By Tabish Sethi
Though I work fulltime, travelling is a passion I continue to persist no matter how busy my schedule gets. I do that not just to rejuvenate my mind, but also because I love meeting new people – especially those who are settled in simple villages, free from the clutches of technology.
An unforgettable trip of mine includes a visit to the beautiful Skardu, its neighbouring district Ghanche, and its magnanimous mountain range.
During my trip, one of the first spots I stopped at was of course the Khaplu Palace. The historic building was constructed in the 19th century by Yabgo Raja Daulat Ali Khan of Khaplu, and is visited all year round by foreigners and local tourists.
Though the architectural wonder left me in awe, it is the memories I created in the town of Hushe that I miss the most. Hushe is the last in the series of villages in the Ghanchi district – and is also the starting point of many treks.
Standing at around 3,000 meters with the shadow of Masherbrum falling on the village, Hushe may not be urbanised but is no less than heaven on earth. Given the central location in the Karakoram mountain range, the village should be bustling with activity, but unfortunately, the trek path from the village is quite steep and dangerous and not many choose this trail to travel.
But whether they get tourists or not, the villagers continue to live their lives happily even in the harsh cold conditions that take over every winter.
Here’s what I love about the village:
Commitment to education
At the village, I found it intriguing to see the effort children were putting in to achieve education. While in cities, we often spot children complaining to skip school, the children of Hushe were ready to study in an open teaching space even in extreme weather conditions.
Within the walls of the school, children were sitting in different groups dedicated to different ages and grades. I saw them learn bodmas, focus on science, and give ideas about geography and was pleasantly shocked to see their motivation.
When I reached the village, I found an interesting fact about the men of Hushe – most of them work as porters for a living. This means, they work mostly during the summers and earn enough to last them during the season when tourism is relatively low.
During summer, these porters leave their villages and head out to places where foreigners gather for expeditions. Whereas in winters, many of these Balti’s head to cities like Islamabad and Lahore to work in restaurants as waiters or chefs.
When you talk about mountaineering in Pakistan, you cannot miss out on the local Hushe hero Little Karim, the famous porter who is recognised even by foreigners.
Here’s how his journey started: The famed British mountaineer Chris Bonington, needed a team of 200 porters in 1978 for an expedition to K2. Among them was the 5-foot-tall Little Karim. However, Chris had initially refused to accept Little Karim on his team because he seemed too ‘little’. The porter then proved his strength by lifting the Brit on his shoulders.
Since then, Little Karim has been on hundreds of expeditions and has numerous interesting stories of all the foreigners he has met over the years.
It is meeting people like these that keeps my love for travelling alive. If you ever stop by Skardu, do try to look beyond the scenery and enjoy the company of the wonder and hardworking Baltis.