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the-south-asian.com                        November  2000

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Page  2  of  2

Karakoram Air Safari – a Spiritual experience

By Bilal Khan


Undoubtedly, after the mini-climax of the Nanga Parbat encounter, the ultimate climax is the fly-over towards Concordia – ‘the throne room of the mountain Gods’ – in the Karakoram Range, via the Rakaposhi mountain.

K2_-bilal.jpg (37235 bytes)
K2 - stands guarded by other lofty peaks.

The loneliness of those lofty peaks and the mysterious unknowable places beyond them seem eternally out of reach of experience. And here was I, flying right over the realms I thought were so forbidden! And do they live up to their promise? Without exaggeration, they far surpass it! Those huge expanses of the whitest snow, those vast glaciers streaming away like broad ribbons, those secret nooks and corners, peaks and faces, valleys and ridges – always overwhelming one with the thought that no men have been on this ground, no eyes have seen these places except from the safety and distance like ours. Furthermore, like hidden jewels offered for special viewing, there are cobalt blue lakes surrounded by white expanses that have no names, whose waters are rippled with no angler’s cast or a boat’s wane.

The first mountaineering expedition to visit the heart of the Karakoram Range in the Baltoro region was in 1892 – a British group led by the art professor/explorer Martin Conway. Concordia – ‘the throne room of the mountain Gods’ – was named by Conway on this expedition. Concordia is where two mighty glaciers, the Godwin Austen and the upper Baltoro join to form the main Baltoro glacier. Concordia is surrounded by high peaks on all sides – the monarch of them all is K2.

Concordia is the ampitheatre where two mighty glaciers, the Godwin Austin and the upper Baltoro join to form the main Baltoro glacier, which then plunges down the wildest canyon in the world. Concordia is surrounded by high peaks on all sides – the monarch of them all is of course K2. Other peaks in the area that we got a close look at, were Masherbrum – unique with its yellow golden head; Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum IV, Broad peak and the Trango Towers. From the throne room we flew towards the Lord of the throne room – the K2! Unlike Nanga Parbat that stands alone, K2 – the grand monarch- stands guarded by other lofty peaks. Pyramid-like, K2 stands at 28,741 ft. The only local name for K2 is Chogori, which means ‘Great Mountain’.

"It was in 1856 that Capt. Montgomerie of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India saw a cluster of high peaks from a point 137 miles away, and entered them as K1, K2, K3 and so on – ‘K’ stands for Karakoram range. The peak labelled K1 was visible from several villages and was called Masherbrum. K3, K4 and K5 were collectively called Gasherbrum. But no established name was then known for K2, so the mountain continued to be known by its symbol."*

* From In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods by Galen Rowell

The eight highest peaks in the Baltoro region are
K 2 (28,250 ft; 8,611 metres),
Hidden Peak or Gasherbrum I (26,470 ft; 8068 metres),
Broad peak (26,400 ft; 8046 metres), Gasherbrum II (26,360 ft; 8034 metres), Gasherbrum III ( 26,090 ft; 7952 metres), Gasherbrum IV (26,000 ft; 7924 metres), Masherbrum (25,660 ft; 7821 metres), and Chogolisa (25,110 ft; 7654 metres). The nearby Trango group, only about 30 miles from K2, is a collection of granite towers and the finest in the group is called the Nameless Tower. Trango Towers are barely 20,000 feet high. All these peaks are clustered near the head of the Baltoro glacier. Outside the Baltoro region are other giants – Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet; 8125 metres), Distaghil sar (25,868 ft; 7885 metres), Rakaposhi near Gilgit (25,550 ft; 7788 metres) and at least another 80 peaks between 7000-8000 metres in altitude.

K2, the highest peak in the Karakoram, is the second highest mountain in the world. Pyramid-like, it stands hidden away in a remote mountain region behind other peaks of similar grandeur. "There is no village within ten days travel of K2. Its steep, difficult approach and harsh weather makes K2 the hardest of the world’s mountains to climb."- Galen Rowell. The first attempt to climb K2 was made in 1902 but was unsuccessful. Americans made most of the subsequent attempts in 1938, 1939 and 1953. In 1954 an Italian team made the first ascent of K2. The next successful attempt was made 21 years later in 1975. More people have died climbing the K2 than have actually climbed it.

Pakistan has some of the highest and most spectacular mountain ranges of the world – the Himalayas, the Karakorams, and the Hindukush. These ranges occupy the entire northern end of the country and include five peaks higher than 8000 metres. The first Pakistani to reach the summit of a major peak was Captain Jawed Akhtar. He climbed Masherbrum in 1960, as a member of a joint American-Pakistani expedition. Ashraf Aman and Nasir Sabir are the only Pakistanis to reach the summit of K2.

As we turned for the return journey, we could see clouds building up in the distance. The show was over and the curtain was coming down. The aircraft flew over the towns of Gilgit and Skardu and we flew past Nanga Parbat once again. The plane finally descended and was soon rolling gently to a stop at Islamabad airport. The entire journey, enlivened by the pilot’s valuable commentary, was nothing less than a spiritual experience.





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