Fairy Meadows is a classic stop on any Pakistani travel itinerary. This is one of the most incredible places in the country, and chances are it’s how most people discover Pakistan in the first place.
Luckily, Fairy Meadows is also one of the most accessible locations in all of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. Lots of people visit here throughout the course of the year and the infrastructure is built up enough that visiting is possible for all travelers.
You will, of course, have to stomach a white-knuckle jeep ride first and then hike up to Fairy Meadows yourself afterward. Despite being relatively “convenient” to visit, Fairy Meadows still requires some work.
This is still Pakistan after all.
In this guide, I will cover everything that you need to know in order to visit Fairy Meadows, including but not limited to where to stay, how to get there, what to bring, and what to do when you arrive. Of course, I will be covering (briefly) the hike up to the epic Nanga Parbat Base Camp as well.
Enough with the introductions – let’s do this!
What is Fairy Meadows?
Google “most beautiful places in Pakistan” and, most likely, the first results will be Fairy Meadows. This green plateau, perched delicately below the enormous Nanga Parbat, is unlike any other place in the world. Words cannot describe how beautiful this area actually is.
Though Fairy Meadows was inhabited before becoming a tourist destination, it didn’t have such an enchanting name until the legendary Herman Buhl and his German climbing compatriots arrived in the 1950s. Upon seeing it, they called this place Märchenwiese, which translates as, unsurprisingly, “Fairy Meadows.”
Fairy Meadows is defined by its lush vegetation and close proximity to both the Karakoram Highway and Nanga Parbat. Down below, in the Indus Valley, dust storms are kicked up by frenetic truck drivers bound for China, whilst up above, the cold, lifeless slopes of Nanga Parbat loom 8,000 meters above. Smack dab between these two landscapes is Fairy Meadows – an oasis of pine trees, miniature lakes, and gentle pastures.
The Germans, who were using the area as a base camp, were right to settle in Fairy Meadows. At 3300 meters high, the location is extremely pleasant climatically and makes for the perfect base to relax at whilst planning excursions to Nanga Parbat (but that’s a whole different story).
Nowadays, Fairy Meadows is practically a right of passage for those traveling in Pakistan, both foreign and local. At some point, everyone comes to stay in a log cabin for a few days and to pay respect to the “Killer Mountain”. I’ve been there four times now and every time is a treat for me – I just can’t get enough of the place.
Besides, the crazy jeep ride up to the meadows is worth the trip alone!
When to Visit Fairy Meadows
Fairy Meadows can be visited from April-October. The best months though are April-May and September-October. These are the shoulder months, which means that there will be far fewer Pakistani tourists and prices will be much lower.
Visiting Fairy Meadows from June-August is totally fine, you just need to know that it will be quite busy during this time. This is when Punjabis and Sindhis go on holiday and being one of the most popular places to visit in Pakistan, Fairy Meadows can get crowded. Temperatures are comfortable in the summer although Raikot Bridge and the valley can be an oven.
If you plan on visiting during the shoulder months, be aware that it will be much colder and that snow is a definite possibility. In April, there was a bit of a freak storm at Fairy Meadows and people were hiking in waist-deep snow past Beyal Camp. So be prepared.
If you REALLY want to be alone in Fairy Meadows, try visiting during Ramadan. Most Pakistanis are pretty docile during the holiday and aren’t traveling much. Keep in mind though that traveling during Ramadan comes with its own logistical problems.
Packing the Right Gear
Fairy Meadows isn’t a base camp; it is a touristy area with cabins, tuk shops, and even a “resort”. As such, you don’t necessarily need to pack like you’re going totally off the grid.
Take warm clothes with you, regardless if it’s peak or shoulder season, as well as a few recreational items, like a camera, Kindle, card game, etc. A good 35-40 liter daypack will be more than enough in most cases.
Unless you plan on camping on your own, you won’t need a tent, sleeping pad, or kitchen either. The lodges at Fairy Meadows all handle the food and bedding. You might want to bring a sleeping bag still as sometimes the blankets provided by lodges aren’t up to par.
Wherever I travel, there are always a few items that I always take with me. Here are the essential items that I pack.
How to Get to Fairy Meadows
Your first goal is to make it to the northern province of Gilgit-Baltistan. Once there, Raikot Bridge is easily accessible.
There are a couple of ways to reach Gilgit-Baltistan.
The first option is by flying. Gilgit is the busiest airport – there are three flights per day from Islamabad. These flights are fairly reliable, and by that I mean there’s a 60% chance they take off. One-way tickets usually cost around $100.
From Gilgit, it’s a two-hour drive to Raikot Bridge.
Flying is most convenient for those who don’t want to deal with driving on the KKH. Whilst the KKH can be extremely beautiful it can also be just as frustrating. Landslides occur on a regular basis and these can cause delays of hours or even days.
The other option is to drive, either by public or private transport.
If you opt for public transport, which is by far the cheapest choice, then you will take the KKH via Besham. If everything goes well, you should arrive at Raikot Bridge in 16-18 hours. Most likely though, there will be hiccups and subsequent delays, such as being late to the KPK border and having to sleep there overnight or being stuck behind one of the aforementioned landslides.
TL;DR only take the bus to Gilgit-Baltistan if you have a lot of time and patience on your hands.
The better option is to go private. A shared taxi should only cost around 4000 rupees and is far quicker and more comfortable. You can also travel via Babusar Top, which, in my opinion, is nicer than the KKH. Ask your hotel in Islamabad or go to the bus station in Pindi to arrange a shared taxi.
It is also possible to drive yourself, usually by motorbike. Driving in Pakistan is a whole other beast though and requires serious consideration before doing. Read more on the subject of driving safely in Pakistan here.
Step 1: Travel to Raikot Bridge
Once you’ve decided on your mode of transport, you just need to get to Raikot Bridge.
From Gilgit, it’s a two hour-drive to Raikot Bridge. You can either take a NATCO bus or arrange a taxi. If you can spare the 1000 rupee for the taxi, take one.
If you’re coming from the south via Besham, then you will pass through Chilas first before arriving at Raikot Bridge. If you’re traveling via Babusar, then you will intersect the KKH just after Chilas. It’s about a 2-hour drive to Raikot in both cases.
Before arriving at Raikot Bridge, make sure the driver knows that you want to get off there – he should accommodate you.
True to its name, Raikot Bridge is pretty much just a big bridge with a couple of guesthouses around. There’s nothing to do here except catching a jeep up to Fairy Meadows. If you arrive late and need a place to crash, Raikot Gazebo is a good choice.
INSIDER TIP: There are little to no decent tuk shops or restaurants between Chilas and Raikot Bridge. Take snacks with you during this portion just in case you’re delayed. This stretch, especially around Tatta Pani, is notorious for landslides.
Step 2: Take the world’s scariest jeep ride
Often touted as one of if not THE most dangerous roads in the world, the jeep track from Raikot Bridge to the Fairy Meadows is not for the faint of heart. Featuring death-defying drops, hairline corners, and almost nothing in the way of protection, this road is, for a lack of better words, absolutely nuts.
Despite its reputation, the road is still relatively safe. The track, believe it or not, was widened some time ago, after which there were fewer accidents. The drivers are absolute pros as well – these guys practically live, eat, and sleep inside their jeeps seven days a week.
From Raikot Bridge, you will see the line of jeeps on the side of the road. The going rate is a steep 8,000 rupee per jeep. Of course, you can split the costs of the jeep between 4-5 people. If you’re less than that, you can wait for others to show up and combine forces.
Shoestring travelers who think they skip the jeep ride: don’t try to. You’ll almost assuredly be stopped at some point by either the police or a jeep. The drivers don’t appreciate people trying to cheat the system and have an iron grip on the way up to Fairy Meadows. Unless the road is damaged – in which case you’ll have no choice other than to walk – you’ll have to bite the bullet and pay for the ride up.
The drive up to the Fairy Meadows trailhead is around 2 hours. Daredevils should sit on the lefthand side for the gnarliest views of the road.
One last thing: you’ll also be assigned a police escort before leaving Raikot Bridge. This is just a precaution and shouldn’t be taken as a sign of danger. The Pakistani government just wants to make sure that all foreign visitors are 100% safe.
Chances are the officer will assist you throughout the duration of your stay as well. If he does a good job, feel free to tip him 500 rupees.
Step 3: Hike to Fairy Meadows
Jeeps will drop you off about 10 minutes beyond the village of Tattu in a parking area. Before you leave the driver, make sure you relay to him your expected date and time of return; the more exact the better. Take his information as well, including name, phone number, and maybe even a picture, just to be on the safe side. This is your ride back to Raikot Bridge.
After the parking area, you will walk about 5 minutes before reaching a teahouse, crossing a stream along the way. This is the beginning of the hike up to Fairy Meadows. It’s also where people can arrange horse porters.
Horses are commonly used as pack animals on the trail to Fairy Meadows. Owners will charge people by the kilo to carry gear up, at a rate of 150 rupee per kilo. If you want to ride the horse up, the rate is 1500 rupee one way or 2500 round trip.
In all honestly, I don’t recommend using horses at all, either as a porter or a ride. For one thing, the horses are treated very poorly and have become quite ill-tempered because of this. For another, it’s best not to support such treatment of animals.
Ultimately, the hike up to Fairy Meadows isn’t that bad either. The trail is 5 km long and has 700 meters of altitude gain. It takes between 2-3 hours to complete.
The first half of the trail is along the wall of the canyon and is mostly exposed. There are no real steep bits. If you’re walking at midday during summer, the trail can be very hot though.
Once you reach the misleadingly named Midway Hotel, you’re more than halfway.
The rest of the trail is through some lovely, shady pine forest. After about 30 minutes, you will start gaining elevation more rapidly. Eventually, to your right, there will be a steep section referred to as the ‘Local Way’. If you don’t want to deal with it, you can skip it and take a much gentler switchback, referred to as the ‘Horse Way’, up ahead.
At this point, you will have almost reached Fairy Meadows. Continue along the ridgeline until you reach a creek. Just beyond, there is another steep local path that takes you up right behind the Greenland Guesthouse. Otherwise, continue forward until you reach Raikot Serai.
Welcome to Fairy Meadows!
Where to Stay in Fairy Meadows
Upon completing the hike to Fairy Meadows, all that’s left to do is to find your lodge. Unless you made reservations beforehand, feel free to wander around and look for a place to stay.
You’ll notice immediately that there is actually a lot of accommodation options at Fairy Meadows, half of which appear to be in a permanent state of construction. The lodging area extends from the Shambala Resort next to the pond to Fairy Meadows Cottages south.
The average cost of a room at Fairy Meadows is between 2000-3000 rupee. The Raikot Serai is without a doubt the most expensive place and costs 7000 rupee for one night.
I’d recommend staying at the Greenland Hotel. The rooms are comfortable, everything is made of wood, and views of Nanga Parbat are some of the best. The owners are also quite accommodating and the camp cook, Marouf, makes hands-down the best food in Fairy Meadows.
The price of a room at Greenland Hotel is 2000 per night. Meals are 500 rupee. The hotel is easy to spot these days too as it’s right next to the new cellphone tower. There is electricity and hot water upon request.
Don’t do this: walk into the kitchen singing “Marouf, Marouf, Marouf is on fiiiirrree.” He hates it when I do that, I’m sure.
It is also possible to sleep at Beyal Camp, about two hours’ walk from Fairy Meadows. Beyal is a much, much quieter option. Inquire ahead of time if accommodation is available and DON’T camp there without asking permission first.
The cheapest way to sleep at Fairy Meadows would be to camp. You would of course need to pack all your own gear up though.
Things to Do at Fairy Meadows
What is there to do once you finish the hike up to Fairy Meadows? Try one of these activities below:
1. Hike to Nanga Parbat Base Camp
Aside from the glorious views of the mountain, this is the #1 reason to visit Fairy Meadows. Nanga Parbat Base Camp is one of the best day hikes in Pakistan and should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
The hike itself can take anywhere from 5-8 hours depending on the strength of the group and the condition of the trail. It is roughly 9 km long and gains 700 meters. The trail is an out-and-back, which means you’ll return the way you came.
The first half of the trek is pretty easy as you’re mostly walking through meadows. After two hours, you’ll arrive at Beyal Camp, where you can have tea and lunch on the return trip. Another hour and you’ll be at the halfway point aka The Viewpoint.
The other half is tougher and features a bit of glacial hiking. If the weather has been bad, the trail might actually be washed out, which is a good reason to have a local guide with you. DON’T RELY JUST ON MAPS.ME – people have gotten lost doing this.
The last bit is a steep slog up a hill at the top of which is Nanga Parbat Base Camp.
Once you reach the base camp, you’ll be almost directly in front of the 8,126-meter mountain. Nanga Parbat stares down in almost disregarding fashion, like a giant too big to notice such tiny creatures. Gawk at the terrifying Raikot Face, scarred by countless crevasses and seracs, and admire the terrifying beauty of this mountain.
2. Play a game of cricket or volley
There is a large open field in the middle of Fairy Meadows that acts as a meeting place of sorts. Here, Pakistani tourists and locals gather to socialize, play volleyball, and, most importantly, cricket.
If you haven’t already noticed while traveling in Pakistan, the people are CRAZY for cricket. After Islam, the game is arguably the second most practiced religion in the country. If Pakistanis have time to kill, they’re probably searching for a pickup game.
Pakistanis also love to share their national pastime with foreigners. If you wander up to the field and hang around long enough (15 seconds), they’ll eventually ask if you want to join. Please do! Cricket is a helluva lot of fun. You may get the overly zealous player yelling something about the rules but that’s all a part of the game.
3. Find Reflection Pond
Normally, a pond wouldn’t excite me so much, but this particular puddle is special. Special because it features arguably the best view of Nanga Parbat in all of Fairy Meadows.
The nameless pond in question is located behind the cricket field and next to the Shambala Resort. It’s easy to miss from a distance but once you spot the canal the pond’s location is pretty obvious.
This spot will appeal to just about everyone but photographers will be particularly fond of it. That’s because Nanga Parbat reflects perfectly in the water and this reflection makes for a damn pretty photo.
Reflection Pond is best at sunrise. Do yourself a favor: walk up the cricket field before the sun has risen and make way for the pond. Whatever you do, don’t look back! Only once you’ve reached the pond and rounded it should you turn to look. You will be greeted with probably the best views of your life: Nanga Parbat, lit up by the sunrise, in all its morning glory.
4. Just chill out
Worst comes to worst, Fairy Meadows is a great place to just do nothing. I’ve been there four times now and always set aside one day for relaxing. That means reading a book, taking copious naps, hanging out in the kitchen, whatever feels most leisurely at the time.
Hell, with the new cellphone tower installed near Greenland, you may even have enough data to stream Netflix! (Don’t actually watch movies while you’re staying in Fairy Meadows. What a waste that would be…)
5. Walk to the Old Reception Point
This is a short, pleasant walk to a viewpoint that faces north in the opposite direction of Nanga Parbat. It is locally referred to as ‘Reception Point’ due to the fact that it used to be the only place in Fairy Meadows you could find cell service (until the cellphone tower was installed).
These days there are not so many Pakistanis pacing around and talking on the phone, but the scenery is still great. From here, you have excellent views of the valley and of the 7800-meter-high Rakaposhi, nearly 100 km away in Hunza.
You may also notice another village down in the valley below. It is possible to walk there although the residents may not be receptive to outsiders. The people that live in the area like to keep to themselves and usually don’t like tourists invading their personal space.
Update October 2021: In the past, having any sort of real phone signal was not possible at Fairy Meadows. Thanks to a new (and massive) SCOM tower, there is now 4G signal here. Frankly, it is a bit of a shame since FM used to be a refuge away from internet distractions. Such are these changing times though.
6. Have a bonfire
Just about every single lodge at Fairy Meadows has some sort of pit where they put on nightly bonfires. This is a great opportunity to mingle and meet some fellow travelers. Most likely they will be from Lahore or Karachi, which means, most likely, they will want to dance. Punjabi dance parties at Fairy Meadows are mandatory folks.
This is also a good opportunity to just sit and contemplate life. Think about how far you’ve come: you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the most beautiful countries in the world; ponder on how fortunate you are.
If managed to sneak some whiskey into the country or find a bootlegger back in the city, even better. Just remember to drink inconspicuously.
Being Respectful at Fairy Meadows
Due to its beauty and ease of access, Fairy Meadows is a rightfully popular place. Even though it can feel a bit crowded at times, I still recommend that everyone traveling in Pakistan be sure and drop by.
But popularity does come with some baggage. Overcrowding leads to demand and demand often puts pressure on both the local community and the local ecosystem. To put it bluntly: local Astorees are not always thrilled to have their land trampled on by tourists but they do see the value in letting people visit, so long as they’re respectful.
To ensure you have the best time possible while visiting Fairy Meadows, keep the following in mind:
- Astore people are more among the most conservative in Gilgit-Baltistan, although not quite as much as those from Chilas. This conservatism is most obvious by the fact that there are next to no women visible anywhere in Fairy Meadows. Most of them are hidden away. If you see a local woman, just don’t engage as the situation will quickly become awkward.
- Women do walk around the edges of Fairy Meadows, mostly in the morning and evening. If some are walking around, avoid taking pictures. Photographing women in Astore is often considered very rude.
- Avoid walking into the local villages. There is a delicate balance between life and tourism up here and it works by respecting boundaries.
- The local men can be a bit aggressive around foreign women. If a local guy is getting in your space, ladies, just politely tell them to go away; they’ll listen. Otherwise, if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. This is the key to traveling safely in Pakistan as a woman.
- Fairy Meadows is remarkably clean by Pakistan standards. Help keep it that way by cleaning up after yourself.