Pakistan, Jannat Nazeer
It was a terrible ride.
My head was heavy with fatigue while my nose battled with dust and the stench of niswar to breathe leftover air. And every time I thought I couldn’t take another jolt or my bones would break, the jeep would plunge into a fresh frenzy of bumps –compliments of the valley tracks.
“Are we there yet?” I asked the driver for the zillionth time. “And what is that smell?” I whispered to my husband, Asif, stuffing my shawl as far in my nostrils as I could.
“Tobacco,” he said,“probably laced to endure such a ride…you should chew some too.”
“Oh yeah that’ll be a great way to remember my honeymoon by…homemade dope,” I frowned. “Not to mention the broken bones.”
“Come on,” Asif hugged me tightly, “where’s my li’l adventurer? This is a once in a lifetime experience.”
“I can see why…and stop stifling me,” I pushed him away. “If I die here I’ll haunt you for life!”
“Like the way you did before I married you?” Asif snickered teasingly.
“I did not...why are we stopping?” I stopped halfway through punching Asif’s shoulder.
While we were busy fighting, the driver had slowly steered the jeep off track onto a grassy patch and stopped. “Would you like to stretch…take pictures before we drive up the mountain to the lake?”
I peered from behind my shawl. With sudden death of the engine’s din, the valley had come to life. A cool mountain breeze brushed against my aching body, inviting me out of the dreadful vehicle with its sweet morning scent of an alpine forest. The sapphire skies were painted with wide strokes of milky white clouds, and cradled a cheerful August sun that was busy playing hide and seek with the valley. The mountains and grassy valley floors, strewn with rocks and boulders of all denomination, basked in their own exuberance.
“Our very own Naran Valley,” Asif said focusing his camera, “Pakistan Janat Nazeer –Pakistan really is a paradise look-alike.”
“There’s so much air.” I opened my arms wide and felt the wind in my face. I had never tasted anything so refreshing.
“Say cheese,” Asif turned to me and clicked a few times.
“Okay let’s go,”the driver shouted from behind the wheel. “We have two hours to get to Lulusarand back before it gets dark and freezing.”
“Excuse me but you said four hours in the city.” I complained.
“Yes, four in the city,” he said, “two city hours equal one mountain hour. Now hop in.”
I looked at the Lulusar Mountains rising high one after the other. The clouds had formed a thick grey canopy that seemed to dwell only at those mountain tops. Hence, our ride there seemed like a transition from the land of sunshine into the realm of night. It looked mysterious and suddenly I wanted to explore those distant hills.
We got back in our hired rusty but sturdy ride and the journey began once more. The terrain was getting rockier by inches. We traveled high and low and were thoroughly entertained by the stunning scenes of nature that God had generously sprinkled over this valley of Northern Pakistan. There were lakes, deltas, streams and waterfalls. But the backbreaking ride to view it all was constantly chewing away at the joy of being in such a heavenly place.
“I hope the lake is worth all the fractures I’ve endured during this ride,” I shouted above all sorts of loud sounds our vehicle was making in order to climb up the last rocky mountain to the famous Lake of Lulusar.
“Yes it is,” the driver shouted back. “You are brave though…many women find this road scary.”
“I don’t blame them,” I replied, eyeing the track we had just come up. It was a simple man-made pathway from the days of the British Raj, carved to facilitate transportation of supplies to the British military base in these hills. From a distance, the track looked like a long crack in the mountainside. It was wide enough to accommodate only one small jeep-like vehicle at a time and its fenceless edge made it more dangerous.
We had left the valley of the sun behind us and were now headed for the clouds. The entire space was draped in dewy curtains that fell from the sky, lending the hills a touch of silvery sparkles. I had never seen such beauty. It seemed these mountains told tales of an enchanting world where ethereal creatures ruled.
The jeep suddenly bashed into another large rock and sent it crumbling into the valley depths. New waves of pain shot through my body and I could feel my heart throbbing in my head. I was close to strangling the driver when he cried out the magic words, “there it is!”
I watched as our painfully narrow track curved behind a huge boulder and merged into a wide open valley embracing a majestic lake…the astounding Lake of Lulusar.
It was serene and silver, a scene torn out of heaven and pasted on earth. I was standing in the clouds at an altitude of 11,200 feet (3,410 m) and could experience the world in its purest form. Nature’s therapeutic harmony was brushing away the dirt of real life to reveal a more delicate me that felt perfectly in sync with this enchanting moment.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” I turned to Asif. Then I looked back at the expansive lake. It stretched from where I stood and disappeared far into the misty curtains behind and around the mountains. The breeze was quiet and Time stood still in honor of the hanging clouds caressing the un-swum depths of the magical Lulusar.
I wondered how deep the lake was. Statistically, it is not known. The only facts available about this enchanting lake are that it is the main source of the Kunhar River (a major river of the Kaghan & Naran Valley), is rich in trout and historically, it is reminiscent of the arrest of 55 fighters of the 1857 War of Independence (India’s first freedom struggle against the British Raj). It is 48 km away from Naran city in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Pakistan and…it is absolutely beautiful.
I glanced at the blue and white flowers crowning the banks of the lake and smiled at their bliss. And when the tiny frosty ripples kissed my toes I reached out and tickled their shimmering depths with my fingers, secretly hoping that the mermaids down below would hear me.
This is where the fairies live, I thought, I never want to leave here.
“You may want to hurry up,” the devil driver crowed from behind the wheel again, shredding my ethereal daydream.
“What’s wrong with you?” I yelled back. “We just got here.”
“Barish,”he pointed to the sky. It was drizzling. “I don’t want to get stuck in these mountains.”
“Come on,” Asif motioned to me with his camera, “stand on this rock.”
Hence, a few pictures later we were heading back to civilization.
“I’m curious;”Asif spoke holding the edge of his bumping seat tightly, “what will you do if there’s another jeep coming up while we’re going down?”
“O we have a neat system,” the driver laughed, “they wont send another jeep till I get back.”
“These mountains are gorgeous but it’s a pain to come here,” I moaned. “Doesn’t the Government do anything?”
“Why should it…people visit anyway,” the driver stated simply. “And it is a breathtaking experience.”
“O yes,” I said,“in every sense of the word.”
I looked back at the receding mountains and wondered if I would ever be heading back there. The risks and dangers of the road were too great…but so was the ethereal beauty of the lake. And after six years of visiting there I can still say: if there’s a little piece of heaven on earth, it is tucked away in the Mountains of Lulusar.