I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I arrived in Bara Gali – the summer campus of the University of Peshawar. Located some 30 minutes further up from Nathia Gali - lots of pine trees, lots of monkeys – but still a startling change from the overly commercial Nathia Gali experience.
I arrived there with a group of young journalists from all over Pakistan ( and eventually joined by another group from Afghanistan) for an Af-Pak Journalist Exchange Fellowship organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. I have to admit, this stands out as one of the most ‘unique’ travel and food experiences I have had so far – that too in Pakistan!
|The view from what was the bar during the British era in Bara Gali|
|One of the buildings on campus|
|Fried chicken and tomatoes getting prepped|
|High pressure situation for the Kabuli pulau|
|Naan at work|
|A laptop to keep tab?|
From the minute we arrived to the time we left – there was food, food, food - five to six meals a day. This is not an exaggeration. Breakfast, tea, lunch, tea, dinner is how the day was organized. There was a loud gong sounded off at every meal time and we had to get up from whatever we were doing and make ourselves available in the dining room.
The ingredients in almost every recipe remained the same but the cook kept playing with our taste buds. Kabuli pulau was an absolute staple – at least once a day – well greased with slivered carrots, raisins and big hunks of beef. The sweetness of the raisins was a refreshing blend with the beef and the rest of the meat heavy menu. There was always chicken, beef and vegetables on the menu, sometimes mutton too.
|Russian salad, KPK style|
|Succulent, sexy namkeen gosht|
|Fried chicken, KPK style|
The chef had perfected a few basic recipes that seemed to work well with all kinds of meat and vegetables – one was a tomato based mix for curries and stews, a red chilli flakes based marinade for fried meats and a salt and garlic mix for the ‘namkeen’ gosht. The food was not as complex as we have made it to be in big cities. Basic flavors, well cooked and served fresh is all you need for a good dish.
Bara Gali – how do I explain this? For a complete city slicker like me, I felt like I was in some kind of reality TV prank, sent there by my mother to teach me a lesson. Lots of walking at a height of 7597 ft, cold water, unreliable power supply, no internet, rare phone signals – it was a whole new world for me. Add to that a new laptop with NO music and no iPod. Yikes! But those 5 nights in Bara Gali really made me realize the importance of how we were really meant to live – free from wants and luxuries but with the bare necessities and most importantly, good, honest people.
|Sunset at Bara Gali....|
|....from where we had tea every day.....|
I now cherish the friendships made in those ‘difficult’ days – stories of cold showers shared over steaming kahva while watching folk musicians sing and dance. Bara Gali may be an acquired taste but it is one of those must have experiences if you are an aspiring 'traveller.'
|The Night Life - musicians from Peshawar|
Thanks to the University of Peshawar for looking after me and teaching me a lesson J It was an experience and a half. Setting off for Islamabad was almost bittersweet. Thanks for the memories, Bara Gali!