Wonderland of trout

People can compete with us in textile and carpet manufacturing but no country in the world boasts three mightiest ranges, Hindukush, Karakorum and Himalaya all at one point
By Omar Mukhtar Khan

One often hears about Gilgit, Hunza and Khunjerab in the northern areas of Pakistan but the mention of probably much more scenic Ghizer valley is often missing as few people tread into this yet un-explored valley. It takes about one and a half hours drive to the west of Gilgit to reach Gakuch in Punial, the administrative headquarters of District Ghizer. The road from Gilgit follows the Gilgit River and after winding through the orchards enters the Gilgit river valley. The road is surprisingly smooth. Gakuch is a good place to get your fuel tanks and rations checked before moving further towards Shandoor, even though one can find items of daily use further on in the small bazaars of Gupis and Phunder.

On the way to Gakuch, one passes the road going north into Ishkoman Valley with the signpost showing Tajikistan 210 kilometres away. It would be interesting to see how this distance was calculated as the road must pass through the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan and Pamirs. Most probably this distance would be an estimated distance based on the foot trek leading to Tajikistan. The local people do tell of some sort of barter trade between the locals of two countries with Tajiks bringing their cattle and other animals and exchanging them for grains, sugar etc.

It would be worthwhile to note the geography of the District Ghizer before we move further. Roughly in the north, Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan, Chitral and Pamirs bound it. In the east lies the vast valley of Gilgit while in the west is the valley of Chitral. The southern part of Ghizer borders Darel, Tangir valleys of Kohistan District and the Swat District and is connected with these areas only through difficult mountain passes. Considering the moderate nature of the Ghizeris, one can just wish that these mountain passes become even more impregnable.

The first place for a real stopover is at Gupis, about two and a half hours drive from Gilgit. Although there is a good NAPWD rest house in Gupis besides some small hotels, the best place to check in is PTDC Gupis, around fifteen minutes drive from Gupis. It is always easy to criticise the government for one thing or the other but the PTDC motels in whole of the northern area have a wonderful infrastructure and a reasonably good service and one can always bargain the room rent. It was really a pain to see such aesthetically well-maintained and beautifully located motels without any tourists.

PTDC Gupis is perched on a ridge over-looking the turquoise green water Khalti lake. The lake was created a few decades back due to some sort of avalanche blocking the way of the river. However, as expected, the river soon found its way through a narrow gorge at one end of the lake. One can go trout fishing in the lake against a permit available locally or can just enjoy boating in the lake. The lake freezes in the winter to the extent that according to locals, people cross the lake from one end to the other. The locals even try trout fishing at that time by making holes in the lake.

About one and a half hours drive from Gupis is the serene hamlet of Phunder. The road rises considerably to reach the Phunder top. Again there are two options at the top, one is PTDC Phunder and the other is NAPWD rest house. Both places are excellent to stay and are perched on mountain ridges separated by the pristine Phunder lake. The NAPWD rest house has an astounding view towards its west with a wide plain lush green valley bisected in the middle by the blue waters of the serpentine Gilgit river. The lake is worth visiting and a stroll along its banks is really refreshing. The fishing in the lake is a bit difficult due to the weeds, which entangle the hooks and spinners. However, people who can overcome such intricacies of fishing are rewarded with big catches.

The river beyond Phunder becomes wider and calm, at least on the surface. At times it divides into several small branches with small islands in between, only to join again later on. This is the area where even inexperienced fishermen can try their luck with a fair chance. It was heartening to note that even the locals were using locally made fishing rods for the game and there was apparently very no netting or other mass fishing activity. However people did tell about unscrupulous elements using methods like nets, small explosions or gas cylinders for fishing.

From Phunder, Shandoor is around two hours drive on a jeep track although the track is so wide and well-maintained that cars and coasters easily ply on the road up till Shandoor top. On the way, one passes through the small village of Teru about half an hour from Phunder, which has one good NAPWD resthouse. After Teru comes the postcard picture Handarab village on the left down in the valley. Now the Handarab village is developed around the Handarab Nullah or stream that comes from Handarab lake around 12 kilometres in the south. It takes around four hours to trek to the 23 hectares lake but the intrepid adventurist is rewarded with a fair chance for reasonable sized trout fishing. The trek onwards leads into Swat valley but should only be done with an experienced guide.

The river in this western most part of Gilgit valley is spread over a vast area with streams joining from all north as well as south. One place worth visiting for the sake of it is Pepsi Nullah or officially Chapahrkhud stream. About ten minutes drive on the jeep track along the stream is a small water spring with the water having a fizzy nature and it tastes like a carbonated drink. The locals consider this water extremely good for digestion and other intestinal issues and at times, this place appears to be a small picnic spot. The most interesting part was, however, standing there with an American qualified gastroenterologist and judging the right way in case of a digestive problem.

Before the jeep rises again into a mountain pass to enter Shandoor, it passes through vast meadows of Langar with the river flowing as if in a vast delta. This is again a very good fishing spot and also a site for the construction of a camping site by PTDC, probably for fishing lovers.

Shandoor, now widely known for its annual polo match, is probably a much more serene and picturesque place before and after the hustle and bustle of this annual commercial extravaganza. Nevertheless the event has brought a lot of good things to the local area like business, roads, cell phones etc. However, there is still no proper lodging place except for the Chitral Scouts Mess for the ‘connected’ lot.

There are two lakes in the Shandoor vale; one is much bigger and prominent than the other besides being more awesome and scenic. The polo ground is nestled between the lakes and the scouts’ mess, surrounded by tall snow-capped mountains on all sides. The Shandoor Lake like the Phunder Lake is crystal clear and one can see almost to the bottom of the lake.

As earlier said that it gives pain to see such lovely resorts devoid of tourists, both local and foreigners, despite excellent facilities provided by Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. However PTDC can concentrate more on marketing and advertisement of its facilities both locally and abroad. A small PTDC facility at Shandoor, keeping in view the environmental sensitivities, may be another good step on PTDC’s part. People can compete with us in textile and carpet manufacturing but no country in the world boasts three mightiest ranges, Hindukush, Karakorum and Himalaya all at one point. Mountain tourism is the best cash crop we can ever produce.

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