A Pedacito Of Saif-ul-Muluk
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
Anyone who has ever lived in Pakistan has been to or at least has heard of Saif-ul-Muluk. It’s referred to as a little piece of heaven on earth and has a myriad of stories about its origin and its almost ethereal beauty.
Saif-ul-Muluk is the name of the lake near the northern end of Kaghan valley. At 3,224 miles above sea level, it is one of the highest lakes in Pakistan and sees a fair bit of snow.
People come from far and wide to visit this beautiful lake, and it never disappoints. My first visit was probably as a child, but my fondest memories of the lake are from a trip I took there with a group of friends.
The guesthouse we stayed at was far from the lake. Finding accommodation close by can be difficult. The terrain is really rocky. Regular cars can’t drive you there. You need to hire a jeep or truck to get you where you need to go. The ride will jostle and throw you around so much that it can feel like you’ve been pulled apart at the joints. Your entire body is probably going to ache the next day.
Once you get there, you will realize it was worth the pain. The lake is nestled between tall mountains that are topped with snow in the winters. The water is so blue that it looks like something out of a fairy-tale. Several of the locals are willing to be hired as storytellers, you pay them a small amount of money, and they will tell you the tale of Saif-ul-Muluk with great relish.
Listening to this beautiful story narrated while you enjoy some hot pakoras and chai is kind of a rite of passage for anyone who visits. People come here from far and wide for this almost holy experience. The lake is named after an Egyptian prince Saif-ul-Muluk, who fell in love with a fairy princess, Badi-ul-Jamal.
The Sufi saint and Punjabi Hindko poet, Mian Muhammad Bakhsh turned the tale into an epic poem, a’la Homer. Ahmed Hussain Mujahid, an Urdu poet and local resident of Balakot, translated the poem into Urdu.
The local residents like to propagate a sense of magic about the place. They talk about the changes in weather as a depiction of the mood of the fairy and demon folk. It gets bitter-cold when they are angry.
A storyteller narrated: “I have not seen the fairy, but I’ve seen the glory of God. Every month, on the 14th night of the lunar month, the lake is like a mirror – cradling the mountains, the sky, the innumerable twinkling stars, the glowing orb of the moon – so still, so clear, you can scarcely tell the difference between reality and reflection.
It is a sight to behold! Many a night, I have also seen lights, floating lights, a thousand floating lights, here on the slope, where I watched them disappear under the rocks. I have not seen the Fairy, Badi-ul-Jamal, but I have witnessed the glory of God."
Saif was an Egyptian prince. He had inherited wealth and power. The kingdom’s money was inscribed with a special seal, one side bearing a likeness to Saif himself and the other to his beloved princess Badi-ul-Jamal.
The first time he saw the picture of Badi, he fell in love and set off on a quest to find the princess and marry her. His journey lasted six years. He was wandering aimlessly until he met a saint who gave him a Sulemani cap.
This cap could turn you invisible, like Harry Potter’s cloak, and it could transport you anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds, like the Tardis. The saint told him where his fairy princess would be, by the beautiful lake.
But before he could reach the lady fair, he would have to go through several tests of endurance and feats of strength. He would have to pray relentlessly. She was a fairy princess and he was a human. Human eyes can’t see fairies and demons and those ‘fire borne’. He would have to prove himself worthy.
He reached his destination and started his prayers. He prayed for 40 days without rest or food. The 40th day was the 14th night of the month, the night of the full moon. That's when he saw her with her other fairy companions. Now, this could just be a hallucination, due to the lack of food and sleep, but that’s just me.
She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, in the most beautiful place on earth. She sat braiding her hair by the side of the lake, looking at herself reflected in the clear water. He approached her and declared his love for her, and she told him her tragic story.
She was a prisoner of the Safaid Deyo (white giant) on Koh Qaf (fairy kingdom). He too claimed to love her but had been keeping her locked up, only allowing her to visit the lake once a month.
Saif grabbed Badi and they tried to escape. When the giant caught wind of the situation he blew a gasket and his rage caused the lake to flood the Kaghan valley. They escaped the flood by hiding in a cave near Naran.
Legend has it that the Ansoo Lake (lake of tears) in Kaghan Valley, a couple of miles from Saif-ul-Mulook was formed because the giant cried for ages when the princess was nowhere to be found. Saif and Badi are said to still dwell in that cave, and on especially clear nights, when the moon is full and the lake is still, all the fairy folk come out to play with their king and queen.
I don’t know about you, but I like this story better than boring old reality.
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