by Syed Mujahid Ali Shah
My grandfather spends a couple of hours daily after his evening meal in the summer sitting in the apricot garden of ours in my home village of Phakar Nagar, when all of my cousins and brothers are back home on vacation from the cities. He tells stories of how he rode several horses fifty years ago and which race he loved most. Indeed his experiences are full of discoveries and encounters with cultures new to him on the way to Gilgit and beyond.
Once in a village called Shinaki near Gilgit, where people speak Shina, he and his companion had to stay in a small guest house called Sawabe ha (house in the name of God). It was dark in the evening when they reached. Guest houses actually belonged to families who invited their guests to come and stay over. There were no hotels despite a regular flow of people from the surrounding areas. It was still half dark in the house as lamps burnt here and there. The host family offered a prayer mat and a lamp, followed by a warm meal of boiled rice and carrot curry. In the dark, uncut carrots looked like chicken legs. When the host went out to fetch drinking water, the companion said to my grandfather, “We are lucky to get chicken legs as we are so tired and hungry!” But when they started eating, they discovered what they thought were chicken legs were actually long, uncut carrots, my grandfather laughed his heart out.
As summer ended, people sold dried apricots and apricot kern in the Gilgit city market. It took three days to reach Gilgit from Phakar Nagar covering a distance of 80km. The path through steep rocks was narrow, rough and it was difficult even to go on horseback or on a mule, so only dried apricots and their kerns would be loaded on the beasts, while the people would walk. Sometimes the horses would fall down and be killed on difficult terrains.
And then came the jeep. The first jeep road was built in the 1950s between Gilgit and Hunza-Nagar. There were no bridges built on wider streams of the Hunza river but the jeep used to be lifted across the river.
The visits of President Ayub Khan, the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Hunza Nagar by jeep were no less than historical moments for the locals. The elderly still remember and talk about the fascinating jeep when they first saw it. It was something new that they had never imagined. An old woman in a village asked the driver who drove the first jeep into the village if the vehicle consumed grass or wheat hay.
Complete at DAWN