NQAH: A Visual Companion

UPDATED: Now with map!

Because every unfamiliar setting deserves one.  🙂  Passages in blockquote are from the book.

NOT QUITE A HUSBAND starts in Rumbur Valley, on the North-West Frontier of British India (today’s North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan) Rumbur Valley is one of the three valleys known as the Kalash Valleys, so called because of their unique Kalasha population. The Kalasha are a tribe of pagans who worship a pantheon of gods. They believe themselves to have descended from the soldiers of Alexander the Greek–and it is not unusual to find among the Kalasha fair hair and blue/green eyes. Unlike the Kafirs of Afghanistan who were forcibly converted to Islam in mid-1890s by the Amir of Kabul, the Kalash Valleys happened to fall on the British side of the Durand Line, and the Kalasha were allowed to continue in their ancient beliefs first under the British, then later under the constitution of Pakistan.

Across the stream, fields glinted a thick, bright gold in the narrow alluvial plain—winter wheat ready for harvest. Small, rectangular houses of wood and stacked stone piled one on top of another along the rising slope, like a collection of weathered playing blocks. Beyond the village, the ground elevated more rapidly, a brief stratum of walnut and apricot trees before the bones of the hills revealed themselves, austere crags that supported only dots of shrubs and an intrepid deodar or two.

Image by Yodod
Image by Yodod

LOL, this is not the exact same village, so it looks a little different.  🙂  But it is still a fairly recognizable as a Kalasha village.

He watched her wend her way past women in vibrantly embroidered black robes guiding water into the irrigation canals that supplied the fields of wheat, women in vibrantly embroidered black robes shaking ripe mulberries from trees onto blankets, women in vibrantly embroidered black robes cutting hay to make winter fodder.

Kalasha women’s costume is quite distinctive: black robe exuberantly embroidered, thick strands of beaded necklace, and headdress decorated with cowry shells.

Image by Dave Watts
Image by Dave Watts
Image by Dave Watts
Image by Dave Watts

Once Leo convinces Bryony to come with him, they leave the Kalash Valleys.   The Kalash Valleys are lateral valleys cut into the mountains to the west of Chitral Valley.  Chitral is a strategic forward hold for the British, who feared that the Russians could sweep down any moment and contest their crown jewel, India.

Chitral Valley

Chitral Valley is dominated to the north by the Tirich Mir, the highest peak of the Hindu Kush. Leo and Bryony, however, would only see the Tirich Mir when they look backward, as they are headed not north, but south, toward the plains of India.

Image by Dave Watts

To get out of Chitral Valley, Leo and Bryony brave Lowari Pass, elevation 10,230 ft.

It took dozens of one-hundred-eighty-degree turns for the road to zigzag up the steep slope leading toward Lowari Pass, ten thousand feet above sea level, a narrow gap in snowpeaked mountains that towered thousands of feet higher to either side. From the top, looking down at the way she’d come, Bryony thought the dirt path resembled so many hairpins that a careless goddess had dropped. The mountains, like a choppy sea, stretched blue and jagged toward the horizon.

Image by Rchughtai
Image by Rchughtai

The above image actually shows the descent side of the pass, which is not as steep and dramatic as the ascent side.

Once they have crossed Lowari Pass, they move ever closer to Swat Valley.

Upper Swat Valley
Upper Swat Valley

Swat Valley is called the Switzerland of Pakistan–please do yourself a favor and look at these spectacular pics here. Yet Swat Valley was nothing less than spectacularly dangerous in the summer of 1897. Inspired by the exhortations of a certain Mad Fakir, its population rose in a swift, powerful rebellion that caught the local British garrison by the short hairs.

Route Map (Or whatever I could get off Google Earth):

NQAH Route
NQAH Route

Their journey started in the Kalasha village of Balanguru.  Nowshera is where they could get on the train.  The yellow line is the Afghanistan boundary.  The red line is the boundary between NWFP and FANA.

And here’s an aeriel view of the ascent toward Lowari Pass.  Notice all the zigzags.

The Climb Toward Lowari Pass
The Climb Toward Lowari Pass

I wish I could show you more pics, but it’s hard to find good pics either in the public domain or in the creative commons.  So I guess this will have to do.  🙂  I hope you have enjoyed your mini-tour and I hope you enjoy NOT QUITE A HUSBAND.

19 thoughts on “NQAH: A Visual Companion”

  1. Oh, I so appreciate the pictures! I’m visually oriented, so having a mental image when I read your book enriches the experience.

    I’m looking at a long (and early!) flight to AZ next week and am anticipating savoring NQAH then to kick off my vacation!

  2. P.S. (Sorry, worked late at office last night and brain is still not in gear) You pics of the winding road remind me of a Top Gear episode (awesome, funny car show on BBCAmerica) when they were looking throughout Europe for the best road to drive on. They found something in Italy, I think, (maybe Germany), that looked nearly exactly like your pic, only longer with more of those hairpin turns.

    bright gold in the narrow alluvial plain

    Alluvial. Sigh. I’m such a word whore.

    • LOL. How else do you say it though? River plain? Doesn’t quite carry the same meaning though.

      I posted an aerial view of the proper side of the Lowari Pass. Now that’s gotta be enough hairpin turns for anyone!

  3. How beautiful! I cannot get over the color of the river in the Utror Valley picture. I saw a glacial river similar to that once up at Banff Provincial Park in Alberta. I’m also in awe of the colorful embroidery the Kalasha women wear. They are accomplished needleworkers!
    Thanks for all of the mind candy. I can’t wait to get my hands on the book and read.

    • Isn’t Upper Swat gorgeous? Mind-bogglingly so.

      Where the fighting was, however, was in Lower Swat, not quite so spectacular scenery.

      And the Kalasha women do love themselves some good-looking clothes!

  4. This is really lovely. One of the distinct pleasures of NQAH (aside from the fantastic characterization and the swooningly romantic plot — I do love me a good reunion story) is how completely it transported me to this region. Now that I’ve got a hard copy, I’m going to reread NQAH with these images in mind.

    You know, the architecture, and the terracing in the photo of Chitral Valley, remind me a lot of the scenery in Ladakh, one of the most beautiful spots in the Himalayas that I’ve ever visited. However, this may be the last time I make that comparison. I met a gentleman from Swat recently and he was showing me similar photos, but when I mentioned that it looked like Ladakh, he wasn’t impressed. “Worst part of Kashmir,” he said. Err… okay, then. 🙂

    • I was under the impression the Ladakh was kind of arid. And I would have to agree, compared to the Vale of Kashmir, it wouldn’t probably be very impressive.

        • Wow. I had no idea there were Hollywood movies set in the NWFP. Wonder whether the exterior is shot on location or they substituted the Rockies or something. 🙂

          • It’s pretty good. One of those lengthy, epic, monster films Hollywood produced in the 1950s after TV stole their audiences, but good nonetheless. The ending credits say it was filmed partly on location and partly on a British studio. If you have Netflix, you should check it out.

  5. Sherry,

    This is super fabulous. I love all historical detail just as much as I do the pictures.


  6. I think my favorite is the first picture, the one of the Kalasha village. But the photos of the women in their clothing and of the Lowari pass are also gorgeous. Makes me want to travel to that part of the world… I too loved the way you evoked it in the book.

  7. Just finished the book and flew through it. Painful and beautiful – a true love story. It felt very real with people who are flawed and trying to cope with hurt and strong emotions.

    Thank you.

  8. Wow, Sherry, what a brilliant idea to post this! It may be a while before I can afford the book, but I’ll definitely get back to this post when I do and this will make imagining it all extra wonderful and colorful 🙂

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