I have always been wary of chairlifts and cable cars for the simple reason that power failure or some other fault (due to negligent maintenance) may cause me to pass minutes or even hours suspended in midair – a prospect, which I do not relish. It was therefore with considerable misgiving that I squirmed into the colorful plastic seat just a few days after the chairlift from Pindi Point Murree to Clifden Camp had been inaugurated. I undertook the venture to checkout some information passed on to me by a friend, who had earlier taken the ride – information that intrigued and excited me to no end.

As the chairlift started descending, I looked about eagerly for any telltale signs of what was supposed to happen, but when it did, it came upon me without warning. From a myriad of sounds consisting of bird song, the wind whispering through the pines, human chatter mixed with laughter and an occasional outburst of music, I suddenly entered a zone of total silence as if a sound proof door had opened and shut behind me. I could see birds flitting about in the trees, the wind amongst the leaves and happy faces in the chairs above and below me, but no sound. I was also overcome with an overwhelming sense of peace and wellbeing. And then it was over as magically as it had begun – I had apparently crossed a ‘band’ of silence back into a world of sound. Being a person who believes in the unbelievable (having had exposure to strange phenomenon) and possessing an inquisitive mind, I decided to reconfirm my ‘experience’, much to the surprise of my family. Sure enough, there it was again – no sounds whatsoever, for at least 30 to 40 seconds across the same area as before.

The incident set me on a fact finding quest. Talking to locals, I stumbled across many stories about many such spots that existed on heavily forested uninhabited slopes. These places were considered to be the haunts of fairies or other supernatural beings and some tales went so far as to say that people and animals had disappeared here. A friend, who is a broadcast engineer, suggested that the phenomenon may occur in areas, which were surrounded by a very dense growth of trees, which absorbed surrounding sound (much like padding in radio broadcast studios) forming something that could be termed as a ‘bubble of silence’.

Many years ago, having retired from a successful career, I was driving to Nathiagali for a short vacation with a small (yet important) item on my itinerary. I wanted to have lunch at a wayside hotel recommended to me by a former colleague. What excited me, was a casual remark from him in response to my question about how to get there – “Oh, you’ll know. The place is as peaceful and quiet as a sound proof room”.

As we drove on, I noticed that the forest was changing from blue pine to dark green cedar that created a darkening effect. Spotting, what was apparently our destination, I turned into an unpaved narrow road that opened out into a cedar shaded glen infested with monkeys. A small mud and wood structure with a tandoor and cooking area stood at the point, where the narrow road branched out from the main Nathiagali Highway. It was however the small clearing surrounded and roofed by the forest that sent my heart racing as I realized the almost total absence of sound. We ordered the hotel’s specialty, which was spicy fried wild beans, plucked fresh from a patch some distance away and piping hot tandoori roti. The utter silence and the amazing flavor of the meal combined to make the occasion mysteriously memorable.

It has been years now that I have used the Murree chairlift or taken a trip to Nathiagali and do not know if the ‘bubbles of silence’ still exist, but what I do know is that what I went through was real and perhaps inexplicable. It may be that what I was hearing (or not hearing) were the ‘sounds of silence’.