WORLD ENOUGH TO OBSERVE AND CONNECT WITH PEOPLE. Nizar Harji
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A Brutal Journey to the Hindu Kush. On an uncharted deep into the Mountain path, the most demanding journey. This is about one of the many journeys that I undertook to over 60 countries.
Travel along the Mountaneous , rough and dangerous Jeep tracks is full of hazard. Here above a sudden land slide with melted snow on this very narrow passage of road. It was a huge dilemma…now what ? The courageous driver Roustam was willing to risk it all by himself but on condition for safety of myself and the guide Amjad, that we not be in the Jeep with him and that we gradually cross the damaged path by foot to the other side. Roustam with his great faith in Allah brought the Jeep on the other side while we held our breath, narrowly missing sliding down perhaps to his death. Roustam was a man of cool and calm, mindful of hazards at any time.
Crossing the land slide on foot with locals stranded, Jeep in the background.
The hazards of mountain roads, here breakdown of the Jeep. Fortunately the driver Roustam (in the background with the Jeep) from Balakot is highly experienced in fixing up any problems to the Jeep on the way, otherwise it could be a real night mare.
Passing through Taxila to Abotabad and to Swat’s Kalam Valley.
The sheer Pristine beauty of Swat’s Kalam Valley landscape , with its gushing streams and rivers, thick alpine forests, lush green meadows, glacial lakes, magical peaks and roaring waterfalls, is all a closest place to heaven. In summer the variety of fruits, flowers and fauna is unmatched. The closest town was “Saidu Shariff” and further down Mingora pictured below. The entire Kalam Valley went through a long period of heavy fighting and destruction by Taliban fighters that disrupted life and peace of this beautiful valley until Pakistan Army drove out the Talibans and restored control of the area, all with a great loss of life and destruction to the area.
MINGORA – Part of beautiful Swat’s Kalam Valley.
Along the way an unmatched pristine beauty of Swat’s Kalam Valley. A resting point for the author on an exhaustive journey.
With beautiful little girls (my little friends) attending school in one of the village in the Valley.
With my little friends. At the village in the valley of Hunza.
With children of Hunza Valley – ISMAILIES.
Life in Hunza Valley. Here with mother, son and grand children – ISMAILIES.
With Young Ismailies of Hunza Valley tending to live stock – sheep, goats. AKDN has brought about quality of life for people of Hunza Valley with several irrigation projects, with mini Dams known as “Hydel Power” on the gushing waters from the mountain to irrigate the land for agriculture and provide electricity to the villages.
On the way a magnificient enchanting view of the valley in Hunza.
At a military check point on Karamkora Highway. A sensitive area close to Kashmir controlled by Pakistan Army.
AKDN support along the valley, with irrigation, electricity and advise on agriculture has transformed the lives of people. Here with Ismaili farmers selling their produce on the road side of Karakoram Highway. The quality of life of people in the area has greatly improved with schools, medical clinics brought about by AKDN.
Night stop over at Serena Gilgit. Ismaili girls of Hunza after training moving them gradually to work, project of AKDN.
An engineering feat in building Karakoram Highway through the mountains, by Chinese
and Pakistan Army engineers during which many of them died. A permanent memorial
on the road side.
on the way a night stop author at PTD Bunglows (Pakistan Tourist Development).
Along the route a stop over meeting with local people. The backdrop of mountains, lakes and rivers, the place a “Shangrilla” so beautiful and the magical calmness one would want to spend the life there.
Exploring the surrounding of Hunza Valley on horse back.
On stop over at Skardu, encountered bus load of young Pakistani High School girls, who were accompanied by Convent Nuns from the Girl’s Boarding School. They were on the holiday break from the school. Talking to them they were all daughters of high ranking Miltary officers of Pakistan Army and the elite of the country, each of them with high
ambition to study abroad mainly in England for medical Doctor, Lawyer , Economics,
Political Science. The girl seated second from right was aspiring one day to become the
Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Road hazards are never far on the Karakoram Highway. Here above deaths and severe injuries we understood had happened, hours before our Jeep came to this point.
FROM SKARDU TO CHITRAL.
Deviating from Karakoram Highway from Skardu to Chitral via the remote 4000m (13,123ft) Deosai Plateau and Shandur Pass. Always going against the grain, it is said, makes for a more interesting adventure. Going East to West across North Pakistan’s great mountain ranges seemed like crossing the “Roof of the World”. Skardu (Capital of Baltistan) lies on the Eastern end and Chitral on the western end. Skardu is just 50 miles from Kashmir a volatile area and constant danger of armed conflict between Pakistan and India. The overwhelming splendour of Baltistan, however, makes you immune to the danger of the area. To the South east beyond the mountains lies the beautiful vale of Kashmir. To the North East beyond the breathtaking peaks of K2 (Pakistan side of Mount Everest), lies the high plateau of China.
The road to Deosai climbed steadily from Skardu towards Sadpara gorge and along the breakneck waters of the Sadpara River and to the beautiful Sadpara Lake. We began steady climb to Astor, at the mouth of Astor Valley we crossed the river by a swaying suspension bridge a very unstable (see photo below), me and my guide had to walk the bridge and the Jeep followed, our route took us to the garrison Town of Bunji.
The journey from Gilgit to Chitral took three days, We stayed at Government Inspection bungalos. On such a terrain you rock and roll mercilessly in the Second World War Willy Jeep. Our driver Roustam was calm as ever. We always found on the road sides eating house and dishes of mutton , rice and dhal. We passed uphill to Gupis, and treacherous road to Phundar and overnight stay at the Inspection bungalows at Phundar. We began to climb towards the Shandur Pass. This was most treacherous wheel-crunching, wheel-spinning rocky track alongside a fast moving stream. The Shandur Pass stands at an altitude of 3,730m (12,237 ft.). Here unknowingly we tumbled into Pakistan Army barracks, and came under sharp questions as to what we were doing there. With calm explanation the matter was resolved and Pakistan Army Officer even offered us chai and let us proceed with a word of caution. Shandur is famous as the site of the highest polo ground in the world. Finally we descended down to Chitral to spend two days of sleep over and rest.
Street scene in Chitral, road side vendor and activities.
TO THE KALASH FROM CHITRAL.
We entered Bamburet in a remote valley and into Kalash people land, where few foreigners venture. At the previous night stop , the Bungalow manager a relative of former Mir of Hunza, in discussion about the Kalash people, volunteered to come with us as he was personally known to the Chief of Kalash. It was an extra ordinary experience.
Above in the photo, Chief of Kalash was kind to invite me to his dwelling and meet his family, his wife and son and have a photograph with them.
The remarkable Kalash people have lived in isolation and in a very primitive way with their own complex custom, culture and tradition which is thousands of years old, since Alexander the Great left the area after his conquest. Their features are predominantly Greek with fair skin and blue eyes. The outcome of the soldiers that came with Alexander the Great. Kalash ladies, I found, wear all the time a very vivid and colourful decorative dress, jewellery and headgear. Their main dress is black tunic-like robe. The robes are highlighted by beautiful coloured embroidery at the neck, shoulders, cuff and hem. Most vivid of all are the headdresses worn by Kalash women. Kalash women also wear numerous bangles, and rings.
It is risky to interact with Kalash women or photograph them, particularly more risky when the Kalash women are bathing fully dressed in the open stream and rivers. I was lucky that the Chief of Kalash tribe welcomed us to his hut, meeting him and his wife, and served with their traditional home made red wine, so strong it can knock you off. I had to discreetly pass on the big mug of wine to my guide Amjad to finish it and who was totaly drunk at the end. It was possible to meet with the Chief of Kalash courtesy of the Bungalow Manager at the previous night stop (relative of former Mir of Hunza) who is well known to the Chief. We were allowed to visit the Kalash families in their primitive dwellings and were able to take few photos. This is possible with care and respect to the ladies and their custom.
Visiting school in the Kalash Village, they have good facilities, Greek organisations have helped to establish education facility, as well as health and welfare centres. I spoke with group of bright and charming school girls with names Durdana, Gul Naz, Gul Bigim, Shaheen Gul, were all modern in their outlook but very proud of their traditions and singular culture. Greek Civil Society agencies are taking great interest in these students and some of them have visited Greek Islands.
There are only about 3000 Kalash people left now. They are the only Non-Muslim people in the entire Afghanistan-Pakistan landmass. They are confined to handful of villages in the North. Pakistan Government does not exercise control over the Kalash people.
In their tradition they celebrate Spring’s arrival with Kalash women dancing in festival known as “Joshi” and greet the new season with animal sacrifices and weddings, marriage of choice is the norm, drinking of alcohol is all in the tradition.
Funerals are also big in festivities, with alcohol and requiring families to kill dozens of animals for this celebration.
Kalash lady bathing fully dressed in the open stream river.
Young Kalash lady with child.
At the NORTHERN PAKISTAN-CHINA BORDER.
Elevation 4693m (15,397 ft.
Driving through Mountain Snow covered winding roads from HUNZAA over the KARAMKORAN range at the KHUNJERAB PASS – border with CHINA.
Medical students from China arrived at the Chins border on an outing. A hilarious incident, they had not seen a NON-CHINESE HUMAN in their life. Their overwhelming excitement can be seen.
The Medical students curiosity to meet a Non-Chinese human, they wanted to make sure I was real and not a Robot.
On the return journey from Chitral, through uncharted rough roads, an unexpected and a dangerous encounter in Tribal area. Passing through lawless area, with fire arms carrying tribes, stopped the Jeep with rifle pointing, demanding to be taken to another area in the Jeep. A delicate situation. Driver Rustom with calmness negotiated the problem until they let us pass on, but not before taking away our thick winter coats and bottle of brandy which we had for high altitude emergency.
END OF THE JOURNEY.
Arrived back in one piece in Islamabad.
A farewell Photo next day ( above ) and a sad parting.
Above left, my guide Amjad has since left the country and is working in South Africa.
Second from left driver of the Jeep Roustam , during earthquake in Baltistan , his home town Balakot all destroyed, he lost all his belongings, dwelling and his beloved Second World War Jeep that he owned and with that his livelihood, is now working as a driver for an Embassy in Islamabad.
Third in the photo myself and next hotel staff.
I will perhaps never meet them again but will always cherish the memories. I wished them well in life.
ALL PHOTOS ARE COPYRIGHT.