my niece spurred me on to write about Shimshal, and our trek to its high pastures this summer - who'd care, i thought, or why would it matter to any one when there's so much out there on the web already?
but a few weeks later back in L.A i feel the need to write about it, not because anyone cares but because its a good way to hold on to great memories - store it in space forever!
id been dreaming of Shimshal for a whole year - 2006 to summer 2007 - and got there with Kamila in August 2007, all geared up to trek to Chafchingol pass.
We didn't go too far - 8 kilometers into the 53 km Shimshal road we had to turn back due to a huge rock slide. so we trekked on the east side of the KKH instead - to little known, little visited, 5100m Werthum Pass. it was beautiful, but a short one week.
Since we still had time on our hands we decided to try visiting at least Shimshal village - a week later the road had been fixed and we drove through this incredible gorge that is the entry to Shimshal. the road itself a marvel, with 8 bridges across stunning ravines, stark rocky surroundings and finally the oasis that is Shimshal - three villages in all, Aliabad, Shimshal central and Khizarabad. each as beautiful as the other, fields of wheat and potato with apricot, apple and poplar surrounding most fields.
on the way up we gave a ride to a husband wife couple, not far from their village and got a taste of what Shimshalis are like. friendly, soft spoken and polite, very sure and proud of themselves and their land. at the village we were taken to its only 'posh' hotel for lunch. there we got chatting with some more locals one of whom was a guide himself and chattier than the rest. he began telling us about the place and its history. a poster on the wall prompted the question 'where is that lake?' its was Shimshal pass. our new found self appointed guide decided not only to tell us all about Shimshali history,the pass, all the festivals that take place but also walk us right around the entire village to a high point they call "view point". here he pointed out the routes to the various treks including Chafchingol, which we'd missed, and all the peaks around us, Yazghil sar, Dastagil sar and Shimshal White Horn - not quite visible from here. this was atop his own village of Khizarabad where he hoped to build a mountaineering school some day. we had had a long day and were exhausted, in no real mood to walk much more but he kept us going through hill and dale - we figured he was testing our metal - two 50 somethings boasting about trekking to Ghondogoro la, Mazeno la, Burgi la, and now Werthum pass - we asked him a million questions ourselves, especially about the festival at Shimshal pass - planning on coming to it some year but not using his services for sure - knowledgeable and forthcoming but too cocky for our liking! he gave us his contact details, which Kamila very politely took down - no intentions of ever using it.
meanwhile we had taken contact info from the first couple we had given a ride to. he said he could organize our treks if we ever came back to do Chafchingol etc. we liked him, a little older more homely. on our way back to Passu, where wed taken the jeep to Shimshal from, our self appointed guide asked us to give a ride to another fellow. another true to form friendly Shimshali, whose contact details we took down happily. he'd worked as a crew member on a hunting expedition with one of our LA friends a few years back. such a small world we thought. that he'd meet two ladies from LA who happen to know someone he'd worked with! as far north in Pakistan as you can get, as remote a habitation, and yet we both knew a common person!
i turned 50 last Dec. many things struck me all at once - one of which was that i wasn't postponing Chafcingol pass or the Woolio festival on Shimshal pass or any other endeavour for 'a few years from now' - i would go this summer even if it meant going it alone. i took the contact details Kamila had and emailed two fellows, one whom wed given a ride to on our way in, and the other whom wed given a ride to out of town. the first person i heard back from 'Gul' almost a month later, turned out to be the cheaper and more excited of the two about my interest in coming to Shimshal. i thought this was our first rider. i go back and forth for months, fine tuning my trip with him. from going it alone, to my niece joining me, to Nargis and her friends and on and on, to finally by April or so there were 4 of us. Kamila, Nargis, Nadir, and myself. at the very end one other person, Nafeesah jumped on board. Gul very excited that we were coming and also very patient with all the changes in numbers, adding deleting every few weeks! i was to do the festival with the group and then part ways in Shimshal. they would go back to Islamabad and id continue to Chafchingol. this was the plan but of course much a distance between the cup and the lip.
4 of us land in Islamabad on July 19 2008 - Gul and two other guys receive us at the airport - one look at the hand that was being extended for a warm welcome and both Kamila and i miss a heart beat. he introduces us to his brother Mirza and his cousin Sahib and then goes on to 'I'm Gul'. at this point we look at each other and just smile a smile of horror - Nargis and Nadir oblivious to whats happening. Gul catches that smile, as do the others - Gul turns out to be not the homely rider i thought id been conversing with for 6 months, but the very person wed decided never to use - our self appointed, over confident, cocky guide from Shimshal village! there was nothing to it but to put our best foot (and face) forward and hope it would be as pleasant a trip as this Gul could give us. she had mixed up the contacts, i had mixed up the names and faces, between the two of us wed hired a man wed scratched out of our heads and lists a year back.
I'm blogging a month after the treks over and much has passed between the cup and the lip - Gul couldn't have been a better choice. his whole crew, his family and above all himself turned out to be super people. ill have to write about the trek itself - the festival at Shimshal pass, my attempt at Chafchingol and all the rest in my next blog - for now this is all you get Shaz!!