Easypaisa Raahi (YouTube, 2020)

Umair Jaswal rides with Ali Azmat in Easypaisa Raahi
Umair Jaswal rides with Ali Azmat in Easypaisa Raahi

This brand new, highly stylised documentary series sees rock musician Umair Jaswal travel across the country in search of himself and to reconnect with his childhood love for travel and exploration. The first episode is an introduction to the series — we see Umair singing to massive crowds, winning awards etc but longing to reconnect with his inner child.

He does that by travelling across the country on his motorcycle and by meeting people that have left everything to truly pursue their passion. In Lahore, for example, he meets the original motorcycle girl, Zenith Irfan. He also meets and rides with traveller and adventurer Moin Khan, who made a trip from San Francisco to Pakistan on his motorcycle back in 2012.

In another episode, Umair meets up with the man he says inspired him to get on his motorcycle — Ali Azmat. The Junoon frontman and perhaps one of Pakistan’s most well-known singer-musicians is an avid motorcyclist and he’s often found going off on long journeys across the country on his two-wheeler. We see ‘Butt Sahab’, as he is fondly called, the way he is off the stage and with friends — incredibly laid back and as an avid storyteller.

The director of the series, Zeeshan Parwez, goes one step further and animates one of Butt Sahab’s stories for the series. “I would just like to say that [this] episode is very close to our heart,” says Zeeshan.

In what to watch this week, three pieces of reality television on YouTube that take you exploring up into the north of Pakistan

On the plus side, the series looks amazing. The cinematography is beautiful and certainly does give you travel-envy. The editing and post-production are on point. On the downside, I just wish there was a little more content and a little less narration by Jaswal on his thoughts and feelings. They are articulated beautifully — Umair certainly has a way with words — but sometimes it feels a bit overdone. More than just some interviews, we could also benefit with more movement, more focus on the places he is going to than just chats with the people he’s meeting.

Having said that, it’s still too early to make a definitive judgement on Raahi just yet. I have a feeling that, so far, the series has only just warmed up and may have a few surprises in store for its audiences.

The Last Kalash of the Hindu Kush (YouTube, 2020)

Scenes from The Last Kalash of the Hindu Kush
Scenes from The Last Kalash of the Hindu Kush

Although this documentary, available on the DW Documentary channel, only came out a few months ago, it’s already managed to garner over 1.2 million views. Directed by ace filmmaker, Sabiha Sumar, The Last Kalash of the Hindu Kush, is an in-depth look at the indigenous Kalasha community in Chitral and the challenges they face.

At first glance, The Last Kalash of the Hindu Kush, has a very old school, late ’90s approach to documentary films. The treatment of it seems a bit dated. But once you move past that, it’s actually quite informative.

The news documentary style film not only informs the viewer about the various customs and traditions of the Kalasha — such as having a home for women to retreat to for rest and recuperation during their periods and after giving birth — and how these very traditions are threatened by pressures from religious groups outside of the community. We also see how often the Kalasha are forced to leave their own traditions behind once they attend secondary schools outside of their community and how they are forced to study a religion they do not belong to but which is a part of their curriculum.

We also see how modern technology and tourism is changing the Kalasha themselves. While it does provide them with seasonal income, it’s not something they are entirely dependent on. We see a new generation that wants to do more and be more than just a member of a community that appears exotic for both domestic and international tourists. The film also documents how, caught between modernity and creeping bigotry, the Kalasha struggle to keep their unique traditions alive.

K2, A Hate Story (YouTube, 2019)

Ukhano in K2, A Hate Story
Ukhano in K2, A Hate Story

The K2 base camp trek to Concordia, over the mighty Baltoro glacier, is one of the treks that you must do at least once in your lifetime, if you can, especially if you are a travel enthusiast and adventurer. This is easily one of the great 15-16 day treks in the world, where you travel deep into mountain wilderness until you come face to face with four of Pakistan’s five 8,000m mountains — Gasherbrum 1 and 2, Broad Peak and, in the distance, K2, the second-highest mountain in the world.

The one thing I have to hand to YouTubers like Mooroo and Ukhano is that they understand that, not only when it comes to overall content, but even with presentation or beautiful photography, a faster pace and slick editing is very important. Especially when trying to retain the attention of an audience that has endless choices at their disposal of things to watch.

There’s a lot packed in Ukhano’s K2 trek episode. You don’t just get to devour breathtaking mountain and glacier vistas but he keeps you informed as well. There are tips on how expensive the trek is, how to get to the starting points (Skardu and Askole), what to bring and what he learns along the way. For anyone preparing for the K2 base camp trek, this is a very good episode to watch and learn from — more than most of the articles available online on the same topic.

In fact, Ukhano himself could’ve benefitted by watching an episode like this. As the video progresses, we (and he) discover that, in terms of fitness, he is woefully unprepared. Just after one grand day of trekking, he decides this isn’t for him and he’s better off riding a horse for the rest of the trek. There’s a bit of bravado on display when he tries to convince his audience that even riding a horse is hard and gives tips on how to make the most of it.

The thing is, anyone who wants to do the K2 base camp trek will be told at the very beginning that it’s not going to be easy. It’s a hard trek, not just because of its rocky terrain, but because of the altitude — the basecamp or Concordia is at a whopping 5,150m. Just for context, Mont Blanc, the second-highest mountain in Europe, which is not considered an easy climb, is a mere 4,808m. Human beings who are not acclimatised, start feeling the altitude at 2,500m onwards.

The oxygen in the air at 5,150m is very thin. And that’s what really makes this trek especially hard. Trust me, I know. You take a few slow steps and, within minutes, you’re out of breath and your heart starts to race as if you’re running at full speed.

So, it’s quite baffling that Ukhano thought the K2 base camp trek would be like a walk in the park. Which it is, but a high-altitude, rocky, glacial park, only for very fit adults.

On the fun side, you get to see the number of people attempting the trek, both amateur trekkers and well-known professional mountaineers from around the world. There are lighter moments, such as when you see the rush to occupy prime camping spots, because the number of people heading to Concordia in peak trekking season has increased dramatically. And as a character, Ukhano is self-deprecating and relatable. And makes his attempts at just finishing this challenging trek, even if on horseback, very entertaining.

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 6th, 2020