Rama: A paradise (almost) lost

Referring to the tragedy back in 2013 when the ‘Killer Mountain,’ famous for its notoriously high fatality rate, gave its nom de guerre another dimension for altogether different reasons

A group of foreign climbers were butchered by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists (Janud e Hafsa faction) dressed as paramilitary forces in a late night raid at the base camp

A tragedy that could well have been averted had authorities taken notice and decisive action against those responsible for the Shia killings in Chilas leading up to the incident

But alas, in Pakistan the value of a human life is directly correlated with wealth, power and status

Action mostly taken when someone from those ‘that matter’ fall victim to this senseless violence

Aisar and I are sitting at one of the ubiquitous tent khokhas that have sprawled up all over Rama meadows with the Polo Festival having come to an end

The district government that organised and supported the event had transported horses and all the paraphernalia but not one garbage dumpster was in sight! As we speak, Shabbir, the khokha owner, empties the remaining biscuits in a plate and conveniently chucks the packet behind a boulder

A small pile has gradually accumulated there

Noticing my unamused look, he assures me not to worry as this will disappear in a few weeks

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="456"] One of the many tent khokhas[/caption] Puzzled, I inquire if there is some sort of a cleanup drive by the authorities expected now that the Polo Festival is over? “Andhi Toufan sub kuch apnay saath ura lay jaeey ga” (The wind and storm will sweep this place clean), he replies nonchalantly

His tent is right next to a fast flowing stream that will eventually merge into Astore River

 He doesn’t care what the consequences are for those living downstream

 As long as nothing remains where his tent is pitched come next year

Sadly this is the attitude shared amongst many others who only come to the northern areas for commerce, depicting a complete lack of empathy or understanding of the environment and the eco-system; selfish to say the least

Enjoy, plunder and “Allah pay choar do” (leave it to God) a convenient excuse we have all become so attuned to

 The district government, on the other hand, was preoccupied putting up banners boasting the names and faces of the district and provincial officials backing the event

 Needless to say, there was no provision for basic toilet facilities despite knowing that an entire districts populace would be descending on these beautiful meadows during the festival

Going only by the distance is utterly deceptive in this region

Rama is about eight kilometres from Astore bazaar and a hike up can be a good five to six hour scramble

I regretted doing just that

Aisar was revving up his bike that had been returned to him by a friend, as I reached Choungrah

Sticking to the oldest trick in my book I inquired about the distance to Rama (secretly hoping for a lift)

Shaking his bike to get a feel for how much petrol remained in the tank, while the needle pointed dead straight at empty

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A beautiful pool on the way to Rama Lake

[/caption] As if he read my mind, Aisar cheerfully said, “Bhai I can take you as far up as the petrol lasts,” And signalled me to hop on

 The sun had already gone down

The pine, juniper and cedar trees cast ghostly shadows that stretch across the landscape in the moonlight

Rama looked beautiful with just enough light to hide the ugly marks made by humans and enhance the beauty of nature

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Gateway to Rama Meadows[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Cattle have the right of way[/caption] Rama Lake is still another two hours trek from the meadows

 The two guest houses at Rama – PTDC and forest are both fully booked, as is the case during summers, mostly by government dignitaries

Having left my camping gear in Astore I decide to head back down with Aisar and return to Rama Lake the next day

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Forest Department guest house[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Grazing about[/caption] The bike refuses to kick start having used up the reserve in the tank

My head-torch provides us just enough light to dodge the potholes and avoid a tumble off the mountain

We roll downhill back to Choungrah with no petrol and no headlight

Aisar insists that I have dinner with his family

All the male members of their family (cousins and uncles) gather at the family home for dinner as is the custom

 Their baithak (lounge) is large enough to accommodate 25 odd guests

Lamb korma, rice chapatis and raita followed by kheer are delicious yet unmatched by the warmth of the young and generous man that I have only met a couple of hours ago

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Baithak (lounge) at Aisars home[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Two brothers enjoying snow lollies[/caption] The following day I hike to Rama Lake along a narrow and dusty track

The lake is magnificent

On a clear day you can see Nanga Parbat

In fact, you can trek to the east side of Nanga Parbat from Rama Lake

Sadly, the entire route to Rama Lake is screaming of deforestation

I see thick and tiny stubs protruding from the ground, reminiscent of mighty greens that thrived there once

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] On the way to Rama Lake[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Green pastures along the way to Rama Lake[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Fast flowing streams from the melting glaciers[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rama Lake[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rama Lake[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rama Lake[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rama Lake[/caption] As I stand there admiring the view across the landscape my eyes settle on Nanga Parbat – the second highest mountain in Pakistan, a country with the second largest Shia population in the world, that is failing to protect its natural landscape as much as it is failing to protect the diversity of its religious and ethnic landscape

Perhaps this time we will not wait for a bigger tragedy to jolt our collective conscience into action, and save the meadows from becoming a deforested garbage dump

All photos: Osman Ehtisham Anwar

Date:07-Aug-2016 Reference:View Original Link