What is the most distinct feature of Baikal? It is a fairies land full of romantic legend. I have heard many stories and one that particularly touched me. Local lore has it that there was a fairy of love. Her job was to distribute love among those who needed that in life. (Who does not need it?) She wanted love to prevail the world over. She also protected Baikal’s natural surroundings and used to be on the shores of Baikal every night.
Anyone interested in fairies must have heard about Lake Baikal situated in Russia – an area commonly known as the Paristan. During my Russian language studies in the National University of Modern Languages Islamabad, our great Russian teacher Aleca, who knew about how Paristan (fairy land) is famous in our local literature, used to tell us tales of fairies famous in Russia. She told us about Baikal Lake. “Baikal is one of the most beautiful and fourth highest lake in the world. The panorama is such that fairies come and dance there and meet those who visit Baikal.” She also told about the fairy of love and taught the language in the process.
One night she met a man who just appeared on the shore of Baikal out of the blue. The man’s name too was Baikal: mortal, deprived, lonely, and it looked from his face that he needed some love in life. The fairy saw him and fell head over heals, taking it as a test case. Led over the waves of sympathy and challenge, they instantly crossed all the distances usually not possible in a short time. They together wove hopes for the future.
But their love came to a tragic end. Baikal thought that he was no match to the fairy. He was afraid of himself being human. And one day, he disappeared all of a sudden without any explanation, without warning. The fairy kept looking for him, found him and cut off his feet, making him unable to move. Who will decide about this love affair?
There are two other lakes that remind me of Baikal: one is the world’s highest Lake Toba in Simatra (Singapore) and the other lake is Saif ul Muluk in northern Pakistan. Besides similar environments, the romantic legends are also attached with both lakes. A man named Samosir once caught a fish in Toba Lake that transformed into a beautiful woman. She married Samosir and started living happily with him, bore him children. Their love too came to a tragic end when the husband transgressed and told someone the secret that she was a fish. Gods sent relentless rain, flooding the valley. Samosir drowned and an island grew from his body.
And the lake, Saif ul Muluk, we are more familiar; the Crown Prince of Persia hears about the beauty of the fairy Princess Badar Jamal – the daughter of king of Caucasus – and falls in love. The prince, after wandering and hardships, succeeds in winning the heart of Badar Jamal. The lake becomes the rendezvous where the lovers meet: contemplating matters of heart and their future together, hence the name. The Jinn guard of the queen of Parbat becomes jealous of their love and one day breaches the bank of the lake to drown them. But the lovers escape and find shelter in a nearby cave, which still exists.
I keep thinking of the lovers and fairies that come to the lakes to swim and dance in moonlit nights. I tend to believe such legends. The first impact that I get after setting eyes on Lake Saif ul Muluk is simply romantic. You do not get tired seeing the play of sun and shade. When you devote enough time to look at Saif ul Muluk – or any other – it becomes a bit magical, clouding over, changing colors, and cliffs of surrounding hills turn convex and concave according to the slant of light. It is a place where I forget the stress of today’s fast lane life. The legend keeps haunting me, though.