An extremely picturesque, 5-hour drive took us to Balakot, where we stayed the night at a local hotel before heading to Sharan Forest; we made a quick stop to admire nature’s wonder, the Kewai Waterfall in between.
In the monotony of life we often forget to sit back and reflect on what our journey has been like and where it is taking us. However, what we don’t realize is that life is too short to just revolve around our 9 to 5 routines with nothing extraordinary to enrich it. For the past two years, I had been wanting to take a solo, soul-searching trip to some unknown destination but, for one reason or the other, it didn’t materialize. Last month I came across this program called X-Venture – Survival Challenge, designed by the School of Leadership, that promised an adventurous trip to some of the most picturesque locations up north. Without wasting a minute, I inquired about it and upon my satisfaction, I signed up for it.
It cost PKR 35,000 per participant, starting from Islamabad, and covered travelling, food and accommodation while it also included costs for river rafting, boating, camping and sight-seeing. We spent about additional PKR 12,000 on travelling to and from Karachi by road.
A dozen of us embarked on a road trip from Karachi on September 1, as we were supposed to join another group in Islamabad, from where the program was meant to commence the next day. We were introduced to a very diverse troupe with people from Lahore, Multan, Islamabad, Gilgit, Jhelum and Quetta.
An extremely picturesque, 5-hour drive took us to Balakot, where we stayed the night at a local hotel before heading to Sharan Forest; we made a quick stop to admire nature’s wonder, the Kewai Waterfall in between. Located in Kaghan Valley at a height of almost 8000 feet above sea-level, Sharan was a treat for the soul, with greenery and mountains surrounding us whereas the little, warm camping pods spread in the area were tranquil and dreamy. The day concluded with a much-needed bonfire as we were desperate for some warmth in the cold weather. Most tourists plan trips up north before the monsoons set in, primarily because post-September the weather starts getting chilly.
As part of the ‘survival challenge’ that the 30 of us had signed up for, we were divided into five teams that competed with each other in various challenging yet entertaining tasks. At Sharan, we were asked to design 15 challenges for our competitors as part of a forest scavenger hunt but later on, we were told to complete those challenges ourselves. The idea was to make us empathetic towards our fellows; those who chose tasks that were practically impossible learnt it the hard way when they had to perform those themselves.
The next day, we went rafting at River Kunhar and it certainly was an experience designed for adrenalin junkies; it was a bit risky and the water was very cold but it left us energized with a grand feeling of accomplishment.
Our next stop was Naran, which was breathtaking, and where a gorgeous resort awaited us. That night we prepared the dinner ourselves, rustic style around the campfire. There’s something about woodfire that makes cooking so much more aromatic and hearty. From lighting the fire to cutting vegetables to finally turning it all into a delicious meal, we managed everything ourselves. And let me admit, despite our initial inhibitions, we thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. Delighted and yet exhausted at the end of the day, we were grateful for everything life had blessed us with back home.
Day 4 of the adventure took us to Lake Saif ul Muluk, our next destination, and while people usually opt for a jeep ride up, we decided to trek it. It took us more than four grueling hours to get there but every step was worth it when we witnessed one of the most magnificent gifts of nature. For me, personally, there was a sense of accomplishment since this was my first attempt at trekking, that too on such an incline, and initially I was dreading it. But what an experience it was! The hot and fresh Rajma Chawal lunch that awaited us by the banks of the icy-cold lake – truly an enigma of sorts – made every tiring step up worth the effort.
During the next, last two days of our trip we visited Babusar Top, Lulusar Lake and Shogran Hill Station before ending our adventure at Paye Lake. It was our last day together and each one of us took a moment to reflect on the journey and how it helped shape our thoughts and perceptions on life. Our moments of introspection were complemented by a beautiful hailstorm that added yet another dimension to our experience. We all connected to nature in the purest form ever, refreshing our mind, body and soul.
This entire journey paved way for many firsts in my life, including things that I always dreamt about. Travelling with a group of strangers, preparing dinner for my fellow travelers, trekking from 8000 to 10,500 feet up, sharing meals with a diverse group of people…the unique experiences were endless. I got to learn about various regions in Pakistan and how life operates there, and much more. The diversity, will power and support each person extended during this six-day trip, without any discrimination and prejudices against anyone, was simply amazing.
Kudos to the School of Leadership and their newly appointed CEO and lead trainer & consultant Waqar Ali for visualizing and organizing this excursion, putting us through some unique and tough experiences and teaching us useful life lessons. We return to urban life as better, certainly more enriched individuals.