TATOO is a sleepy village which can only be accessed by a very narrow and dangerous jeep track from the RAIKOT Bridge on the Kara Kuram Highway which is 540 kms, from Islamabad and 75 kms, from Gilgit.
To get to this village you have to leave / park your vehicle at the RAIKOT Bridge in the parking lot. Here you must haggle with the parking attendant about the parking fee / day as you may come into a big surprise when you come back to reclaim your vehicle.
A unique Queue system prevails in the hiring of the jeeps in the order of seniority.
A very strong cartel is in force here which you should not try to break or manipulate as they have a very strong unity and your efforts will be futile if you try to haggle or lower the prices.
These jeeps are old 1948, American Vintage Refurbished MK 48 – A1/CJ7, which can easily accommodate seven persons including driver but be sure to carry light baggage as you will be choking yourself for leg space in case you carry excess baggage.
The journey from RAI KOT Bridge to TATOO Village is one hell of an experience of a life time and those who have not experienced this must put it on priority number one on their list of things to do on their next family outing.
RAI KOT is at a height of 2900 feet, and the next fifteen minutes the drive is on a gradual gentle incline with plateau like ascending climb in a typical S-bend fashion. Once you have gained about 700 / 800 feet, then the road becomes a single narrow dirt track with steep rise of mountains on the right side and sheer drop of thousands of feet on the left side. Those with weak hearts and agoraphobia should avoid setting on the left side of the jeep as the ravines & crevices are more than 3000 to 4000 feet deep at places and may give you vertigo.
This reminded me of my good old army day’s way back in 1976, while working with the corps of engineers on Skurdu Road, I was stationed at SHAHBATOOT village and had to traverse even more dangerous road from my battalion headquarters to ASMANI MORH about 15 kms, away every day.
Two of my fellow trekkers BILAL & RAUF were not used to such adrenaline rush, thrilling / adventurous ride so I told them to sit on the right side and keep their eyes closed.
After traversing 4, miles or so you start a steep climb on an incline gradient of 35 degrees or more, where the jeep has to constantly move in the first and second gear and off and on one has to engage the four wheel drive.
As you continue with the climb you will notice that you are dwarfing some of the peaks and other jeeps at distance following you down below look like dinky cars.
The hazards and difficulties encountered in this adrenaline rush drive can only be felt and experienced it is difficult to describe it in words and just to have an immediate sitting experience of this ride have a motion ride in one of the CINEPAX THEATERS of Pakistan.
The road is so narrow, winding uneven, dilapidated that in case you encounter another jeep coming from the opposite direction that the two cannot cross and one of them has to reverse for quite a distance till you come to a lay bye or a turning which allows the crossing to take place.
The road is closed from October to mid April every year due to heavy snow, land slides and torrential rains which washes away the vantage points of the road especially at the bends and turnings because of the downpour on the hills which cascades into mudslides.
Major portion of the road is built on retaining walls and make shift culverts whereas the accompanying water drains are very occasionally found. Hence odd portions of the road are easily swept away by even a mild down pour.
The local people speak SHINAH which is their native language and is spoken from KOHAR valley near SHANDOOR to the edge of ASMANI MORH on the GILGIT SKURDU road.
The SHINAH speaking people comprise of the following sub tribes Shinds, Yash Kun, Gujjar, Dome and Kamin.
The town people of TATOO, JAIL and FAIRY MEADOWS village, pool together their resources and manpower and form a team of 16 – 20 persons who work on the opening of the road from early April and complete it by end of April well a head of the tourist season which starts from the 1st week of May every year..
This is a classical example of corporate social responsibility and the locals take pride in owning and maintaining the road. The loyalty to the road and its maintenance by the village folks is to such an extreme extent that no outsider jeep driver can dare to enter or compete with the locals or break their cartel.
The next 30 minutes your adrenaline rush is at its peak and you can feel your heart coming in your mouth, your hair standing on its edge and your goose pimples become goose bumps.
In case you are not accustomed to such rides then you have three options stay at home in the comfort of you room and forget this saying hung in my commando’s school in Cherat THOSE WHO DARE LIFE HAS A CHALLENGE WHICH THE SHELTERED NEVER ENJOY.
Secondly keep your eyes closed during the ride or thirdly enjoy the sheer thrill excitement of this jeep ride which you will never forget for a long time to come.
You long for the 3-D motion ride to end as soon as possible but you are now in for a bigger surprise as this jeep rides end at the broken bridge just short of the TATOO Village.
In the local language TATOO means HOT because of the hot sulphur springs which are found in abundance in the area. Another very important feature of this village is that there is hydel generation as small turbines have been installed with the help of a local N.G.O and the villagers enjoy free electricity…………Of course a hot bath in winters from the sulphur springs…….
At the far end of the broken bridge you disembark and carry your luggage over a small track which by passes the bridge along the side of the mountain over a deep ravine about 8 feet wide over which the locals have placed wooden planks to make a make shift bridge. Make sure you don’t lose your balance and bearing over the gorge lest you become part of history.
This bridge is the missing link between TATOO Village and JAIL Village (Local Meaning jungle) from where the trek to the fairy meadows starts which is at the height of 3200 meters from where you can have an enchanting view of the Nanga Parbat at the height 8126 m (26660 ft) and is ranked as the 9th highest peak in the world. We camped at the Jail village for the night as it was not advisable to go further in the dark. The smaller heights over looking our wooden hut are BATRAIT BEZAR and the TOI NALLAGH passes on the right of the encampment.
This bridge was washed away by the floods of 2010, and since then has not been rebuilt because of the apathy callousness of the local administration. The locals do not have the requisite expertise / finances to reconstruct this bridge on their own. …………..Lo and be hold an Angel of GOD in the form of an N.G.O from Lahore has volunteered to reconstruct this bridge again. As you can see from the pictures that the abutment of the bridge made of wooden beams projection have been completed in a forward Z - shaped load bearing technique, which thus reduces the main span of the bridge and the main bridge will be launched on these abutments like the good old Bailey bridge.
On my return journey to TATOO Village Bridge from the Fairy Meadows I saw that the work on the completion of the bridge has not been started as yet.
On my enquiry I was told that the first batch of the N.G.O’s party had completed its work and gone back to Lahore and the arrival of the second batch is awaited to complete the bridge.,
Till the time of my writing of this article the bridge has not been completed and this broken bridge is the missing link between TATOO and the JAIL village. From the far side of the broken bridge there is another jeep which is waiting to take you to JAIL village which is about four miles away.
The nation as a whole can take a lesson or two from the team work and collective corporate social responsibility from these simple village folks.
In the history of nations many bridges are washed away but the proud, patriotic and nationalistic spirit of the people keeps the flame of hope alive and burning in the hearts of the citizens and the press onwards to repair these bridges as soon as possible.
DR. BABUR ZAHIRUDDIN