“I’ve been inspired by you to drive to Nathiagali myself!” I said when I met her last weekend.
“Oh, so you have driven all the way from Karachi, too?” asked Ursula Ansari.
“Oh no! – From Islamabad.” I said sheepishly.
I guess, I can’t beat her record! I can’t beat her age record either. I believe she is an eighty two years old German lady who had married a Pakistani. She lives alone in her cottage for seven to eight months of the year. She keeps two huge Alsatian dogs with her. They are friendly only to a point. Otherwise, they can suddenly lose their tempers at you. This time, there was just one dog. We made friends instantly. But when she tried to attack my friend Uzma, then I gave her a good shout. And she listened, and backed off.
The cottage is charming, and going up to three stories in a very charming sort of way. The single studio apartment near the entrance is one room with attached bathroom, and open kitchen. Everything is provided, including crockery, cutlery, linen, and pots and pans for cooking too. Its all very cozy and charming. It is also very well maintained. Nothing of the ‘five star’ here, but its all very comfortable, clean and well thought out.
The helper Afrasat is there to do any shopping from the nearby Nathiagali bazar and for the rooms. While my daughters and I stayed there about two years ago, we loved the views from its terrace.
This time, Ursula Ansari took me up the stairs to her room and loft where her bed is. The view from the windows and her personal terrace is amazing. She lives here alone mostly.
“There has never been any incident here,” I was told by her. She’s been here since 2002.
It is true. I had recently lost my husband, and my daughters and I stayed in the room next to the main road, with its flimsy little gate. Yet, we felt very safe there. It was a change from a lifetime spent in guarded homes, and colonies. I realized the world outside can be great and safe too. I was informed there is almost no crime in these areas. My driver, Wali Rehman whom I had brought told me that he and Afrasat walked through the jungle to the market below at 1.30 am to get some stuff. It was fine.
Now, when I drove to the cottage on Uzma’s invitation, I thought the lady of the cottage would be older and weaker. Instead, she was looking more energetic and better. She remembered me and met me like an old friend.
This time, a lady from Dubai was occupying the studio apartment at the entrance. She was Riffat, enjoying the peace and solitude here. So, I had to pitch in with Uzma Haroon who had invited me over.
Daniyal (aged sixteen, and Uzma’s son) and I painted for over three hours. Both of us, just didn’t feel like leaving it. The cottage itself is so charming, one feels like just relaxing in the garden enjoying the peace and the views. Monkeys can pop in here, and the sounds of birds twittering is a constant sound. The sight of flying squirrels is also common. There are ravens, butterflies and the sound of wind passing through the pine needles.
There is wood paneling inside the rooms, solid wood furniture and stair case; All made from pines it seems. Probably, the trees that had to be removed to make place for the cottage, were used for the purpose.
I’m now confident, I can drive to Nathiagali from Islamabad. It’s a two and half hour drive and the road has been recently done up. It is very good. Nearby is the famous church, the trekking paths and many hotels and restaurants to go to. The ‘chargha’ or broasted chicken called ‘sajji’ with masalas, we ordered was out of this world.
When one goes to visit there, one feels very comfortable, having a lady in charge, it speaks volumes for the safety and good management of the place.