Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Fascinating Pakistan: Gorakh Hill Station

Let me take a break from the snow clad mountains of the northern areas of Pakistan and take you down to the desert and barren mountains of the Sind province of Pakistan - but assuring you of a cool breeze and occasional snow fall in winters.

Some of my readers who know the geography of Sindh in 'general' may not agree with with my viewpoint as the area is known for sizzling hot summers with a semblance of winters. But believe me we have a place amid the scorching plains and rocky mountains of Kirthar mountain range in Sind that relieves of your summer worries when standing atop the Gorakh Hills.

The name Gorakh is derived from the Brahvi language in which, word "Gurgh" means Wolf and that Balochi language word "Gurkh" is later dialectic adaptation of Brahvi language word Gurgh, meaning wolf.
Screen shot of Gorakh Hill View Point - Scroll down for the video

Gorakh Hills, situated at an elevation of 5,688 ft (1,734 m) in the Kirthar Mountains, the highest place in the province of Sind, is one such place which is home to sub zero temperatures in winters and a pleasant cool breeze with a temperature generally remaining below  20 °C all through summers, which are longer than winters than other parts of Pakistan. 

Gorakh Hill Station is situated on one of the highest plateaus of Sindh, spread over 2,500 acres (10 km2) and is located 94 kilometers northwest of Dadu city. Presently, for most part a shingle dirt track links Dadu and Gorakh Hill station, though there are ever pending plans by the provincial government to develop a road link between the Dadu city and the hill station.

One may approach the Gorakh Hill station from Karachi skirting Hyderabad and Dadu cities through road journey that may take seven and half hours to cover the 400 kilometers distance. Many tour operators in Karachi can arrange a guided tour to this beautiful pleasing hill station including night stay at the Gorakh Hill Station guest house, trekking and watching the wild life of the area. or if you are adventurous by nature and fond of camping, the vast area provides ample places overlooking the entire valley down below for camping. The road  through Khawal Luk Pass moves up the hill with numerous hair raising bends till one reaches the top.
A night stay at the hill station provides the tourists a one-in-lifetime chance to view the sunset in the evening and a spectacular sunrise in the morning and watch the sun rays running over the many hillocks and hill tops and finally illuminating the entire valley. At night, one is awestruck to watch the sky full of stars and galaxies overhead in complete darkness as there is no other habitat in the area down below for miles altogether.

On cloudy days, the entire valley is filled with low clouds and even wraps the hill station - mystifying the view and the presence on the Gorakh Hills with visibility reduced to just few feet.

Watch a fantastic video from the Gorakh Hill top with low clouds surrounding it and the valley down below:
Gorakh Hill Station is a bliss for the people of Sindh, specially for people of Karachi who travel to northern areas spending lot of money, while they have a choice to explore the lands of interior Sindh and go trekking to Gorakh Hill and the Khawal Luk Pass, beside resting and enjoying the summers or if lucky enough to find snow flakes falling on them during winters.

References: Wikipedia | Photo: Beautiful Pakistan (Facebook) | Map: Google Maps
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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fascinating Pakistan - Rakaposhi

Today, while sifting through my old photographs, I came across this photo of mine posing with my wife and sons standing at the Rakaposhi Point on the Gilgit-Hunza section of the Karakorum Highway (KKH) with the mighty Rakaposhi mountain in the background. While driving to Hunza, we came across this point and were instantly frozen on the spot for it gave a full view of the Rakaposhi mountain rising from the ground level to its utmost height and glory. We stayed at the place and ordered for breakfast from a small self made eatery on the point. I still remember devouring the hot parathas (heavily greased rounded bread typical to Pakistani cuisines) and fried eggs, followed by hot fuming doodh patti (doodh=milk, patti=tea leaves, a tea made from milk and tea leaves with no water and a heavy dose of sugar).

Rakaposhi is a massive mountain, rising at a height of 7,788 m above sea level in the Karakorum mountain range. Rakaposhi, meaning the snow covered in local language, is situated in the middle of Nagar Valley Nagar District and Danyore and Bagrote valley approximately 100 km north of the capital city Gilgit of the semi autonomous Gilgit-Baltistan region of Northern Pakistan.

Although, i is ranked 27th highest in the world and 12th highest in Pakistan, it is its beauty that makes it as one of the popular sites for mountaineers around the world. Rakaposhi is also the only mountain in the world which rises straight from beautifully cultivated fields to the height of 25,550 feet. The first successful recorded ascent by non-natives was in 1958 by Mike Banks and Tom Patey, members of a British-Pakistani expedition, via the Southwest Spur route.

Now watch a spectacular video of skirting around the Rakaposhi via para gliding while flying at a maximum height of 6,070 m - I am sure you would feel the coldness and awe these two para gliders, piloted by with Brad Sander (one of the best para gliding pilots), were experiencing when the flew past Rakaposhi ( a little more than half of the video):

Rakaposhi is famous for its exceptional rise and it rises 5,900 m in just a little over eleven kilometers from the Hunza River. The areas around Rakaposhi are home to some of the endangered species like the Marco Polo sheep, snow lapboard, brown bear and wolves.

References: Wikipedia 
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Fascinating Pakistan - Gasherbrum 1, The Hidden Peak

I have already introduced of the five eight thousander peaks in Pakistan out of the fourteen in the world and also wrote an exclusive post on Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, the only eight thousander located out of the Karakorum range. Today I will talk about Gasherbrum 1, also known as the hidden peak.

But before I do that, let me say a a few words about the survey of the Karakorum peaks by T.G. Montgomerie who back in 1856 with no GPS or visual devices surveyed the Karakorum peaks - sitting more than two hundred kilometers away, a feat of extreme professionalism while carrying out the Trigonometric Survey of India. And he named Gasherbrum 1 as K5, as he labelled the Chogori or the Mt Godwin Austen as K2. Later in 1982, William Martin Conway labelled it as the Hidden Peak, for being located in the extreme remoteness.

Part of the Gasherbrum massif in the Karakorum region of the Himalaya, with a height of 8,080 m (26,510 ft), Gasherbrum 1 is the 11th eight thousander and the third eight thousander in Pakistan. It is located on the Pakistani–Chinese border in Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan and Xinjiang region of China. In local Balti language, the world Gasherbrum means the beautiful mountain, "rgasha" (beautiful) + "brum" (mountain)

The Gasherbrum 1 expedition commences from Skardu. From here the expeditions enter the Shigar Valley and a  laborious trekking across the Baltoro glacier to reach the base camp. The best climbing season starts in June and ends in August.

Gasherbrum I and II were explored by an international expedition by the Swiss G.O. Dyhrenfurth, explores . Two climbers could go up to 6,300 m (20,670 ft). 1936 a French expedition tried an unsuccessful attempt, but it was on July 5, 1958 Pete Schoening and Andy Kauffman, part of an eight-man American expedition who successfully scaled the summit.

On March 9th, 2012, two Polish climbers (Adam Bielecki, 28 and Janusz Golab, 43) completed the first ever winter ascent of Gasherbrum I. Adam Bielecki and Janusz Golab climbed the peak without oxygen. The Polish team ascended via the Japanese route up the NW Face of Gasherbrum 1. The expedition succeeded after 49 days of waiting due extremely bad weather.

The Polish Expedition Plan - Photo: Himalman Weblog

The same day, three climbers from a different expedition, Austrian Gerfried Goschl, Swiss Cedric Hahlen and Pakistani Nisar Hussain Sadpara, went missing, never to be found again. The three had been sighted for the last time midday on Friday circa 250 m below the summit .They were trying to ascend via a new route.. 

Watch the video of the first ever winter accent of Gasherbrum 1 by the Polish climbers (2012)
This is the second share of the five eight thousanders in Pakistan, after Nanga Parbat. I will write about the remaining three eight thousanders in my subsequent posts.

Photo: Northern Areas of Pakistan |
References: Wikipedia | Panel Mountain
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fascinating Pakistan - The Eight Thousanders

Pakistan is one of those blessed countries which has enormous tourist attractions right from its 1200 long coast, mostly virgin, along the Arabian Sea, vast stretches of deserts, fertile lush green plains and snow clad mountain peaks dominating its north.

While the entire country is worth visiting and touring, it is a mountaineers haven as its has 108 peaks over 7,000 metres and as many over 6,000 metres, while there is no count for peaks over 5,000 and 4,000 meters. Most of the highest peaks in Pakistan lie in Karakoram Range (which lies almost entirely in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, and is considered to be a part of the greater Himalayan range) but some peaks above 7,000 m are included in the Himalayan and Hindu Kush ranges.

In fact Pakistan is the meeting point of three great mountain ranges, the Himalays, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush. And it is here in these mountain ranges lie five out of the fourteen eight thousanders (peaks over 8,000 meters) in the world. Of these five, four lie the Karkorams in the surroundings of Concordia; the confluence of Baltoro Glacier and Godwin Austen Glacier, while one is located in the Himalays.

Herein under is the list of all the five eight thousanders located in Pakistan.
  • K-2 also known as the Chogori, Mt. Godwin Austen that reaches up to a height of 8,611m and is the second highest peak of the world after the Mt Everest.
  • The Nanga Parbat (meaning the Naked Mountain) is 8,126m high and is one of the deadliest of the eight-thousanders. This Himalayan peak ranks 5th in the 14 eight thousanders of the world. The summit is shaped like a reclining women, as remarked by some imaginative mountain and beauty lover. If flying to Skardu, one can see the Nanga from the right window of the aircraft. One can feel the grandeur of the height when flying almost to the level of its peak. Due to its difficulty in climbing, many mountaineers have lost their lives, that is why it is also known as the Killer Mountain.
  • Gasherbrum I (also known as Hidden Peak or K5) is the 11th highest peak on Earth, located on the Pakistan-China border in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. Gasherbrum I is part of the Gasherbrum massif, located in the Karakoram region of the Himalaya.
  • Part of the Gasherbrum massif, the Broad Peak in the Karakorum Range is 8,051 m high and is the 12th of the eight-thousanders in the world. Broad Peak is known locally as Faichan Kangri and was originally referred to as K3. The summit is over 1.5 km long, from which it gets in name as the Broad Peak.
  • Gasherbrum II (also known as K4) is the 13th highest mountain on Earth, located in the Gilgit Baltistan province, Pakistan near the border to China at a height of 8,035 m (26,362 ft). Gasherbrum II is the third highest peak of the Gasherbrum massif, located in the Karakoram Range of the Himalaya.
I have already written about Nanga Parbat in one of my earlier posts on Fascinating Pakistan series. And would write about other four in my next posts.
K2 Photo Credit: Mobeen Mazhar
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fascinating Pakistan - Fairy Meadows

God has created replicas of heaven all around the world - but reaching these heavenly places is as arduous and extremely difficult as aspiring to be granted heaven in the world hereafter. The oasis in the deserts are reached after a man is at his breaking point after walking without food and water for days. Likewise in the obscured mountain valleys, there lie man a beautiful lush green places with lakes of crystal clear water, orchards laden with many types of sweetest fruits and overlooked by snow clad mountains. But to reach these, one has to really labour through treacherous mountain tracks, requiring extreme performance of 4WD jeeps or walking for hours over stony treks to finally reach these one-in-lifetime sites.

One of such heavens on earth is the Fairy Meadows in Diamer District, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Located at an altitude of 3,300 metres, Fairy Meadows, which is called Joot in the local language was named "Fairy Tale Meadow or "Märchenwiese" by a German climbers on their way to scale Nanga Parbat. Fairy Meadows in fact is the gateway to the Nanga Parbat for trekkers attempting the Rakhiot face of Nanga Parbat. This heavenly grassland is located in the Raikhot valley, at one end of the Raikhot glacier which originates from the Nanga Parbat and feeds a stream that finally falls in the River Indus.
To approach Fairy Meadows, one can embark upon an 11 hours road journey to Chilas on the Karakorum Highway (KKH). From here at a distance of 61 kilometers is the Raikot bridge, where jeeps are readily available during the tourist season for six passengers per jeep. The road to Fairy Meadows then commences with a breathtaking twelve kilometers long jeepable track through a treacherous unstable gravel mountain pass, followed by yet another 3-4 hours of trekking on a five kilometers trek. In fact the drive is so dangerous that one is more worried about one's safety rather than enjoying the beautiful landscape one is passing through.

The jeepable track is considered as one of most dangerous roads in the world. The DangerousRoads describe the difficulty and extreme dangerous track in following words:

  • The road is an unforgettable experience. It’s winding, in some places only wide enough for one vehicle, and in many places bordered by a drop of hundreds of meters (many hundreds of feet) unprotected by guardrails. The most dangerous part of the road involves a narrow 6-mile ascend on an unpaved and uneven road. There are no barriers to prevent a vehicle from falling off the cliff to a fiery death.  The road is no wider than a standard Jeep Wrangler and there’s plenty of through traffic. One false move and it’s a very long drop.
  • The gravel road has not undergone any repair since it was built by the ethnic villagers of the Nanga Parbat Mountain hundreds of years ago which makes it one of the dangerous roads on this list. The road was built by the local people, and is therefore a private toll road. It’s steep and just the width of the jeep, with unstable gravel road hacked out of the barren hills.
  • Words can’t describe the road and pictures don’t do it justice.This drive is only recommended for the people who are serious mountain lovers and have strong nerves. This is a stunning place for photographers and nature lovers. But this road is definitely not for the faint of heart, so, if you want to go there - bring a lot of courage with you!
But once one reaches the lush green Fair Meadows, one instantly how one has reached this heaven on earth. Words alone cannot describe the beauty of the place, with fresh breeze blowing and a landscape so captivating that soothes one eyes which just moments ago were seeing nothing but barren stony mountains over a life threatening unkempt gravel track.

The Fairy Meadows grassland is surrounded by thick alpine forest. The high altitude area and north-facing slopes mostly consist of coniferous forest having Pinus wallichiana, Picea smithiana and Abies pindrow trees, while in the high altitude areas with little sunlight are birch and willow dwarf shrubs. The southern slopes are concentrated with juniper and scrubs, namely Juniperus excelsa and J. turkesticana. In the low altitudes, the major plant found is Artemisia, with yellow ash, stone oaks and Pinus gerardiana spread among it.
A spectacular view of Nanga Parbat from Fairy Meadows

From here one can have a spectacular view of the majestic Nanga Parbat, one of the 14 eight thousanders of the world and one of the five eight thousanders located in Pakistan. Read more about Nanga Parbat in one of early posts on Fascinating Pakistan series. 

Sitting on the slopes of Fairy Meadows and looking at the Nanga Parbat, one feels as if one is sitting in a lush green bowl being overlooked by the awe inspiring mountain in the backdrop. One can listen to many folklores about the area and of the many expeditions that passed through to scale the Nanga Parbat and the sadness in their tone when describing dead bodies of climbers being taken away who fell victim to the Killer Mountain, the Nanga Parbat.

I would now stop my commentary and let you watch the video below that explains everything and shows you from roads to jeepable tracks and finally horse back to Fairy Meadows, overlooked by the mighty Nanga Parbat or the killer mountain in the background.
The six-month tourist season at Fairy Meadows starts in April and continues until the end of September. Tourists lodge at the camping site spread over two acres, known as "Raikot Serai" and the other at Fairy Meadows, though partially developed.

I am sure the video above gives you a fair idea of the challenges to be faced while driving on the mountain track and then finally reaching the Fairy Meadows - Next time you visit Pakistan, do consult your travel agent to include Fairy Meadows as one of your travel destinations for life time adventure.

Photos Credit: Northern Areas of Pakistan | References: Wikipedia
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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fascinating Pakistan - Shimshal Pass

I just started writing a series of posts yesterday to introduce to the world the fascinating,beautiful and awe inspiring beauty and landscape of Pakistan. This post today is the second in the series of many more yet to come.
Shimshal Village

Now my readers ma ask why Shimshal Pass - a place rather unknown in the tourism annals of Pakistan. Well I picked up this place for four reasons:
  • The photo above was the main motivating factor as the composition is so captivating that I was awe stricken for a while. It looked as if I saw something from another world. Just look above again - doesn't it instantly attracts you - specially the bunch of yaks running at the foothills of mighty mountain? Well it did for me and I instantly thought of writing about Shimshal Pass and the Shimshal Valley. 
  • Secondly the motivation of the people of Shimshal village to come out of the obscurity from an otherwise obscured small village surrounded by rugged stony mountains, cutting them completely from the Hunza Valley just next to the Shimshal Valley, but inaccessible except for foot or mule mode of transportation. They thus started cutting the mountains and made a jeep able track to reach the Karakoram Highway (KKH) near the Passu - it took them Eighteen years (1985-2003) to build this track completely relying on their muscle power without any outside help.
  • And lastly the trekking on the Shimshal Pass - from the Shimshal village located at 3,100 metres above sea level to Shimshal Pass at 4,735 metres. The invincibility of the trek at places almost vertical climbs, wading through gushing mountain gorges and fast flowing streams.
  • And lastly, the entire Shimshal village has electricity - yes don't be surprised and thanks to the solar technology. All houses have solar panels to provide them uninterrupted power supply and watch TV through satellite receivers/dish antennas. This initiative on the part of locals should serve as any eye opener for many villages of northern areas to follow suit.
Now back to the Shimshal village, which is the jump off point for the Shimshal Pass. The village is part of the Gojal Tehsil of Hunza District, in the Gilgit–Baltistan province of Pakistan. At 3,100 m above sea level, it is the highest settlement in Hunza Valley. The village is closest to China. As are typical helmets of high altitude, it has just over 200 houses with a population of approximately two thousand.

With the development of the over 60 kilometers long jeep-able track from the Passu to Shimshal, due courtesy the Agha Khan foundation, the Government of Pakistan and the sheer hard work of the locals, it now takes 2-3 hours to reach this beautiful village perched in the  lush green Shimshal Valley with yaks and goats roaming freely and even racing. The track is one of the dangerous as described by the blog Dangerousroads:
The Shimshal Valley Road is a spectacular and terrific curvy mountainous road which rarely permit speeds over 10km/h. Located in Gojal, Hunza–Nagar District in the Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan formerly known as Northern Areas of Pakistan, the journey is extremely dangerous.
Beside very healthy goats and sheep, the main attraction of Shimshal is the Yak, a fierce looking shaggy creature, also found in other higher planes of northern areas of Pakistan. These typically local animals are used as a source of milk, beef, wools and carrying the loads to the mountains in the high pastures and also for crossing through fast current streams and rivers.
Yak Safari - Photo Courtesy Travel Blog

Those who are not avid trekkers, yaks provide them a fantastic opportunity for yak safari to close by areas on the Shimshal Pass. The best time for yak safari is from  June to October but the best is in September to October. The yak safari commences from Shimshal village to  Zardgarben, 3,810 m taking 5-6 hours. You may continue to resume the safari next day to Purien-e-ben, 3,322 m taking hours. Still going higher, one may resume the safari next day to Shuijerab, 4,080 m for 6-7 hours and camping and returning to Shimshal the next day.  

The yak race is another attraction of the area, which is an annual feature when one can see the locals mounted on yaks wading through river streams and lush green fields. This annual feature is held in the last week of July or the first week of August.

As for Shimshal Pass, it lies on the watershed between the Indus River and Tarim River basins, and leads to the valley of the Shimshal Braldu River, a tributary of the Shaksgam River on the border with China. Francis Younghusband was probably the first Englishman to reach the pass (1889).

Trekking from Shimshal  village to the Shimshal  Pass trek is treacherous and deadly, yet adventurous. The trek becomes unsteady with falling rocks and lose stones under your feet. Sometimes one slides on the lose stones, which may become dangerous as the stones once set into motion continue to trigger down from behind too.
It is the sheer determination of the young men of Pakistan and even abroad who venture into this otherwise unspoiled area and take up trekking through Shimshal Pass. Amid howling winds cutting through one's body and loneliness of the mountain trek makes the trekking more difficult - and rather scary.
Words alone cannot explain the toughness of trekking  - Watch video of trekking up to the Shimshal Pass and commend the efforts of these trekkers who opt to reach the Shimshal top disregarding dangers and invincibility of the trek. En route one has to wade through fast mountainous streams with water so clod that cuts through one's skin.

The video above was made when the Atta-abad Lakes had to be crossed through ferries as the KKH was submerged underneath. Now an alternate route has been made to connect the two missing ends of KKH and one can move on the road. However, for adventure sake, one can still opt for a ferry ride in the lake.

I am sure this post will made you make an endeavour to go trekking in the Shimshal Pass and enjoy the experience for many years to come. And you would love to explore more of the fascinating Pakistan. I will help you explore more.

Read more about Yak Safari Photo Shimshal Pass/Village courtesy Mobeen Mazhar | References: Wikipedia |
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Fascinating Pakistan - Nanga Parbat

I have been writing about the beautiful and awesome travel destinations of Pakistan and the world over in my blog since long. I have traveled to many countries and was awe stricken by the natural beauty everywhere that I went and traveled to. But looking back, Pakistan has much more for the world to know about and explore the maiden and in some cases still generally unexplored landscape which have no parallel in the world.

So I have decided to start a series of posts to show to the world the fascinating face of Pakistan. And to start with, I have chosen Nanga Parbat - a massive eight thousander out of the 14 above 8,000 meters high mountain peaks of the world. It is the 9th eight thousander on the world table and second as far Pakistan is concerned after the K-2, the second highest after the Mt Everest.

You may ask why I chose Nanga Parbat and not K-2? well Nanga Parbat has special fascination for me as once flying to Skardu in a PIA's Fokker friendship, we flew past this massive massif and its landscape is still vividly preserved in my memory.

Standing as tall as 8,126 metres (26,660 feet) above mean sea level, It is the only eight thousander of Pakistan located out of the Karakorum mountain range in the Himalayas. In fact, it is the western anchor of the Himalayas around which the Indus river skirts into the plains of Pakistan. Nanga Parbat along with Namcha Barwa on the Tibetan Plateau mark the west and east ends of the Himalayas. It is located approx 27 km west-southwest of Astore district, in the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan

Like K2, which more difficult to climb than the Mt Everest, Nanga Parbat too is also notorious for its difficult climb and many mountaineers have lost their lives trying to scale Nanga Parbat, or the Killer Mountain as it is known after so many aborted attempts and deathly incidents. It is the vertical relief of the mountain that makes it difficult for the mountaineers to scale it.

Another view of Nanga Parbat shared with courtesy of Nawab Tanweer Ahmad (Facebook)

Nanga Parbat was first  attempted in 1895 by a European expedition under Albert F. Mummery. They climbed to height of 6,100 m (20,000 ft) on the Diamir (West) Face, but Mummery and two Gurkha companions later died reconnoitering the Rakhiot Face. Since then, many expeditions, mostly from Germany, attempted to scale this formidable mountain but failed with caualties.

It was finally successfully scaled on July 3, 1953 by a German-Austrian expedition an its Austrian member  Hermann Buhl had the honour to stand atop Nanga Parbat for the first time. However, all attempts were made in the summers in rather fair weather. It was as late as February 26, 2016 that Nanga Parbat was scaled in sheer winters by  Ali Sadpara of Pakistan and Alex Txikon from Italy and Simone Moro from Spain.

Watch a awesome video of Nanga Parbat below:
Nanga Parbat is one of only two peaks on Earth that rank in the top twenty of both the highest mountains in the world, and the most prominent peaks in the world, ranking ninth and fourteenth respectively. The other is Mount Everest, which is first on both lists. It is also the second most prominent peak of the Himalayas, after Mount Everest. The key col for Nanga Parbat is Zoji La in Kashmir, which connects it to higher peaks in the remaining Himalaya-Karakoram range.

This, despite its difficulty in climbing, Nanga Parbat remains as one of the favourite scaling site among the mountaineers around the world and almost the entire year, expeditions keep coming to Pakistan to challenge its invincibility and claim its summit in their log books.

References: Wikipedia | Photo courtesy Northern Areas of Pakistan (Facebook)
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Thursday, November 9, 2017

If I only had time

In my teens I listened to very moving song "If I only had time" by John Rowels. But in the warmth of my youth, I did not really cared about the meaning of its lyrics and sang along without knowing what it really meant. But lately these lyrics have started to make a scene for me as decades after first listening to this song and having lost my parents, a brother and many friends since. All of them would have never known that they had ran out of time and would have still been planning to see the rising sun the next day - but time runs out without giving one any time to say even a goodbye or even wave someone nearby.

Lately another death mad me realize how we are always running out of time, specially sine recently returning from Lahore, the city of my birth, where I had gone to see an ailing relative. This was my reason to go to Lahore when I embarked upon my journey, happily chatting with my wife - not knowing why actually I was going to Lahore.

We reached late at night and on way to our lodging destination, I passed by a friend's house and my wife said that we must call on him tomorrow for he has been a good man, lively, smiling and a true friend. And I said: "Yes, tomorrow we will go to him." Never knowing there was no tomorrow for my friend.

Early next morning I received a message that my friend has passed away. I was simply stunned to read the message - but he did not have time more than what was granted to him. I went to his funeral and was thinking that I had come for some other purpose but God has actually called me to Lahore to attend my friend's funeral.

Life is all about time - time that we do not have. We make plans for tomorrows but never really knowing whether it would be there or not. Instead of living today or whatever time we have, we plan on times that is nver ours. People amass millions and billions but leave without spending - not even taking a dime with them in packed in the casket and lowered down in the grave to disappear from the world forever.

You may like to listen to the song by John Rowells now - wont you?

From now on I live as if it is my last time - for I do not know whether I would have time to write my next post or not or see my sons away in foreign lands or friends scattered around, or even my wife sitting in the lounge watching TV as life vanishes in matters of seconds. 

Do live out your time fully - and live your today smiling and loving those around so that they preserve your last smiling and caring face in the memories forever.

Photo: Pixabay
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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Once in a while

Have you ever been avid Niel Diamond listener? Well from my teen age I have been and although this beautiful singer is n more, his beautiful melodious voice and captivating lyrics still resound in my memories. 

And once in a while I listen to one of his popular songs: Once in a while. And when I do, the beautiful lyrics of the song take me into my nostalgic past - a time when we five brothers lived our childhood and later the teenage with our loving parents. I t wasn't long that we all parted in search of our future leaving the two most beautiful people that ever came to my life - my parents. And since then, it was only an occasional calling on as the dictates of our employments could not afford us longer stints with them.

And then time started to pass by faster than we could imagine - we had our families as once our parents had. And age started to set in we were growing in our age while our parents was growing old, fragile and then days came when the took their heavenly flights one after the other - leaving behind the nostalgia that still clings to my memory: those 78 RPM His Master Voice recodes and the gramophone that my father had and from it we listened to the English songs of 1950s and thereafter till the age of LPs came, or going to school making friends and then our father taking us to Shezan, a local thriving restaurent, on our birthdays and in the process making us learn the table etiquettes when in a hotel and even how to address a waiter and registering an order.

There is much more to say that keep coming back from memory hard disk every once in a while till my eldest brother Gul Hameed Bhatti, a renowned cricket journalist and analyst, and our dear sister in law Razia Bhatti, of Herald Tribune, later the Herald and then founder of the Newsline - famous English magazine of Pakistan, also took their buses to heavens. And leaving behind their memories forever with us brothers and their children and the people who knew them.

The presnt is becasue of the parents, siblings, friends and people we once had and knew. And when they are no more, it is only peeping back in our past and reminisicing the memories of the days when everyone was around - when life had parents and when life was fun. So do look back in your past once in a while frequently for it is those days which are trasure of life.

If you care, you may now lsiten to the beautiful song that complelled me to write this post:

Photo: My family (less the fifth brother who wasn't around when this photo was taken i 1978 - Lahore).
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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lake Saif ul Muluk – a Heavenly Lake on Earth

Lake Saif ul Muluk is one of the dream tourist resorts of Pakistan. Located in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa province at the northern end of picturesque Kaghan Valley at a height of 10.578 feet in the foothills of famous Malka Parbat (the Queen Mountain), the spectacular lake with its deep blue waters is a sight one comes across once in one’s lifetime. The reflection of Malka Parbat into its still blue waters add awe to the spectacular landscape.

Recently I came across a video on Saif ul Muluk that triggered memories of more than two decades when I visited the lake for the first time – and perhaps the only time of my life. While the video took me back into my memory lane, I was amazed find that the dirt track leading to the lake from the Naran town is still the same and to approach the lake one has to hire sturdy and robust Jeeps to reach the lake. One wonders why after so many years the dirt track has not been paved. But then one wonders if the dirt track is metaled, what the locals would do as it would rob them of the only livelihood available to them for carrying tourists up and down. So while visitors and tourist, both local and foreign, throng the Naran town in summers, the hotel and Jeep business flourishes – perhaps the only means to earn bread and butter of Naran town.

I visited Naran and the lake back in 1996 with a group of friends and family. Although it was July, the lake was still half frozen which is fed by the Kunhar River. The lake with a surface area of 2.75 square kilometers and with a maximum depth of 15 meters or 50 feet is famous for its brown trout with an average weight of seven kilograms. 

We lodged in an army run rest house ahead of Naran town and due to a glacier intervening the guest house, we had to park our vehicles well away and short of the glacier and walk on slippery glacial snow to reach the guest house – and this became our daily routine to pass over the glacier to go to Naran town and the lake.

Unlike hiring normal tourists who hire jeeps, we added a tinge of adventure by hiring horses from the base to the lake. Adding yet more adventure, I along with two other relatives decided to go up through a narrow track made in between a fallen glacier. While others reached safely, I had a fall and slipped down the frozen snow and had a free fall towards the gushing stream of water from the lake. And at that time I almost felt as if my time on earth was over as I could not find anything to hold on. But then Nature wanted me to live to narrate this incident and just feet away from the icy blue stream of water, a stone came in between I and the stream, stopping from sliding further.

Now I could not move as any move would have been fatal. Seeing my plight, a local lad, expert on such glaciers came down making holes in the ice and then rescued me and we both slowly moved up and back to track. The thought of the incident still shudders my body and I thank God for saving me from drowning and sending me an angel for my rescue. Thereafter we still followed the same track and suddenly there it was the almost frozen Lake Saif ul Muluk - a sight of lifetime for me.
Much relaxed I posing with my wife after the close to a deathly fall

That day was one of the days when the lake was almost frozen with its blue waters barely visible from under the frozen snow. We spent almost the entire day at the lake though a freezing cold wind was passing through our bodies. We had lunch and came back by evening fall. This time I did not opt for the track between the glacier and came down safely.
My family - less me (the photographer is generally missed out)

The lake remains frozen in winters and the best time to visit the lake is from June to early October. But sometimes the lake remains frozen in case the weather turn colder. When the snow has completely melted away, the lake looks like a heavenly place on earth. The snow clad Malika Parbat and its sister tops add more to the beauty of the lake. It looks as if these  snow clad mountain tops are fairies guarding the blue waters of the lake.

While people do boat in the lake, the real adventure is camping by the lake side, specially if it is a full moon and fantasying the tales of fairies and that of the famous Saif ul Muluk, a poetic work written by famous poet Muhammad Bakhsh, who in his own words has described the folklore of an Egyptian prince Saif ul Muluk who fell in love with a fairy princess Badi ual Jamal.

Now watch the video about Lake Saif ul Muluk which shows the rugged stony track leading from Naran to the lake which only sturdy Jeeps could endure.
Recently, the gush of tourists to Naran and Lake Saif ul Muluk has increased manifold. This while is a good healthy sigh of flourishing tourism industry, beneficial for the locals as well, it has added crowd, litter and garbage to the lake side. While the local administrations earns from tourists, it should also make sure that there are adequate arrangements for garbage disposal and cleanliness of area to preserve the natural beauty of the place and to ensure a healthy environment - lest the fairies run away....

Photo at the top: My sons Wahaab Jalal (left) and Waqaace Jalal (right) posing by the lake - 1996
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