Deosai – Where it’s so quiet, you could hear the stare of God glance past you!
Ironic isn’t it? Usually it’s the other way around: us looking for God, in lonely summer nights amidst the starry skies. One of the jeeps broke down on our way back from Deosai in July 2016, and we had to stop around sunset at Deosai. As soon as I took a step outside the cosy vehicle it dawned on me that the temperature had dropped drastically in a matter of hours. From the blistering sun that burned a tan onto us in the noon, to ruthless winds blowing hauntingly past me now, making me shiver with cold. The horizon was dimming behind us on the jeep track as I looked anxiously for the strayed vehicle from the convoy. The daunting spread of land ahead and the growing darkness around was coupled by the fact that my brother was in that vehicle. With every passing second I could feel the panic rising in my chest, we had no connection whatsoever with the stranded jeep, and the bare truth that we couldn’t see anything moving for miles across the visible plain made it worse.
Within a matter of minutes of exposure to its changing moods, Deosai the land of Giants made me feel small and vulnerable amidst its grandeur. I felt uninvited and weak, unfit to survive this strange land whose brilliant landscape I could not take my eyes off in the evening, as we drove past Bara Pani to reach for the magnetic waters of Sheosar.
The ground beneath my feet had gone much colder than I had expected and the winds howled over the stray grass to bend it into the ground. Our jeep swayed lightly to a random push given by the squall and I realized that I was terrified, of the fact that we might have to stay there the entire night. There was nothing for miles ahead that could count remotely as a sanctuary and Deosai is not a place you want to be found stranded in.
Deosai near Bara Pani – Baltistan, Pakistan
Credits: Noorulain Naseem
I keep telling everyone about Deosai as they never stop asking! What’s it like? Was it beautiful? Just how beautiful? And here is what I have to say about it. I witnessed the lavish beauty of Naran, the rocky elevation and splendid view at Babusar, the barren exquisiteness of Chilas, the sheer loveliness of Hunza, the daunting way to Skardu, the bluish green jewel of Attabad and Satpara, the picturesque state of upper and lower Kachura, the magnificent landmark of Passu Cathedral and the apt contrivance with which the KKH surgically cuts through the mighty Karakorum to pave way for the Khujerav pass. Only to arrive at Deosai and run out of vocabulary to describe what can only be referred to as Heaven on Earth.
If I ever had a glimpse of heaven on earth, other than the times I found it reflected in my mother’s eyes as she looks on at me kindly, it was definitely in Deosai. The thick carpets of deeper than the deepest green grass, leaving way for the sapphire blue waters of Bara and Chota Pani. The whistle of the marmots as they show off their golden furs from behind grey rocks and purple flowers, it seemed like another planet really. The sky seemed ridiculously in reach and last but not the least the absolute silence of that place.
Stallions Hunting Past Deosai Plains – Baltistan, Pakistan
Credits: Noorulain Naseem
The first uniqueness of the Deosai experience was definitely the Wehshat of the place: as it’s called in Urdu, not in a horrible way but definitely in a banal way. The utter and absolute state of quiet there! Not silence you see, as the gales were hurtling amply across the stupendous spread of the plains very audibly. But it’s the stillness complimented by the vastness of that place: where a minor change of any kind could do so very little to alter the grand scale of things situated there. It’s like every sound is but an intrusion to the majestic state of quiet there. Clearly not meant to be inhabited by humans, but to be left alone in its wilderness, Deosai rests under the skies frozen under layers of ice except for a few months of summer when it refuses to go cold and barren as it is expected to at such high altitude. That is why it is known as the “Summer Palace” by the Balti people: as it reincarnates its beauty and spirit, home to wildlife and plantation, an ecosystem of its own.
Staring wide eyed into the darkening horizon I was drooling from sleep and dehydration that night. The meeting of earth and sky ahead was like a canvas marked with soft strokes of a gigantic but dexterous brush, with shades of fiery pink mixed in soft teals and fading greys. A tint of gold was fading into the background with the demising sun.
And here is the second uniqueness of the Deosai experience, it makes you feel exposed to the watchful eyes of heavens above. I felt as if God was staring directly at me from above in that moment. His gaze muted and lingering on me: I felt singled out from the rest of the universe for a split second, astounded and shrunken at the same time. And in that minute I found it impossible to look back at Him, which was by far the quietest, stoic and still moment of my life. I am struggling hard right now to put it into words, it was not terrifying or glorious nor romantic or overtly spiritual: rather it struck me as a moment of truth where I felt absolutely certain of divine presence. It’s not easy to believe in an unseen God as you might know, and life has a deceitful quality to make you doubt even the tangible. But so quiet that night was and just so very dark, darker than any night I had ever survived and I have been a survivor all my life. It was in that instance of absolute stillness, darkness and muteness that I felt the divine eyes sweeping past me as it encompassed many universes like our own in a single glance. I could hear the yawning echo of winds as it twisted over the giant plains of Deosai. Even a small movement like my friend’s footsteps and clicks of the shutter as she walked ahead to capture the moment were so clearly audible from afar.
Last Sun Rays Before Sunset at Deosai Plains – Baltistan, Pakistan
Credits: Noorulain Naseem
The cracks in the ground turned a shade of copper under the weakened beams of the departing sun. I always found the setting of the sun a heart breaking ritual, but in Deosai it was truly distressing, with the coin of gold fading into the horizon, the darkness took over from all sides, blurring any possible chances of visibility. It was pitch black outside the windows as the jeep finally caught up with us and we headed for the departure from Deosai.
I will never forget that night, that sunset at Deosai and the loneliness I felt there. Being a huge fan of solitude I of all the people can differentiate between being alone and being lonely. These highlands of the north show you a glimpse of what this planet was like before it became fit to sustain human life. Barren and hard, unwelcoming and inaccessible, there is certain morbidity about their milieu though they are home to several living species but we humans are not meant to be one of them. Deosai is a lush green yet still a Bayabaan the few months in summer before it freezes under a thick coat of ice. It is one of the highest plateaus in the world, situated near the meeting of the Karakoram and the Western Himalayas, where the glaciers freeze to stones above the tip of the those high pointed peaks, monuments of grand geographical changes that took millions of years to evolve, they stand so tall above the rest of existence.
Just Before Sunset at Deosai Plains- Baltistan, Pakistan
Credits: Sharjeel Anwar
How lucky we are to be born here in Pakistan, the beloved land of pure, at the junction of three highest mountain ranges of the world: The Himalayas, Hindukush and Karakoram, our Baltoro glacier visible even from space, where the proud K2 stands high as Queen in the North. I am so lucky to have been a witness to a few of these monuments of divine artisans. As from now on the world will have a hard time drowning my voice amidst its chaotic noise or make me feel abandoned as it rushes past me. For now, I have caught a glimpse of my own spirit: I heard it sway as God stared directly at me from heavens, amid the deafened quietness of Deosai.