Being situated among the loftiest mountains of the world, namely the Himalayas, Karakoram, Hindukush and Pamir ranges in north Pakistan, since the very primitive times the physical features of Gilgit Baltistan effectively isolated it from the out side world.
Hardly any traveler, adventurer or a business caravan could pass through the rocky terrains of Gilgit-Baltistan using ancient silk route, on camels and horses. Such visitors mostly came either from Chinese Xinjiang (China) or the Afghan corridor of Wakhan in the north, or from Tajik Gorno Badakshan and Afganistan region in the west, and Kashmir in the south east.
They introduced new culture and religions, and also transferred knowledge of more sophisticated techniques in agriculture, mining and hunting over a time of several centuries.
In the recent periods of modernization when the world was embracing a new era of revolution in technological advancements and scientific inventions, the social change in this part of the world came very late. It was not only because of the rough terrain of the area, which hindered access for exogenous influence in the shape of technology and social development, but also because it was a closed social system in a feudal society ruled by local kings. They did not allow change and development in the area, perceiving it a threat to the internal power structure.
Education was not allowed. Very few people could go out and see the world, while most of the people almost never closely experienced the ‘modern’ technological inventions, including vehicles, planes and rails etc.
In Hunza-Nagar, before a jeep-able road was constructed in 1957 and people had seen any vehicle, the helicopter had made its way into the valleys.
The first view of a helicopter in the sky, to the villagers, was that of an unidentified flying object (UFO), one that they had never seen or heard of before. They started to compare it with the mythical characters that they had heard in the stories of Shamanism.
It is said that an old lady who was weaving a woolen thread on a sunny noon of winters, on the roof top of her house, in Phakar Nagar, saw the mysterious object flying in the sky, approaching towards the village. Horrified, she quickly yelled down the Sagam (a skyward opening window found in traditional homes of Hunza-Nagar and other valleys of the region). “A Mayal Gus (a mythical female character of Hunza-Nagar who lives in the skies and rarely comes down burning everything) is approaching our home”, she yelled, warning them to go down the Surung” (a cell constructed in those days for milk-giving cows inside the residential building, at the entrance). Cows were considered to be the only protectors capable of defending humans against Mayal Gus.
The family members quickly hid under the cow, as the lady also rushed down from the roof. They all sat under the cow, says the oral account. Out side in the sky the helicopter was making loud noise. When seen through the Sagam of the Surung a tiny light could also be seen blinking under its belly. “Oh, she must not see us. Please don’t move from underneath the cow until the noise of the Mayal Gus disappears”, warned the old lady.
“Look! How many swords she was waving in the air; all to kill the humans. Thanks God, she has left”, said the lady after a while, looking at the fast moving rotors of the chopper cruising through the air.
It was the first helicopter the villagers in Phakarr had ever seen. In the evening, when all the people in the village came together in the central place called Daaz, for daily routine of Qarize Hurutas, (A custom of sitting around the fire in the evening where famous elder story tellers used to enetertain the audience), they discussed the event of seeing the Mayal Gus (helicopter) which had appeared in the sky that day, ‘waving swords and roaring’.
Every body feared the new flying object seen in the skies. Nazar Ali, who was a former soldier in the British Army and had fought the Japanese in the Second World War in Burma laughed the idea of Mayal Gus off, and explained to the villagers that it was a flying machine made by men, a helicopter, which flown over the village that day. He told them that he had himself traveled in the machine during war in the battle field.
But the villagers did not believe it, some suspecting Nazar Ali was possibly telling a lofty lie to get more fame in the village.
Nazar Ali continued to explain the flying machine, based on his experience from the war zone, but eventually failed and had to swear to the holy book and to God to prove the truthfulness of his account.
Still many of the villagers were not truly believing him.
Then, years later, landed the first helicopter in Karimabad, a village located right in front of Phakar, when some dignitaries visited the Hunza Valley. It was only then that the villagers believed Nazar Ali, and were convinced that the ‘UFO’ they saw in the village was actually a flying machine made and mounted by humans.
After 1970s when the feudal system was abolished and the Karakoram Highway was built in the area, the people of Gilgit Baltistan were able to interact with the world. Today many of the youth in the area are flying the ‘UFO’ that their ancestors thought was the Mayal Gus.
Syed Mujahid Ali Shah is a sociologist and nature conservationist/ecologist based in Nagar. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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