By Noorjehan Mecklai
There are some women — even men perhaps — who inspire such thoughts, but there are places, too. that steal one’s heart. Imagine for example a beautiful wasp-waisted lake of many, ever changing colours and textures, a lake set among wild roses and bare, rugged mountains 9.000 feet above sea level in Hunza, and skirted at either end by the humble but picturesque homes of farmers, struggling valiantly against the elements. This is Bonth Lake.
To get there, you dnve for about four hours from Gilgit along the Karakoram Highway (the KKH), via Karimabad and Gulmit Gojal to the thriving village of Husseini right on the banks of the Hunza River, then look out for the official sign “Borith Lake and Hotel” sign. 200 yards further on to the left. Or you can walk from the Gulmit in about an hour and half if you are fit and have no photographer in tow. Then up you go, exchanging the KKH and the verdant fields of Husseini for a view of hard-packed, seemingly abandoned fields recognizable only by their vestigial terraces and boundary walls, while you marvel at the massive and varied stone formations and at the pure white Ghulkin Glacier looming up ahead. If you go on foot as we did you will wonder what you have let yourself in for as the stony track inches thick in dust leads you up so suddenly.
Then just before your head hits the sky, the ground levels out. and laughing with relief and expectancy you trot downwards to the village and the lake, while the arid ground gives way to the irrigated though struggling fields of Borith Paeen. and the rustic shape of the Borith Lake Hotel appears, its storehouse crowned by a large dish antenna.
Sometimes you are greeted warmly by villagers, quite accustomed to the sight of strangers both exotic and indigenous, or you may find a coterie of keen trekkers. mountaineers, or a busload of foreign tourists on the hotel verandah. But at other times both the village and the hotel appear completely deserted. You wander onto the welcome solitude of the verandah, thriving on the silent beauty all around, yet feeling a little uneasy. Are you dead out of luck? Do the locked doors mean that Tawakkal
Khan the owner has gone to Gilgit for supplies?
Most likely he will materialise, having come at the gallop from his fields, from whence he keeps an eye on the track for likely guests. Although people come principally to sec the lake and its environs there is no denying that the personality of this enterprising man bring mniy more people for both whistle stops and longer stays in Borith. Aided by his gentle wife, he cooks for and serves hotel guests himself, with a right good cheer, and with equal portions, prices and standards for all. The vegetables, are of course home grown, and what dry goods he docsn’t have in his tiny kitchen, he shoots out to grab from
his amazingly well stalked general storeThis small oasis, which is now being neglected from its founder It was two guest and 10 bed dormitory, it is a real boom, both to travellers and to locals in this remote area.
Hospitality and withstanding which soon runs out for a cheer look at the lake itself. Viewed from the higher vantage point of the jeep track leading from Borith Passu (Lower Bortih) to Borith Bala (Upper Borith) at the farther and Stony wilderness and we after gaining longingly at the pure white beauty of the glacier’s upper reaches, turned back towards Borith. But to our consternation the “early track” soon appeared to have disappeared. We were lost the sun was setting and we had only the familiar bare slopes of the lake to head for. After 90 minutes of sliding on our posteriors in order to avoid falling and sliding from our faces we found ourselves above the lighted village, nowhere near our original starting point. The song continued thus in my heart, as I surveyed the evening blackness of the lake.
I am never lonely,
Wherever you are in sight—
Yes thank God the power was on that night but can you imagine what an incredibly tenuous hold electricity really has in Borith Village? It takes a valiant leap upwards from the KKH in single visible line. Suspended between bent, slender but evidently sturdy sapling trunks wedged tightly into the solid rocks generally poles apart. The devastated by storms common to the area must make this line stand like a skipping rope! And at the bottom of the hotel garden glows a single bulb with an equally precarious hold on just such a pole.
Moonlight has far less tenuous grasp and having enjoyed many a a moonlit chat down in Gulmit. We returned to Borith in mid July to admire the full moon over the lake, after a whole year a wait. We did not get our money’s worth. Owing to the height of the horizon, this much trumpeted Queen of the Night did not appear till well after 9p.m and after a vigorous day’s hiking, we just didn’t feel like waiting up till after midnight to see her make her pondrous way across the sky and pose for us in the water. My husband somehow awoke and called me to see the moon at 1am. My answer was simply “Forget it”.
But to return to more practical maters, how is that with Hunza River nearby, with all that water in the lake and with much melting of ice and snow right at its doorstep, the fields in Borith Paeen have struggle to survive . While in Borith Bala plants, or waist deep in grace that sways like a graceful ocean in the breeze? There are 11 households in Borith Paeen and available farm water serves one property a day.
Therefore on this day Tawakal Khan sprints from field to field to hotel garden altering water courses moving large stones to improve garden design filling up hotel bathroom storage tanks and so on. Meanwhile in the 33 households of Borith Bala, there is no panic, as they receive plentiful water from the channel that carries water past Borith Paeen but not into it. However here too as one raises one’s eyes from those well-watered field, one sees that where the irrigation stops the obvious greenery stops short: and on may see only a wee copse of carming apricot trees sitting pretty here and there amidst the dry, brown wilderness that merges with the stone of the surrounding Karakorums. Higher up and further away are snowcapped mountains like the beautiful passu, Cathederal, followed by the sleepy village of Sust, the Khunjerab pass and the Chinese border, and over all is the starting blue canopy of heaven,
The holiday ends The sing ends One moves away from Borith lake for the last time that summer singing.
I Love you fo Sentimental reasons”
I hope you believe me
I have given you my heart”