A Visit to the Shrine of Pir Baba
For years it had been one of my most fervent desires to pay a visit to the shrine of Pir Baba. You will surely ask: and who is this Pir Baba? Pir Baba or "Saint Father"___the English for these Pashto words , was a Musalman sage still remembered with much reverence among the inhabitants of the northern parts of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
During my high school days all that I knew about him was upto this extent that his actual name was Sayyid Ali Tirmizi and that he was borne in the town of Tirmiz lying in the region familliar to the Muslim geographers of the mediavel ages by the name of Khorasan.
It was a common practice among the Musalman religious people of those days to tour as much of the "land of God" as possible. Our "Saint Father" or Pir Baba too, having studied the elements of the Persian and Arabic languages and an adequate knowledge of their literature as well as the fundamantles of Islamic theology; i.e, the study of the Koran and the Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence, bade farewell to his home town for good.
After touring through a large portion of central Asia and the present Afghanistan, he finally arrived the northwestern area of the Indo-Pak subcontinent which had nearly two years before become the focus of the international press and the eleccronic media. They are the Swat and the Buner districts of the Khyber Pukhnunkhwa province of Pakistan. Those were the days when Akber the great----- the energetic Mogul emperror of India had brought the whole area beyond the river Indus upto the central Asia under his sway. upon reaching the pleasent valley of Swat, he chose a fascinating place by the side of a mountain stream as his sojourn. The settlelment founded by Baba(father) and his companions got its name after him: Bacha Kili. This is a compound of two words; Bacha, an apellation for his caste,i.e, Sayyid or a descendent of Muhammad----- the Holy Prophet of the Muslims, and kili meaning village in Pashto. Thus it means the village of the Sayyid or Muhammad's grandson.
Several years later a radio program added to my knowledge that the saint bore two other denominations as well. One of them is the Ghaus or the spiritual "thirst quencher" of Buner and the other one being the "Pir" or the saint of Khorasan.
At last, during the month of June of the year 1992 came the day when I left for Buner in order to fulfill my ardent desire of visiting the tomb of the saint father which had obsessed my mind since my boyhood. At the bus terminal of Mardan, I boarded an old bus bound for the small town located in the far north of the valley of Swat. Around 11 A.M. We checked out of Mardan and after nearly half an hour reached Shahbaz Garhi----- a site much renowned for the Budhist remans found here, and a kind of magnet for tourists from the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and Europe. At Shahbaz Garhi, our bus turned towards left following another rout. There was inscribed on a large milestone by the side of the road over there: Pir Baba 64 Km. After travelling a few kilometers on this road, a town named Rustam is reached. The entire region in wich this town lies is known by the name of Sudham reminding one the town called sodom in the Tigris-Euphrates valley during the time of the Prophet Lot.
A few miles beyond Rustam is a town called Chargalai. A little further at a place named Ambella, the road to Pir Baba branches. From here onwards, the hills of Buner become conspicuous. Within a few minutes we reached the plains lying around the foothills. The road starts to ascend within the hills from a small hamlet named Surkhabi. Striving to overcome the resistance offered by the roads in such mountainous areas, engines of heavier vehicles roar violently producing terrible noise. Off and on the bus would halt because of getting extremely hot and would be cooled down by pouring cold water of mountan springs on their radiators.
Those visiting the valley of Swat for the first time and who have always heard charming stories of its greenery and its scenic beauty are rather stunned upon having a look of these barren hillls starting from Surkhabi. However, after travelling for nearly an hour uphills, one begins to notice a sudden change in climate. Cool breeze can be felt to be blowing; there can be seen fresh and cold water issuing forth from a mountain spring. A few kilometers uphills there comes a checkpost named after the nearby village Nawagai. It is a very fascinating hutlike structure situated by the roadside and a little above on the hill. It is the type of buildings most commonly seen in such hilly areas, having a sloping roof so that snow could not remain lying on it during winter. The place belongs to the region where there usually falls snow during the months of December and January.
Trees of various species can be dbserved while one travels further fron Nawagai rendering the lanscape of the area exquisitely beautiful. After traversing a few kilomteres more you will reach a town named Ambela chowk or square. A little further from Ambela Chowk, there is a very romantic village named Chanarh. There is a small hotel by the side of the road and a few tea stalls to serve tourists and the local residents. At this place the road begins to slope, and the tough hilly terrain that accompanies the tourists from Surkhabi begins to be gradually replaced by soft and fertile soil.
After a few kilometres journey from Chanarh, we reached a place named Suwarhi. The soil of this area is very cultivable. It is not tough and rocky; instead, it is very ideal for farming just as that of Mardan and Charsadda. Tobbaco and sugarcane fields could be seen here and there. One thing was astonishing much and that was the presence of those wheat fields here and there, ripe and ready for harvestion while it was the month of June. Wheat crope had not only been reaped but rather threshed on the plains of my native district Charsadda as well as Mardan and Peshawar. This area is at a lower elevation in comparison with the Nawagai and Chanarh. Morever, there does not blow the much colder mountain breeze over here. So one feels a little warmer though not much indeed. The marketplace of Suwarhi is much busy. An office of an air travelling agency could be seen from our bus. This indicates that the inhabitants of this area are much fond of globetrotting. A majority of the people of Swat have been dwelling in the countries of the middle east to earn for their living. This is because except a small portion of fertile soil, the rocky and mostly barren terrain of their country has not got the necessary potential to satisfy their economic needs such as food and cash. That's why there is the booking office of a travelling agency in such a far flung area so that people can get the proper guidance and might be able to purchase tickets for the countries abroad.
Cold winds are once again felt to be blowing a little further from Suwarhi, At the distance of a few kilometres from Suwarhi, the road from the capital of the former state of Swat----- the Saidu Sharif joins the road to Pir Baba. Here, from this junction onward, the road once again assumes the shape of a beautiful mountan path. There comes turn after turn and it keeps on ascending. On the left side of the road, one can see the well known mountain of the region: the Elam Koh or the mountain of Elam.
Having traversed a few kilometres more,we were at last in the small hill town of Pir Baba. On approaching the shine, the extremely pleasent and a unique kind of environment which awaits the visitor is really something to see. The tomb is situated near a small stream flowing at a surprisingly fast speed with a wooden bridge lying on it looking just like a ladder.
One trembles all the way while crossing it. With every step he fears of having fallen down in the narrow but wildly flowing stream. On the other end of the bridge is the mosque of Pir Baba------ a vast and magnificent building. A large water tank lies in the centre of its courtyard with dozens of fountains fixed inside it. A wide alley leads from a door in the southern wall of the mosque to Baba's tomb. The alley is entirely roofed. On both sides of it vendors are seen sitting on the ground selling Pir Baba's lamp black------ an item traditionally associated with him for centuries.
In the end, I shall translate a few lines of a Pashto verse in which a lover describes the habit of his beloved in these words::
Notice the fashion of my dear one. She applies Pir Baba's soot to her eyes to look more beautiful.