For the longest time, my mental image of Pakistan was one of a wide expanse of desert, with the occasional green shrub, now brown, shriveled up and not a leaf stirring in the absence of wind, the scorching heat so unbearable that even the palm trees seem to have given up, shrugging their branches in resignation, their large leaves wilted. Last year, my trip to the north, Islamabad and Murree, drastically altered my “geoclimatic” opinion. This Pakistan had mountains, rivers and waterfalls. My trip earlier this summer to Balochistan again changed my image, and added yet another dimension of endless beauty to the rich and diverse Pakistan.
I had only heard of Balochistan in snippets… “Pakistan has provinces- Punjab, NWFP (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), Sindh and… umm… oh yes, Balochistan” or in headlines, “Four men kidnapped and held for ransom in Balochistan”. Rest assured, nothing enlightening. Balochistan is a mountainous region that shares a vast border with both Iran and Afghanistan. It is home to the port of Gwadar. And along its southern border runs the Arabian Sea. Online research would only reveal how little was actually known about Balochistan- its inaccessibility and the government’s lack of control there.
With these images in mind, I, my cousin’s family and my nani (maternal grandma), set off on a long drive to Sonmiani and Gadani, along the southern coast of Balochistan. The only thoroughfare comprised of colorful trucks and the occasional motorcycle. Highway robbery and kidnapping was common in Balochistan, and thus even traveling on the main, open roads is a risk. Within a few hours, the expanse of Sindhi desert transformed into a horizon of high and mighty mountains- seemingly connecting with the heavens at their summit. The mountains I had seen in Murree were impressive- green and white, unwittingly representing the flag of our country. In Balochistan, however, the mountains were dry and vast, akin to the terrain in Arizona or Nevada, rather than the green mountains of Vermont or New Hampshire.
We finally arrived at Sonmiani Beach some long hours later.
The beach. The water was a clear and crisp sky blue, the clearest I have seen in Pakistan. It became one with the sky at the far horizon, making you wonder where Earth ended and where the heavens began- and whether, if you tried hard enough, you could sail to the heavens themselves. The sky was dotted with white clouds, intermittently shielding us from the brazen rays of the South Asian summer sun, and teasing our exposed skin towards the golden brown of the sand.
In both the East and West, rose colossal, treacherous mountains, surrounding us in a rocky embrace. They stretched onward far into the ocean, eventually becoming rocky peninsulas sporadically drowned by crashing waves. The waves were not merciful; regularly picking us up and tossing us back onto shore, they saltily reminded us of how small and insignificant we really are. The blue, sparkling expanse of sea and the encompassing perilous mountains made for a beach the likes of which I have never seen before nor may ever glimpse again.
Next we stopped at Gadani beach and ship-breaking yard. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, we parked the car and immediately began climbing the rocks to reach the peak. On our right lay a long and flat promontory, lined with high rocks, over which massive waves would crash from either side, connecting in the middle and creating a sort of tunnel underneath. The sound of the waves crashing murderously onto the rocks sounded like the furious clap of thunder before a torrential downpour- as though Zeus himself commanded it. It was magnificent. After scaling hastily carved stairs, etched into the side of the mountain and crumbling into nothingness beneath our feet, we reached the tip. Ahead of us was a sheer drop straight into the ocean, the mountain itself seemed to plunge to its death. My arms stinging from the icy spray of the ocean and the turbulent wind at this altitude, I stood perched at the edge, nothing but the angry ocean below me and before me. The mountainsides were pockmarked with caves and hollows, where the waves rammed into them, eroding the massif, pebble by pebble.
In the middle of the flat surface upon which we stood, there was a deep gaping hole straight into the center of the mountain. It seemed to stretch into nothingness, and we stared at it curiously for a few minutes until a rush of water surprised us and burst through the hole, creating a tall column of water and steam- a geyser of sorts. After admiring the multitude of natural wonders in this one area, we climbed back down the mountain, still in awe of all that we had discovered.
As we drove off, I couldn’t help but wonder how the majority of the Pakistani people could be ignorant to such splendors of our country. Truly, Pakistan is a rich country, with mountains, oceans, deserts and forests. If only we appreciated it for what it is worth. If only this were the Pakistan that people knew, for they would come from far and wide to see these wonders. I realized that I had held the same prejudices about Balochistan that many held about Pakistan- that it was a barren wasteland inhabited by an anarchic and corrupt society. I wish that I could open others’ eyes the way that mine were opened, to see beyond the Pakistan in the headlines, and to see the Pakistan that I love and cherish, the Pakistan that will one day prosper.
(This is an excellent virtual tour of Gaddani beach Click it, you might be surprised.)