Monday, September 12, 2011

Afghan Affair – Afghan Alpinist

We first came across Hafiyat Khan in person at the village of Quazideh, the first proper outpost after leaving Eishkashim, en route to our mountain. He was haunched by the roadside along with our interpreter chewing a sturdy stick of sugarcane. He wore a black leather jacket with loose trousers and a turban around his handsome head. He was fair, smooth skinned and quite unlike a seasoned climber, which he was if we were to believe some of the reports that Pat carried with her about earlier expeditions to the area.

Hafiyat Khan is among the only four Afghans ever trained in Chamonix and he is among the first Afghans to climb Noshaq, the highest mountain in the country. He is mentioned in several earlier expedition reports and has always been highly spoken of. It is odd to find him so far away from any mountain and engaged in a pursuit so trivial.

We exchange greetings, Pat shows him the cuttings she has where his name is mentioned. He speaks fair amount of English and some French and is proud of his credentials. He tells us about our mountain since he has been there on an Italian expedition several years ago. We ask him to join us but he reveals that he is currently involved in the setting up of a hospital (funded by an Indian company) in the village of Kipkut that now is his full time job. He is certainly a celebrated man in Afghan, humble, charming and effusive. So we leave him and go ahead.

I meet Hafiyat Khan again on return from our expedition. I find him in Kipkut with his head covered in a turban, t shirt tucked in his trousers and with hammer, saw and nails in his hand. He is working hard at cutting a tall log into two and sweating profusely. He is also screaming at a group of laborers struggling to upright another heavy log to make a roof support. I realize that Hafiyat Khan in reality is a carpenter and supervisor for making this hospital and not in the administration as I had presumed him to be. He recognizes me immediately and comes forward, hugging me like a long lost friend. He asks about our expedition and is delightfully surprised that we made it to the top since they had failed despite having some of the best climbers in the world in that team. He offers me tea and then returns to guide and scream at the workers.

The last I remember seeing of him was his waving hand, still clutching a dozen nails and a massive hammer, from the roof of the half built hospital. He looked happy and content with his life and his occupation. If he had come with us then he would have earned nearly five times what he would earn in the hospital, yet for him that was more important since it would benefit his people and the villages. I am not sure why would he give up on an opportunity to make more money in a land where poverty is so abject and fashionable that it is hard to imagine someone not poor.

I tried to envision one of our top climbers upon the roof of a hospital and cutting woods or hammering nails for pittance and somehow the image didn’t come together. And as far as I am concerned, in all likelihood, the world of Afghan mountains had lost Hafiyat Khan forever.

1 comment:

  1. Am not sure if what you think is true, S. Don't you always say the mountains are in one's heart. Am pretty sure Hafiyat khan was pretty satisfied with his achievements and just found a new direction in his life. Will pray for his success and Allah will grant him the same too. He's found his real summit and Inshah Allah to that!