, is famous for
potato cultivation and you will find nomads preparing lands for the purpose. Awe-struck by the sheer natural beauty, we took some respite here, taking pictures and making videos of the surrounding, before resuming our travel. After walking for 5-kilometer, reached Roghjal (literary means clumps of pine trees) by 10:40 AM. Here a nomad invited us over for tea. We took tea and rested for half an hour, before leaving for Jinali Chhat (3,317m/10,882ft) and got there at 01:23 PM. Here we met a group of young students from Chitral town, who were on a 2-day adventure trip to the valley. After having chit-chat for some time, we continued our journey.
Reached Krui Och (3,408m/11,181ft) by 03:15PM in the afternoon. It is the summer pasture of the nomads from Bela, a village far below Madaklasht on Drosh side. There are around 10 families living here for two and a half months in the summer. The pasture is rich in flora and the herds of their goat relish the succulent fodders, which must be augmenting the yield of milk for the nomads. They normally make cheese and other dairy products, take them back to the village on their return for marketing in Drosh and Chitral town. The current price of cheese is PKR 1200/-. These families withstand the hardships of harsh weather, hunger, fatigue, and travel for economic benefits.
Upon our arrival, the nomads provided us with shelter. It was a stone-walled room finished with a thatched roof, supported by a central beam of a stout juniper trunk and three pillars, two junipers and one pine. The stone wall of the shelter was porous and the heavy cold air from the nearby Swatoon glacier buffeted with a
dreadful howl. Initially, we realized the night must be very cold and our thin sleeping bags would not be adequate to keep us warm. To resolve the issue, the nomads were kind enough to provide us with blankets that they had transported all the way to here. Luckily, the wind subsided by 10:00 PM and the weather turned comparatively lenient. For dinner, we produced whatever we had in our rucksack, but the nomads also served us with freshly boiled goat milk, which we relished savoring.
We were awakened by the next morning at 5:00 AM and the nomads asked us to leave for the Andwir Pass (4,169m/13,677ft) as early as possible. After breakfast, we embarked upon the next and most arduous part of our journey.
We left for the Andwir Pass (4,169m/13,677ft), which is locally known as Ann. Initially, the steep was nose-touching, but when we further proceeded on the trek, it was not difficult as we had anticipated earlier. On the left side, we had to travel along the glaciated mountains before reaching a glaciated landscape. There were varieties of flora and fauna, including Lilac Cranesbill (Geranium himalayense) and few flowers, which I had never seen anywhere before. Saw many of the alpine choughs keeping their flights close to the rocks here. These yellow-billed blackbirds belong to the crow family from the genus Pyrrhocorax.
Their ‘chough’, ‘chough’’ sound echoed in the rock and added a sort of pleasant melancholy to our feeling. The enchanting song of the snowcock high on the mountain was soul-soothing and pleasant to listen to. The color of the sky was extraordinarily blue and from afar we observed the clouds whirling on the top, which also indicated the turbulence of the air. As we traveled our faces to the south, the blast of the heavy and icy-cold air buffeted us all the way to the top. As we gained height on the trek, the view to the northeast was sunning, a valley unfolded in front of us, perhaps another route to the Laspur valley. To keep the accuracy of the route, we never lost sight of the freshly fallen footsteps of the nomads who had recently crossed the pass. After walking over the glacier for a considerable time, we reached the top of Andwir Pass ((4,169m/13,677ft) by 09:25 AM. Once on the top, both the view and landscape changed. The route started descending towards Ghochar Sor (3,470m/11,384), a settlement of nomads on the left side of the stream far below. To the east, a huge glacier hangs above the settlement. When we traveled further down, we saw milky falls cascading down, which must have been the reason for the very name, Ghochar Sor (literary means above the fall). I went close to both falls, took pictures, and made videos. The water particles here are widely diffused after the fall hits a flat stone below, producing draught of cold air and creating commotion in the surrounding. From Ghochar Sor, we continued traveling down the slope before reaching Chilio (2,977m/9767ft), another nomadic settlement before entering the Madalsht valley. We went to the house of a nomad, asking him to prepare tea for us, to which he happily consented. After taking tea, we left for Madakasht and on the way crossed big pine trees. Also noticed a huge glacier clinging to the nearby mountain. It radiated cold air, making us shiver for a while.
At this stage, it started raining all of a sudden. Clouds thickened to the south and it became too bleak for photography. As we trekked down towards the main Madaklasht village, the color of the landscape turned light green and was not bad for photography.
Reached the main Madaklasht village by 03:35 PM. It is a green forested valley with huge touristic potentials. It has a beautiful skiing resort and for the last two years skiing events are organized in the valley during winter. The one organized in the winter of 2021 was attended by Canadian High Commissioner to Pakistan. Many international and national tourists participated in the event.
Further, the famous Madaklasht-Laspur trek is launched from this village. It will take trekking groups 5-days to reach Laspur valley. Day—1 at Ghochar Sor, day—2, Krui Och, day—3, Jungle, day—4: Phargram Pass, and day—5: Raman Laspur valley.
We were told that it would be difficult to find a vehicle for Drosh or Chitral town because the commuters here leave the valley early at 4:30 AM. Since we desperately wanted to reach Drosh, so passionately waited at the terminal (ada) of Madaklasht for any vehicle to turn up. Luckily, we were picked by a Landcruiser, the passengers were traveling to Lawi village far below Madaklasht. At Lawi, we got down and the driver was kind enough to arrange another vehicle, which was traveling to Drosh. We reached the residence of Zia Uddin Shb by 07:00 PM
On Monday, June 28, 2021, we traveled to Chitral town with Zia Shb in his personal vehicle. Our thanks must go to him for the care, hospitality, and generosity during our stay at his house besides facilitating our travel to Chitral town.