High altitude Goat pastures of Kashmir are themselves excellent sites for adventure and travel in Pakistan. This trip usually starts with walking on a steep ascent and then graduates into a combination of rock climbing and grazing rock faces on narrow ledges.
Therefore, mountain pastures are exclusively for hardened travelers.
The last time I visited the “Baik (meaning pasture in the Gojri language)” in Neelum Valley, an old man said, “These city folks can’t climb this high, it’s dangerous and too unhospitable. Are you crazy to take him there?” I went anyway, and – I wasn’t disappointed.
The Baik of Neelum valley are usually at 3800 m above Sea level and this is the ideal height that everyone can’t get to and the views are breathtaking.
The sun shines a golden hue here, the atmosphere is clean and the flower scent is strong.
The Gojri Bakarwaal people of Kashmir take their livestock to these high-altitude grazing lands late in February and return in September before the first snowfall.
This means that the lady of the house is usually missing for at least 8 months from their winter home that is down below the newly settled town of Sharda, Neelum.
When I started climbing toward the Baik called “Keema,” just behind Sharda, I was told it was a 3-hour journey. It was at least a 4-h climb to the top.
This pasture is called Keema (meaning minced meat in Urdu) because any livestock that falls from the plentiful cliffs on this mountain range usually ends up looking like minced meat.
I started at 9 am and climbed 1.5hours to the first rest spot, the village of Maytan wali Seri.
The village was founded by a mohair from Indian-occupied Kashmir and is one of the most idyllic sites in Sharda. The crudely straightened wooden board and structures just look so alien. Especially, since no one can afford them in the real world.
Making many kids is a favorite pastime of these Sheppard families Gujjar and bakarwaal and this village had at least 8 per family, some with multiple wives. With high death rates among kids, and no obligation to educate or spend on health, every man strives to make as many kids as humanly possible.
As an example of the high incidence of deaths, a sudden Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOC) in 2018 killed 28 men, women, and children at maytan wali Seri village when a tall wave of snow and rock came hurtling down from the mountainside.
I loved the tasty red apples and sweet corn in this village, though.
Close to the top of the mountain is a 50-foot rock face that needs to be climbed by clutching loose protruding stones on the mountain wall. That part was scary.
The good thing is that I never look down at the scary parts, what’s the point? If I do fall, I’ll surely discover how high I was.
The climb was relentless and when I got to the top, It was already near sunset.
The little Sheppard’s village at the Baik was made of stones and tree logs and the women there welcomed me with friendly smiles and jugs of fresh milk
There was no electricity or gas, but there was plenty of freshwater spring around.
Living amongst these Sheppard families, I came to realize how much less is required to live a decent life.
The women and their children had none of the trappings and pre-imagined insecurities that city girls annoyingly have. The funny part is that Kashmir women are a lot prettier than the girls I see in Islamabad.
The women required no burqa and were welcoming and upfront. These women knew their boundaries and worked hard to keep the house running.
It is this artificial city life that is destroying the biological and social fabric of the people.
At night it rained hard and we had a huge hearth burning all night long. The family I bunked with was kind enough to give me their best bedding, and I slept in the same room with the whole family.
Their diet was composed of everything made of milk, fresh vegetables, Ghee, yogurt, and Corn.
In the morning I ventured to the corner of the tiny ledge and peered deep into Indian Held Territory.
The sight was so beautiful, I am astonished that more people don’t visit these places. Then I realized that is because it is expensive to come here and annoying to pass through checkpoints.
There are even more meadows at the top, but getting there requires an additional hike of 1 h, which I had no energy for.
For the more adventurous, the route back can be made through Dudnyal on the Neelum Road.
On the way back, I realized how unsuited I am to these high altitude conditions, as the locals would prance over nonexistent tracks, which required me to muster courage from the deepest recesses.
There are very few mountain cats and a few brown bears left in the mountains as illegal logging has destroyed their habitat.
I wish the government would restrict people to few-designated areas and let nature grow back.
FAQs on High Altitude Baik Pastures in Kashmir
How to get there?
You can take your car to Sharda and park it in the town at a guest house. It takes 9 h to drive to Sharda from Islamabad.
When to go to these pastures?
March to September is the best time to go there as the weather is bearable.
Why go to Sharda pastures?
There are a few high-altitude (4000 m) peaks around Sharda like Manarda and Noori Top that are worth seeing. Then there are quite a few lakes like Ratti Gali, Patlian, and Shonter lakes that are worth seeing.
Also see, places to see in Neelum Valley
How much will it cost to stay one day in these high-altitude pastures of Kashmir?
It would cost you around Rs 37000 per night to be there.
Staying at the Baik high altitude pastures is essential to get a feel of the Shepard life in Kashmir and see all around Neelum Valley, including the part with India.
I can arrange your stay in Sheppard’s hut too.