Rising of the Moon: Survival Around the Maarh Peak In Nushki

Aziz Ahmed Jamali
We had traveled much in the south during 2015-16 but hardly on any trek in the Southwest Balochistan, areas that border with Afghanistan and Iran. A longstanding invitation was pending from my friends from Nushki – Doda and Jabal, both being avid travelers and trekkers. One weekend we set to explore hills near the Nushki desert, to be specific Maarh peak above Sheikh Hussain Shrine off Bato on the Quetta – Taftan Highway.
Trekking begins early morning
Bright morning en route Sheikh Hussain
Doda and his cousins proved to be real good hosts; they received us on the highway soon after we drove out of a sandstorm past Nushki. Passing through a big village and stopping by a humble yet prominent chicken shop, they led us to the two-room den at Mr. Shah Muhammad’s tubewell.  Coupled with a freshwater pond and available electricity, it was an awesome place to serve as our base camp in the foothills. Chatting over the barbeque party, the trekking plan was cooked comfortably; it was a 6 – 7 hours hike/trek including visit to Sheikh Hussain shrine, ascent to Maarh peak and return.
Hill formation as seen from Maarh Peak
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To our pleasant surprise, it was a clearer day next morning as against our fears arising due to the sandstorm we observed on previous evening. After early photography and breakfast, six of us (Azam, Doda, Jabal, Muiz, Saddam and myself) began on foot before 8 o clock. We reached Sheikh Hussain village in less than two hours after crossing a small shrine and a longer gorge.
Walking to Sheikh Hussain Shrine
Sheikh Hussain shrine

We realized that we had lost our trek. This later fact was revealed by none other than Doda who was our guide

Rock feature en route
Shiekh Hussain’s shrine boasts of two humble adobe buildings and half a dozen enchanting shisham trees, all bowing in a symmetric humility. Having enjoyed warm cups of tea at that premises, we reiterated our resolve to trek the harder hike onwards.
Sandstorm on Highway
While facing the Maarh prominence, our opinion soon divided as if the tall tower acted like a knife which cuts quick. Instead of the regular trek which our guide had in mind, I and Azam made up our mind to ascend from a different, steeper route and descend from the regular trek Doda had seen and suggested. Saddam also joined our line while Doda dissented in protest arguing that there’s least possibility of a trek from the steeper route we’re adamant to take. We insisted and set off the hard hike, very enticing I must say. We told Doda to meet, if not greet us, on the regular trek, on the way back.

We had nothing, repeat nothing to camp for the night. Night, coupled with cold desert winds, tried its best to frighten us

The hike was challenging yet interesting; and luckily the trek was marked with stones, the usual way of marking by hunters or shepherds in mountains. Doda, Jabal and Muiz kept calling us back while I kept shouting back that we’re following a clear marked trek, meaning thereby “Allow or Follow us.” In about three hours, we made it to the summit, a prominence which proudly showed us all around desert right up to Afghan boundary.
Shrine premises at Sheikh Hussain
After enjoying cool winds in warm day and making a short video and thrilling selfies, we set to descend. Surprisingly, we didn’t find Doda or Jabal on return route. We tried descending by a steep gully, again guessing from stone marks but it won’t help us exit in its last leg. Seeing the ground quite close, we shouted to locate our partners down there. Jabal heard our calls and ran closer just to tell two things: one that Doda had followed the steeper route after us, and that it was impossible to descend from the route we’ve been expecting and trying so far. By then we’re left with little more than an hour of day light and half a liter of water as we finished our last set of oranges to muster up energy for the upcoming travail.
Disappointed, we hiked up again, another hour long hasty climb, to find a very tired Doda sitting atop a prominent ledge. He was looking so dashing with crimson clouds in the background that I clicked a cover photo before even letting him know we’re coming. Doda seemed a bit disturbed as well. He revealed that he had negotiated the trek with great difficulty and without food or water. We told him not to worry and to enjoy the sunset colors. Without wasting more time, we set on the return trek but darkness overtook us before we could realize that we had lost our trek. This later fact was revealed by none other than Doda who was our guide; not a lay man but a local fellow who had seen and set this trek on google and ground. We had trekked 22 kilometers by then and finished all food and water we had; and there was no light and only night around us in a radius of 10 kilometers. We had nothing, repeat nothing to camp for the night. Night, coupled with cold desert winds, tried its best to frighten us.
Survival moment had struck us right there and thence.

Groping in the dark and following leads from Doda, Azam and Saddam made yet another hiking effort to find a trek which could let us descend into the valley we had begun from; but again in vain. Once they returned, all four of us stood together and agreed that it’s a matter of survival; we must move faster to reach any habitable place where we can hope for food, water and shelter. Then the moon began rising and shone brighter to kindle our hopes.
Performing at his best of nerves despite having exhausted energy, Doda pointed another hill saddle in a westerly direction where a way out was possible. I and Azam walked fast to that vantage point and found highway lights at a distance of 20+ kilometers though moonlight has drawbacks as well. Saddam acted as a best buddy and helped Doda walk closer behind us. Wind blew so chill and fast that it won’t let us stand and wait for the two comrades lagging behind. Since I was in a half sleeves T-shirt, Azam graciously spared his upper to me. He was wearing a shalwar qameez, full sleeves shirt.
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Doda’s compass rejuvenated as he joined us; he indicated a dry water stream that could possibly lead us out of hills into the plain. Without another thought, we followed that route, jumping and staggering at times but full of hope and resolve. Moonlight kept smiling over us and let us smile back at each obstacle we crossed successfully that night. We found stagnant water in the stream after walking for two hours. I drank it but other fellows avoided. Saddam washed his face only.

We reached the base camp around 3 am while the moon was ready to set; seemed it shined only for us to reach safe

After four hours of fast trekking, we reached a single house with an electric bulb lighting on it. Doda knocked the door and introduced himself. That angel-man offered us bread, sugar and water (what a great hospitality); and informed that the highway should be another hour long walk from that place. We doubted his estimation but trekked further in a broader stream and make it to the road in about a hundred minutes. The time was 1 am midnight by the time we hit the road.
View of the Maarh Peak
We avoided knocking at houses in villages en route feeling shy due to awkward timings; waved to the vehicles but no one stops for us at midnight. In the vicinity, dogs bark at us comfortably. We kept walking another five to six kilometers along the highway until a kind man receives us with readiness to drop us at the tubewell site, another seven kilometers from there).
Troika atop the Maarh Peak 6862 feet asl
We reach the base camp around 3 am while the moon was ready to set; seemed it shined only for us to reach safe. There we learn that Jabal had walked back a trek of 25 kilometers all alone. Muiz was there at base camp with chicken curry prepared for the meal.

We had trekked more than 45 kilometers in the wilderness for 19 hours non-stop; and the best part was we were all safe and together

Food and lessons were ready to be shared; but we fell asleep soon after eating and before tea was prepared and served.
Jabal the lone partner
Despite all faux paus, we had trekked more than 45 kilometers in the wilderness for 19 hours non-stop; and the best part was we’re all safe and together. Hence go the saying: “when going gets tough, the tough gets going”.
Writer is an officer of Pakistan Administrative Services
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