Simurgh meaning 30 birds in Persian, is a metaphor used here for the 30+ development, social, rights and knowledge activists that venture together on a voyage to discover the future of mountain people. They pass through seven valleys to reach the future-a destination of hope, peace, prosperity, opportunity,equity and dignity for the mountain people.
We provide space for personal diaries, creative writings and commentaries by youth and literati from and related to mountain areas.
It was early morning of Chorshamba, Wednesday, the 22nd
Clear sky, seemingly a good day!
It was a wedding day!
The small hamlet of Kamaris in Gulmit, the tehsil headquarter of Gojal
in upper Hunza with 33 households, around 330 people, almost all having close kinship
and communal relationships with each other, were in joy. It was like celebratory
and pleasurable day.
Preparations for wedding of one of the educated
young gentleman continued for three days during Eid vacations. As a tradition,
preparation started with bet-rasidh, ribbon cutting, shapik-pacak, preparing traditional
wheat-bread for two days and the final day, ghust-pacak, preparing the traditional
meat sufra. Women, children, young and old, all seemed excited and in a
celebrative mode, as the final day reached, when the Shoni, the bride-groom,
will go as far as Khyber village, around 30 kilometers north of Gulmit towards
Sost, and bringing back a bidghanz, the bride, back to the village.
As the custom
is, over two dozen tuiche’ or wedding procession or party was selected a day
earlier. Utmost care was taken to include at least one person from each
sub-clan and close relatives, preferably the notables, respected and young and
educated, who were in the village on those dates due to preceding Eid
vacations. This is considered as an honour by both sides; by those nominated, and
by the wedding family.
Nearby, in neighboring
village of Ghulkin, young scouts for some time now have formed their own
musical band; the Hunza trio-band having drum, damal and surnay players. The
bride-groom and his friends decided to contact the young musical band, and they
happily agreed to play music for the wedding procession as well as accompany
them to Khyber to play for the wedding dance, tamosho at both villages, first
time that the group was entertaining audiences outside their village.
With shoni nivizen soz, bridal departure music,
happy tears and excitement and prayers, the villagers in Kamaris seen off the bride-groom
and wedding procession starting travel early morning taking two vehicles from
Kamaris to Gulmit, then boating over the Attaabad Lake tail-end between Gulmit
and Hussaini harbour, and then again mounting three vehicles to reach the
bride’s village around 9:30 in the morning. The bride-groom and procession was
received by the family of bride and elders of Imamabad Khyber, after the
rasmi-nikah, wedding ceremony in the village jamotkhona and exchange of
wedding-ring. Happy moments were captured through snap shots and video clips on
mobiles, group photos with family and friends and formal video streams by
While the family of the bride was preparing
traditional food to be served around early noon, the traditional wedding dance
started outside in a nearby open space. As a tradition, the guests coming from
outside the village, as part of the wedding procession with the bride-groom
were invited to dance in groups started from the most elderly to the young in
order of age and rank, as is the custom in Gojal, followed by the host village
taking their turn.
As the wedding dances from both sides completed,
food was served and the bridal procession restarted their journey towards
south, taking the same transportation mode on return back to its final
destination in the afternoon, expected to be greeted with prayers, drums, children
noise and dances, at Kamaris again in late evening.
However, unaware of their fate
and the looming death scenes, when the vehicles crossed Passu village and was
only 10 minutes away from the Hussaini port harbor, passing through the
Sholimol rocky ridge, something happened!
Nobody was aware, nobody will
know, what and why it happened?
One of the unfortunate vans
driving by an experienced driver went off track rolling down the rock.
Killing two on the spot, as we
know it now, they were our very dears; late Aqil Khan and late Bakhtullah Baig.
Besides, we were cousins; we lived together in Karachi for over 10 years under
one small roof. Aqil bhai cared for us, supported us all, like a single family.
The first news of their casualty
was confirmed within 15-20 minutes of the accident by Majeed ullah Baig, my
cousin over the mobile phone to my wife and me from the site of accident, with
crying voice. He was himself fortunate to be riding the second van, following
the unfortunate first van.
There was hue and cry, which I
could overhear over the phone. He told me there were many who were very
seriously injured without naming anybody and disconnected in grief. Later we
found over 13 critically injured with multiple wounds, out of the 16 passengers
boarding the vehicle, almost all known to us and were members of our extended
It was like a hell fire! The
videographer standing on another vehicle was making video, when he captured the
scene of a van rolling down the hill and the dust rising in the air, which I
watched on YouTube later!
The last wedding dance had turned
into a dance of death!
As the news unfolded, we were
told over the phone in Gilgit that the wounded are being transferred through
vans and boats to Gulmit from Hussaini, where the government has constructed a
10-bed hospital. We were hopeful; at least others would be treated to safe recovery,
as we were not aware of the severity of the accident. We were in Gilgit, and it
was kind of ‘no traffic’ day, as government had disallowed public and private
vehicles on the road due to security situation in the town. We had to leave to
Hunza taking with us sister Gulnar and other family members. Thanks to Dr Sher
Aziz, who favored us to ride the Rescue 1122 ambulances that were going to
transfer seriously injured from Hunza to Gilgit. While we were preparing to
leave, subsequently came the bad news that Nambardar Nasiruddin and two young
chaps, Shahidin and Irfan Karim from Ghulkin have also succumbed to death while
reaching the hospital and at the hospital, where there was no emergency doctor
posted by government. Dr Khadijah, the Aga Khan Health Centre’s, Child and
maternity service contract doctor, who is posted on a project in Hunza, but
transferred to Gulmit health centre, volunteered to support the community at
the government hospital, despite the fact that there was no proper support
system to help her and the wounded, she and the government hospital paramedic
team trying their level best to save lives, we were told. There was no
emergency support system at the hospital in terms of availability of life
saving drugs, bandages, availability of filled oxygen cylinder etc. Despite the
fact that there was a fully equipped operating room, however, due to
unavailability of technical staff positions, the equipments and the magnificent
building remained useless to save precious lives.
It was but natural that hundreds
of desperate people, youth, volunteers and relatives rushed to the hospital and
created a situation at the hospital where it was becoming difficult for the
doctor and staff to perform their duties with whatever limited resources and
tools in their hands.
After almost two hours or so of struggle
for life and life saving efforts at the hospital, the doctor and team who were
already feeling helpless and under immense pressure, as such level of injuries
were beyond their means and the crowding of people inside the wards created
more problems than solutions, she has to refer the cases to Hunza, as if some specialist
doctors will attend to them or some miracle may happen to save some lives,
despite the fears of loss of travel time between road, boat and again road transfer
at Ataabad spillway, which takes almost two hours. All other injured, except
for Razi, including Nasir Iqbal, Dad Ali, Shaukat Aziz, Mujahid, Wasi, Deedar,
Iman Hussain, Khadim and Akram to Aliabad in central Hunza.
Dozens rushed to the hospital beds
of the wounded, and transferred them in whatever vehicle was available. The
government ambulance was out of fuel, the government run speed boat was out of
fuel and they refused to drive, unless the people give money for fuel or fill
their fuel tanks. It was only when desperate youth insisted and threatened them
of dire consequences, they started moving, we were told by youth when we
reached Aliabad hospital in Hunza from Gilgit around 10:30 p.m. On the way between Gilgit and Hunza, we saw
ambulances coming one by one, and found that the doctors in Aliabad further
referred more critically wounded to Gilgit; first ambulance brought Wasi, the
van driver, than Mujahid and Iman Hussain in another ambulance. We have to
shift from the fully equipped Rescue 1122 ambulance which Dr Sher Aziz sent to
transfer the wounded to Gilgit.
We took a sigh of relief to see
Khadim and Akram at the Aga Khan Health Centre in Aliabad, and Surgeon Dr Amir
Ahmed, who volunteered to travel from Gilgit to visit the wounded in Aliabad,
examined them, and confirmed they were out of danger. Thanks God.
We moved to the government
hospital in Aliabad Hunza. On the way, Uncle Sarfraz broke the bad news to Riaz
bhai that two of his elder brothers are among the dead. This was like a quake. As
we reached the hospital we found three dead bodies and a big crowed of people
outside the hospital; bodies of Subedar Dad Ali, Ala Nambardar Nasir Iqbal and
Kamadia Shaukat Aziz were wrapped in white sheets and placed in a hospital
room. Everybody was speechless!
The funeral committee (Mayaat
committee) of Aliabad community, the volunteers, boy Scouts and the local
council President and members, the regional council secretary and members, all
were seen actively taking care of the dead bodies and the families of the
deceased at the hospital. Hundreds of students, professionals and business
people from Gojal were seen standing and providing moral and healing support;
many of them traveled with the wounded and actually took part in the initial
rescue at Hussaini. Dr. Sher Hafiz and his government hospital team stood up
all the night with the people opened his house for the close relatives and
arranged food and resting place. While we are all up at the hospital with the
three dead bodies, subsequently came another bad news from Gilgit that Mujahid
who was just transferred to Gilgit, has also breathed his last as he reached
the Aga Khan Health Centre in Gilgit and that his body will be brought back to
Hunza same night.
The total number of causalities
has now reached 9 in number.
The next morning we took the
funeral procession of four dead bodies from Hunza to the spillway. The
uniformed volunteers and scouts brought four boats and we reached Gulmit, only
to find and thousands of men, women, young, old, children were waiting, crying
and the procession went further up and up as the procession reached the final
destination- Kamaris village, from where a day before, they started the wedding
procession. We participated in all the funeral events and the dead were buried
with solemn rituals and ceremonies.
The dance of death concluded.
I remained in the village for
almost 10 days and returned back to my workplace in Gilgit.
Recently, Wasi bhai, the van
driver, who was shifted to Islamabad, also unfortunately breathed his last and
the body was taken back to the village for burial and services, taking the
total number of causalities to 10.
In conclusion, before I say
something about our miserable state of tangible health preparedness, I must
say, our ‘intangible’ preparedness to provide psycho-socio support to the
families is very powerful.
1.In our social context, religion and culture
plays a key role in providing healing support, guidance and prayers through
rituals, funeral ceremonies and speeches and recitations from the Holy Quran, sharing
the guidance from Hazir Imam, the poetry of Poet, philosopher Pir Nasir e
Khusraw and others help the distressed persons and families overcome their
losses through such personal and group responses. The support from the
individual households, volunteers and the whole community who take care of
everything from managing visitors to cooking food to voluntarily helping in
completing the farming and non-farming work of the bereaved family was
remarkable support that I witnessed.
2.I also felt that death denial is a common human
response by those who identify themselves ‘emotionally, spiritually and
physically with someone they loved most’, and who are separated through tragic
deaths like this. It takes time to accept the reality, that the loved one was
no more with us physically, and that we can create new relationship of soul and
mind by remembering the loved one through different paths, by following the
path they choose to live or by propagating some of their ideas and thoughts and
noble causes. Tragic deaths in a family system, especially death of bread
earners and young people are seen like ‘emotional shock waves that run through the
family like wildfire’. Our only consoling gesture would be to try our best to
be of any support to the dependents with honor and dignity, in the hours of
need, without hurting them or their sentiments indeed.
the state of emergency preparedness in fatal accidents and emergencies. Many
speakers including doctors who actually responded to the emergency, and
community leaders and youth leaders talked of this in the post-accident days,
so that we evaluate our state of preparedness to i) help reduce chances of such
fatal accidents in the future and ii) save maximum lives if such emergencies
happen again. It was a common agreement, that except for 2-3 persons, all other
died because we were unable to provide proper first aid in the ‘golden hour’
and that there was no medical staff and facilities at the hospital where they
were first brought or that if there was a heli rescue service operating from
Gilgit, many lives could have been saved by reducing the lag time.
a.Road accidents are considered to be one of the
‘three big killers’ in the world. And young people are more at risk of road
accidents as they mostly travel and drive. In order to reduce chances of
accidents, there is a need to develop a comprehensive road safety framework by
involving all stakeholders; government, private transporters, communities and
frequent travelers including youth on board. The framework must look at road
conditions, vehicle conditions and inspection, driving licensing test systems,
driver’s mental state, frequent monitoring of compliances and spot check and
community awareness about traveling risks, safety measures. This also should
cover the boat service and making life jackets and rescue boat with equipped
staff all the more important;
is considered to be the ‘real life saver’ in road accidents and fatal
emergencies. It is important for each transporter, community volunteers and
government officials especially the police, health and education departments
and the public works departments to continuously train their volunteers and
staff in basic application of first aid.
c.State of the art ambulance, both vehicle and
boat ambulance and paramedics both with ambulance and at the health centres is
very important emergency service that need to be provided immediately.
d.An evaluation of the basic emergency and health
preparedness of the hospitals is very important. The government hospital in
Aliabad Hunza at Gulmit and the Aga Khan Health centres at Aliabad, Chipurson,
Sost and Gulmit and the dispensaries should be staffed and equipped with basic
emergency support systems, life saving drugs, hospital supplies and medicines.
e.There is no blood bank in the whole Hunza
region. A fully functional blood bank is the need of the hour.
f.The Gulmit hospital should be made fully
functional with immediate deployment of doctors, nurses and key paramedic
g.There is no helicopter evacuation system for
such emergencies. We should not see army and AKDN helicopter active only during
non-emergency times or when there is a large-scale publicized disaster such as
2010 floods to supply relief goods or VIP movements. There should be a heli
rescue service operational from Gilgit, so that it reaches the valleys in a
short- time, and could rescue the wounded to Gilgit hospital within the ‘golden
h.In the long-run, there is a real need to
establish state of the art trauma centre on the KKH, as this is an
international border, and with the Chinese improving the KKH, there will be
more traffic flow, and more vulnerability to road accidents and loss of life.
The government, the elected
representatives, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, FOCUS and AKDN should join
hands to develop a comprehensive plan on road safety and responding to such
fatal emergencies in any region in GB in the future.
The pathetic state of health
preparedness for fatal emergencies needs to be improved without loss of further
time. We lost our 10 loved ones on 22nd August.In the past we have seen such fatalities that
happened in Chipurson, Misgar and central Hunza during last 10-15 years, in
which over 30 people lost lives.
We can no longer sit idle. We all
need to act, and act fast, as the frequency of such fatalities continuously increase,
while our response plans and capacities remain rudimentary.