Outdoors sports in northern Pakistan have always remained a fascination for both local and international mountaineers. Gilgit Baltistan (GB) alone offers unlimited opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts around the world and attracts roughly 100,000 tourists to the area between May and September each year. The mighty Karakoram Range is a well known destination for adrenaline junkies to put their physical endurance to test.
While GB has gained global fame in this context, the natural beauty of Pakistan doesn’t just end there. There was a time when tourists would fancy Swat and Dir regions of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province for outdoor activities. However, tourism quickly vanished as the War-on-Terror took over the serenity of these areas and instilled a sense of insecurity in natives as well as foreign adventurists.
Until recently, I was also among those who lacked confidence in visiting these areas despite having friends and family and sharing many customs with those of the local community. But then suddenly, one day just before the start of Ramzan ul Mubarik, I realized that abandoning these areas just because they had been through dark times, and because of unverified incidents of violence which no one claims to be a victim of, was neither fair nor reason enough to avoid Dir Kohistan. What if the area is merely stereotyped for being rude and harsh to the tourists, who knows? And I thought to myself, if so, it is time to break some!
I picked up the phone and called my friends with whom I was planning a weekend trek in Kashmir just before Ramazan ul Mubarik. I shared the idea of breaking a trail in Dir Kohistan which hadn’t been attempted in the past 10 years. It took some time for them to absorb the idea but then agreed to switch their plan to Dir Kohistan. The destination we planned for is known as “Jahaaz Baanda” a Nomadic Settlement at 3000 meters above sea level.
It took us 6 hours of drive and 7 hours by foot to reach the majestic meadows. We were greeted by an enterprising character Mr. Taj Muhammad a.k.a “Raja” who has established a museum with some indigenous weapons, handi-crafts and stuffed animal species found in the area. He also established a hut in Jahaaz Banda which is now a famous resort for weekend trekkers around Pakistan.
Along the nomadic settlements, we came across people of every age and every one greeted us and invited us for lunch at their homes. I was right, the notorious rumors about the area had no connections with what we had experienced so far. These people were as hospitable as they are known to be. Through crystal clear streams and thick conifer forests, we finally ascended to the lush green meadow that reached out to the base of three grand mountains.
We set out for a wooden hut in the middle of the meadows, set a bonfire and enjoyed BBQ that night. Next morning, we went to explore the small lake from which the stream flows down to Jandrai Village. The tranquility was magnified as the legendary Himalyan Monal started its morning songs in the conifer jungle while Koklass Pheasants’ loud calls to their mates added more trans to the ambiance.
I am always at the lowest point when I depart from places like these. This time was no exception and all this time, I was thinking about the whole experience at Dir Kohistan. Not a single person offended us in any way. On the contrary they all greeted us and served us with their best available food. Despite strict family traditions, every male we encountered invited us to their home. I never understood, why would someone even think of spreading such news about a people, who in the solitude of their commune, lives the purest of lives; sustain their families as we do and above all want the rest of the world to know about their values and culture. I guess the only way to know the truth is to go for it and one may know what nobody else knows.