Lakes with legends of fairies
Lake Baikal, Russia
Most people interested in fairies must have heard about Lake Baikal situated in Russia – an area commonly known as the Paristan. During my Russian language studies in the National University of Modern Languages Islamabad, our great Russian teacher, who knew about how Paristan (fairy land) is famous in our local literature, used to tell us tales of fairies famous in Russia. She told us about Baikal Lake. “Baikal is one of the most beautiful and fourth highest lake in the world. The panorama is such that fairies come and dance there and meet those who visit Baikal.” She also told about the fairy of love and taught the language in the process.
Lake Baikal is a picturesque, tranquil and pollution free place shrouded in romantic legend. It is a miracle on land, with endless green forests all around. All you see is blue, blue and more blue. It is like a coast-less entity, with frozen blue skin of the lake rippling into crests of broken crystal, as it approaches the pebbled coast.
Even in winter the mighty tide of the sleeping lake challenges its icy restraints, crushing against the shoreline with the force of a glacier. Farther out, a smooth sheath of white flows uninterrupted to the horizon, where the faint outline of a majestic mountain range floats mysteriously on the hazy sky. It seems as if we are standing at a spring that feeds glaciers their ice – as if the vast permafrost that coats most of glacial region begins here on a journey to the skies.
There are the alpine meadows, the springs, and the flowers, but there is nothing like Baikal Lake itself. What is peculiar is its sudden change of mood. It could be blue, quiet and calm one moment, and then immediately the wind rises and huge waves appear. It is like an old man mumbling. It is difficult to exaggerate Lake Baikal’s beauty – or its size.
Baikal is very deep. Plunging more than a mile deep in the middle, Baikal holds more water than any other lake on Earth. It is fed by more than 300 torrents, but none comes out of it. In its depths thrive between 1,500 and 1,800 animal species – most of them peculiar to Baikal. It is home to the world’s only freshwater seal.
The Lake Baikal shoreline is home to growing human activities, including controversial industrial concerns, camping grounds, and grazing fields on the southern coast. Environmentalists claim the growing human activities are unreliable, and disturb this “heaven on earth.” However, the biggest threat to Baikal comes from poachers and careless visitors – humans.
But what is the most distinct feature of Baikal? It is a fairies land full of romantic legend. I have heard many stories and one that particularly touched me. Local lore has it that there was a fairy of love. Her job was to distribute love among those who needed that in life. (Who does not need it?) She wanted love to prevail the world over. She also protected Baikal’s natural surroundings and used to be on the shores of Baikal every night.
One night she met a man who just appeared on the shore of Baikal out of the blue. The man’s name too was Baikal: mortal, deprived, lonely, and it looked from his face that he needed some love in life. The fairy saw him and fell head over heals, taking it as a test case. Led over the waves of sympathy and challenge, they instantly crossed all the distances usually not possible in a short time. They together wove hopes for the future.
But their love came to a tragic end. Baikal thought he was no match to the fairy. He was afraid of himself being human. And one day, he disappeared all of a sudden without any explanation, without warning. The fairy kept looking for him, found him and cut off his feet, making him unable to move. Who will decide about this love affair?
There are two other lakes that remind me of Baikal: one is the world’s highest, Lake Toba in Simatra (Singapore) and the other lake is Saif ul Muluk in northern Pakistan. Besides similar environments, the romantic legends are also attached with both lakes. A man named Samosir once caught a fish in Toba Lake that transformed into a beautiful woman. She married Samosir and started living happily with him, bore him children. Their love too came to a tragic end when the husband transgressed and told someone the secret that she was a fish. Gods sent relentless rain, flooding the valley. Samosir drowned and an island grew from his body.
And the lake, Saiful Muluk, we are more familiar; the Crown Prince of Persia hears about the beauty of the fairy Princess Badar Jamal – the daughter of king of Caucasus – and falls in love. The prince, after wandering and hardships, succeeds in winning the heart of Badar Jamal. The lake becomes the rendezvous where the lovers meet: contemplating matters of heart and their future together, hence the name. The Jinn guard of the queen of Parbat becomes jealous of their love and one day breaches the bank of the lake to drown them. But the lovers escape and find shelter in a nearby cave, which still exists.
Off the beaten track, up in the upper Hunza Valley, is Lake Sheosar. This place offers beautiful views of distant peaks and a panoramic view of Deosai Plains. At Bara Pani, one may spend hours in a hope to watch a bear or you may enjoy fishing in the cold waters of Barwai Stream. From here, you can travel back via Skardu and Gilgit to enjoy the most thrilling drive along the Indus River, or continue to glacier areas if you have to. Or just sit there and think about Adam Khan and Durkhane’s love lore. And if you hear intently, you hear Adam Khan playing his Ik Tara.
I keep thinking of the lovers and fairies that come to the lakes to swim and dance in moonlit nights. I tend to believe such legends. The first impact that I get after setting eyes on any alpine lake is simply romantic. You do not get tired seeing the play of sun and shade. When you devote enough time to look at lakes – Baikal, Saiful Muluk or any other – it becomes a bit magical – clouding over, changing colors, and cliffs of surrounding hills turn convex and concave according to the slant of light. These seem places where one can forget the stress of today’s fast lane life. The legends keep haunting me, though.