Pakistan and Fear: My honest answer to a delicate question
I often get asked if it is not very dangerous to travel Pakistan. I already explained here that I am perfectly aware of the existing threats in Pakistan, but that I also refused to let those things stop me to experience it by myself. In the end I always want to be able to draw my own picture.
People also want to know if I was feeling scared in Pakistan. Because I want to answer that question honestly, I have to answer with a clear Yes. There were occasions I was scared. And all of them happened in Nathiagali.
(Uploading the photo I remembered that I was also scared to death when I got to close to this white horse and it started to attack me. While Chris was watching the scene laughing, I ran away as fast as I could (Not very fast though…)! ;))
Nathiagali is located in the Galyat Range in Abbottabad District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 70 km north of Islamabad. Because of its cool climate – here was also the only time I had to wear a jumper because I was cold – it is as a popular mountain resort. It is directly in the middle between Murree and Abbottabad, with more or less 30 km to either city.
Now, Abbottabad may be a city you have heard of. In May 2011 it was here where the US Navy SEALS found and killed Osama bin Ladin, founder and head of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda. To prevent fanatics from transforming the compound bin Ladin has been hiding in for the last couple of years into a place of pilgrimage it was destroyed 9 months after the operation.
Five years later, Chris and I hike through the crisp green forests of Abbottabad district. We are surrounded by all kinds of different trees and the chirring of the cicadas delivers the right sound track along the way. In this forest live monkeys, snow leopards, Himalayan palm civets and many more wild and endangered animals. We give way to a young man on a beautiful white horse who seems to have fallen out directly from a fairytale.
All of a sudden, two men with machine guns in military uniforms block the little dirt path we are following up to Mukshpuri Peak. Silently we stare at each other and none of us four really seems to know what to do. “Assalamu Alaikum”, I greet with a imperceptibly shaky voice. No answer.
“Hello there” a voice shouts from behind the bend of the path, and a very British looking and sounding blond man in full hiking gear lingers past us, followed by his wife and their two little kids. It turns out that they are an expat family on a little holiday away from Islamabad that was convoyed by two local armed guides to keep them safe. Is it not ironic that in the end those two guys caused one of the situations I felt unsafe and yes, scared?
We were staying in a little hut in the village and our neighbour was a German lady called Ursula. 52 years ago love brought her from Hamburg to Karachi. Now she is living in Nathiagali with her German Shepherd Gina and her eight puppies (Whose father, which is very upsetting for Ursula, is a stray. After all Gina has a flawless pedigree!) Sitting on Ursula’s balcony with a cup of African tea and home made German Christstollen, listening to her inspiring stories from half a century in this diverse country, we quickly forgot about the encounter in the forest.
Sometimes in summer, with the end of the day, a magical mist crawls up the hills of Nathiagali. Everything looks and feels different then, hidden under a blanket of moist cotton. The fog is so dense it gets stuck in the tree tops, which causes rainfall only beneath the trees. There is not much electricity in this part of Pakistan, therefore no street lights that brighten up the streets at night. With a torch in each hand Chris and I went on a quest to the nearest supermarket, returning home in complete darkness and the described fog.
A couple of days earlier a landslide blocked the road up to Ursulas house. A lot of rubble and massive rocks were still on the road, only a one-way lane for vehicles was cleaned. We hear some cars approaching behind us and quickly we scramble upon the rocky side of the road. Ahead of us another car comes down the road, beeping, making it impossible for any of the car to pass. While I was still wondering what is going to happen next, three armed man jump off the back of the van behind us, wave about with their rifles, yelling in Urdu at us and the driver of the oncoming car. Chris and I freeze and simultaneously turn off our torches. At least they can not see us now.
They force the driver to reverse back up the hill, giving way to two big black very important looking vehicles racing past us, gravel spraying from underneath their tires. The man with the guns jump back on the truck and speed away as well.
This time my knees are shaking.
Landslide in Nathiagali ©freidaycat 2015
In the middle of the same night I wake up. Something is wrong. Very wrong. I can not put it into words, but I can feel it. Panic starts to crawl up on me. I wake up Chris. “Something is happening.” I whisper. “What do you mean” he asks, sleepy and confused. I can not explain it. I pictured all the man with their guns breaking trough the big front window of our little hut, robbing us, kidnapping us… I explained all this to Chris, but my English did not make any sense because I was so discomposed and upset! And then suddenly…
Rumbling. Clashing. And with a loud row heaven opens its gates and pours all the rain and hail and thunder and lightning it had to offer on our metal roof. It was the craziest thunderstorm I ever experienced, with flashes above and beneath us in the valley.
I must have felt some electrical tension in the air or heard the thunderstorm approaching from far away while half asleep and with the events during the day stuck in my head my fantasy must have played a trick on me.