We have all grown up watching beautiful sceneries like snow-capped mountains, crystal clear lakes, fiercely calming waterfalls and greener than green pastures in Hindi movies and songs, and have wished at some point to be there physically to relish in that beauty like it is meant to be. Now, imagine feasting your eyes on a similar picture peaking inside from your window. Isn’t waking up in a strange place one of the most pleasurable sensations in the world? Spending two days in Shogran made me realise just how true that is. Taking the road most often travelled, I took the 34km long route from Balakot, but not before stopping first for a scrumptious chapli kabab lunch near River Kunhar. Situated at an elevation of about 2,362m above sea level, Shogran, the almost-diamond-shaped hill station, is most definitely among every local’s favourite spots to travel to. Sitting on a green plateau in the Kaghan Valley, it houses a number of hotels and small stalls where some food and other minor utilities can be purchased. The summers see a peak in the visits, where people often resort to spending the night in parked jeeps outside the hotel as they reach maximum occupancy. Even during the hot season, the temperature in Shogran can see a drop to as low as 3°C at night, which is why it is nothing less than a suicide mission to stopover there in winters, or so I had been warned.
The only way to reach the breathtaking Shogran is by hopping into a ferocious Potohar which is driven by trained local drivers. The base where you will find the jeeps lined up in wait of making the dangerous drive up the steep hill is called Kiwai. As I hopped into one of the jeeps, I realised just how hard and isolated life is in that part of the country where you can see nothing for miles except mountainous terrains. While we can’t imagine making hours-long trips to acquire basic amenities, yet there is a certain ease and freshness in the local residents’ behaviour and faces. Discussing this with a fellow traveller, I was left with something to think about when presented with an interesting theory. Noise pollution in big cities is a big reason behind the stress in our lives. The frustration and aggression in most of us is most definitely the result of spending years in a place that never leaves you alone with your thoughts and always keeps your senses under strain. To test the theory, spend some time among these surreal landscapes. Speaking of which, our jeep started its ascent towards the top of the hill with powerful vocals of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who finds an ardent admirer in our designated driver, to give us company while we made life-threatening turns. Not long afterwards, all the jeeps made a stop to prepare themselves some more; bundles of chains were wrapped around the front tires so that the vehicle could mount the icy road ahead without slipping. A blanket of snow at least 4feet. high and -10°C temperature welcomed its visitors, who were adventurous enough to make the trip right after the hill station had seen its first snowfall of the season.
Among other things that greeted us were buckets full of frozen water in the restrooms, unavailability of hot water and heaters, and mind-numbing cold. With the room temperature being extremely cold and fog from our breaths almost clouding the air, the rest of the two nights were unsurprisingly spent snuggled in multiple blankets. We pulled ourselves together just long enough to make a trek, however. The plan was to visit Siri Paye, but the local guide warned us against it, for if the snow around our guest house was any indication, there was going to be a lot more of it up there. Instead, he took us a little further down a path to experience garam chashma, which was ironically frozen. One of the most important things I learnt during the trip is that it might seem easier to just lay in bed to avoid feeling cold, but that is exactly what one shouldn’t do. Keeping active and being on the move actually warms you up and makes the weather bearable.
In summers, however, one can enjoy a hike, jeep or horse ride to Siri Paye, the main attraction at Shogran. Set against the magnificent Makra Peak, the Siri lake is situated at a further height of 2,590m from the hill station. Right after, one would encounter the Paye (meaning ‘high grazing ground’ in Hindko) meadows which are surrounded by the magnificent Malika Parbat, Moosa ka Musalla and the mountains of Kashmir. The most interesting one to mention here is the Moosa ka Musalla mountain, perhaps so because of the various legends behind its name. Literally translated to ‘Moosa’s prayer mat’, some say the mountain is named so after a local shepherd by the same name who used to offer daily prayers at the peak. While some maintain that the name refers to Prophet Moses. Standing at an altitude of around 4,000m at the junction of Siran and Kaghan Valleys in the Himalayas, Moosa ka Musalla houses a shrine made up of different stones, marked with colourful flags, bearing an uncanny resemblance to K2 and can be seen from places 200km away. •