Saturday, January 08, 2005

Pakistan: Katas

Another weekend, another day-trip.  This time the destination was Katas.

Katas is a town with some Hindu ruins about 2 hours from Islamabad in the direction of Lahore.  I decided to check it out one Saturday in January with my good friends Nenita and Tim.  Tim is a Marine Security Guard at the Embassy.

Cruising down the Motorway in Goldie, the Little Honda Civic that Could, with the windows down, the air was brisk to say the least.

We found the turn-off for Katas without much problem, but finding the actual ruins was a little more difficult, as we had no guidebook or map for the place.

We hit the town and drove straight through.  At one point, I pointed out something I thought might be the ruins, but the overall consensus in the car was that it was nothing.  We blindly drove around and got to see some nice countryside as we did.  We were never really lost, though, since we always knew how to get back to the center of town.

We drove down one road leading out of town for 30 or 40 minutes, and deciding it wasn’t the road we needed, turned around and came back.  After that, we continued down a road in the opposite direction.  In this direction, we could tell sooner that the road wasn’t going where we wanted to go.  This road was heading toward the Khewra Salt Mines, which I had visited on an earlier trip.

We backtracked and picked up another road.  This one didn’t take us to the Hindu ruins either, but it was a good find.

Almost immediately, we passed a fort high up on a cliff to our left.  We decided to keep going and to climb and photograph this fort on our way out.  We ended up forgetting about it, though.

As we continued down the road, we came to a reservoir with a crazy old tree next to it.  Tim started calling it the Hobbit tree, and the name was fitting since it was so large and gnarly.  We got out and took some photos.  Meanwhile, locals were doing laundry in the nearby reservoir.

We continued down the road, and before long we came to a turn-off for a village that was up a steep, steep hill.  It was up a one-lane road that had to have a grade of at least 45 degrees.  Goldie zipped us up, no problem.  The only problem was that the narrow steep road just kept going up and up, and there didn’t seem to be any good place to turn around or turn off.  Eventually, we hit a roadblock and could go no further.  I had to creep down in reverse for a bit before we hit a spot in the road that was wide enough for me to redirect Goldie, with a little repetitive forward and reverse action.  As I was maneuvering, some young men came up.  With their little bit of English and my little bit of Urdu, they communicated to us that we were in the village of Watli.  We told them that we were seeking ruins, and they pointed us further down the main road, where they said we would find an old tomb.

We thanked the guys for the information, and started back down the monster hill.  It was like going down a roller coaster.  Tim immediately asked to get out.  He said he would walk down so as to reduce the pressure on the brakes.  I let him out, and Nenita and I continued down.  I had the brakes all the way down the whole way down the hill, but we couldn’t have stopped if we wanted to.  Even with full brakes, we were traveling at a pretty good roll.

We made it to the bottom, though, and Tim joined us in a moment.  Once he got back in Goldie, I asked him if he hadn’t walked so as to avoid joining me and Nenita in the spectacular wreck that wasn’t so hard to imagine happening coming down that hill.  He admitted that was exactly his thinking.  We all got a laugh about that.

We cruised on down the road, and on the top of a distant hill, I noticed what I thought was a fort.  It was difficult to make out, though, and Tim said it was just a rock formation.  As we got closer, I was more convinced that it was a fort.

We came to a fork in the road; to the left the better road continued, and to the right was a crude rock road.  The fort seemed to be down the rock road, but we decided to follow the nicer road in hopes that it also went there.  Before long, it became clear that the paved road wasn’t leading to the fort, so we backtracked and took the rock road.  By rock road, I mean that the road was formed of large stones, almost like in a dry stream bed.  It was definitely off-road type terrain.

Right off the bat, Goldie dragged bottom on a few spots.  Tim again volunteered to walk to reduce the weight, and Nenita and I drove on.  We drove a long way, carefully maneuvering so as to inflict the least amount of damage on Goldie.  When we eventually reached the bottom, we were expecting to have to wait a while for Tim.  He ended up running, though, and caught us almost immediately.

Once he caught us, he asked us why we hadn’t stopped.  Turns out that he only wanted to walk the first section of road, but when he yelled for us to stop, we couldn’t hear him and continued on to the bottom.

Kussak village

At the bottom, there was a village we would soon learn was called Kussak.  I parked Goldie under a large tree at the entrance to Kussak, and we unloaded.  To the left were the school and a well, and to the right were some houses.  And straight ahead was the fort.  Two young men greeted us as we first started walking around, and we conveyed to them that we were interested in the fort.  They led us on a trail part of the way up the hill and then pointed the way for us to continue unescorted.  We thanked them and continued.  It was not a bad hike.

We checked out the ruins of Kussak Fort (which really were ruins) and admired the fine view that the hill provided in all directions.  Then we headed back down to Kussak.

Kussak Fort

Once we reached the bottom of the hill, more villagers came to talk to us.  A man named Shoukat invited us to have tea, and we accepted.  He took us to his house where we met his toddler daughter, Asifa, and his brother Mehboob.  They served us tea and cookies, and we chatted.

I found Tim to be quite amusing during the conversation.

Both Shoukat and Mehboob were in the army, stationed in Rawalpindi, which is adjacent to Islamabad.  When they asked what we did, Nenita and I said we worked at the Embassy.  Tim was weary of admitting to being a Marine and told them that he was an English teacher in Islamabad.  Shoukat and Mehboob got confused and thought we were all teachers.  Nenita was laughing at Tim later since he was claiming to be an English teacher, yet he couldn’t understand any Urdu.  She kept asking him how he would communicate with the students.  Maybe he meant that he taught the subject English, not the language, at the International School.  It didn’t much matter since our hosts had no follow-up questions regarding employment.

At the time, I had a beard and Shoukat asked me if I was Muslim.  I told him that I was Christian.  A few seconds later, Tim piped up, “I am also Christian.”  Tim is a clean-shaven blond kid with a buzz cut; I don’t think they had any doubts he was Christian.

A few questions later, Mehboob asked, “So how do you find Kussak?” meaning what did we think of it.

I immediately said that we thought it was great.  Tim, meanwhile, thought I had misunderstood the question.  He started explaining how we found (as in located) Kussak.  “We were driving along, and we saw the fort in the distance.  We took a right turn…”

Tim, however, was the one who misunderstood the question, and everyone was just staring around while he gave his long response to a question that was never asked.

I say again, no disrespect intended, but Tim amused me.

We chatted a little longer about how nice Kussak was, and Shoukat commented that they had many tourists coming to their village.  I didn’t really believe this based on the response we had gotten.

We had to be on our way, though, so we thanked our hosts for their hospitality, and we all walked outside.  For a village that gets a lot of tourists, it was hard to tell.  All the young children were out of school now, and they swarmed us.  Well the boys did, anyway; the girls had to maintain decorum.  The boys made for some fun photos.  I was content to get some candid shots, but Tim requested for all the kids to pose in a group.

After the photo shoot, Nenita gave the kids a bag of candy we had been snacking on in Goldie, and we made a super slow getaway down the rock trail.  Such a slow getaway was funny since the whole town was there to see us off.  Finally we made a turn and were out of view.  This time, Tim rode the whole way out of the rock garden, and we only dragged Goldie’s belly a few times.

By now, it was getting late and we were out of time to explore.  We went back to Katas, and the spot I had pointed out on the way in turned out to be the Hindu site we had been searching for.  We parked and quickly toured the ruins.

They were interesting.  The inner stairways and passages were still in tact in several of the buildings, so it was possible to poke around, albeit in the dark in most cases.

The highlight of the ruins was a pool that, according to legend, was formed by the excessive crying of the Hindu god Shiva at the death of his wife, Satti.  A second pool was also supposed to have been formed in Pushkar, India.  Each pool is supposed to be crystal clear, shaped like a large tear, and bottomless in the center.  The one is Katas was shaped sort of like a tear, and it was pretty clear, although somewhat choked with algae.  I couldn't tell if it was bottomless in the center.  Both pools are considered sacred to Hindus, and prior to Partition, Katas was a major pilgrimage site.  Now it wasn’t really drawing too many visitors, pilgrims or otherwise.

Shiva's bottomless pool with temple buildings.

As we were about halfway through viewing the ruins, a young man came up.  He pronounced his name as Danielle, but I’m sure it must have been Daniel.  Anyhow, Danielle was a student at the local university, and he started following me around asking the usual questions.  Once we had gone through the usual spiel, the conversation reached a good ending point.  I turned to Danielle, shook his hand, and told him it was nice to have met him (meaning “so long, sucker”).

He turned to me and said, “So can we make a friendship?”

I had no idea what he was talking about.  I shook his hand again and said, “Sure, we have made a friendship.”

Unsatisfied, he replied, “Aren’t we going to exchange contact information?”

I told him that I would give him my e-mail address, but, alas, neither of us had a pen.  He suggested we ask Nenita, so we went over to her.  Since I really didn’t care to have Danielle for a pen pal, I asked Nenita for a pen, at the same time giving her the subtle signal to say no.  Nenita said no as requested, but Danielle wasn’t finished.  He asked me to just tell him the address and he would remember it.  This was fine with me, so I slowly repeated my e-mail address to him, letter by letter, until he thought he had committed it to memory.  He did the same for me, although I had no intention of remembering his e-mail address, so I only pretended to be trying to commit it to memory.

After a bit, we were again walking around the ruins, our new friend in tow.

Evidently, committing my e-mail to memory proved too difficult for Danielle because at one point he stopped, picked up a stone, and started scratching my e-mail into the wall of one of the ruins.

I promptly told him to stop.  Not only was that vandalism, but I didn’t like the idea of my e-mail being out there for the world.  People might think I had written it.  Dad used to tell us, “Fools’ names and monkey faces, always found in public places,” and I didn’t want to be a fool or a monkey.

We finished touring the ruins shortly afterward and headed back to the car.  The sun was already going down, which meant we were going to be out after dark.  The sunset was off the hook.  It looked like something painted for the set of Gone with the Wind.

As we loaded up, a man came up to us and tried to make our acquaintance.  Reading from a card, he asked me, “What is your name? Where are you from? How do you like Pakistan?” without any pauses for me to respond.  I answered him, “I’m Chris from America, and Pakistan is very good.”  Then I told him bye in Urdu.  He turned out to be a rickshaw driver, and he slunk back to his vehicle without any customers.

When we were about ready to pull away, Danielle asked me if we could give him a ride to his house, which was on the way out of town.  I didn’t really care, so I put the question to Tim and Nenita.  Neither of them cared either, so we put Nenita in front and Danielle in back with Tim, figuring that if he decided to try anything funny, it was best to have him seated next to the trained killer.

We drove for a good ways down the road, and we were all beginning to wonder where Danielle’s house was.  Finally, he asked me to stop where a dirt road intersected the main road.  His house was up the dirt road, and he got out, thanked us, and walked the rest of the way home.

And we never heard from him again.

Two quick hours later, we were back at the Embassy.

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