Everyone has a favourite place which he/she wants to visit again and again. Chitta Katha lake trek in Shounter valley happens to be my favorite and I like to go there as at least once a year. I call it “Explorer’s Paradise” because it offers me all the elements, from green grass to wild flowers to horses to streams to snow-clad mountains to lakes, which I seek in a trekking destination.
First time I did Chitta Katha lake trip was back in mid September 2013. Then I did this trek consecutively from 2016 to 2018. I prefer to go there in the month of August because it is that time of the year when the wild flora has fully blossomed.
I organize hiking trips to off the beaten destinations to show the beauty of such places with like minded people. In August 2018 I did Chitta Katha lake trek with a single member, Bilal Abbasi, who had come from Oman. So this particular article is about my last year’s visit to Chitta Katha lake.
Day 01: Islamabad to Shounter valley
It takes 12-13 hours from Islamabad to Kel. From previous experiences I planned my trip accordingly to make it a 4 days trip. We departed from Islamabad at midnight in my own Suzuki Alto. We reached Kel at around 3pm. We didn’t take any breaks except few very short necessary stops e.g. stops at army check posts. We did our lunch at Kel where we ate Biryani. We booked seats in Shounter bound 4×4 jeep. Since we were just 2 so we didn’t book jeep exclusively to ourselves. Jeeps go to Shounter valley at regular intervals so we were at right time in Kel to catch one on per passenger basis.
The road to Shounter is long 45km and very bumpy at the same time but the views make you forget all the discomfort. We opted to sit on top of the jeep. It was Bilal’s first such experience in the mountains of Pakistan. There were 3 locals as well hanging at the back of the jeep so Bilal kept himself busy talking to them. He was very concerned about the living conditions of people in the mountain valleys. Like he was concerned that why roads are not paved, schools are huge distances etc.
The jeep goes till Upper Domail village but we wanted to go to Shounter, the very end of the valley, so paid a little extra to the jeep driver to take us to Shounter. As we were getting close to Shounter the sun was going down. At Shounter Spoon lake I told Bilal to go to Shounter and I will get off here for a quick photo session. I jumped off the jeep and went down to Shounter Spoon lake. I was lucky to arrive right at sunset time. After capturing some shots I walked to Shounter campsite which is 15-20 minutes away from there.
From Shounter one can cross a moderate pass to cross into Astore valley. Lots of Gujjar (shepherds) use this route during spring to summer and autumn to winter transition periods.
There is a campsite at Shounter where we booked a camp for ourselves instead of erecting our own camp. It was a very long journey so we did dinner and went to sleep super fast.
Day 02: Shounter to Chitta Katha lake
The jeep driver who brought us to Shounter had stayed there. Many locals in the morning come from Astore side hence his vehicle was already overloaded with passengers. So we skipped our breakfast and sat on top of the jeep otherwise otherwise we would have to walk couple of more hours that day. This time we just needed ride till the campsite which is in front of the stream coming from Chitta Katha lake.
In half an hour we reached that campsite. I asked the campsite owner to make us breakfast and also find us a porter. Since it was grass cutting season in Shounter valley so there were not many people available to go with us on the trek. The campsite owner maanged a porter for us but it did take some time. We were ready to start our trek once we were done with breakfast and porter had arrived at campsite.
At around 9am we started our trek to Chitta Katha lake. First few minutes was descend till bridge on the roaring stream. After crossing the bridge the hike becomes very steep right from the start. I knew it was Balal’s first such hike so I kept my own pace in check. I myself like to walk slow and enjoy the scenery instead of playing racing games.
At around 11am we reached Dak-1 where there was no one. At Dak-1 there is a small village and also campsite is setup by locals but they had already closed it down. It means our only chance of doing lunch was vanished. We had brought only some dry food items with us. The idea was to travel light because reaching lake on 1 day was a tedious task. Usually I camp at Dak-1 or Dak-2 and next day I go to lake and then go back all the way to Kel.
We reached Dak-2 by 12pm. It was a bright sunny day so we were feeling the heat of the sun. As we moved towards Dak-2 campsite then all of a sudden clouds started to came in. In less than an hour it started drizzling. It was a pleasant surprise but a little scary as well. It might have created trouble for us towards the last steep hike because that section is quite muddy and there are chances of slipping down. Anyway it didn’t downpour so we hiked in a pleasant weather.
The hike from Dak-2 to Chitta Katha lake is quite steep. You see we reached Dak-2 in just 3 hours but from there it took us almost 6 hours to reach Dak-2. We reached our destination at 6pm right at the sunset time. Bilal wasn’t feeling well by end of the day so I pitched the camp so that he can rest. I made him green tea and offered him some dry food. There was no dinner and we were dead tired so after having dry food with green tea we went to sleep.
Day 03: Chitta Katha lake to Kel
We woke up to a bright sunny day. Once again I prepared green tea and ate some dry food as a breakfast. Bilal was feeling better but I wanted to give him sometime at the lake so I decided to do a round trip around the lake and told Bilal to relax and enjoy the time at the campsite.
I started my trip around Chitta Katha lake at 9am and completed at 12pm. I thought it will take me less than 3 hours but on the opposite there were too many big boulders hence it took me more than expected time. As I was nearing our little campsite the weather started to deteriorate. I wanted to fly the drone and gave it a shot but due to strong winds there was too much interference. At one moment I thought I lost the drone but luckily I got the signal and the I pressed on Return to Home option to save my drone.
In the wake of the deteriorating weather I didn’t want to waste any time so we closed our camp and started our journey back towards Kel. Luckily it didn’t shower instead we got drizzling all the way down to Shounter valley road. By 5pm we were already at Upper Domail village. Now the mission was to find a vehicle to take us to Kel. There were couple of 4×4 jeeps but those were booked by other tourists. Luckily one of the jeeps was waiting for climbers from Baltistan region, who were there to search for the 3 climbers who had gone missing while climbing Sarwali peak back in 2015, so I requested them if they can let us ride with them. He accepted our request gleefully and we were now on our way to Kel.
By sunset we reached Kel after once again through a bumpy road. We booked us a room in a hotel. After dinner we called it a night because next day we had to drive long way back to Islamabad.
Day 04: Kel to Islamabad
We skipped our breakfast at Kel and started our return journey towards Islamabad early in the morning. We did our breakfast at Sharda and then resumed the road trip. We did our lunch at Muzaffarabad and reached Islamabad around 8pm.
It was a quick trip but good to be back in one of my favorite places of northern areas of Pakistan.
Usually I prefer to do Chitta Katha lake trek in 5 days. Following is the itinerary of 5 days trip which I prefer:
- Leave Islamabad for Kel at midnight, reach Kel, book 4×4 jeeps to depart for Shounter. Night stay in camps at Shounter.
- Explore Shounter Spoon lake and then start trek towards Dak-1/Dak-2. Night stay in camps at Dak-1/Dak-2.
- Hike to Chitta Katha lake, night stay in camps at lake side.
- Hike down to Upper Domail, ride in 4×4 jeeps to Kel. If we reach early at Kel then make a quick trip to Arang Kel. Night stay in hotel at Kel.
- Leave early morning for Islamabad
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