A student-trip, one of its kind, it was my first trip to Azad and Jammu Kashmir of Pakistan back in 2018. Journey completed in less than 24 hours. 96 miles covered twice in a day revealed one of the best combinations of chai (tea) and pakoras with thrashing sounds of River Neelum in the laps of alpine mountains. It was my first, ever, independent journey!
The journey began with several students from renowned universities of Islamabad accompanied by trip organizers in trustworthy wheels, who had arranged coaster buses for us. It seemed like there was no way the road trip was going to get interrupted but it did. We had to wait for more students to join us, travelers from another university destined for a similar destination, Pir Chanasi.
The first half an hour was wasted in juggling people from seat to seat and bus to bus which kind of killed the vibe for a smooth road trip but this was just a hiccup met by a great experience afterwards. After all of the passengers were settled in their seats my chums and I luckily found the bus with good and noisy Punjabi music. Passing through Murree’s lavish-green hills, the cool breeze from the eyes of the bus, adorned with bashing music was a spiced flavor of the trip. The trip which was modern yet entrapped by cultural moods. During the entire journey music, laughter, jokes with certain awkwardness due to strangers’ presence made the trip a whole different experience.
The middle stop at Kohala Bridge provided with one of the best “dhaabas” of the upper hills. I personally prefer to eat or drink less because it is the scenery on such trips that demand our attention and appreciation. We go to such tours for experience not to waste our time in the loo. Therefore, my diet during the journey was minimal.
Anyhow, before resuming our rides, I luckily found the passenger seat which gave a boost to my fun. I was now witnessing natural beauty through my 576 mega- pixels capacity via 110-inch LED screen. The journey continued and finally the wait was over. It was blazing hot till we reached the splendorous land, Muzzafarabad, AJK. The view top of the city was breath-taking. It seemed like the entire city was painted in a theme with mostly blue and red rooftops and of course, river Neelum flowing through the middle of the land like artery to a human heart.
After waiting for five hours, Pir Chanasi had us in its arms. A small-hill top with snow-capped mountain views, tiny markets mainly for tea, french fries or basic vegetables shivered in chills. The main attraction of the spot was a small shrine, a holy man of his time. This place was called Pir Chanasi where “Pir” literally meant Sufi master and so attributed to Peer Syed Hussain Shah Bukhari.
This recreational spot had tuck-shops but extremely hopeless bathrooms. This is the major drawback in some areas of Pakistan’s Northern Areas as many basic services need reforms to improve tourism. Other than poor sanitary facilities, everything was adding spark to our picnic. Icy winds, red cheeks, shivering hands and hasty photography in between. Sitting on a hill with a friend and just gazing at the mountains that we could never reach but just see and take their air in became one of the engraved scenes in my heart. Moreover, some of the other memorable moments included meeting new people, cracking lame inter-city jokes, making funny videos. But the best was, a warm hug from my peers to whom I was a heating BayMax!
In addition to it, I was in awe to find the famous beef kebabs “Chapli Kebab” at towering heights of my country. It was highly priced but worth it, counting the pantry and transportation expenditure etc. So, later my friends and I enjoyed a belated barbecue as it was cooked after the scheduled time due to screeching winds. We had “Tikka Boti”, tasty “Seekh Kebabs” and rotis were also served which we ate like soldiers on a battlefield around bonfire.
In the darkness of night, we all set out to experience scary roads down the hills. Road trip on the return was calm as everyone was exasperated and ready to hug their beds. It took another six hours for us to arrive back while my family members continuously demanded my location updates. Typical and sweet of every family, I always appreciate their gesture. It was one o’clock in the night when I was welcomed home with a friend who had decided to spend the night at my place.
It was the only independent trip I had ever been onto beyond my limits. Fortunately this was one of the best decisions I made because now in pandemic I have at least one friends’ trip to look back to. Grateful to that one friend who gathered all four of us.