Many cultural factors have shaped my childhood growing up in Pakistan. Only when I entered my teenage years did my family and I decide to immigrate to Canada, mainly for better safety and educational opportunities.
Pakistan is a developing country located in South Asia that gained independence from India in 1947. The country has a rich history, having historical ties to many renowned historical empires and dynasties, including Alexander the Great, the Mughals and the British Indian Empire.
However, today I want to focus on the unique urban legends that my older cousins would traumatize me with (slight exaggeration included) during my childhood. While not all urban legends are horrific — some can even be focused on humour — the ones I want to focus on are the ones that have included a fear element, as these are the ones that are most dear and vivid to me.
These urban legends serve as a reminder of the unique cultural ties I hold to my home country. Therefore, I think it is worth highlighting some of the urban legends that have stayed with me, even after 10+ years.
This one is my personal favourite because my uncle had numerous anecdotes of encountering the Pichal Peri (unverifiable, of course). Many of these involved him or his friends encountering a mysterious woman with a hunchback on the side of the road while travelling across the isolated country highways late at night, asking for assistance and then disappearing in thin air after getting distracted looking for maps or a phone to call for assistance in the car.
The word “Pichal Peri” directly translates to a ‘reverse-footed woman.’ The urban legend of the Pichal Peri is shared by both Pakistan and India. It originates from the northern parts of the countries, in the famous Himalayan foothills and mountain ranges. However, while it originated from the Northern ranges, people have reported seeing the Pichal Peri in various areas of the country, even as far as Karachi, located in the most southern part of the country.
The Pichal Peri is described as initially appearing in the guise of a beautiful woman who mainly targets men and asks them for guidance. Even in this form, her feet always remained reversed. After a while, the Pichal Peri would disappear abruptly, instilling anxiety and fear in the men. In other instances, people have reported that the Pichal Peri could also change her disguise into a horrific-looking creature that is 20 feet tall, with a notable hunchback and ragged clothing covered in blood stains.
The Pichal Peri usually targets men who are travelling in solitude, either to entice and subsequently kill them or just to give the men (mainly passersby) a terrifying experience to remember for the rest of their lives. The supposed reason for targeting men is because accounts believe the Pichal Peri to be the ghost of a woman who experienced death during childbirth or was abused by her in-laws.
Some locals in the areas where the legend originates even believe the Pichal Peri to be responsible for the disappearances of tourists who hike in the northern mountain ranges. Others strongly disagree with this, attributing the disappearances to the harsh weather conditions.
The Hathora Group
The urban legend of the Hathora Group originates in Karachi, the most populous city in Pakistan. The Hathora Group urban legend was made popular during the mid-1980s, a period of significant political unrest in the country. This was primarily due to the banning of all political parties ordered by the leader at the time, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, causing Pakistan to be governed under martial law. In addition, during the 1980s, Pakistan saw a considerable increase in refugees entering from Afghanistan, a neighbouring country to Pakistan. From 1985–1986, in the city of Karachi, there were a series of murders, all using a weapon called a Hathora (the Urdu word for hammer). The victims were always said to be beggars.
The police investigation initially ruled that the murder spree was committed by a single serial killer. However, these murders seemed to be happening all across the city of Karachi, so the possibility of a single serial killer was ruled out, and it was theorized a group of people might be responsible. The case remains unsolved to this day. However, people have speculated on multiple possible theories, including a socialist agenda to combat the Afghan refugees, government involvement to bring political stability and even a satanic cult.
None of the theories have turned any leads, and no person has been arrested for the murders. The horrific killings remain surrounded by mystery, even almost 40 years later.
The 40 Dead Children
This urban legend belongs to the province of Balochistan, which encompasses almost 50% of Pakistan’s total land area. Balochistan is abundant with mountains and barren land. It is the least populous province of Pakistan.
One popular mountain range in Balochistan, the Chiltan mountain range, is located in the capital city of Quetta, the home of this urban legend. The tallest peak of this mountain range, the Koh-i-Chiltan peak, is reported to be frequented by the lost souls of 40 dead children.
Supposedly, 40 children were left at the peak by a couple long ago. The couple, unable to give birth, reached out for support from local healers. One of the healers had prayed for them to have children, resulting in the couple being blessed with a total of 40 children. Since the couple wasn’t well off, they couldn’t afford to support all 40 children and decided to leave 39 on the Koh-i-Chiltan peak. Later, the wife was drawn by the supposed crying of the 39 children and decided to revisit the mountain peak. Once on top, she saw that all 39 children were still alive. After noticing this, she left her 40th child at the peak as well and hurried back to inform her husband so they could go back to investigate. However, upon returning, all 40 children had vanished.
Over the past decades, several people who have climbed the mountain ranges have reported hearing the cries of children, especially in the night. The wailing of these children has also been reported to have misguided locals and tourists who climb the mountain to make them lose their path and never make it back to lower altitudes.
The urban legend has still not been formally investigated, and the identities of the couple and the children are still unknown.
Though that wraps up some of the most memorable urban legends I grew up with, Pakistan is filled with many more — some with verifiable truth and others surrounded by complete uncertainty.
Now that I have grown up, I realize the persistence of such urban legends and the importance these urban legends have in societies. The urban legends act as tools for preserving and passing on culture and are sometimes just mere tools of entertainment to foster stronger relationships.