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Flashback: Diary of a vagabond


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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.”

Comments (30) Closed

imran Dec 02, 2012 03:58pm
will love to read again and again and again, pyar ka phela shehar, nikla teri talash ma, undlus main ajnabi, khanabadosh, qurbata marg main muhabbat, bahao, rakh and the list goes on
Old Muslim Dec 02, 2012 02:31pm
I absolutely agree with you. All Pakistanis should realize and practice this phrase wholeheartedly that "your truth is NOT the ONLY truth." I believe if this can be done then within next ten years we will be out of lot of troubles.
azarobi Dec 04, 2012 09:10am
Thank you for giving us Niklay tri talash mein , Piyar ka pehla sheher, Undlas mein ajnabi , Hunza dastaan, Nangaparbat and a lot more. I can say that your books have played a major part in my life and sparked the love of travelling and seeing the world like you did. I have already started and visited Fairy meadows and Deosai. There is more to come inn sha Allah. You sir, are my inspiration. May you live long and healthy.
Yawar Dec 02, 2012 03:11pm
Usman Malik Dec 02, 2012 10:38am
Went to school for years listening to Chacha Je and Dentonic advertisement :)
Ahmad Dec 04, 2012 09:08am
Thank you giving us Niklay tri talash mein , Piyar ka pehla sheher, Undlas mein ajnabi , Hunza dastaan and Nanagaparbat ( and a lot more). I can say that your books have played a major part in my life and sparked the love of travelling and seeing the world like you did. I have already started and visited fairy meadows and deosai. There is more to come inshAllah. You sir, are my inspiration. May you live long and healthy.
Magister Ludi Dec 03, 2012 04:25pm
What a pathetic display of vanity. The piece is quiet repulsive in its expensive use of 'I's. Whenever an author mentions words like 'acclaim', 'awards' and 'devotion' in an article about himself; it is time to turn the page.
Cyrus Howell Dec 02, 2012 08:44am
If you are going to be a vagabond you may just as well do it with style.
Shahzad Dec 03, 2012 05:08am
Sir you disappeared from TV due to pressure from ppl involved in dirty politics who care more about their seat, tenure and status than the nation and its legends, but sir you are always legend in our eyes and we always enjoy seeing and listening to you. We miss you.
A Subhan Dec 03, 2012 12:09am
Mustansar Sahib.... we simply love you, for whatever you have done on TV and whatever you have written, so far. ... A long time ago, I read one of your books, I guess, its name was "Aalu Bukhare". One of the short and funny stories in it was titled, "Mera behtreen dost, Ghulam Rasool". My friends and I, still make a reference to it, while talking about any good old friend. You are a great writer. A Subhan - Ontario, Canada
Dr.Hashim Dec 02, 2012 09:11am
Thank U Mustansar Sb,U widened Our visions of the World.I owe to Ur Ptv morning shows alot where U made Us meet with so many great people and shared the fairyland adventures.So in a way this vagabond nature got in many of Us,too.regards
hamid shafiq Dec 02, 2012 10:53am
my favourit writer and traveler. but now its very difficult because visas are not granted to pakistanis due to terrorism involvement. i perosnaly think when mustansir traveled its golden era of pakistan when pakistani received a respect aorund the globe.
Feroz Dec 02, 2012 10:50am
azarobi Dec 04, 2012 09:14am
Either you haven't read a word written by him or you have missed the fact that this article is totally about MHT and giving people an insight about him, his life and what he has done and achieved so far. Humility is a good thing, but there are instances where its not applicable. This article is one of those.
SMK Dec 03, 2012 06:24am
"Good people exist in every religion everywhere and your truth is not the only truth", 100% truth. I am so happy to read this article.
Nasir Dec 03, 2012 05:24am
kudos to Mr Tarar.
adnan Dec 02, 2012 11:13am
Mustansar has contributed a lot to the Urdu literature. On a personal level, his writings have contributed a lot to my life by giving me happiness and the will to travel around Pakistan and the world. Many thanks Tarar sahib!
Yusuf Dec 03, 2012 04:24am
Always great to hear from the gentleman. Their is so much learning from him in every aspect The best thing he doesn't look down upon anyone, and condemns others in any way. I miss your columns in Dawn.
Baasher Tiwana Dec 02, 2012 12:39pm
Tarrar of TV is one of my fondest memories of Pakistan. When I read the title of his book Dais Huwaa Perdais (??? ???? ?????) (Homeland becomes foreign land) it brought tears to my eyes.
Shahnawaz Dec 02, 2012 02:42pm
Thanks Mustansar, You are really my mentor in travelling. After reading your books i start travelling by roads, trains and sea cruises and camping instead of flights and five star hotels livings. As i myself travel on same routes in Europe as you travelled on them many years before and found that your travel details provided in books were correct, i certify.
Tahir Rauf Dec 02, 2012 07:19pm
I love you, Chacha g.
Hassan Dec 02, 2012 02:34pm
Thanks for sharing. I never knew this part of his life.
khurram Awan Dec 02, 2012 05:45pm
great writer
Zahid Zaman Qureshi Dec 03, 2012 09:44am
Beside endorsing all precious comments by friends, I would add one more thing that what I noticed that in his travelogues, MHT illustrates such facts about himself which mostly other writers hesitate to write. He is truly a bold writer....Love u Sir.
hassan fazal Dec 02, 2012 10:07pm
great man
Agha Ata Dec 02, 2012 01:59pm
I have been an vagabond myself (Only part time) and have come to similar conclusions: Good people exist in every kind of believers, even among atheists. Many scholars do not use logic to prove the truthfulness of what they say, they use logic to justify what they think and say. That
Ashar Dec 02, 2012 02:17pm
Simply marvelous! I sometimes think that I am wrong in this country by having a different feeling and thoughts. I love nature, freedom from shackles of office job, truth and simplicity, unlike the rush of making money by hooks or crooks and snobbish culture. This bio of Tarar gives me new boost that life can be spent very differently and with your own freedom. I wish health and happiness for Mr. Tarar!
raika45 Dec 02, 2012 01:49pm
There are many among us that want to be Mustansar but do not have the guts to do so.
Cosmix Dec 02, 2012 09:38am
If you wanna run cool...... you gotta run..... on very heavy fuel.....
Rashid Dec 02, 2012 02:16pm
We always know Mr Mustansar as a good writer and poet,but never have exposed to his adventurous side. BTW "your truth is not the only truth", should be part of our curriculum:-)