Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Trip to Nathiagali

During the week at the appointed times, the men unfold prayer mats. Occasionally a large blue rug is spread on the lawn so a group of them can pray. As ablutions are done before prayer it puts a lot of pressure on the one public bathroom but the hotel staff are accommodating and open unoccupied rooms for our participants when asked. Emel has opened his room for the 6 female participants so they can wash and pray. When I learn several days into the workshop about the lack of washrooms, I offer my room, even tidied it up somewhat but no one takes me up on my offer.

In many Muslim countries, Friday is a half day. We have planned additional time for prayer on Friday so the men can go to the mosque but when participants ask for extra time so they can visit Nathiagali, we shift around the timetable. Along with Murree, Nathiagali is a very popular tourist place not only because it is accessible to Islamabad..

Nathiagali is at the top of the mountain close to Abbottabad. Our participants have been so keen, hardworking and dedicated, we feel they deserve a chance to get out and see the sights. But not personally being one for tourist places in general, I don’t appreciate why they want to see a tourist town. So when I do visit it on the weekend, I am charmed of Nathiagali.

First, in its favour, I seem to be the only non-Pakistani tourist. The mountain is stunning. Curving roads, stupendous scenery and clear vistas. This is also the site of a massive earthquake several years ago. My friends point out the incredible difficulty of reaching people in this area, many of whom were stranded for weeks on these steep inaccessible peaks. There are still people living in the tents supplied at the time. Much of the aid, we are told, has yet to reach most of them.

Nathiagali means street and that is what it is at the top, a narrow crowded street. There are young boys selling circlets of daisies and floss candy, shops with precious stones and gems from China, pashmina shawls so soft they practically lift off your hands when you hold them and sandlewood boxes from Kashmir. Kids clamour on gaily decorated donkeys and mango milkshakes are prepared while you wait.

We meander down the street along with all the other gaily dressed families. There is not much tourist trade in Pakistan right now and I am the only foreigner around. One young fellow stands close to me and asks his friend to take my picture on his cellphone camera. I ask him if he is going to tell people I am his girlfriend or his aunt. He smiles and laughs but doesn’t understand English. My friends tell me I might be on YouTube now.

We stop in at a wonderful eating place, that just hangs over the edge of a ravine, where I get the photos of these chickens on spits that are being turned by hand. About half the time we are in Nathiagali, the town is shrouded in mist or perhaps it should be more rightly called low hanging clouds. The men go off on the mountain trails to have a look at the monkeys while we women move in and out of all the jewelry stalls.

Photos: view on Kashmir Hwy; Nathiagali; Boy selling circlets; Chicken Roasts on Spit



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