By Sonya Rehman
Every so often one comes across stories of ordinary people who wind up doing the extraordinary. Defying the odds and societal expectations, they set out on unchartered territory to seek truth, purpose and meaning from new life paths that may seem rife with risk for some. But perhaps this is what makes these individuals so very intriguing, larger than life and heroic, in a way.
When Absar Khan was just three-years-old, he had a slim chance for survival. With symptoms that started out with frequent bouts of fever, he was soon diagnosed with a rare form of terminal Leukemia in 1987 and was given a few months to live. But instead of his parents taking him down the conventional course of treatment – which was far from guaranteeing a cure – Nusrat and Farhad, desperate for an alternative route, took their son to (a now renowned) Indian Ayurvedic physician, Vaidya Balendu Prakash, in Meerut, India.
And eleven challenging years after his initial diagnosis, 14-year-old Khan was in remission in 1998.
“Throughout my childhood and my treatment, my parents would take me outdoors on picnics to the parks and on road trips. I used to be this little kid with long hair and would roam around in a red pair of shorts and it would remind everyone of Mowgli,” Khan says with a laugh. “I would see my parents really appreciate nature and I think that’s when my own innate awe for nature kicked in, making me always want to explore and do things in the outdoors. Even the Ayurvedic treatment I received for Leukemia were elements from the environment and nature.”
Now at 33, Khan reveals that he’s finally found the sweet spot of doing what he loves – making a living through his domestic travel start-up in Karachi. It keeps him centered.
However, post-treatment, things took a turn for the worse and Khan battled drug addiction for a few years that lasted throughout his teens. “I became very rebellious at 13. I wasn’t rebelling towards my parents – they were very liberal – but I was just rebelling in society; I wanted to be in the outdoors. As a child, nature kept me engaged. Nature was never boring, it never let me down…I wanted to return to it.”
Unfulfilled with a “normal” routine, Khan resorted to drugs as a means to escape. But after seven years, while studying law in the UK, he realized he’d had enough. “I really started feeling the impact of it and began reflecting on my life. I remember thinking that it wasn’t sustainable and acutely missed my childhood personality. I felt I had drifted from who I was.”
After graduating, Khan began practicing law in England, but he still felt disillusioned and empty. The persistent pull to return to himself ran deep, and so he packed his bags and moved to Karachi in 2013 to start over.
In a bid to find some semblance of inner clarity, Khan embarked on a solo trip in Pakistan’s northern areas for a period of five months. Camping, trekking and hiking alone, Khan states; “I went everywhere from the Afghan border in the west, to the China border in the east and everything in between. It was my first adult experience of being in the wilderness completely by myself. I was disconnected from everyone; my family and my life. That’s when I had an epiphany. I thought; why can’t we do the things we love to do on a daily basis? Why can’t I make this my life?”
The trip was a full circle moment for Khan, nature, he realized, had healed him once again.
Hence, in 2015, he co-founded a tourism company called TACTACK, along with his childhood friend, Imad Gharazeddine, a data scientist currently working for Google in Dubai.
Without a concrete business plan and barely breaking even in their early days, Khan reveals that his company has given him “a solid sense of fulfillment” since its launch. “At this point in my life, I feel I’m the closest to what I was like when I was a child. Nature has been a great friend.”
Organizing a number of trips across Pakistan, TACTACK currently comprises of a close-knit team that spearheads customized trips for individuals, educational institutions and corporates, alike.
“We don’t have a typical brick and mortar set-up. We work outdoors and are all a bunch of semi-eccentric misfits,” he chuckles.
From diving and exploration trips in Sindh, to conducting environmental mountaineering courses, organizing yoga retreats up north, eco tours and workshops for students and schools, and more, TACTACK also works closely with community teams to promote community-based tourism in the country.
“Whether you’re under the stars by the beach with close friends, or with a group of children learning to trek for the first time, it’s difficult to pin down my favourite experience so far,” he says, “I love being a part of people’s experiences I suppose, however, the most profound experience has to be camping and trekking alone. It’s incredibly stimulating.”
When asked about the future of local tourism, Khan thinks that the domestic travel scene is positive, yet disconcerting at the same time. “Last year, Gilgit-Baltistan saw 1.5 million tourists – the numbers have drastically increased in the past 4-5 years but the rate at which the environmental degradation is happening…it’s pretty alarming. If we keep this going without taking any protective measures, we’re going to end up destroying Pakistan’s natural beauty.”
Hoping to continue working on issues pertaining to environmental conservation, Khan discloses that his dream for the future boils down to cleaning up Pakistan. “Literally, every single corner,” he emphasizes.
Given that his life has been anything but ordinary, Khan inherently believes that everyone has the power to steer the ship of their lives on their own.
“Life is completely in our hands; we’re responsible for everything that takes place in our lives it’s up to us to choose whatever mindset or attitude we want,” he says, “We’re all here because we’re part of a grander system – we’re way more than flesh and bone. But we need to discover what our individual purpose is in this life. For me personally, we’re here for our own cleansing…we go through this life to ultimately discover the truth.”
The Friday Times