The mysterious cuckoo bird of Arang Kel

By Fatima Shaheen Niazi

Kashmir is known as the land of looming mountains and lush green scenery. But to me, it will always be a place where I heard the voice of a cuckoo bird while no one else could.

Here is how it all started.

A friend and I decided to head out to Kashmir right after Eid in June 2019. The aim was to have a little vacation before we fell into our daily work routines. We arranged an eight-day trip that included Muzaffarabad, Keran, Sharda, Taobat, and the beautiful Arang Kel situated on a hilltop.

Photos by Bilal Ghouri

While we both enjoyed each place we visited, we were the most excited to visit Arang Kel since many of our friends had termed it to be heaven on earth.

To reach this village located at an altitude of 8,379 feet is not easy either. There is about a 20-minute exhausting trek to the mountain. We however, took the trek as a mid-vacation workout and went huffing puffing up to the village.

When we finally reached the top, we were blown away with the beauty we encountered. The village is completely green with cute little cottages built for guests and tourists on some of the village land. Goats and sheep casually strolled down the hill, while the inhabitants of the area concentrated on planting vegetables in the garden. Wherever we would look, all we saw were trees and snow capped mountains.

While I stared into the forest up ahead, something suddenly came over me. I wanted to figure out where the forest ended and I felt this odd unexplainable pull towards the area. I pitched the idea to my friend and she scowled.

Before she could answer, I heard the sing song voice of a cuckoo bird. “Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo,” it said. And guess what? The beautiful voice was coming from the forest.  

I suddenly started running towards the trees. When my friend shouted at me to stop, I just turned back and said, “Do you hear the bird? I want to see it!”

She followed me without a word and when we stopped, she asked, “What bird?”

“The cuckoo bird,” I exclaimed. “I heard it and I want to see what it looks like up close.”

She looked at me like I had gone mad and said “There’s no cuckoo bird.”

I rolled my eyes and asked her to simply follow me into the forest. We walked for five minutes but I couldn’t find the cuckoo. As soon as I was about to give up, I heard it again.

“There it is,” I shouted “Its here.”

My friend looked at me confused and stated she heard literally nothing.

She’s just pulling my leg, I thought, and proceeded to do what I wanted to do. Time and again I would hear the cuckoo bird and I would run deeper into the forest, till my friend threw a tantrum and asked me to turn back. She wanted to explore more of the village.

We argued for a while but in the end, she won and we decided to head back.

Throughout the way I kept hearing the cuckoo bird call me back. I would instantly turn my head to catch a glimpse of it, but alas, I never saw it.

When we were finally going down the mountain, I heard the cuckoo bird once again. It was on the trail with us!

“It’s here,” I shouted.

My friend looked at me and said, “I still hear nothing.”

Annoyed at her silly prolonged joke, I decided to record the bird’s voice on my phone. It sang for a minute and I silently recorded it. Satisfied, I headed back to the hotel thinking I would eventually run into the bird somewhere else in Kashmir.

The next morning, during breakfast with my friend, I decided to listen to the recording. I wanted to prove her wrong and solve the mystery of the cuckoo once and for all.

When I played the file, all I could hear was my voice and some random birds in the background.

Confused, I kept replaying the recording. How could it be possible? Where did the sound of the cuckoo bird go?

I finally confronted my friend and asked her if she ACTUALLY heard the bird or if she was just messing around with me. She confirmed she had heard nothing.

For hours we discussed what the sound was. So many locals have had supernatural experiences in the area and I kept wondering if this too was something paranormal.

A few days later, our trip ended and we headed back to Karachi with good memories in mind. On our way to the Islamabad airport, I shut my eyes and tried to dooze off in the car. And then I heard the sound of the cuckoo bird one last time – like it was sitting right next to me.

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