Where I Get My Supply of Salageet (Shilajit)
Friday, January 4, 2013
Some places are so peaceful and unspoiled that it is almost unbelievable. One such locality is the picturesque, tranquil and pollution free (and undeveloped) boarder village Arrandu in district Chitral. The very sound of the name is musical. This village is located 'on' the Pakistan Afghanistan boarder. Dir-Chitral Road bifurcates near village Mir Khanni and a jeep able track along Kunar River leads to Arrandu through Domail Nisar and onwards into Afghanistan.
Gateway to the South Asia, the Chitral valley has been center of activity since ancient times. Macedonians advanced through this region in fourth century. In 1338, Timur subdued the area on his way to the plains of Punjab. Mughal King Akbar garrisoned here in 1587 and the British in 1897 in Chakdara on Dir side of Lowari Pass. Among soldiers who served here in Chakdara then was young Winston Churchill who later became Prime Minister of Britain. So far about the past importance of the valley but the little hamlet got the international fame during Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. It remained in the news and was commonly called as 'BBC Baby'.
The 3118-meter Lowari Pass is normally open to vehicles from June to October. One can sometime cross the pass on foot in May or November, despite the snow. One can also reach this small hamlet from Peshawar to Chitral by air and then by road to Arrandu or from Afghanistan. Though taking flight to Chitral is not everyone's cup of tea because the Fokker Friendship can cross the Lowari Pass only if weather permits. It rarely does particularly once the valley is landlocked in winters. First time, I landed in Chitral after three attempts by Fokker. Flying above the clouds, I had a window seat on the West Side of the small and noisy aircraft and could see the sighs of Hindu Kush where clouds allowed. Chitral to Arrandu via Drosh along Kunar River is easily one of the prettiest drives in the valley.
Chitral Scouts have kept this post in a very good shape. And, when ever I happened to pass the post conducting 'travelers' from down country or alone, I was always given a warm welcome and send off by Essa Khan, a local who has the biggest store cum tea house in the village. He also has arrangements for Trout fishing in Kunar River near his store. After zig zagging on a difficult road, one can spend a good day at the riverbank fishing and relaxing, with supply of tea from the Pinion Shah's teashop. And, to me Pinion Shah used to present, every time I visited him, a gift of pure salageet (Shilajit) - an oozing black paste from rocks famous among men in this part of the world as an anti aging and sexual health. After Afghan refugees and occasional travelers, now this road is used by herd of goats lead by a lonely Gujars to and from greener pastures. That is the place, which I use as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life and that is where "I go to reminisce about fairies."
While the entire Chitral Valley is breathtaking in its splendor and beauty, one of my most enduring memories of Arrandu is watching the sunrise over the hills. And, when you devote enough time to look at the mountains, it becomes a bit chameleon - clouding over, changing colors, cliffs turning into convex and concave according to the slant light.
Arrandu has red roofed grand mosque and some makeshift provision stores that are stocked in summers when Lowari Pass is open to road traffic. There is also a water mill for grinding grain. Lot of tracks interlaces the area that is frequented by Mazdas or pedestrians.
At night, lights glow in this isolated village. One finds men spending their quality time sitting on the retaining walls along the razor edged roads and tracks while women (mostly with enlarged thyroid glands due to lack of iodine) working in the fields, homes or collecting woods from hills in conical wicker baskets. Even in their fifties men carry guns along with a belt of ammunition. The fact is that I found them friendly and at peace with themselves.
There are side valleys that yawn on both sides of Kunar River for hiking in its upper reaches. Friendly people of Tajik origin who had came from Badakhshan in Afghanistan only a few generations ago, to manufacture matchlock rifles for the Mehtar of Chitral populate the area. Arrandu Road is an ideal place to study the effects of land erosion: how it ruins the land and clogs waterways. And, there are some beautiful geological formations along the road. Besides scenery, there are many well-used camping grounds on both sides of the road and river, which run side by side.
Isolated from the rest of the country because of the remote location, Chitralis live a primitive rural existence without any civic amenities. Even the TV transmissions, telephone and electricity only in some parts of distract are a recent phenomenon. "Why would anyone want to live in a country like that?" Pinion Shah smiled and said, "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 stool: a freedom that meets other people only on its own terms - and yet forces you to care about every one of your neighbors scattered across the hillocks. Most of the Chitralis whom I asked confessed, "We like and want our own way of life." That is what is keeping them there.
Tags: Travel, Chitral
posted by S A J Shirazi @ 8:00 AM,
- At 11:31:00 AM, Ek lakh said...
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