Mountain Voices — Ismaili Testimonies of Life in the Remote Mountains of Pakistan: (I) A Mountaineer’s Adventure

Shimshal Valley in summer. Photo: Wikipedia.

Shimshal Valley in summer. Photo: Wikipedia.

INTRODUCTION: The Oral Testimony Programme of the Panos Institute, London, England, conducted over 300  interviews with people who live in mountain and highland regions round the world, including numerous individuals from the Ismaili community in Shimshal, which is located in the Karakorum mountains of Pakistan. The interviews were carried out by local people in local languages, recorded, transcribed, translated, and summarised.  The aim of the project was to amplify the voices of those at the heart of development: people who are disadvantaged by poverty, gender, lack of education and other inequalities. The Oral Testimony Programme felt that collecting and disseminating oral testimonies allows the least vocal and least powerful members of society to speak for themselves, rather than through outsiders or “experts”.

During the course of the next few months, Simerg will be publishing a selection of the interview transcripts gathered from the Ismailis. Last year, if readers will recall, we published a collection of stories about Ismaili women of Shimshal (see Remarkable Tales of Ismaili Women from Shimshal, a Remote Village in the Karakoram).

AN IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THE ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS: Our first selection for the series is a testimony by an Ismaili Mountaineer, Qudrat. The transcript that is produced here, and in the remaining series interviews, will be unedited translations into English of the originals as presented by the Panos Institute, and include the interviewer’s questions. The quality of translation will vary, and this is partly due to funding limitations and  partly because some testimonies were gathered in local languages with no written form and so were transcribed into the national language. The Panos Institute also favoured local knowledge in a translator above extensive professional experience. Many testimonies retain local words and phrases.

 SHIMSHAL AND ITS ISMAILI HERITAGE

Map of Shimshal Valley, with inset showing its location in Pakistan. Please click to enlarge. Copyright. Pam Henson.

Map of Shimshal Valley, with inset showing its location in Pakistan. Please click to enlarge. Copyright. Pam Henson.

Northern Pakistan borders Afghanistan, China and India and is home to three significant mountain ranges: the Hindu Kush, the Western Himalaya, and the Karakoram. The Karakoram mountain range contains the greatest concentration of high peaks in the world and the longest glaciers outside the Polar region. Five of the world’s 14 peaks over 8000m are in Northern Pakistan, including the world’s second highest mountain K2, and there are some 82 peaks over 7000m within a radius of 180 kilometres. The region is also characterised by much diversity in terms of language and culture. There are more than 10 different languages, several different Islamic sects (including Ismaili, Sunni and Shia), and several communities belonging to non-Islamic belief systems.

The territory of the community of Shimshal makes up a significant part of the Karakoram mountain range in Northern Pakistan. “We have something…that others don’t: beautiful nature – the mountains and glaciers, and independence,” says Inayat, a development professional conveying the pride and attachment Shimshalis have for their environment.

The village of Shimshal lies at 3100m and most of the cultivable area lies between 3000 and 3300 metres. The short growing season at this altitude allows only one crop to be cultivated in a year; the major crops are wheat, barley, potatoes and peas. Shimshal is one of the few communities in Pakistan’s Northern Areas that grows enough agricultural produce to feed itself. It is the sole steward of vast areas of high-altitude pasture, and extensive herding of sheep, goats, cattle and yaks allows Shimshalis to earn much of their income from the sale of livestock and livestock products.

Shimshalis trace their ancestors back 14 generations to their “grandfather” Mamusing who settled in the area with his wife. Their son, Sher, claimed rights over the Pamir – the pastures – after winning a polo match against herders from Kyrgyzstan. Several narrators describe this story in detail. Others recall the era when Shimshal was part of the independent principality of Hunza, ruled and taxed by the Mir. In 1974, President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared an end to the remaining princely states in Pakistan, including Hunza.

Shimshalis are Wakhi speakers and Ismaili Muslim who follow their living Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Members of the same cultural-linguistic group live in other valleys in Northern Pakistan, as well as the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan, and parts of China and Tajikistan.

Shimshal in March.  Photo: Pam Henson. Copyright.

Shimshal in March. Photo: Pam Henson. Copyright.

The influence of Ismailism and the Aga Khan is clear from the testimonies that will be produced here. The commitment to education – especially female education – can be attributed partly to guidance from the Aga Khan. Many of the social institutions in Shimshal are Ismaili-based and the key development organisations in the region are Aga Khan institutions.

Many narrators describe in detail the festivals and systems of work that have been integral to people’s lives. In particular, they talk about nomus, the philanthropic system of community development unique to Shimshal. Those with sufficient wealth “sponsor” a bridge, trail or building, for the community’s benefit, by providing resources for the project and food for those who give free labour. Nomus is carried out in the name of a relative and to generate blessings from God.

In 2003, after the interviews were collected, a road linking Shimshal with the Karakoram Highway was completed after 17 years. The hazards of the old journey to and from Shimshal are vividly described by many narrators. People welcome the development benefits the road will bring, but are concerned that increased migration and economic opportunities will further erode the unity, cooperation and independence of Shimshal. Such hopes and fears echo people’s more general comments about the changes in recent decades. Muzaffer’s personal story illustrates the pace of those changes: “Fifteen years ago, I was a shepherd in the village; today I am an executive officer.”

 Map of Karakoram Highway, the road that links the Northern Areas of Pakistan to the Xinjiang province of China, connecting it to the old Silk Road. Map Credit: Wikipedia.

Map of Karakoram Highway, the road that links the Northern Areas of Pakistan to the Xinjiang province of China, connecting it to the old Silk Road. Map Credit: Wikipedia.

Male migration has affected gender roles, with women becoming responsible for tasks previously carried out by men. In recent years female primary education has become almost universal, and several young women are currently completing their education outside Shimshal. Women are now invited to participate in most village institutions.

Many men work during the summer as porters for trekking and mountaineering groups throughout the Northern Areas. Their wages make up a large part of Shimshal’s overall income. Whilst everyone appreciates increased standards of living, there is concern that this is leading to greater individualism. Yet the testimonies suggest that the way of life in Shimshal is still relatively collective and cooperative.

Although the narrators are all from one community, there is much variety in age, occupation and experience. We begin the series with a narrative with a world-class mountaineer.

AN ORAL TESTIMONY FROM AN ISMAILI MOUNTAINEER

Bismillah Rehman-e-Rahim (in the name of God the magnificent and the most merciful). I am taking the interview of Aziz (dear) Qudrat. It is nine ‘o’clock at night, it is winter and we are sitting around the traditional stove called bokhari in his room. Everything in this room attracts the eyes when one enters, like the beautiful carpet, the lightings, and other decorations of the room. I am here with Qudrat and Daulat Khan, and the environment is very peaceful, his other family members are presently seated at the traditional home. He is now mentally prepared to record his interview by giving some of his sleeping hours to us by telling something about mountaineering. Because Qudrat is by profession a mountaineer, and after Rajab (a well-known mountaineer), he is also a very well-known mountaineer of our village and young in age.

So first of all I would ask him that from where he got his basic education and what is his age at present? Bismillah (in the name of God).

Bismillah Rehman-e-Rahim. Thank you so much Amin sahib (Sir, term of respect) for recording my interview for the joint program of SNT and PANOS. I will try my best to give all the answers according to your expectation. As you are well aware, my birth place is Shimshal and I got my primary education from the same place, from the Middle School, Shimshal.

Could you tell me exactly about your age?

My age is now thirty-one years.

Okay.

I got my primary education under the supervision of my respected ustad (teacher; master) Daulat Amin, and then I left Shimshal and got admission at High School No. 1, Gilgit for getting my secondary education.

Qudrat bhai (brother), would you like to tell us up to which class you continued your education, and what were the reasons for discontinuing your studies, or are you still willing to complete your studies?

Amin sahib, time never remains the same forever, and I would say that during my studies, many barriers came in my way. I am not sure but I would say that it might be the fault of my teacher who couldn’t fulfil his obligations, or sometimes I think it was the fault of my parents or maybe my own fault that I couldn’t work as hard as was needed for completing my studies. When I left Shimshal and got admission in High School Gilgit, at that time my financial condition was not good. And as you know there was not a trend towards education. And the parents or other villagers were very interested in agriculture and other developmental works at the village level and there were fewer trends towards education. There were fewer opportunities for education and less thought about getting education. While getting admission I felt that I was so weak in studies and it was due to the system of education here in Shimshal, which was of a very low-level. While in Gilgit the teachers’ teaching methods and their communications skills were different as compared to ours. And another reason for leaving the school was that we were not able to give our tuition fees on time and it mentally tortured us. These were some of the basic reasons due to which I couldn’t continue my further studies.

When you left your education then what did you decided to do, you directly joined mountaineering or did something else before coming to this profession?

When I left my studies I remained jobless for many years. At that time many many developments and changes were taking place everywhere, and these changes made us a bit anxious about our future, because I thought without any source of income our children and the society cannot progress at all. Secondly we cannot change our financial conditions; then I thought that why shouldn’t I search for a job, so I started my career in the form of mountaineering. And for the first time in 1989 I met with a group which were from the British High Commission, this was my first step toward tourism. After that the same group leader directly sent a group on my reference and I handled that group and continued on it, became interested in it and I felt that if I remained in the same field and worked hard then I could change my financial condition.

Qudrat, you have told me that you joined tourism as a guide to go with the tourists around our village and other nearby areas, but I would like to know that you have the ability to climb the mountains, you know the techniques how to climb, so have you got any sort of professional training in this regard or is it a God-given thing?

In 1981 I went with Paul Hudson a famous climber to Malongudi (name of a place in Shimshal) for climbing a peak called Strageser and it is also called “corner one”. And Paul Hudson was the person from whom I learned the techniques of climbing mountains. At that time I was working as a freelancer guide with them. I organised that group privately from Gilgit. Their climbing skills were good enough to inspire me and raise my interest in this regard. As you are well aware, mountaineering is not a simple game to play. It is very risky and you can say that there is a competition between life and death.

I want to know whether they have asked you to climb the peak with them or if you have climbed the peak because of your own interest?

When we were on our way to climb that peak, we had to climb small peaks. I used a traditional method to climb that peak using wooden sticks in place of “ice axes”. They appreciated me by saying that you will be a good mountaineer in the near future, because you have the skills of climbing mountains. They also said that you people are living in the mountains and you are brave enough to come across these sorts of things and that was the time from when I started my career in mountaineering.

I can say that it is your good luck that without getting proper training from a school you are a very expert climber. So now I would like to know how after climbing Strageser, you went with groups as a member or as a high porter, or to which places you have gone to?

Shimshal valley in winter. Photo: Wikipedia.

Shimshal valley in winter. Photo: Wikipedia.

Amin sahib in Pakistan except the Alpine Club, no Pakistani has gone to climb any mountain with the tourists as a member. Because the Pakistanis are not able to pay the royalties which are given to the government for mountains by foreign climbers. Successful mountaineering started in Pakistan from 1952. Ashraf Aman was the first Pakistani who climbed K2 (highest mountain in Pakistan, second highest in the world – 8611 metres) with the group as a high altitude porter, Nazir Sabir is also the person who climbed K2 as a high altitude porter. In 1995 me and two of my other friends Ali Musa and Shaheen Baig decided to organise our own group to climb a peak to fulfil our desires, which continued for a very long time. So we had organised this expedition to climb Shapkinesar (name of a peak in Shimshal) on a self-help basis, and we were successful in climbing that peak.

Who sponsored you?

We have done that by ourselves, because you know for a big mountain you can get sponsors, but a small mountain has no such importance and it is difficult to get any sort of sponsor. We were keen to climb any mountain and that is why we organized that expedition. In 1996, the Alpine Club of Pakistan arranged training for the youths of Shimshal, and Rajab Shahab was our instructor for that training and 35 trainees have participated. In 1997, I joined Adventure Tours of Pakistan in Islamabad and the Tour Operator took my interview and he appointed me on the basis of my previous expedition in 1995, because I showed them all the recommendations (comments/certificates from previous groups he had worked for). In 1997 I was in Mashabrum-2 to climb the 8000-metre peak. And it was my first experience to start my career. At that time our first group had climbed the peak, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it due to bad weather. I was with that group as a tour leader, but it remained unsuccessful.

This photograph from the International Space Station shows  the central Karakoram, the highest concentration of 8,000-meter mountains on Earth. The K2 in this range is among the most dangerous 8000 metre mountains to climb. Photo Credit: NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth).

This photograph from the International Space Station shows the central Karakoram, the highest concentration of 8,000-meter mountains on Earth. The K2 in this range is among the most dangerous 8000 metre mountains to climb. Photo Credit: NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth).

In 1998 Adventure Tours especially requested me that “we are in need of a person who would be technical in doing mountaineering”. But as you know that we are not able to learn those basic techniques here in Shimshal with which the international mountaineers are familiar. So for this purpose they have told me that we would send you to Kaku (???) for the training. And Rod Demovits, Germany’s Expedition Organiser who had climbed K-2 in 1984, he never tried to climb any other mountain in Pakistan. For this purpose Adventure Tours has taken a test and has selected me to get free-style climbing training from Rod Demovits. Rod and I were supposed to make the trek for sixteen people, because there were sixteen members to climb. So in 1998 we were successful in climbing Broad Peak, which is 8047 metres high, under the supervision of Rod Demovits. During that time, Rod was inspired by my services, and he said that due to your hard work and cooperation I would prefer in future that you will be with me in 1999 to climb G2 (Gashebrum 2). And I will teach you to develop or further strengthen your basic skill of climbing. And in 1999 we went to climb G2 which is 8035 metres high.

Could you please tell me that when you climbed Broad Peak (K3) for the first time, so what was your feeling at the moment?

When Adventure Tours appointed me, I remained under pressure in the beginning because I was anxious about whether I would be able to fulfil my duties or not, because I was learning at that time. But by the grace of God, after sometime I finally realised that I am a technical climber and I can do it very well. For this purpose, first of all Allah was with me, and secondly my physical fitness always assures me that you can do this work; it never left my hands. And at last we climbed that peak.

When you reached at the top, what was your feeling, you were so happy or did you have some sort of fear in your mind?

In this profession no one can think of happiness and excitement, because when you are climbing a mountain, it means you are competing between life and death and happiness comes to your mind very rarely. Mountaineering mostly depends upon the weather and most of the time the weather becomes bad and it hurts your feelings. Or sometimes your physical fitness never remains constant and you have always to take care of yourself. Or there is always the fear that may be I will fall down during the climbing by doing some mistakes.

Broad Peak - also known as K3, is the 12th highest mountain on Earth, with an elevation of 8,051 metres (26,414 ft). Photo: Wikipedia

Broad Peak – also known as K3, is the 12th highest mountain on Earth, with an elevation of 8,051 metres (26,414 ft). Photo: Wikipedia

So it is risky?

Of course. So when one reaches camp-4 then one thinks that every second is very precious, that if it starts raining then all the efforts which have been made for the last thirty days might go in vain. Weather and health both play a very important role during mountaineering. If the weather changes then you have to decide in a second to go back and the decision within a second wastes all your efforts. So you can say that on the mountains a human being can remain less happy and remain anxious all the time. When we climbed the Broad Peak with the thirteen-member team, at the same moment I realised that I had got my aim. But I was not as happy as I had to be. And this is because of ‘altitude sickness’, in which you can’t keep your thinking and ideas balanced. And another reason is tiredness, which can’t let you keep your thinking balanced. But I became happy when we came back to the ‘base camp’ and our ‘liasons’ came to receive us with a very warm welcome, and I realised that we had done some sort of great work.

Gasherbrum 2, another eight-thousander in  the  Karakoram range. Photo: Wikipedia.

Gasherbrum 2, another eight-thousander in the Karakoram range. Photo: Wikipedia.

Could you please tell us briefly about G-2?

In the year 2000, we again tried to climb G-2, and we were thirteen members in total, and out of them eleven members were successful in climbing G-2 and Rod Demovit was the climbing leader. When Rod and I reached Camp-1, there were thirteen expeditions at G-2. And all of them had gone back from Camp-1 without climbing G-2. And in an article in the newspaper called “The News” he (Rod) has written that “during mountaineering we were the only two, me and Qudrat …, the only Pakistani who prepared the way for 13 expeditions.” And there was another famous climber from Switzerland Kary Kobler with us, who became so happy with us, saying that our success is due to Rod and Qudrat.

What were the reasons for other expeditions returning back without climbing the mountain?

Amin sahib, I would say that due to some technical fault they returned. Because mountaineering depends upon the courage of a person, a brave person can be successful in this field. When we reached at Camp-1, there was 3ft snowfall. And that is why they lost their courage to go ahead. And Rod said that if we two cannot make the road then the summitting of G2 would be very difficult, so we two should work hard. And I had a friend with me called Sabz Ali, who said that “please Qudrat don’t think of going ahead in this weather condition.” But I had made up my mind to go further, and we had knotted four hundred ropes in a day, and on the second day we established Camp-2.

What was the timing when you climbed up G2?

We made a record in climbing G2. It was 6900 metres from Camp-2 to summit G2. And we climbed one thousand and thirty-five metres in a day. And it was 9 o’clock in the morning. And it was my second success.

The world’s ninth highest peak, Nanga Parbat, competes with K2 in terms of technical difficulty.  It is also one of the most dangerous and difficult of the 8,000-meter peaks to successfully climb. Photo: Wikipedia.

The world’s ninth highest peak, Nanga Parbat, competes with K2 in terms of technical difficulty. It is also one of the most dangerous and difficult of the 8,000-meter peaks to successfully climb. Photo: Wikipedia.

So have you stopped on your second success or have you tried further mountains?

Amin sahib, last year in 2001 I got the best and golden opportunity and was selected for the mountain called “Killer Mountain” where a live person is considered dead and that is Nanga Parbat (second highest mountain in Pakistan, ninth highest in the world – 8,125 metres). And the organiser for that mountain was Rod Demovit. When we started our climbing, there were eleven members. And I can say that as compared to G-2 and Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat is the most difficult mountain to climb.

What route have you adopted?

We have the Diamir Face, and in the Diamir Face, Nanga Parbat is one of the most difficult and technical mountain to climb. Where there is 100 metres of negative incline climbing, and in that wall there are stairs in four places and one has to hang on those places. And we have a Japanese climber Arathaka with us who climbed that wall first, and then Rod, and I was the third person to climb that wall. You cannot rest freely on the climbing route of Nanga Parbat, if you walk for eight hours then you have to stay on the rope for eight hours for having rest. It is not like G-2 and Broad Peak where you can rest, you can sit and then continue your climbing. But in Nanga Parbat you have to stay bent on the rope continuously for eight hours with no possibility of sitting down.

Three mountain ranges are represented in this map - Nanga Parbat forms the western anchor of the Himalayan Range and is the westernmost eight-thousander. It lies just south of the Indus River in the Diamer District of Gilgit–Baltistan in Pakistan. Not far to the north is the  Karakoram range. Mt. Everest is in the Himalayan range in the South East corner of the map. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory map by Robert Simmon, using data from the Blue Marble and GTOPO30.)

Three mountain ranges are represented in this map – Nanga Parbat forms the western anchor of the Himalayan Range and is the westernmost eight-thousander. It lies just south of the Indus River in the Diamer District of Gilgit–Baltistan in Pakistan. Not far to the north is the Karakoram range with K2, Broad Peak and G2. Mt. Everest is in the Himalayan range in the South East corner of the map. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory map by Robert Simmon, using data from the Blue Marble and GTOPO30.)

I have no idea about this sort of work, but I would like to ask that is there no chance to fix a hanging tent for yourself instead of staying bent on the rope?

The main problem is that with this mountain, there is much more chance of sliding and avalanches. So we usually set our target to start climbing early in the morning, that is 4 o’clock and finish it up to 11 ‘o’clock. So there is no place in Nanga Parbat where you can set hanging tents, because most of the places are sliding areas. And stones mostly fall from the upper mountains and we usually try to reach at the safest places. And K2 is also not a wide place, so for using the toilet, you have to go one step from your tent. And there is no space at all to climb back and use the toilet. In Nanga Parbat these things are impossible.

How much time did it take to fix the ropes and make the whole route while climbing Nanga Parbat, and how long did the event of climbing it take?

For the first fifteen days we established three camps, and the next ten days snow fell continuously, and during these ten days three of our camps were destroyed due to snow falling. And the snow falls for about 4ft, and the tents we fixed were completely finished. And we again fixed those tents when the snow falling stopped, and then we continued our climbing further.

Could you tell me whether you have gone in the form of one group or in smaller groups?

The good thing we had was the satellite telephone which Rod had was always giving information from the Austrian weather forecasting system. So it was telling us that during these days the weather will be bad and for the next few days the weather will be fine. So you will try during these days. On 29th June 2001 we established camp-4. And on 30th June we tested our luck that whether we should be able to succeed or not. But it was our good luck and a very happy day of my life that we, eleven members were at last successful in climbing Nanga Parbat under the guidance of Rod. And it came as history too. Otherwise [only] one, two or if more three members [in a group] have [been able to] climbed Nanga Parbat. So on 30th June we climbed Nanga Parbat.

The road to school is full of potential dangers for Shimshal children. Photo: Pam Henson. Copyright.

The road to school is full of potential dangers for Shimshal children. Photo: Pam Henson. Copyright.

And what was the timing?

The time was 9:45 in the morning.

What were your feelings when you reached at the top? Did you guard the flag or do photography etc, and what about the scene, was it clear or not?

When we reached the top, the weather was very clear. And my own feeling was that I am going back with pride that as a Pakistani I have placed my dear country’s flag on the top, and my name will be in the history forever.

You guarded our Ismaili flag as well?

As you know our Imam’s (the Aga Khan) leadership and guidance is always with us. And he is well-known to the foreigners as well. And his name and his flag is with us in each and every step of life. When I climbed Broad Peak, G-2 and Nanga Parbat, I first of all placed our Imam’s flag, and then our country’s flag.

So you have defeated “Killer Mountain”?

Of course.

When you returned back to Chilas (name of a place) Diamer, were you warmly welcomed in Diamar or in Pindi, and who received you?

Nanga Parbat is a mountain where one can remain very happy. I have done mountaineering but I never felt so happy on other mountains as [I did] on Nanga Parbat. And the reason is that its scene is very beautiful. And the flower called banafsha (violet) has decorated the whole mountain. I was really inspired by its beauty and remained very happy there. And when we returned back to the Base Camp, the people of Chilas warmly welcomed us. And being a Pakistani and due to our success they fired bullets. It is their culture to express their happiness in the form of firing bullets while they are happy. But when I reached Islamabad, the President of the Alpine Club Gulistan Janjua janab (Mr, sir) (retired Brigadier) and Manzoor janab (retired Colonel) received me. And they said to me that we are very proud that you have achieved your goal by climbing Nanga Parbat and photography has been done on the occasion. And on that occasion Col. Manzoor offered me the opportunity to represent the Alpine Club for the year 2002, which is the year of mountaineering.

The historic Farmon Khona in Shimshal

The historic Farmon Khona in Shimshal

Could you please tell me briefly about the value of this dangerous sport at an international level and at a local level?

At an international level this game (mountaineering) is spreading very rapidly, but in Pakistan, you can say the financial condition plays a vital role in this game, and Pakistan is not very strong to activate it, at a larger level. And in Pakistan mountaineering is, you can say helpless and that is why they are doing nothing to improve it.

What is the opinion of the local people about this game, you have told me that the international community prefers it very well for it is publicity that a person can get fame at the international level, so tell me about your feelings about the opinion of locals about this game?

At a national level it is very difficult to know this game, that what is the value of mountaineering, and what sort of game it is. So you can say that at the local level no one could know its value and importance. But now those people who are in the tourism profession are of the feeling that they must adopt this profession as much as they can. By adopting this profession it can affect your financial condition and a person can get fame as well. It is a game that brings heavy financial support to the country from international countries. And if a country gets one million rupees for a mountain as a royalty from the international community, then many many people get the opportunity to earn their living from it; it includes hotels, transportation, portering. Due to this profession Pakistan is getting funds and many people are getting employment opportunities.

What do you think about the people of your age who are living within this limited valley, that is from Chapursen (name of a village) to Shimshal, do you think that everyone can be a climber or not?

In the beginning there was much demand of people to join any travel agency, but now you can say that there is a lot of competition in this profession like it is in the field of education. And I would say that it will develop further. Mountaineering needs a person’s physical fitness, climbing techniques and needs the examination of each and everything. Now we have climbed mountains in a month, but in the future it might be an hour within which you have to climb. Everyone would try to make new records.

Please explain, is it possible that everyone would be a climber?

Shimshal is a place where most of the people could be mountaineers, but I can’t give you any guarantee about how many people would be our future climbers. It needs physical fitness; you have to know that altitude sickness will not affect you. The main thing in mountaineering is that the person who does not have altitude sickness can continue his climbing. But if it affects him then he cannot do any thing.

Grandmothers and grandchildren reunited when the older women return from the the pamir (high pastures). Photo: Pam Henson. Copyright.

Grandmothers and grandchildren reunited when the older women return from the
the pamir (high pastures). Photo: Pam Henson. Copyright.

Do you have any information about mountaineering in Shimshal, about when it started?

In our village Janab Taqat Shah is our senior climber, who usually climbed with the foreigners. Azwa, Qazi, Shambi, these were senior climbers. But I would say that we have now stepped towards success. And out of all these climbers Shanbi is the only climber who had climbed Passu Peak, which is 7200 metres. So our base of success starts from Shanbi. And then comes Rajab Shah the first Shimshali and first Pakistani who had climbed the ‘Challenge Peak’ of Nanga Parbat in 1989. And along with him is another well-known climber Mehruban Shah janab who climbed K2 along with Rajab janab.

Could you please tell me about five challenge peaks in Pakistan?

Well, K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, G-1, which is also called ‘Hidden Peak’ and G-2, these are the five challenge peaks in Pakistan. And Rajab janab is the first Pakistani who has climbed all these five peaks.

Is it true that the mountaineer Nazir Sabir is the first Pakistani who has climbed all these peaks along with Mount Everest?

The first Pakistani is Ashraf Aman who had climbed K2. And then comes Rajab who had climbed all the five peaks in Pakistan. And Nazir Sabir has climbed four in Pakistan along with Mount Everest in the Himalaya.

Could you please tell me about the most beautiful event that happened to you?

A person can meet with different things. I have told you about everything which happened to me during mountaineering, but the most beautiful event, which will never be washed from my mind, is when I climbed Nanga Parbat. I have done mountaineering, but I never remained as happy and satisfied as I was on the “Killer Mountain”, that I never remember how much time I have spent on Nanga Parbat. And this success is the most beautiful and happy event of my life.

What do you want to suggest for our future mountaineers?

I want to suggest that whether it is the field of education or mountaineering, it is very important to work hard. In mountaineering you cannot balance your thinking, and that is why you suddenly become angry. As I said it is a dangerous or risky game, and one needs to work with confidence, because it needs continuous hard work and you have to notice each and every difficult part of that mountain, and to think what sort of technique is needed to climb it. And whoever would be the climber, he has to keep the balance between all these things. So for our local climbers I would suggest that they must know the basic methods of climbing, because it might take you to the mouth of death. Or in this field it is the most dangerous thing to take risks, because if a group leader suggests that you should not do this thing, and we think it as bravery for ourselves to do it by saying that if he couldn’t do it, then I would do it, then it creates problems. So for our future mountaineers I would say they must work hard and then try to keep their profession high.

Shimshali_Mountaineers. Photo: Wikipedia.

Shimshali_Mountaineers. Photo: Wikipedia.

What is your experience: that rock climbing is difficult or ice climbing?

Both of these are difficult in their respective places, but in rock climbing there are some limits within which you have to climb. You can only climb a hundred or fifty metres and not more than this. But in ice climbing you can climb three or four thousand at a time. There is a lot of difference between ice and rock climbing. In rock climbing you can eat good food and get proper oxygen to complete the climbing. But if we think about ice climbing then it is different from rock climbing, in which you become hungry, you have to face difficulties, there would be the problem of altitude sickness, you couldn’t get proper oxygen, and in spite of all these difficulties if you climb the peak then it is challenging. So these are the differences.

For example we give you a task, like this year a foreign climber had climbed a peak Gardensar in our Pamir (Shimshal’s mountain pastures), I want to know about that rock, whether is it difficult for our Shimshali climbers to climb or not?

I can’t say that it is very simple at all, because we are not that much familiar with rock climbing in Shimshal. But we are familiar and have done ice climbing in Shimshal. And we have also got training here in ice climbing. If we take an interest in this sort of climbing and get the training from the Alpine Club, then rock climbing is not so difficult.

For example the climbers of ice get no training in rock climbing and the rock climbers have no training in ice climbing, and you asked the ice climbers to climb the rock and the rock climbers to climb the ice mountains, then who would succeed the rock ones or the ice ones?

The same techniques are used for both of these [types of] climbing, while in ice climbing you have to use ice axe and crampon. But keeping in mind the physical fitness and skills and the exercises for your arms and legs which you have already done for ice climbing will help you to do rock climbing more easily as compared to ice climbing. So for the rock climbing you have only to learn how to control your fingers – and this is the difference. But in ice climbing, you have to climb on the basis of a nail, which is difficult.

Thank you so much for all your cooperation.

Date posted: Sunday, February 2, 2014.
Date updated: Sunday, February 9, 2014 (NASA image of  Karakoram).

__________________

Text and Interview Credit: Panos Oral Testimony Programme. Please visit Mountain Voices for complete testimonies.

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6 thoughts on “Mountain Voices — Ismaili Testimonies of Life in the Remote Mountains of Pakistan: (I) A Mountaineer’s Adventure

  1. Beautiful story …. really touching to hear about the difficulties of the life of Shimshal valley. I wonder which AKF projects supports particularly these people? Since, I didn’t hear any mention in this interview.

  2. Thank you for reproducing this interesting testimony of Qudrat Ali which was originally done for PANOS in early 2000. Qudrat now owns his tour company but tourism business is at its lowest due to the security condition in the country. However his dreams of climbing lives on and is taken to new heights by Samina Baig, another Shimshali climber, a 21 year old girl who climbed Mount Everest and is now on a world tour of climbing every highest mountain in all 7 continents.

    • Thank you for the update about Qudrat. We wish him well in his new venture and hope that the tourism business picks up, and that more and more visitors come and see your lovely territory.

      I am pleased to inform you that Simerg will be carrying an exclusive interview with Samina and her brother in the near future, with photos and video clips. They are preparing for the Tanzanian trip to climb Kilimanjaro.

  3. Full of inspiration and pride for us Ismailis. I think each child in our religious education center should get one copy of the article to read and contemplate – Alhadi Karim

  4. Dear Malik,
    This interested me straight away, as during my 5 months in Hunza Valley decades ago, I went as far as Khunjerab Pass on the border of China and climbed a small peak near Karimabad called Ultar peak in the Karakorum Region beyond Gilgit. I shall not go on and on about it but in the Ismailimail there was an article that makes me nostalgic as I lived among these fine people for that time never to forget their warmth and welcome and keenness to learn more. My role was to help teachers and pupils to gain confidence in spoken English.

    http://ismailimail.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/film-danatum-passu/

    Thank you again!

  5. Pingback: Illuminating Ismaili Testimonies from the Mountains of Northern Pakistan | Ismailimail

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