Pakistan, a country that doesn’t tend to pop up in the ‘top 10 places to travel this year’ but it should. My experience of Pakistan was varied, we traveled around the cities, explored the rural villages and camped under the stars and among mountains. It was sensational and one of the greatest adventures I’ve done. Leaving Callum at home I headed off on my Pakistan adventure, trusting my friend Will from The Broke Backpacker to show me around and more importantly, get me to basecamp of the mighty Nanga Parbat.
Nanga Parbat Mountain.
Found in the Himalayan range in Pakistan, Nanga Parbat is the ninth tallest mountain in the world, 8,126 meters tall. It’s a mighty mountain that is popular with experienced alpine mountaineers and climbers. Getting to the top is no easy trip and many people loose their lives every year trying to climb it. It’s a stunning mountain which towers over everything around it and a beautiful backdrop to the valley known as the ‘Fairy Meadows’ below.
Nanga Parbat Basecamp hike takes you to 4000 meters, the point where the air is thin and the memorials of those who have not survived start to appear. From here, it’s onward to the start of the push up the mountain. For those climbing, camp one sits at 4,600 meters, camp two at 5,900 meters, camp three at 6,750 meters and camp four at 7,200 meters. Whilst I made it to base camp (day hike) the push to the top is something that definitely requires a lot more experience and training.
Thankfully the hike to basecamp wasn’t too challenging.
Getting to the Fairy Meadows – The beginning of Nanga Parbat Basecamp Hike.
To get to the start of the hike, we first had to travel to the beautiful Fairy Meadows. Will describes the Fairy Meadows as a paradise and until this moment a lot of Pakistan I had seen was snowy peaks, desert like mountain side with the occasional splash of forest. I was missing my greens! So when Will told me this was a green meadow with wild flowers and huts in the forest, I was slightly skeptical but super excited.
We traveled to the Fairy Meadows from Ghulkin. First stop from Ghulkin was Raikot Bridge, where we transferred from our comfy mini bus into colorful 4×4’s. The next journey is often featured on the ‘most dangerous roads in the world’ list and you can see why. Driving along in our colorful 4×4, bags squeezed in the back, we enjoyed some of the best (and scary) views. Along the highway you have mountains on one side and sheer drop (of a few hundred meters) on the other. The road is as wide as one of the jeeps, just, in some places and when you meet someone coming at you from the other direction everyone holds their breath while the driver reverses. I can barely parallel park, yet our drivers could confidently reverse and squeeze by other cars coming at us.
The jeep ride to the beginning of the fairy meadow hike is about 1.5 hrs. Sometimes it’s split into two journeys if the road has had a landslide. FYI you walk on some fixed logs across the gap at this part to the next jeep.
The thrill of the jeep ride is over too quickly, at least it’s something to look forward to on the way back. The adventure to the Fairy Meadows isn’t over yet, there is still a 3 hour trek to tackle. Pakistan-belly had taken most of my strength from the day before so I opted to hire a mule. My real prize would be to get to base camp in a few days. I wanted to make sure my strength and health was at top level. We got to the Fairy Meadows in the dark. It wasn’t until the morning that we witnessed the true beauty of this place.
The Fairy Meadows is a hub for adventurers. It gives access to the surrounding peaks but our team had it all to ourselves. The huts are cosy, set up with a log burning stove in the center and sleeping mattresses around the walls. It gets cold at night so huddling together with a fire for warmth was bliss!
Waking up in the morning, poking my head out the cabin, I was blown away with how beautiful it was. Everything was green, our little valley was surrounded by trees and the birds were chirping away. Walking to a view point Nanga Parbat greeted me with it’s beauty and might. Tomorrow I would be following the glaciers trail to base camp!
The Hike to Nanga’s Basecamp.
The trek to Nanga Parbat basecamp takes a day and is about 8 hours. Starting after breakfast from the Fairy Meadows we head up the valley through a local farming village – where we of course stopped for some Chiya! Before heading into the forest and opening up at a glacier & mountain filled view point. From here the path becomes faint and rocky as we follow the glacier winding it’s way through the valley towards this ‘Killer Mountain’.
It’s mandatory for all tourists to have an armed guard while in the Fairy Meadows, especially if hiking is involved. Until we had our packs on, ready for the hike I didn’t even realize he was there. Carrying his AK-47 over his shoulder he accompanied our small group right to the end of the trek and back. Our trusty guide, who we nicknamed Gandalf due to his amazing walking cane – was with us the whole way, with plenty of dried apricots in his pockets.
The hike itself isn’t technically hard at all. The benefit of having our guide Gandalf with us meant we kept to the right trail. There are no signposts or markers here to keep you right and there are a lot of run off trails that are there to fool you! The ground below our feet was often gravel, rocky and grassy. Sturdy shoes such as hiking boots are definitely recommended, especially whilst down near the glacier.
The trail was beautiful, the views surrounding us were incredible and the surprisingly straightforward trek was a relief. There were times on the rocky foot trail we had to dash because the goats above pushed down rocks, but otherwise it was almost leisurely.
The trail winds upwards away from the Glacier towards the end and leaves us in an open meadow with wildflowers and surrounding mountains. This is when having Gandalf really paid off and saved my lungs!
Altitude sickness tends to kick in after 3000 meters high. The oxygen in the air thins and the body struggles to adapt to the change in atmosphere and can react in different ways. It was about 300 meters below basecamp it hit me. My throat tightened and my body panicked as it recognized the lack of oxygen but reacted as if I was suffocating. Not going to lie, it was pretty scary but thankfully over after sitting down, a few calming breaths and eating dried apricots I was able to keep going. Apparently Apricots are the best cure for altitude sickness! Gandalf swapped his mighty walking stick for my backpack and we carried on slowly to basecamp. To this day I’m pretty sure he or his cane has magical powers because at basecamp, I felt great!
Basecamp at Nanga Parbat was the most beautiful and humbling place I’ve ever been. Surrounded with a great group of friends, our armed guard and Gandalf we all took in the views. From the mighty face of Nanga Parbat to the surrounding, smaller Himalayas. Everything here made us feel very small and honestly, the climb to the top of Nanga Parbat looked terrifying.
And then it started to snow. Sipping green tea, staring at these sensational mountains the light snow just added to the already beautiful scene. This was the most memorable moment of the whole hike and probably my most magical memory to date.
Nanga Parbat basecamp hike was the first time I had ever been to 4000 meters and I can’t wait to do it again!
Tips for Hiking to Nanga Parbat Base Camp.
I by no way am an expert as I have only been up there once, but for those inspired to hike it here’s a few things I recommend.
- Get good boots! A twisted ankle will lead to disappointment fast and jelly legs on the way back is no joke. This hike is a big one and you want to be comfy/not destroy your feet. Save the flip flops for the camp.
- Put apricots in your pockets! These treats are weightless, have no wrappers that will fly out your pockets and also pure magic when it comes to warding off/curing altitude sickness. I came home with a lot of these in my backpack!
- Pack light! It may be a relatively easy hike from how I described it, but everything is harder with a heavier pack. So leave the non essentials and just bring what you absolutely need.
- A rain jacket and fleece is always a good idea! Did i mention that it snowed when we got up there? You don’t often get t-shirt weather at 4000 meters and sweat cools fast.
- Don’t forget water! People in Pakistan may seem like they run on tea, but they drink a lot of water as well and so should you. I never leave home without my water bottle, especially when it’s for hiking.
- Remember it’s not a race! It can be hard when travelling as a group to feel like it’s ok to go slower than the fastest person. Well I’m here to tell you it’s ok to go at your own pace. Especially in altitude or you risk exhausting yourself and developing altitude sickness. So take your time, enjoy the view and stop for pictures whenever you want!
- Bring a camera! You will regret it if you don’t because wow, the views are just insane. And you’ll want to have the picture at basecamp in front of the worlds ninth tallest mountain framed afterwards!
Nanga Parbat basecamp was one of the best hiking experiences I’ve had and for anyone traveling to Pakistan, I highly recommend it! For those only keen on the view over the hike, the Fairy Meadows is worth the thrilling trip! Pakistan as a whole is a country set up for adventure and tourism you just have to get there. I loved my time there, the people were so friendly and even though we had to have an armed guard with us on the trek, at no point did I feel unsafe.
Leave me a comment if you have any questions about this hike, or Pakistan as a whole, I’ll be happy to chat!