Karachi to Kashmir: Finding Heaven on Earth

A Kashmiri villager walks past what used to be a pond holding drinking water in Lolab Valley in the foothills of the northern Kashmir Himalayas (AFP Photo)

By Ahmed Saeed Khan

It was the winter of 2004 when I set out on a trip to northern Pakistan enroute Punjab. I was a 9th grader back then and it had been quite some time that I had traveled outside Karachi.

Taking a joy ride on the highway from Karachi to Lahore, followed by qinqgi and a bus ride to reach Gujrawala that too with my mother, seemed like a good idea for a travel enthusiast.

But the thing is, back then I wasn’t one. Need not to say, for me it was a complete disaster, “traveling in a train?” “Come on, you could have bought an air ticket!!” were the rants of a disappointed child.

Only if I had known what lies ahead, I wouldn’t be complaining much at that time. As the journey began from Gujranwala, up ahead was the road to Kashmir. Frankly, I had no sense of the adventure building up, but my mother, she loved every bit of it. She is a nature lover.

Being a kid who didn’t fancy heights much, I literally threw up and had my eyes closed as we traveled to higher altitudes. My head was spinning more than I expected.

All the steep slopes and curves on the mountains were too much for me to bear and I got sick.

I was so tired that when at a hill station I tried to take sip from the cup of coffee, I poured half of it on my pants without actually noticing it.

However, after days of travel in a train, a road trip, comforting coffee and absolutely no access to the loo, we reached our destination.

I was truly overwhelmed by the reception organized by my cousin, serving in the forces at that time, and obviously washrooms were a relief too.

I was still wondering “Why am I here?”. To make the most of my trip I visited a farmland nearby. From there I went into a forest and saw a small waterfall, it would seem as if I had crept in to my closet and was seeing things that I never thought I would. Impressive it was, but I still had the same question lingering in my head.
To make my trip entertaining, my cousins decided to take me to a riverbank nearby. That too was a memorable trip as I tripped in to the freezing water. Lucky the water wasn’t deep enough but it did leave me with a cold which later turned to a 103 degree fever which later turned to pneumonia.

On the bright side it convinced me to stick to dry land, and when the elders decided to go to an even higher land, a hill station nearby (in Azad Kashmir) the very first thought that came to my head was, “Oh boy, I’m in for some spin, again”.

I had my eyes closed all the way as we elevated to our stop, I did peek every now and then to see what I was missing out on, and it was mesmerizing, only if I had the guts to look down from the window.

After a long rough ride, I reached the final destination of my trip. This was for my surprise the most majestic view of my life. It was so peaceful, so grand, that it made me forget for a second how sick I was or how much I hated to be out of my comfort zone. Four days without a loo, and it was worth it.

Never have I been so amazed to see God’s work, nor I could imagine. Standing 2000 feet above sea level made me stand a bit closer to the heavens but to view a glimpse of heaven I had to look down.

I would have recommended you to pay that place a visit, see the farmlands, that forest and the waterfall, but unfortunately, most, if not all of it has been destroyed in the devastating Earthquake in 2005.

All I have with me is memory and some part of it as I captured from the hilltop, here is how I saw Heaven on Earth, something that changed my perspective and made me a wanderer for life.

An old photo of Kasmir shared by the author.

An old photo of Kasmir shared by the author.