It was September 1991. Along with two of my good friends; Umar Shah and Nauman; I was vacationing in Quetta. After exploring Quetta for two days, we decided to have a day trip to Ziarat. Little did we know that we were in for a travel treat, and hence this post.
On the day of travel to Ziarat, three of us sat on the back seat of a rickshaw and asked the rickshaw pilot to take us to the Quetta bus adda (station). This bus adda was a sea of rudderless machinery and chaotic humanity. There were wagons and buses going to all parts of the country. There were hot soup sellers sitting on the ground and electronics sellers bargaining and then agreeing to sell their merachandise at 1% of the originally asked price.
Before you read further, try playing this song to experience the following trip to Ziarat to its fullest.
Ford wagons working the Ziarat Route:
We found that only Ford Wagon (photo to the left) service was available to Ziarat. Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) ran full sized buses but they needed advanced reservation which we didn’t have.
Ford Wagon Seating Arrangement:
We found our wagon, and three of us along with another human being were shoved onto a bench by the conductor who kept shouting:
‘qareeb qareeb ho jaao’ (sit very close to each other)
When we tried to protest a little on how less of a space we had, we got a stern reply:
ye araam karne ka jageh nayee hai! (This not a place to rest)
To add salt to our misery one of the local passengers placed his female co-traveller; who was totally covered in a shuttle-cork burqa; next to the sliding door of wagon. This by the way, meant the door could not be used by any male passengers for rest of the journey. For women rights activists, I would suggest taking a wagon trip from Quetta to Ziarat. There are no men rights on this route.
Do you want to get in OR out?
After travelling some 70 km from Quetta our wagon reached a town called ‘Kach’. One passenger had to get off and another had to get in. The person who wanted to get in, came near the sliding door, looked at the lady sitting by the door and then suddenly bolted back as if he had touched the live wire.
This is human psychology (confirmation needed by readers) that those sitting in a bus, train or plane would like to get themselves in but then hope that other seats remain empty so they can get extra room.
So for a second we were also happy to think that as long as that lady is sitting next to the door, no more passengers could come in. Our happiness was short lived though. Local men knew how to snatch their rights when not given to them. I say this because in an instant we saw a pair of ‘Peshawari sandals’ coming in from the side window. Behind sandals, came a full ‘gheray-daar shalwar’ and then came in the whole nine-yards of the man including a delicately balanced turban on his head. He was being horizontally shoved in through the window by people standing at the bus stop but no one dared to request the lady sitting by the wagon door to move.
Very soon a person who was supposed to get off at Kach, got the idea; He laid himself down horizontally in the laps of 3 passengers, got his feet pointed out of the window at 45 degrees and said:
“dhakka dena bhai” (push! borthers)
The brothers pushed him out of the window alright; And few more brothers outside received the horizontal arrival of this domestic(ated) passenger.
We were amused and bewildered but didn’t have guts to request the local guy to move his lady.
Our next stop was Ahmadun and again the story was repeated. Passengers used windows to get in and out of the wagon while the door remained securely locked. Luckily at the next stop called Kawas, the local guy and his lady companion got off. This time the wagon’s well greased sliding door was opened without a screech and the couple walked away. The man lead the way and the lady followed his steps. There was an audible sigh of relief in the wagon. Lots of space was suddenly made available and the passengers started smiling and chatting. One guy immediately took out his battery powered cassette player and started blaring the song:
“buhat khoob soorat hai mera sanam” (my beloved is very beautiful)
Practising Homeopathic Medicine enroute to Ziarat:
On the front seat, next to the driver, a businessman from Karachi’s well known Merchant Community was sitting along with his wife. They were trying to be friendly with the driver. At one point the driver complained that he was a patient of chronic back pain. Hearing this, the businessman immediately brought out a bottle of homeopathic medicine from his pocket and said:
“khan saab, ye dawa khaaeN. ye sirf dawa nahiN balkay mojaza hai. meri kamar mein bhi dard tha. ab nahiN hai.” — He didn’t make it clear whether ‘ab kamar nahiN hai’ OR ‘ab dard nahiN hai’
The driver uttered meek ‘NO’s two times but third time was the charm and he took the medicine with a big ‘YES’. The Karachi couple and the driver were now best friends. Driver was telling them all the places they should see in Ziarat and the couple were asking the driver to visit them in Karachi, without actually giving him the address.
Snow in Ziarat:
Very soon the road climbed altitude and snow became visible on the road-side. Everyone in the wagon became excited at seeing snow in September. The wife of the Karachi businessman suddenly said:
‘barap paher-lai’ (“Snow has fallen” in Gujrati language)
We were sitting right behind them and we couldn’t stop laughing. Very soon we were talking in a language like this:
“ek dum barap pareli hai baap” (Indeed, the snow has fallen)
“apun ki kamar toteli hai” (My back is broken)
“apun ke sar mein darad horeli hai” (I’ve got headache)
Another local passenger became extra excited at seeing the snow. Thinking that we were city slickers, he proudly pointed out to us:
“woh dekho baraf… ye Karachi meiN nahiN hota”. (Look at that snow. You won’t find it in Karachi)
My friend Umar Shah replied:
‘nahin Khan saheb..mazaq na kareN…ye baraf nahiN namak hai” (Don’t kid with us. This is salt and not snow)
The guy didn’t get the joke early and became really angry
“O ye namak nahin hai….ye baraf hai…baraf!!!” (This is not salt..This is snow)
At this we decided not to confront him anymore.
Vital Stats of Ziarat:
The distance between Quetta and Ziarat is 122 km. Our Ford wagon covered it in 150 minutes. At a height of 8850 ft, Ziarat valley is a beautiful resort. Pakistan’s largest Juniper forest is located here. It covers an area of 126000 acres. It is said that one can find here juniper trees as old as few thousand years. I cannot confirm the exact age of trees but a quick web search puts their age from 4000-7000 years old. The junipers here are not very dense therefore from a distance the landscape appears dotted by green Junipers and gaps between them.
Across the town of Ziarat, one can also view the majestic ‘Khilafat Hills’. The highest peak here reaches up to 11400 ft.
While in Ziarat we did the usual ‘ziaraat’ (pilgrimage) i.e. Residency of Mr. Jinnah which unfortunately was closed for repairs that day. We just took photos at the main gate and moved on. The Residency was constructed in 1892. It is a wooden structure which was originally meant to be a sanatorium (see the title photo). It was later converted into the summer residence of the Agent of the Governor General. It is now a National Monument of Pakistan.
Always Eat at the PTDC Motel, Ziarat
For lunch we decided to go to the PTDC motel. That day we were the only clients there. After serving us the menu items, the staff brought us left over ‘haleem’ from the day before and said:
“ye aap ke liyay bilkul FREE hai ji” (It is totally free for you)
We tasted it and knew right away why it was free. Anyways we ate ‘tandoori naan’ and something (which I don’t remember now) and the ‘bilkul FREE haleem’. We were very satisfied.
Near the PTDC motel, we also saw rows after rows of apple trees full of juicy fruit on both sides of the street. This indeed was a sight that city slickers are not used to. It was very beautiful.
And now for some Not-so-Authentic History of Ziarat
The word Ziarat means a ‘shrine’ (grave of a holy man). A folklore tells a saint, Kharwari Baba was religiously prosecuted in Kandhar. He left the area and came to Ziarat valley and blessed it. He was a member of Sarangzai tribe and his original name was Mulla Tahir. Later he became a disciple of Nana Sahib, who was another Holy man of the area. A number of miracles are attributed to Khurwari Baba. One of them is starting a water stream with his stick thumping. The shrine of Khurwari Baba, after which Ziarat was named, is located 8 km away from Ziarat and is visited by a large number of people. This whole paragraph is not very authentic as I could not find any solid book references to it except it is found all over the internet. So believe the above only if you want to. Now back to authentic stuff below:
We were on a tight schedule and at that time we didn’t even know about the existence of Kharwari Baba so when the clock struck 3 in the afternoon, we decided to head back to Quetta.
The Total Loss Transportation Company
We reached Ziarat bus adda where we found a Ford wagon gurgling ready to take us to Quetta. This time however, it was a totally different scene than before. Three of us were the only passengers in the wagon.
The wagon driver charged us the standard one way Ziarat-Quetta fare of those days; which was Rupees 5 each. This pocketed him 3 x 5 = 15 rupees total. He then stopped at a petrol pump (Gas Station) and pumped 50 rupees of diesel in the wagon. This made the net profit of the driver from this trip: 15-50 = negative 35 Rupees.
The driver obviously did not look very satisfied with his profession. He was not only transporting three of us from Ziarat to Quetta but also spending Rs 35 from his own pocket to do so. The situation reminds me of a dialog from PTV drama which became famous on the street in 80s:
“ch ch… LOSS……Total Loss”
Very soon his bad mood engulfed his whole body. His hands and feet tensed and he started driving fast. Fast became faster and then fastest. We were looking at each other’s faces without daring to tell the driver to slow down or we’ll be gone in 60 seconds. It was a bi-way road so in order overtake, the passing vehicle had to use the opposite direction lane.
In sheer mood of aloofness, the driver of our wagon would bring the wagon in opposite lane and while over taking a vehicle he would have such a blank look on his face as if he didn’t care for anybody’s life. Many a times approaching traffic on opposite lane came within say two hundred feet of head-on collision and our driver would be found looking side ways at ripe apples on a tree. Somehow to his credit, he always managed to cut in to the safe lane just in time. But all this while our lives hung in balance. And that too on a knife’s edge. In Urdu we say:
“zindagaani….chaqqoo ki nok par”
After doing this zig-zag maneovering for 122 km we finally reached Quetta around dusk time and thanked our stars.
2011 minus 1991 = 20 years have since passed. To this day, if Umar, Nauman or I meet, our conversation does go to Ziarat trip atleast once. We remember the wagon drivers and a different life style we saw on this trip and we hope the nostalgic days of our college trips may come back.