In the boundless Northern Area of Pakistan the world’s greatest mountain ranges all come to meet. Pushed upwards by the subduction of the Indian subcontinent, their snowy peaks rise above parades of clouds providing habitat for The Golden Eagle, Snow Leopard, Himalayan Ibex, and The Tibetan Wolf. This is where the Hindu Kush, Himalaya, and Karakoram mountains merge, hosting five of the world’s 14 peaks higher than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), including K2, the world’s second tallest peak after Mount Everest.
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.
The rocky point will lead you to a beautiful crescent moon beach, back dropped by a dense mixture of coconut and pine tree foliage, mixed with tall sweeping pandanus grass, and jungle vines. This walk will take you through a series of secluded little white sand, crescent moon beaches, but only after the first three (at Pantai Avoi Beach) will they be deep enough to swim in.
The Danum Valley is the still-beating heart of Borneo, untouched but constantly in danger; it is where the soul of the island has taken refuge, and a traveler can look back in time to how things used to be. It is tucked deep into the interior of the Malaysian state of Sabah, which has shielded it over the years from the clamor of chainsaws that have clear-cut most of the coastal forests, but every year logging companies build roads deeper into the jungle, closer to these remaining wildlife sanctuaries.
Leaves blink beady yellow eyes and stretch out razor sharp praying mantis arms, twigs spring tendrils, transforming into stick bugs, and lantern bugs position themselves on tree trunks sipping sap. The canopy blocks the stars and the moon, and as a blanket of black descends, iridescent mushrooms glow lime green on the forest floor.
Then literally, just for a few seconds, the rising sun burns through the fog, displaying the ledges and vertigo inducing gullies that surround the small pinnacle upon which you perch. Golden red light refracts through the mist, and as if in the eye of the storm, everything seems still.
As time rolls forward, how do we decide what should change with it, and what will be preserved to remind future generations of the past that defines them? Some pieces of time seem too important to alter, or have such beauty that we want them to endure. Some moments are given monuments, while others are allowed to flicker and fade, barely noticed in the sea of reality.
For almost 3,000 kilometers the border fence between Pakistan and India runs from the sea to the great mountains of the north. It is lit by 150,000 flood lights, which glow bright orange from space, scarring the solace of the desert and the shared cultural history of the millions who live in it. It is broken in the hinterlands of Punjab by the Wagah Border Crossing. While the border itself is a product of the violent geo-political dynamic between the countries, this passage across it undermines its absoluteness and highlights its complexity.
Nothing is yours anymore. Your time is controlled by the incessant traffic, and your space is shared with a river of humanity constantly running through your senses. It even feels like you have to even share the millimeters under your finger nails, so that Dhaka can squeeze one more person into the most density populated city in the world.
The guide picks you up one hour before midnight. He does not need to know where you are staying because the small village of Pura Besakih has only one guest house. The guide speaks broken English, and patiently waits for your final preparations before departure. With a smile, he sets off. Immediately, you are struggling to keep up in the pitch black. He ventures off the rural roads into the fields, “So the dogs won’t attack us,” he explains. This is first time you are glad you have hired a guide.