Preikestolen (The Pulpit Rock)

Habib Khan Memoir

Habib Khan, Quetta: When I was still working (or at least dragging my feet to the workplace), a picture during a training session caught my attention.

It showed a rectangular rock formation, rising majestically high above a river (fjord) and on top of its flat surface people were enjoying themselves, even though there were no protective fences around the platform.

The picture had a question as a caption, “How many accidents do you think happen here?”

The idea was that if danger (in this case, the consequence of a fall) was obvious, people would take care themselves, and accidents rarely happen in such places or circumstances.

The lesson for an employee was to focus more on day-to-day activities, being more prone to accidents.

“No matter what the purpose of the picture, I nevertheless fell in love with the marvel of the place, the extraordinary rock formation amidst breathtaking scenery, and vowed to visit at the first opportunity.

But where was this place?

In pre-WhatsApp times, circulating pictures wasn’t part of our communication culture, so it wasn’t easy to identify the location. Someone suggested it was in South America (a long haul), but then a young intern joined the company, and challenged this information, claiming it was somewhere in Scandinavia. I bet him with a dinner that he was wrong, but it turned out that he was right. He located it for me–it was indeed in western Norway, not far from the town of Stavanger. And that its English name was “The Pulpit Rock”. Of course Preikestolen would be difficult for Angrez badshah to pronounce, and it may not have been easy to distort a Norwegian name, after all it was not Asia or Africa.

My opportunity came in the summer of 2015 when I had to attend a week long workshop in Darmstadt. Germany.

I bought a Frankfurt-Stavangar ticket on the Internet, and moved directly to the airport from the factory–the Bengali speaking taxi driver took the “no speed limit” motorway and we reached the airport within 20 minutes at 250kph.

Normally, whenever I meet a person who I suspect can speak Bengali, I address with the filmy dialogue “kya bolega kya bolega”, and this time as response to my dialogue, he pointed towards the meter.

I reached Stavangar at around midnight, though it felt more like our sunset time, and as I was thinking about in which language will the “kya bolega” be this time, the taxi driver turned out to be a Dari speaking Afghan, who helped me in every way except in guiding me to find my way to Preikestolen.

The sleepy receptionist at the hotel, however, knew everything, and told me yawningly that I will have to take a 50 minute boat ride, then half an hour bus ride, which will take me to the starting point of the two hour hike to Preikestolen. The first boat would leave at 8.

The sunlight glowing through the room window woke me up, only to realise that it was still 2.30AM and that I could enjoy at least another four hours of sleep –never mind if it’s sunshine.

I woke up again before my alarm sounded, had a quick breakfast, and walked to the boat station, but didn’t take the first boat as I waited for the nearby shop to open, to buy lunch–I regretted later, as everything was available at the hiking start point.

The boat was huge and had a canteen and I enjoyed a cup of coffee, not that I needed it, but just for the sake of experience.

The vehicles left the boat first, and then the pedestrians, I observed the “follow the crowd” rule sign to the bus, but still asked the driver just to make sure, it was the Preikestolen bus. Unlike in the boat there was much silence in the bus, and there was not much to see around but the journey was short and we reached our destination in exactly 25 minutes.

It was overcast now and the track at the start looked quite travelled; a map clearly marked the distance and the altitude that had to be climbed. A warning notice with the latest time for leaving the rock in winters showed how early darkness fell up that North.

The trek was quite steep at the start then it levelled up a bit almost midway, and finally the hardest part of the climb mainly over large rocks, and that was when I noticed that the final part of the trek was a bit harsh on the knees. I had to slow down my speed, and finally it took me an hour and 35 minutes to reach the Pulpit Rock.

As I was approaching the almost square platform, I noticed a young man sitting on the edge with legs dangling down, and near the edge some youngsters were even performing some acrobatics.

There was music, people were enjoying their lunch, kids were having fun time, and finally I saw a solo person of my age and I in my own way appreciated his courage to climb the place, as he was at least twice my size in weight.

Normally, in city streets one can see Chinese and Indians as tourists, and on Preikestolen, there was a Chinese presence too, but no Indians. I wondered why?

I enjoyed my lunch and finished whatever I had brought but missed the steaming “sabz chai” (Green Tea) that I was used to during my treks near Quetta.

I climbed a little farther in the mountain and spent a few moments alone amidst the breathtaking surrounding beauty.

The descent along the same path was somewhat swifter but there were some larger leaps not to the comfort of my aching knees.

I found my heavyweight friend again in the bus, exhausted and lying down, occupying at least two seats –the boat ride was soothing, in its comfortable chairs, and then the last leap to the hotel for a long hot bath ended one of the beautiful and memorable days.

I am not good at attaching pictures, but here are few:

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