As the Fokkar Friendship hovers over Chitral after clearing strands of fir and turbulence at the Lowari Pass and before committing to landing, one can see the beautiful sights through window of small aircraft: red roof houses dotted on the hill contours, alpine trees, fruit orchards and distant but conspicuous Tirich Mir peak. Chitral airport is built in one of the serene gorges of the River Kunar where plane has to dip between valley walls before the wheels bump on dry ground. There are many idyllic and unspoiled places in Chitral -- landlocked in winters and one of the most underdeveloped districts in renowned tourist zones of Pakistan. Journey from Chitral town in to photogenic and tranquil Lutkho Valley is very absorbing experience with raw nature, wilderness and mountain glen.
Chitral-Dohra Pass historic route is only a lively ramble that forks from Kunar River towards north through lush green countryside, which is at its best after the months of harsh winters. The pebbled road runs along a young rivulet called Lutkho Gol and the scenery is ever becoming different. At places Lutkho Gol flows at level with the track and one cannot make out where torrents ends and the track starts. There are many spots where one can sit to breath, and allow himself to be healed by the clean air and magnificent grandeur of mountains landscape. It is full of trout and water is so clear that one can see trout moving up against the current. There are many fishing spots along the river. Terraced fields and fragrant orchards of walnuts, apricots, grapes, apple, mulberries and brilliant alpine species of flowers are strung up the valley on the mountain walls.
The areas along the route are populated with several small villages, separated by groves of apricot trees. The land is very fertile, and the resulting verdant floor is in breathtaking contrast to the orange and yellow apricots. Continuing up the valley, the craggy track leads northeast over the Dorah Pass, route of many invaders and the main trading route between Chitral and Badakhshan in the past. In 1980s, the Mujahedin have been using the route.
From the Chitral airport, I boarded a passenger Toyota that was ready to go up early one April morning. I was lucky to have a front seat of fully overloaded vehicle that I was to share with another passenger -- a local teacher from Garam Chashma by the name of Mohyuddin who voluntarily took over as my guide and kept telling me the tales and pointing at things. During our journey from Chitral to Garam Chashma he narrated his risqué story of a hunting expedition. Moreover, he discussed every thing from the foreign tourists he had met to Soviet Occupation to present tabulations in Afghanistan and from ecology in the area to why Chitralis keep the legs of newly born babies tied for so many days. (So that the legs remain straight once the child grow). He also lectured me on Timur pedigree, which he said he belonged to. With keen interest, I bore the onslaught of knowledge.
We had a short break on a roadside "Modern Hotel" near village Morgh. This is a busy midway stop and the "Modern Hotel" is the humblest of all that one can imagine. I had one of the tastiest (and much needed) cups of tea there and saw a couple of travellers on their way back from Garam Chashma while the driver allowed the vehicle to cool off. I also placed an order for preparing food that I was to consume on my way back (but the meat was still hard when I took it after seven hours). The small village's claim to fame is "Puttee" -- soft woollen cloth made by hand from raw wool. Puttee and its products like Chitrali cap and gown like long coats are in great demand through out the country.
The ridgeline along the track blocks out view of Tirich Mir at some places in the way, but the mountain is revealed in all its glory if one can ascend any of the easy spurs. As per the local legend Tirich Mir is abode of fairies. From all over the Hindu Kush, fairies come here for special meetings, washing and grinding rice. It is said that fairies use large flat stones for their washboards and grinding. This may be a most extraordinary and a likely tale. But then if fairies from all over the Hindu Kish can make it to Tirich Mir -- the land where eagles dare not fly -- who knows they might be washing and grinding. Poor fairies doing the odious chores like some of us underprivileged mortals!
Tirich Mir in the Hindu Kush (Caucasus Indicus of ancient Greeks) is 7708 meters high. It is sixteenth highest peak in Pakistan (and 41st in the world). On the way, I managed to see the distant snow covered Tirich Mir Top changing its shades as per the skew of the sun. The colour contrast is readily discernible. Glaciated and receiving heavy snowfall, the Tirich Mir is permanently snow-covered peak with little vegetation. The valleys in the foot are heavily populated, and extensive cutting has greatly reduced the forests on the slopes. Those who have taken their chance to the foot of Tirich Mir say that trekking through the villages of Atak, Bandak, and Shogor up to the Tirich Glacier is very rewarding and allows for fantastic views of Tirich Mir and Istoro Nal as well as the heavily crevassed Upper Tirich Glacier.
Dominated by the massive peaks of Tirich Mir and Buni Zom, the yawning valley rears a jagged skyline. Birmogh Lasht nearby marks the fringes of Chitral Gol National Park, home to fast extinguishing markhor, bears, and wolves. There are no more elusive snow leopards to be seen in the area. Several trails cross this lonely wilderness. Some are like flower pathways. The local flora includes variety of shrubs, wild flowers and undergrowth.
The heart of activities in Luthko Valley is strategic little town Gharam Chasma. It is located on the bank of a Luthko Gol about forty kilometres from Chitral City. There used to be a refugees camp during Russian occupation in Afghanistan in Garam Chashma -- a tehsil headquarters. The open ground where Afghan children used to play and elder used to contemplate their future during forced exile is lying vacant as a strong reminder of the past. Herd of goats was resting in the vast ground where one could see the signs of a well-used cricket pitch. Small bazaar in the town is lined with humble tea shops, eateries, modest provision stores that are mostly stocked once Lowari opens to road traffic during summers and a few shop selling Lajvard (Armenian stone) and Zamurrad (Emerald) that find their way in the town, for the tourists mostly. There is a high school in the town.
East of the main road near the town is a famous hot spring. The hot water comes from the hills. Near the residential area, a small steaming stream branch off to enter bathrooms and swimming pool (constructed by Chitral Scouts) before it joins the main course again. There are quite a few legends (or facts) famous about the hot spring. As per Mohyuddin, the water of hot sparing is a cure to Gouts and numbers of other skin diseases. I only revelled into the hot water to freshen up. It was very comforting.