By Rida Akhtar Ghumman

Today I sit in my room and wonder why, how, the world depleted itself into a medical chaos. I walk between the walls of a house only. Every day I wake-up and I want a new life. Daddy Dear took us to road trips every year, especially in summers. We packed fruits, utensils and water bottles too, always careful about hygiene and healthy nutrition, alongside suitcases of very necessary clothing items and two pairs of shoes each. 

Almost all of my road trips are family trips. Also, if I am allowed some brazenness I will prefer to inform, not that I usually do so much anyway but, I never wear any makeup on these trips. I pack a sunscreen lotion and a moisturizer, that I do. The mountains are beautiful but the sun there, it burns you. 

Neelum Valley is partially a commercial tourist spot today but a few years ago, when we used to visit, nobody was there really. One could count the tourists in two-digit numbers. Daddy Dear took us there, in our humble car, all six of us cocooned in joy and ready to take in the fresh air, away from urbanity, stress and also any telecommunication. 

Back then, two minutes before crossing the Neelum Valley border, after hours and hours of whirlpooling in dust clad mountains from Muzaffarabad, your phones lose all signals. We spend years in these god-forsaken cities, hence no-signal, carefree humdrum of Neelum is an oasis. While the mind is a vagrant hullabaloo of everything in juxtaposition, I feel very young whenever I sit on this small bench of this distant Keran resort for government officials. Now I hear they have fenced its pavements for protection etc. but I was a visitor of the happier times. My bench faced the big river just like that, where mothers forbid children from going too far or the vastly paced moving waves of the river and its Rocky ambience will tear them apart, like perhaps cities are tearing us apart dream after dream. 

People post photographs of their road trips, fancy poses and cool urbanity tagging along while mountains peek shyly behind in their portrait mode shots. I always tried and left my urbanity behind. I took photographs but in them I was a small, pinkish sun burnt girl, in front of plethoric greens, vivacious blues and if I got lucky, which I often did in the Neelum Valley, some children playing with a hairy goat. 

Everything is beautiful about Neelum Valley. Where we bark inside closed mirrors of our car in bad traffic scenarios of the city, we used to pull them down and not mind the smelly traffic of Neelum roads, dirt-roads to be precise, while herds and herds of mountain sheep or goat blocked the roads often for a long time. Shepherd women reared them forward but sometimes a wayward goat kid got stuck just there, midway, like we do often a lot when facing an existential conundrum on our city roads, almost every day. 

I have laughed virgin laughs on those roads. I have cried happy tears on that bench. My backseat cab carried pine cones, small colorful rocks randomly collected from the river bank and I was mirthful, afar, away while out car travelled on the bad roads in some mountain village I’d love to name if only, today I could just get out of this pandemic’s exile, just for one day. 

Rida Akhtar Ghumman is a student of English Literature, currently working on her dissertation about urbanism and flânuese-ing. She can be reached on Twitter and Instagram at @RidaAkhtar_.

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