My quest for the remoteness, solitude and less explored wilderness has been taking me to Chitral more frequently lately. It started with a trip to TrichMir basecamp from Shabronz in 2016. The trip raised my interest in the region. The interest made me work on a new route between Golen Gol and Bashkar Gol the following year and we eventually did Shaichiku Pass trek crossing from Golen and ending up in Kumrat. The same quest has taken me to the remote Rich Gol and Yarkhun valleys this year.
I first heard of Shah Jinali when we did Karomver lake trek back in 2009. This name has remained in my list of to-dos since then. This year’s initial plan was to cross Haramosh Pass that we couldn’t do in 2013 because of extreme bad weather at the base camp. However, as my regular trekking fellows didn’t seem to be available for trek in August, I started looking for some low altitude trekking options (below 5000m) in Chitral, and Shah Jinali came as the first thing in mind. As I had around 10 days in total, I looked for possible options that I can combine with Shah Jinali. After going through the guide books of Isobel Shaw and John Mock, Thui Pass seemed like one good option, and so I locked Shah Jinali combined with Thui Pass as the trek for 2019. The initial plan was to go solo this year enjoying the absolute freedom. However, Babar and Haroon later showed their interest in joining and so a group of three was formed. We decided to leave on the 2nd day of Eid thus availing Eid vacations as well. Babar is our regular trekking fellow from Mardan. We were counting the other day and together, we have probably done 10 treks or so including some short ones. Haroon was the new joiner and this was his first trek with us. Being Dr. Zia’s nephew is in itself a good introduction to start with, however he has Ghondogoro and Mingliksir to his credit thus making him a good addition for the trek.
We took 8 PM bus from Pirwadhai for Chitral on the second day of Eid, picked Babar from Mardan and reached Chitral early in the morning around 7 AM. As it was still an Eid day, shops and hotels seemed mostly to be closed. We were tired and were looking for some hours of sleep before we could find possible transportation for Torkho. We started looking for a hotel. We found one staff guy in the Mountain Inn hotel who generously let us in for a few hours rest in a room and served delicious breakfast too while rest of the hotel was still closed. After some rest, we went to the jeep stop to find potential transport for Torkho. We were told there was no chance of getting regular jeep for Rich so we decided to go and try our luck from Buni. Upon reaching Buni, we found the situation so be same so we picked our bags and reached Anwar’s guest house – White Rock Guest House. This is our favorite and recommended place to stay in Buni. With Anwar’s friendliness, this makes the stay a special one. Next day, we were able to find a jeep that came down from Rich. However, as there were not many people going up, we had to partially hire the jeep at 5000 Rs. From Buni, travel time to Rua is 4-5 hours on a bumpy jeepable road. Shah Jinali trek starts from Rua, the last permanent settlement on the Rich valley.
Shah Jinali trek in the upper Chitral region is a beautiful alpine trek near Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor. It connects Rich Gol valley with Yarkhun. This trek can be done in either direction starting from Rich or Yarkhun. As we had to combine this trek with Thui Pass, the natural choice was to start from Rich Gol valley and end up eventually in Yasin. Rich valley is the continuation of Torkho valley, North of Buni. The lower part of the valley is called at Torkho while upper part which is more wide and greener is called as Rich Gol.
Arranging porters from Rua turned out to be a very complicated. As we were already in Rua, we had to arrange something from here. It turned out to be a very hard bargain as unlike the general Chitrali folks, people we got struck with were rude and very non-flexible. They were demanding rates way above what porters charge generally elsewhere. They even signaled not to allow porters from any other village if we decide to do so. We ended up giving in to their demands as we didn’t have much choice. Their attitude during the trek was also complaining and non-friendly mostly. Based on the experience, I will recommend arranging porters before Rua somewhere around Rich instead. Jeep road goes well beyond Rua so maybe an ideal situation would be to hire porters from Rich village and camp ahead of Rua where the jeep road ends.
Day1: Rua to Dershal
Rua village is at an altitude of around 2900m. The starting couple hours are a plain walk along the Shah Jinali river. After about an hour, there is a wooden bridge needs to be crossed to reach true left bank of the river. After another 30 minutes of walk, there is a possible campsite along a big boulder. Trek continues from that point for another 15-20 minutes before turning right on an ascended slope in a narrow gorge. A small fresh water stream comes along the way. After a little more walk uphill, there is a natural glacier bridge to take one to the true right bank of Shah Jinali river again. Trek continues and opens up a little after some time as it passes through bushes and Juniper trees. Dershal (3300m), across a wooden bridge is reached after a total walk of 6-7 hours from Rua. Dershal is a summer settlement where locals have built small huts. These huts can be used for cooking and a comfortable night stay.
Day2: Dershal to Shah Garhi
This is a relatively easier day if one decides to stay at Shah Garhi which is few hours from Dershal. There is a challenge of crossing thick forest on the way where keeping up with the main path can becomes tricky. Traversing the bushes if one is not on the main trail becomes real hassle. A little beyond the forest is Shah Garhi. It is beautiful grassy patch among knee deep flowers and grass. Camping is possible along abandoned stone settlements. We decided to continue however onwards to Shah Jinali and from there to Ishporodok where we camped for the night. It is however recommended not to stretch this long and stay either at Shah Garhi or Shah Jinali.
Day3: Shah Garhi to Ishporodok
From Shah Garhi, trek ascends gradually to Shah Jinali meadows. Grassy path and amazing panoramic views doesn’t let one get tired. Shah Jinali top is a vast and beautiful stretch of green are many possible campsites at Shah Jinali if one decides to keep the trek within 3 days. Actual pass at around 4100m is marked by stone cairns at the end of plateau. From there, it is a gentle descend of 60-90 minutes up to the summer settlement of Ishporodok. Villagers from Yashkisht and Shusht come here with their livestock during the summer months.
Day4: Ishporodok to Yashkisht
From Ishporodok, one can descend to Yashkisht or Shust in 4-5 hours. Trek descends steeply till a permanent bridge. From the bridge, there is another 150m steep ascend which is the last hurdle before reaching back to the population. Another 30 minutes from the top is Yashkisht village followed by Shusht. Jeeps can be hired from Shusht for Mastuj. Otherwise, public jeeps leave only early in the morning.