Abdul Hakak, A Chitrali "Sherpa"

Mumtaz Hussain


Base Camp Saraghrar, 1959.
Photo: Maraini.

Sherpas, an ethnic group in Nepal are renowned for their skill and endurance in climbing high mountain peaks. They have helped many a mountaineering expeditions as guides and high altitude porters, at the extreme heights. Tourism, especially mountaineering has been main source of living for Sherpas for almost a century. Nowadays the term is used for high altitude guides and porters, irrespective of their ethnic origin.

Chitral is one of the regions where large number of high peaks are found and it is a major destination for mountaineering expeditions from all over the world. People living just below these high peaks have found jobs as porters, and this has been a major source of earning for the people of Terich, Torkhow and Owir.

Abdul Hakak 2014.

Abdul Hakak of Washich village in Torkhow is one of them who worked with a number of expeditions, and proved himself a mountaineer of high caliber. His first introduction to this field during the 1959 Italian expedition to Mount Saraghrar at the head of Ziwar Gol. His father , Ghoni, was engaged as guide for the expedition along with Pehlawan Zar of Washich. Both these men had long experience of hunting Ibex on the heights of Zewar Gol. Ghoni led the advance party through the Ziwar Gorge and returned from the base camp. His son Abdul Hakak, a youth of twenty five years, was however engaged as high altitude porter along with seven other selected men. These men remained with the expedition till the end. Abdul Hakak climbed to Camp V which was a remarkable achievement for a young man, who was without any training and previous experience of mountain climbing. The expedition leader Fosco Maraini speaks of him as "a brave, courageous, and very pleasant-mannered young man". Abdul Hakak learned the art of mountaineering so quickly that according to Maraini "After the first ten days of the final assault period, the porters had assimilated our climbing technique so well that they were able to move from camp to camp in roped teams of their own, without an escort. Hakak and Naep, indeed, made a solo trip along the Promenade of the Gods -which only a few days before had so scared their leader, Abdul Karim, that he had threatened a strike! Four of the porters-Abdul Karim, Pahlawan, Naep and Hakak-reached Camp Five (21,650 feet)."

Maraini is full of praise for most of the high altitude porters and guides hired for this expedition but young Abdul Hakak seems to have become very popular during the expedition. At the end of the mountaineering expedition, Maraini went to Kalash Valleys. Here too he took Hakak with him. When Maraini published his book "Paropamiso" (English version "Where Four Worlds Meet"), he sent a copy of it to Abdul Hakak. But the book in Italian language proved "Greek" for not only Hakak, but anybody here in Chitral. His son told us that he took the book to Peshawar and Islamabad but found no body to translate it.

Abdul Hakak in Kalash Valley, 1959.

Among other members, Professor Alberto Penelly, then a young member of the team, developed a kind of friendship with Hakak, which is still flourishing after more the half a century. Penelly visited Chitral on a number of occasion and renewed this friendship. In 1965, Penelly led the "Yarkhun Expedition" during which they climbed two peaks in the Miragram Valley. Hakak was with the first team which included Penelly himself. This team climbed Wasam Zom. Hakak reached the summit with other team members. He remembers the final moments, "we were climbing on a ridge as sharp as a knife edge. I was wondering how we would stand on the summit which looked like a spike point. A few steps from the summit the Sahib ( Penelly) paused and took me by arm, and we both stepped on the top together. My worries proved baseless, as the summit was not sharp but there was considerable level ground for all of us to stand and even to rest. The view was magnificent. To the north, most of the Torkhow- my homeland- could be seen, and to the south, the Ghizer Valley was in full view."

In 1967 Penelly led another expedition to Chitral. This time they attempted the Gokan Sar peak in the Shachio Kuh, Golen valley. Hakak, now an experienced mountaineer, was full of hopes for bagging another summit. But he was not so lucky this time. On the evening they reached the last camp, he was sent back to the camp below, to fetch some necessary equipment. Early in the morning when he climbed back to the camp, none of the Sahibs was there. "I looked up to the peak and there were they on the summit with the first rays of sun" he recalls.

Hakak himself remembers very little of the 1967 Austrian Expedition to Kot gaz- Akhr Chioh in the Ujnu Gol. The three member expedition (with one woman member) was arranged in haste and was with very limited mean. Absar Khan of Washich was the only other high altitude porter besides Abdu Hakak. Hakak scaled Kotgaz with the team but could not ascend Akher Chioh due to high altitude sickness. The team leader Hans Schell claims that the team was fully determined to take him to the summit but Hakak himself made the offer to withdraw. He writes "He had, however, promised to break a trail for us to the foot of Akher Chioh. We left the tent as late as 8 a.m., fearing the cold, and Abdul broke the trail all the way across the high plateau. Returning alone to camp, he then made the second ascent of near-by Kotgaz Zom". There is no denying the fact that the team owed his success only to Abdul Hakak.

Now at the age of 80, Abdul Hakak is as cheerful and agile as in his youth. He heads a large extended family of many households. He remembers the Italians with respect and affection. Besides Maraini and Pinelli, he remembers Ali Tho (Franco Alletto), as "a king like man". Against the general trend of High Altitude Porters, Hakak has no regrets and complains. He loved mountains and says he fully enjoyed his time up there. One of his sons, Iqbal Murad Khan has received training as mountain guide from Professor Pinelli, and hopes to continue his family tradition.

With some family members.

Some Of His Certificates

A Website on the Culture, History and Languages of Chitral.