The old man of Ghund

Salman Rashid

Chapursan is a right picturesque valley that stretches from the Karakoram Highway at Sost a full sixty kilometres westward to the watershed of the 5185 metre-high Chilinji Pass. Well-watered by many silvery streams and fertilised by the fine loam left behind by a glacier that melted perhaps about four hundred years ago, Chapursan has rich farmlands and orchards. The people, of old Kirghiz stock who speak Wakhi, a language that descends from archaic Persian, are notable for their extreme hardihood and cheerfulness.
Nestling in remote Gojal (as the upper part of Hunza is known), few Pakistanis know of this little paradise. But some may instantly recognise Chapursan as the home of a man who has single-handedly won more laurels for Pakistan than anyone else: the valley is home to the dashing Nazir Sabir (of movie-star good looks to boot), who has climbed the greatest peaks not only at home, but is also the only Pakistani to have summitted Mount Everest.

But that is an aside; a mere introduction to Chapursan Valley. The central part of the valley is home to a tale that is shared by all the villages. This is the story of Baba Ghundi — the Old Man from Ghund. Ghund, they say, is a tiny village that lies somewhere acrossWakhan. The Baba, so the tale goes, once came travelling through the valley.

Scenic Chapursan that seems so very much a part of paradise, was in those days afflicted by one terrible bane: the man-eating dragon that dwelt in one of the valley’s lakes and took a daily sacrifice from the people. Lots were drawn and one unfortunate person ordained by fate was left by the lakeshore to be taken by the monster. One day the victim, a young a beautiful girl, sat by the lake tearfully waiting to be devoured when Baba Ghundi chanced upon her and asked her why she wept.

Having heard out her story, the man told her to happily return home for the dragon had already eaten its last meal. With the girl gone, Baba Ghundi waited by the water and when the fiend emerged, hacked it pieces with his sword. There is of course the implication that the man was gifted with spiritual powers to have done what no one, not even the strongest brave in the valley, could do.

The people were overjoyed and asked the Baba what they could do for him. Nothing, said he. But whenever calamity befell them, they could invoke his name and he would return to help them. And the man walked off into the mountains. Time passed and gradually the memory of the saint’s benevolence waned and people began to doubt if he would ever return to help them. And so, simply in order to check the veracity of his promise, they one day called out to him. Sure enough the saint appeared but he took umbrage at the people’s frivolousness and strongly rebuked them before again going off.

The folks of Chapursan thought this was good fun. They repeatedly called to him and when he made an appearance they became increasingly abusive to the saint. The snapping point came when they pelted him with dung and stones. As he fled the malevolence of the very people he had only a few years before helped, he was rescued by an old woman (kampere in Wakhi). This kind-hearted soul took the man into her home, washed the filth off him and fed him on goat’s milk.

When he was finally himself again, Baba Ghundi told the woman that under no circumstances was she to leave her home because he was bringing down a flood of mud and stones to destroy the evil folk of Chapursan. For her kindness, she alone was to be spared. The saint left and not long afterwards there came tumbling down the valley a cataclysmic flood of rocks and mud. It obliterated all; fields, orchards, homes. All but Kampere Dayar — House of the Old Woman. To this day, a large, straight-sided rock is said to mark the site of the kind woman’s home.

To explain that the flood did actually take place, the good people of Chapursan solemnly point out the cones of sand and gravel and the huge stones that liberally litter the higher and middle part of the valley. These they tell you are the remnants of Baba Ghundi’s flood. There are also some who have lumps of calciferous rocks which they pass off as the bones of the dragon slain by the Baba. In fact, in Gulmit (in the main Hunza Valley), a hotel owner proudly exhibits these rocks as the dragon’s bones. But it is another thing that having named his hotel after Marco Polo, he tells you that Mr Polo was an angrez who passed through Gulmit in 1860 or thereabouts!

At the very western end of Chapursan, there sits the shrine of Baba Ghundi. Picture perfect under the grey wall of rock, the white-washed stone building with its pitched roof is a sight to see — especially when it is adorned with coloured flags for the annual festival. Even though they may have been rude to the old man in his life, the good folks of Chapursan now acclaim him as their patron saint.

We do not know who this man was, when he happened to be in Chapursan and how he died here. But there is in the valley a small side glacier known as Qalandar Goom — the Lost Saint. I suspect, that some poor soul of a wandering mendicant happened into Chapursan where he may or may not have been treated indifferently by the people. He may have come by an easier route, and got it into his head to exit by some difficult way that entailed a bit of glacier walking as well.

There he may have met his end, either because of exposure or by falling into a crevasse. The people of Chapursan may have recovered his corpse for burial. Conversely, the man may actually have made it across (slim chance, though), but because he never returned, it was believed he was lost on the glacier. Hence the name of the glacier and the shrine.

The dragon and flood story had to be invented to explain something that simple people did not understand: the great litter of rocks, sand and gravel. This is the debris of a glacier that once choked the entire valley, perhaps as recently as the 17th century, or even later. Any well-read and observant mountain-walker knows that as a glacier melts, it leaves behind mounds of material that actually looks like the remains of a flood. That is exactly what we have in Chapursan that had to be explained.

And so the story of the flood in return for the people’s cheekiness was invented. At hand were lumps of veined and porous calciferous rocks that, it must be admitted, would look like bones to the layperson. It is another thing that with bones like these, the poor dragon would have been a rather lumpy sort of shambling creature; scarcely the kind who could have chased and gobbled up a fleeing victim.

Originally posted at: http://odysseuslahori.blogspot.fr/2015/11/the-old-man-of-ghund.html

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