Friday, June 23, 2006

The Clean Shaven Man

The Lonely Planet Guidebook (LPG) warns against spending a lot of time in Chilas, a town in the Northern Areas about five hours drive south of Gilgit Town. The authors say that most travellers will drive straight from Islamabad to Gilgit in order to avoid stopping in conservative areas along the way. I took their advice, taking the bus straight direct from Pindi to Gilgit Town with short rest stops along the way. We stopped in Chilas for breakfast shortly after the sun came up, but all I can remember is that I was ushered into one of those special "family rooms" while the men sat outside enjoying a view of mountains and waterfalls.

The family I was staying with in Sultanabad shared with me story about Chilas. Shahid, the head of the family, had spent a few years as a branch manager living there. Shahid himself is Ismaili and is quite concerned with the sway of the fanatics in the Northern Areas. He does not have a beard like the mullahs (religious leaders/zealots) do, but only a neatly trimmed moustache.

One day his nephew was driving down from Gilgit town to visit him in Chilas. For whatever reason, high speed, or landslides lessening the integrity of the road, his nephew's car went off the road which resulted in his death. Some men from Chilas saw the accident and went down to investigate. They saw the broken bleeding body in the car. What did they do? Well, they looked at his face and saw that he did not have a beard. His face was clean shaven. They came to the conclusion that he was not a Muslim and had deserved his fate. They left his body there in the car.

The next day the men in the bank were relating the story to Shahid. They shared proudly how they had judged this man to be a Muslim because he didn't have a beard and so they had left him there. He may have been alive. Shahid had found out about the demise of his nephew by this point. He said to the men, "This was my nephew that you saw." The men didn't know how to respond and they left the bank.

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