On The Footprints of Death

SNOW STEPS

 

In 1979 I was a Liaison Officer with Reinhold Messner’s K2 Expedition comprising of six climbers. A small expedition considering the size of the expedition usually foreign expeditions plan. Unlike Nanga Parbat where I was with Messner’s solo expedition the previous year, we had hired only 4/5 porters. On K2 in contrast to Nanga Parbat, it was big but considering other expeditions to 8000 m peaks especially to K2 the same year the French expedition came in with over 1400 porters and I noticed immense problems keeping them motivated and responsive by the expedition leader. Messner always off and on remarked on French climbing strategy. ‘This is not climbing’, he used to say,  ‘the French are attacking the mountain’.

The hiring of porters was carried out by me at Skardu where we lodged ourselves in a hotel for two nights. For ease of convenience and for better command and control for distribution of daily wages, rations, porter kits, and individual load distribution I nominated ex-military local personnel who were made the respective groups in-charge. This made my task easier to administratively control them.

K2 CARD resized

I will skip the details of the march to base camp. Messner had earlier selected a new route to the summit, which he called ‘The Magic Line’. This route required the Base Camp to be established on the Savoia Glacier on the west of K2. On 8 June 1979, we reached the base of K2 and camped at the junction of where Godwin Austin Glacier and Savoia Glacier met. It was not possible to move to our planned base camp on the Savoia Glacier the same evening as the sun was almost setting and time was required by the porters to set up their camp and cook their meals. The glacier from this point upwards was crammed with open and closed deep craggy and irregular crevasses and to traverse the length of that part of the glacier with load carrying porters was perilous. We decided we’ll commence early morning on 9 Jun 1979 to cover the last leg of our march. We commenced our move at 0530 hours. A bit further we realized it was difficult to find a route up. Alessandro, Robert, and Micheal had gone a bit up to fix ropes along the ridge so as to avoid the crevasses part of Savoia Glacier. There were about 50 porters who were following me. They stopped and were reluctant to use the roped route. It took me considerable effort to persuade and motivate them to follow me. Anyway, I started climbing and noticed few had started following me. As I emerged from the roped route on to the glacier I saw a few porters sitting down with their loads removed. Messner also stood beside them and asked me that I should supervise the crossing and bring rest of the column as he was going up to recce a place for base camp. He also wanted me to reach the base camp quickly to supervise the payment to the porters. I walked away from the porters about 50 feet away to see what was happening down below and there I saw two porters coming up from the direction of the crevasse-ridden area. My shouts and abuses had little effect on them. As I was doing that I saw three of the porters sitting behind me tried to come near me to check what was happening down below. I walked up to them and scolded them and told them to stay put. This I did about three times. Little I knew then that soon one of the porters will die, the one who will walk in my footsteps. The footprints to death; My footprints, it could have been me, but it was not destined to be. It will be Qasim Ali.

As I stood at the edge of the slope where I was shouting from, a few moments later behind me where the porters were sitting I heard a short noise as if the crust of the snow had broken. I turned immediately and saw one of the porters was shouting and crying. I knew that something had happened but there was no cry for help. I counted the loads with porters sitting, one load was unaccounted for. The porters at that point said it was Qasim Ali. I shouted at Messner he quickly came back. There was a lot of commotion, someone was shouting for ropes. Someone was lying on the snow crawling towards the hole and widening the mouth of the crevasse with an ice ax. I hear Friedl shouting for container number 110 which contained the ropes. It took about 10 mins and Friedl was belayed down into the crevasse. We kept on releasing the never wait to hear Friedl that he had reached the bottom seemed to be taking time. Everyone was anxious and I could see the morale of the porters sinking. Soon we heard Friedl, he shouted back saying he can see the body but there was no movement. I asked him if he could bring up the body. It was not possible to do that as he could not even touch him to check his pulse. He said though that he feared Qasim Ali was dead. I asked Robert, who was the doctor of the expedition to go down and examine. Friedl was pulled up and Robert lowered about 80 feet down. He managed to go near him. Qasim Ali was dead his head upside down in the water. We could not bring up his body. One more life was taken on K2. We all decided that Qasim should be left there to rest eternally. It was at this point that I realized that I had walked over that place and Qasim followed my footprints. The footprints to death.

After the expedition on our way back, we stopped at Shigar and went to Qasim Ali’s home where we offered our prayers and condolences. Messner gave some money to the bereaved family. It has been 40 years since that fateful day, his children must have portered many expeditions. They may have gone back to K2 many times. But alas! they would never know where their father perished. But there will be some solace that his body will always be distinguished by the crown of the Karakorams – THE MAJESTIC K2

“The past is somewhere we can walk with our memories 
Never with our footsteps” 
― Mimi Novic, “The Silence Between the Sighs”

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TAHIR TOWER -12674 Feet

We don’t choose anything really, but we choose how we feel, and so we choose how we live.

– Steph Davis –

My class fellow Hassan Ali Raza left the Army when he was a Captain. Very intelligent and capable officer but never was able to capitalize all his capacity and abilities. Ali was very orderly but full of mischief and playful, he would play with words to get his aim whether he succeeded or not that I can debate, but not now. The name he selected for his son gives one side of his personality. He named one of his sons as SHYOK. I asked him what is Shyok?. It then revealed to me it is the name of a river in Northern Areas. Many years afterwards I was commanding a brigade through which this river ran. In winters the turquoise colour of the water left you spellbound by its sheer colour contrast to the burnt sienna colour of the mountains. But in late Jun-early Jul Shyok River was muddy and flowed with deafening noise. I use to take evening walks along this river every day.

One day while returning to the officer’s mess I was greeted by four American Climbers and they introduced themselves as Jimmy Chin the leader of the expedition. The trip to Kondus Valley was his idea, Dave Anderson, Brady Robinson and the lady member of the team Steph Davis. They were given a special permit to visit the Kondus Valley of Pakistan’s eastern Karakoram’s which had been closed to foreigners for the past 18 years due to its proximity to Pakistan and India’s Line of Control.

BLOG all 4 on tahir-tower-

The trip was arranged by a dear friend of mine Nazir Sabir a renowned Pakistani mountaineer with a reputation to reckon with. He had called me that evening and requested me to look after the group and help them to travel up to Kondus Valley. That evening I arranged a dinner for them. We talked for long hours exchanging our experiences and adventures in the mountains. I mentioned Reinhold Messner and my association with him as his LO to Nanga Parbat and K2. I could feel the instant connection which came about. Later in her book ‘High Infatuation’ Steph Davis wrote these words, ” Over 6 feet tall the inspiring General speaks perfect military-academy English and has smiles around his eyes. He looks relaxed and western in a polo shirt and jeans. By a preposterous coincidence, Tahir was his Liaison Officer years ago on Reinhold Messner’s expeditions and sees no reason at all why climbers shouldn’t go to the Kondus”.

I detailed a guide and despatched the team to Kondus Valley, marking a line on their map and told them they shouldn’t cross it as it wasn’t safe because of sporadic artillery shelling. I also allowed them to explore the valley take pictures and if they wanted with their meagre climbing gear could climb any peak they wanted to. Their eyes lit up and I could see they were excited as if they had struck a gold mine. Having said that I recommended to them to climb a virgin rock spire which I thought was within their grasp with a limited number of ropes and other climbing gear they had. After traversing deep into Kondus they fell back to a small village of Karmanding behind which stood this granite rock tower 12,674 feet high (3863 metres) and informed me that they would climb what I recommended them.

Blog TT one on Top

 

On 12 July I visited Karmanding, three of the team members were up on the wall Dave was at base camp. The rest were barely visible with the naked eye. Brad, I think wrote in one of his articles. ” Dave and Jimmy chat by radio to General Tahir and Jimmy tells, we will call it Tahir Tower. “I am extremely honoured the Gen radios back”. I asked Zahid what was the local name of this tower he said the locals call it ‘Blood Coming Down’ Tower. But Brad said they were very happy with Tahir name, honouring Brig General, that was important to them.

Blog TT Steph

Steph Davis

She is climbing the 25th pitch of Tahir Tower.

Jimmy Chin

Blog TT Steph in Biv

Steph Davis up on a ledge in her Bivouac

On 20th July 2000, the entire team summited the tower which they named after me as TAHIR TOWER. There was no place for me higher to go than to be honoured by the Team of Four who accredited this success with my name.

Steph Davis in her book High Infatuation describes her drive off from Kondus in these words, ” We drive off the next morning, waving goodbye to armed guards at the gate. Gen Tahir is waiting for us at Khaplu and delighted and relieved to see us. He insists that we stay for another celebration dinner and soon has us all laughing calling him Terry, just like Messner had done. We promised to stay in touch and send photos of Tahir Tower”. It has been 18 years and we are still in touch on Facebook. I closely follow their adventures whenever I can.

STEPH DAVIS

Steph Davis has become an iconic name. World-class free climber. Climbing she says is my anchor and my passion.  “It’s as much a part of me as eating or walking. For me, living half-tamed feels right. If I got to choose, I would be a bird”. She is a skydiver and a Base Jumper. A writer and a photographer she is a vegan since 2003 and experiments with recipes. She has a Master’s Degree in Literature.

JIMMY CHIN

Jimmy Chin was the leader of the expedition to Tahir Tower. He is an American professional climber, mountaineer, skier, director and a photographer. His achievements include climbing and skiing Mount Everest from the summit, making first ascents of big walls and alpine towers in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan and elsewhere in the world.

BRADY ROBINSON

Brady Robinson is a climber, educator, and an outdoor advocate. He is the Executive Director of the Access Fund, a conservation and advocacy organization that helps to protect climbing areas throughout the United States.DAVID ANDERSON

David Anderson was the fourth member of the Tahir Tower Expedition in 2000

 

It has been 18 long years and today I thought I should write about Tahir Tower and the climbers who successfully climbed it. Very few people know about this Tower which stands alone with my name in the silence of jagged mountains of the Karakorams above the sleepy and tranquil village of Karmanding.  It is time to bring the story in the public eye.

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That is me – TAHIR 

You have to do what feels right, what lights you up. Do your best always. Conserve. Never waste anything. You can only have what you can carry: choose it carefully, make it last, take care of it. Appreciate what you have for as long as you have it. Be ready to do without it. No matter what happens, deal with it. Adapt, instantly when necessary. Take care of yourself. Try to help. A lot of times you fail, sometimes you succeed. Either way, you’re never the whole reason for it.

Steph Davis

 

TAHIR TOWER 

Type:  Tower

Location:  Gilgit-BaltistanPakistanSouth AsiaAsia

Latitude:  35° 18′ 1.1″ (35.3003°) north

Longitude:  76° 43′ 4.4″ (76.7179°) east

Elevation:  3863 metres (12,674 feet)

 

KNOWING REINHOLD MESSNER

 

MESSNER COVER

LIFE IS LIKE A MOUNTAIN, HARD TO CLIMB, BUT WORTH THE AMAZING VIEW FROM THE TOP

I was a Major when I volunteered to be a Liaison Officer with a foreign mountaineering expedition. On a hot day in early Jun 1978 while I had reported at Rawalpindi awaiting the arrival of the expedition I was called by one Mr Awan, a tourism officer asking me to come to his office so that I am introduced with the leader of the expedition. The moment I entered Awan’s office I saw Reinhold Messner along with Ursula Grether a German girl and our expedition doctor. Messner turned and looked at me and said “Mr Awan we have a problem, the items of the kit I have with me they won’t fit him. He is very tall”. At that time little I knew that I was face to face with one of the world’s best mountaineer. He had just returned from Mount Everest where he and Peter Habler become the first climbers in the history of mountaineering to have climbed Everest, the highest mountain in the world without oxygen something unimaginable at that time. Immediately after climbing Everest he arrived directly to Rawalpindi from Nepal to climb Nanga Parbat Solo. I had the singular honour to witness that rare feat; an 8000 meter peak climbed solo for the first time ever in 5 days. I drew a sketch of the route up and down from the mountain while Messner slowly climbed towards the summit. That sketch finds a place in the last page of his book SOLO: NANGA PARBAT. He climbed Nanga Parbat on 9 Aug 1978. The picture below was taken on the summit of Nanga Parbat, with the camera fixed on his Ice Axe which he presented to me on return to Base Camp.

MESSNER TOP OF NANGA

Messner on top of Nanga Parbat – 9 Aug 1978

On his way down to base camp with badly frostbitten fingers, I and Ursula greeted him. He presented me his ice axe with RUPAL inscribed on it. I kept it for 34 years and represented it back to him. The Ice Axe is now placed on exhibition in Messner Mountain Museum Corones, South Tyrol in Italy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In 1979 Reinhold Messner returned to Pakistan this time to climb K2. On his request to the Government of Pakistan, I was detailed once again as his Liaison Officer. He successfully climbed K2 as well. I remember when he returned to Base Camp after the summit I greeted him again like I did on Nanga Parbat, he said with a big embrace, “Terry, you should always be my LO”. I did not meet him again after 1979 till 2013 when he was visiting Pakistan. We had a good gathering at Col Sher Khan’s home with some old friends at Islamabad. We reminded ourselves with the good times we had together.

REINHOLD

Myself with Reinhold Messner in 2013 at Islamabad

Time has flown by. 1978 and 1979 were two of my most memorable years. Messner never stopped climbing and returned to Pakistan many times. Regretfully I could not meet him during those visits. “Nobody can stop us” was his favourite line during Nanga Parbat expedition. And on K2 in his usual beaming smile would say, “Terry we are still alive” which would get my reaction with a big laughter.

WITH REINHOLD K2

Myself with Reinhold Messner at K2 Base Camp – 1979

Italian mountaineer and explorer Reinhold Messner has made a career of near-impossible climbs and is considered one of the greatest climbers in history. Born on September 17, 1944, in Bressanone, Italy, growing up in the Dolomites part of Italian Alps. He has climbed all the 14 Peaks above 8000 meters (26000 feet) a feat which he achieved at the age of 42 in 1986. Messner has long been a supporter of “alpine style” mountaineering, which involves minimal equipment and little or no external support, as he believes standard “expedition style” climbing is disrespectful and damaging to nature. Climbing RUPAL Face of Nanga Parbat in 1970 when he was 23 years old with his 21-year-old brother Gunther he describes the most dangerous climb of his life. It was during this climb his brother also died, and it was during the same climb he lost his six toes due to frostbite.  His brother’s body was never found when he returned in 1971 till probably 2010/2011 when an expedition accidentally discovered his body on the Diamer Face of Nanga Parbat.

During our treks to Nanga Parbat and K2, I came to know much of Reinhold Messner as a man than a mountaineer. I remember he told me often ” Terry, I climb for myself and my handkerchief is my flag”. He had way with words. I once asked him who looks after his accounts. He mentioned her accountant held all the cash accounts and bank record. I  asked what if she runs away with your money. Reinhold smiled and simply said ” Terry if she does that, she would never learn anything from me, as far as I am concerned I will earn more” Reinhold has set up Mountain Museums portraying history and culture of high altitude areas. Though he has written 20-odd books on mountaineering, Messner is known as a bit of a loner and a solitary person. Messner has crossed Antartica on Skis and crossed 2000 km of Gobi Desert. He has trekked 2220 Km of Greenland in 1993.

Now as he has aged but still fit as a fiddle, Messner has a dream, which he calls it “My Final Chapter, I want to forget everything and live in a cave somewhere and forget about everything.

The wonderful things in life are the things you do, not the things you have

Reinhold Messner

 

 

 

Future of My Past

For months since my last blog, I have been thinking of writing about my past. Lot has been written on the subject, some say forget your past, live forwards. It is true because it is not there anymore, it is just a tense now. So many events so many people, they are not there anymore, everything is history. Where I left most of the people I knew then, so many events which happened then, and all ideas we thought off, they all transmuted themselves. But today, I will only exert myself to dwell on the future of my past as the stated subject of my blog represents. When we were kids the exposure to the world was restricted to books, music, radio and our ideals, which in my case was my father’s indomitable spirit, impregnable principles for which in his lifetime he suffered in many different ways but never compromised. Growing up in his shadow thus left lasting imprints on my life to come. As I grew up some became my lineaments with which I was distinguished. As I reflect back “TIME” and all its relevant areas on my bringing up have had a deep impact. All my achievements in one or the other way have been attached to this one word – very difficult to follow and absorbs its effects completely. It can make you impatient, irritable, frustrated, sad, dejected and not forgetting contended and happy.
 Growing up as eldest of eight siblings kept my father very worried about our future especially when at a critical time of his parental obligations he was jobless and we lived in extreme modesty. He kept his pride with unimaginable difficulty trying to remain obscure as to how especially the next day will unfold for him and to his responsibilities.  His unpretentious nature despite being a man of taste and extreme mannerisms makes me now extremely despondent. The future of my past is beginning to unfurl as I write this post. As I pierce into the past the remembrances are beginning to upset me, but write I must.

My earliest memory is perhaps when I was 6 or 7 years old. My father loved dogs and the ones he kept as long as I remember was a pair of Bull-terriers, he had named them Whisky and Dash.  Whiskey and Dash were very fond of me, followed me everywhere I went and protected me like if they were my bodyguards. The first future of my past was a complete un-fulfilment. I so much wanted to have a pet dog and I still do. I got married and then all doors were shut and so with it was buried my first past desire. My wife not interested in dogs and reasons are obvious. My African Grey shares my Study with me and right now perched on top of its cage constantly repeating “TANGO my son how are you” I smile only as he whistles now and then.
 I never had any ambition so to say while I was growing. I did not ever think what I would become or want to be in the future. The nature of that thought of the past postulates and has made me what I am. I loved to read and the world then was far different from what it is now. It was not what the young people like me today are confronted with the upheaval of information bordering from the maelstrom of diverse ideas; a madness of uncertainty for the people like me. From the present of that future of my past, I definitely like how it used to be; uncomplicated, plain and simple. What I do now, how I think now, how I approach situations now, put exactly that much effort as I think is required (most people still think I have and had the capacity to do more)  it was exactly then as well. I lived each day without really knowing what tomorrow would bring for me. Whatever myself and friends did we had fun.
 My father’s expectation from each of his children was different for every child. He wanted me to become a doctor. I never had the courage to tell him that it was not going to happen. I wasn’t good at studies but it was not my educational abilities which dissuaded me from his vision of me but of my belief, that I was not a Doctor material, how hard I tried. It was a clear underestimation by me of my will and abilities, at least this is what I think of it now, notwithstanding my lack of interest more than the will to be what my Dad desired. To be truthful I never wanted to be a medic.  As I think of it now I dare say I was definitely a healer of a sort in my heart. I would heal people in different ways; my future life from that past is satiated and well fed with short stories which I will pick up on in another post. I was and am still a staunch believer in destiny. Sometimes I feel my destiny has been connected with destinies of other people. I know there is a power far beyond our imaginations and it places us at every turn of our lives at a place where one should be. This thought fits my life perfectly.
 I never thought I will join the Army. A series of events further gave credence to my view. Applied for admission to Military College when I was in Class 8th and I was not selected after having been declared medically unfit. On our way to the college for tests, my father asked me a strange question, ” Why do you like to join the military college” the way he said it was not a question but he was telling me I do not want you to be away from me. I thought then he wasn’t happy because of the way he asked me, yet he accompanied me all the way from Quetta to Jehlum to keep up my spirits. Again when I applied for the first time for the Army I was permanently declared medically unfit for having a systolic heart murmur. The doctor told me I would not be able to sustain the tough academy training and routine. I appealed and was called to appear before a Medical Board and was declared Fit. During the process of this medical examination, I missed the chance to go through the rest of the tests of 46th PMA Long Course. I applied again for 47th PMA and fell through the final selection test at Kohat. That was it, and I decided the army was not for me. The future of my past was still to unravel itself. Then one day I got a letter from the Army Headquarters asking me if I was willing to join the 48th batch I should apply. I was not too excited but it appeared, the divine was at work. There was no system of actions, I thought, need to be followed or rehearsed to go through this final test at ISSB for I thought I knew it all. I got my test dates and would you believe that a day before my departure from Quetta to Kohat I met with a road accident, a truck tyre went over half of the left foot and I ended with a fractured foot. There went all my faint hopes of ever wearing the uniform. I would skip the technicalities of the cause of the accident suffice I appeared in the last batch and cleared it without displaying pain or limp as I would do so the same way during the training at the Academy. The age-old adage. “No pain, no gain” had chosen me which I guess now, I had heartily accepted. I did not have any choice. I cleared and was selected in the final test at Kohat. That was the last time I went to Kohat little I knew then that I will return to Kohat after 30 long years to Command my second Infantry Division from Bahawalpur to Kohat as a Major General. Little I knew then that I was to become an instrument for changing the destiny of a young lad Muhammad Arif. What a fine young man he has grown to be how well he has shaped. I am proud of him. He will read this with loads of sentimentality.  What a blessing it is not to know your future in the past. The turning point at that stage I can recount many. My beliefs have been shaped far away in the distant ‘past’. The future had already charted its course at the lowest ebb of my despair and unhappiness when I had met with the accident. Many doors had closed but one had opened, who knew then, why should I turn the hands of time, I am at peace with future of that past.

I have been a sportsman all my life, may it be squash, cricket, swimming, hockey or school athletics. In the environment I was growing up I made the best use of all the facilities. From school days if I may, one wish I always carried with me for which I worked very hard was to play cricket at the highest level. My selection in the Army, however, only let me go up to the Province Level when I was selected to play for Balochistan. I am pleased with my performance, no regrets what so ever as the future of my past had different ideas.

Imran Nazir and I have studied together, we were class fellows. later he also joined the Army and in the academy, we were also Platoon mates. The association is almost 55 years old. Imran had beautiful handwriting for which not me but the whole class was envious of him. We both sat together in Mr Zahoor’s class who was our Drawing teacher. Drawing (Arts)  was one of our subjects in the course in the school. I left pursuing it but not Imran. He continued painting and still does. I wanted to be a painter but then my self-imposed limitations never allowed my hidden talent to erupt into colours on the canvas. Now and then I did buy oil colours but never exploited my talent if there was any. My inspiration was my Grandfather who was a good painter slow and steady he would paint and I watched him. Five years after my retirement from the Army in 2008 I decided to start painting and learned the skill on my own, with Youtube to be my teacher through lessons of renowned contemporary painters. Fast drying paints were instrumental in my new found love to create and express. My friends often censure me for my restiveness and keenness to finish and sign my ‘masterpieces’. Something in the past which I always wanted to do has happened after five decades. Future of my past is alive and kicking.

I must confess I was not a dreamer or had ambitions to speak of at that point in my life. I remember a few of our friends had their own dreams. The kids of doctors wanted to become doctors, engineers, businessmen and so on those friends and class fellows wanted to pursue and carry on with their family business and the professions their parents pursued. Yes, one thing I was clear about that I did not want to be useless. There was a lot of haze looking forward. Ambitions did crystalize with age but I never managed to push hard to get them though. In hindsight, the main reason was the way, my father was struggling to make ends meet and he just wanted a support and a bread earner as soon as possible and Army was in his opinion the only way I and my younger brother who also later joined were to lessen his burden. That was not all he desired, like everyone else he wanted to feel a sense of achievement of raising us up through thick and thin to see the fruit of his struggle to have educated us and see us on our feet. One thing of which I am absolutely clear if he had the resources he would have equipped us with the best possible education. Past plays its own game, only in the future of past the mist clears.

After my training from the Academy, I went on to serve for 38 years or so in the Army with two foreign tours of five years combined in the United Nations Missions. For every rank, I progressed I went through bizarre to funny situations with me displaying outlandish behaviour at times and at other times take decisions with the courage to explore new horizons forgetting where the shore was. By nature, I was never afraid of failures and brought this with me to this day from past to the future. When I was a Captain I was produced before a Two Star Divisional Commander complaining against my own Commanding Officer who drove me to produce me a week before his retirement in front of the General. I was admonished and rebuked and was told to go and serve. We came out and I still remember my CO who only said one thing, “Young man if you continue to do and listen whatever your father tells you to do, you will never reach anywhere in life”. I did not tell him anything but I NEVER paid heed to what he said. My father was a man of principles and he was my constant therapist and a consultant. So many of his sermons still resonate in my mind and most of my siblings today. Positive “ZID” and satisfaction of heart tops the list and a constant reminder of the fact that “RIZQ” is in the hands of Almighty, he and he alone can give and he can take it away, he always said and wrote to us.

I will end this post and plan to continue on my Past more in another blog with my personal life fortunes and misfortunes.

Here are few excerpts from my late son’s poem which he titled – FATE

FATE

 

One that ruins us.
It has built us and we divided some.
Sometimes it did aspire us. 
Saddens us by a happiness stolen from us. 
It seeks something that eyes cannot see. 
Blind us from what we have. 

~ Moody ~

 

BILAFOND LA – The Pass of the Butterflies

The crinkled mountain tops stood silent for centuries and watched the world around

The Ravens and crows spread their wings flew high over the tops, black over white snow

The spiders and butterflies were the only life, which met the eye

The flowers sprouted through the thawing snow year after year

Scattering their colors on the snowfields and through the rocks they emerged

The peaks were the beholders in the Coliseum to countless proceedings in the valleys below

Nature survived and maintained the eternal abstractness of its beauty

In the windswept valleys during the chilling and numbing winters the temperatures only dropped

Freezing winds screeched, picked up and subsided in the callousness of stifling winters

Majestic Snow Leopards roamed freely as priceless imperiled species

The Ibex and ‘Markhors’ balanced the cycle of nature sustaining them

Nature’s terrain guarded the wildlife against the world’s most dangerous predator – The Man

The untamed primitive wild was wilder in all its forms, enigmatic and unexplored

The sky cocktail blue like the sea of a dream in the bright afternoon sun

The sky at night deeper, painted blue on blue and the stars brighter in the Milky Way

Frequented by streaks of shooting stars burning out in nowhere

Brought good luck to some and for others a plethora of myths.

Year after year the snow thawed, the brooks gradually surging down the valley in to rivers

Seeping dribbling hopping springing over the rocks into an eventual noisy roar

The occupants of the hamlets far below channelized and irrigated their fields

The shepherds with their flocks went along their age-old scarce pasturelands

Winter starved cattle had plenty to graze on

The sound of bells and the shepherd whistles echoed in the mountains

Occasional reverberations one could hear, reverting into tranquility and peace

Nights were different and quiet as a moonbeam

The onset of summer melted the glaciers

Turquoise colored pools appeared and disappeared into broken crevasses

Here and there white snow rumbling down the sides crumbling at the base

Oxygen-starved mountain heights where winter never melted and there was no summer to freeze

In winters heaven and earth fused with white unceasing snow, occasionally the gray-blue horizon appeared

Thunders so loud that the skies seem to split

Far down the villagers went about their chores of changing seasons, for them nothing changed in their life

The moonlit nights were bright as day, the reflection of snow like a silver sheath

The silence of night was loud and a great source of power and strength

An occasional crevice of ice and snow, rumbling and tumbling of boulders a norm

The rhythm and sound like the tap dancers loud tap

Every year the terrain transformed obliterating old paths

There were no crossings on the streams, the dwellers found new paths every season

Thus the setting of the glacier blended with sights and sounds leading to Bilafond La

The locals called it The Pass of the Butterflies

The glacier with no tracks to follow with all its grandeur led to the pass

There stood a high granite spire as if guarding the Bilafond La like a nail driven in the glacier

 The spire touched by the setting winter light shone gold at sunset

A sight for every eye to behold

The La suddenly swept extensively open into the Siachin Glacier

Locals called it the land of abundance of roses

Getting nearer to the pass the horizon changed like a secret being unveiled

One wondered what lay ahead and below

The imaginary soon began to disappear like an ending dream

The rhyming of all the adjacent La’s now became clearer

The Sia La, Gyong La, Yarma La and Bilafond La all were in a concert for the glacier of Siachin

The desire to stay and see the fabric of the Longest Glacier in its purest form fulfilled

Mountaineers relished scoring their treks of countless top glaciers of my land

Siachin Glacier treks crowned the 6 glaciers of Pakistan so said Galen Rowell

I wondered how many mountaineers rejoiced and savored the moment

Those days were different from now

Then came the year 1984. Years have passed nothing has been same again

Soldiers, boots, thundering guns, unending trails of porters and mules beelining the glacier

Peaks all occupied the true meaning of minus temperatures was a reality for the soldiers

Everything froze; time to acclimatize and become naturalized had begun

Soldiers became the Mountaineers, the virginity of peaks no more

The cost! Life and blood, to hold and never give up

Every inch held, blood flowed, souls lost, limbs amputated but not their will

Code Duty Honor was the order of the day

Tales of valor written and re-written of ‘Shuhadas’ and those who stood on and fought

The tales of fire and Ice continues in the oxygen-starved heights

Years passed and human spirit prevailed

Far behind from where all started a military post kept growing

Everyone knew it as Gyari, for soldiers of Bilafond Sector a staging post to rest and move on

Oblivious of what was to come life went on in the tranquility of the valley

Alas who knew the unexpected would happen on 7th April 2012

In deafening silence of early hours, a 70 feet wall of ice snow and mud came crashing down

Gyari was buried forever. 135 souls of Northern Light Infantry perished that day

Many months later 133 bodies were recovered

There now stands a memorial of the fallen – The Shaheeds and their names will live forever

Gyari will no more be the same again. The mountains continue to observe

The Ravens still soar far above. Somewhere high up a snow leopard still prowls flowers still bloom and grow

In this milieus 21 years ago bilafond@gmail.com my email was made

As I recollect I can still smell the crisp mountain air.

Scowling clouds must still be swirling around the mountains of Saltoro Range called the Yellow Mountains

Memory is the diary we all carry with us

Oscar Wilde

 

HOW MANY?

 

How many people we become
How many years it takes
How many we give away
How many we share, how many times we clasp some
How many we take
Is life a portrait?
How many we make
How many colors we add
How many fade away in time 
How many we give away 
How many we keep
How many they keep
Do we all live with pain
How many can be without them
Can we be without them?
Without pain is there taste in life?
What is the flavor of life
How many have savored it?
Can we all understand this enigma of life
How many do, How many?
How many Moons of life we can count
How many tides before they go down
How many dazzling moments we remember 
How many glories have been of our dreams? How many?
How many dust full galaxies there may be
How many stars glitter in the dark of the night, countless!! 
We all have our stars in the constellations unknown
How many no one will ever know
Let them stay in their quantum leaps
How many, how many
How many are many

MILESTONES!

I stand alone in the Colosseum of life. The mood I am in is immeasurable caressing the infinity of time and space. Transgressing into a multidimensional realm of the physical, emotional and spiritual orbit of my life is not a permanent state of my mind, but as I have chosen to dwell on this subject it seems that I am heaved into this momentary position. I will attempt to expound the ups, downs, bends and long unending stretches of roads disappearing into the horizon of time. Heartaches, moments of happiness and joy all are in a state of fusion with colors of nature and its blessings. The zero milestone is not a physical one but that which resides in my vaguest of memories, which rekindle now and then and therein lies the pleasures of the life of whatever its worth for me. The process of remembering is a blessing of nature. Imagine if this is taken away from us there will be an upheaval in our lives. Some faded ones and some etched deeply in my mind are the unforgettable ones. They are part of the convention of so many emotions. Memories are thus, in my opinion, a blessing it keeps you connected with something which does not exist, but only in another dimension. Some people can let go of them. For me which I have let go has not been because of anything but only because they do not exist anymore in any form to affect me or those around me. I am reminded of  Mark Twain’s quote who says that sign of a poor memory is for those who have a clear conscience; I am still trying perceptively apply it on myself, not necessarily that I may expound on that thought right now. When you are immersed in a state of mind as I am now I wonder if one should lead his life with the signposts of life. Many times in my journey of 68 years, I do not remember being at a crossroad of making a decision, but now I can say without any declaration of guilt with the benefit of hindsight except two happenings which I feel I could have made a better value of time, though with a feeling of regret. I guess we all have them when from the perspective of the passage of these long years where age is the teacher. Having said that I have never ever considered myself inadequate to venture into passions which either was dormant or the mind was not ready to start that particular journey. Two days ago I received a call from a very senior retired officer of the Army who had a glittering career both when he was in the Army and after retirement. Someone had told me he is a good painter. I chose to ask him about his unknown talent. Being myself into the journey where I did not allow time to dictate me of my erudition of playing with knife and brushes, he took me by bewilderment when he told me that he started learning Calligraphy at the age of 70 years and published a book with exhibitions in Pakistan and abroad. He was generous to present me with a copy of his book “ALIF” Quest of The Devine. Looking back at our deprivations and dispossessions, in my opinion, is a very parlous state of mind which should never be allowed to persist. I never do that. I know for so many it must have been a trammel to capitulate into nothingness, where the will is set into hermitic existence. Everyone’s journey can never be as of mine, We all have latent ambitions, I did not let mine die with the circumstances surrounding me or how many miles I covered in my journey of life. Many people have affected my thinking, and in so many ways, they were simply few words which set me in a motion of my attitudes, views and how I let myself be guided by them. They were not extreme thought provoking but simply uncomplicated words and ideas. One needs to be receptive to happenings around us. Personally, the chart of my milestones and signposts have been simple and straightforward. I never take time to take a decision which has allowed me more positions of an advantage than otherwise.  For me, the significance of milestones in my life have had minimal relevance and to be honest have not been a moot point whatsoever.  I am a collector of few things. I regret missing so many things which could have been now my prized possessions, they are the lost milestones never to be seen or touched. In the exuberance of our youth, we tend to take things for granted, an extra weight to carry. well, past is past I have looked forward. The pieces are enough to remember not necessarily as they were, the vagueness is beautiful, this is how I think, not forgetting what Mark Twain said. I will not compromise on my conscience. I am neither a writer nor a literary person. I write what I feel at that point. Does not mean that I sway too much in my principles, simply I chose to follow the moment. It must bring out the best of me – some say you are innocent in your views, others would categorize me as a scrambler galloping on an unchartered moment of the moment itself. The MOMENT we all have. Enjoy it. Cherish it.