'I am Malala', the book review and what should you know about the region Talibans and she come from.
My younger brother, sister and I squeezed ourselves towards the high wall of the mountain as we saw a huge herd of sheep approaching on the narrow trail. The sheep were accompanied by few livestock guardian dogs and the two herding girls acting as a sweeper at the rear. We forced the poor sheep and the dogs to walk almost on the slopes of the ravine. A slip would have taken anyone of those poor animals hundreds of feet down into gushing waters of the river.
We were hiking in one of the northernmost valleys of Swat district - Mohodand - and these being the last months of the summer before treacherous winter sat in with its snows, the Gujjar nomads were migrating from the higher ranges towards the lower open planes of the district.
As we hiked on, we saw hundreds of sheep herds coming down the trail from the upper valleys. It seemed like a serpent was wiggling through the mountains.
I am sure Malala and her family picnicked and pleasure hiked on the trails here several years after we did before the monster of Talibans swallowed the area.
I wanted to walk you through this beautiful touristic valley, but first let me outline my thoughts on the book 'I am Malala'. My review has come late, but then better late than never.
Book - 'I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban'.
I grew up in the same region, in a much more advanced and developed Nowshera district of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa (KPK for short) province just 60 kms south of Swat district, where Malala comes from. I was able to relate to the cultural and religious nuances and many of the events described graphically in the book.
I liked the content and the style of writing as it seemed to be clear, straight-forward, eyewitness account that is as honest as could come from a young person of a particular background (her father supports the nationalist, anti-military Awami National Party).
When it comes to narrating facts beyond grasp of her age, she attributes them to her father, which she does very often. However, she shares her feelings a number of times to bring an emotional touch.
Nobody can, in their right minds, deny the facts contained in the book and as narrated by a young lady, although the views expressed from an anti-establishment party's point of view hurt many a people, including me.
Pakistan, and especially its military and intelligence service, has earned heaps of criticism recently in the West and in India in its role of aiding the Taliban, exporting terrorism, and radicalization of its own masses. This book is an excellent attempt to bring respect back to innocent Pakistani citizens by clarifying that they have suffered heavily at the hands of benevolent military dictatorships, corrupt dictatorial politicians, terrorists, western and Indian media, and even huge relentless natural disasters. Malala, therefore, has tried her best to bring Pakistan back on the map of respectful countries that needs world's help.
However, I have some concerns in that Malala and her beautiful mission of educating Pakistani girls will be hard to accept by the people she most wants to help.
1. Due to her criticism of her own culture and showering accolades on western icons, she seems to have already been rejected by a majority of Pushtoons.
2. It is co-authored by Christina Lamb, who is perceived to have a dislike for Pakistan. Although it appears that she hasn't written the book or any part of it, most of the material will not be and has not been assimilated happily by Pakistanis.
3. The way this book is written and the topics it touches and the way it touches them seem to prove to many critics that Malala has been used as a tool for marketing the product, i.e. it is a book written by Ziauddin Yusafzai in the guise of his daughter Malala Yusafzai, via assistance of Christina Lamb. In fact, it can be seen as a marketing ploy to justify the West's intervention in third world countries by showing how such an intervention is beneficial to the invaded countries.
4. Malala has been very ungrateful to the military and many people who helped the family in times of their greatest need. Her views expressed on the Pakistan military are typical of Awami National Party that was resoundingly beaten in the 2013 elections by emerging Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
As far as I am concerned, I am totally bought in by the book and have resolved to generously donate to Malala Fund. However, I do have one honest submission to make. I am utterly astonished at the fact that a girl hailing from such a backward district of KPK, had better English at age 14 to 16 than anybody in the same age group had in my generation, although we got educated at the best schools from much more advanced districts of the same province. It goes to prove that Malala is truly a blessed child from Pakistan who ensured that she overcomes the adversities of the worst nature to accomplish her dream.
Journey through the province - Chitral - The mountain, the Kalash, and the Festival
Chitral is the most northwestern district of the province and of the country and borders with Afghanistan. It is separated from the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan by a narrow stretch of land 10 kms wide, belonging to Afghan territory of its Nooristan province.
Kalash are non-Muslim people in the land of Muslims that are a popular destination for foreign tourists. Their cousins in Afghanistan were converted to Islam long time ago, giving their land in that country the name of Nooristan (meaning land of light), but were allowed to freely practice their faith in Chitral. We had lot of friends from Nooristan throughout 80s. From their facial expressions and languages/dialects, they were similar to the Kalash of Chitral.
A pop song showing Kalash people and dance
Mount Tirichmir is the highest mountain of the province, ranked 33rd in the list of highest mountains of the world. It is 7,708 meters (25,300 ft) high and belongs to the Hindu Kush range of mountains. It is the highest summit of this range as well. In order to get an idea of its height, compare it with Mount McKinley, the tallest summit in North America located in Alaska, at 6,168 meters (20,236 ft).
If I have another dog, in addition to K2 that is, I will surely named him/her after this mountain.
Shandur Polo Festival invites visitors to experience a traditional polo tournament which is held between Chitral and Gilgit teams every year since 1936. The tournament is held on Shandur Top, the highest polo ground in the world at 3,700 meters (the pass itself is at 3,800 meters). The festival also includes folk music, dancing and a camping village is temporarily set up for the occasion.
Buddhist sites in Swat Valley
When we used to visit Swat, the first place we used to make a stopover was Marghazar. The journey from Nowshera was only 60 km, but it took ages due to narrow mountainous roads, asking for a well-deserved break before driving onward to higher valleys.
Near this town, among other archaeological relics, you can still find a giant statue of fasting Buddha engraved on a rock of limestone. Marghazar, with a royal palace, also wears the same white color.
Buddhist civilization flourished in parts of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Swat Valley still boasts of several sites, especially at its southern entrance near capital Saidu Shareef. All of the sites are still intact due mainly to the peaceful nature of swat's inhabitants.
The planes of Peshawar and Nowshera
My formative years were spent in the planes of this province. I went to school in Nowshera, which is a gateway to the province from the Punjab province. The neighbouring districts of Peshawar and Mardan (South of Sway Valley) were my backyard.
Most of my time was spent exploring the wilderness of Nowshera alone. The province was thinly populated in the 70s and anywhere we went we were accompanied by loneliness of nature. Some spots were temporarily taken over by the Koochi nomads, practicing transhumance with their herds of camels and sheep and large Koochi dogs (a livestock guardian dog resembling central Asian Ovcharka). We didn't know anything about those broad muzzled dogs and were very scared of them.
Needless to mention, lot of time was spent walking our dogs with some school friends, exploring the wild Kabul river that flowed through the town and its path as it vigorously flowed to have a confluence with Indus river 21 kms east of Nowshera, offering boulders and rock pools to have picnics nearby, and driving to the tallest peak of our district known as Cherat, a military town, at an elevation of 1400 meters (4,500 ft).
Today, the planes of the province offer exploration of cities like Peshawar, river rafting, and passage to the higher valleys of Chitral and Swat.
My youngest brother and I have hiked through Ayubia National Park. That is a lifetime memory. We hiked on the trail in dense dark clouds when the visibility was almost zero. On several occasions, what we thought was trail, turned out to be clouds covering deep ravines. Any mistake could have been fatal.
The province has 6 national parks. Three of them, Gol Nallah National Park in Chitral District, Ayub National Park in Abbottabad district, and Saiful Malook & Lulusar-Dodipat National Park, in Mansehra.district are for the protection of snow leopards and Asiatic leopards.
If you are lucky, you may be able to see in these national parks western Tragopans, koklass, kaleej and cheer pheasants, black bear, yellow throated Marten, Kashmir hill fox, red flying squirrel, Himalayan palm civet, masked civet and Rhesus Macaque. Birds in the park include golden eagle, Himalayan griffon vulture, honey buzzard, Peregrine falcon, kestrel, Indian sparrow hawk, hill pigeon, spotted dove and collared dove.
The current provincial government is planning to increase the number of national parks to 12 and to ban timber cutting as a countermeasure to the notorious timber mafia that is cutting trees hysterically causing floods and landslides.
The province has historically produced the best squash players in the world. At one time, its sons created and ruled the squash world like a dynasty. Some of the well known squash players with their wins in the British Open, the most prestigious tournament, are as follows:
Hashim Khan: 7 times from 1951 to 1958
Qamar Zaman: 1 time in 1975
Jahangir Khan: Record 10 times from 1982 to 1991
Jansher Khan: 6 times from 1992 to 1997
Besides squash, province has contributed in cricket and field hockey. It is reported that most cricket is played in this province in the entire of Pakistan.
Location and languages
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), formerly called North-West Frontier Province, is located in the north-west of the country. It borders the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the west and south, Gilgit–Baltistan (Northern Areas) to the north-east, Azad Kashmir to the east, Punjab and the Islamabad Capital Territory to the south-east, and Afghanistan to the north-west. The province of Balochistan is located southwards. The provincial capital and largest city is Peshawar.
The languages spoken include Urdu (Lingua Franca), Pukhto (or Pushto), Hindko (it is the second major language after Pushto), Seraiki, Khowar, and Kohistani.
Where to stay
Record number of tourists have visited the province during the year 2015-16 as the security conditions have become much better.
Swat Valley can be a treasure for its relics relating to Buddhism, Peshawar for its history, culinary experience, and being a gateway to the wild west of Pakistan (the tribal areas), Kaghan Valley for white water rafting, and the Galliyat region (e.g. Ayubia National Park) for observing wildlife.
There are a number of reasonably priced hotels of good standards in all these areas.