The Legend of Saif-ul-Malook Part VI

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Lake Saif-ul-Malook, situated at a height 10, 600 feet at the northern tip of the Kaghan Valley in Pakistan’s Himalayas, is  one of the  most beautiful places on earth. I have been there twice, the first time as a 12-year old and then in 2009, when I determined to capture some of its magic on camera and on paper, in the words of two local storytellers who relate the legend of the Lake to visitors.

It is the story of a prince and a fairy, Saif-ul-Malook and Badr-ul-Jamal  a story of love, adventure, faith, magic, suffering and betrayal – a story of the multitude of human passions.

Many different versions exist, but below is a reproduction of what the storytellers told us, with ample writer’s liberties. I hope you enjoy it!

Read Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV & Part V of the story 


Now, you may wonder, what was Prince Saif up to at the moment Badr Jamal made her escape from the Palace in the shape of a white dove?

07-dove
Badr Jamal took the shape of a white dove

In fact, he was resting beneath the shade of an ebony tree deep in the woodlands of Nubia, after a fruitful but exhausting deer hunt. Eyes half-closed, stretched out on the soft green grass, he was thinking sweet thoughts about his beloved Fairy Queen, when a little white dove came and alighted on a branch above him.

It seemed to Saif that she was the prettiest dove he had ever seen – even though he didn’t consider himself a “bird person” – and he was suddenly possessed by a desire to capture her. “She’d make a nice little pet for my beautiful Badr,” he mused. So, he quietly got to his feet, picked up a net that lay amongst his hunting paraphernalia, and flung it over the bird.

But the net, as if repelled by an invisible force, bounced straight back at him, while the dove sat merrily on her perch untouched. Saif tried a second time to ensnare the bird, then a third, with the same perplexing result.

Then – and Saif could hardly believe his eyes or his ears, though he had witnessed his fair share of fantastic events – the dove turned her soft white head towards the Prince and spoke to him, in voice he could recognize among millions:

“Your attempts to capture me are in vain, Prince Saif. You can never own me. You can never possess me.”

It was Badr Jamal, of course.

“The only way to convince me of your love,” the bird continued, “the only way you will truly earn my love, is if you follow me to Paristan, my homeland. If you succeed in this, if you are able to brave the journey and seek me out in my father’s palace, among my own kind, I promise I will come back with you, as your wife and partner in life. And I will never leave your side till as long as you live.”

With these words, Badr Jamal fluttered her snowy white wings and was off, leaving Saif in a state of utter discombobulation.

On his return to Egypt, one look at his mother’s swollen red eyes and the funereal aspect of the Palace confirmed Saif’s worst suspicions – Badr Jamal, his beloved, the person he cherished more than anything else in the world, the person whom he had struggled to attain for six long, arduous years, was gone.

Saif didn’t want to hear anything. What had happened during his brief absence from the Palace? Why? How? All  that was irrelevant now. He knew what he had to do.

“Mother, please tell one of the servants to saddle up a good, strong horse and prepare me a travel bag, with enough provisions to last about a month. I’m leaving right away.”

“But, Saif!” his mother pleaded. “Don’t you see? Badr Jamal doesn’t want to be here! Let her go, Saif. She is happier with her own kind. Please, just forget about her! There is no dearth of beautiful ladies here in Egypt. Think, Saif, destiny has afforded you a second chance at a happy, normal life. Don’t gamble it away for an illusion, for a fantasy, my son! Don’t let this madness get the better of you!”

However, as before, the Queen Mother’s weeping, wailing and emotional threats had no effect on Prince Saif’s resolve. He was an obstinate fellow, and he truly did love Badr. Just as he had found his way to the magical lake in Kaghan Valley, just as he had completed the 40-day penance, the chilla, and escaped from the Ogre and the Flood with Badr in his arms, so he would bring her back from the deepest, darkest dungeons of Paristan if he had to.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” he embraced the Queen one final time before mounting his ride. “But I can’t give up without even trying.” Kicking the horse into a gallop, Saif rode away from the Palace a second time, without looking back.

Prince Saif set out for Paristan, immediately, without looking back
Prince Saif set out for Paristan immediately

Now, Prince Saif didn’t really know where Paristan was, or whether it even existed. Legends placed the kingdom of the fairies “east of Egypt”, somewhere on the mountainous border of Persia and India – and the directions stopped there.

So, he travelled east for several months, crossing Sinai, the fabled rivers Tigris and Euphrates of Mesopotamia, the Great Salt Desert of Persia, the Snowy Mountains of Afghanistan, stopping time to time at some shepherd’s hut or sarai, a highway inn, to rest and refresh his supplies.

Many times he cursed himself for forgetting to carry his Sulemani topi, the magic cap bequeathed to him by the old buzurg during his first quest, which had the power to transport its wearer to any place on earth in the twinkling of an eye.

“I suppose I’m not allowed any shortcuts this time,” he grumbled.

At length, Saif reached Peshawar, or Purushapura, as it was known then, the bustling western capital of the Kushan Empire, gateway to the Indian subcontinent. Merchants from all corners of the Silk Route thronged its narrow streets, hawking their varied wares in loud voices – silk, cashmere, cotton, spices, dry fruit, wine, carpets, woodwork, decorative objects of marble, ivory and jade, gemstones, weapons, secrets and stories – there was nothing you could not find in the legendary markets of Purushapura.

The bustling bazaar of Purushapura, present-day Peshawar
The legendary bazaar of Purushapura, present-day Peshawar in northwest Pakistan

Meandering through the bazaar while his horse rested in the city’s stables, Prince Saif stopped at a chai khana, a tea shop, for a cup of the traditional Peshawari kahwa, hot green tea sweetened with honey or sugar and spiced with cardamom. Looking around the crowded little shop for a place to sit, he spotted an empty stool next to an old man with a flowing white beard, who sat calmly sipping his tea and fingering a rosary.

Prince Saif walked up to the old man, saluted him with a respectful bow, and said, “Venerable sir, would you be so kind as to allow this weary traveller to seat himself beside you?”

The old man looked up at Saif. Their eyes met, and Saif had the sensation that he knew him from somewhere; that this was not a chance encounter. “My son!” the old man smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners. “Please, it would be my honor.

Peshawari kahwa
Peshawari kahwa

“And now, tell me,” he continued, once Saif had made himself comfortable and given his order. “What brings a gentleman like yourself to this wily merchant’s city?”

Quickly, Prince Saif related to his new friend the objective of his journey: to reach the mythical land of Paristan (which, according to legend, lay somewhere in these parts), and recover his beloved Fairy Queen and true wife, Badr Jamal.

“Paristan? My dear lad!”, the old man let out a bemused chortle. “You know the reason why they call it a ‘mythical’ land? Because Paristan has no physical existence! You will not find it on any map, you will not see any signboards pointing out the way, no gates or city walls to saunter through. On the whole, it is entirely impossible for you to reach there in your present state.”

Seeing Prince Saif’s face fall in despair at this rude reality check, the old man hurried to add. “Oh, but don’t look so glum! The good news is that I can help you. Or, at least I have some things that could help you…” He started rummaging through the coarse jute sack he carried, and duly produced a tattered woolen cloak, and a short wooden staff. Saif was overcome by déjà vu.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he interrupted. “But I feel like we’ve met before. Were you ever in Egypt some years back?”

“Nonsense, son! I’ve never set foot outside the city of Peshawar,” the old man hastily brushed aside the question. “Now, listen to me carefully – for although I have not travelled much, I have learnt a great deal in the long journey of my life, from observing and talking to all the people that pass through this city. And what I tell you now may well be the only hope you have of penetrating Paristan and seeing your wife again…”

It was true. Once more, a nameless old buzurg was to be Prince Saif’s savior.

Saif joined a caravan of merchants who agreed to drop him off at Tattoo
Saif joined a caravan headed towards China

A few hours later, Prince Saif found himself riding with a caravan of merchants towards Tattoo, a small village in the kingdom of Gilgit, perched on the craggy slopes of the magnificent Karakoram mountains. The merchants, heading for China via the Khunjerab Pass, had agreed to drop Saif off at the village in exchange for his horse, a handsome Arabian steed that would fetch a weighty price in the horse fairs of the Mongolian steppe.

Saif parted with the animal with a heavy heart, but he actually had no further use for it. His real destination was 13 miles further off Tattoo, where no horse or mule tracks led; a place called Joot, today famous by its English appellation, Fairy Meadows.

“I have never been to Joot, but I hear tell that it is a most breathtaking place,” the old man at the tea shop had recounted. “They say that a Fairy King of great power established his kingdom there, some 1,000 years ago, in the shadow of that fearsome peak Nanga Parbat, the Naked Mountain.

“Nobody lives in Joot. The locals are wary of venturing there at all because of all the stories; shepherds who went to graze their flocks and never returned; explorers, bandits, naturalists and mystics, attracted to the place by its beauty and its solitude, and never seen again. It is enchanted, they say, the abode of witches and jinns, as perilous as it is beautiful.

“This is where you must go.”

Joot, or Fairy Meadows in present-day Pakistan, from where once can see the north face of Nanga Parbat, the 9th highest mountain in the world
Joot or Fairy Meadows in Pakistan, and the north face of Nanga Parbat, 9th highest mountain in the world

And that is where Saif had arrived, after a grueling uphill hike from Tattoo, following the old man’s directions to the letter. He stood in the middle of a vast green meadow, facing the awesome, ice-covered Nanga Parbat. Dusk was approaching, and there was not a soul in sight. All was silent, except for the gentle hum of the evening breeze amongst the pines.

Saif pulled out from his satchel the tattered woolen cloak. “Once you don this cloak,” the old man had explained, “everything around you that is made from the hands of men, will dissolve from view. Buildings, roads, entire cities, will simply vanish.

“And everything that was hitherto unseen – the realm of jinns and fairies, and all other manner of supernatural creatures – will suddenly come to light, as real, as tangible, as indubitable as that tea cup you hold in your hands.”

As for the wooden staff, the old man had said he had bought it from a wandering Jewish mendicant, who claimed that the staff contained a tiny fragment of the miraculous staff of Moses. Placed in the right hands, it had the power to unlock or open any kind of barrier – gates, doors, chains – both magical and mundane.

Standing before that gigantic mountain in the grassy fields of Joot, the very location of Paristan, all that was left for Saif to do was throw on the cloak, brandish the staff, and smash his way into the Fairy King’s palace to recover his bride.

The old buzurg in the tea shop may  have looked like this
The old buzurg in the tea shop may have looked like this

But Saif hesitated. What if all of this was a lie? What if the old man had tricked him? And now, there he was, alone in that desolate spot with no food, no shelter, no money, not even his horse to help him retrace his steps and make the long journey home…

By this time it was almost completely dark, and a silver slipper of a moon had begun to glimmer above the jagged peaks of the Karakoram.

“Well, I don’t really have another plan, so I might as well give this a shot,” Saif thought. So, taking a deep breath, he grasped the wooden staff and wrapped the woolen cloak tightly around him….

The things that happened henceforth are better left imagined. For sometimes there are sights so wondrous, events so singular that they defy description.

Let’s just say that the old man in the tea shop had known what he was talking about!

Read Part VII, the final instalment of the story

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24 thoughts on “The Legend of Saif-ul-Malook Part VI

    munazar abbas said:
    April 25, 2015 at 8:26 am

    when will the the next parts come

      Nuzhat javed said:
      May 4, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      Oh god! I can’t wait.where is the rest of this story?

    sufyan lodhi said:
    May 23, 2015 at 8:14 am

    Its not fair, when will the next parts come as I want to complete this story..

    manalkhan responded:
    May 31, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    I’m sorry dear readers! I know I really test your patience. The next part still needs to be edited, when I have time I’ll put it up, hopefully in a few weeks!

      Shafaq said:
      July 2, 2015 at 11:18 pm

      Please…put it on…soon.. :)

      Abdullah Masood said:
      July 4, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      Hurry put it up

    Aryan said:
    June 9, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    I am thankful to the author for keeping the original names original instead of changing them to suit current populace. This was indeed part of our (my) civilization cradle which you can call modern Hindu / ancient Vaidik Sabhyataa, passed on to people belonging to what is called a disputed territory and some of it in Pakistan. Some thing that can be very valuable for some one can not be that valuable to others and that is where scary part creeps in because the very existence of that thing would depend on later’s thought process.

    This is beautiful story telling. Humans especially in the name of religion play unjust with monuments and nature and these stories will be the only light to keep that unjust a little away. Deodar (Cedar) means the door to the angles in Sanskrit / Hindi and what i could gather in the light of science, these mystic places should be in existence but non existential because we do not have proof and this is how science runs and the modern man is running. May these stories keep that little light burning bright to not allow people to destroy any thing related so that kids and their kid and theirs would keep up the divine feeling in this age of electronics.

    Maaz Feroze said:
    July 3, 2015 at 1:57 am

    Is this story accurate to the words of the storyteller in lake Saif-Ul-Malook or did you just made it up?

    Tinker said:
    August 6, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    Please, complete the tale!

    monkavantgarde said:
    August 10, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Hi Greetings from India!

    Loving the story and photographs from the present day real locations!
    please complete soon!!

    Tashfien said:
    August 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Hi Manal, your story telling is very interesting. visited Lake saif ul malook last week and heard the story of prince saif and badr jamal from locals which made me curious with all those links and places attached to this story. obviosly its not your story.. its a heritage of the locals of naran and kaghan. many view points are linked to it which are hard to deny. story that i was told ends with what u have wrote till part four. next two parts are total twisters but now as we all readers are a part of it we are anxiously waiting for the next part soon.

    Ghalib said:
    August 26, 2015 at 1:35 am

    People , its a small glimpse into a greater wisdom.
    this aint just what you read, the story was put into book”Saif-ul-Malook” by the orignal writer” Mian Muhammad Baksh”along with a great theological and spirtual knowldge .It is a Sufi way of teaching, we get curious to finish the story yet we learn a lesson of life.if you read the book youll know the story is just a small part, like stories of “Heer and Ranjha” by Waris Shah or the “Rabbit and Loin ” by ” Jallal-uddin- Rumi and many more.
    Thanks for posting this tale ay.

    usman khan said:
    September 22, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Kindly post remaining story plzzz

    omaryousaf said:
    October 4, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    It’s October now…pls pls pls let us have the next part….!
    Thanks,

    Shahzaib said:
    October 4, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Please finish the story!!

    Ahmad said:
    October 19, 2015 at 4:56 am

    JALDI KAR!

    Rida Naz said:
    December 10, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    When its next part will b uploaded waiting badly from a long time

    manalkhan responded:
    December 10, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    Thank you for you all for your patience! The next part will be up soon!

    yusra said:
    December 26, 2015 at 12:19 am

    when will the rest of the story come up????

    Aisha said:
    February 1, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    I think i have to spend my rest of life waiting for the next part….

    Samia Meera said:
    February 12, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Hey! I am from Pakistan but currently living in America. I was missing Pakistan so i started googling pakistani folk stories. I still remember my grandpa used to talk about Lake Saif-ul-Mulook being so pretty but he didn’t know they story in details. I just wanted to thank you for taking time and writing this so we can come closer to our culture and country. May Allah bless your heart and help our nation and country through these tough years. And yes i can’t wait untill the next part. Please upload it ASAP

    Mohammad said:
    March 31, 2016 at 4:45 am

    Hi, please put the rest of the parts of the story, im dieing to know what happend next

    hasinah said:
    April 6, 2016 at 11:09 am

    What happens next?? Please tell me… plzzzz….. plzzzz….

    manalkhan responded:
    April 18, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    Guys, I’m so so sorry for the delay. A lot of things came up for me and I was unable to write anything at all for a while. Please forgive me for keeping you waiting so long! Here’s the final part of the story: https://windsweptwords.com/2016/04/18/the-legend-of-saif-ul-malook-part-vii/

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