This article appeared in daily the Nation
Most hard core travelers, particularly foreigners, come up with some local character who came "offering them hashish, heroin, sledge, or something even more bizarre when they write about their travel experiences in Pakistan, perhaps in an effort to make their tales rich in adventure, absurdity and or humor. Or they tell harrowing tales like their belongings stolen on gun point. Maybe they think this makes their stories culturally more erudite.
On the other hand, to-ing and fro-ing in Northern Areas
, other touristy area and even during my long hauls elsewhere in Pakistan, what I could come across was only ordinary, warn, courteous and hospitable people who are always eager to go a long way to help.
It is easy to fall in love people who show consideration in physically tough conditions. I first met Drosh Khan during my assignment as a facilitator with multinational climbing expedition to Nanga Parbat from Rupal side in 2003. That is when our friendship started by chance. I was to accompany the expedition only up to forward base camp. The hike to base camp and extended stay there brought every kind of weather imaginable - scorching sun, blinding sandstorms, white-out blizzards. It was during my stay in the base camp that that I came to know young Drosh more.
Drosh Khan is sturdy and knows the mountains inside out. His forefathers migrated to Baltistan over six hundred years ago. Originally Buddhist, they along with other Balti people converted to Islam during the Moghul period in the sixteenth century. While some of the Baltis adapted to a trading economy, many are still largely pastoralists.
Although I was not one of the climbers, the weather in the base camp left me physically emaciated and emotionally wasted. With great good fortune, on the way back, I was invited by Drosh Khan to his village, situated at the edge of the Rupal Valley, to recuperate. There I was nursed back to health with a combination of goat's milk, apricots and warm hospitality. I and Drosh Khan have always been in contact ever since.
Living in a small peaceful hamlet opened my eyes to the realities of the Balti ways of life. Baltis live hard, graceful and independent life. Living conditions are harsh and devoid of modern day civic amenities we in urban centers take for granted. The Baltis live in isolated, remote valleys subsisting on pastoral grazing and marginal crops of barley and wheat. The climate is severe due to the high altitudes. Villagers rely on their ingenuity to bring glacier water to their fields and homes. Medical care is almost nonexistent. Broken bones and burns often go untreated, and diseases due to malnutrition are a common fact of village life. Chronic infections often lead to blindness and deafness. Infant mortality rate under age one caused primarily by diarrhea-induced dehydration is alarmingly high. In winter, villagers crawl into tiny basement dugouts and spend months huddled together, barely kept warm by smoky fires.
Despite this abject poverty, Baltis not only accept their destiny, but embrace the hardship as well as the beauty of their lives, keeping their humanity undimmed and even enhancing it. Facing an existence of privation and adversity, Drosh Khan and his family generously took in me and cared for like their own.
The traditional Balti ways of life are no doubt are about to change. Their ancient self-sustainable methodologies are being lost in the pursuit of the cash that expedition and trekking jobs bring. The inflow of money, material goods, and growing numbers of foreign travelers are impacting the Balti culture in many ways. In return for sharing their spectacular mountain surroundings with outsiders and for providing the strong back on which many expeditions reached their goals and many westerners realized their adventures, these Balti people deserve a decent future in which they have a voice.
Drosh Khan had nine years of schooling before he started working as a porter. He is familiar with spoken English and is qualified in mountain hygiene and sanitation, first aid, and crevasse rescue. Drosh Khan told, “I leave villages for months at a time to seek elusive jobs as porters. I remain busy for the trekking season and earn enough to sustain our family through winters.”
“Serious mountaineering starts in the forward base camps,” narrated Drosh Khan, “I have seen climbers going back from the base camps even without attempting and team leader failing to pursue them to go ahead.” Though the travel to Pakistan has declined, but adventure travel has sustained.
Baltis are famous for longevity but Drosh Khan is aging for a porter job. He was once known to carry maximum load when he was young literally moving the mountains of luggage and equipment on the most difficult hikes. As a person, Drosh Khan always inspires me. He remains proud, happy and ready to share despite all the hardships. There is no fast lane in his life. He has no worries, alienation or fears. He is very contended with life and what ever comes his way.
I still remember what he had once told me, “keep a lemon and suck on it while walking hard and long in hills. It gives strength and quenches thrust.” Once he said, “tire the mountain not yourself." I realize the folk wisdom in the advices every time I walk.
Porters are the backbone of most climbing expeditions, trekking and adventurous exploration into the mountains all over the world. The agile, tireless, hardworking people, primarily from local communities, ferry massive loads of gear on their backs. Like the more familiar Sherpa people of the Himalaya, the Pakistani porters are respected among fraternity of mountain lovers as some of the best porters in the world. They are dedicated and know where the crevasses and icefalls are, how to acclimatize, how much food and fuel to haul up the hill, when to push on, when to rest. They are unsung heroes of high-altitude mountaineering. Without their labor, many a base camps would never have been established; many a summit would never have been conquered.
Would you like to move to a city? "Drosh Khan smiled and replied, "I guess we like it here because we like to be left alone. Oh, it is nice to have people visiting. And we like people all right. But we like them on our own terms." And, he was right. I could hear him, murmuring sitting on his old walking stool. Most of the Baltis whom I asked confessed, "We like and want our own way of life." That is what is keeping them there.
Labels: In Print, Nation, Porters, Travel
posted by S A J Shirazi @ 7:55 AM,
At 3:57:00 PM,
"Tire the mountains, not yourself," I remember someone telling me this.
At 2:47:00 AM,
Thanks for sharing this link - but unfortunately it seems to be down? Does anybody here at logicisvariable.blogspot.com have a mirror or another source?
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