The World of Hajji Zahid

Hajji Zahid...

The evening we arrived in Hushe, we had dinner with Zahid in the house of his second wife. In the guest room the walls are lined with memorabilia from past expeditions… Peter Croft’s backpack, Jimmy Chin’s headlamp, etc. We sipped chai as we sat on the floor, and he pulled out an old binder that contained all the recommendations of climbers he has worked with. He held it out with obvious pride and we read through them; a had written note from Steph Davis, formal type written letters from famous Japanese climbers, some scraps of paper torn from anything handy with a few lines of praise scribbled on them. Zahid’s logbook.

The house is small. Livestock are kept in the cellar. The front door opens to a small dirt floored courtyard as it were, open to the sky, with a ladder going up to the roof where firewood is kept. Small rooms branch off to the left and right. The guest room floor is covered with blankets, and foam sleeping mats from expeditions. Zahid’s brother is the porter sardar – the boss. He’s in charge of hiring the porters – sending word to people’s houses saying: “you’re strong…. we want you.” He collects their ID cards and brings them to Zahid’s house where we are visiting. Zahid scrutinizes them. Gives his OK.

Zahid has six daughters, one son, two wives. In Pakistan – as he explained to us – the custom is for the daughters to go to the household of the husband’s family, and sons stay with their parents to look after them as they grow older. It is not common for polygamous relationships to exist in Pakistan, but it is acceptable in special cases; the burning cultural need for sons constitutes a special case. Zahid took a lot of pressure from his extended family, after his first wife bore him four daughters. So reluctantly he took a second, who gave him a fifth daughter, then a son, and finally a sixth daughter. His sixth daughter was born with cystic fibrosis. If a child in Chicago has this condition, this is reason enough for sadness. But Hushe is far from Chicago and within the context of life in Hushe, this little girl’s struggle for life is heartbreaking. Zahid poured his heart and soul and energy into finding a way to heal her; to make her stronger. The many trips to visit doctors in Skardu sucked away his savings, made his hair go white, broke his heart. Zahid says that now, in a way, he doesn’t care about his long awaited son, the five other daughters. Only for his one broken child. A climber from Czech Republic, or Poland (I don’t remember) who Zahid worked with on an expedition, arranged for a doctor to travel from Europe to Hushe to examine her. He sent an exercise machine for therapy. It doesn’t help much.

Zahid’s son is first in his class at school. He brought home a small trophy for that. This makes Zahid very proud. His other daughters tend to the cows and Dzos up in the high pastures on the way to the Charakusa Valley. The dry, rocky soil strains itself to support the needs of Hushe, and each year the crops and milk and butter that some households produce are not excessive enough to sell any. It becomes harder to find pasture land to rotate the livestock to and from, and this, interestingly is the second edge of the tourism sword. Because travel to high valleys to climb or trek, and base camps are often located in the same places where people from Hushe have been bringing their livestock for years. It’s impossible for the daughters who traditionally tend the livestock up there, to coexist with expeditions full of foreign men and porters. Once upon a time, Zahid spent months with his mother at Galen Rowell camp on the way in to K7 base camp. The grazing there is good. But no one takes their cows there any more. At the same time, Hushe is inhabited by porters – men who do little or nothing else to make a living. Many of them worry that they and their families would starve if climbers and trekkers cease coming.

In 1992 Zahid traveled to British Columbia to act as an extra for the movie “K2” which was filmed on Mount Waddington. The producers paid for a certain number of Balti porters to be flown over from Pakistan, then made up the difference for their movie porters by hiring a bunch of Native Americans. What North American would know the difference? Now this little episode was a stroke of luck for Zahid because he came in to some cash. So, he went back to Baltistan and took his aging father and mother to Mecca – something very unusual for a Muslim from Hushe to be able to do. They stayed in Mecca for 40 days. Every morning they would arise at 3am and begin to pray. They would pray all day until 9pm at the Mosque, with only a short break at noon for lunch. So Zahid has the title Hajji,and when he speaks of Mecca, it’s with great reverence.

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One Response to “The World of Hajji Zahid”

  1. Really we need such a tourist people who write these all traveling stories I personally welcome thanks for these all

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