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.