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Chill out at Chillas

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In northern Pakistan, Chilas - a small town - was once an important crossroads on the ancient trading route taken by travellers like Marco Polo. A jeep track leads from Chilas over the Babusar Pass to the Kaghan Valley. Until the opening of Karakorum Highway (KKH) this track was the main route to the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Going still is tough on the route that is passable only in the summers. We decided to take this track when I took the trip in May with my comrades, which started from Shinkiari.

Before leaving Chilas, visit to the famous inscriptions on the rocks is a must. Ancient inscriptions around Chilas date back in a period around first century BC. The most interesting thematic inscriptions are itched onto the faces of rocks between the KKH and the Indus River below Chilas town. One of the most interesting rock drawings we saw depicts two figures dressed in robes -- presumably Buddhist monks -- approaching a stupa in order to worship. The larger figure with a shaven head is carrying some sort of offering. The stupa to which theoffering is being made consists of a rectangular foundation with a ladder leading up to the path for circumambulation, which is surrounded by a railing. The dome of the stupa is decorated with a zigzag line, may be indicating a garland, and is surmounted by a small rectangular shrine and a vertical shaft with three horizontal discs. The architectural and stylistic features of this stupa drawing are similar to those of stupas found in the Swat Valley and other parts of ancient Gandhara in north-western Pakistan. Above the human figure making an offer and to the left of the dome of the stupa is a drawing of a single pillar with a capital (apparently a wild goat or ibex, which is the most common animal in rock drawings in the area) on a rectangular platform.

The mountain glen sets the tone after leaving Chilas for going to Naran via Babusar. We were on a four wheel driven jeep. In the beginning, the surrounding of Chilas are dry and the mountains rocky. Greenery is limited. As one moves farther from Chilas while zigzagging on hilly road, the greenery increases. Small villages show their distinct beauty. High mountains and clear and cool water torrents flow alongside the track. There are fruit trees (grape, apple, walnut and pear) in the way and some trees are so spread out that their branches touch the ground and touched the jeep as we passed by. Natural landscapes fascinate the hearts. At places jeep passes through water that flows on the road. Water is sweet and too cold to keep hands in it for a long time. The surroundings of the passageway are populated and people are seen busy in their work: agriculture. The innocent faces of kids and their activities reflect the district personality. The verdant mountains are on both sides of the track. The Rocky Mountains are hidden here and there among the lush green patches. The natural beauty of this territory compels the viewers to praise the Great Creator. This is the route up to the Babusar village -- the last habitat (with tea shops and small eating joints for occasional travellers mostly) before the Babusar top.

Leaving behind the village for Babusar top, the track continuously ascends and the jeep moves even slowly on the track. The cool air is penetrating and adds up to the beauty. The jeeps in the area mostly are without tarpaulin or hard roof. The gorgeous natural view attracts so no one wants to miss these views by sheltering. The clouds moves along and it happens sometime that one find his head in the clouds. The entire belt is shrouded in fortress of clouds and at some places we were unable to see landscapes for quite a distance. One of the magnificent views is of Nanga Parbat -- ninth highest peak of the world at an altitude of 26,656 feet above sea level and the westernmost bastion of the Himalayas. No other mountain within 100 kilometres comes anywhere near its size.

Babusar pass is on of the most beautiful passes in Pakistan. Small colourful flowers bloom here and there. It looks like someone has covered the mountains with green velvet layers and the flowing river increase many fold its splendour and majesty. Every scene is lovely on its own. There is snow on the Babusar top that glitters like pearls among the green mountains. It May, it was cold like a December night in Lahore or Lala Musa. I wished to have a home there, where I could take pleasure from the natural beauty of this area, but the locals live tough life, without simplest of the modern day civic amenities. But some of the more traditional food is still on offer in eating joins in the area: apricot noodles, apricot soup, apricot bread, apricot tea -- the secret of long life in the valley is attributed to apricots. In fact, the diet of people in the area as a whole is famous for its health giving properties. One of the best sites to stay at Babusar top is from where rivers (Kunhar and Chilas) originate.

At places the track down the top is so narrow that the four wheels of jeep could barely fit on it. There are mountains on one side of the track, many hundred feet deep ditches on the other side, and the river flows underneath. A spot in the way, namely, Khari is so dangerous to cross by the jeep that I still remember. It is on this route that the nerves are sharply tested. Gripping the jeep bars with full force, I forgot everything except the name of Allah Almighty. With the help of Allah, we crossed the place safely. Later, the skills of the driver were praised by every one! Due to the dangerous track, most people do not prefer this route and they come from the Naran side and return well before the top and they are deprived of the sights near the Babusar top. That is one thing that makes this jaunt more beautiful and fulfilling.

Next in the way is Lulusar -- a beautiful rectangular lake, about half a mile wide with sheer green mountains rising from the opposite side. The water is clear but dark green with the perfect reflection of the white snow in that depth of green. At various points, not far from the water's edge were icebergs, the tips of the glaciers, which had slid into the lake and not yet melted. Before arriving at village Jhalghat, we saw a beautiful circular hole of green water in the way side track. There are many local legends attached with this hole. Some people think that it is the footprint of a jinni that had been mentioned in the romantic tales of Saif ul Muluk and Princess Badar Jamal; others think that something has fallen from the sky which made this hole. The valley is most beautiful where river and track are almost at the same level. The mountains peaks covered with clouds make the place even more exquisite. We spent the night there.

Fresh, we started for Lalazar next morning. Now the track gets wider as well as is in better condition. The most fascinating thing about Lalazar is its curved path around a mountain towards its top. Lalazar is a beautiful spot covered with pine and spruce, with meadows full of flowers.

After spending few hours, we left for Naran and made it in the evening. Naran is the centre of tourism in the Kaghan valley. I was reminded of a British writer James Hilton who travelled to this remote valley in 1931 and found a place so beautiful, so wild and so remote that he named it Shangri-La, an earthly paradise. So apt! The river takes a leisurely bend forming islands and pools and bubbles over rocks. Taking quick round of the Lake Saif ul Muluk, we started our journey back.

We came together up till to Abbottabad. Back in to the real life, we went our separate ways: some back to Shinkiari, some stayed in Abbottabad and some went to other stations, places where one lives the real life. Heavenly! The world is etched in my mind ever since I visited the area.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Wednesday, June 08, 2016,

16 Comments:

At 10:06, Blogger Fahd Mirza said...

Have you seen the area after the earthquake? Its heart shattering.

 
At 10:11, Blogger Shirazi said...

@ FM: No. But I can imagine.

 
At 02:39, Blogger Teresa said...

I saw a TV piece on Pakistan today regarding the earthquake and it was horrible. It is hard to believe that you are writing about the same country I saw today on TV.

 
At 14:41, Blogger Tanzila said...

did u go there to reclaim yourself? i am most interested in knowing where did u manage to lose yourself ? ;) life is so different out there now...and the weird part is that i could never imagine how vast and hugely populated the northern areas were, bfr this disastor. and i say this with a degree of shame, for not making the effort to get to know this place and the people better. Now...it's unbearable to see the maimed, the dead, the destitute...some times i change the channel....

 
At 00:26, Blogger EXSENO said...

It sounds beautiful, I don't imagine that I will ever get the chance to go there, but I take these trips with you every time you write about them. Thank you.

 
At 06:56, Blogger RisingSlowly said...

Your travel writing is what I enjoy. Thanks, Shirazi

 
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At 22:03, Anonymous Carol Yates Wilkerson said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this trip. I'm sorry the earthquake caused such devastation. Thank you for taking me on your trip via words and descriptions.

 
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At 14:46, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Enjoyed reading since it reminded me of my on treval to the area way back in 1978

 

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