Some journeys do not end up the way we want. There are bigger, unexpected plans that nature has for us. I was staying in Chitral valley last summer and only place to see east side of Trich Mir (Highest mountain of Hindkush) can be from a town called Booni, some 2.5 bumpy drive from Chitral. I decided to photograph Trich Mir in a day trip. I got my van from main Chitral bazaar, the journey started with an inexperienced new young driver. Car broke several times on the way and a journey of 2.5 hours became of 4.5 hours.
Food has always been an integral part of my travel. I take Tea at every stopover. I decided to have my lunch after I reach Booni. For me, not having food from Booni was like disrespecting my journey.
Before reaching Booni, the van started shaking and we realized the tire got flat. The driver pulled over at a town called Kuragh for tire repair. I could not resist sitting in the van waiting and started roaming around the bazaar in search for tea. I came across a restaurant with highlighted words “Only for VIPs” written on the main mirror door. This obviously prompted me to go inside and explore. May be I can have tea there. Although I wasn’t any “VIP” but I still wanted explore how VIP would that be in such remote locality where I can’t even get mobile signals. It was a small and very well organized restaurant from inside, clean but old furniture, beautiful cutleries and a television.
A man named Gul Faraz appeared from the kitchen door. He seemed in his late 50s wearing green shalwar kameez and yellow slippers, white hair, thin stubble and a well trimmed mustache.
I enquired “Aap ke pass chai hai?” (if you have tea)
Ji hai! Baithiye; he said while pulling the chair for me to sit, hence I felt VIP, so not like remote restaurants.
Tea was served nicely in a proper teacup and saucer as it is served in good high-end city restaurants. It was already lunch time and I had an empty stomach hence I enquired if there was any food in the restaurant. I have Shami Kababs, Pulao, Chicken Curry, salads and achar. Gul Faraz replied.
That sounded tempting and before I could order anything, the driver outside started calling out loudly. It was time to leave. I did not want to miss that food. I said good bye to Gul Faraz and promised that I will return from Booni to have lunch at his place.
I love shami kababs and pulao. I can have it everyday if I am in the city and I never expected that to be available with him in that remote area.
While going to Booni, I forgot the snow caped peak of Trich mir and the pulao kabab started circling my head.
After reaching Booni, I made my photographs quickly after taking a short trip of the village. Trich Mir peak was dominating the hindukush mountains across a beautiful crop fields in front of me. I headed back quickly to the bazaar to get my van back to Kuragh. I realized it was last van of the day leaving for Chitral.
All I had in my mind was the food and “Little Star Restaurant”. I was confused if it’s worth taking risk of missing the last van. At last, Food took over my confusion. I asked the driver to drop me in Kuragh while he yet again warned me.
Little Star restaurant was locked from inside, I knocked and after a while, Gul Faraz opened the door and was happy to see me that I kept my promise. I ordered food without any further delay.
While Gul Faraz got busy in the kitchen to cook food, I watched tv to pass my time. Within minutes, he served me the delicious made pulao, kababs, salads, pickles and chicken curry. It was served again in the same well mannered way. He said he respect his guests and the food.
Gul Faraz informed me that the only way to go back to Chitral was taking a taxi and that would cost me a fortune. I realized I had no money left except for the lunch; neither there was any ATM in the area. I told Gul Faraz my situation of empty wallet.
Gul Faraz was a nice man. He offered me to be his guest for the night. I was a bit reluctant since I had no money. Somehow, Gul Faraz managed to convince me. Just stay, don’t worry and enjoy your stay. I am happy to have a company, said Gul Faraz.
We started with general conversation and within minutes, Gul Faraz was enjoying my stories and adventures of travels across Pakistan. He showed me his well organized restaurant. He manages it alone. He is the only employer here and the only boss. He cleans it himself, cooks himself and serves himself. He has a house behind the restaurant while restaurant had only one guest room having two clean beds for guests and a well built wash room.
Gul Faraz offered me tea in evening which we had outside his restaurant lawn that too made by himself, observing the last beam of light on closest snow capped peaks.
He has spent his entire life working in major cities of Pakistan in 4 star restaurants as a cook and was best at it. Later he decided to return to his village and relax with his family. He runs this restaurant just for the sake of getting himself busy.
I asked Gul Faraz about the idea behind “Only for VIPS”? He added : I don’t like customers who pass by the restaurant, come over for a cup of tea, treat it with less manners, split, litter, smoke and unclean the tables. They go away paying few bucks for the tea and don’t realize how hard it takes to clean their mess. I don’t like it. That’s why my restaurant is locked and I only have specialized guests who know me well. Officers and elite from the surrounding valleys visit my restaurant, order before hand, and have food along with good time. That’s all I enjoy.
He added more: Luckily, the restaurant was open at your time. I was reluctant to serve tea to other passengers, but you seemed to be a decent guy from city. People from cities are well mannered and educated. I was happy to serve you and I am happy to have you here now. I like journalists.
I felt honored. But I told him I am not a regular journalist. This is my passion to explore.
“And your passion brought you here.” I am honored too.
Gul Faraz was a man of dignity and knowledge. We spent time together while he shared his stories from the city, his passion to cook and serve.
He also told me that he was building two other rooms for his restaurant. I was happy for him. I was happy for the fact that now I have another spot to go next time, a reason to meet this guy and stay in that valley.
He served dinner to me. It was same as of lunch. I was feeling embarrassed from deep down. I did not have money to pay for the dinner, the evening tea. I only could pay for the lunch I had. He said: don’t worry about the money. Money is temporary, human relations are precious and permanent.
Gul Faraz showed me the room and bed where I had to sleep. It was a clean well formed bed, just like home. He gave me his clean clothes to sleep in. He didn’t go home just go give me company and protection.
I was living that moment. The unexpected turn life had taken within hours. I was living it. I couldn’t think over it then, in fact, I really liked the flow and the game that nature plays.
I had a good sleep. He woke me up next morning before sunrise. I was overwhelmed by his hospitality as he offered me good cup of bed tea. He said he has already called Booni to reserve a seat for me in the first van leaving for Chitral. I was happy, and relaxed. He went in the kitchen to make breakfast.
I was not finished with the tea yet when the van arrived and started honking. Usually they don’t wait for a passenger. Gul Faraz apologized he couldn’t serve me breakfast. As I was saying good bye to him, I approached my wallet and tried to give him whatever money I had. Bending his hands backward, he smiled and said “Guests are blessing sent by God, so that we can serve them” You have to pay Nothing. Have a safe journey ahead!
I asked again: not even for the food? Not even for the lunch I had?
Good bye Danial. Hope to see you again!
I rode the van and headed back to Chitral.
I sneaked my head out of the moving van, looked backwards and waved good bye to Gul Faraz, There was a sense of happiness. I was smiling all the way for no reason. All I was thinking about this amazing hospitality. What if Gul Faraz was not there? What if I couldn’t have the place to sleep? To eat? What if I was lost? Would it be more memorable if I had gone with the plan, had my food in Booni and returned back to my hotel in Chitral? I am happy that “Some journeys do not end up the way we want them to be….
(The edited version of article was published in Herald by dawn, june 2012 travel edition)