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  • Writer's pictureKo Ni

The Hippie Trail (episode 6)

Visiting Pir Baba

Kajiri was already waiting in the chai shop when we came there the next morning for our breakfast tea. In the morning we noticed that not only does the fresh water come from the Chail River, all the sewage from the surrounding houses is also fed into it. But we didn't think about it any further.

We woke up a few times during the night because the Chail is an incredibly loud, wildly rumbling and thundering river. This water just had to be fresh.

Kajiri was much more talkative now. He told us about a couple of Westerners who had been living here in the village for a long time, including a Swiss who had been coming back for years and stocking up on hashish. Most westerners who come to Madyan stay only briefly, if at all. Their destinations are Chitral, Hunza and Gilgit and trekking tours.

At that time, like many others from the West, I wore wild, long hair and also had oversized whiskers, similar to the Emperor Franz Joseph from Austria. Outwardly, even with my rather worn clothes, I didn't match the well-groomed Pashtuns at all. Even if they sometimes wore long hair, they were always well combed and, if they could afford it, wore fresh clothes every day.

Kajiri said shyly that the man he mentioned with the hookah, whom they called "Pir Baba", actually had no or not much contact with Westerners. I never found out why. But it could be an advantage if I were a little different from all the long-haired people. Actually, I had no intention of changing my appearance.

The thought and desire to get to know this apparently somewhat mysterious Pir Baba was greater.

My wife then tamed my mane and I shaved off my whiskers. Kajiri was laughing when we met again in the early afternoon. He had found out that the Pir Baba would receive me in the afternoon for a chai. My wife had to stay at home for this first contact. The Pashtun society is organized strictly patriarchal.

After that, in the new outfit, we explored the village bazaar for the first time. We bought a few more tolas from the Coke dealer, who saw and knew everything thanks to its strategically favorable location. I didn't want to come to visit in the afternoon empty-handed. He sold a very good, wonderfully fragrant and perfectly kneaded quality and said that it came from Chitral.

Kajiri was almost overjoyed, as he now had the opportunity to visit Pir Baba himself.

I learnt many years later that Pir Baba is a title given to a Sufi spiritual leader or similarly honored people. The title is common on the Indian subcontinent and “Pir” is often translated into English as "saint."

The Chail River is channeled in many places to bring water to the terraced fields and the flour mills. A large number of small canals or streams were also laid out above the bridge over the Chail. Totally lovingly built, meandered between the stone houses and small gardens, ducks swam in them and it was such picturesque that you could easily use it as a subject for a children's book. The Pir Baba had an island built between all the canals and the river, or at least expanded it for his needs.

In the afternoon, Kajiri and I made our way upstream over a few small streams and canals. I soon saw the small island and several men sitting there around a man. The island was like a small living room, all around seating with pillows and carpets, behind facing the raging Chail River and with the view up to the beginning of the Madyan bazaar.

Kajiri went first, an older man stood up. What a sight, like from 1001 nights. It had to be Pir Baba. His half-length silvery hair, combed back like a rock and roller, was covered by a gray karakol hat. He wore a gilet over his traditional outfit, and his feet were clad in Khussa shoes, a kind of oriental beak shoes that were richly decorated with gold and glitter. On each finger of his hands he wore several fingerrings that were set with coloured stones.

His eyes were made up with black kajal.

When I came to him, I politely tried to bow and put my hand on my heart. All of a sudden he covered his eyes with his right hand and also bowed to me. And then his bright, sparkling eyes came out, and his look that embraced me with a kindness never before received.

I had to travel many thousands of kilometers to be received by a man who, at the first meeting and without knowing me, showed me benevolence and respect that I have never been able to experience in my life before.

He then assigned me a place, immediately I got a pillow and he sat down smoothly and didn't stop glaring at me with his eyes. I didn't know how to reply, just said several times awkwardly thank you and he hid his eyes again and then said thank you in English with an incredibly kind mischief on his face.

I put the few purchased tolas in front of him and he began to talk to Kajiri. He probably asked him about me. Kajiri replied with total awe and respect. Suddenly Pir Baba, with his infinitely kind laugh and his incredibly exulting eyes, showed me his gold watch on his wrist and said, Swisserland. Kajiri had probably explained to him that I was Swiss. Pir baba made me embarrassed, time after time, again and again with his indescribable affection and kindness.

Experiencing this so spontaneously overwhelmed me and my feelings.

There were maybe ten men present, most of them a bit older, maybe the village elders but also three four younger men brimming with strength. Then there were three younger boys, all with the Down syndrome, who were sitting on pillows and blankets right next to Pir Baba.

Then tea was served from these little blue teapots and Pir Baba kept looking at me with interest, always with that kind, warm look that penetrated deep into my heart. The three younger boys were served tea first, then me, and then to everyone else. It struck me that everyone was given a cup from this small tea mug.

The young men went behind the tolas I had brought with me and, as I already knew, tinkered one cigarette joint after the other. Of course I had to smoke too, the bag was handed over to Pir Baba and he took a cautious drag and then fell into a simulated coughing fit, with a mischievous laugh he returned the bag and clearly showed that this was too strong for him.

The old men didn't smoke with them. I suspect that most of them had already consumed opium and just sat there laughing peacefully and enjoying the whole situation.

The small island was bordered on one side by the Chail River, and one or two shady trees grew on it. On the other side there were several smaller brooks and one of these little brooks had been made into a special place that after a while caught my attention. There were two small places with a small tree standing next to each to crouch down around a hookah placed in a small pool.

Then one of the older men got up and took the hookah. He got a large piece of hash from Pir Baba and began to form quite large balls of hash, maybe ten balls. He took the chillum from the hookah, put a small piece of coal in it, and then filled the chillum with the hash balls without tobacco. He took a few glowing pieces of coal from the nearby fire and placed them on top of the chillum.

Pir Baba sat down by the hookah and waved me over with his sparkling eyes. I sat across from him. The man who filled the hookah now began with great effort and huge breaths to make the hash ball in the chillum glow.

At the moment when a flame blazed out of the chillum, he handed the hookah over to Pir Baba.

He blew up his upper body and began to take unbelievably large and deep breaths until an approximately 20 cm high jet of flame came out of the chillum. I have never seen anyone smoke like that. In Europe we would say that he smokes too greedily. He was completely wrapped in smoke, handed me the pipe over, stood up, held on to one of the little trees and began to cough in a singing way. His eyes were shining like sparkling stars, a mischievous smile graced his face and he wanted to see me smoke now.

I had never pulled a hookah like this before. Actually a very simple device. A clay vessel with two bamboo tubes, on the shorter one was the chillum put on; the longer one was for smoking.

I followed Pir Baba, drew and inhaled as much as I could until a large jet of flame came out of the chillum too.

It was impossible not to cough and I tried to do it like Pir Baba. He was laughing. Then I gave the pipe back to him, but he didn't want anymore. The old man took one last drag and poured the chillum onto the palm of his hand. All that was left of the hash balls was a pile of white ash.

We'd smoked maybe ten to fifteen grams of hash in two long breaths. Incredible! The rising feeling, like a flash, was also unbelievable.

Pir Baba pointed to his watch and indicated that the next hookah will be smoked in two hours.

This was the first of countless hookahs I smoked together with Pir Baba.

Satisfied and stoned, I made my way home with Kajiri. I had a lot to tell to my wife.

Kajiri also told me that he would look for another house for us, Pir Baba told him to do this.

Sadly, I recently learned that Kajiri had died. R.I.P. my precious friend!

©by Koh Nie

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