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Flashback: Diary of a vagabond

December 02, 2012


In Bern, Switzerland – photo courtesy Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Mustansar Hussain Tarar is a man of many shades and a wandering soul who has travelled far and wide. His restless nature made him a man without boundaries. From writing to journalism to acting to anchoring, he tried his hand at everything that came his way. He is also a high-altitude adventurer and explorer. But he likes to introduce himself as a vagabond and a risk-taker.

“I’m not a writer, a columnist, an actor or an anchor. I’m just a vagabond. I do not travel for the sake of writing a travelogue. Rather I travel because of my adventurous and exploring nature. It was because of my mental or physical need that I travelled to so many countries around the globe.

“It all started in 1958 when I was in England for my studies. I was selected by a British delegation for a youth festival in the Moscow University. This provided me with a unique opportunity to go to the Soviet Union, though on a fake passport thanks to the Russians. I stayed there for two weeks and on my return to London, Mr Majeed Nizami approached and asked me to write about my travels as no Pakistani had been there before. I did not have any interest in writing till then; all I used to do was watch movies, read books and hang out with friends. This is how I first wrote a travel article ‘London se Moscow tak’ which was published in a very prestigious magazine of that time Qandeel. Then in 1969, I went to Europe by land. I may be the first Pakistani who went to Europe by hitchhiking. I used to carry my own tent and camped anywhere I liked; in this manner I travelled through 17 countries in Europe. Travelling alone has always been my preference.

“When I came back and read some travelogues, I realised that they were written by people who were basically writers, not vagabonds like me. Their writings were excellent but they did not have the kind of experiences that I did. This led me to writing my first travelogue Niklay Teri Talash Mein in 1970 that won acclaim and was later included in the Urdu syllabus of the Moscow University. I feel this book was the beginning of modern travelogue writing in Urdu and I’m fortunate that it was illustrated by my good friend Sadequain.

“Three years ago I was invited by the Moscow University and awarded a gold medal for carrying on the scholastic tradition of the university I had visited 50 years ago. I have also written a book called Moscow Ki Sufaid Ratain and compared the Soviet Union of the past with present-day Russia.

“I have also written three books on Spain as I have travelled extensively through Spain. I have also written novels and my novel Pyar Ka Pahla Sheher has 57 editions. Each of my books has more than 20 editions so I don’t have any complaints that people do not read books.

“I have travelled through most of Europe, China, Nepal, India and the Middle East. Then I have written 12 travelogues on the Northern Areas of Pakistan. My trekking expertise helped me a lot in these expeditions and people got to know lot of new places through my travelogues. There is a lake named after me and people take my books along as a travel guide.

“During some perilous expeditions I had close encounters with death and many a time few people in the expedition could not make it home. I don’t claim to be a brave man but it’s a fact that I enjoy going to places known to be dangerous. It’s in my nature. In 1975, I went to Beirut as I wanted to join the PLO. I told those at the helm in the PLO that I could not kill anyone and I just wanted some office work in the organisation but they refused to take me in because I was married.

“My hotel was in the Palestinian area and daily at five in the morning a suited guy would come, stand under my room’s window, fire in the air, laugh and leave. I used to wait for him to come and leave after firing so that I could get some sleep. So that was the atmosphere there. Once I was caught in the crossfire between Christians and Muslims and had to take refuge in a telephone booth. It was sheer luck that I managed to get out of the country on a Turkish ship. The ship was supposed to leave in the evening but I was told to get to the port in the morning. The ship began to sail half an hour later. On inquiry, the captain said since everybody was already onboard, there was no point in waiting till the evening. So it was a narrow escape.

“Once on the way back from Europe, I took a bus from Istanbul for Tehran. The bus had just left Istanbul when it met with an accident on a bridge while avoiding a truck.

The speeding bus crashed through the railings of the bridge and fell on the banks of the river below. Initially I thought the bus would fall into the river but it didn’t. The sand and pebbles helped lessen the impact of the crash. I still remember the frightening sensation of when the bus flew through the air. Everything was in a mess and there was a great hue and cry. I broke the window with my camera and managed to get out. A German passenger died instantly and almost everybody was injured, some of them critically. I was the only Pakistani on that bus and I was injured on the leg; another passenger poured whisky on my wounds as an antiseptic.

Fairy Meadows, Nanga Parbat – photo courtesy Mustansar Hussain Tarar
Fairy Meadows, Nanga Parbat – photo courtesy Mustansar Hussain Tarar

“I have trekked in very dangerous places; places with deep ravines such as the Northern Areas of Pakistan where one mistake means sure death. I must tell you here that Pakistan’s first expedition team was constituted in Lahore’s Government College in 1956 and I was a part of it. The team undertook the first expedition to scale the Ratti Galli Peak. I remember the team did not have proper gear for the expedition and I went to Lunda Bazaar to buy a pair of shoes. Scaling the peak was a great achievement because there was no concept of mountaineering in Pakistan at that time. The expedition was named Kishan Ganga, which was the original name of Neelam Valley. So you can say I am a pioneer of Pakistan’s climbing community and that was the beginning of my expeditions.

“My wife has been very supportive and she has never forced me to do a nine-to-five job. Once I was offered to be an advisor on tourism with all the fringe benefits but I simply refused. I am devoted to art, literature and culture. My profession is my passion. I have written 60 books in the last 40 years and I don’t think they are too many. I am fond of music and listen to all genres.

“While travelling I let myself loose and experience everything: literature, history and culture always interest me. I have visited many major museums in the world and minutely observed everything there.

“If a vagabond happens to be a writer, he takes pleasure in recalling the details of a scene while writing. It took me a year to put down the account of a 15-day trekking expedition. I live in the moment while writing an account. My two books on Hajj and Ghar-e-Hira where I spent a whole night hold testimony to it. I wanted to experience the feeling of being in the place where the Holy Prophet (PBUH) used to pray. It was a remarkable experience and took me six months to write about it. This means I spent six months in Ghar-i-Hira and this is the plus point of writing an account.

“What I learnt from travelling is that good people exist in every religion everywhere and your truth is not the only truth.”