England is known for its cold winters and the weather is probably the most talked about topic in the country. What people don’t realise is that there are colder places to live, like Murree, a resort northeast of the capital of Pakistan. Amina Ahmed explains why
Walking out of the towering university building in Harlow, from a very brain-tiring law class, I hug myself against the icy wind. The frigid air whips across my face and I can’t help but shudder. It’s cold.
But it’s not colder than Murree.
About four years ago my parents, my two little brothers, my younger sister and I decided to take a trip to a place northeast of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Murree, meaning high place, is situated in the outer Himalayas with high altitudes of over 2, 000 metres.
It was winter, and we were mad to venture off into a mountainous area in such a season. Yet we did. We started off our journey at a hotel in Islamabad – one of my favourite places to stay actually. Called ‘Crown Palace’, it sat on a road that was brimming with stalls; some selling a variety of Asian clothes to the tourists, others tempting you with smells of exotic food. The glass doors opened onto a lobby and after paying for one room for the six of us (tell me about it) we ascended a spiralling staircase up to the first floor. Maroon carpets and brown doors greeted us and, yes, it wasn’t a very ‘posh’ place but I loved it because I felt at home here.
The best thing about living in any hotel was the unlimited access to a TV. I could watch as many programmes and movies as I wanted without my parents telling me off. Well, my mum did try to stop me and my brother from staying glued to the screen…
But, heck, we were on holiday.
The following morning, we had to get up early, which is quite annoying when you’re on vacation. But there was so much to see and we were eager to set off. Cramming into one yellow taxi, we were finally off towards Murree. The bald taxi driver, who my dad had laughing and chatting away in no time, drove us up the steep mountain, right to the top. I looked down the dangerous path. The road was big enough for just one car and all through the journey we feared a car travelling towards us in the opposite direction. I did not want to die young.
There were six huge sighs of relief when we reached the top. We drove through the famous ‘Maal road’ towards our next stop: Al-Hamra Hotel situated on the well-known road itself. Shops of every kind and colour greeted us, foods of every origin, and tourists from every culture imaginable. The rush, the cold air hitting their faces but they carried on eating, carried on licking ice-cream cones, hands and lips becoming blocks of ice, wondering why they were torturing themselves like this. People sight-seeing, going from shop to shop, seeing their money flow away like a stream, but feeling no pain.
“It’s not that cold,” I commented, as we all tumbled out of the taxi and went inside the hotel. My mum would later laugh at me for saying that…
We should have known something was fishy when the hotel manager asked for a three-day non-refundable deposit, but excitement does that to you. Without another thought, my dad paid him and we were shown to our room which was grander than the one at Crown Palace. At the far end of the room there was a glass wall over-looking the beautiful scenery surrounding us. Soft white peaks stood out against the sky and I could see people milling around the shops nearby. A double bed with crimson sheets stood on the right while a glass dining table showed its beauty on our left.
And then the cold began to settle in…
As a tourist, I would expect there to be proper heating in a place that never really sees summer. A mountainous area covered in snow throughout the year, people wear coats even in July. But no. When we were given our heater, this is what my mum said.
“You call this a heater?!” She laughed, incredulously, “More like a toaster.”
Yes, it did look like a toaster and the six of us looked like slices of bread that urgently needed to be heated.
Two hours later we each had on two pairs of socks, leggings, two trousers, three layers of shirts with blankets topping it all. And I’m not exaggerating. The worst bit was when nature called and with freezing hands and feet we went inside the white tiled bathroom trying not to cry. And even if we did cry I’m pretty sure our tears would’ve turned to ice. We could have given up then and travelled back to Islamabad to our dear Crown Palace with its amazing fire places and warm weather. But my dad refused to give in: he had paid the money and we would make the most of it.
Rebellious as I was, I stayed at the hotel, covered in blankets watching TV while my parents braved the cold to go out and eat something. I’m sure they had a fabulous date. I was brought back a cup of hot chocolate which wasn’t really hot by the time it got to me. So yes, I was brought back a cold chocolate to drink before I tried to fall asleep without fearing that my eyelids might freeze and never open again.
Soon enough we couldn’t take any more – it was too much to bear and we had been promised a bigger toaster, which never came. My dad had a row with the manager, demanding his money back but he was unsuccessful – that was a first. We were then driven round and down the mountains in the darkness of the night back to Crown Palace by the bald driver. Entering the room, I could have kissed the carpets.
I’ve promised myself – next time I open my mouth to complain about the weather, I’ll imagine myself huddled round a toaster in Murree!