‘I wasn’t the same person after this visit’
Hina Husain reflects on an intrepid daughter-mother journey to northern Pakistan
The aroma of barbecued chicken sajji fills the air as Mom and I sit on a wicker charpai engulfed by soft smokiness coming off the charcoal fire. Shades of pink and indigo diffuse through the twilight sky above us, silhouettes of surrounding mountains framed by fluffy, granite-grey clouds. Old Bollywood tunes play on a radio, enticing us to sing along with the static-laden soundtrack.
“I still can’t believe we’re here,” Mom says for the dozenth time, Kishore Kumar’s Sara Zamana fading out in the background.
“Here” is Shogran, a hill station on a green plateau in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s mountainous northern provinces. We’re on a two-week tour of the north — just the two of us, apart from a driver provided by the travel agency — journeying through Naran, Hunza Valley, Gilgit and finally Shogran, before we make our way back to Islamabad.
Mom and I had meticulously planned this trip for months back home, in Etobicoke, thinking of every possible precaution. Even today, it’s highly unusual for two women to travel in Pakistan without a male relative’s escort. My mother’s family tried their best to dissuade us from going, but we were determined.
When I was younger and lived in Lahore, we’d often travel to Pakistan’s northern regions with my late father, a daredevil who fearlessly charged our Land Cruiser over rickety bridges suspended above whitewater rapids, wife and three children in tow.
It’s been 20 years since we were last in Shogran, but time doesn’t seem to hold any meaning for these immortal valleys. The jeep ride up to Siri Paye from Shogran is just as I remember — rugged and steep, the zigzagging gravel road too narrow for more than one off-road vehicle’s safe passage, air heavy with the scents of fir and pine trees lining the trail.
But our harrowing voyage is soon forgotten when we arrive at the lush, pastoral meadows of Siri at the track’s end. To reach Paye Lake, we climb onto horses adorned in colourful handicrafts and ornaments, their keepers leading the way across serene rolling hills. Silently trotting to our destination, Mom turns to me and, just above a whisper, says, “I feel like I can do anything now.”
I smile back and reply, “Me, too.”
Originally published in the Toronto Star