Travelling with like-minded girls, all with a shared passion for adventure and discovery, was a tempting idea. After seven years of trekking experience of mountains above 5000 metre high, I started posting my travelogues online for the adventure travelling community, I talked to many young women who had never gotten the opportunity to travel. Whether it was the lack of permission from their families or not having the right budget and resources, they had never been able to travel despite having the passion and drive. Whereas I have had the privilege to travel all across Pakistan all my life. That’s when the idea popped in my mind: I wanted to take these girls along on a trek. This was in month of June, 2019.
I spent the days excitedly mulling over the thought and mentally going through the itinerary and logistics of an all-girl trekking group. I wanted to plan a trekking expedition that would be accessible, but challenging enough to be enjoyable for everybody. I researched some moderate-level treks and decided on Kumrat and Katora Lake, a valley in KP. This would be our first group trek.
Multiple people said that Swat was a conservative locality and a women-only group would not be welcome. But the only thing I could think of was, well, why not? This is our country too. The people are always nice and helpful to mixed groups and families; and we were seven strong women, who could take care of ourselves. So, putting all hearsay aside, we travelled.
We went from Islamabad to Mardan to Dir and then to Thal. At one point, we were stopped by Police at a chowki. The policeman was concerned about our safety because we didn’t have a male member accompanying us. Somehow, I managed to convince him that we don’t need any male members and that we will travel by ourselves. We reached Thal at five in the morning and the weather was chilly. The jeep guy (our next ride) was there waiting for us. He shifted our luggage, and it took us another hour to reach the Kumrat Forest.
There are mostly tent hotels in Kumrat. We took one large tent and ordered our breakfast. It was like a dream: we were sitting in a cosy tent on the bank with a breath-taking view of the river Panjkora, surrounded by woods. We had our breakfast of anda paratha and tea and started our journey to explore the forest on the jeep. The tracks were quite rough, so only local cars and drivers are recommended. After 20 mins of a bumpy ride, we reached a waterfall.
We had a small photo session break there. You will find plenty of waterfalls in Kumrat Forest and nearby valleys. Nearby, there is a spot called Kala Chashma (black spring). It is a plane where the river is quite wide, surrounded by snow-capped peaks. And, there was a tea stall there too. We came back to our camp, had food and slept early.
The next day was the real challenge which was the trek to Katora Lake. A jeep takes you back to Thal, and then from Thal to Tikai Banda will take around three hours of jeep track. We left our jeep there and took out our hiking sticks, filled our water bottles with ORS (very helpful in treks), and started trekking.
The initial few minutes were deadly. The trek was steep and we all were breathless due to the elevation. Our bodies were not used to the atmosphere up there but over time it got better. This three-hour trek is full of natural beauty. Walking in between a forest, we saw plenty of fresh water streams. The view gets more stunning as you go higher. Our destination and night stay were at Jahaz Banda. You can find many hotels here, it’s a huge plain (actually a mountain top) with wonderful views around. Some of our members stayed here while the rest of us went for a trek further to a waterfall. Jahaz Banda waterfall is one of the most scenic and biggest waterfalls I have ever seen. It was freezing cold in the month of June due to the elevation. Later, dinner was followed by a bonfire and tea made the perfect ending of this thrilling day.
Next morning, we started our trek with high hopes. Our members were down with headaches and nausea. However, chocolates and dry fruits helped a lot in overcoming this height sickness. After an hour we faced a huge glacier, which we did not anticipate. It was an extremely difficult to walk on an inclined snowy mountain. We took help from our guides. We all had waterproof shoes but even then, walking was tough due to the slippery snow.
It took us five hours to reach the lake. And it was the moment of our lives – the magnificent view of the crown-shaped mountain on the background of a semi frozen lake. It’s a bowl-shaped glacial lake hence called Katora lake at an altitude of 3505 metres. We had tea there, and spent some time to take in the majestic beauty. But it was late already and we had to reach our hotel back at Jahaz Banda before sunset. We followed our own footsteps in the snow while walking back. A few of my friends took horses and rode to the hotel. We were all tired but happy as it was an achievement for all of us.
After listening to everyone say we, women, can’t do this, we were even more determined to prove them wrong. We enjoyed each and every moment coming back to civilization. We celebrated, we danced, we had the time of our lives. Four of us were wives and mothers, so it was a refreshing week for us, remembering our carefree days. I believe there is no harm in taking some time out of your daily routine for yourself, even if you are married or you have kids. We get life only once, so don’t care what people say, just do what makes you happy.