8 December 2023

A typical visit to Hunza includes a lot of picturesque scenery, culture, history, and traditional food. [Photo source: Guide to Pakistan]

A group of SA Muslim doctors who attended a medical conference in Pakistan say they were touched by the hospitality and warmth of their hosts. Dr Feroz Osman tells of their tour across a fascinating land.

When a group of doctors representing the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa (IMASA) attended a medical conference in Pakistan recently, they were amazed by its beauty, the hospitality of its people and its scrumptious foods.

Dr Firoz Osman, an executive of the Media Review Network, who was part of the 20-strong delegation to the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), under the umbrella of Federation of Islamic Medical Association’s (FIMA) 49th conference in Islamabad, said he and others were expecting a culture shock – instead they were charmed.

“The conference was attended by 130 foreign delegates from 26 countries. Apart from the exceptional professional quality of the talks, the use of technology, the delivery, consciousness of adhering to time limits, the availability and willingness of the volunteers (mainly students, boys, and girls) to assist, transport, lunch, and dinner, was exceptional,” he added. 

At the conference, three members of IMASA – Dr Mohamed Khan, Dr Goolam M Hoosein and Dr Ashraf Jedaar – were honoured by FIMA with Lifetime Member Awards.

As guests of PIMA/FIMA, the South African group was taken on a tour of the vast country.

Dr Osman said their first stop was Lahore, a populous city of 13 million people. He said his negative perception of a crowded, disorganised, and dirty city was immediately dismissed when he realized how clean it was. “People were friendly and the food simply scrumptious”, he said.

The group visited one of the largest mosques in the world built by Aurangzeb, the Badshahi Mosque and Shah Jahan’s magnificent Shalimar Garden with about 450 fountains, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“An overnight stay in the second most beautiful capital city in the world, Islamabad, did not prepare me for the stunning beauty of the North of Pakistan, Hunza, Gilgit and Skardu. Skardu, capital of Baltistan is perched 2,438 metres above sea level in the backdrop of the great peaks of the Karakorams. Famous for climbing and mountaineering all around the world,Skardu hosts Pakistan’s highest and world’s second highest mountain, K2 (8,611 m). 

The Hunza valley is popular for its snow-capped and spectacular, rough mountains. Many people came to Hunza just to get a few glimpses of the shining ice wall of the Rakaposhi Mountain.

The mini-bus 20-seater trip back to Islamabad was an incredible hair-raising adventure. Driving through those towering, snow-capped mountains on narrow roads with the turquoise Indus River deep down the gorge, had us on tenterhooks. The breath-taking, dazzling beauty diverted our attention, at times, from the risky overtaking on winding roads by skilled drivers. 

Plainly visible was the old silk road snaking through the edge of the mountains. On occasions the entire bus loudly prayed the dua before embarking on the next phase of the journey, with eyes tightly shut and deep sincerity!” Osman said.

Their final trip was to a mountain resort city Murree. 

“What stands out apart from the magnificent natural beauty of the city was a school for 420 orphans established by the Alkhidmat Foundation, one of the co-sponsors of the Conference.  The brightest students, selected on merit, begin the day with morning prayers (fajr) at the mosque, attending classes equipped with computers and taught by top-class experienced teachers.

We were introduced to them in their immaculate dormitories and listened mesmerised as they performed a play and recited qiraats, naats and poetry from the famous Allama Iqbal in English, Urdu, Arabic and Persian,” he added.  

Dr Osman pointed out that as with any journey, hurried travel through seven cities in 14 days provided some challenges.

“The altitude on those colossal, magnificent mountains caused breathing problems in some; avoiding tap water and salads averted upset tummies; and one hotel provided only refreshing icy water to shower with in cold conditions!

It was the diverse strengths of each individual within the group, from the 83-year-old energetic doctor to a young, rowdy and lively spouse, that made this trip an uplifting and memorable one. 

As for PIMA, their warmth, hospitality, flawless organisation, incredible achievements, and the humility of leaders will always remain an abiding inspiration. It made us proud to be Muslims!” said Osman.

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