Cave living in Kurrum

Nisar Hussain Turi’s modern-day cave is architecturally exciting and undoubtedly peaceful to live in

Cave living in Kurrum

After an hour’s drive from Parachinar towards Hangu district, we arrived in Alizai tehsil of Lower Kurram. We were guided by our host. After parking our car, we found ourselves waiting outside a massive iron gate adorned with a large cross, painted white.

A middle-aged watchman, followed by a pack of dogs and puppies, welcomed us at the gate. We entered the expansive lawn, which had turned dull in the harsh winter chill but was lined with pine, pomegranate and fig trees. Right there, was a mound-like structure with a door. From the outside, it looked like a modern compound.

Nisar Hussain Turi, 76, sitting near the mound enjoying the sunny warmth of the day, greeted us as we neared his private property. Before sitting down for a formal chat, he explained the reason for installing the cross at the front gate. “There was a time when the US forces frequently targeted the area and carried out drone attacks in the erstwhile FATA. We installed a large cross symbol to avoid US drone strikes,” says Turi. He adds, “it’s also symbolic of our respect for Christ.”

Since 2000, Nisar Hussain Turi and other male family members have lived in this man-made garah - cave. Standing outside, we anxiously waited to see the inside of the cave. He proudly led us around his home, showing us the various rooms. Stepping inside, one could feel a clear change in temperature. Outside it was chilly, but a welcome warmth embraced us as we made our way inside. It looked like an ordinary house.

From electrical connections to wi-fi, the cave has been set up with modern facilities. Moving forward, we entered a long corridor - on the left side was a clean restroom (running water available) and on the right was a small kitchen running on an LPG cylinder, a deep freezer and a dining table.

Next came another room, all set with a single bed and four mattresses and a wooden bookshelf - complete with books to read and keep busy. Family photos adorned the wall, and along hung was a framed photo of the Iranian revolutionary leader, Ayatullah Khomeini. “I live and read here. When friends visit me, they stay and relax here for the night,” says the property’s owner.

On the left side, there was another clean bedroom. Nisar Hussain Turi’s nephews stay there. In that other room was hung a photo of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and details of the life led by the Muslim educationist and visionary from the 19th Century.

They have made a small prayer room inside the cave where ten can pray at once.

Turi led us to the enormous main hall - lined with chairs, comfortable sofas and a charpoy, decorated in the fashion of a tribal home, illuminated with LED lights.

“It’s freezing in the winters, and we are protected from the Speen Ghar’s (the White Mountain) cold wind down here. The cave is a retreat for the winter, but it also remains cool in the summertime,” he told us.

Since 2000, Nisar Hussain Turi and other male family members have lived in this man-made garah - cave. Stepping inside, one could feel a clear change in temperature. Outside it was chilly, but a welcome warmth embraced us as we made our way inside. It looked like an ordinary house.

When asked where the idea came from, Turi said, “Digging a cave was not in my plans, but in the ‘90s due to the Afghan war a lot of Afghan refugees migrated from Khost province and settled in parts of Kurram. A few Afghan families were living with us. They offered their services for digging a cave. They were experts, and they made this happen.”

The digging began in 1998 and the cave was completed in two years. Nisar says that the long war had taught the Afghans how to dig caves for protection. The Afghans dug secret caves in Tora Bora Mountains for the Taliban. “Before digging, they examined our mound. They concluded that mud and the stone mound was ideal for making a cave.”

After our cave was completed, two tribal elders tried to replicate the design. They failed in the first attempt. “Not everyone can dig a cave through a mud and rock mound. The digging requires special expertise,” Turi added.

Nisar Hussain Turi said that before the Covid-19 pandemic majority of officers from the armed forces and district administration used his private property and were keen to visit them and stay at the cave. “Our cave’s door is always open for everyone, but due to the pandemic, people are not visiting any longer.” Many federal and provincial ministers and officers posted in Kurram, Hangu and Kohat districts have visited the cave over the last two decades.

“I have witnessed many clashes in the region. I have lost family members in the conflict, but the last 20 years I have spent in the cave have been some of the best and most peaceful years of my life.” Nisar Hussain Turi wishes to die in peace here, in his cave.

The author is a radio producer. He tweets @daudpasaney

Living Better

Zeenat Iqbal Hakimjee dishes out tips to help you learn to care for yourself and others

By Zeenat Iqbal Hakimjee

Tolerance is a virtue, just as patience is, so don’t lose your temper.

Gifts should be given on occasions, not randomly; otherwise, they lose their importance.

There is such a thing as healthy competition but don’t compete just for the sake of it.

Being sensitive to others’ feeling is certainly appreciable.

Wanting to protect our loved ones and possessiveness, which could feel suffocating, is not a trait well-liked.

To be kind, caring and compassionate towards fellow human beings is a sign of a good person.

Peace and harmony are good for the environment – a cacophony is detrimental to health.

Lies and deceit only breed and foster enmities.

Practice the art of listening.

To say no is also an art. You just can’t give in to everything.

Life is what you make of it. It won’t be served on a platter to you.

Love makes the world go around.

Zeenat Iqbal Hakimjee is a writer and a poet

Cave living in Kurrum