Saidgai Danda is located in the outer limits of Dir Upper and Swat Valley. Danda means lake in the local Pashto Language. It lies in the Hindukush chain of mountains. Several small and large lakes are scattered in the immediate vicinity of Saidgai Danda. Flowered by tulips, daffodils and wild dandelions in April/May, Saidgai Danda is one of the most exquisite place to be seen.
The mountains towering all around the lake are mostly snow-covered and thickly wooded by conifers, pines and cedars. The canopies of these trees are the abodes of different wild animals and birds. Usherai Khwar (Stream) issues from this lake and empties itself into River Panjkora near Darora, Dir. Saidgai Danda serves as a huge reservoir for Usherai Khwar. In early April/May, if one goes there one will have to venture out into the small glaciers which are strewed along the trails to the lake.
Saidgai Danda can be accessed via three different trails and sides; Sulatanr Upper Swat, Sakhra Lalko Upper Swat and Usherai Valley Dir Upper. As we are in Dir Upper, we will approach the lake from Usherai Valley trail. Saidgai Danda is located adjacent to Gul Koei, upper end of Usherai Dara. Besides Usherai Valley trail, we have an alternative trail, starting from Jagam Bazaar in Nehag Dara (Valley) and joining the original trail of Usherai Dara after a strenuous journey over a steep mountain and then descending to Usherai side.
Usherai Dara is situated in Dir Upper and can be located on its easting and northing as from 72o 16’ to 72o 50’ and from 35o 06’ to35o 16’. The valley is bounded by Ganshal, Sheringal, Patrak and Kalkot in the north, Darora, Nehag Dara and Biha in the south, Lalko, Jaba and Chambar Banda (Bahrain Swat) in the east and Gandegar, Serai and Bibiwar in the west. Main town of the valley is Darora which is on 48 KM from Timergara, Dir Lower. The valley is inhabited by the tribes of Painda Khel, Sultan Khel and Miangan. Namchar is a spectacular waterfall near Gul Koei Valley and can be accessed from Batal.
People of the area are generally living below the poverty line with extremely low literacy rate. Although the valley is well forested and supports sub-tropical scrub, moist temperate and alpine types of forests, there is no well-defined forest ownership. About 70% of the households live transhumant lifestyle (Moving livestock to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer). They take their livestock to sub alpine and alpine pastures from May to September. Most of the people have transitional summerhouses in the alpine ranges. Apart from the local livestock, nomads bring around 10,000 animal heads to alpine meadows during summer months.
The valley is home to a number of wildlife species including mammals such as Snow leopard, Common leopard, Black bear, Musk deer and Wolf, Yellow-throated marten, Red fox. Pika, Golden marmot and Rhesus monkey. Himalayan monal pheasant, Himalayan snow cock and Snow partridge are some of the key bird species found here.
With limited livelihood options, extraction of timber from forests to earn livelihood is major activity in the area. In addition, local community heavily depends on forests for fuel wood for cooking and heating. The green landscape with waterfalls and streams of crystal clear water glorify the valley. The high altitude lake of Saidgai is additional to the aesthetics here. Although, local people take benefit of the aesthetic value of the valley by visiting it, there is huge potential of exploiting it as a focus for tourism at national level. Forests of the valley offer medicinal plants and other non-timber forest produce as livelihood option.
We have two different alternatives to approach the lake; one from Usherai Dara and the other from Nehag Dara. Both trails are easily accessible to the uppermost ends of both the valleys and then change into abrupt bumpy tracks along the thick forests and end into the vicinity of the lake.
The Usherai Valley is jeepable from Darora Bazaar to Batal. Traveling by a four by four we will pass through Wari Bazaar, Darora Bazaar, Katan Payen, Katan Bala, Jabar, Gamser, Almas, Tar pa Tar, Gal Kot, Usherai Proper, Palam and Batal. The valley culminates on Gul Koei and it is the end of Usherai Dara. The real adventure starts from Gul Koei and last for hours. Some locals can guide trekkers and even take their luggage if properly paid. The mountains around this small valley are covered with tall cedar and pine trees and meandered by different streams and torrents. The people are friendly and provide guidance if required.
On the way to Saidgai Danda, dark green pine, conifer and cedar forests keep trekkers cool and refreshed; and small scurrying streams quenches their unquenchable thirst. On the way trekkers will come across vast pastures. These highlands of pastures and grasslands are so exquisite and picturesque regarding natural beauty and generosity that its breathtaking landscapes linger with through out their lives. Several streams and torrents like winding snakes of immense length cross these pastures. During April and May, these pastures wear a blanket of countless and innumerable variety of flowers of different shads that tempt different species of rare birds and insects. These buzzing insects and singing birds swarm these huge natural carpets of various colours and shades and beautify the scenes around Saidgai Danda.
Another option is to approach the lake from Nehag Dara side. Nehag valley is one of the largest and most populated valleys in Dir Upper. It has many villages and hamlets. It is bounded by Karo Dara in the east, Osorai in the west, Usherai in the north and Sultan Khel Dara in the south. Nehag Dara is accessed through road from Wari Bazaar. A stream is running the length of the valley and known is Korbara Khwar. The road which leads to the eastern side of the valley starts from Wari Bazaar passing through the villages of Shahi Bagh, Koz Daskor, Bar Daskor, Birarai and ends in Badalai village. The distance between Wari Bazaar and Badalai is 15 KM.
Another road bifurcates from the main road to Dir Bazaar near Sor Pul (Red Bridge) parallel to eastern side and passes through the villages of Mula Gujar, Gogyal, Kasono, Jatgram, Sundal and finally ends in Jagam Bazaar. The distance between Timergara and Jagam is approximately 50 KM. Both roads of eastern and western sides are interconnected. Painda Khel tribe is living in Nehag Dara. Wari Bazaar is a major hub of Nehag Dara as it is a Tehsil Headquarters. Most people depend on the remittances sent by their relatives from Middle East. Skyland is a beautiful resort in the valley in summer season and offers opportunities for trekking, hiking and hillwalking.
I belong to Nehag Dara and we will start our journey from our village Daskor Bala and will pass through the villages of Badalai, Matar, Bagam and then stop at Jagam Bazaar. Here we will stock up food supplies, fuel and other equipments for our trekking expedition. We will have selective pileup in Jagam Bazaar in order to better trek the steep mountains straddling upwards. Comparing to Gul Koei, Jagam Bazaar is well-stocked with food supplies and other gears but the approach from here is steep, strenuous and enervating. Our group is divided into two; one intends to approach the lake via Usherai Dara and the other through Nehag Dara. However, we will choose one of the above trails for our intending trekking expedition in either May or June this year.
The ascend to the lake from Usherai side requires considerable effort and time but the vicinity is so strikingly beautiful that the sense of exhaustion and aching body never hinders in way. Everywhere beauty is scattered and nourish and soothe tired nerves and bodies.
Saidgai Lake is situated at a very high altitude above sea level. The best season to visit and explore the lake is during the months of July to September every year. In the remaining, a thick coat of snow covers the lake and makes it difficult for the observer to differentiate it from the surrounding landscapes. The atmosphere transforms dramatically when the night falls. The sky during night is extremely clear and the minutest star can be observed with naked eye. During full moon, the dim and cool light of the bright moon transforms the whole atmosphere like magic. The panoramic galaxies of stars twinkle and sparkle in crystal clear skies. The slowly gliding reflection of the moon in the lake, the tall silhouettes of towering cedar trees and the mysterious silence reiterates the concept that the place is the abode of fairies where human beings are aliens. The mesmerizing surrounding reminds one of haunted places in Greek mythology where giants, imps, spirits and fairies dwell and rule.
Saidgai is considered as one of the largest lake in the area and several adventure loving people swarm the area to discover and explore this spectacular jewel of nature. Splendid company and availability of essential trekking paraphernalia quadruples the delight and enjoyment of this extraordinary journey. Clean and unspoiled nature accompanies and welcomes you at every step. The shimmering and sparkling water of the lake, and the circular ripples created by the cool gusts of winds in the lake are some of the precious memories which will soothe and revive your senses in moments of solitude eternally.
There are multiple options for returning journey. One such option is to hike down to Bahrain Valley and visit Bahrain, Madyan and lower Swat. The track down to Bahrain valley is an extremely long but easy to walk trail which winds up in Bahrain Valley after relentless trekking for eight to nine hours. The beautiful sights and landscapes on the way down are saved forever in your memories to cherish later in moments of tranquility.
People who are interested in Saidgai Danda trek can contact me for further details via flickrmail or on the following number:
Address: Saidgai Danda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa