Pakistan has been named one of the worst places for old folks, but Kashmir’s centenarians say mountain life – hard work, clean air, no fast food – is the key to their longevity.
He may be more than a century old, but Hafeezullah still goes to work every day. With the aid of a cane, the wizened white-bearded centenarian tends to his fields in Pakistan’s hauntingly beautiful Neelum Valley, just as he did when Britain ruled this part of the world.
Pakistan was recently named by the UN as one of the worst countries in the world to be for an old person, in a report that cited insecurity and lack of freedom for those over 60. But a dozen or so centenarians like Hafeezulah, living in a remote region of Kashmir, are bucking that trend and putting their longevity down to simple mountain lifestyle.
Situated in the Lower Himalayan Range, the Neelum Valley is formed by a 200km-long river and is home to some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Craggy, snow-peaked mountains, waterfalls and green pastures surround the village of Chattah where there are a dozen men and women claiming to be at least a century old.
Hafeezullah says he's 132, which would make him the oldest person in the world – although Pakistan’s National Database And Registration Authority (NADRA) says he's a comparatively more youthful 107.
A slightly built man with a face as jagged as the mountains surrounding him, he says a healthy diet of mainly fresh produce and occasional meat is the reason behind his longevity. He's lived through the days of British India and witnessed Partition, but says the thing he remembers most fondly is the low cost of living during his youth.
“We used to eat vegetables and pulses. We dumped the dried vegetables in land during the winter season and then dug them up and ate them in summer,” he says, referring to the natural system of freezing produce under snow-covered ground.
He has outlived three wives, but his fourth, Issem Jan, dedicates herself to helping him live as long as possible. “I do whatever I can for him. I take care of everything for him. I serve him a lot and God will give me his reward,” says the 70-year-old as she massages his legs.