It was a beautiful evening with the flashing traffic lights displaying a spectacle like that of fireworks. All the girls were ready waiting for the bus when I reached there. I was 23, pretty in pink, starry eyed, and I was ecstatic at the idea of hiking in the mountains with all my girls.
“Hellos to all” I said,
“Hey Zeba” “How are you”, “Heyy”, “Are you ready?”
were the replies I heard from the happy crowd. Smiling and beaming with excitement and joy all the university girls were forever ready for the fun packed eight-day adventure to the breathtaking mountains of the Karakorum. The senior most, most kind and sweet voiced girl said
“We have made a rule for the entire trip you guys! Zeba you haven’t been informed about it”
“Yeah Tina what have you girls planned?? I inquisitively asked
Tina elaborated “I have made a rule there are no seniors and juniors in this journey, no superior, no apprentice! Only direct names, no formalities at all!
“Wow that is so cool!” I excitedly commented.
“Hey! There is more!” said Tina, “If anyone breaks this rule, the penalty will be ice creams bought by the rule-breaker for the whole bus! Hahahaha” Tina and all the girls started laughing”
“That’s great” I said, “Well I will never break that rule”. Only Marie and I were the junior most girls so I was quite impressed by Tina’s rule.
BEEP BEEP!! The luxury bus arrived and we 20 girls all as one united group with no distinction of senior or junior, cool or uncool, fashion freak or geeky tomboy, set start on the fascinating once-in-a-lifetime tour.
The journey was long and twisting. I first sat with Marie my classfellow praying for safety. Then I shifted to Gigi, (who would have been a senior before the trip but as the rule was formed, she was just my friend now), and listened to music. Then I sat over to a solemn and serious-looking Emma, another ex-senior, and I was a bit timid at first to talk to her but since Tina had already made the strict “Equality, Unity, Sorority” rule, I gulped and sat beside her. To my utter surprise the grumbly and stern image that I had of Emma was totally wrong. Emma was fun! She was serious and slightly realistic but nevertheless very full of humour and fun-loving at the same time. Her witty comebacks when someone commented on her were a slice!
“Emma your shoes are shiny and nice but I accidently stepped on them” haughtily said Sadie. Emma’s shrewd reply was “Don’t worry Sadie when we come back, I will force you to wash them till they sparkle like your teeth!” The journey was full of giggles, riddles, clever answerbacks and song and frolic.
The rain was pouring like mad. It was a complete thunderstorm. Lighting flashed so frequently it was like a dazzling diamond bolt exhibition. The bus sprinted smoothly at full speed showing off the expertise of the experienced mountainous driver. I took a break from the gossip and chit chat and was silently staring out from my window trying to figure out whether we entered the hilly region yet or not. We entered a quiet and sleeping dark Hasan Abdal city in the dead of night. After a while when the night passed and the dawn entered the piercing darkness, the initial faint sunrays started unraveling the lush green landscape of Hazara. All the girls were exhausted from a full night activity and enjoyment. We ate breakfast and with happy but fatigued and sleepy faces set off again to the valley of mystery and splendor – Naran. The journey was long, bumpy and the sun shone bright and burnt our faces. Finally, after the long winding journey between breath taking sceneries, rushing furious rivers, flowery and grassy mountainous patches ended we reached the valley of Naran. The moment we all got our rooms, all the girls decided to stay in one large room. Full and crowded with girls we were exhausted from the journey but the presence of all 20 smiling girls was so fantastic that nobody wanted to sleep. The whole room was full of life and hustle and bustle. Sadie and Ash were busy figuring how to make tea; I had given them sugar and tea bags; Ira had recently bought the story of Saif ul Muluk from the local mountain fellows and was intently busy in it!
“Ira how is the story?” asked Sana
“so far so good” Ira said, “but it’s still stuck on the part where they are nonstop praising the unmatched, unearthly beauty of the fairy princess Badi-ul-Jamal”, the whole room roared with laughter. Sana replied “I think all men want women to be extraordinarily beautiful just like the fairy and the models in TV commercials” I laughed and replied “Sana we all already are!” someone from the giggling crowd added “way to go Zeba! You are so right girl!
Marie sat down on the mattress and starting to gossip with Tina and so we all sat around Tina who always had the most exciting and hilarious descriptions of people dramas and places. The atmosphere was enlightened! There was so much joy in the air! We were all one! For the first time it felt that we were all sisters of the same age, hugging and cuddling up to one another on the mattress, all sharing their anecdotes and views on old Star World soaps and dramas Friends, Charmed, on Jennifer Lopez’s stunning ageless beauty and comeback, on difficult studies, women driving, and so much more! No discrimination on any grounds, just one united representation of the girl power of Eve’s daughters.
The next day passed quickly and before we knew it the high-altitude journey on jeeps took us to the wonder they call Saif-ul-Muluk Lake. The scene couldn’t be described in words. The magic in the air, the undying love, the magnetism in the blue-green sparkle of the lake was overwhelming and captivating. The majestic mountains partly covered in snow in the background mirroring in the lake was breath taking. Never in my life have I ever experienced the beauty and magic like that of Saif-ul-Muluk. The passion was alive and burning in the lake and its surrounding vividly narrating the tale of endless love. I slowly walked the entire circumference of the lake thinking of the flaming fire of affection in the hearts of Prince Saif ul Muluk and Badi-ul-Jamal, I wondered how many obstacles they had to face and earnestly wished I could see them together in the midst of the lake. My heart longed to see how handsome would Prince Saif ul Muluk be, after whom the lake was named. Truly he must have been unrivaled and majestic in courage and beauty himself. After boating and horse-riding, we set off to come back to our cozy and pretty guest house, but the weather turned ferocious and the wind was howling like wolves on a full moon. We all saw the front jeep crash and get stuck on rocks but praise the Lord, that it had few passengers which did not get injured but still we were praying for their safety. As I had rarely travelled to hilly areas except Islamabad, I was very disturbed by it, but Annie told me, “Zeba its okay, we will be alright, have faith in the universe” rubbing my back reassuringly she said, “It’s okay, don’t be upset”. We all prayed earnestly clinging to our faith in the universe conspiring to protect us. Our jeep lurched forward on the rocks and pebbles of the stony winding and steep mountainous pathway. My side of the jeep hit the mountain rocks and trembled, then swayed from side to side perilously. My heart was beating out of grave fear and I was on the verge of tears but Annie again stroked my back and hugged me. She said “Have faith, believe! We will surely be alright! Nothing is going to happen to us”. After a few shaking bumps and tremors the jeep finally found its track and by the grace of providence in no time we were back in our rooms. I heaved a sigh of relief. The journey to the enchanted lake had been long and tiring and after the crimson twilight sun had set, we all decided to lie down and rest. We talked about the magnificence and impressiveness of the lake. Ira started narrating the story of the love “…….… and the Prince Saif-ul-Muluk burning in desire for the fairy was determined to attain her at any cost, even if he had to duel with the White Demon……..” it was getting late and soon all the girls fell into deep slumber.
It was midnight, the wind was blowing, the sound of the splashes of the river rushing was louder, the moon was full, the atmosphere chilly and mysterious. I don’t know if I was awake or asleep, my bed was near the door, and I was lying in the same very pretty silver flowery gown that I had worn to the lake, I was too tired to change or braid my hair so my long hair was spread all over my pillow. Suddenly I heard footsteps, my heart started to pound. I started praying that it wasn’t any thief or any non-human existence since I had heard that djinns live in mountains and being scared of my own shadow my goose bumps rose all over my skin. “have faith Zeba, have faith, don’t be scared it’s alright, just have faith……have faith in the universe” I kept repeating to myself the soothing and consoling things that Annie had said to me to prevent me from panicking. The footsteps came closer and closer towards our door. My heart was racing and my body was shaking with fear, then the door creaked open! I stopped dead in my tracks, I was sure it had been locked but now it was opened by someone, I slightly looked up and to my utmost wonder and amazement I saw the shadow of a strong, tall and broad man. I froze. The figure was looking at me! I was so frightened. The man was wearing ancient style embellished attire decorated with a very intricate design which I had never seen ever before. The man came closer to me and I saw his face adorned with a beard and deep eyes. My heart froze when an idea struck me like lightening. Was this the ghost of the ancient Prince Saif-ul-Muluk who I was so desperate to see? My friend Sadie had strictly apprehended me not to over dress like a bride for the trip to the lake and also not to wash my face and drink water from the lake but I unswervingly avoided her warning and not only was looking my best but also drank my stomach full from the love lake. The spectre stood there and stared at me, I could see him clearly now and saw he had deep brown eyes and a broad handsome face. We stared at each other, for how long I did not know……..
The sun shone extra golden rays the next morning and I asked Lizzie, who also happened to be near the door beside my bed, if she experienced anything strange in the night “Of course I didn’t, it was a perfect night’s sleep” she replied confidently. I explained to her “Lizzie I was awake for a long time probably at 1am and I don’t know when I slept, I was scared because there was someone at the door.” “No Zeba” she retorted, “you were full asleep at around 1.15 am, I know because I took a drink from your bottle, I checked on you as well you were fast asleep!” her words surprised me further! Was the ghost of Prince Saif ul Muluk in my dream or did his spirit really come to visit me? Whatever the case, I will never know for sure.
Packing started immediately and there were only 15 minutes in leaving. Instead of a rushy mess, all the girls neatly packed up their belongings in a much-disciplined manner and created a scheduled order of turns at using the shower and dressing. I went out to get all the clothes ironed, I helped Marie pack her stuff, I lent Gigi and Sadie my hair brush and makeup, I helped Ira get ready, and Annie helped me by generously getting us breakfast. Sana helped me pack my belongings. In the utmost organized fashion, all the girls were done in 121/2 minutes and ready to go. The order and organization were incredible! Perhaps we were all M Phil students and very well learned that we displayed extra discipline. “All Asian women should be educated above masters” said Ash “that way they will never break the waiting queues or push and pull during large gatherings”. It will sound so odd to people on the other side of the globe but south Asian women managing to get educated is a far-fetched dream (ask Malala why she was shot!). The discipline didn’t end there. We all brought our stuff down from our rooms which were on the 1st floor and all sat waiting patiently for the wagon which had to take us out of Naran valley to Abbottabad. There was no complaining, blaming or pushing and catfights were out of the question. All were happy and well-ordered. When the wagon arrived, there was a slight concern that all of us wouldn’t be able to fit in it. So, we had to be organized. Our teacher and trip manager Prof. Ned had to seat us according to size and shape!
“Zeba” ordered Prof. Ned, “Sit at the back next to Sana”
“Yes sir” I conformed to his order immediately with slightest concern that I had to sit with my besties Annie or Gigi. Obediently I sat there,
“Emma sit at the front” order Prof Ned again, and she went and sat there quietly, it was all a sisterhood with no preferences. There was absolutely no social hierarchy, just all your besties of the sorority.
To my surprise not even one girl said that she wanted to sit only with her best friend or she wanted to sit near the window or with another girl, or to sit here or there or nowhere! No! Not even a slightest complaint about the order of seating. Perhaps again this discipline was a result of the immense appreciation that knowledge and education engrain in a woman for herself and other women. So, all of us laughing and chuckling set upon our journey home through the magnanimous pine trees of our beloved Karakorum’s northernmost beautiful scenes.