By Fatima Shaheen Niazi
Admit it, travelling around Pakistan isn’t easy for a girl. Though the country is safe, it’s the mindset of people and our age-old norms that forbid numerous women to travel around the country without the presence of a blood relative.
Hence, till my early twenties, I had only visited places like Murree, Bhurban, Islamabad and Lahore since that was the preference of my parents.
I was handed an opportunity to break the norms when a trip to Kashmir was organised by the university I was studying in. How does going on a trip break the norms, you ask? Well, its because girls often have to face permission issues in our country. Neither is any parent excited over the fact that their daughter is travelling to another city with a group of unknown men and women.
My parents were initially paranoid about my safety too, but once I had reached Kashmir, they realised I was in a safe space and let me make the best of the trip without the need to constantly check up on me.
The journey started with a day long bus ride – which I completely slept through. I remember the group making pit stops in the middle, but I was really too tired to notice anything. All I wanted was food and a clean toilet.
The highlight of the trip for me was when after I reached Muzaffarad and my bags were unloaded into the hotel. Since it was December, it was extremely cold and I was covered with warm and fuzzy attire from head to toe. But it’s not the weather that made me fall in love with Kashmir, it was the atmosphere and freedom.
Unlike popular assumptions, Kashmir is not a war zone – neither are there any safety issues. In fact, in my experience, Muzaffarabad proved to be safer than any other metropolitan city I had previously visited.
At 2 am in the night and our group decided to head out to the nearby PC Muzaffarabad. We made this journey in the freezing weather and by the time I reached the hotel, by nose was similar to Rudolph the reindeer. But here’s what made the walk so much fun, we were out late in the night without a fear in the world. Could I do something like that in Karachi? Probably not.
Tragically, till my trip to Kashmir, I never really realised the importance of safety. Just the fact that I could step out and walk on the road whenever I wanted to stretch my legs, made me feel more free than I could have ever imagined.
This experience continued as I headed to Keran. Though it was snowing, we would often head out and make snowmen in the wee hours of the night. No one bothered us, or asked us question. It was just us and the nature.
It’s because of this adventure that I often try to convince women to travel. Whether they want to do it solo, with a few girls, or with a co-ed group – it is essential for all women to travel to these places like Kashmir to experience what it’s like to be free.