The Valleys of Baltistan

by Amara Waseem

Images courtesy of author.

Images courtesy of author.

Despite the political difficulties facing Pakistan, Skardu’s culture is preserved. Identities are embraced and faces glow with excitement. Eyes of the locals read ‘welcome to Skardu’ as they wave at our taxi driving past their gardens—all genuine. My mother-tongue was crosshatched onto my own, melting flavors within my straying dialogue. I felt an unfamiliarity for both of my languages; my mouth became a colosseum for the two languages, blood-shedding, tongue tearing sounds and words. In and out of consciousness, subdued and deafening senses of attachment.

Rich aromas of roses burst through the open window my head sits on as we pass the flower gardens. I pressed my lips to the petals I plucked from the rose that fell through my window. One hand avoided the copper thorns, another stretched out of the car.

Moments before prayer in Shigar’s oldest wooden mosque, a city just beside Skardu, I stood by the bare window—two oak folds opened and diametrically opposed. A family of trees neatly packaged on the garden floor, gleaming apricots pierced through disoriented branches, much like gems in a cave. Below the window above a seat-like carving sat dozens of prayer mats folded in an irritable manner. Swift tones of royal blue and burnt orange imbued from the threading, especially when the sunlight patched itself upon the Islamic motifs, lingering dust particles swam above it through the air, almost like dead fragments of the sun came down to greet the Friday prayer offerors. The silence from this spiritually-reviving afternoon disturbed by the whisperings of prayer beads and dhikr from five hundred years ago. On the overgrown carpet rested an exposed tomb of tasbihs and turbahs, aged by consistency. 

Kids shake apple trees like Animal Crossing—a Nintendo video game before my eyes. The fruit drops like Icarus, but this was real. So were the deep conversations I found myself having with the local taxi drivers on over-memorized folk tales.

A pretty place, pretty views with pretty rough weather conditions and pretty tough tragedies. Our taxi driver drove us up the mountains, swirling in a jeep, crushing rocks under our tires, screeching. These mountains watched over the villagers as mothers are with their babies. Our route was diluted with stampedes of sheep hurdled by experienced shepherds. The wind whistled through the gaps between each mountain, a familiar song the trees swayed to and somehow approved of by the hidden moon.

The dawn sky had sponge-painted dusty, milky clouds dribbling in an explosion of blue, a mirror of my lapis lazuli bought from the bazaar. A promising afterglow swam over the horizon. I noticed the attitudes of the locals were calm, with their complete reliance on God above the ice-capped mountains, they continued living. They knew the future was a struggle but, for them, only now seemed to matter as if they lived upon optimism.

Amara Waseem is an artist, poet and student based in London. She has a zeal for the reorientation of culture, spirituality, the motherland, and surrealism. From this, she ventures to illuminate on the recollection of fragmented identities in her work using her diaspora as a starting point. She was the first artist in residence for Female Muslim Creatives and has written for Unread Magazine

Omar Alhashani