Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mary Loosemore’s Photo Travelogue – To Ayun over Lowari Pass

I had introduced Mary Loosemore in one of my earlier posts. Mary, a British traveler and hiker, who along with a group of travelers came to Pakistan in 2006 to explore the Hindu Kush mountain range and people living along this mighty mountain range that stretches from Afghanistan into Pakistan and almost meets the other two majestic mountain ranges of the Himalayas and Karakorum.

Mary Loosemore trying a traditional 'burqa' - covering for women in a Peshawar shop
She had had an extensive coverage of her traveling expedition step by step making it a photo travelogue without saying much. One can follow the photos and build up her experiences by connecting photos, as I have been able to do so and I hope my readers will find it interesting and informative. This may even incite others to pack their traveling kits and visit areas that are obscured by mountains and treacherous tracks.

The first thing the group did was to ride the Khyber Steam Safari from Peshawar to Landi Kotal and then moved forward to have a panoramic view of the Torkham border between Pakistan and Afghanistan from the Michni post of the Frontier Constabulary of Pakistan. Since I have recently written a post on Khyber Steam Safari, with a view photos of Mary’s, I will skip this for a while and cover her experiences along the Hindu Kush from the Kalash Valley to Chitral, Shandur, Gilgit and back.

The Kalash children in their traditional ornamental black robes
The first of leg of her travel was to explore the amazing world of the Kafir Kalash – a people, who do not belong to the area, but their ancestral linkages are also very vague and uncertain and no one really knows about their roots, except speculations. To reach out to the Kalash people or even to the Hindu Kush is an experience of lifetime. Only those who travel the hair raising hairpin bends of one of the most difficult and dangerous mountain areas can tell how they reached there with every turn looking to be a slip away down below in the ravines. But it is the experienced drivers of the area who take the tourists and travelers to their destination safely.

The travel to Kalash Valley commences either from Peshawar or from Islamabad through Nowshehra, Mardan, Malakand Pass, Dir, over the Lowari Pass and Ayun. Ayun is the place where one can branch of for the Kalash Valley or continue journey towards Chitral.

However, reaching Ayun is not that easy as it sounds in writings. After Dir, one has to negotiate the hair raising hairpin like mountain track bends not only once but continuously before easing out to Darosh. I will now how you how as shot by Mary Loosemore.
Churchill's Piquet - Malakand Pass
The Malakand Pass is the place where the British fought many wars with the locals to gain dominance of the area during their almost 100 years rule of the Indian sub-continent. While passing through the Malakand Pass, one can spot many hilltop military posts built during the British occupation time. One of the posts is known as the Churchill’s Piquet, a post where the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was posted as a young officer.

Mary Loosemore's group reached Dir the same day they started their journey from Peshawar. The stayed overnight at Dir and commenced their journey early morning for Ayun. From Dir to Ayun, they crossed over the Lowari Pass, which is at the height of 10,500 feet.

A winter view of  the 'track road' leading to Lowari Tunnel [Photo: Rana Tahir - Google Earth]

The road from Dir, which turns into dirt track passes many fords continues to Gujar when real thrill, fun and the treacherous part of the journey starts when entering the Lowari Pass. The photo above shows a glimpse of the road in early winters when the road can be cleared, towards the Lowari Pass and the Lowari Top.

Stranded atop Lowari: A ill advised adventure in winters [Photo: Mathew / Leave me here ]

But from late November to late May every year the Lowari Top is inaccessible because of heavy snowfall and one is advised NOT to attempt any such adventure - because if you do, you may face the fate of Mathew who came to Pakistan in 2009 and was stranded due to extreme snowfall (photo above) as narrated HERE.

Entrance to under construction Lowari Tunnel - South Portal  [Photo: Rana Tahir - Google Earth]
If the tunnel was ready, the travel to Chitral would save one from many hiccups, but the dream lingers on as the tunnel which is still under construction is far from being completed even after decades of its work started. During the President Musharraf's regime, the work was intensified ad even the tunnel was once opened in its raw form to the public, but was then closed.

Once operational, the 8.6 km long tunnel will cut the Chitral travel time by half and will also make it possible to travel on this road even in winters. For locals, an all seasoned road remains opened through Afghanistan’s Kunar province or else the last option is to come via Gilgit on Karakorum Highway (KKH)  which increases the travel time three times.

So we continue without the tunnel as Mary and the group entered the Lowari Pass and climbed up to its top and then descended towards Ayun.

The check post before entering the Lowari Pass
A glimpse of the hairpin bends of Lowari Pass as seen from the top
The hairpin bends of Lowari Pass
 The bends as seen on Google Earth - the second frame from bottom shows the bends as seen in photo above
Over the Lowari Top   
 The Lowari Pass - 10,500 feet
 The Loo stop while drivers clean their vehicles
Mary by the open air loo
Road side 'cafe' for a quick cup of tea before moving on

From the next two small towns are that of Mirkhani and Naghr. Nagar, as like all other places en route Ayan and onward is scenic and awe inspiring. 

At Nagar, a suspension bridge provides a swinging crossing over the River Kabul.

Nagar FC Fort
When the going gets tough, the tough get going- - seen from the road to Nagar fort

Here is Frontier Constabulary fort, which besides providing a commanding view of the area around, is also a favourite spot for the travelers, specially the foreigners, to enjoy the hospitality of the soldiers.

 View of Rover Kabul from Nagar Fort
Luncheon at Nagar Fort 
School children at Nagar

After saying good bye to the FC soldiers, the road continues to the Ayun junction. From here onward to north is Chitral - the land of Tirich Mir, and from here left is the fairyland of Kalash people,

 Annie inspects the drying area - walnuts and hay
 Ayun Castle motel- hot showers and beautiful gardens 
 Men's graveyard, Ayun
 Marble Mines, Ayun
 Stanley 'explains' the local crime stats at Ayun Police Station
 Ayun Police Station personnel - the black militia dress is the common dress of all polic / FC personnel in the area
 The back alleys of Ayun
 Over 100 years old carved wooden entrance
The group members passing by a water run mill
The 24 hours running corn mill, run by water

Corn is one of the major crop of the area. Since the stream waters are in abundance, corn mills are run from the stream water round the clock for free to provide corn flour in its purest form to the locals.

Tirich Mir - as seen from Ayun Castle motel

And it is at Ayun that one catches the first glimpse of Tirich Mir - the highets feature of the Hindu Kush mountain range, that stands at 7,690 meters.

The mighty Tirich Mir of the Hindu Kush Range

OK, here we are at Ayun - I mean Mary Loosemore and her group. The group stayed overnight at Ayun and next day, they went to the fairyland of the Kalash Valley to meet the people of an unknown origin but still retaining a culture and a lifestyle of their very own, not found beyond the Kalash Valley. I will dilate on their next leg of their journey into the Kalash Valley in one of my next posts.

All photos above, except where specifically mentioned, are owned by Mary Loosemore, as shared on Flickr.


Asghar Javed said...

This reminded me of tea I had taken on Lowari top when i was posted to Chitral. Nice. Very Nice.