Friday, August 8, 2008

boesum pass

it seemed to be taking forever for Gul to get the porters under way and start walking. right after a quick breakfast with his parents, i moved on to the grounds of the hotel from where all walks begin essentially. for a while i chatted with the Pakistani visitor - Sa'ad - he himself was setting out for ice axe lessons on Yazghill glacier. an hour had passed. still no signs of Gul so i decided to begin walking - it was a straight forward route, i didn't necessarily need to be guided any more.
i began to retrace my steps of previous days - past the apricot and apple orchards, past berry bushes, the same vast pebbly river bed going through the village, across the bridge over Shimshal river and onto the mountains.

Imran's father happened to be walking to his home, which was in the same direction as my walk. so he kept me company and insisted on showing me to Zardgurbens trail head. i kept saying no that's a long detour from your own home. but he wouldn't hear of it- there was no way i was to walk by myself, i needed company so my mind could be distracted from the boredom of walking! he was so right. having walked with a group all these days, all by myself it felt lonely and pointless, i was already beginning to brood. his talking helped distract my mind and cheered me up, moreover he led me up a longer but much easier route towards Zardgurben.
the Shimshalis don't ignore anyone - everyone was always attentive and conscious of each others needs. i was an obviously lonely guest - I'm sure my childish crying the previous day hadn't gone unnoticed, - so there he was, the consummate mountaineer keeping this ordinary trekker company so she didn't feel alone and without friends. attitude was a large part of the walk. he was going to not just make my physical walk as easy as possible but also keep my mind alert and cheerful so i would make it up that mountain to Boesum pass. it was all done so subtly, so gently, i almost didn't notice. its only in retrospect that i can recognize and appreciate every ones graciousness. from the young Samina, to Guls father and uncle everyone was as kind to me as if i were a little girl myself. yet without being condescending or overbearing. they treated me as a mother would a 50 year old child.
once Gul caught up, Imrans father took off and we began our ascent into the Zardgurben gorge.

an incredibly beautiful place - rock walls and water is all it is - ascending about 7 or 800 meters straight up. looking back the giant Shimshal white horn looming so large it seemed it was right there.
the going was slow, so slow that i kept thinking i would turn back. i was never going to make it up to Zardgurben leave alone Boesum. even before we got to our lunch spot, i felt heavy as lead and completely exhausted. it was a very hot day, the elevation gain quick and relentless. even though Gul was around, walking by myself wasn't helping. whatever it was, by mid day i was drained. by the time i got to the lunch spot the men had been sitting playing cards for an hour already. i got my hot cup of soup, ate the usual crackers, cheese, sardines and a big bowl of fruit salad, then lay under a huge shady rock and took a long nap - the men continued to play, no one was in any hurry to get anywhere. i woke up refreshed and began to think i could walk after all. i needed the food and the rest i guess. perhaps coming up id used up too much energy too quickly, i don't know what it was but i hadn't felt so awful so quickly anywhere on the trek so far.

after what seemed like an endless uphill we came to the gate to Zardgurbens pasture. en route wed met a large group of LUMS college students on their way to Chafchingol and Sonia peak. when Gul and i walked in at almost sunset, they were already at camp, some attempting to rock climb others getting dinner going.
Zardgurben is a huge meadow with reddish lichen covered rocks scattered everywhere, high jagged edged mountains all around, scree slopes perfect for skiing, rock walls screaming to be climbed and the ever present Shimshal white horn dominating the scenery. when i got to camp i was exhausted, so i put off photography - i regret that now because the next three days were hazy and i never really got a good shot of any of those incredibly beautiful campsites enroute to Boesum. Zardgurben was as stunning as Gul had described it. i missed my companions even more, specially since nadir, Nafeesah and Nargis would have had some young company for a change.
next morning we moved on to Shpodeen - more incredible mountain vistas on the way to another beautiful camp site.
Aug 11 - finally it was the morning for Boesum pass - i was feeling better and better every day - the walk up Zardgurbens gorge a thing of the past. Gul and i started out for the pass at 7.30 am, telling the others wed be back by 4 or 5 pm. three hours, four river crossings, and a steady slow clip with no breaks later, we were at the pass.
we debated whether to go down to the two turquoise blue lakes and cross the pass to the other end - an hours walk each way - but decided against it since the river was rising and the return crossings would become more difficult. instead we ate a simple lunch, took a few pictures, marvelled at the scenery all around, and the ease with which i had walked up to 5000 meter Boesum pass. two weeks of acclimatization had payed off real well. no headaches, no nausea.
we got back to camp at 2pm! no one believed we had made it to the pass till they saw my pictures. Khusdil cooked us a fabulous vegetable pullao that night - it was called 'the Shirazie pullao' in my honor!
next morning we walked it all the way from Shpodeen to Shimshal village - everyone got back much before i did. once we could see the village in the distance even Gul left me to myself . my sprained ankle had begun to bother me pretty seriously by now, so i walked really slowly - no more yak rides to be pampered with! by the time i got back to Shimshal it was 3pm - hot and aching many times i wanted to just sit down, but id learnt to keep walking no matter how slowly - do i did, till almost at the village, Zulfiqar cheerfully caught up with me taking my back pack and leading me back to his home via a short cut through shady farm land. a group of little kids were enjoying a swim in the irrigation canals - i would have given anything to be in their shoes!

next morning i wished everyone goodbye. Imran, Farman, Khushdil and all of Guls family. Guls mother put on a traditional hand embroidered pill box hat on my head, covered it with my dupatta and bid me farewell. i wore it all the way to Gilgit and on the bus ride to Pindi.
done at last and with such ease - i now wished i had walked it to Chafchingol afterall. one more lesson i learnt - dont second guess yourself, just follow your gut instinct.

looking back, some things are left unfinished for a reason ----perhaps there are many more trails to be hiked before Chafchingol, perhaps i was meant to do it with friends, not alone, perhaps my ankle would have not held up to Chafchingols treacherous river crossings----i don't know what the reason is, but like mt. Whitney, Chafchingol pass has eluded me a few times and i feel it will keep doing that. like Whitney, this incomplete dream too shall become irrelevant - after all its the journey not the destination that captures the soul and enlightens the spirit. it was dreams of Whitney that got me hiking every weekend, got me ready for bigger and better hikes. it was dreams of Chafchingol that led me to the road to Shimshal and onto a wonderfully enriching journey to connect with these far flung, remote, mountain people.
and so these incomplete mountain dreams will continue, each one bringing me closer to a place within my soul that will enrich and enlighten my life's journey...............of that i am certain.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

the parting

a very emotional parting it was - Aug 06 2008
i didn't want them to leave - Kamila and Nafeesah didn't want to go yet, Nafeesha wanted to trek to boesum with me, - Nargis was ready to leave, her feet were done, but wanted me to travel with everyone, nadir was somewhere between all of this. Mirzaw was escorting them to Islamabad.
we all hugged and kissed and parted. as the loaded car pulled out, it was as if they were leaving me behind on the moon. i kept waving till i could see them no more, and then began to cry. i suddenly felt so alone, like a child left behind when the parents take off.
the villagers began dispersing, going off to their homes and other chores. the circus had left town -

i couldn't possibly let the villagers see this, actually i couldn't believe i was so distraught. it was what i had decided to do - no one had coerced me, on the contrary they would have all been happier if i had gone with them, yet it didn't feel good, or exciting, or important to get to Boesum or any other pass any more.
for a long while i sat in the dinning room of our hotel glad to be chatting with another visitor - a young Pakistani from Islamabad on his way to yazghill sar - all the mountain talk, peaks, passes, routes, people, previous treks, future plans, took my mind off the loneliness for a while. but at some point i had to get going - as in, leave for Guls family home - which was a two minute walk from the hotel - and stay with them for a day to rest up and reorganize for the next leg. zulfiqar, Guls younger brother, walked me into a quiet house, just his parents and Zarar in his cot. Maha, Guls wife, made us all some tea and stayed for a while, then she too took off for some chore or the other - i awkwardly just sat not knowing what to say, except miss every one. i began to cry again - making it even more awkward. the parents consoling me - "it was ok, they too would feel like this when their kids would leave, ill be with my own family soon, this was my home, just have some tea, sit with us you'll be OK" - i felt so foolish - 50 year old adult behaving like a child, this tough mountain trekker in tears because she was going to be by herself for a few days. but i just couldn't stop the tears, and the poor parents felt more and more uncomfortable not knowing how to console me other than make me sit there and give me more tea.

after an hour, or so it seemed, i excused myself and walked to my room - behind the main house. a kettle of warm water was waiting for me to bathe with - it felt good to have that bath and somehow wash all the emotions away. i had laundry to do, so once Samina, Guls sister showed up, we set out. she insisted on helping me wash my clothes - in fact washing them all herself, except i wouldn't hear of it. we both took off for a section of the stream closer to the bridge that goes over the Shimshal river. in the mid afternoon sun on a wonderfully clear day we both sat down to washing clothes. it was extremely relaxing, as if Samina and i were two old friends who did this all the time. there isn't an activity that gets done in solitude, there is always someone to share everything with - when you're lonely and depressed there's nothing better than that. it turned out that most people were doing just that - keeping the newly bereaved families of the two porters who'd died on K2. company. that's why the place suddenly seemed so empty.
yet once we were done washing i couldn't go back to sitting in the family house till dinner time - i needed to be alone. i walked about the fields and finally settled under the two apricot trees where wed been given a rock climbing 101 lesson by Gul when we had first arrived. i lay down and read some, then decided to take a nap under the filtered late afternoon light. i just covered myself head to toe so no one would talk to me - i was in no mood for conversation with anyone - and lay there for a long while. i was awakened by gentle girlish laughter, sounds of things falling from the sky. i peeked from under my chadar - it was two young girls shaking the apricot trees, eating apricots, laughing and joking about who knows what, perhaps this strange woman lying on the ground all covered up like a corpse - their entertainment for the afternoon. that soft gentle innocent laughter somehow lifted my spirits - i poked my head out from under the chadar and began to chat with them - one of them turned out to be Imrans younger sister. it was 6 pm by now - Gul and his uncle - Imrans father- were walking towards me - they had borrowed a satellite phone (ours had gone kaput again) from a pair of Italian mountaineers who were in town, so i could call home if i wanted. i called Syed Mohd in LA. waking him up at 6 am on Aug 7, our 23 wedding anniversary- I'm no phone person, but that day it was the best, albeit short phone conversation I've had with Sayed Mohd in many a years. i finally snapped out of the depression and loneliness, and was ready to sit with and talk to whomever.

Boesum began to feel like a good idea after all.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

the 4 go home

my dream of crossing 5100m chafchingol pass was what got us here in the first place. since all the others had other commitments and couldn't trek longer than two weeks, the initial plan was for me to do the extra 9 days to chafchingol and back by myself.
those plans got nixed on arrival - there was so much pressure from all sides - its not safe to go alone, the KKH is a murderous road, you cant come back alone on it, don't break the group, always stay together, this is Pakistan, things are 'bad' ------the objections were endless and i began to buy into them. i finally succumbed to them in Karachi and Islamabad, so much so that i told Gul at the get go that chafchingol was history, i was going only as far as the others. but somewhere in my gut i knew none of this was true - it was not only safe it would be the best thing i would ever do.
the last few days i kept mulling over what i should do - i was here, as far north as i would be in Pakistan, i had taken the time out, spent the money but most importantly the energy to get this far - to let it go when i was probably as fit and acclimatized as id ever be would be total foolishness. yet i didn't want to leave the group, i wanted to spend time with nargis in Karachi instead of meeting her next in LA, i wanted us all to experience chafchingol together -
finally on the very last day in shimshal i decided id do something shorter than 9 days - Gul suggested crossing the first pass en route to chafchingol - it would take 4 days to do the trek, id get to 5000m Boesum pass, camp at an incredibly beautiful place called 'Zardgurben', get back to Karachi to spend some time with nargis and most importantly feel i hadn't wasted this opportunity.

our farewell dinner at guls home was lively as always, yet there was an underlyng sadness as we were all parting ways next morning. the girls stayed up as late as their eyes stayed open, playing endless ludo and bullshit, just to soak in as much of this euphoria as possible.

but as all good things, this brief journey to shimshal also came to an end - we had thoroughly enjoyed each others company, that of our guide, his men, his family, the daily walk, the villagers in shimshal and shuwerth, the odd foreign visitor along the way, but most of all the insight wed each gained and the relationships wed developed with all the above. i don't have enough words to fully describe the many layers of such a journey - i can only express it by what i feel, my body language, my demeanor, my face, my looks, my attitude - it is the same way every time I've come back from a trek in Pakistan.
describing all its little and larger details becomes difficult, sometimes meaningless - those who know me can tell a large part of the story just by looking at me, but for those of you who haven't seen/met me i hope you can tell by the pictures and this first attempt at a blog, writing which, I've tried filling in the blanks for myself, so i don't forget in time, and for those of you who always ask me 'how was the trek, tell us all about it?'

Chafchingol awaits--------

Saturday, August 2, 2008

back track

walking out of Goz Khon, Nargis and i were loaded on the yaks along with our duffel bags and other samaan. Kamila decided to walk the flat parts and change places with Nargis when the trail would begin to climb back up. Nargis could climb uphill without too much trouble, it was the down hill that was exacerbating the blister problem. so we set off - atuned to yak riding by now, so much so that it was actually enjoyable. i began to recognize the gentle sure footed nature of the animal - it was no wonder that they used such polite language with their yaks. every time it would step on some huge boulder you'd think both yak and rider would go flying, not a chance. you could even just leave the yak alone and he'd find his way home. along the way i learned how to handle the reins - if you can call a rope strung through its nose that - and all the accompanying noises that got it moving. my yaks sudden impulse to stop in its tracks and drink or eat something wasn't a nuisance any more. in fact i was willing to humor the beast, but some one or the other would come and shush it into action again.
by the time we spotted Kamila she had already walked up the most difficult parts of the trail, several hundred meters up, and much to her own surprise wasn't winded. she didn't want to ride the yak even now. nor did Nargis any more - so they both took off while i slowly plod along the trail soaking in the scenery and enjoying the ride so much more than i had at Woolio. Nadir and Nafeesha were long gone - much ahead of the rest as always. they have their own stories to tell - i wasn't privy to much of their trail walking or talking - i couldn't keep pace even if i tried.
i met up with Kamila and Imran at some point, Nargis had moved on to join the other two. Kamila was getting winded now and a little tired. so yak it was for her all the way to the Woolio river bed which she crossed on the yaks back, Nadir walked it across, Nargis and myself got carried across one (human) back or the other - Nafeesah was at the village socializing already.
the village wasn't far from the water crossing and i was way done yak riding. aches, pains and all, we all reentered Shuwerth on our own two feet.

being received by the villagers with more chilpindoq and loads of tea, lots of delicious yogurt which we kept asking refills for, felt like we had really come from a 'journey'. we hung around for a while soaking in the hospitality of Farmans home, and just letting the body rest. towards the evening Kamila and i saddled up on the yaks one last time and got to our Shimshal pass campsite.

that evening playing around at camp, Imran and Khusdil accidentally threw a tea cup which landed squarely on Guls forehead - he cut himself and was bleeding. Nafeesah cleaned it up with a pink hello kitty band aid that she insisted he wear all the way back home. which he happily did.
this little accidental mishap left Imran and Khusdil mortified that they'd injured their 'boss'. too embarrassed to face all of us to return to the kitchen tent, they stayed out, no where to be found. the rest of us finally ate dinner and began one of the usual bullshit games. a little later Gul felt a hand behind him, trying to sneak a sleeping bag from the tent. he ran out to find Khushdil all huddled up outside in the cold. with much difficulty he convinced him to come in and join the rest. Imran was no where to be found - Khushdil was practically in tears with shame and embarrassment - we had to all reassure him that no one was judging or blaming, it was a game and Guls head just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time! it was a small incident none of us would have even bothered with, besides a simple 'I'm sorry'. but these folks looked at mistakes differently, they cared too much for each other, respected each others hierarchical positions, hurting someone even accidentally wasn't acceptable. Gul tried hard to convince them otherwise - they weren't - Imran never returned for the night, sleeping at a distance from the campground without a sleeping bag, while Khushdil reluctantly joined in with the card game. barely laughing, but putting on his best face.

the next two days of long dreary walks to Arbab Purin and past Furzin didn't feel so long and dreary any more. perhaps because we were loosing elevation so the going was faster, or perhaps looking at the scenery again and from the opposite direction made you notice things you'd missed out the first time. walking up the scree slopes was another matter! its one thing running down a scree slope and a whole other going up the same way. the kids made it seem so easy - they just took right off. Kamila and i had Imran and Gul to hold our hands from time to time and in parts almost drag us up. it was not fun, but great once we reached a ridge and looked down to see what wed accomplished. ALOT.
return journeys have a different feel - a different perspective, no more the "the same excitement mixed with trepidation and a mild sense of insecurity mixed with a steely determination to get there - no matter what". but almost the opposite, step by step feeling you had accomplished what you had set out to do, yet step by step getting closer to the end of an incredible experience. wanting to hold on for as long as possible yet beginning to tire of the ins and outs of the same campsites - a mixed bag of emotions.

Arbab Purin was our second last stop - by the time we got there the dutch ambassador and his crew were camped at our old spot. we were curious to chat with them - they were playing the aloof game. i coaxed Nargis and Nafeesah to go get the scoop on them. as young and full of beans as they are, they were both shy and awkward. i had quiet a time pushing them to just go and start chatting! they did eventually, and came back with boring reports - no need to befriend these folks!
earlier as i walked into camp i caught sight of a familiar face - i couldn't believe my eyes- it was the homely Shimshali i had mistaken Gul for - the man i thought id been in correspondence with for 6 months. i was so excited i barely stopped short of giving him a hug.
Gul hadn't stopped probing us for details of our mix up. who was the other guy we had mistaken him for, what was the village wed dropped him off at, didn't we remember his name? - but mostly why had we nixed Gul in the first place. ofcourse by this time we had told him all - no more polite excuses were necessary. so when i saw 'Gul' i took his arm and walked him straight up to where Gul, Kamila and the others were chatting. this is him, the other 'Gul'
- Gul was mortified - me walking arm in arm with his direct competition, excitedly introducing him to everyone. of course they knew each other - and well - so they exchanged polite 'ya ali madadts'. 'Gul' wondering what the hell was going on. no Pakistani woman grabs a strange mans arm and merrily walks him right up to her friends to introduce him with such gusto. he had a surprised smile on his face. no one was enlightening him either.
it didn't matter - i was just excited to be able to find him again and show Gul and the rest who the mystery man was.

our satellite phone hadn't worked even once so far - which was frustrating, specially since we wanted to get word home that all was good and we were doing well, and Gul wanted to check on his sick two week old baby he'd left behind in Gilgit.
as we were waiting around for dinner we suddenly heard a gut wrenching wailing from outside the porters hut - in the distance we could see the man crying and almost keeling over, everyone gathered around him propping him up and taking him into the hut - the wailing didn't stop. it was the only sound echoing from the red rock walls of Arbab Purin. it turned out that the man had lost his brother on K2 - there had been a huge accident and 11 people had died - the only Pakistanis amongst them were two high altitude porters from Shimshal, one had died on his way down from the peak, rescuing an Italian climber - the wailing mans brother. the other a nephew to another porter. this was shocking news - a somber, sad pall befell the campground.
miraculously our phone finally began to work - several calls were made to get as much accurate news as possible. the news of the deaths were no rumors - Guls son on the other hand was fine and back in Shimshal.
after a little while all the Shimshalis gathered outside the hut, while the dutch folks and all of us looked on from our campsites. the mukhi - also a porter - began to read sura - e - Noor, followed by the Al-hamd and finally salwat. so much happiness suddenly tempered with great sorrow. listening to the familiar Quranic suras echoing from this remote desolate mountain enclave, was at once a calming and sobering experience. a simple gathering of men had swiftly and efficiently organized to begin the process of mourning, reminding all present that death lies as close as your jugular vein.
a short Farsi prayer completed the service.
we finished up with dinner by ourselves and then waited for Gul and Mirzaw to come back to camp so we could also go across and condole. it was a short emotional condolence - everyone got up to wish us, i read the fateha aloud - shia style, one Al-hamd, three Quls and 7 salwats - for the two dead men - the guide in this group talked about both the men, their accomplishments and contributions to Shimshali society, then thanked us for coming and condoling with them and finally we all shook hands and wished every one in the room - the young man who had lost his brother was crying like a baby - we just hugged him in silence - he hugged back and cried some more. there were no words to be exchanged.
Kamila and i stayed up for Gul, who came back to camp with a splitting headache, as I'm sure others must have had - - none of our men had eaten dinner. the two young men were not only Guls friends, one was also a cousin to one of our porters. Gul had sent him back to Shimshal along with a few others. the customary thing to do would have been to feed dinner to everyone who was present - all we had to offer were two platefuls of left over nuts from our snack mixes. we sent that across as our small token of sympathy.
it was a long somber night - the sadness of the death of these two young shinning stars of Shimshal befell the whole camp ground. these were highly accomplished mountaineers. well loved by everyone in the village. they were famous not just for their mountaineering skills but highly respected for their social service to all. each had left behind a young wife and three young kids. everyone present was a friend or relative.
Past Furzin - long as the walk was from Arbab Purin, it didn't compare with two weeks back when we had walked to this first campsite - we were all spent.
two weeks later we were leaner, darker, puffier, dirtier but alot more cheerful and alot less tired.
we bathed again - our second river bath this entire time - and felt refreshed and ready to get walking next day - to our luck it was an overcast morning and later began to rain - it rained all day - Nafeesha, Nadir and Nargis arrived in Shimshal soaked to the bone - Kamila and i had dried up pretty much, cause the rain had stopped by the time we hit the rocky river bed. it was a loooong walk back on that plain - Gul walked with us for a quite a while then both him and Imran went ahead so they could get our bath water ready - we had to go condoling to both homes, it was the day of the soyem. Shimshali tradition dictates that you only visit the homes of the bereaved before sunset, preferably in the afternoon.
we got back in time for the warm bath, changed into our shalwar kamizes and walked another half an hour to the next village to condole with the families of these two young heros. as tired as we were from walking all day, and as much as we would have simply liked to sleep before dinner, we felt compelled to visit the two families. the whole village was in mourning, it was a palpable sadness that had over come the Shimshalis. there was no way of expressing the sorrow except that it hung thick in the late summer air and somehow gripped each one of us in its pall. ironically the walk to the next village was so soothing and beautiful, going past farm lands, meeting people on the way, everyone knows each other, it was as if we were regulars in Shimshal. nothing seemed foreign or new. it all looked familiar, as if we were walking towards a relatives house. the village sits under the shadow of Shimshal white horn - a magnificent mountain, one that had just claimed a young 27 year old englishman three weeks back. even as tragedy occurs and always looms in the back of every mountaineer, even trekkers mind, you continue to feel the pull, the awe, the respect for every mountains strength and beauty. walking back in the dusky evening light the dry tears of the two wailing mothers continued to ring loud and clear in my head.
i keep going back to the beauty of the village and thinking how fortunate these young men were to have been loved by so many, to have lived and died in a place they loved, in an act they loved.

ill wrap up tomorrow..........................

Friday, August 1, 2008

still at goz khon.....

that evening our song and dance was at its very best - the star singer amongst the men sang some wonderful Wakhi songs -
expressive face, soft melodious voice, most romantic. many of them had good singing voices, everyone joined in solo or chorus, alternating between Urdu and Wakhi. dancing always followed, dancing in pairs or four somes, Nargis, Nafeesah, Kamila and of course Nadir weren't sitting back either. i couldn't possibly manage dancing on one foot, so taking over the drums and pounding away with the hands where the feet couldn't go, happily provided the constant background music instead.... mirzaw wrapped up the evening with his love poem - banafsheh - Gul translated, we all ooed and aahed.
then came the 'sleeping under the stars' part of the Goz Khon legend. seemed pretty uncomfortable - poky stubble for grass is what the campsite was. unless you found a rock or a sandy bench along the river the rest didn't look too inviting - we all debated the nights sleeping arrangements - Nargis and Nafeesha opted to sleep in the shepherds hut with the porters, Kamila wanted her tent, my dilemma was the usual claustrophobia of sleepless tent nights opposed to poky grass but star laden skies and beautiful weather. nadir started out in his tent but decided to sleep out at some point. then Gul spread out his mattress pad and made it look so comfortable i figured id try it outdoors myself - nothing to loose except more sleep - i was used to that anyway.
so outdoors it was. at first the stars - a million or gizillion - were very distracting, once i was over staring endlessly at the sky, trying not to slip off the narrow mattress pad on to the brushy undergrowth kept me awake, then the temperature began to drop and id layer up some more to keep warm, except that would make me feel really stuffy ------- at some point finally i stopped fidgeting and began to ignore the little discomforts, enjoy the starry night and fell asleep - i was the last one up next morning, in no hurry to crawl out of the comfortable sleeping bag - the sun was already pounding at 8 am, so there was no choice but to start the day.
breakfast, then fishing, then bathing, then lazing, napping, reading, writing, rock climbing, playing cards, drinking tea, eating pakoras and fish for snacks, finally dinner and dance.

fishing --- Kamila's voile dupatta was used for fishing net, two guys held it at the far end of a side stream, while two people ran the fish right into the waiting duppatta. the meagre fish that were caught got tossed onto the pebbly river bank - this went on for a long while - for us, mostly just fun getting all wet chasing the fish to their deaths - for Gul and his men, a matter of pride. so much had been made of our 'fishing side trip' there was no way they were going to make do with a handful of tiny fish. together we caught at least 30 something skinny little baby catfish, as delicate looking as their captors! fried lightly with just salt, the bony little creatures tasted sublime. Gul kept telling me not to run in the river, the cold water wasn't good for my swollen ankle, but i could be his mother, so there wasn't much bullying he could do - twisted ankle or not i wasn't missing this for anything.

bathing---- once all the (Wakhi) fishermen dispersed we were left to pick our bathing holes. some sections of the meandering river had warm pools of water we used as tubs. the whole place was camouflaged by shrubbery, some bull rushes, some pink blooming bushes. all with channels of water running out towards the main Braldu river. we bathed ourselves and each other, washed all our clothes, hung around till they somewhat dried, sun bathed, took more pictures and just relaxed in this gigantic spa for which we had walked so far and so hard.

Nargis missed out on the fishing and bathing - Gul insisted she not wet her feet, she herself wasn't going to make it worse. so i helped her wash her hair and bathe behind one of the many giant boulders close to camp.
by late afternoon porters and all, we had all bathed somewhere or the other - every ones hair looking clean, every ones faces looking fresh and rested. all those layers of sweat and grime washed away, showed off each of our very tanned, very burned skins beautifully!
after some more rock climbing, ruckus games of bullshit, Kamila showing us her tai chi moves, Gul showing us some of his prowess - effortlessly lifting the giant mamas on his back, stick dancing under a starry sky, a noisy game of tug of war, a good hearty dinner and finally jam session in the hut, we all opted for the out doors - Nafeesah and Kamila shared a queen sized rock bed, nadir, Nargis, myself and Gul spread out on the stubbly brush, a few men slept in the hut, the rest scattered all over the campsite.
the magic of goz khon had enveloped us all. on a balmy star laden night, breathing in the soft smells of the herby underbrush, this would be my only complete restful night.
it was the equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion, between walking towards a goal, yet finding it in every step we took, a place that gave strength and joy to body and soul alike.
to leave so quickly was to end a perfect experience, but as all perfect moments in time, experiencing it meant letting it go, making it vanish!