Sufis in Baltistan, the warm heart of Pakistan

Last May, us along with a friend’s family flew up for a four-day trip to the Shigar Valley in Baltistan where we discovered first hand how nature had licensed Baltistan the right to elicit unlimited oohs and aahs.

And like a magnanimous host, for four days the valleys of Baltistan kept the feast alive.

But that was not to be all. Not for me at least.

On the last day, on a grand-tour of the historic Shigar Fort Residence (a 17th century fort restored by the Aga Khan Foundation), in the course of the tour-guide patiently answering our queries, it came to light that a significant portion (the exact %-age eludes my memory) of the local population are Nakhshbandi Sufis. A bulb lit up somewhere at the mention of Sufis.

(Witnessing on an almost daily basis the assortment of malangs, beggars, and other miscellany unsavory types forming the human periphery around the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi across our apartment in Karachi, and the regular blare of sanctimonious cacophony emanating thereof, suffice it to say that modern-day Sufic practice sits in my mind in sharp contrast to Idries Shah’s portrayal in his book on Sufis.)

The energy from the lit bulb made the requisite connection between Sufis and the resplendent humanity that I had been basking in along with the landscape eye-fest. The lasting image of warm smiles on their faces – especially the schoolgirls – can wash away the bile of the most cynical city-dweller. The license to elicit unlimited oohs and aahs, and the anti-bile elixir: my cup doth overflow with so much value addition.

Sensing the piqued curiosity in my questions, the tour-guide told us that the best known books of the Nakhshbandi order, written by Syed Mohammed Noor Bakhshi, should be available at a book store in down-town Skardu. On the way to the airport, we stopped in Skardu and inquired about the most well-known book and learned that it was not available. Left my contact to see if they could arrange for book-post, and upon reaching Karachi I called back to confirm. Last December, while I was out of town, someone from the book store had called saying that the book was available but I neglected to follow-up.

Yesterday I received the book. I called up the book store in Skardu, and the son of the guy I had met in Skardu last year answered. After cordialities, I asked him how was I to make the payment. He told me it was a gift.