I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

...Of The Great Summer Trip

If ever I have any children,a pretty slim chance,as I'll come to later,I know what I'll do on long winter evenings.
I'll sit the little buggers on my knees,give 'em something to eat so that they keep their mouths shut.And then I'll start my story...

"Today,me lads,daddy's gonna tell you the story of how he went on the first great trip of his life"

And they'll all squirm,look at each other and roll their eyes,as if saying,"Oh heavens,not again !!"

"Keep still you little varmints,and listen.This is how it all began"


I woke up in front of the PC.I had fallen asleep on the wicker chair recording the tapes for the trip to Shogran(see previous post).Grudgingly I put the final tape into the console and finished the seven hour recording session.Now was the time to pack.As always,mine was minimalist;a toothbrush,a Vonnegutt and my cellphone,plus the trusty inhaler for emergencies.The three cars were soon loaded up as we set out round about one in the afternoon.And this is where all the headfone-wearing bore its reward as Abida Perveen blared from then stereo.My cousins,caught unawares,quickly covered their ears and hid for cover...

We rolled along,smooth as can be,and by and by we came to Balakot.It's been one and a half years since the terrible earthquake of 8th October,but the land still hasn't healed.The mountains lay bare their scarred and bruised bodies everywhere one looked.The city itself was a jumble of blue-roofed prefab homes,a sign of the world's generosity.The Kunhar,the red river,still flowed in all it's roaring majesty.It cut and clawed at the already ravaged land,forcing a new path for itself amid all the sliding and slipping rock.

We passed on,along the makeshift one-way bridges.
The roads,once glistening two lane affairs,were utterly ruined.At places,almost unpassably dangerous,it was a miracle that the three cars managed to navigate them safely,their prodigious cargoes intact.Finally,we reached better roads,amid wonderful foliage,and snaked up the road to Shogran.Here,one of the cars which had drawn the short straw and was carrying the,er most generous load,finally gave up.It refused to go any further,citing the Geneva Conventions,unloading all who sat(applying the term very loosely) inside.It was for the rest of tha caravan to take turns depositing the whole traveling party to their destination.I was urged(shoved) out of my seat to make way for one of the others,and waited by the side of the road for the car to return.I whiled away the time by admiring the magnificent foliage,especially the fern forests.

Finally,I was there,Shogran.At a height of 2500 metres,a vast green plain nestled among the mountains,looking out to the snow-clad Kaghan mountains.

Our accomodation was reserved in a marvelous Forest Department rest house,a lavish new building constructed after the original one had been destroyed in the earthquake.It was cold,calm and windy,in short perfect for Frisbee !! An hour later,invigorated by cold sweat,sitting out in deck chairs,sipping tea,I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

The sun set over the mountains at a quarter to eight,and the twilight lasted another half hour.Our appetites whetted by the mountain breeze,not that mine needs any whetting,I quickly wolfishly gulped down a hearty dinner,and had mangoes afterwards.(Just had to mention the mangoes,dontcha know !).
The night ended with everyone huddled up in the giant sitting room for a sing-along.Nano couldn't stop laughing at all her brood singing themselves silly in the night.then it was time for bed..


I was woken up at the ungodly hour of 4.30 am,and went out into the biting cold to watch the sunrise over the snow-clad mountains.My dad had assured me that it was going to be worth the lost sleep.Unfortunately,the clouds had different plans,and crowded out the whole east face,turning it into a kaliedoscope of light and shade,like something Rembrandt would have turned up if he had decided to take up landscapes.A single glimpse of the sun was all that was afforded us in that sunrise.

That day was earmarked for a trip even higher to a place called "Sarri Paye",a series of two mountains that in their confusion,had gotten topsy turvy,with Sarri on a lower altitude than Paye.We were all urged to partake a hearty breakfast,especially us dunces who had volunteered to forsake the jeep trail in favour of a nine kilometer hike.Me,my brother and the most,let's say,well endowed cousin collected the camera,the water flask and a pack of Wrigleys and set forth in advance of the rest of the family who would follow in jeeps up the trecherous track.My brother,the sly devil,quickly ran off ahead,leaving me to lumber up the mountain with my cousin at snail's pace.The poor sod would stop every ten paces with pitiful cries of"Ouch,my legs!","Ouch,my knees!","Ouch,my feet!","Ouch,my bum!"
Anyway,we trudged along.It was a sheer climb,slippery,steep and muddy,with not a bit of plain level track along the way.But it was as beautiful as could be,with vistas opening up at every bend,revealing the fabulous valley below in splendid detail.

The mountain sun blazed on my neck all along.the trek seemed to be never-ending,with every bend in the road exposing further stretches of the track.Halfway up,just as I was fed up with my cousin's whining,one of our jeeps met us and picked him up,thus relieving both of us of our misery.Instead,dad got out and decided to keep me company for the remaining four and a half hours.It was a very difficult hike,but we finally managed to make it to the top,albeit not without a heavy price.The damage my,ahem,family jewels took on the way set me halfway along a future devoid of the pattering of tiny little feet in the tiny little homestead.
But what awaited me on the top was well worth the sacrifice.As I trudged my now insubordinating limbs to the crest of the peak,a marvelous sight awaited me.Acre upon acre of the most flat,the most green,and the most flower-carpeted terrain I had ever seen.It was colourful enough to burn my retinas,after they had been greyed into oblivion by the mundane terrain of the plains.there were little lakes of rainwater,each fifty feet across,clear blue,with the green of the moutains reflected in them.All around were sheer drops into the valleys down below.

And that was not all.For rising from the plains was the Crab Mountain,"Makra" to the locals,which was still wearing a tattered mantle of last year's snow.All that snow re-awakened our hiking spirits that had been dampened somewhat by the nine kilometer climb.

Taking an empty water bottle,we wowed to trek up the mountain and bring back some of the snow.It was farther than we had thought,a total of five kilometres.Finally we reached the snow.It was dirty,in a rocky depression quite a long way down,and difficult to reach,but we were nothing if not resilient.We finally managed to gather a fistful of snow and brought it back like spoils of war.

We finally managed to gather a fistful of snow and brought it back like spoils of war.After three hours up at "Paye",we headed down to"Sarri" for a traditional mountain lunch,again courtesy the forest department.A mix-up with the jeeps meant that there wasn't anyone to bring the rest of the family down to "Sarri",and they all trudged down in groups of two or three.Everyone was tested to their limits,most of all,my Nano.She's hypertensive,diabetic,and as she let everyone know along the way,well versed in the choicest Punjabi expletives.Everyone was worried out of their skins at the thought of her climbing down the steep tracks and heaved a huge sigh of relief when she made it to "Sarri" safe and sound,although a little worse for wear.Everyone attacked the food with gusto,especially the silly hikers.
In a moment of madness,I had decided to opt for the jeep,instead of hiking down,thinking that my knees had already taken enough of a beating.I had thought that the trip in the jeep would be tranquil compared to the gruesome hike,instead,it put the fear of God into me !!The jeep swayed and rolled,jumped and flew down the bends that seemed ten times more treacherous.All the while,finishing the good work that the upward hike had started on my,er,you-know-whats.That's the moment I resigned myself to a life of sterility.I got off halfway,and in damage control mode,hiked very gingerly down the slopes.Once again,the valleys were generous in the views they provided me.

I dragged myself back to the hut,and fell headfirst onto the bed,thinking I would never regain the use of my battered legs after a total of 23 kilometres up and down the mountains.Elsewhere around me were similar sights to see.Everyone was nursing their legs,arms and other assorted body parts.I lay down that night expecting a deep,healing sleep.Instead...


I woke up at two in the morning to the scariest sound I had ever heard.Gale force winds were tearing through the rafters,with sleet crashing on the windows and awesome flashes of lightning that burned up the whole sky.I dozed off again,waking up on the final morning of our trip,expecting to see signs of last night's tempest.But a different sight awaited me as I stepped out into the bitter cold morning.The sky was clear,the distant mountains were fully exposed and bore on their backs a sparkling white burden of fresh snow.Hitchin up my sagged jaw,I called up the rest of the family to feast their eyes on the sight.

That sight,with the whole clan,the oldest member at 66 and the youngest at 5 summers old,gazing in awe at nature's handiwork,capped off a wonderful trip..
A few parting snaps,and we loaded up our stuff to head back.Thankfully,the road back passed without any incident.We stopped in Balakot to offer Fateha at the grave of Syed Ahmed Shaheed,who had laid down his life back when Jihad really meant what it meant.After that it was a smooth drive back to Abbottabad,with wonderful music playing all along the way.
"So,that me lads,is how your old dad went on the first great trip of his life.Wasn't it exciting,eh lads?."
"Lads ?? Where've you run off to ??"
"Lads,LADS !!"
N.B,All the photographs were taken from my mobile phone,apologies for the picture quality.

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