Slowly, slowly to the Kili top
A hiker trades in money for happiness at Africa’s highest mountain Kilimanjaro
By Usman Hayat
It’s 5,895 meters high, it’s majestic, it’sAfrica’s highest mountain — it’s Kilimanjaro. I felt a mix of joy and exhaustion on the Uhuru peak, the highest point on Kilimanjaro on September 26, 2011 — we were on the top, breathless after the long hike but mesmerised by the views all around us; clear blue sky, glaciers and barren valleys… The wonderful experience of hiking Kilimanjaro overpowered us.
Ours was a small but diverse group of five tourists: an American fromNew York, an English couple fromBirmingham, a Brazilian studying in theUK, and me, a Pakistani living inLondon. To hike up to the 5,895 meters (19,341 feet), we had to brave the high altitude, suffer freezing nights, and endure scorching days. Of the different routes to the summit, we followed a variant of the Rongai route.
The hike had its contrasts — one day we were filled with dust and next day soaked in rain water.
Kili challenges most people, particularly the urbanites who think the hike is too easy or those, who, like me, have a ‘less-than-great’ sleeping bag in the freezing nights at 4000 meters high.
Yet, Kili is kind. Unlike most other peaks of similar height, Kili allows hikers to reach its summit without any technical climbing or life-threatening risks.
So, what’s the secret to successfully hike Kili? Apparently, “pollaepollae” to put it in Swahili, meaning “slowly slowly”, our porters told us.
Kili was not going anywhere and we were in no rush either. By hiking at a slow pace, we stayed calm, did not exhaust ourselves — and acclimatised better.
After spending four days hiking up to a place called the School Hut, we started the ascent to summit past midnight. It was so cold that the water froze inside my hydration pouch and blood seemed to freeze in my limbs. The altitude, the darkness, the steep slopes, and the long hike all got together to make our life difficult. Soon we were dragging our feet in a dazed state. Every step made us breathless. Every metre was a struggle. Our guide calmly told us there was nothing to worry because, “This is normal on Kili”.
I noticed that most of the hikers looked like zombies though some looked zombier than the others! Those who looked the zombiest had to give up and in a few cases were rushed down on stretchers.
If being a professional means being good at what you do, the Kili porters were indeed professionals. They were polite — and surprisingly some were females too. Some of them spoke English. I saw one walking up the mountain carrying a stretcher that, he said, weighed 50 kg. Now that’s a lot of kilos for one man to carry at above 3000 meters.
Well-trained and experienced, the Kili porters knew all the right things to do at the right time. When we were exhausted, they cheered us up with a song; when the water froze in our hydration pouches, they pulled water bottles from their packs; when we were thinking of having a picture, they readily took one for us; and when we seemed set to reach the summit, they pulled out Pringles and Red Bull to celebrate. What more can you ask for?
I turned vegetarian during the hike. It was good for faith and stomach. But I was the only vegetarian in the group and it made cooking a bit difficult for our cook. One of our porters who suspected I craved for halal meat introduced me to the cook — who had a distinct Muslim name. He told me, with a generous use of ‘inshallah’ and ‘mashallah’, that he buys meat from Muslim butchers in Arusha town, therefore, it is ‘halal’ by default.
Satisfied, henceforth, I ate everything that was on offer. Most of the meals were tasty but there were some unusual dishes as well, such as banana and beef stew, not a combination I had come across ever before.
It is a long and tiring five hours hike from Kibo Hut (4703 meters) to Stella Point (5745 meters) before you make the final ascent to the summit. But on the way back, you can come down in just about half an hour. This is how it works.
Kili is covered with scree from Stella Point to Kibo Hut. As soon as we walked down the steepest part, a porter grabbed each of us by one arm and started running downhill as if we were skiing. The slope was littered with rocks and a fall was bound to hurt. In the beginning we were fearful of what was happening but the porters knew what they were doing and soon our fear gave way to fun. Despite being tired, we went with the flow and were glad to get back to our camp well in time.
Most other hikes, including some of those that are longer, such as the one to the Everest base camp, tend to cost less than the Kili hike. This is surprising becauseTanzaniais even poorer thanPakistan, labour and food is cheap and the mountain is free. Our guide explained to me that a significant chunk goes to a foreign company that sells the package to westerners and the national park which levies a seemingly exorbitant fee. For the porters, despite the hard work, the money they make on Kili remains much better than what other professions offer. I asked our guide if Tanzanians could earn more by dropping the prices. He laughed it off, and told me the national park jacked up its prices because it gets more hikers than there is space in the camps. He added that even with the record high prices, hikers just keep on coming.
So, it’s ‘pollaepollae’ for the Kili tourist and ‘hakunamatata’ for the Kili tourism!
As we were finishing the hike and getting back into the bus to Arusha, the lasting feeling I had was that a hiker trades in money for happiness at Kili — and that’s not such a bad bargain.
‘MOUNTAINS are like myMecca’- acclaimed Pakistani mountaineer Nazir Sabir gave a breathtaking snapshot of life amongst the Himalayan giants at his lecture in the Kendal Mountain Film Festival.
Bleary-eyed after a few too many tipples at the Brewery Arts Centre the night before, I entered the darkened theatre room for Sabir’s lecture in the hope that I could slink off to the back and catch forty winks.
But within minutes,Pakistan’s most accomplished and celebrated high-altitude mountaineer had captured our imagination.
His captivating slideshow took his audience through his lifelong journey scaling the mountains of his homeland.
Humble and mild mannered he spoke of his achievements over the past four decades- climbing four of the five 8000m peaks inPakistan, includingK2via a new route and becoming the first Pakistani to scale the roof of the world as he summitted Everest in 2000.
Hailing fromPakistan’s Hunza mountains- one of the most demanding ranges on the planet- his life has been one long adventure.
Sabir has been in the jaws of death on numerous occasions and one such moment was when he was part of the Tohokeiryukai Japan Nanga Parbat Expedition in 1983.
He was almost crushed after an avalanche swept him 400m down the Rupal Wall.
On the same day his climbing partner Shimura fell another 2000m never to be found again.
“A river of snow came hurtling towards us and the ground came away beneath us and the first thing I thought was I’m not ready to die.
“It is amazing how you fight for life in those moments- my entire life went through my head and all I kept thinking was that I have so much that I still want to do.
“And then all of a sudden everything stopped and I was being helped out of the snow by my friends and I just thought that was a wonderful ride!
“But moments later we were to realise that Shimura had gone and we were never to see him again.” he said.
As shots of stunning mountain scenery drifted through the screen, Sabir also drifted into the spiritual world and the loss that he suffered over the years.
In 1980, Sabir’s eldest brother Inayat Shah, was to die during a doomed expedition to the pyramid shaped Diran mountain, in theKarakoram rangein Gilgit-Baltistan.
Inayat had been on his second attempt after his first trip in 1979 ended in tradegy when his friend Khalid Bashir developed pulmonary oedema falling to his death on the descent.
When they returned to look for Bashir’s body and tackle Diran again Inayat along with two other climbers was buried under an ice avalanche.
“It was a very hard time for me and especially for my family and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go out there again. But in the end I did and the person that I am today is because of nature and the mountains.” he said.
Sabir’s lecture was awe-inspiring but at times heartbreaking.
He spoke of the difficulty in getting climbers to visit his country due to the political unrest that has shadowedPakistanfor decades now.
He said: “Whatever is happening in the rest ofPakistanthe mountains, to the north ofIslamabadand the borders ofNepal, are a peaceful haven and it is a beautiful place that deserves to be discovered.”.
His call to climbers definitely did not fall on deaf ears and I for one will be attempting to follow in his footsteps.
The Tiny Trekker on the Way
Dunga Gali-Mukshpuri Trek
Text & Photographs by: Muhammad Kashif Ali aka Kashifthegipsy
Feeman Ali, the tiny trekker (of four and half years only), selected the Dunga Gali-Mukshpuri Track with the help of his Baba Jani, in September, 2009 for his debut trek in any mountain range. It was the month of Ramadan (1430 AH), when he set off for Galliyat Tract of NWFP, now Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa.
He stayed with me (his Baba Jani, Muhammad Kashif Ali), and one of my friends, Saim Mughal in Snow Land Hotel, Dunga Gali. Dunga Gali is almost four kilometers away from Nathia Gali, and around 30 kilometers from Murree on Murree-Abbotabad road. Dunga Gali is around 8000 feet above sea-level and is engulfed by some of the finest pine forests. It is a part ofAyubiaNational Parkwhich has the total area of 8184 acres (3312 hectors). It is an area of the densest jungles ofPakistan.
Feeman Ali left his bed early in the morning at the time of Sehri on 5th September, 2009. But after taking the Sehri, we accepted another offer of the goddess of sleep and went to bed again. Finally we arranged our track rucksack, camp, sticks and waterproof uppers, each for one because Galliyat Tract falls in the monsoon belt and the monsoon season had not yet ended.
The tiny trekker, Feeman Ali started his debut full length trek at 10:00 AM sharp. It was slightly cloudy and birds were chirping in the vast blue skies over the Galliyat Tract. I realized that there was a little chill in the air when I kissed the forehead of Feeman Ali; his forehead was very cold.
The carpeted road we had started on disappeared after about 500 meters and we were walking on a jungle track, only 4 to 5 feet wide, but the width shrank as we moved ahead. On some places it was just 2 feet wide.
Feeman Ali, very happy and excited, started asking a volley of questions from Saim and me. Along the way, he was collecting feathers, leaves, flowers and cones from the mighty pine trees. The track was slightly treacherous as there were needle-like leaves of pine trees. Those leaves appeared to be the custodians of Mukshpuri Top as they did not allow us to touch the Holy Mukshpuri Top, so they were trying to push us downward, but the tiny trekker was determined to touch the top. Climbing with his small sized walking stick, he was leading us. He was staring deep in the gorges on his right and was frightened of these new experiences in his life.
After one hour of trekking, we saw the face of Feeman Ali, but there were no signs of fatigue yet. However, considering that it was his first full-length trek, we decided to have a short stay. We erected a canopy (manmade) off the path under the pine trees and put off our bags. A bag was opened and chocolate, juices, dates etc., were brought out for the tiny trekker. Both of us were fasting (roza) in the jungle during trekking.
It was a short stay of some 15 minutes and the tiny trekker was again on the way, taking our test about botany and zoology. He was working as a ‘mini zoologist’ as he discovered three types of snails: brown snail with shell, brown snail without shell and black snail without shell but brown spots on its back. He pinched the snails with sticks and said, “O Baba Jani! Please, listen the sounds of the snail”. He neither disturbed the snails nor tried to kill them. He also noticed a snail having its ‘lunch’ of a semi-dry leaf, and more questions about the food of snails followed.
Butterflies were another subject of our ‘mini zoologist’ who took interest in different colors of those beautiful creatures. He tried to chase them but we had to pull him back, reminding him that he was in the mountains with deep gorges, not inLawrenceGarden. He was deeply fascinated at seeing them in such large numbers. Unfortunately, we could not take a snapshot of any butterfly in ‘cat-fly’ pose to paste in this travel report.
He asked the names of different flowers again and again, but we could not tell him many names except only daisy; white daisy. But Feeman was considering it sunflower. It was hard to tell him that it was not a sunflower but a daisy because he was arguing, “It’s a sunflower but it is small in size.”
Now it was clear and day was very shiny. Birds were playing hide and seek in pine jungle, we were enjoying the chirpy music. Trees were wavering and air was kissing us and trees too. Now hands of Feeman were jam-packed with needle leaves, feathers, flowers and walking stick. And he was beating the path, gaining the height with each step. Going above so high ‘across the skies’, I think was the motto of tiny trekker.
On the way Feeman suddenly came across the Love; really I am talking about the Love and this Love was personified, carved on the track. The carving was handled so skillfully. Feeman Ali sat down close to ‘Love’ and tried to fill it with stones, leaves and loam but Saim ran as savior, “Never destroy love; the reason of the creation of this universe, we will preserve it for other trekkers” Saim screamed, and he climbed on nearby edges and collected some sharp pink flowers while Feeman plucked white daisies from the brim of the track. After this I transformed the Carved Love into Floral Love.
In fact this track was like an encyclopedia; the jungle encyclopedia. We have climbed 2/3 of our target and then Feeman again sat down near the rim of the gorge to explore something new and this time we felt easy and relaxed because we could answer the expected question from the tinny trekker. Mushrooms were the new subject of Feeman; he was excited to see so many mushrooms in bulk and was plucking them. But we tried to convince him that all the mushrooms are not edible but some are toxic. It was very first contact of tiny trekker with mushrooms. We are not expert of mushrooms so I made a call immediately, University of thePunjabto my friend Muhammad Hanif; a PhD scholar and researching on DNA’s of mushrooms. He told us about some kinds of mushrooms, on spot.
The tiny trekker, somehow, got tired now and we were very near to our destination, just 15-20 mints away from the top. But it was the time for short stay again. We were ‘seeing’ only and Feeman was eating chocolates and drinking juice. During the day I really observed that the kids really have marvelous stamina that is only due to determination. Although Feeman got tired but he was not going to cut his enjoyment, and now he was seated on a rock, in ridding style, and was beating it with a stick saying, “Chal Mery Ghoray Chal Chal Chal” in English, ‘Run fast my horse’, and his horse took him to top; the Mushkpuri top. The top has its own eco-system; lush green pine meadow, small rainy lakes, flowers of different types and green carpet of grasses. This top gives you chance to peep into theHimalaya, you are just surrounded by mighty mountains; some of them are covered with pine forests and most of them (far away in northern and eastern direction) are snow-capped. You feel that you are ‘so high’ and can touch the clouds, wavering over your heads. Believe me you feel yourself in clouds, you fall in love.
Now my tiny trekker was helping us to erect the camp on the top, he was very excited in real sense because it was his first camp on hilly areas before it we had camped twice on our roof in winter of 2009. When we were chatting inside the camp (on roof), Feeman said, while he was in my arms, “Baba Jani! Next time I will go with you on mountains.” It was a smiley request and how could I refuse it. Babies are the finest facet of the universe and the most blessed gift of ALLAH almighty, and sometimes it is hard to reject their wish.
Now he was arranging his first camping, it was time of transformation; dream to reality. It was shiny weather and Feeman both. Saim was offering Zuhar prayer on green natural prayer-mat and I was chasing tiny trekker because he was chasing happiness. He was restless and jumping, collecting feather & flowers and trying to catch a butterfly.
Meanwhile, when Feeman was chasing his bulky happiness, a team of the British tourists reached on the top, the team was working inPeshawarunder the umbrella of British Red Cross and they planned for visitAyubiaNational Parkin their off days. They people were very astonished, when they came to know that Feeman submitted the top by foot. They offer him chocolate and apple; we observed him eating and got jealous.
I was feeling tired and was in mode of taking rest but Tiny Trekker was restless and pushed me to accompany him at top, he was in mode of modeling and stood near a cow saying, “shot Baba Jani” and I just followed his orders.
I took rest inside our camp as it was very sunny now, I also offered rest to Feeman Ali but he denied and went to explore whole the pasture with Saim. We stayed at the top for three hours and observed the colors of weather ofHimalaya; sunny, partially sunny, cloudy and partially cloudy. We took many pictures of formations of clouds. I always seek cloud’s formations at hill stations.
The sun was slant, when we decided for down track and we rolled it back our camp; Feeman carried the camp, ‘don’t worry its weight was only two kg.’ The down-stream trekking is always panic for me but not for all trekkers. Saim and Feeman were comfortable with down-trekking. I love and feel comfortable with climbing because I feel that the mountain pushes the trekker on the down-track (when he climbs down) and a trekker has to control and reduce his speed and for this task he has to bear some extra pressure on ankles and knees. So, I always feel extra fatigue on climb down.
Feeman Ali was quite easy at climbing down. But after sometime he said, “Baba Jani! I am exhausted now” and I said, “You are brave, you reached at top. Never say that you are exhausted, you can do it.”
And then he really did not express his fatigue in words but we could see it on his face and by his gait. His pace was very slow and imbalanced but there was no word of complain on Feeman’s lips. When were about to reach at hotel, I said, “My son! You are brave, really very brave. You are not exhausted.”
“No! I am exhausted but you said not express it again”, complained the Tiny Trekker.
I argued, “Okay Okay! You might drain a little.”
“No”, he shouted, “I am tired at large extent and even feeling pain in my legs”.
I had nothing to say, just picked him up into my arms, kissed him deep and entered into Hotel.
Here is a brief writeup on the Bagh District of Kashmir, Sudhan Gali and Lasdanna is described here.
Its a shared writeup.
It was second trekking trip of Feeman Ali (my son), first he made in September 2009 and he was on the Mukshpuri Top, and this time it was snow trekking in Kashmir Valley. He was in the snowy meadows of Sudhan Gali in Bagh district of Kashmir. At the age of six years and three months, he has good stamina to explore mountains, although he feels fatigue on return. But its enough that he enjoys trekking while scaling upwards. I myself love to ascending, descending is ever panic for me.
Love you FEEMAN
This shot was taken by Fahd Gujjer, one of my best friend for trekking.
Sudhan Gali is a love castle for me, this location gave me rebirth in the valley of love. I was unaware of this lovely and incredible location but my love made me known, and I had to pay a visit to Sudhan Gali only for my LOVE………………This Gali is my Love Castle (Piar ki Haveli)
Some Description regarding Sudhan Gali (taken from web pages)
Sudhan Gali (also known as Suddhen Gali) is a village located in Bagh District, Azad Kashmir. It lies on the main road that connects the district Bagh to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir and also connects the town of Chikkar with Bagh city. Sudhan gali is located at the height of 7000 feet. This beautiful, scenic place attracts hundreds of tourists from allover Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. There are two guest houses for tourists. These guest houses are constructed very beautifully and attract large number of people each summer however, these houses are occupied mostly by well known, well connected/influential people and are not available most of the times for common tourists due to lack of a transparent system that would accommodate ordinary tourists. Other well known places in Sudhan Gali include Rasheed Shaheed Cricket Ground located in Copra and Khala But.
Sudhan Gali is also home to some of the rarest forests in the region containing pine trees that are hundreds of years old. Due to lack of knowledge/interest, these forests are now endangered to become extinct as locals continue deforestation by cutting down trees yet local/state governments seem to have no interest in saving them.
There is a cricket ground near the Ganga Peak known as Ser Ground, located between two mountains, it is not very large but looks very beautiful. Every year in June a cricket tournament is held there in which sixteen teams of District Bagh and Muzafarabad participate.