A visit to the Devil’s Corner

Aftab Ahmad takes us to the bewitching, aptly-named Shaitangoot lake

A visit to the Devil’s Corner
Mountains, rivers, lakes and woods have always frightened or charmed man. In retaliation, man has woven a great deal of myths around them. Whether it is the Himalaya, Alps, Karakorum or Hindu Kush peaks or the rivers that flow from the glaciers up there, they have influenced the worldview of human beings. We have developed a number of legends and myths associated with their charm. Every fascinating peak has stories related to its height, fright or charm; and the same is true for every lake.

The northern indigenous communities of Pakistan tell many ancient folk stories which tell of fairies, demons, fairy kings, demon kings or jinn having their kingdoms in their mountainous homeland. One such area is Kohistan, in Swat.

Here we have abundant natural beauty with idyllic pastures, peaks, streams and gorges. Many of the famous lakes of the area are now well known to nature lovers and trekkers, thanks to photo travelogues and social media. The famous lakes here are: Kandol lake, Mahudand lake, Bishigram lake, Daral lake, Saidgai lake and Gader lake.

Goats grazing in one of the pastures in Kedam valley
Goats grazing in one of the pastures in Kedam valley

Local herders say there is a large golden bowl in the centre of the lake that can only be seen by the most pious

One lake that is not known much to outsiders is the Shaitangoot Lake i.e. the Devil’s Corner Lake, where I made a short sojourn this August.

Imagine the time when hill stations such as Bahrain, Kalam, Madyan and others used to be pastures - a century ago. Now because of human habitation, population growth and accessibility, these places have virtually become towns. I think it is fortunate that a majority of domestic Pakistani tourists still cherish visiting these places as they might still be pastures for these dwellers of heated, polluted and populated cities, but for us locals these lovely places gradually lose their nature lustre. To avoid the hustle and bustle of tourists in these areas, we locals often make our way to highlands and mountains. Thus I tried to avoid the influx of tourists during the Independence Day holidays in August and set out on my climb in the valley of my native village, Kedam, near Bahrain in Swat.

Usually, lovers of adventure flock to visit such beautiful places. Trekking and camping is becoming a massive new trend of tourism in the valley. In the past only the herders would go to the highland pastures to take their cattle and sheep for grazing. Or perhaps, a small number of local people would visit these highland pastures and glacial lakes occasionally.

The Kedam valley is at a distance of 72 km from the main town of Swat, Mingora. The Kedam valley offers the sight of a beautiful landscape, alpine forests, highland pastures and several lakes and glaciers.

We started our trek early in the morning from Kedam in a valley marked by alpine trees, pastures and peaks. The valley is narrow at the start, and heavily forested. As the forest zone ends, the valley widens and the lower pastures come into sight.

In eight hours of trekking we reach Tarkana, a beautiful pasture in the valley. It is evening and the animals are fed beyond ‘full’. The livestock appears jubilant, away from the noise of the villages. It seems that they never want to go back from this place. Our host offered us traditional food which consists of pure and fresh ghee, yogurt, cheese, butter and saag with maize bread. This is probably the best dinner I have had in my life.

The next day we set out for Sarpanaqaal Lake i.e. Head Meadow Lake.  Sarpanaqaal lake is an elongated amoeba-shaped body of water, surrounded by beautiful green pasture and snowcapped mountains. The place fascinates one of my friends so much that he wished to lie here for the rest of his life and be a hermit. It is situated at an altitude of 11,500 feet above sea level. This lake gives a soothing feeling to the eyes and mind. It is fed by the glacial water of the surrounding glaciers. The water is cold and crystal clear. There are many myths about this lake. The local herders say that there is a large golden bowl in the center of lake that can only be seen by the most pious men. On every 14th of each lunar month, when the moon is full, the bowl rises to the surface of the lake for an hour and then vanishes.

We spend our night along the bank of this beautiful lake. We are kept company only by the blue water of the lake and the stars above us.

The next day is fresh and clear. We start our trek towards Shaitangoot Lake - The Devil’s Corner Lake. Shaitangoot Lake is the most beautiful and enchanting lake in the whole valley. The trek towards Shaitangoot is very steep and difficult. The distance from Sarpanaqaal to Shaitangoot is not much but due to the steep climb, the pace of the trek is very slow. On the way to Shaitangoot one can see various beautiful wild flowers and different kinds of wild berries and other herbs, some of which are poisonous. So one must be careful in eating them, lest they ingest the wrong ones.

After a hectic trek of five hours we see our first glimpse of Shaitangoot. The very first look of Shaitangoot Lake takes all the fatigue and tiredness from us and refreshed us mentally and physically. Shaitangoot Lake is situated at an altitude of 13,500 feet above sea level and is probably the highest among all the so-far discovered lakes in Swat. It is also a gateway to other lakes and mountain passes. Towards its west is the famous Kundol lake, towards its north are Spin Khwar Lake and Godar Lake and towards its south is situated the unexplored lake of Kandora, which is famous for its black water. We explore every corner of this beautiful glacial lake and spend time there till evening. The scene is immensely enchanting. There is no sound except the bursting of the smaller glaciers hidden in the cold mist surrounding the peaks.

Perhaps it is the enchanting beauty of the lake that got it its name: the Devil’s Corner!

Aftab Ahmad works with Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT) based in Bahrain, Swat. He may be reached at aahmadangel@gmail.com?