Posts Tagged ‘Machulu la’

The Machulu La

The days are getting noticeably shorter now in Pakistan. Most of the valleys only spend a short time in the sun. The high mountains cast a shadow by mid-afternoon. The officer who patrols the green suspension bridge halfway between Skardu and Khaplu seems somewhat surprised to see us again. I disembark in fading light and take a seat on one of the plastic chairs.

Unlike a few days ago, I am feeling confident and relaxed. We now have the security of our passports and extended visas. I present them both to the officer with pride. He flicks through the pages seemingly unimpressed and then enquires as to whether we have a guide. I feel like a student who has completed all his homework; an emotion I seldom experienced at school. Habib and Amin get off the bus and stride over like two body guards. I actually have two guides. The officer smiles, he is pleased.

autumn in muchulo

Its night when we reach Khaplu. Amin starts negotiations for a car to take us to his home village of Machulu. Habib tells us that the driver wants 15,000 PKR which is about $150.00. It’s dark and getting late but the price is totally unacceptable. Amin seems a little surprised that we consider the offer too high. We tell them that… if this is the case we can all go stay in the Khaplu palace and travel the next morning. I can’t be sure how (even to this day) but there has been a mix up. The driver actually wants 1500 PKR. Amin looks relieved and is now smiling. Before we head to Machulu we take dinner in a local restaurant. It turns out to be one of the tastiest meals we have had. A lamb stew with potatoes served with grilled chicken, yoghurt and fresh naan bread that is warm and crunchy. The total cost for the 4 of us is just under 700 PKR or around $7.00 USD including a bottle of coke.

autumn in pakistan

The drive to Machulu takes just over an hour from Khaplu. Our car is weighed down by all the supplies we are carrying for our next trek. The journey is slow and takes just over an hour to cover 10km. When we reach Machulu we are greeted in the dark by one of Amin’s friends. A local school teacher who has kindly allowed us to sleep in his house.

The next morning we are making preparations for our trek up the Machulu la. It will take 3-4 days to reach the top of the pass and return back to Machulu. If the weather is kind we will get good views of K2. The trek has been described as an easy way to see K2 but it’s an ill-founded description. There is no shade and no respite from the steep barren slopes that lead up to the pass. The gradient in places requires you to lean forward and not look ahead should your heart break. The first day is short only 3.5 hours until we reach a collection of shepherd’s huts. The second day starts with a cruel climb up a gulley before turning left and getting steeper. You can see all the way to the top. It stops you in your tracks and you begin to reconsider why you are here. There is no relief, no reference of hope ahead just a continuous grind.

Climbing Machulu La

Day 1 Machulu la

We reach the high camp, again in just under four taxing hours. I feel completely spent and exhausted. The sudden rise in altitude and strong sun is giving me a terrible headache. I lie on the slope imagining just how hard this would be in the summer. Emma seems to be in better spirits than I and even considers continuing up to the top for sunset views. I wave my hand and then let is flop down beside me. It takes considerable effort to get up and erect the tent. I can’t help but to feel sad as it’s the last time we shall use it on our trip. I think about how we were so excited when we first used it back in Namibia. Amin comes over to help. I pull out the ground sheet that is still covered in dust from Kenya. He takes the opportunity to discuss relationships in western society. In particular I dispel the notion that men and women are free to date other people when married. I notice that his English is much better when we speak one on one.

Muchulu la

Em and Habib sunset day 2

That night we sit around a small fire, it is already bitterly cold. The stars are back out in the millions. I have begun calling Emma the Memsahib which amuses Habib and particularly Amin who laughs loudly and takes great delight in using the term himself. Memsahib is warm enough, Memsahib would like some more chai. It was a term used as a mark of respect for European ladies in colonial India, a little politically incorrect, but among friends it’s just our funny way of calling Emma the boss. After dinner Amin decides to pursue his task in convincing us to have children. His voice and manner in speaking are disarming. I attempt to deflect his soft reprimands with the notion that it will surely happen if it is God’s will. Habib is laughing, so I try to turn the tables on him by offering his non marital status up as an area of greater concern. Amin pauses for a moment unperturbed and then just continues to appraise the virtues of children in that slow croaky voice.

Dinner with the memsahib

Dinner with the memsahib

Its morning on day 3 and I wake feeling rejuvenated and ready. The top of the pass is only 500 meters away but the gradient above rises in parts to over 45 degrees. We zigzag our way up the cold slope in just under 1.5 hours. We can see Broad peak, Gasherbrum 1 and 2 and the mighty K2 all over 8000m in height. The sun is shining on the Abruzzi ridge. Even from over 40km away, K2 dominates all the other mountains around us. We have been very lucky with the weather, although I would say that early October is an excellent time to do this trek.

top of Machulu la

Habib at the top

Going up is hard on the lungs but descending such a steep slope is torture on your legs. The high camp is just a spec below us. The surface is lose and the small stones and pebbles make for a slow and slippery descent. Amin on the other hand is able to run down the hill with a long stick held behind him like a rudder. He leans back on it to stop himself from slipping. Its am impressive display of speed and balance. He covers in 30 seconds a distance that will take us closer to 5 minutes. It takes about 45 minutes to get down from the pass. We have some chai before packing up the tent.

K2 from Machulu la


With us are two porters. A teenage boy who is 16 years and much older man in his mid to late 50’s. The older man has been carrying twice the weight of his young companion and is still putting him to shame. We continue down trying not to slip as best we can. By the time we reach camp 1 our legs are aching, but it’s only around 1pm so we continue onto Machulu. I know it’s going to drag out and take longer than we expect, but the lure of a cold bucket shower and a thin mattress with clean bedding is a prospect worth continuing for.

A long way down

A long way down

The young guy is beginning to suffer and falls behind. The dull ache in my thighs has been replaced with severe burn. I can feel nerve endings being plucked and pulled like guitar strings. The pain shoots up into my hips and my legs start to cramp. There is nowhere flat to stand, no rest ahead. As we approach the village I notice Emma going into the late stages of exhaustion. She has become very quiet and focused. We have now been resisting the relentless pull of gravity for over 6 hours. The gradient eases slightly as we enter the village a blessed relief.

Muchulu village

Muchulu village

Small children begin to encircle us chanting… Anglais mimo foto tek. I feel like I am in a scene from Lord of the flies. As it turns out they are singing… English mother photo take. We reach the schoolmasters house and waste no time is removing our boots, peeling off our sweaty socks and collapsing on the floor. The old porter who has carried 25kg looks by contrast remarkably fresh. I admire his constitution. The teen has fallen behind and is in a similar condition to ourselves just with an extra 15kg. Amin goes back to pick up the adolescent pieces.

I walk the village is search of a drink. It’s either cold water or warm Mountain Dew. I take the warm soft drink and guzzle down as much as I can. Twenty minutes later Amin arrives with the broken boy in tow. He look more relieved than I to be back in the village.

Home in Muchulu

Amin’s Home in Muchulu

Later that night Amin makes us all a tasty meal of Potatoes and rice. He humbly apologises for not being able to offer us any meat which we refute. He has done so much for us already. As a last course he brings out, much to our surprise a large crème caramel. It is outstandingly good and would be worthy of any restaurant in Sydney and perhaps even Paris. We handout some presents for his six children. Some red and gold bangles for his two eldest daughters, a talking battery operated parrot that is sure to drive him mad and a small tank with flashing lights for his son. Last but not least some plastic blocks for his baby twins. They all come in one by one to receive them and graciously take them away. Amin tells us we have brought many presents. That is because you have many children. I think Amin sees an opportunity to kindly lecture us again but gets distracted by Habib laughing.

The children in Machulu

The children in Machulu

It has been great to reunite for another trek. We just had to see K2 again, and being with Amin and Habib was an extra bonus we had not expected. Habib now has to travel back to Gilgit and leaves early.

Proud dad

Proud dad

We linger a little longer in Machulu with Amin before bidding him goodbye. His eyes are a little glassy when we leave. He is such a wonderful man, kind and loved in his village. We give him a hug, his body is as hard as steel but he has a soft heart. He looks at me and says exactly what he said four years ago

Don’t forget me…

We drive away with a lump in our throats. I can feel my eyes tingling a little. It’s impossible not to look back and all I can think about is stopping the car and turning around.



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