Mountain life key to longevity for Kashmir's centenarians

Mountain life key to longevity for Kashmir's centenarians
In this photograph taken on December 1, 2013, 107-year-old Pakistani Kashmiri Hafeezullah (C) and his 70-year-old wife Issem Jan make their way back home in the village of Chattah in the mountainous region of Upper Neelum Valley in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

CHATTAH, Pakistan - 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 still 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, putting their longevity down to their simple mountain lifestyle.

Situated in the Lower Himalayan Range, the Neelum Valley is formed by a 200 kilometre (124 miles) 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 AFP met with around a dozen men and women claiming to be at least a century old.

Hafeezullah says he is 132, which would make him the oldest person in the world - although Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) says he is a comparatively more youthful 107.

A slightly built man with a face as jagged as the mountains surrounding him, he said a healthy diet of mainly fresh produce and occasional meat was the reason behind his longevity.

He has 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 said referring to the natural system of freezing produce under snow-covered ground.

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