The Man Who Has A Heart of Gold of A Mountain – Little Karim
The Man Who Has A Heart of Gold of A Mountain – Little Karim
During the course of my expedition through northern Pakistan recently, I encountered a diverse spectrum of people from all walks of life. One in particular, a gentleman and a living legend, Mr. Abdul Karim. “Little Karim”, as he is popularly known, left a positive reminder of the humbleness and hospitality of the people of Pakistan.
To hear Karim’s journey was profound in that I felt it was the epitome of the traditions of the people of this country. What was special about Karim was the attitude he had to life; his eagerness of hard work, perseverance and sacrifice against all odds.
As we arrived in the valley on that beautiful sunny day, the rays of the sun bursting down through the hazy clouds, I felt there was something special about this man before I had even been fully acquainted with him. I was told that amongst his accolades, Little Karim had climbed many of the fourteen highest independent peaks in the world fourteen times and in particular K2, the second highest peak in the world.
As a novice climber, I was taken aback by his achievements. I could hardly imagine what he had gone through to reach that level. Questions raced in my mind as a flood of thoughts swept through. What had he experienced on his travels? What did he witness from the top? Each question jostling in my mind like a child in a classroom, seeking the teacher’s attention. I would have blurted out half the questions, but the calmness of Karim’s eyes had me subdued in an instant. A few moments passed and I felt immersed in his world as he related the story of his life. I felt overwhelmed as my emotions unleashed.
Little Karim told me how, as a young boy, he was very fond of the mountains. Eager to accomplish his vision of climbing to the top, Karim decided to embark on his quest of climbing the overarching peak that rose in front of him; something that no one had accomplished in his village.
On his arrival back from the painstaking journey, he decided to tell his fellow villagers what he had accomplished. He mentioned with a smile that the villagers had made fun of him and did not believe his encounter. So, in turn, he remained quiet when he later climbed Broad Peak, a summit of around 26,000 ft.
I sensed a glint in his eye, as he paused momentarily, searching through the vaults of his memory bank, unlocking the trove of experiences of each adventure. Little Karim recalled, “I was around 7-8 years old when I first wanted to climb the mountains. When I was a shepherd and saw these Europeans climbing the mountains, I wanted to join them. The mountaineers offered me some sweets and biscuits, which I had never tasted before. Naturally in my excitement, I went home to show my mother what the mountaineers had given me. My mother in turn in her excitement decided to share the sweets with the rest of the household. It was a joyous moment for me and out of their generosity, it was what spurred me to go forth with this group”.
Later on, Karim told the villagers that he was going to climb other peaks. They responded with jibes: “Are you crazy?” “What will you do up there above the clouds?” “What will you accomplish?” “What if you perish?” “Your children will be orphaned”. “Your wife widowed”. For Karim, being short as he was just above a portly 5’1 inch, many would overlook him as he was too small for the mountaineers who sought taller, broader men. Karim’s height, however, did not discourage him as his passion overcame all odds. Karim soon rose to prominence and such was his strength and perseverance that he achieved notoriety as the man who was able to carry a glider weighing 25kg up those treacherous slopes. No one would have believed that this man was capable of either scaling these heights or carrying the weight on his back.
Upon hearing of Little Karim’s actions, Ghazi Johar, a prominent member of the community of Hunza valley, organized a banquet for him in honor of his achievements. Nobody in his own village knew of the feats that he had accomplished until they learnt of the ceremony hosted for him in another region.
As he became famous, Karim would embark on many more expeditions with different groups. His fame would take him to new heights as he later traveled the world featuring in a documentary that would be showcased in a number of film festivals.
Karim recalled, “I have been up above 8,000 ft. fourteen times. Neither have I been aided with oxygen cylinders and neither did I have proper shoes. However, I am content with what I have. Whomever Allah wills and gives to is fortunate and I am fortunate that he give me the heart and the will”. Allah gives all hearts but He makes some strong enough to withstand the fear that comes with the terrain.
Those words sent a shockwave through my body. How humble was this man. A giant of a man, the strength of a bear and the heart of a lion. In those moments, I felt his spirit alive. His passion was intoxicating. I sensed in his eyes, the zeal of the challenging spirit. What he must have witnessed in those mountains only he would know. The unforgivable elements, the shards of snow and ice, the biting temperatures that would gnaw in his mind and leave his soul trembling with fear. The howling of the wind that whipped up a demonic fury would show no mercy to these people who had trespassed on these mystical mountains.
Yet Karim defied the odds, as did the mountaineers. Karim went as far as being the lantern in the dark when all hope seemed to evaporate for some of the travellers that he had accompanied. On a number of occasions he would be the guardian angel; once, saving a woman from drowning in a river.
Another time, on one of his expeditions, Karim literally pulled a mountaineer who had given up hope of carrying on and had resigned his fate for death to take him.
Subsequently, a lodge was built with the funds raised from a Spanish NGO. When it was presented to him as a gift, Karim initially refused the kind of offer stating that there were many people who were worse off than he was. Karim then made a humble gesture to the community by accepting the offer on behalf of them silencing the critics who had once taunted him before he rose to prominence. The lodge would act as a hotel for travellers as well as an education center for the orphans and the less fortunate. A fitting tribute from a man who could move mountains.
Indeed, it is the smallest gesture that bring the greatest rewards. The human spirit is alive in us all. The joy I sensed in his smile as he related the events was something very special. Here was a sixty three year old man and yet his story evoked a sense of a man young at heart. My mind could not register the different emotions that swirled. His voice would rise and fall just like the wind. A childlike innocence and yet his weathered face, the crease lines showed signs of the elements showing no mercy.
Little Karim had come back to tell the tale like those before him who had achieved grand feats throughout the world. I could just imagine him sitting round a campfire; the villagers huddled around him as he recalled the events of old gesturing to the youngsters with his anecdotes. I could imagine Little Karim teaching them about the concept of camaraderie, noble spirit and determination against all odds. Karim had in the process accepted his life with humility and grace.
A lesson to us all. I could imagine the villagers listening with intent as he proceeded “forget the naysayers, as all they want to do is bring down others knowing they cannot accomplish the task themselves”. The elder with the elders and the youngster with the younglings. I felt a paradox within Little Karim. Two souls fused in one; a youthful childlike presence and yet a soul aged beyond time. In the myriad of thoughts that cast me away, I received my answer from Karim as he retold his story. In so many words, Karim stated “I witnessed the presence of God at the pinnacle of those mountains”. I was mesmerised by that notion as the thought sunk in. What did he encounter that moved my emotions such that goosebumps erupted on the surface of my skin like volcanic activity. Had he seen the light?The graceful nature of the warmth of his face, the depth of his eyes concealed something grander that I could envisage. Karim had gone to heights where even birds dare not fly.
In the audience with the Kings of old, one would demonstrate courage over fear, wit over ignorance, and hope over despair. I look back and see Little Karim as a life lesson. From humble beginnings, he rose above the rest with humility and a humble attitude and did what he could with what he had in the circumstances that he was in. A King in his own right. Countless times, we have all been discouraged or neglected with that which we are capable of doing. It is with self belief that you can move mountains.
As for me; I am honoured and grateful to have had the pleasure of meeting Little Karim. Little Karim had humbled me. There are people that come and go in your life. Then there are special people. Seldom do you come across such people who achieve such grand feats and yet stay so grounded. An inspiration to us all. To have accomplished what he has is more than many could achieve in a lifetime. He has lived many lives and saved more than one in the process as well. A living legend. Little Karim is the epitome of the people of the north; big hearts and great hospitality that can move mountains.
Pakistan is as beautiful as her people. Amidst the dirt and rock, there are shining examples of beauty in this nation. Her beautiful mountains, her pristine waters, and above all her people. We must focus on that and rise above the rest.
You can climb mountains but greatness comes from within. Beautiful soul. Global citizen. A reflection of the beauty of Pakistan. Here’s to you little Karim. A man who has the heart of gold of a mountain. (kabulwazir)