Saturday, August 2, 2008

back track

walking out of Goz Khon, Nargis and i were loaded on the yaks along with our duffel bags and other samaan. Kamila decided to walk the flat parts and change places with Nargis when the trail would begin to climb back up. Nargis could climb uphill without too much trouble, it was the down hill that was exacerbating the blister problem. so we set off - atuned to yak riding by now, so much so that it was actually enjoyable. i began to recognize the gentle sure footed nature of the animal - it was no wonder that they used such polite language with their yaks. every time it would step on some huge boulder you'd think both yak and rider would go flying, not a chance. you could even just leave the yak alone and he'd find his way home. along the way i learned how to handle the reins - if you can call a rope strung through its nose that - and all the accompanying noises that got it moving. my yaks sudden impulse to stop in its tracks and drink or eat something wasn't a nuisance any more. in fact i was willing to humor the beast, but some one or the other would come and shush it into action again.
by the time we spotted Kamila she had already walked up the most difficult parts of the trail, several hundred meters up, and much to her own surprise wasn't winded. she didn't want to ride the yak even now. nor did Nargis any more - so they both took off while i slowly plod along the trail soaking in the scenery and enjoying the ride so much more than i had at Woolio. Nadir and Nafeesha were long gone - much ahead of the rest as always. they have their own stories to tell - i wasn't privy to much of their trail walking or talking - i couldn't keep pace even if i tried.
i met up with Kamila and Imran at some point, Nargis had moved on to join the other two. Kamila was getting winded now and a little tired. so yak it was for her all the way to the Woolio river bed which she crossed on the yaks back, Nadir walked it across, Nargis and myself got carried across one (human) back or the other - Nafeesah was at the village socializing already.
the village wasn't far from the water crossing and i was way done yak riding. aches, pains and all, we all reentered Shuwerth on our own two feet.

being received by the villagers with more chilpindoq and loads of tea, lots of delicious yogurt which we kept asking refills for, felt like we had really come from a 'journey'. we hung around for a while soaking in the hospitality of Farmans home, and just letting the body rest. towards the evening Kamila and i saddled up on the yaks one last time and got to our Shimshal pass campsite.

that evening playing around at camp, Imran and Khusdil accidentally threw a tea cup which landed squarely on Guls forehead - he cut himself and was bleeding. Nafeesah cleaned it up with a pink hello kitty band aid that she insisted he wear all the way back home. which he happily did.
this little accidental mishap left Imran and Khusdil mortified that they'd injured their 'boss'. too embarrassed to face all of us to return to the kitchen tent, they stayed out, no where to be found. the rest of us finally ate dinner and began one of the usual bullshit games. a little later Gul felt a hand behind him, trying to sneak a sleeping bag from the tent. he ran out to find Khushdil all huddled up outside in the cold. with much difficulty he convinced him to come in and join the rest. Imran was no where to be found - Khushdil was practically in tears with shame and embarrassment - we had to all reassure him that no one was judging or blaming, it was a game and Guls head just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time! it was a small incident none of us would have even bothered with, besides a simple 'I'm sorry'. but these folks looked at mistakes differently, they cared too much for each other, respected each others hierarchical positions, hurting someone even accidentally wasn't acceptable. Gul tried hard to convince them otherwise - they weren't - Imran never returned for the night, sleeping at a distance from the campground without a sleeping bag, while Khushdil reluctantly joined in with the card game. barely laughing, but putting on his best face.

the next two days of long dreary walks to Arbab Purin and past Furzin didn't feel so long and dreary any more. perhaps because we were loosing elevation so the going was faster, or perhaps looking at the scenery again and from the opposite direction made you notice things you'd missed out the first time. walking up the scree slopes was another matter! its one thing running down a scree slope and a whole other going up the same way. the kids made it seem so easy - they just took right off. Kamila and i had Imran and Gul to hold our hands from time to time and in parts almost drag us up. it was not fun, but great once we reached a ridge and looked down to see what wed accomplished. ALOT.
return journeys have a different feel - a different perspective, no more the "the same excitement mixed with trepidation and a mild sense of insecurity mixed with a steely determination to get there - no matter what". but almost the opposite, step by step feeling you had accomplished what you had set out to do, yet step by step getting closer to the end of an incredible experience. wanting to hold on for as long as possible yet beginning to tire of the ins and outs of the same campsites - a mixed bag of emotions.

Arbab Purin was our second last stop - by the time we got there the dutch ambassador and his crew were camped at our old spot. we were curious to chat with them - they were playing the aloof game. i coaxed Nargis and Nafeesah to go get the scoop on them. as young and full of beans as they are, they were both shy and awkward. i had quiet a time pushing them to just go and start chatting! they did eventually, and came back with boring reports - no need to befriend these folks!
earlier as i walked into camp i caught sight of a familiar face - i couldn't believe my eyes- it was the homely Shimshali i had mistaken Gul for - the man i thought id been in correspondence with for 6 months. i was so excited i barely stopped short of giving him a hug.
Gul hadn't stopped probing us for details of our mix up. who was the other guy we had mistaken him for, what was the village wed dropped him off at, didn't we remember his name? - but mostly why had we nixed Gul in the first place. ofcourse by this time we had told him all - no more polite excuses were necessary. so when i saw 'Gul' i took his arm and walked him straight up to where Gul, Kamila and the others were chatting. this is him, the other 'Gul'
- Gul was mortified - me walking arm in arm with his direct competition, excitedly introducing him to everyone. of course they knew each other - and well - so they exchanged polite 'ya ali madadts'. 'Gul' wondering what the hell was going on. no Pakistani woman grabs a strange mans arm and merrily walks him right up to her friends to introduce him with such gusto. he had a surprised smile on his face. no one was enlightening him either.
it didn't matter - i was just excited to be able to find him again and show Gul and the rest who the mystery man was.

our satellite phone hadn't worked even once so far - which was frustrating, specially since we wanted to get word home that all was good and we were doing well, and Gul wanted to check on his sick two week old baby he'd left behind in Gilgit.
as we were waiting around for dinner we suddenly heard a gut wrenching wailing from outside the porters hut - in the distance we could see the man crying and almost keeling over, everyone gathered around him propping him up and taking him into the hut - the wailing didn't stop. it was the only sound echoing from the red rock walls of Arbab Purin. it turned out that the man had lost his brother on K2 - there had been a huge accident and 11 people had died - the only Pakistanis amongst them were two high altitude porters from Shimshal, one had died on his way down from the peak, rescuing an Italian climber - the wailing mans brother. the other a nephew to another porter. this was shocking news - a somber, sad pall befell the campground.
miraculously our phone finally began to work - several calls were made to get as much accurate news as possible. the news of the deaths were no rumors - Guls son on the other hand was fine and back in Shimshal.
after a little while all the Shimshalis gathered outside the hut, while the dutch folks and all of us looked on from our campsites. the mukhi - also a porter - began to read sura - e - Noor, followed by the Al-hamd and finally salwat. so much happiness suddenly tempered with great sorrow. listening to the familiar Quranic suras echoing from this remote desolate mountain enclave, was at once a calming and sobering experience. a simple gathering of men had swiftly and efficiently organized to begin the process of mourning, reminding all present that death lies as close as your jugular vein.
a short Farsi prayer completed the service.
we finished up with dinner by ourselves and then waited for Gul and Mirzaw to come back to camp so we could also go across and condole. it was a short emotional condolence - everyone got up to wish us, i read the fateha aloud - shia style, one Al-hamd, three Quls and 7 salwats - for the two dead men - the guide in this group talked about both the men, their accomplishments and contributions to Shimshali society, then thanked us for coming and condoling with them and finally we all shook hands and wished every one in the room - the young man who had lost his brother was crying like a baby - we just hugged him in silence - he hugged back and cried some more. there were no words to be exchanged.
Kamila and i stayed up for Gul, who came back to camp with a splitting headache, as I'm sure others must have had - - none of our men had eaten dinner. the two young men were not only Guls friends, one was also a cousin to one of our porters. Gul had sent him back to Shimshal along with a few others. the customary thing to do would have been to feed dinner to everyone who was present - all we had to offer were two platefuls of left over nuts from our snack mixes. we sent that across as our small token of sympathy.
it was a long somber night - the sadness of the death of these two young shinning stars of Shimshal befell the whole camp ground. these were highly accomplished mountaineers. well loved by everyone in the village. they were famous not just for their mountaineering skills but highly respected for their social service to all. each had left behind a young wife and three young kids. everyone present was a friend or relative.
Past Furzin - long as the walk was from Arbab Purin, it didn't compare with two weeks back when we had walked to this first campsite - we were all spent.
two weeks later we were leaner, darker, puffier, dirtier but alot more cheerful and alot less tired.
we bathed again - our second river bath this entire time - and felt refreshed and ready to get walking next day - to our luck it was an overcast morning and later began to rain - it rained all day - Nafeesha, Nadir and Nargis arrived in Shimshal soaked to the bone - Kamila and i had dried up pretty much, cause the rain had stopped by the time we hit the rocky river bed. it was a loooong walk back on that plain - Gul walked with us for a quite a while then both him and Imran went ahead so they could get our bath water ready - we had to go condoling to both homes, it was the day of the soyem. Shimshali tradition dictates that you only visit the homes of the bereaved before sunset, preferably in the afternoon.
we got back in time for the warm bath, changed into our shalwar kamizes and walked another half an hour to the next village to condole with the families of these two young heros. as tired as we were from walking all day, and as much as we would have simply liked to sleep before dinner, we felt compelled to visit the two families. the whole village was in mourning, it was a palpable sadness that had over come the Shimshalis. there was no way of expressing the sorrow except that it hung thick in the late summer air and somehow gripped each one of us in its pall. ironically the walk to the next village was so soothing and beautiful, going past farm lands, meeting people on the way, everyone knows each other, it was as if we were regulars in Shimshal. nothing seemed foreign or new. it all looked familiar, as if we were walking towards a relatives house. the village sits under the shadow of Shimshal white horn - a magnificent mountain, one that had just claimed a young 27 year old englishman three weeks back. even as tragedy occurs and always looms in the back of every mountaineer, even trekkers mind, you continue to feel the pull, the awe, the respect for every mountains strength and beauty. walking back in the dusky evening light the dry tears of the two wailing mothers continued to ring loud and clear in my head.
i keep going back to the beauty of the village and thinking how fortunate these young men were to have been loved by so many, to have lived and died in a place they loved, in an act they loved.

ill wrap up tomorrow..........................

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