Chilling out with the drinks at Kiwai

Chilling out with the drinks at Kiwai

When I was younger, growing up in Sydney, one of my neighbour’s parent’s had an interesting solution to the hot weather. Back in the early ’90s, when hardly anyone on the street owned an air conditioner, our complaints about the heat were met with a simple recommendation – “go stick your head in the fridge!” Alas, my parents never seemed so enthusiastic about the idea of the fridge door being kept open on a hot summer’s day.

On the road near Mansehra

Years later, in Pakistan, I finally got to cool off in the fridge on a hot day. It was May, the peak of summer across the flat plains of Punjab, and chotta bhai Moazam and I had set off towards the northern areas on our motorbike.

The Kaghan Valley near Kiwai

Needless to say, we had been warned of the dangers of travelling by road, on a motorbike, to the north. I’ve never been one to heed overcautious warnings though – how would I have discovered Pakistan if I had listened to all the naysayers?

(Image: Google Maps)

We were heading north to escape the heat; temperatures were topping 45 Celsius in Lahore, and 50 in some of the surrounding towns. However while we had departed from Rawalpindi early in the morning and were steadily gaining altitude, the temperatures were also rising. Things were heating up in Havelian, melting in Mansehra and boiling in Balakot. The scenery was increasingly spectacular as we ascended the sides of the Kaghan Valley, but with the sun beating down on our shoulders and arms, it was time to break our journey.

Kiwai is little more than a bend in the Naran Road, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village at the turn off for more popular Shogran. As our trusty Road Prince coasted into the parking area, we caught sight of it; the crystal-clear waters of glacial melt, cascading down the creases in the hill, funnelled towards the roadside kiosk. Seats and tables were set at wading depth in the water, along with conveniently placed crates of sugary soft drink bottles, chilled by the glacial

This wasn’t just any cafe; this was EXACTLY WHAT WE NEEDED! We striped off the heavy bike gear, threw our shoes to one side, peeled off our sticky socks, rolled up our trousers and waded into the icy water. The near-freezing stream was like a tonic, sending a rush of relief through our bodies. We weren’t the only ones; other bikers and long-distance road-trippers could be heard moaning as the creek washed away the cramps of the road.

We splashed the pristine water on to our dusty faces, through our matted hair, and we could feel the strains of the previous hours being eased. It was one of those rare moments when intangible concerns like stress and fatigue felt poetically real, physical and sensual.

After about ten minutes of self-indulgence, we were feeling human once again, and lolling around on the charpoys like we owned the place. Occasionally, when the temperature started to rise, we would dangle a leg over the edge into the freezing water. We sat there for as long as we cared, sipping Coca Cola and scoffing fried snacks.

With the sun blocked from above by a canopy, and the air constantly chilled by the following river below, the environment was the perfect place to lose track of time. Outside it was hot and dusty, but inside, there was no need for air conditioning.

Have you ever sat in a river and eaten a meal? Comment below!

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