April 28, 2006

Party

Tonight.
Have a nice weekend…

filles at 11:42 am

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April 27, 2006

David Gillanders

It’s just getting better and better for David… he has just been selected with 11 other candidates worldwide for the World Press Photo Masterclass 2006! It’s fantastic news. I’m so puffed up about it, that’s my teacher!

filles at 5:13 pm

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the problem with bourbon…

It didn’t actually stop me. My manic stare convinced my new friend Lou to come for a beer with me at Uisge Beatha, and then after a few, cheered up and a big smile on my face, I wandered on down to our local Bourbon bar where I spent the rest of the evening working my way from the bottom shelf up. I was rescued by a very kind gentleman who made sure I got home safely and I’ve spent most of the day today regretting my decision to have that ‘last one for the road’.

Nevermind. I’ve read my way through the first three of Janet Evanovich’s novels over the last couple of days which are thoroughly entertaining, and now it’s time to pull this apartment into some kind of stately order for the holiday weekend coming up…

filles at 3:55 pm

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April 26, 2006

Reverse fortunes

And now for the bad news…

The sale of the car fell through, and we’ve missed this weeks trading ads. My printer has packed up and won’t print. I’ve been to the dentist and need some major work and I’m in a lot of pain. The chairs that were delivered don’t match our dining chairs now I have to hand carry them back and pay a service charge for returning them. Michelle is in France, Maddie is in the States, Julie is in Spain.

I have no-one to go out and drown my sorrows with!

filles at 11:40 am

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The Hunza children were so photogenic

filles at 7:31 am

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April 25, 2006

Peshawar & the Khyber Pass

We were told by Jamal on our first day that Peshawar would likely be the highlight of our trip, this was after we voiced our fears about visiting the bustling North West Frontier Province city. The stories that I’ve heard, the images that the city conjures up all go a long way towards weaving the sense of danger and exotic’ness you get when one thinks of Peshawar. With the recent bombings still fresh in our mind we set off, albeit a little reluctantly, from our haven in Swat and started south towards the dusty plains of Peshawar. We stopped at Churchills Picket, picked up a police escort, who then picked up a military escort who both then accompanied us on our walk up to the top of the picket which is now controlled by the army. The views were amazing and on a clear day you could see the whole of the Lower Swat Valley. Apparently Winston Churchill served here in 1897 and sent dispatches back to the Daily Telegraph. Hence I gather, the name.

From there we continued south, stopping at a roadside restaurant for lunch where we were seated towards the back of the open aired restaurant as far away from the groups of men as possible. The seats were those bed-like structures, four legs and rope strung between them like macrame. Far more comfortable to lie on that to sit on, but by pulling your legs up under you and sitting in a half lying, stretched out, relaxed kind of pose it was actually more comfortable that just sitting on the ground which was our usual lunch-time position. About halfway through our meal we noticed another group of people arrive, curtains were drawn around the table, then a woman with her kids, and her husband I assume, slipped in as quickly and discretely as possible. As is the culture in Pakistan, women don’t eat in the open where other men can see them. Here curtains were drawn to hide behind, however in most restaurants there are rooms upstairs or at the back of the restaurant set aside for groups that contained women. None of that eating on the street for us, we ate the food from the street, but we couldn’t let anyone see us doing it!

As we got lower and further south it became hotter and hotter. We reached Takht-e-Bahi in the height of the mid-afternoon sun. Takht-e-Bahi is the most impressive and complete Buddhist monastery in Pakistan, you can see down across the plains as far as Peshawar on one side, and up to the Malakand Pass and the hills of Swat on the other. The monastery is very impressive, founded in the first century AD and abandoned in the sixth or seventh centuries, it was surrounded by ruins of houses that became a village in the hillside above it. We were guided around the site by a man who had been giving the same tour for the last 30 years – he’d even published his own guide to the ruins!

During our visit, we were asked politely by a group of kids if they might have their picture taken with us. Of course we agreed and we were promised a copy of the photo in exchange for giving out our address here in the UK. Despite it being the reverse of the norm, true enough last week we received a lovely 8×10 photo sent direct from Peshawar along with a lovely letter and an email address to correspond with. It really puts us to shame, as much as I’ve been writing and posting photos on the web, I’ve yet to have any pictures printed and am even further away from having them sent back to the kids in Pakistan who so diligently wrote out their addresses in order that they might receive copies… I must get right to it.

Anyway, after our visit we headed directly into Peshawar. We got a little lost getting into the city and trying to find the infamous Khan Klub. It’s not the usual place to stay but I would definitely say it’s the best place to stay- if not in the whole of Pakistan, definitely in Peshawar. The Khan Klub is an authentic 200 year old Haveli Residence restored and converted into a beautiful guesthouse in the middle of the old city. It was divine, and the food in the Afghan Restaurant downstairs was amazing. If you asked me where in the world I’d love to go back to… without a second of hesitation I’d tell you the Khan Klub in Peshawar. I will forever hold my memories of this place close to my heart. We went to bed that night happy and looking forward to our big day the next day.

The Khyber Pass. Everyone has heard of it. Most people know where it is, approximately, but we were determined to travel it. To see what thousands through history have seen and witnessed over the years. Today tourists need a permit and an armed escort from the Political Agent in Peshawar to visit the Khyber Pass. We handed over our passports and Hatam went off with his friend Imran the trekker (another guide) to sort out the paperwork on our behalf. From Peshawar to the Afghan border at Torkham is 56 kilometres. As foreigners without an Afghanistan visa, the last point for us was the Michni checkpoint from were we see the Durand Line, marked by large numbers,as it snakes across the ridge marking the border to Afghanistan. All along the way are strategic forts that were built by either the Sikhs or the British and who are now manned by the Frontier Police. Once you reach the first, Jamrud Fort, built by the Sikhs in 1823 to mark the western edge of their empire you are entering into the Khyber Agency which is one of the seven agencies that make up the Tribal areas, populated here mainly by the Afridi tribe. Here, Pakistani law gives way to tribal law not far from the main road, which is why you must travel with an armed Afridi escort. Our escort was Hadar Khan from the Khasadar Force, who started out a very serious devout kind of fellow, but after spending the most part of the day with us, along the Khyber Pass, in the Smugglers Bazaar, and in a back room in a roadside restaurant tearing apart a chicken with us, he turned out to be quite a gentle lad who had a soft spot for Michelle.

It was fantastic day. We had fun buying a Shalwar Kameez with Hatam in the bazaar, even insisting he change into it right there, and shopping for a ‘hot’ or smuggled Sony CD player which was supposed to be a gift for his wife when he returned to his village. The restaurant we stopped at was just a local roadside BBQ house, but the Chicken Tikka and the BBQ mutton was to die for. And after all that, the day couldn’t have possibly ended without a visit to a carpet store.

So that’s what we did. We visited a carpet store with the famous last words ringing out loud & clear, much to Hatam’s amusement. “We’re not going to buy a carpet, we just want to have a look!”

Note: A great editorial from the Guardian on Pakistan, and Michael Palins Himalaya trip that covers a lot of the same area in Pakistan that we did.

filles at 1:27 pm

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April 24, 2006

Update

Hillwalking was good. The weather was fine, I was invited to join a sub-group of walkers who were going to just “have a nice walk” instead of racing around the 14 mile path. We had a lovely day. We managed some height at a slow & leisurely pace, with beautiful views opening out onto several lochs, a couple of waterfalls and then back down to the dam to join up with the others. I’d like to think it was about 8 or 9 miles, but I could be wrong…

Packing is under control. Kind of. Michelle did a smashing job with her clothes recycling task. No more taffeta sequin numbers or bright fluorescent shirts (except the one orange silk number which I couldn’t make her give up!) – we might have a chance of fitting in the Paris apartment yet.

The car is technically sold. We exchange cash for keys on Wednesday after a quick trip tomorrow to the mechanics to take care of a pesky light on the dashboard that has unceremoniously started appearing intermittently. TV is also sold, and the new owner has kindly agreed to leave it with us for another week to give us something to do in our few breaks between cleaning & recycling. Toaster, kettle, vacuum, plants and other bits & pieces have also been sold & allocated to new homes, and we’ve managed to buy a washing machine & dryer in Paris already!

As I said, we’re getting there. We’ve got a wardrobe, futon and bookshelves still available if anyone you know is interested…

Party is on for Friday. If you don’t have an invitation and you suspect you should have received one, email me, and accept my profuse apologies….

Pakistan story will continue just as soon as I get back from dropping off our donations.

filles at 12:47 pm

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April 21, 2006

Weekend, again…

It’s our last hillwalk this weekend. I’m excited it’s our last, but not excited about the walk because instead of it being a nice easy walk to end our stay, it’s a 14 mile trek up & down hills. The sun had better come out and there had better be a beer garden at the finish is all I’m prepared to say now!

Have a good weekend….

filles at 2:49 pm

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April 20, 2006

Swat

We made it to Saidu Sharif without a hitch. We checked into the beautiful although empty Swat Serena hotel and fell in love with our amazing room with beautifully laundered clean sheets, fresh smelling bath towels and decided we’d be happy to stay put for a couple of days – even just to get clean again! After lunch we headed out to the Swat Museum and Butkara with a great guide who gave us the history of the area over a cup of tea and a tune on his sitar. It was extremely interesting, the history of Buddhism mingled with conquerors mingled with Islam. We made it to the museum with only 5 minutes to spare and thanks to Hatam we managed to convince them to let us in and have a quick look. There was a curator in front of us turning on the lights in the display cases, and a guy behind us turning the lights off again as we passed….

The early evening we decided not to let the guys out of our sight. Normally they would go off for a couple of hours before dinner and do whatever it is that they did while we wound down and showered ready for dinner. This night we decided we would hang out with them and see what they got up to. We didn’t want to make any decisions, just go where they went and just hang out. So. Off we went to Mingara. First stop was the garage, the part of the bazaar that contained mostly garages and things to do with cars. We parked the car outside, Asghar made the arrangements and they set about changing the tyre. Across the street was a stand cooking some kind of meat with a few tables. Asghar wanted to eat some dinner there, he didn’t want to join us in the hotel that evening (I don’t blame him, the staff were a bit snotty) so we wandered over and sat down to wait. Michelle started taking pictures, Asghar got his food, and Hatam dashed off next door to make an appointment at the barbers.

It was a lot of fun. I don’t think 2 women turn up very often in this part of the bazaar, we became a bit of a spectacle. While Hatam was having a shave at the barbers, Michelle was filming him inside, and I was standing outside looking in. At one point the barber started getting a little agitated, he had a big knife in one hand and he didn’t look happy. He was telling Hatam something and then Hatam had Michelle call to me to come inside. I couldn’t understand why? Michelle was motioning frantically for me to come in, when I didn’t, she told me to turn around…. there were about 25 men standing in a semi-circle around me just watching. I had on my lacy red outfit (originally for the mela night of the wedding celebrations) and must have looked so out of place they were just all stopped in the middle of the road. I was causing a traffic jam.

The barber was upset, Hatam & Michelle were laughing and I quickly got myself inside. It wasn’t scary, I think they were just curious as to what we were doing there… anyway, that was enough excitement. Shave finished, dinner finished, new tyre on the car and we were off. Next stop, the river bed to wash the car. Free water? Free car wash….

filles at 7:12 pm

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April 19, 2006

the Shangla Pass

So, to the newspaper, DAWN. Michelle picked up a copy at the front desk while we were waiting for the guys to return from the bazaar where they went to have the tyre changed. I was nose deep in my copy of ‘Among Muslims‘ by Kathleen Jamie (a wonderful story, if you get a chance). Michelle started reading the paper, front page, front section, sport, reviews etc – her usual order. She was very quiet and her body language was definitely shouting something, only when I noticed I couldn’t quite work out what it was….

I asked what was happening in the world, her reply was stilted. I asked again and she said “you don’t want to know”. Now if you know me, you know what that would make me do. I took the paper, front page story was “Bomb blast in Peshawar Bazaar!”. Here I must add that we were coming down from the Northern Provinces and just about to cross the Swat Valley into the North West Frontier Province, direction Peshawar. I felt sick. The story was graphic, what happened, who was injured, maimed, where it happened, what time blah blah blah – you have to read a Pakistani paper to understand the descriptive detail they go into, the only uncertainty was Why it happened and WHO was behind it. Plenty of theories but nothing concrete. Not that it mattered, there had just been a so called ‘attack’ on our next point of call. The rest of our evening had effectively been ruined.

Next morning was the drive to Swat. We had to go over the Shangla Pass, 80 odd kilometres which was expected to take a good 4-5 hours. It did. The road was atrocious. At one point quite early on there had been a landslide so the army had closed the road and didn’t expect it to re-open till 12 noon. It was only 7am. We were stuck in a queue of traffic at a point high on the road with a dozen or so other vehicles, unable to turn around or advance. An enterprising man had set up a makeshift pakora & tea stand and was doing a roaring trade with the locals, if it wasn’t only 7am and fried pakora wasn’t fried I would have been the 1st in line.

Again we settled in for the long wait. Again, luckily for us, a policeman happened to see us in our elegant outfits (and we were really playing the part this morning, with shawls covering our hair) and after a few short bursts on the walkie talkie the road was magically opened early for us. The fact they opened it early was one thing, but it was not nearly ready to be opened. We had a regular car, most people were in buses fairly high off the ground, and we had to drive over rubble about 4 feet deep of medium sized boulders – I was positive the car would give up on us halfway, but again, thanks to our wonderful driver Asghar we made it over without a hitch to a loud cheer from everyone following us.

The Swat valley was beautiful. The houses were colourful and quite large covering the hills with immaculate terraces and character. We got to the bottom of the valley and travelled along the river for some time and it was gorgeous, before remounting and heading for the narrow pass. At the top was our last police check-point of the Northern Areas, and we must have been the only visitors that day because we were offered some tea & a chat with the mean looking, yet extremely friendly & inquisitive armed forces.

(Really, I must stress again, how gentle & kind the Pakistani people were. All of them. All the time. We were treated royally.)

At the top of the Pass we all of a sudden returned to the real world. Phones crackled to life, reception was restored. The first thing on my list was to phone my mum to tell here we were allright. After the descriptive news report I had read the night before I felt I should just give her a quick call let her hear my voice and then carry on. The call went something like this. “Hi mum a very quick call from Pakistan to let you know we’re fine, we weren’t involved. Involved in what? The bomb blast in Peshawar. WHAT???? WHERE ARE YOU? WHAT’S HAPPENING??” In hindsight it was probably not the smartest thing to do. But there you go, my intentions were good, it seems like the news hadn’t made it as far as Australia!

The trip down the other side of the mountains was much quicker. We stopped for a car wash, we slowed down in a few little towns to check out the gun shops on the side of the road, but other than that we sped into Saidu Sharif as quickly as possible. I was hungry and determined to hang on to reach the magnificent Swat Serena instead of stopping to squat just anywhere…. to be continued…

filles at 12:15 pm

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April 17, 2006

Back to Besham

So where was I? Hunza….

We left Karimabad early one morning to drive back to Besham. It was not really a day to look forward to, just retracing our trip to where the rain had started on our first day. Luckily for us the sun was shining and there didn’t seem to be many people on the road. We made good time between Karimabad and Gilgit and then not too much further along, about half an hour out of Chilas, our good run came to an end. The road was backed up for about a kilometre due to a landslide. The military was there digging out a path and by the time we arrived some people had been waiting close to 4-5 hours…

Hatam and Asghar left the car and went to check it out, socialise and generally do what locals do while Michelle and I sat in the car – in all our finery, in the sun, getting settled in for a long wait. The cars and trucks kept coming, now the number of vehicles was just getting larger and larger, and there were more and more men wandering about, wandering past us to get up close to what was happening. All of a sudden, after about 35 minutes, the pack of men started running towards us, shalwar kameez’s flapping. It was clear. The road was clear. They were running for their cars. The buzz in the air was amazing, like the depression lifted, and then off we went in a convoy.

The road continued, we stopped for tea, the road continued we stopped for lunch – then just as we were getting comfortable, something happened. There were trucks stopped up ahead on the other side of the road, Hatam & Asghar tensed up, and the car started stopping and starting. Hatam returned to his position of peering up and out the front window…. the trucker started flashing his lights, and Asghar floored it…

First we heard them, then we felt them, FALLING ROCKS…

They came crashing down on us, on the roof, smashing into the window, Asghar was accelerating as fast as he could and there were stones coming down in front of us and behind us, it was terrifying. Michelle received a big one smack in the middle of her window – thankfully it was closed – and then as quickly as it started it stopped. Our hearts beating fast, we stopped the car, the guys got out to check the damage, and Michelle and I just sat and stared at each other in shock. We were so lucky, no broken windows, no broken bodies, just a few dents and chips, and a whole lot of fear. If Pakistan wasn’t a dry country we would have definitely stopped at the first pub for a pint after that. Maybe two.

Instead we stopped for tea. Pakistani tea. More milk than water, and almost more sugar than milk, it’s the kind of tea that gives you a sugar shock after a gulp-full. Exactly what was needed after what Hatam would thereafter refer to as ‘just part of the adventure!’ The rest of the day passed as uneventfully as the morning. We passed some amazing scenery, the Indus river in all it’s glory far far below us and people wandering along it’s banks, no village in sight, only goats and rocks. All of this section of the KKH we had missed because of the terrible weather on the way up and for our return the sun was streaming down.

One particular village had a cricket tournament going on. Pakistan vs Australia (we knew they were really Pakistanis but they were wearing the full aussie ensemble). The whole town was out watching the match sitting around the pitch which incorporated the main road. Each time a car would pass, the game would have to stop while the car passed, and then it would resume with no bother. We passed the pitch, stopped the car and came back to watch. Sadly for us, the game came to an end because everyone was too busy watching us watching them. Hatam rounded us up and got us back in the car before the more zealous fans tried to have us removed for distraction.


We became the focus of attention, instead of the game…

The road continued. A few tight corners, a few tactical manoeuvres and 4 punctures later and we arrived in Bescham at the PDTC Motel which we shared with UN workers, the military and as assortment of earthquake aid workers. Notwithstanding the tents set up in the garden, nor the air-raid sirens signalling the next explosion (they were blasting a new road through the cliff face just opposite) it was not the nicest of our wonderful hotels that’s for sure, but it was only one night, and we’d had a very long and exciting day, all we needed was something to eat, drink, and a place to lie down.

We got all that, plus our first newspaper…. to be continued

filles at 10:50 pm

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April 13, 2006

La Republique des Foufounes Electriques

To the girl who writes La Republique des Foufounes Electriques, please can you get in touch – I don’t know how to contact you. Our email address is on this page.
Thanks

filles at 9:45 am

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April 12, 2006

Up to Hunza

The origin of the people of Hunza is unclear. They look almost European, some with brown or russet hair and green or blue eyes with a history shrouded in myths involving Alexander the Great and a fairy of the Hindu Kush amongst others, all of which are likely unfounded. Certainly it’s known that the villages of Altit, Baltit and Ganesh were probably settled in the 11th century, and that the same family has ruled Hunza since then. Karimabad was our principal destination. The plan was to spend 3 nights there and use it as a base to visit the Hunza Valley and the far north. We stayed at the lovely Serena Hotel which was close to empty. Since 9/11 tourism in Pakistan has been suffering severely, everyone has a story to tell and it’s all so terribly sad. Before 9/11 tourism was huge in Northern Pakistan, and rightly so. It’s some of the most amazing scenery and home to the second tallest mountain in the world – K2 – thankfully there is still a minimum of adventure travel taking place each year with treks organised by predominately Canadians, Japanese, Italians and Spanish up to the K2 base camp. But that’s it. The locals have been hit quite hard. We did our best, certainly made a hefty contribution to the sales of Pashminas between us!

One morning early we went for a walk along the water canals. It was beautiful, we were walking in amongst the village, beside houses and schools and we picked up quite a following of children. Most wanted their pictures taken, others were pushed in front of the camera by their mothers – who themselves were too timid to stand with them. Most of the school age children had been learning English and some more than others were confident in practicing it on us. We had a great morning – and we made loads of promises to send pictures back to the children, it was the only form of thanks they were interested in. I think being two women in traditional dress made a difference, women, even fully veiled women were more likely to make eye contact with us, and even hesitate a smile – as opposed to when we were accompanied by men.


Hatam & Michelle with Hopar Glacier (the big mass of ice, rocks & refuse) in the background

One of the highlights of our stay was a trip up to the Hopar Glacier. We rented a jeep and a driver and set off, Michelle & I in the front with the driver and Hatam & Asghar (our guide & driver respectively) in the back. We had to descend the mountain cross the Hunza river (Chinese bridge!) and then drive up the mountain in the Kingdom of Nagar. Nagar & Hunza were both converted from animism to Shia Islam in the 16th or 17th centuries. According to Isobel Shaw in her book on Pakistan, from about 1700 on the 2 kingdoms were at war, continually attacking each other and stealing women and children to sell as slaves. Today conflict fuelled by religion still exists between the 2 kingdoms as the Hunza people are now Ismailis, followers of the Aga Khan, and the people of Nagar are Shias.

The drive for the first 5 or so miles is dry and barren, with sheer loose rock faces towering down on you. Being in a soft top jeep didn’t inspire much confidence…. then you cross the Hispar River on a bridge and climb up on a terrible road to the fertile villages of central Nagar for an hour of so till you reach a small hotel (the Hopar Hilton) on a ridge overlooking the Hopar Glacier. The glacier drops 5,000 metres from it’s source and ends at 2,270m above sea level, which apparently makes it the lowest glacier in the world. Again, according to Isobel Shaw in 1990 the glacier was surging forward at a reckless 3 metres a day. We stopped for tea in a very simple room furnished with a mattress and gas burner to try and warm up before the terrifying descent homewards. I switched places with Asghar for the return and hid in the back under my scarf with Hatam keeping my mind focused elsewhere. Michelle had great plans to take some impressive photos of the descent, but amazingly as much as I was terrified, she fell asleep in the front hanging out of the open doorway! Sadly, we have no pictures.

Less exciting but no less impressive were our trips to Sost, the frontier town and last checkpoint before China, Gulmit, where the volleyball finals were being held Hunza vs Nagar, Passu where we stopped for a tea at a restaurant which must honestly have the best view in the world* and followed up the tea with a walk to the foot of the Passu Glacier.

The far north was beautiful and the people were genuinely lovely, friendly, happy people – I think the ideal time to visit would be June when all the fruit would be out and the temperatures would get up to around 25 degrees. Sadly for us, it was still freezing overnight but the advantage was there was no-one about, we saw a couple of walkers in the hotel, but no tourists out and about getting caught in our pictures. Brilliant. to be continued…


The Glacier Breeze Restaurant Passu

* The couple who own the restaurant and campsite now live in Brisbane, Australia where they run a Pakistani restaurant – somewhere we’ve promised to visit next christmas

filles at 2:44 pm

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April 11, 2006

the KKH

The Karakorum Highway is only a Highway in name presumably to provide a simple acronym that is bandied about quite readily – the KKH. In reality, it should be called the ‘Very scary little road that is cut out of cliffs susceptible to landslides and falling rocks’, but VSLRTICOOCSTL doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the KKH so we’ll forgive the authorities on this one. However, I must tell you in case you’re considering going – it’s not even close to a highway, the only resemblance would be the madmen that drive on it way above the speed limit. Whether it’s to minimise their chances of being hit from falling rocks and ultimately spend less time on the KKH or for pure thrill seeking purposes, we too found ourselves hurtling around bends doing 100km/h in what I would think would be a 30km/h zone.

In the 60’s & 70’s Pakistan and China built this road across these mountains which passes through the ‘collision zone’ of the Indian and Asian continents. Here the ground rises higher, over a greater area, than anywhere else on the planet, and China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India all come within 250km of each other.


This is where the 3 mountain ranges meet as well as the Indus & Hunza Rivers – The Karakorum, Hindukush and Himalayas

For most of my first day on the KKH, especially once it started raining and got dark I had my eyes closed and my head wrapped tightly in my scarf. The one time I did look up I caught our guide peering out the front window looking up…. stupidly I asked what he was doing. The groan that escaped Michelle’s lips when we were told quite matter-of-factly that he was looking for falling rocks told me she too was going to be clenching her eyes closed from then on in.

Welcome to Pakistan. I think I missed the part in the Lonely Planet that talks of the dangers of travelling up north. I was so busy worrying about terrorism attacks and other propoganda the media here in the west feeds us that I forgot that Mother Nature herself can sometimes be the most frightening. Definitely it didn’t occur to me that we would be dodging rocks for close to 2000km. The plus of course is that without living through the journey we would never have seen such magnificent mountain ranges nor met some of the most beautiful and peaceful people ever. And at the end of it all, we were safe. Hatam’s prayers for us everyday, and his continual “in shallah” at the end of every statement- got us all the way up to Sost just 100km south of the Chinese border, all the way back and through the hair-raising pass into the Swat Valley and down through Peshawar and to the border of Afghanistan. We made it, and what an adventure it was. Pure brilliance. I had a fantastic time.

That first day we drove from Rawalpindi to Chilas. Because of the atrocious weather instead of taking about 10 hours, it actually took us close to 16 hours and it wasn’t till the following day when I dared open our guide book that I read that we should ‘absolutely never travel in the rain or at night on the KKH’. Bandits, landslides and general lawlessness abounds. Thankfully our guide was local and our driver was an ex-bus driver on the Sost-Islamabad route so had plenty of experience on the road and a deep respect for his vehicle, and the 4 or 5 foreigner registration points along the way went a long way in installing a little bit of confidence. The second day however, I was already trying to plan how to get back without having to drive…..

In Gilgit we were treated to tea and french fries (quite the treat!) in the hotel suite of one of the Northern Areas Council Representatives from Skardu. We had turned up at a hotel for some tea and it turns out that Hatam knew this gentlemen so we were invited to join him and discuss politics in modern Pakistan with him and three other members of the council. It’s a big deal. Really. Pakistans official position is that, until a vote by the people of Kashmir (as specified in the ’47 ceasefire terms) is held, Kashmir doesn’t belog to anyone. This leaves the Northern Areas in limbo, bcause making it a province would concede the status quo of a divided Kashmir. So now, all the former mini-states from the north are governed by the 24 member Northern Areas Council headed by a federally appointed chief executive, however they still cannot vote in national elections. So you see, a big deal. We met 4 of the 24 drinking tea at the Hotel Park in Gilgit. A fine day. to be continued….

filles at 1:40 pm

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filles at 11:17 am

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