Fairy Meadows: Where the legends of Nanga Parbat are kept alive

Published: July 7, 2015
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Hikers should take advantage of the pristine experience they can have while visiting this gem of a place. PHOTOS: MIKE McCAFFREY

Fairy Meadows is like the bouquet of flowers set before the towering killer mountain, Nanga Parbat. The mountain sets a backdrop for the Fairy Meadows, making it an appealing and exciting destination for tourists. Fairy Meadows are where the legends of Nanga Parbat are kept alive, told by generations of villagers who had the chance of witnessing the legions of climbers who never descended its icy walls.

Towards the northern side, it welcomes us with the Raikot glacier, strewn with dark echoing crevasses, plagued by constant avalanches, and guarded by 15 meters of ice spears. One in five people who attempted to climb the Nanga Parbat never descend.  Even the famous Reinhold Messner, the first mountaineer to climb the entire world’s 14 peaks had to be nursed back to life after losing his brother as well as seven of his toes on the mountain.

Nanga Parbat is the ninth tallest mountain in the world, standing at 8,125 meters (26,657 feet), and is the second tallest mountain in Pakistan, after K2.  It is also the first mountain in the great Himalaya range, which stretches up to 2,400 kilometres to the east, running through six nations and ending in Tibet.

The male mountain dwellers have long black beards, wear topis (hats), long kurtas (shirts) and a strong smell of tobacco surrounds them. Their eyes seem intent, maybe because they are so used to tracking storms on the mountain. Women are seldom seen, mostly on a distant ridge in their bright flowing sashes, tending to a field or herding goats with long shaggy hair, twisted horns and enchanting golden eyes, resembling those of the Greek God, Pan.

The meadows change with the seasons. The birch trees streak the mountains with a bright yellow in autumn, while winter is bare, bone white and still. Spring brings forth the river’s roar, the crisp cracks of avalanches and the bloom of purple, yellow and white wildflowers. Babbling brooks flow through the meadows, sparkling with stones such as pyrite and quartz, but the snow remains glued to the mountain tops. Winter winds seldom visit in spring, howling through the log cabins at night.

The stark beauty of spring is said to be the highlight of the meadows and the best time to visit is from mid-July till end August. During the summer, the heat of the valley becomes unbearable and landslides are all too common, therefore, the village dwellers of Tato load their important possessions on donkeys and trek up to the Fairy Meadows for all of summer.

Houses are nestled amongst the mountains like hobbit holes, built out of pine logs with flattened birch barks used for the roof. The men play polo, sip tea and cut firewood with the echoing thuds of their axes. The women pick wild mulberries, raspberries, and strawberries in the meadows as well as tend to their vegetable gardens.

At night, Nanga Parbat glows white in the still darkness, and men lounge on Pakistani rugs around small wood-fired iron stoves relaying tales of the killer mountain.

Since the devastating Taliban attack on climbers in 2013 was erroneously reported to have occurred in Fairy Meadows (it actually occurred quite far away) and has scared most visitors away from the region, the mountain trails and creaky little log bridges across the rivers are now mostly just used by villagers.

However, the government has taken this incident quite seriously and now armed guards accompany hikers on their trekking expeditions, including to the Nanga Parbat base camp in the summer. The experience feels very safe, and travellers should worry more about the steep cliffs and the biting cold at night rather than the possibility of terrorist attacks.

Hikers should take advantage of the pristine experience they can have while visiting this gem of a place. Those interested in the trip should contact Ghulam Nabi, who runs Raikot Serai Lodge.

All Photos: Mike McCaffrey

This post originally appeared here

Mike McCaffrey

Mike McCaffrey

The author works internationally in financial technology and writes about the beauty and intrigue of our world (nomadic-by-nature.com). He grew-up in San Francisco, holds a master's degree from Princeton University, has traveled to 65 countries, and currently resides in Kenya. He tweets @nomadic_travels

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Queen

    Amazing pictures. One day Insha Allah I will visit the beautiful and serene areas of Nanga Parbat and the Fairy Meadows :)Recommend

  • Yousaf

    @ queen that one day will never come untill you decide to pack your bag and leave and i am doing exactly that Next week but i am off to Gupis & phundar, Have been to fairy medows long time ago. amazing place, Might go again.Recommend

  • http://www.nomadic-by-nature.com/ Mike McCaffrey

    @Queen thanks for the kind words and I hope this piece brought you a little closer to your dream.Recommend

  • http://www.nomadic-by-nature.com/ Mike McCaffrey

    @Yousaf travel safely and have a wonderful time. Right now is the perfect time to be going up there. You make me want to return again!Recommend

  • US CENTCOM

    I would just love to visit the area. The beauty of the area obviously shows but you can also sense peace and tranquility through the pictures.

    Ali Khan
    Digital Engagement Team, USCENTCOMRecommend

  • http://www.nomadic-by-nature.com/ Mike McCaffrey

    Great comments! It is a place where everything seems very big, and so you feel very small. It is both peaceful as you say, but the occasional crack of the avalanches and the distant storms that blow in change that quickly sometimes.Recommend

  • Ramna Iftikhar

    It’s beautiful. Recommend

  • Queen

    Have a nice trip :)Recommend

  • Adnan Anjum

    Amazing Place. Good Read.
    Small correction, “Even the famous Reinhold Messier, the first mountaineer to climb the entire world’s 14 peaks” the name of the mountaineer is Reinhold Messner.Recommend

  • Egghead-Elgydium

    The panoramic and pristine freshness of spring. This is undeniably a place which pulls our soul and body.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I wish I were much younger to taking on an adventure of this nature…….liked the pictures and your write up.Recommend

  • http://www.nomadic-by-nature.com/ Mike McCaffrey

    @Adnan, thanks for the kind words, and the correction! I will let them know, and I just changed it on my website.Recommend

  • http://www.nomadic-by-nature.com/ Mike McCaffrey

    @elgydium:disqus, yes I felt very lucky to see the meadows in the crisp crackling state they are in Spring, and would love to return one year to see the sweetness of Summer!Recommend

  • http://www.nomadic-by-nature.com/ Mike McCaffrey

    @disqus_9rBMFRSy7p:disqus thanks for the kind words, just traveling to the Gilgit region is stunning too. My next piece is on that. Some of the beauty does not take any hiking and is certainly worth seeing!Recommend

  • warrior

    lovely photos.The place is look like Heaven in EarthRecommend

  • http://www.nomadic-by-nature.com/ Mike McCaffrey

    @warrior Thanks for the compliments! I fully recommend a trip!Recommend

  • Zia Shaukat

    The pace of cutting trees there is alarming, Govt of KPK or
    Gilgit Baltistan really has to do something about itRecommend

  • Shahid Ahmed

    Mike, God bless you, you have brought all my younger year’s memories back. I have gone to that place, and many more around that region. It’s simply paradise. It’s the nature at it’s best.Recommend