Traversing Terror

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The media increasingly uses the word “terrorist” or “terrorism” in association to an attack or crime that has been carried out by a person or group that claims to be Muslim.

This constant attitude portrayed by the media has brainwashed many people into thinking that Muslims and Islam are synonymous with causing terror. The truth however, something which mainstream television and news strive ever so rigorously to obscure, paints a different picture.

Over the past month, many Muslims have become the victim of vicious attacks by terrorists. Infact, let me just take a moment to state that it is Muslims that are the most adversely affected by such violence and hate committed in the name of Islam.You can google and check the statistics for yourself.

My own country, Pakistan, has been ravaged by horrific attacks. We watch the news and it rips our soul apart continuously. I can see the vacant expression on the faces of the people of my country and all the people on the news that have been victims of the madness,insanity and inhumanity. The smiles have faded and in the world as it is, it appears that being a realist translates itself directly into philosophical terms as being a pessimist.

turkey attack28th June, 2016 – Istanbul Atatürk Airport Attack

45 dead. “On Tuesday night, three suspected Isis militants launched a brazen assault on Turkey’s main airport, exploding their suicide vests after gunning down numerous passengers and airport staff.”~ via The Independent

2nd July, 2016 – Dhaka Cafe Flag-map_of_Bangladesh.svgAttack

20 killed. “Gunmen whom many have linked to Isis raided a popular cafe in an upscale neighborhood in Bangladesh’s teeming capital.” ~ via The Independent

iraq-3rd July, 2016 – Baghdad Bombings

160 dead.”The bombings came near the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the streets are filled with young people and families after dusk”
“they attacked Baghdad. In the early hours of Sunday morning, a car bomb exploded in the crowded Karrada shopping district.” ~ via The Independent

July 4th, 2016 – Triple Bombings in Saudi Arabia

  • Jeddah: Around 2am, attacker detonates near US consulate. Bomber dies
  • Qatif: Around 7pm, Shia mosque in eastern city struck. Bomber dies
  • Medina: Also at 7pm, Prophet’s mosque attacked. Four guards killed, bomber dies

“Four security officers have been killed and five others wounded in a suicide attack outside one of Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said.
The bombing at the Prophet’s Mosque in the city of Medina was the third attack to hit the kingdom on Monday, following blasts in the cities of Jeddah and Qatif.”

“The blast struck moments before sunset prayers when people were breaking their fast inside the mosque.
The masjid, which is also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, is visited by pilgrims from around the world during the final days of the fasting month of Ramadan.”~ via Al Jazeera

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A serene image of Masjid-an-Nabawi

Al-Masjid an-Nabawī was established and originally built by the prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him), situated in the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is the second-holiest site in Islam, after al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.

These events are tragic and all other such atrocities are equally disturbing. What is more disturbing for us as Muslims is that whenever such an incident occurs our religion and people as a whole face a backlash. Before propagating such hate please understand where we; the wrongfully accused and often times ignored, stand.

(All Images in this post are from the internet)

The Matterhorn

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A major throwback to an unforgettable trip to Switzerland in 2013.

I stood at the edge of the pristine Riffelsee lake, awe struck with the stunning view of the Matterhorn in the background. The clouds made it look as though the mountain was calmly floating in the air without being bound to the ground.

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The Riffelsee lake lies above the picturesque town; Zermatt. The alpine lake can be reached via the Gornergratbahn mountain Railway.

For a more detailed account on my journey please have a look at the following post:

Valais – Summer Bliss

In response to The Prompt: I Was Here

Thank you for visiting my blog 🙂

Celebrate Spring

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Hey everyone 🙂

I wrote this article for a magazine. I have mentioned some energetic and vibrant Spring festivals that take place around the world. If you know of anymore please comment and let me know.

(Photographs are not mine)

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Thanks for reading 🙂

A week of Bliss

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Skardu, Pakistan.

I pack my bags in anticipation of the trip that lies ahead. A much awaited journey to Skardu, located in the central valley of Gilgit-Baltistan, at an altitude of 2,500 meters. The town is the capital of Skardu District. It is nestled between grayish brown mountains, which curtain some of the spectacular Eight-thousanders of the Karakorm range. Skardu sits at the convergence of Indus and Shigar river.

The name of this placid town itself is enveloped in an air of mystery and wonder, “Skardu” is derived from a Balti word which translates to “star stone/ meteorite”.

I depart from Islamabad for the flight to Skardu. The inspiring views of valleys and magnificent mountains such as the monstrous Nanga Parbat (8,126m) are an unforgettable sight. After a brief 40 minutes of blissful soaring, the plane touches down at Skardu Airport and I lay eyes on the quaint town that has been unanimously declared as one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

I am staying at the Shangrila resort, rightly named, as it does appear to be a piece of heaven on earth. It is located on the brim of the picturesque Lower Kachura Lake or Shangrila Lake as it is more popularly known. The lush grounds of the resort are laden with scrumptious apples and an array of brightly colored flowers and fragrant roses.
Each angle offers a picture perfect moment. The hospitable staff and delicious food has made my stay all the more enjoyable. I would highly recommend the trout from the menu, which is from the resort’s own trout farm, prepared perfectly by the chef.

Shangrila offers an immersive experience with nature, disconnected from technology and the regular humdrum of daily life, allowing you to submerge in what appears to be a fairy-tale getaway. The cottage style accommodations bode well with the surroundings and have become quite iconic themselves.

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The aircraft café at the resort is one of the unique features. In 1950, Orient Airlines’ DC-3 plane crashed minutes after takeoff, the incident, thankfully did not result in any casualties. The plane was bought for 150 Rupees and arduously hauled to the present site where it offers a cozy setting where you can have cup of tea or coffee.

I spend hours strolling along the paths that wind through the rock gardens towards the Shangrila zoo, here you will see pheasants, pigeons and glamorous peafowl.

Skardu is the staging post for mountain expeditions and trekking to K2, Gasherbrum, Trango Towers, Broad Peak and some of the worlds longest glaciers like Siachin, Biafo and Baltoro, to name a few. This town not only attracts leisure tourist but also a large flow of adventure tourists, trekkers and mountaineers from the world over.

The climate conditions in winter are quite extreme, with temperatures dropping to -10°C during December to January. Summertime is pleasant with slightly chilly evenings and therefore the peak tourist season is from April to October. Because of conditions in winter, the town resorts close down, their seasonal nature has resulted in high prices during peak holiday period.

Tourist staying in Skardu have the opportunity to visit some popular excursion sights:

  • Upper Kachura Lake is located a short distance away from Shangrila resort. A four wheel drive can escort you to the sight of the clear vast lake with depths of up to 230ft. A rest-house by the name “Upper Kachura Lake Hotel” will take you on a boat ride across the lake for a reasonable price.
  •  Satpara Lake is located approximately 9km from Skardu and provides water for drinking and agricultural purposes. It is the town’s main lake.
  •  Skardu Fort lies on the eastern side of Mindoq Khar hill 40 feet above Skardu town. It dates back to the 8th century CE. Local legend has it that it was built by a ghost servant of the Rmakpon dynasty ruler.
  •  Shigar Fort, also known as Fong-Khar is a 400 year old palace complex and is located on the route to K2.
  • The beautiful Deosai Plains, one of the highest plateaus in the world are accessible via Skardu, located at a distance of 30 km from the city and takes approximately an hour to reach. It is the shortest route.

On my last night in Skardu at Shangrila Resort, I am somewhat saddened to be leaving such a heavenly abode. It was an enriching experience and thanks to the welcoming town’s people I have priceless memories to bring back home with me.

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-Words and photographs by Maria Saif

The Time of My Life – Interlaken

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I trot off the picture post card Swiss train and arrive in Interlaken, it’s the middle of August and the weather is so pleasant, the sun is shining and a cool breeze blows throughout the day. Interlaken is located in the Swiss canton of Bern and as the name of the charming town suggests, it lies between two emerald and turquoise hued lakes, Thun and Brienz, these lakes are a sight to see, they gleam like brilliant gems encrusted in a royal crown. River Aar flows through the town connecting both of the lakes and river Lütschine flows from the mountains to the South. Towering Mountains, Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger staunchly stand in the South and Harder Kulm, Interlaken’s home mountain with a height of 1322 meters lies in the North. The town has a population of just over 5500, but because of tourists, the quaint town looks so much livelier.

For those who need a break from the eye soring concrete jungle, this is the place to be. The residences and buildings are low level  so they do not obstruct the spectacular view..although there is one concrete monstrosity, it kinda sticks out like a sore thumb, I’m not quite sure how that must have happened but I pretend it isn’t there.

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In Interlaken you get to witness nature at its best. The once quaint town cut off from the rest of the world previously known as Aarmuhle has now become a blooming tourist destination, offering visitors an array of activities. It’s a haven for the adventurous, the laid back and the luxurious.  In compared to most of Switzerland, it’s not that expensive and great for budget travelers. Hostel style accommodations are available and it’s a unique experience.

I check in to the Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof.  It’s a lovely concept of hostel accommodation with select service hospitality; here you can get double rooms or bunkers. There is a common area where breakfast is served and a coffee machine is present for you to enjoy. You can do your laundry in the laundry area and even prepare meals in the common kitchen facility.  When you check in, you receive a number of silver tokens with respect to the nights you plan to stay. You can use these tokens for various facilities the hostel has to offer. It’s a pretty neat concept, you also get to meet a lot of other travelers during your stay.

When I arrived in Interlaken, I couldn’t help but notice the colorful paragliders up in the sky. Just like every good munchkin, I too always dreamt of soaring like a majestic bird, so I decided I wanted to be up there too. I sign up for a paragliding trip with Paragliding Interlaken. This is going to be my first time. The next day, I wake up excited as ever and a little nervous at the same time. The Paragliding Interlaken van picks me up at my hostel and the friendly team greets us and assures us that everything will go smoothly. After a 20 minute ride we get off and walk for 5 minutes until we reach the drop off point. Here I get strapped with all the gear and then my pilot Miki and I take a running start. My heart beat sounds like drums playing at a rock concert. Butterflies went awry in my stomach as my pilot and I jump off the hill, I felt the parachute lift us up with a jerk. The view is absolutely awe inspiring. It is a clear beautiful day and I can see both the lakes, the entire town and the mountains in the background, it was magnificent, not scary at all. We stayed up in the air for about 15 minutes and it was a smooth glide. I would strongly recommend everyone to do this.I actually met some Interlaken residents who said they had never gone paragliding because they were afraid.I hope they change their minds eventually because they are missing out.

 

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The next day I go to a popular excursion point. I take the funicular to Harder kulm.The ascend to the peak is incredibly steep. The funicular stops at the top and everyone steps off board, a short walk to the mountain restaurant we see a spectacular view; the protruding terrace offers a breathtaking panoramic sight of the entire town, the lakes and the  majestic mountains.

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Upon returning, I check out of the hostel, bid goodbye to the lovely hosts and head on over to Bönigen, my last stay point in Interlaken at the Seiler Au Lac hotel, it lies on the shore of lake Brienze. The view from my room is one I wish I could to wake up to every single morning for the rest of my life. I sit out in the balcony and just take it all in, the sheer beauty of it all. As I look out to the lake I see a raft float towards the shore and all the people in it joyously shout “wohoo” as they jump off the raft and into the lake. I get the strongest urge to want to do that myself.

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Lake Brienz

I sign up for white water rafting with Outdoor Interlaken. The next day I start to have second thoughts, I am thinking maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, but it’s too late to chicken out now.The next morning I have a hearty breakfast and before I know it, The Outdoor Interlaken’s van arrives at the hotel to pick me up, we are briefed about the basic rules and the river guides assure us that we are not going to die. we will be rafting in river Lütschine.

We put on our wet suites, boots, helmets, life jackets and drive up to the spot where the adventure would begin. I look out the window of the van and I see the river we are supposed to be rafting in. We reach the drop off point and are divided into groups of 6 in each raft, the seventh is our river guide. I am put on board with five Arab men who are confused as to which direction is left and which is right .Our guide is Santiago. All the river guides show us how to paddle, steer and maneuver in different situations they also guide us as to what we should do if something goes wrong. After prep, we carry our rafts into river. The weather is chilly, its drizzling and foggy. We hop aboard the raft and the ride begins. Cold water splashes from all sides, our guide navigates us away from rocks and when its time, he yells “EVERYBODY GET DOWN!”, which requires everyone to secure themselves into the raft making sure the paddles don’t hit anyone.

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After a while as we drift into calmer waters, Santiago shows us how to rescue someone if they fall into the river. “Use your knees”, he says “push them down and then pull em up”. Half the guys on the raft jump off, the other guys and I try to help them back up again. We head onwards and stop at one point. Our guide tells us that the river ahead is very difficult to navigate through and it would be dangerous for beginners, so we skip that bit and go back into the river after heading further down. By now we are all getting a little tired and then finally! lake Brienz appears, we swiftly flow from the freezing  river into the warmer waters of the lake, when we almost reach the shore, our guide tells us that we can dive into the lake if we want, we all jump out . We are all wet and cold but that was an adventure none of us will ever forget. We drive back with our guides to change into our clothes; they offer us drinks of our choice. Judging by what I had just been through I asked for hot coco.

This is my last day in Interlaken, I am so grateful that I got the opportunity to meet so many amazing people and spend time in such a gorgeous town, it truly was the time of my life.

One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure” ~ Willliam Feather

Happy Holidays everyone and I wish you all the best for 2014  🙂

Valais – Summer Bliss

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Think of mountains, trains, watches, chocolates and cheese; Switzerland pops up into your noggin. The country with a magical appeal to nature lovers and adrenaline seekers is one of the smallest land-locked nations in Europe, where you can indulge into a Cultural fiesta (German,French and Italian), a blend of traditions all within a short span of traveling distance across breathtaking mountain scenery aboard the picture postcard Swiss Railway; otherwise, you will have to bear twice the cost of traveling to experiencing the European culture across the continent..

Flying on the Swiss International Air Lines, I am excited taking my first trip to continent Europe. In the air, I am enjoying every minute of the immaculate service on board the broad body Airbus A330-300, the plane touched down in Zurich – the international point of entry in Switzerland. Soon after landing, I plan my travel with a 4-Day Swiss Flexi Pass – an ultimate freedom to travel on trains, ships and buses. You can organize your travel at the Swiss Travel System desk at Zurich Airport.

From Zurich, I catch the train bound for French part of the canton of Valais, which lies in the Southwest of Switzerland. This short journey takes me to Sion – the capital of Valais. I continue my journey to Verbier via Martigny on the regional train: St. Bernard Express and then a short drive from Le Chable. Its mid-summer and in this time of the year, the valleys offer spectacular views of vineyards rolling down the lush slopes and the fields are lined   with groves of more than 30 varieties of apricots. Apple, raspberry, pears, prunes, strawberries and cherries also grow in abundance.

The beauty of nature lifted up my spirit and I felt as if I am reborn. After a delectable supper at restaurant L’ecurie, I slept on what’s coming up next. Early morning, after a hearty breakfast, I am fully energized for an adventure trip to Mont Fort (3,328 metres), the highest mountain in the 4-Vallees. Mont Matterhorn and Mont Blanc alongwith a cluster of high peaks seen from the viewing platform on Mount Fort is absolutely inspiring.

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Tracing our footsteps back to the cable car terminal, we walk past the Sculptor Park and whiz back to Verbier and drive by road to the Col du Grand Saint Bernard in Martigny. The vantage point by the Hospice atop the Pass at 2,469 metres affords an incredible view of the bowl like valley with a lake by the border post between Switzerland and Italy. The landmark is an interesting chapter in the history of this fascinating 9th century monastery that was converted into a hospice in around 1050 AD by Saint Bernard of Menthon.

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The Dogs of St. Bernard are native to this region and renowned the world over as mountain rescue dogs. The Barry foundation was established to ensure the survival of this breed, which was originally raised to guard the hospice.

I returned to Verbier and got a transfer to Champex Lac, a picturesque lake village fringed by pine forest. Within the vicinity of the lake, I visited the Swiss heritage Alpine Botanical Garden (1,500 metres).

 

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                Champex Lac                                       Edelweiss

The gardens exhibit an impressive collection of native flowers and plants and also from other continents. With more than three thousand species of plants, to name a very few that I can remember: Edelweiss – the national flower of Switzerland, alpine columbine, aster, gentianes, glacier warmwood, Hallers pasqueflower, lilies, Primroses, rhododendrons, roses, umbel pennycress. Here, the air smells sweet and divine, colorful butterflies prance from flower to flower, buzzing sound of friendly bees and dragonflies resonate howling wilderness in the atmosphere, as if a giant stage for Alice in Wonderland designed by nature.

DSC_3597The next morning, I reached Haute Nendaz. Nestled above the Rhone valley, the Country of Beisses – Nendaz makes it a picture perfect getaway for visitors to wander lush trails and go cycling along well marked routes. But before exploring nature on foot, I avail the opportunity of a one on one alphorn lesson with a professional teacher. She encouraged me and was patient as I bellowed a few  notes which may have sounded annoying, however my teacher was too kind to comment with a smile “Not bad for a first timer”.Nendaz has an extended system of irrigation. The path alongside the bisses takes you right into the depth of the valleys of green. You can wander off along various detours that will take you through the valleys and villages abound lofty mountains with a reward that you are at all times going along with the flow of water in the rivulets and channels.During our trek we take a break at a traditional Swiss garden restaurant for a delectable lunch.

Back to the Center and before retiring for the day, I experience fine dining at Mont Rouge – an elegant restaurant and here I savored regional and continental cuisines presented in absolute artistry.

The next morning I meet my local host at Tsablo Water Mill near the town center and we begin a Walking Tour of the Old Village. At the junction, we visit Saint Michel Chapel, which was constructed in 1499 and later, renovated into Baroque style in the 18th century. This historical monument of the Canton of Valais tells the history of Nendaz since time immemorial.

A cable car ride to the highs of Nendaz at Tracouet inspired me with an insight into lifestyle of the people having found a way to co-exist with nature in perfect harmony. On the top, I hike towards the tranquil Lake Tracouet with snow capped mountains in the distance – as if looking at a huge postcard. Cyclists zoom by well marked tracks and I see happy people smiling from ear to ear, engaged into fine moments of their lives. A winter wonderland, the 4Vallees, which includes Verbier and Nendaz forms the largest ski area in Switzerland.

Moving on, I arrive in Zermatt on the MG Bahn (Zermatt Train). Located in the German speaking part of central Valais, the mountain Resort is world famous for its picturesque Matterhorn peak (4,478 m/ 14,690 ft) – the symbol of Switzerland. Mark Twain was at awe as he witnessed the grandeur of the peak. He has given a beautiful account of it in his book ” A Tramp Abroad“. It is without a doubt that the magnificent peak enchants everyone that lays eyes on it and offers a unique experience to every individual nature lover.

Zermatt is a car-free mountain resort, except for green energy buggy to facilitate guests pick and drop service by hotels. Soon after check In at Hotel Walliserhoff – I am out for a walk, up the main strip that is queued up with hotels, restaurants and shopping stores like Tie Break, Alpine Photoshop and Wega Souvenirs – all well stocked with regional souvenirs, camera accessories and mountain travel gear.

Next morning, I follow thousands of tourists flocking towards the Gornergrat Bahn station to attend the annual Gornergrat Alphorn Festival. Onboard this unique cog wheel train, we depart for Gornergrat (3,135 metres).

It’s a spectacular sight: towering peaks look as though they are floating on huge white tufts of clouds in the blue sky, the air is filled with deep echoing notes emanating from the wooden alphorns. This unique stage on a rocky ridge, designed by nature, surrounds more than twenty 4000 meters Pennine peaks, including the highest Monte Rossa range (4,634 metres/ 15,203 ft) and the symbolic Matterhorn peak (4,478 metres).

DSC_4229Over 550 Alphorn players and more than 5000 visitors bear witness to the world’s longest playable alphorn measuring a whopping 47 metres – an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. After the festival, I had lunch at the Kulm Hotel 3100 – the highest hotel in Switzerland, while enjoying breathtaking landscape around me.

Back to Zermatt I treat myself at the Alex Hotel restaurant – a classic dining venue in Zermatt. And in good time, I found my comfort zone to spend the night at Hotel La Ginabelle, a beautiful abode by the river. My spacious, comfortable room with a balcony overlook the fantastic sight of the Matterhorn peak. in the vicinity i walked into Fuchs Bakery, which turned out to be the home of regional award winning bakery goodies. Over a cup of coffee I delighted into Matterhornli home made chocolate and other bakery products good enough to make you an addict.

Finally, I move on to Leukerbad, a place visited by Head of States and Hollywood A-Listers such as Al Pacino and Pink. Leukerbad has, by far, the largest reserves of thermal water in continent Europe with an imposing flow of 3.9 million liters a day and thus, the largest wellness resort in the Alps at an altitude of 1,402 metres.  While the thermal water can heal arthritis and stiffness of the joints; the minerals in the spring can help relax tense muscle and even counteract constipation.

Here, I settle down for a few days at one of the oldest and lovely wellness Hotel Regina Terme. Self catered accommodation included spacious room, a kitchenette and a large balcony to enjoy the view of the valley and the massive wall like mountain in the distance. Given with a choice of 30 thermal pools, I planned a comprehensive wellness package at the Regina Terme spa, Leukerbad Therme and Walliser Alpentherme & Spa – the latter is Europe’s largest and most luxurious high altitude alpine wellness, beauty and thermal spa.

Back at my hotel, friendly owners invited me over coffee, and before retiring into the night, I reminisce this far-fetched journey in the Valais region – the cherishing moments that I have spent here among wonderful people will linger till eternity.

It was time to move out of Valais and I interchange train to embark on one of the most unique railway journeys aboard the Glacier Express. The briskly moving train maneuvers from Zermatt, Visp, Brig, Chur and to its final destination – St. Moritz, the high end mountain resort that conceptualized winter sports in Switzerland.