The world outside the window is pristine blue-white and silent as the snow, it began falling in earnest in the morning, drifts slowly and thickly down: All main roads in the Galiat, obviously link-roads too, are well and truly closed and guests are, I am told, stranded in the large hotel up the mountain from here where over two feet of the ‘white stuff’ has fallen – so far.
It may – and does – look picture postcard perfect but the reality, for those living here, is a very different story indeed.
With the temperature, according to meteorological website forecast, set to drop to minus 6 C tonight and for the next few nights to come, and day time temperatures hovering around zero, keeping warm is a priority which many simply cannot afford either heat wise or food wise and, even if someone has a little cash money to get, as is the habit, daily rations, they cannot, in this, get to the distant bazaar which, if they do manage to struggle through the freezing snow, will not have anything fresh on offer anyway. It will remain this way until roads are open and transport safely restored.
It makes sense in these high mountains where winter can be extremely vicious, to get in supplies and stock up well in advance of bad weather but, few can afford to do this and even fewer have so much as a fridge let alone a freezer for meat and the like, plus, this current cold spell has caught most people completely unawares. Also and surprisingly, it is not the custom to stock up for winter and, if they can, many locals move down to the plains for the duration…..a ‘duration’ which gets shorter each year.
It had appeared, up until now, that winter had completely passed us by this time: Drought conditions have predominated for weeks and, this last month especially, people, mainly women of course, have been searching far and wide for increasingly precious water which, when they do have it, they waste at a ridiculous and unsustainable rate and, even more ridiculously, refuse to do a single thing about harvesting and storing the rainwater which, when such precipitation arrives, runs downhill and away. Forethought is not – never has been – part of the Pakistani psyche!
Just two days ago, the weather was – as it has been on and off and in between severe cold spells of a dry that cracked your hands and face – unseasonably warm: Bird song filled the aromatic mountain air with the false promise of an unprecedentedly early spring, the first, very delicate, bright pink almond blossom opened and was promptly devoured by nectar loving birds, bees were back on the buzz, apricot blossom budded to show pale pink and, in my own garden, Dutch hyacinths perfumed the warming air and yellow crocus decided to bloom alongside the fragrant nargis that has flowered on and off since mid-September and all, most definitely, was not according to time honoured schedules and has not – this a direct result of climate change –been for the last 10 years and more.
Climate change denial – along with denial of all else that is adversely affecting the country right now – is the general mindset here where, living so close to and with nature, the people should, quite obviously, know that the change is all too real. They do, every year now, complain that the weather is dryer, is warmer, is increasingly unpredictable and only a hardy handful even try to grow any crops which, unless they work with the weather rather than adhering to traditional planting times, fail either right at the germination stage or at some other point in the ‘usual’ growing cycle yet, even in the face of this clear evidence they stubbornly refuse to accept that the climate has changed, that things are not going to revert to normal and that – as a direct result of their seasonal burning of grasslands and forests, of their uncontrolled abuse of the environment in every which way possible – they, themselves, are part of the reason for a change they must learn to live with if, that is, they want to survive. Change, of any kind, unless they receive hard cash in hand to do it, is neither on their agenda nor even in their grossly limited dictionary.
Yes – I do not deny for a moment that my observations may be taken badly, very badly but, unfortunately, these observations are all too true and will, unless change is wrought and wrought very quickly, lead to the complete devastation of this upland region of the country the writer so loves and yes, I have, down through the last 18 years of my year round residence here, tried – and failed miserably – to instigate the change required: People will nod their heads and agree to, slowly and one small step at a time, alter their ways but – needless to say – a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse and they do not budge from entrenched patterns of environmental abuse: This abuse actively being ‘self-abuse’ too.
When the snow eventually lets-up, the first sound will, as I know from long experience, be the echoing ‘thunk-thunk’ of axes biting in to the fresh, green wood of standing trees – illegally of course – as local inhabitants resume stealing live trees, for fuel or for sale, from the ever shrinking forests around us yet, when spring really does arrive, they will not so much as dream of planting as much as a single sapling to provide for their very own future generations which, consideration for the future of their own off-spring aside, illustrates their completely unforgivable lack of environmental understanding.
‘They’ are killing this world and all that it contains, eating it up at incredible speed.
The writer has authored two books titled The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War, The Parwan Wind - Dust Motes and lives in Bhurban.