By Syed Shamsuddin
An Odyssey into Lower Bagrote
In “Tribes of Hindoo Koosh”, John Biddulph writes of Bagrote in the following words: “It was a favourite summer resort of the old Gilgit rulers, and was their last place of refuge when hard-pressed by external enemy.” Construably, the picturesque Bagrote Valley with its bracing climate used to be a famous summer resort of the ‘Ras’ or the rulers of Gilgit in the bygone eras.
PUT IT SUCCINCTLY, both parts of Bagrote, Valley (Upper and the Lower), abound in attraction for the lovers of the picturesque. The magnificent panorama of lofty peaks breaking the skyline with the serrated edges, lofty cones and rounded domes dominating the scene and the summits ribbed with snow and rocks is indeed, beyond description. The two characteristically close in to the north, by a profusion of precipitous crags and snow caps embosoming glaciers of varying magnitudes, whence flow streams only to unite to form the main Bagrote nullah.
Quite unpropitiously though, this area, mountainous, luxuriant and beautiful land so close to Gilgit city, received less attention than it deserved in terms of giving it befitting and genuine exposure in the context of sustainable tourism development. Resultantly, a major part of it still remains unexplored.
There can be no denying the fact that the provision of basic infrastructure – first and the foremost being transport-communication – inexorably has to get to the top of priorities in the scheme of things to guarantee cumulative progress of any place. Given this, a realigned and bituminized road to interlink both parts of the valley (lower and upper Bagrote) via ‘khand’ (Pass) must have been on the top of agenda of the respective authorities in order to give a genuine boost to multifarious tourism-related activities id est, trekking, hiking and adventure etc., in so close and contiguous area barely 29 km away from Gilgit city.
A coup d’oeil of Bilchar Dobani(6143m) exactly from the spot where the Metrological System is installed near Baltar pasture.
As referred to elsewhere before, Dobani or Bilchar Dobani barely located only 29 km east of Gilgit city, was summitted by two Japanese mountaineers Isao Ikeuchi and Masaru Hashimoto from the west face and the northern ridge on 9 June, 1979 preceded by an aborted attempt in early sixties, by the brave Belgian lady whom Hidayatullah Akhtar in his book “The History of Dardistan” names Miss De Grum who sadly lost her life during the course.
An Ideal Trekking Zone
Better late than never, a scheme aimed at toning up the condition of the jeepable road winding up the upper Bagrote, starting off from Oshkhandaswas was at long last, approved a few years back and work taken in hand accordingly. This scheme when upgraded and bituminized, will hopefully go a long way to open up that part of the valley to a greater extent albeit there will still be the need of putting in place a similar metalled circular road diverting from Bulcheh to connect Chirah, Farfo and Hopeha in order to ensure foolproof and elaborate connectivity whilst constructing simultanously a zigzagged road up Hopeh Khand (Pass) crossing into lower Bagrote so that both parts get duly integrated.
If accomplished, it will become greatly instrumental in meaningfully evolving the entire valley into a much coveted trekking zone starting from Oshikhand to upper Bagrote onto the lower Bagrote and vice versa, culminating in a magnificent descent ending at Jalalabad under construction RCC Bridge then to return to Gilgit city. Envisioning a grand scheme like this long ago was indubitably the need of the hour as it would have become immensely facilitative of and conductive to bring into focus an ideal trekking zone in the vicinity of Gilgit.
As said before, this valley is so close in proximity to the provincial metropolis that Bilchar Dobani is barely 29 km away Gilgit and it is from here alone that the adjoining beautiful valley of Haramush becomes accessible on either side of Dobani – one via Rakhand at Gargoh into Famir nullah while the other via Gashegutz in lower Bagrote into Bar nullah Khaltaro.
It is worth noting in the context of lower Bagrote that it is currently linked by an improperly planned, shabby, and fearsome jeepable road driving up the nullah towards Bilchar and Taisote. Its condition is such that the road section between Bavocheh to Farchaneh in particular, is wholly dangerous and unsafe for unhindered plying and double-crossing of vehicles and therefore requires realignment and widening all the way from Jalalabad bridge to Bavocheh.
Basic Infrastructure: A foregone Conclusion
In addition, the extension of the existing kutcha jeepable road up Taisote-Hopeh Khand (Pass) in simultaneous with proposed blacktopping has to be contemplated at this belated stage as there already exists a rudimentary track got built by the Meteorological department Pakistan that meanders up more than half of the Khand (Pass) then diverts towards Hopsar-Baltar side for the purpose of installation and monitoring of meteorological equipment installed there. However, its extension beyond the spot from the place of meteorological installations where towards Bilchar Dobani base camp will be an added attraction for general tourists, trekkers, hikers and climbers.
One having had an epic trail into this part of Bagrote Valley would wonder how a grand scheme of prime importance to interlink both parts of valley via Khand or Pass above Hopeh village from tourism standpoint has heretofore been overlooked. This is especially in seeing that those entrusted with planning and conception of tourists’ roads and toning up the condition of the existing ones into paved ones to attract both domestic and world tourists in this era seem to have remained altogether oblivious to this.
It again needs be emphasize that the proposed road on the other side of Khand (Pass) – wedging in between lower and the upper part – offers a short gradual descent into lower Bagrote besides the fact that it stands partially done in collaboration with the Metrological department as said before. With a little effort, it is to reach the summit to be followed by construction of a serpentine yet brief road to descend on the idyllic Hopeh village.
In short, the much-needed connectivity of both parts of the valley is likely to beckon Gilgit-based trekkers especially to start off from Gilgit and passing through the nearby Danyore, Oshikhandas, Jalalabad, Hamaran, Bilchar, Taisoteand up the Khand (Pass) to cross into upper Bagrote.
And conversely, those crossing into upper Bagrote from the Lower would have the options open for trekking beyond Farfo or Bulchi or else to cross the Datuchi bridge to trek gradually down toward Sinakir, Oshikhandas and to return to Gilgit betokening accomplishment of a hectic and pleasurable trekking.
It is profitable to reiterate that the convergence of innumerable trails at lower Bagrote leading up heretofore unexplored nooks and crannies of that part of land in terms of their virginity is something guaranteeing to make this area a veritable trekking hub and a prime tourist destination. It is chiefly for this reasons that the stunning Bagrote with the profusion of natural phenomena, uniquely offering an immeasurable potential warrants sustainable harnessing insofar as development of tourism here is concerned.
Getting to Taisote-Bilchar
Specifically, for a trail into lower Bagrote, a trek of less than half an hour from Bailey bridge (now converted into RCC) over Bagrote nullah at Jalalabad, can be undertaken towards Hamaran – a stopping point called Thaleh lying just the mouth of lower Bagrote and hence it gets reckoned with as the starting off point for onward trek into the stunning beautiful area – incredibly serene and sedate atmosphere, generative of wonderful tranquil settings to put in all brevity. As hinted at before, this part of Bagrote may genuinely claim its fame to its being home to myriad trails all around after the upper part of the valley. Going up Khoja, enables one to extend trek towards the smallish village called Batkore while taking a turn due south along the summit will take one to ‘malee giriharai’ just below which lies ‘lashai bari harai’ at ‘lashidar’. Behind on Batkore side, lay Gooshaleh Harari above Domochal and still beyond is situated Moosow Harai. This, it is said, was a place used to be cultivated by the inhabitants of Bilchar but currently it is seldom done. It is from this vantage point that makes one very well poised to have a splendidly wide and delectable scenery below of the sprawling vegetation right from Chamoghar, Jalalabad and Oshikhandas while a distant view invariably of Minwar, Sakwar, Jutial Gilgit albeit Danyore overwhelmingly dominated by the mountains, becomes scantily visible at shimmering distance while the ridge itself is mottled with mountain scrubs – indeed, a splendid view rarely to be seen elsewhere!
A tour d’horizon of angular Lower Bagrote from Baltar
Other intra-vale untouristed brief trails as unfolded by Haji Goko, a native of the area, include a trek to Hopsar (Gotoomharai, Feya vayharai) and behind the ridge lay Poshaneh harai of Hopeh. Other trekking areas of Taisote and Bilchar include Baltar, Moorgush, Yakumal, Gashaygoontz, Soorgun, Gamasar, Khojah, Mooseh, Lashaeharai, meleh geree harai etc. Lasho it is said,, firstly set up the harayeh which came to be named after him as Lashaeharai and lashaebareh. It is said that in summer he would move his herd to the higher pasture which was named maylehgiri harai. The awesome Bilchar Dobani (6143m), barely 29 km east of Gilgit city, stands placidly sentinel over the vale with its base camp just above Baltar pasture beckoning world adventurers and summiteers an arduous clamber up the ridge leading up the lofty summit. It simultaneously faces Bar nullah of Khaltaro, Haramosh in the east while on the north, it can clearly be seen from Darejah in upper Bagrote. Darejah is a unique vantage point from where a graphic view of Rakaposhi, Diran peak and Dobani can be gained simultaneously.
In lower Bagrote, its base camp is above Baltar. Ahead the ridge to the east abuts Kini Dar and Gamasar along the ridge where the lower Bagrote nullah not having an enormous flow usually save becoming somewhat turbulent during peak summer, originates in the glacier flowing from Sorgun side lying just below Kinidar. From here, Gashegutz can be reached on crossing the top of the mountain up and with a little descent behind. Taisote nullah flows scantily beneath Yakumal at Moorgush. about all these natural phenomena forming a bewitching ensemble making the entire Bagrote a thrilling trekking zone in the vicinity of Gilgit city.
An Aerial View of Hamaran Bagrote Courtesy: Naseer Kazmee
The Hamaran Thaleh or spot designated as a ‘stopping point’ for the pedestrians is also the vantage point in that the traveler can gain a fine view to the opposite, of Hamaran whilst to the south, a bewitching lush panoramic view of both Jalalabad and Oshikhandas can be had. In the bygone era, when native people carrying burden or luggage on their back, would rest for a while here. An odyssey into lower Bagrote in fact, begins from here onward with the trudging along the rocky and narrowest gorgy terrain between Hamaran and Farchnehthat ensues. Given its settings, the idyllic Hamaran is located right on the mouth of lower Bagrote, on the western side of the narrow and steeply-sided gorge.
It is irrigated by about half kilometer water channel so arduously and painstakingly built by the inhabitants of Hamaran in times of yore beneath which lay the place named Koteyeh from where Hamaran becomes accessible a few minutes’ clamber up. It is here the lower Bagrote or the Bilchar nullah looping west, joins the turbulent Bagrote nullah to turn south. The narrowness and steepness of the gorge from Farchaneh down to Hmaran is so precarious that it forces its way through constricting between granite walls and rushes until it cascades steeply down at the head of Hamarn water channel in a way that the traveler may feel like sandwiched or squeezed between two rocky walls.
A splendid view of the valley from Baltar
The Convergence of Epic Trails
There is a steep climb leading up the precipice to the Thaleh itself a brief yet strenuous precipice towards Thaleh (resting place) but nonetheless, this route is now seldom used now as the construction of the jeepable kutcha road from Jalalabad to Bilchar-Taisote eased transportation to and vice versa. But nonetheless, it needs re-alignment and bituminization in simultaneous with its extension up the Khand (Pass) to facilitate trekking of the entire valley as referred elsewhere whilst easing a look at a historic place called Jummaye Kote said to be situated nearby Khand (Pass) on its southerly side atop the intervening mountain appearing in the middle of the photograph of the twin villages of Taisote-Bilchar. It is revealed that this place was once considered to be an impregnable place and hence quite safe and unconquerable, akin to a fortress in olden periods to provide shelter whenever an imminent of danger of an attack from the enemies says Haji Goko, a native obviously having an encyclopedic knowledge of its pastures and meadow spots here who has spent prime youth of his life meandering around as a herder tells about every nook and cranny of the mountain wilderness that surrounds lower Bagrote.
If there be any veracity in it, this may surely be yet another hallmark to fire the imagination and great interest for historians, geologists, anthropologist, archaeologists and general tourists as well. It is from here that one can be very well poised to have a grand and truly striking on either side Bagrote valley of . Of this it is said that the cliff rising sheer up Hamaran, Farcheneh and extending towards Khand (Pass) perpendicularly up Taisote, has steep and unimaginably lofty sides all around forbidding any ascent whatsoever save however, by experienced climbers, literally makes the primitive fortress wholly inaccessible except through the narrow passage giving the semblance of a gate-like entrance from the Khand (Pass) side alone. From this, the fort of Sinakir village as mentioned by Alhaj Hashmatullah Lakhnavi in his ‘History of Jammu’ (page 679) might have become vividly visible for reconnoitering in the bygone eras. However, there appear no vestiges or remnants of such a fort at Sinakir currently.
The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He can be reached at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org