The journey in Pakistan continues...
From the first moment we got to Pakistan we just loved the place. The food was great and the people were so friendly. Chinese people hardly ever smile, not sure if it's in their culture, so it was nice to see some smiling faces again. Who also spoke English!
The days in Passu can probably best be summed up in the following:
- went hiking over a glacier run
- went hiking up to another glacier
- squeezed 16 people in a small jeep
- drove said jeep down a narrow and steep mountain road
- got stopped by armed police due to jeep overload
- broke the exhaust of the jeep due to same reason
- crossed a suspension bridge with a good 2 feet gap between the boards
- camped beside a freezing glacier river
Next we moved down Hunza valley to Karimabad. This is just an amazingly beautiful place. Really high snowcapped mountains (some over 7000 m high) and a river flowing through the valley, shaping the landscape of mud, sand and rocks. Spread out in between there are green spots of small fields and villages and apricot and poplar trees. And when driving up from Karimabad up to the camp site at Eagles nest we could really see the villages up close and how it is built up in the mountain side. There were some really steep edges on that road!
A few of us went for another hike up to see a meddow up on a mountain. That was a real scramble! First we had to walk alongside a mountain side with only a meter wide footpath and the wall going straight up or straight down on either side. Then we were going to cross the glacier river but couldn't because it was too strong. Instead we scrambled our way up on one side of the glacier. Once we couldn't go any further we could see the meddow but couldn't get there. At least so the guides said. But then they apparently changed their minds and they found a way over the glacier to the other side. It didn't look like a long distance but it was a real effort to get across. It could be dangerous as well. As one of the guys said, it is a strange feeling when you step on a two ton rock and it moves. But we got across and hiked for another 30 minutes to the meddow. It was in fact worth it, even if I was dead tired on top there. Really beautiful! And again, the friendlyness! Some farmers have their animals up there during summer and a group of western tourists just wonder up to their summer home. Still they offered us their bread! Just the gesture of it. Fantastic.
The walk down to Karimabad was much easier but it did have some hairy parts. Again we had to walk alongside the mountain wall on the narrow footpath. We guest the drop on the side was about 150 m down but the book apparently said 700 m. Either way, slip of that path and your dead. And I guess you have the time to think about your life on the way down. I'm not really afraid of hights but I certainly didn't like that path.
Karimabad was a relatively chilled out place and you could see from the number of hotels in that place that there used to be alot of tourists there before. A lot of climbers and hikers come through the town and the area when going up the mountains. Even though we did see a few, there weren't many tourists now and we were told that they haven't had many tourists since 9/11. I understand why but it's such a shame. The place is so great.
Moving on from the relaxing and beautiful surroundings of Hunza valley we went down to Gilgit. This was the first time I've seen a town being sponsored by a telecom company and a Norwegian one as well. That is, I don't think it is but when you see the "welcome to Gilgit" sign with the Telenor logo you kind of get that impression. And all these different small shops, not only mobile shops, but bakery and stationary and what not. It should be said that another company, Jazz, had its name spread all over as well.
This was also the first time we really got to notice the male dominance of this country. First of all, we hardly saw any women on the streets. And we got to feel one of the downsides (even if only minor) of our gender. On our city tour we stopped by this river that was so clear and so tempting in the heat. And it was really hot! Some kids were swimming in a small dam there and the guys were allowed to join them while us females could just stand in the shade, watching them and sending them evil thoughts. Oh, to be a boy...
From a more serious side, we did have to dress up when going outside the hotel, meaning longs legs and sleeves. And preferrably a headscarf covering our hair. And it only got worse as we moved down south. Everytime we were with locals we covered up. And it that heat that was not really comfortable. The thing is, we might have been overreacting with the clothes but its better to be dressing respectfully, even if it is hot. But I did end up hating my headscarf.
Between Gilgit and Islamabad it wasn't considered to be safe so we were originally going to fly. Fortunately the guide wanted us to do the overland route but not the Karakoram Highway. So we went in four jeeps instead, climbing our way up to a mountain pass at about 4000 m. There we stopped to watch a polo match but we were too late to see the whole of the match we wanted to. So we decided to wait three hours for the next match. And at 3000+ metres altitude and literally in a cloud it was really cold. And rainy. It was also an interesting experience to have an audience whatever you did. I don't think these people had seen many foreigners before and I think we were the only four women in a mile radius. So the locals just sat around the jeeps watching us. So when we wanted to go to the loo or put on some more clothes the driver actually had to drives to another area where we would be alone. Interesting. When I had been cold for three hours and just been sitting there the match finally started. And rained away after 20 minutes. Nice. So we just had to start climbing our way down to Naran.
The distance from Gilgit to Nara isn't really that long, at least as the crow flies. But the road conditions were so bad on the mountain (and I guess that was the main road) that we probably had an average speed of 10 miles pr hour. They were building the road and expanding it and in some places the road was just a narrow tractor road. And even when we got to the asphalt the landslides made it difficult to keep the speed up for a longer period of time. I heard that it was because of the earthquake that hit this area in 2005. About 100 000 people died and three years later they still have problems in this area.
I'm really glad that we went the overland way. Not only was in enlightening to see how people in this area lives and how they work to get everything back to what it was but the valley (I can't remember the name) was just stunning! It was different from Hunza because it was colder, greener and had more pine trees instead of poplar but it was equally beautiful. A valley that really should be seen and when the road gets fixed you can do the distance in half the time.
The two days we spent getting from Gilgit to Rawalpindi (Islamabad) were just a transport leg. The first day we spent seven hours in the jeep (with the polo match somewhere in there) and the second day we started around 9 in the morning and arrived tired and dusty 7 in the evening, only stopping for baryani (rice dish) for lunch. It was a long and exhausting day but we did learn a thing or two about the driving in Pakistan. And if you could set the fear aside it was quite entertaining. Basically, the following is how I have understood the traffic rules in Pakistan:
- Drive on whichever side is most convenient, preferably left but that's optional
- Speed is limited by your car and the conditions of the road
- Overtake whenever, wherever and on whichever side is most appropriate
- Do not mind the car coming towards you, someone will back out eventually
- Signposts are at best considered as guidelines but usually just ignored
- You should learn the language of the horn as it is widely used
- In general it is the survival of the bravest
At least we made it to Rawalpindi. We were going to stay there instead of Islamabad (which is more or less the same city), I think it was because it was considered safer. In any case, as soon as we got there I longed back for the mountains because, as one of the guys said it: pindi is a s***hole. It is dirty, dusty and croweded and add to it the heat and you have a place you really do not want to be. Even if they do have McDonalds.
I spent the day in Pindi sleeping in my dark and airconditioned hotel room because my stomach didn't really appreciate the baryani it got for lunch on the way. Maybe for the best because the group told me I didn't really miss anything on the city tour they did.
In Pindi we found out that the Indian visas would take much longer than they first expected and basically it meant that we had to stay in Pakistan for at least another three nights. And seeing that the legs in India already were stretched it wasn't really the best of news. So six of us who already had the visas decided to leave the truck and continue on our own.
We left Rawalpindi the following morning and drove to Lahore. Lahore is a bigger city than Pindi and so much nicer. It has more culture to offer so it was a shame we only stayed there one night. But we did get to see the fort and what I think is the second largest mosque in the world. And we went to the border ceremony!
If you ever go to Lahore you MUST see the border ceremony. The border between Pakistan and India closes around 3 in the afternoon but they have a closing ceremony around 7 in the evening. It is a very strange and interesting experience but it is well worth seeing. Basically they march around shouting and doing some very high kicks and putting up a show as they close the border and take down the flag, all the while the crowd is cheering for them and Pakistan. It's like being on a football match or something. And this is done on either side of the border. They have been doing this ceremony for several decades now. It is very impressive and entertaining and even though I'm not very good at describing this (I have to brush up on my explanations) it is a must see if you are in the area. And if you are a foreigner you will get VIP seats. The next day we saw it from the Indian side and it wasn't nearly as impressive as the day before. First of all, we didn't get as good seats so we couldn't see as much. But the Indians couldn't match up the the huge Pakistanis in their black uniforms slamming the gate on their side. So Pakistan still remains the favorite.
From Lahore we moved on to Amritsar in India. This was the first border crossing where we had to walk across (a good thing the no-mans land was relatively small) but other than that it went relatively quick. It had gone quicker was it not for the power cut on the Pakistani side but no complaints. Without any prejudice at all I found India immediately to be less nice than Pakistan. But then again, Pakistan made a overwhelmingly good impression. So we'll just have to see what India has to offer.
The journey continues still, now in India. Stay tuned...