Fairy Meadows is the bouquet of alpine flowers set before the towering translucent tomb of Killer Mountain, called Nanga Parbat in Sanskrit. The mountain provides the views that make Fairy Meadows such an alluring destination, but Fairy Meadows are where the legends of Nanga Parbat are kept alive, told by generations of villagers who witnessed the legions of climbers that never descended its icy walls.
Its welcoming rug on its northern face is the Raikot glacier, strewn with dark echoing crevasses, plagued by constant avalanches, and guarded with 15 meter ice spears exuding the ancient silent character of terracotta warriors. Over one in five people who attempt to climb Nanga Parbat never descend. Even the famous Reinhold Messner, who was the first to climb all the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) had to be nursed back to life after losing his brother and seven toes on the mountain.
Nanga Parbat is the ninth tallest mountain in the world, standing at 8,125 meters (26,657 feet), and the second tallest mountain in Pakistan only after K2. It is also the first mountain in the great Himalaya range, which then stretches 2,400 kilometers to the East through six nations, ending in Tibet. It is as if the Himalaya understood first impressions, and stuck a foreboding foot forward.
The men of the mountains have long black beards wear topi hats, long kurtas, smell of tobacco and bonfires, and have long deep gazes from tracking distant storms. The women are seldom seen, mostly on a distant ridge in their bright flowing sashes, tending a field or herding goats with long shaggy hair, twisted horns and the golden enchanted eyes of the Greek god Pan.
The meadows change with the seasons. The birch trees streak the mountains school bus yellow in autumn, while winter is bare, bone white and still. Spring brings the river’s roar, the crisp cracks of avalanches, brave purple, yellow and white wildflowers, and little brick red buds on the end of the white birch branches emerge like candle flames. Babbly brooks jog through the meadows, which sparkle with pyrite and quartz, but the snow remains high on the mountain faces, and the winter winds still visit on occasion, howling through the log cabins at night.
However, the stark beauty of spring is said to sweeten in the summer and the best time to visit is from mid-July to the end of August. The heat of the valley becomes unbearable, and landslides are common and deadly, so the village of Tato loads all their important possessions on donkeys, and trek up to the Fairy Meadows where their summer village rests.
The houses are built of pine logs and recessed into the mountains like hobbit holes, with flattened birch bark as roofs, covered in dirt which sprout meadows themselves, camouflaging them into the alpine atmosphere. The men play polo, cut firewood with echoing thuds of their axe, and sip tea. The women pick wild mulberries, raspberries, and strawberries in the meadows and tend vegetable gardens. At night Nanga Parbat glows white in the darkness, and men lounge on Pakistani rugs around small wood-fired iron stoves relaying the stories of Killer Mountain.
The mountain trails and creaky little log bridges across the rivers are now mostly just used by villagers. A devastating Taliban attack on climbers in 2013, was erroneously reported to have occurred in Fairy Meadows (it actually occurred quite far away) and has scared most visitors from the region. However, the Government has taken the incident quite seriously, and now armed guards accompany hikers, on the array of trekking options, including to Nanga Parbat Base Camp in the summer. The experience feels very safe, and travelers should worry more about the steep cliffs and the biting cold at night than terrorism, and take advantage of the pristine experience one can have in this seldom visited mountain gem.
Those interested in the trip should contact Ghulam Nabi, who runs Raikot Serai Lodge, can make all arrangements, and showed me a great time.
This article was subsequently published in The Pakistani Express Tribune on 7, July 2015: Fairy Meadows: Where the Legends of Nanga Parbat are Kept Alive.