Some of us have been looking forward to the drive, others are dreading it, and today, we are going to do it: drive up the Fairy Meadows jeep track from Raikhot Bridge on the Karakoram Highway. After arranging our stuff on the van which is not able or allowed to drive up the track, we take our seats on the colourful jeeps that are waiting here. I make sure to be on the left side of the jeep, but the first kilometres are easy switchbacks on a bumpy dirt track. It is when we are a little higher up that things start to become interesting. This track has been hewn out of the mountain slope by hand hundreds of years ago by locals. It is narrow, and any protection at the roadside is missing. This means that, while the driver focuses on driving up. I look hundreds of metres down into the Raikhot Valley below, with my left foot swinging outside the jeep with just open space below.
This is not for the faint of heart, and whoever is afraid of heights should definitely sit on the right side of the jeep, at least on the way up. While the jeep slowly works its way up the stoney track, dodging big rocks, I wonder at the walls supporting the road. I try to imagine people building those walls, hanging precariously above the abyss. It is difficult to understand how this has been done and who was courageous enough to do it. Work on the road is continuous: at various points, we see men in turbans shuffling stones, drilling rocks, and making sure the road remains passable. Then, an oncoming car forces the driver to steer more to the left, to the very edge of the road. This is crazy, I think, but the driver knows what he is doing and with only a few centimetres to spare, he passes the car and continues up.
When we get closer to the village of Tato, the sheer drop-offs disappear, and we work our way to through switchbacks. The most exciting section of the 16km track is behind us. We can now imagine why this is dubbed the second most dangerous road in the world: it is the combinatrion of a very bumpy and unstable road, the enormous abyss right next to it, the absence of any kind of protection, and the narrowness making passing another car a hazardous manoeuvre. After hiking up to Nanga Parbat Base Camp, we are back at the trailhead, take our seats in the jeeps, and roll down the mountain. We are early, and at one point, a small landslide has thrown a pile of rocks on the trail, effectively blocking it. Together with our driver, some of us help throwing the stones down into the void, until the trail is sufficiently clear for us to pass. Some of us look much more relaxed when we are back at the bridge at the Karakoram Highway!
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Fairy Meadows drive (Pakistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Fairy Meadows drive. Read more about this site.