On the way to Muree
We get up late and we start hitchhiking. We need to take three mini buses to get out of the city. This time there are no fights and no crowds because it is Saturday. We have breakfast in the outskirts of Islamabad – samosas and airan (yoghurt mixed with water and supposedly salt). Every time we order airan we ask not to put sugar in it, but they almost always do anyway. The other thing one should be careful about is, when one orders fresh or sugar cane juice, not to let them put salt in them, which happens quite often especially with the street vendors.
Carriage for sugar cane juice in Islamabad
While we eat our breakfast there comes an old man who claims to be 103 years old and he says he has 20 grandsons and granddaughters who are all with white skin like us (!?!?!?). Then he says he is the owner of the shop where we eat.
We decide to pass through the mountain chain Marghalla hills and through the mountain resort Muree because we want to see the nature on our way to Abottabad, instead of taking the fast road that goes around the mountains.
We hitch hike in the village Bahara Kahu where is the last stop of the minibus. After we stopped the driver threw out Mr. Shushtari’s backpack in the dust on the road and Shushtari started shouting at him. The usual chaos and madness welcome us at the village and we go out of it by foot. Most of the cars that pass by are cars and minibuses and there are many people from the capital who go out in the mountains for the weekend to enjoy the cool weather and the beautiful nature.
The road to Muree
We wave and the first car stops – enormous, luxurious jeep. The driver is a guy who is responsible for the road maintenance. He studied in Cyprus and knew a lot of Bulgarians. After a while we stop at a restaurant with great view towards the mountains and he orders tea and local specialties. We always order water but usually no one listens to us and they order food for us too – people are so nice here.
The road to Muree is picturesque and goes up in the mountain gradually, respectively the air becomes cooler. The slopes are covered with pine trees but the forest looks like rain-forest because the trees have big trunks with no branches on them – there are branches at the top and they form an interesting looking tree crown, hence the tropical forest effect.
We enter Muree and it results that the town is quite touristic and there are many hotels in it. But this is normal since this is the most favorite resort of the Pakistani people. Our driver leaves us on the road, we wave and the first car stops again. This time inside it there is a couple who say they are doctors. The man drives like crazy, the road has many hairpin bends and I start to feel sick. We barely withstand to Nathia Gali – the next popular resort.
National park Ayubia
It is getting dark and we manage to find an incredible spot to pitch our tent – inside thick pine tree forest inside the national park Ayubia. The air is crisp and clear and total calmness surrounds us. I think this is the first time in our already, one month journey, where we pitch our tent in the wild nature.
We get up in the morning and we feel pretty bad – I think it is due to the sudden temperature change. Outside thousands of birds sing and the pine trees smell sweet.
Good morning Nature
First we take a walk in the nature and then we go on the road to hitchhike. The second car that passes by stops. The man inside has red hair and the woman looks like someone from Poland or the Czech Republic. When we ask them where they are from they tell us they are Pakistani – from the Hazaras ethnic group to be more exact. It is a common myth that everyone in the Middle East has dark skin and black hair.
We met many people who have red hair, blond hair, blue or green eyes in Turkey as well as in Iran and Pakistan. Here in the mountains this is even more valid – we meet all the time people with very white skin and blue eyes. We saw people with green-ish and golden eyes – shades of colors you can’t see anywhere in Europe.
While traveling I start to feel quite sick and when we reach Abottabad we tell our companions to leave us in some park to rest and instead they invite us at their place. They told us they are teachers but when we arrived at their home our jaws dropped from what we saw.
The school of the Hazaras family
The so called school resulted to be an enormous academy with British colonial architecture, with many parks and big campus. They accommodate us in their house and this time we have an entire floor at our disposal. It has an enormous living room, bathrooms and many other rooms. The servants start running around and bring us tea and biscuits. Our hosts are very intelligent people who studied in Western Europe – as many other rich Pakistani usually do.
It is still hard for me to comprehend how this amazing things keep happening to us all the time.
We go to bed for a few hours in the afternoon and then we go out for a walk in the city, but the fever I had comes back and we return home hurriedly. My body starts to shake and I feel sick and can’t eat. Our Hazaras saviors invite us to stay as long as we wish and even propose to call a doctor. I go to bed and have 12 hours of uneasy sleep.
The house of the Hazaras-saviors
At the morning I feel much better. It was enormous luck to meet these people – in addition we always wanted to meet Hazaras but we thought their ethnicity has become extinct. Most of the people on the pictures, hanging on the walls at the house, are red-haired, the others look like Armenians. They told us they rarely get married with someone outside of their ethnic group, even outside of their family. In Pakistan it is wide-spread for cousins to get married to each other – as it turns out to be the case with our hosts.
Hazaras’ family daughters
Maybe rich families do it in order to keep the money inside the family. This marriages are “arranged” and not “for love”. Often the bride and the groom have only met once or twice before the marriage (unless they weren’t cousins of course).
This kind of family organization exists since ancient times and is popular all over Asia. Until recently marriage “for love” hadn’t even existed and today is rare to see. Obviously setting up a family in this way is totally foreign to a westerner but here, in Pkaistan, it results to be quite stable and functional, and the families look as happy as the ones who married “for love”. One time we asked a guy who had his “arranged marriage” recently, and seemed very modern, and had lived in England for quite some time, why did he decide to marry that way. He said he had many girlfriends before but at the end things always broke off or the girl resulted to be inappropriate for him, so at the end he decided to let his family choose him a bride coming from good family – the most important thing in doing arranged marriage is to take care of the prosperity of the family.
Inside the house of Fatima and Shah
Here are some interesting facts about Abottabad: the city was establish by some British abbot, Osama Ben Laden was killed here – and this was shocking – his house was situated only 200 m. from a big military academy. The city is calm and green. We visited Ilyasi Mosque, that had been built on a mountain spring, and next to it we bought pakora – a local specialty.
Pakora – local speciality
We spent the day at the house, mainly at the garden because we wanted to save energy for the tomorrow’s journey. We met our host’s mother Fatima, who turned out to be a very impressive women. Her English is perfect and she manages the school that she also established. When she was young it was not prestigious for the women coming from rich families to work and it took her 3 years to convince everybody that the world is not going to end if she worked.
Fatima as a bride
Later Fatima cooked us Thai dinner – at last I started to feel better and my appetite is coming back. At dinner we learn that their school, that is quite luxurious, organizes free classes for the poor family’s kids and every morning 250 pupils come here to study. Other rich families donate their used text books and the school sends them to other villages’ schools and in addition Fatima organizes courses for their teachers.