So, my friends – three of them- picked me up from the office and off we went for the Kumrat Valley, about which I have heard repeatedly but never visited. Two of the friends had already went there about two years ago and loved the place but they only stayed there for just one night, so, here we were once again going for the valley and running from the heat in Lahore.

Now, the first twist-which are must in travelling-was that those two friends told me that they turned right after the tunnels on Swat motorway and went to Kumrat. Like a normal person, I thought that the valley is quite near Swat, and we will be there in a couple of hours after leaving the motorway. But man, weren’t they wrong, a brief search on Google Maps showed us that we will reach there after a drive of almost 16 years, and this ladies and gentleman was a punch in the gut.

This was the first trip, I was doing with friends on our own car, and gives me the first chance to drive on Islamabad-Lahore and Swat motorway. So, back to the shock by Google maps, after knowing this information, we were silent for a brief time and then like a true Punjabi, we were like, ‘Chor Yar Pehlay Roti Khatay Haen, Phir Dekhty Haen.’ By that time, we were on Swat motorway and our petrol was on last stages. So, we decided to exit from the next interchange and that interchange of Mardan’s. And it was our first time in that city, after asking from the toll plaza staff and a couple of other people, we entered Mardan city and not surprisingly, chose to have Chappal Kebabs from a local shop. I don’t like these kebabs that much, but I was wrong because they were rather very tasty and we enjoyed them. After a brief argument whether we would find Dahi (Yogurt) in Mardan or not, we were back on the motorway.

At Mardan a couple of local people told us that Kumrat is not that far after exiting Swat motorway, and this made us happy, very happy and we blamed Google Map for being unreliable. But as usual, we were wrong again because when we exited the Swat motorway, it was around 11:00 pm, we asked about Kumrat Valley from a policeman, who looked at us, then towards his watch and told us that it is still at the drive of 6-7 hours on Dir Road with last 10 kilometers on a very bad patch and then around 1:30 hours on jeep from Thal to the valley. And there we were-again-very disappointed but we couldn’t do anything else so off we moved forward and then the travel on Dir Road started. It was a night drive, the road was mostly empty, Panjkora River was flowing with us on one side, and mountains on the other side. Surprisingly-for me at least – there were a number of small towns on the way with proper markets, although they were closed at that time of night.

As it was a friends’ trip, so it was naturally filled with Juggats, music-sometime cheap one-, conversation and obviously arguments, the ones which we will remember for a lifetime. We did get a bit out of control – with laughter- when we started listening Yeh Kali Kali Ankhein song and there is a part which goes like Too ru ru ru¬ and due to some odd reason, we sang it that part at top of our voices and laughing uncontrollably. By 2:30 am, we were at the start of that bad patch, about which the policeman told us, so, we decided to stay at a roadside small hotel by calling the owner Abaidullah Bhai and waking him up, but he was gracious enough to open a room for us at that time of the night.

The next day, after breakfast we left for Thal, and that part is truly bad as road is almost non existed and you continuously do a static dance on your seat, not intentionally obviously. The only interesting part of that patch was that we had taken a couple of toffee packs and we distributed among the children along the way and there I saw a small girl, may be one of most beautiful children I have ever seen, with golden hair and crystal blue eyes. I thought of taking her photo but hesitated and I will always regret not taking her picture there. But that is life, isn’t it?

And then we reached Thal, hired a jeep for Kumrat, collected our luggage, cooking cylinder and Chaye Ka Samaan with us because you know Chaye is a must. And here is the second twist of this journey. If you remember, two of my friends went to Kumrat a couple of years ago, but they didn’t stay in the valley, rather moved a bit further-almost an hour drive from the valley-to a point called Abshaar. And when they told the driver about that after reaching the Kumrat valley, it was an instant issue because he said the fair for that point is almost double from Kumrat’s. After a long argument with driver as well as among us, whether to stay there or move to that point, we decided to go to that place.

Before telling about that point, let me tell you about my first feelings about Kumrat valley. We stopped in the middle of the valley after an hour and yes, it is stunning except the increasing number of hotels and huts there because we humans tend to destroy the natural beauty by turning into a concrete jungle. There are very tall pine trees, Panjkora River, river’s sound and mountains around it. It felt like a moment of relief in a turbulent life, it was silent, peaceful and serene. That was Kumrat.

Back to the next phase of journey, we reached that hotel, where my friends had stayed, and to be true, I was not happy because near that Abshaar there is a rush of hotels, camps, shops and people, it looked like a mini-Murree or Naran Kaghan because it was full of people, cement and imposed structures. Luckily, our hotel-more like three rooms side by side-was at away from that rush at the edge of river and silence, so, a happy ending I guess.

After unpacking, and getting fresh, we ordered hotel owner-made chicken karahi and went for a walk in the surroundings. At left and right side of our room, we could see snow-capped mountains, on the back there was a green mountain and at front, it was river. After the dinner, we decided to rest and planned for the next day, where should we go.

And here is the best moment/memory of this whole trip, around 1:00 am, after playing ludo, we picked up our Bluetooth speaker, mobile phone, chairs and sat beside the river. Let me try to paint the picture, and maybe you can feel, what we felt at that very moment. There was a cloudless night, musical sound of flowing river, mountains, us and a sky full of stars. They look like a properly placed beads and pearls on the fabric of pitch-black sky, and the speaker was playing three ghazals, Jo Naa Mil Saka by Madam Noor Jahan, Sheeshay Ka Samandar by Rekha Bhardwaj and Koi Faryad by Jagjit Singh. We sat there in very cold breeze, listening music, while watching watching the stars and they looked very near and it felt we can touch them by a mere extend of our arms. We were silent, none of us said a word, the ghazals were on repeat, we were lost in our own thoughts, dipped in that naturally musical silence. That couple of hours, were the Haasil of this trip, as they spoke tremendously although none of us said a single word. It was surreal, it was static, it was a conversation, it was vivid and it was peaceful. I can still feel those moments’ breathing, their warmth, their whispers and they will stay with us for eternity. We slept like babies that night!

The next day started with a drizzle, a refreshing feeling and that followed by warm sunlight. We decided to hike towards Kalay Pathar Ka Chashma, which is a famous tourist point but it didn’t go as planned. As we started the hike/walk, one of friends saw a huge “white stone” with holes in it on nearby mountain, which was at a reasonable height and he insisted to go there and saw that “stone”. I tried to tell them it is a glacier – a very small one- and we argued again and then we decided to go, see it and then decide, what is it? We climbed up to it, and it was a glacier, I won, I guess!? we took pictures and started descending back to the valley.

We reached the ground and after passing that patch, a jungle started. We were resting there, met some tourists who were coming back from that Chashma, they told us that it is not a place to go because there is nothing to see there. So, what we did? We decided to leave the main track, and descended in that jungle, where the river was flowing with its full glory. We reached at the base beside the river, and no one was there except us, river and the jungle.

There we got our second peaceful moment, and then we went deeper into jungle, sat at a spot and listened to the sounds of that jungle. Although, we all are very chatty but the nature and place like that have an impact on you, it makes you humble and silent, so we sat there, listening the sounds of breeze passing through the leaves mixed with chirping of birds as I thought about the stories these trees hold, the moments they had witnessed, the times they had faced but still standing there like wise old men, contemplating the secrets of life and nature.
After a couple of hours, we went back to our room, had dinner and once again sat beside the river because it was our last night there. We once again sat under the stars, tried to see their movement, guessed the ages of those mountains, and listened to the river. I don’t know how many stories that river and those stones inside river hold. The stones/boulders must’ve asked from the river about the lakes above, about the snow-caped mountains, about the sheep herders who went to those high green meadows, what beautiful conversation they must’ve had, the stories they had told each other as one is static there for no body know how long and one is a flowing moment. Their meeting is brief but they must’ve shared wisdom of centuries in that moment, in that blink of an eye.

The next day, we packed our luggage and started moving back to Lahore and its heat. We all left a piece of us there, under those starry nights, with those river stones, at the base of those age-old trees, and ever flowing waters. No one knows, whether we will go there again or not, but we will always be there, always!