Danny Yee >> Travelogues
jeeps on the road

North Pakistan & Western China
August/September 1999

Links that leave this page are marked with a [ext].
You might want to skip my rambling and just look at the photos.

John had told PeterK about the possibility of travelling from China to Pakistan across the Karakoram and Hindu Kush, and when PeterK and Vera decided to go, I asked if I could come along. Voila! I was tagging along with the pre-conference expedition of the sixth international meeting of IGCP 421.


A map covering some of the places visited

Bangkok, Karachi

Sunday 15th August: Sydney

The night before departure, I looked up some temperatures on the Net. Peshawar, Chitral, Islamabad - all in the high thirties or even forties. And then Kashgar, in China - eleven degrees and minus six overnight! Vera and PeterK threw in some extra thermal underwear, and I grabbed an extra light jumper (one with holes that I wouldn't mind leaving behind).

Monday 16th August and Tuesday 17th August: Bangkok, Karachi, Peshawar

We were delayed nine hours in Bangkok airport as a result of a late Pakistan International flight. This was actually really convenient - instead of spending eleven hours in transit in Karachi airport, we spent it in Bangkok in an air-conditioned hotel room courtesy of the airline!

On the flight to Karachi I finished my second trashy novel. We talked to a couple with children, Christian missionaries returning to their work with "tribals" somewhere in the Rann of Kutch, near the Indian border. They had been working there twelve years... In Karachi airport we changed money and had our first tea.

On the flight to Peshawar I had a window seat (over the wing) and could see glimpses of the Indus and its barrages, the desert, and then the mountains. We arrived at 6pm (when it was still very hot) and were met by Kari Sufyam, a postgrad detailed to look after us, and driven to University guesthouse. We met Riaz, one of the organisers, and were fed a simple but huge dinner - rice, bread, dahl, etc. We had arrived a day before most people as a result of a confusion about dates.


Roads and driving
Food and cooks
In an open jeep
Language learning
Background Information
What I Took
What Was Useful
What I Brought Back
The People

The composition of the group changed several times. These are the twenty one people who camped at Ishkarwaz (excluding the four cooks).

Brian & Beverley
Brigitte & Gerard

Vera & PeterK


Ruth and I
Ruth and Hawas

the Conference
Mountains and Tectonics


Thursday 18th August: Peshawar 1

I slept well and coped with the 7am wakeup. We were shown around the National Centre of Excellence in Geology, where they had some great maps.

Fazli, one of the organisers, talked to us about security, telling us that we should inform someone if went out of the university and warning us that we were only ten minutes away from tribal areas outside Pakistan government control. At the time I thought this was a bureaucratic formality, but later I came to realise that it was quite the opposite: this was Pathan hospitality (melmastia) in action and Fazli considered himself personally responsible for our well-being.

Amjad, a graduate student, took us by taxi to Saddar Bazaar, where we bought local clothing: Vera bought a man's shawar kamiz off the shelf (photo: Vera outside the university guesthouse); PeterK and I had ours ordered from a tailor (a lifetime first for me). There were some excellent bookshops: I bought another trashy novel (Margery Allingham's The Fashion in Shrouds, 40 rupee) and two books on the Pathans.

Islamia College After lunch Amjad took us to Islamia College - the original institution on the site, founded in 1913 (photo). We drank mango juice on the way back and tried to find some postcards without any luck. The university was an oasis of green and quiet in the heat.

Ten more participants (John, Brian, Beverley, Pat, Ruth, Gary, Gilbert, Tom, James, PeterC) arrived late that evening, delaying our dinner till after 10pm. I was now sharing a room with John, which was good for finding out what was being planned.

Friday 19th August: Peshawar 2

We went en masse to the bank to change money; they set a limit of US$300 each. I had only bought US$265 total and was starting to wonder if it was going to be enough. (We had paid US$1500 towards a central fund for accommodation and food before the trip.)

Then we went back to the geology department. This time we looked around the museum, where fossils sparked lectures from the academics. After lunch we headed into Saddar again, first to confirm all the PIA tickets and then to buy local clothes for everyone. I revisited the bookshop, bought some postcards, and picked up the clothing I had ordered (500 rupee for material, 180 for labour - the only bit of tailored clothing I own!).

Poor Amjad was suffering from some kind flu, but stuck to his job of herding us around. The joys of being a graduate student...

We had dinner that evening with the vice-chancellor (who was himself a geologist). There was an awkward moment when he gave a speech welcoming us all and no one got up to reply.

Saturday 20th August: Peshawar 3

Christina and Myriam arrived. The group was taken to Islamia college again, this time for a more formal tour: a highlight was the collection of old books in the library, among them a medieval copy of Euclid in Arabic! Then we were all taken back to Saddar bazaar so Christina and Myriam could buy clothes: the rest of us sat for hours waiting in the bus, though I wandered off a few times. Teenagers selling water came up to the windows, but of course none of us were drinking unbottled water (photo). This would have been incredibly frustrating, excpet that it was too hot to get frustrated. (In retrospect I really regret not having seen the mosque, the museum, or indeed much of Peshawar at all.)

After lunch I went in to the geology department with Ruth and Gilbert to check our email. The connection was dropping out every few minutes, so I just dashed off a note to a few people saying we had arrived safely; Ruth was very pleased to discover that a friend had also got a job with Qantas.

Riaz was most patient about reconnecting repeatedly: he explained that the government doesn't allow the university to get a high speed satellite connection and insists everything goes through modems, so they can monitor what people do. Sigh. It's bad enough Australia adopting loony Net censorship legislation[ext] that will keep us in the second-tier of the information economy, but Pakistan is likely to sideline itself completely with this approach.

drinking juice That evening Brian, Beverley, Vera, PeterK and I went for a walk around the university. Two security guards (an officer and private, I think) kept us company while we visited the post office and drank mango juice. Brian and Beverley went back and I had a much-needed haircut (I was carrying far too much hair for Peshawar temperatures). At one point I could see, in the mirror, the soldier with his gun standing behind me, and I hoped he wouldn't make the hairdresser nervous! When Vera and PeterK left me to the scisoors, the soldier had a real problem deciding who to stay with.

Equipment: What I Took

A small backpack (weekend bushwalking pack) and a daypack. (I'd have just taken the daypack, but hiking meant I needed extra gear.)
first aid kit
medications, spare batteries, small penknife, sewing kit, etc.
4 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of undies, 2 shirts, 2 pairs of long white cotton trousers, 2 t-shirts, a hat, 2 light jumpers, 3 handkerchiefs
camping gear
tent fly, poles, groundsheet, sleeping bag+inner, thermorest, compass, torch, spare glasses, 1 litre water bottle, 0.5 litre water bottle, 4 litre water bag, water filter
small "magic" towel, chux, toothbrush, nail clippers, shampoo, soap
small notebook (contacted), two pens, wallet, US$265 cash, credit card, passport, plane tickets, three books
People: Vera and PeterK

My mother and her partner, with whom I live... But there were a few surprises: they turned out to be physically tougher than I expected - as far as trekking went, they were among the fittest and most active in the group.

On the other hand, Vera let herself get more upset than I expected by organisational problems.


Saturday 21st August: across Lowari Pass

We had a 6am breakfast and were off to an early start, shepherded by Hawas, our tour guide. I dozed a little early in the bus, waking up when we crossed the Kabul River. James was travel sick.

Takht-i-Bhai We stopped for an hour at Takht-i-Bhai to explore the ruins of an old Buddhist monastery on a now-deserted hillside (photo: looking uphill). It was very hot in the sun, and the cool dark recesses of the monastery evoked a real feeling of peace. Between iconoclastic Muslims and avaricious Westerners there was only one decent piece of statuary left: those that weren't smashed now adorn museums around the world. Hagglers selling coins and small statues (the latter almost certainly imitations, the former possibly genuine) homed in on Tom.

I remember being impressed by the scenery crossing the Malakand Pass (photo), but all details were obliterated from my memory by later even more impressive scenery.

We stopped in Dir for lunch. In the hotel there I found an English language newspaper, with a story along the lines of "The Afghan border has been closed; Taleban are converging on Chitral for the funeral of a religious leader killed in a land dispute". And the vice-chancellor had suggested we arrange a police escort while in Chitral district... But we were to experience no problems at all.

We now transferred from the bus into jeeps: I was with Hawas, Ruth, and Pat (Ruth's father). On the way up to Lowari pass we paid a "road tax" (Dir is a tribal area). There were lots of switchbacks on the way up. Approaching the top there was a brief rainstorm; I used a shack toilet perched on the hillside with the water eroding its foundations even as I peed onto them. It was cold and windy at the top (the Lowari is over 3200 metres high and, as Keay puts it, "a true, if modest, Himalayan pass"). (Photos: looking south from Lowari Pass; police wrapped in shawls at the top) On the way down, I got Hawas to start teaching me Urdu and Ruth joined in.

Nagarh fort was just across the Chitral river, via a rickety suspension bridge (photo). There were four rooms for the less hardy; most of us camped in an orchard (photo: Ruth unpacking). A huge mess tent was waiting for us, along with signs welcoming IGCP 421 participants and a full-scale dinner (photo). Rather than put up my fly, I slept in the mess tent with Hawas and the four cooks.

Sunday 22nd August: the Kalash, Garam Chasma

I woke up at 5.30am and had to hunt around to find the toilet/shower, ending up in a queue behind John and Ruth and Pat. I took a local dog for a walk and discovered that we weren't on an island, as I had thought the night before, but on the west bank of the river (photo: the view up-river).

And then it was back into the jeeps again - only now I was with Tom and James and Amjad in a horribly enclosed jeep: there was no way for me to get out unless James and Amjad climbed out of the front seat first, which made me feel claustrophobic. And we could only peer out through a narrow barred gap at the sides. It was also a lot less lively than the jeep had been going over the Lowari.

Bridge over Chitral Crossing the river (photo: approaching the bridge; left: looking back), we left the Chitral valley and headed west up Bomboret, one of the Kalash valleys. The roads here were not good and it was a long bumpy drive. On the road we passed firewood carters and a mad Western cyclist, bicycle laden with his gear. Then we stopped, had tea, looked around a little bit (a brief rainstorm cooled things down nicely), and then turned around and went back the way we had come! We saw a few women in traditional dress and some nice scenery (but nothing much more dramatic than the main river valley), but it was hardly worth the drive. The whole thing struck me as the worst kind of "let's do the Kalash" tourism; Vera was also rather unhappy about it all. There was some dispute over who was responsible, with John saying one thing and Hawas saying something else...

We had lunch in Chitral (photos, approaching Chitral: 1, 2, 3), then we headed up the Lutko river to Garam Chasma - towards the Afghan border and the Dorah pass, where the Lutko valley vice-chancellor had suggested we take a police escort... The road was less vertiginous than in Bomboret, but offered some dramatic scenery (photos: 1, 2). Hotel Innigarrh was an oasis in the brown with rows of poplars, a grass courtyard, and good facilities. But the major attraction was a pool fed with hot water from a spring, in which we all swam (the women swam wearing their shawar kamiz, which were right awkward to swim in with their metres of fabric). Amjad jumped in without realising how deep it was and had to be helped out by others (he couldn't swim).

After dinner I went for a walk in the dark with John and Gilbert, but there wasn't much to see. I shared a tent with Hawas, pitched in the courtyard; PeterC also put up a tent. (I ended up sharing a tent with Hawas most of the time when we camped.) I asked Hawas if I could travel with him, hoping for a change of jeeps.

Monday 23rd August: Chitral

Hawas and I had a morning swim; I showered in Vera and PeterK's room. Some of us set off before the jeeps to walk along the road. We walked a lot further than expected before they picked us up - apparently some of the drivers hadn't understood what we were doing. I was now sitting in the front seat next to the door, which was less claustrophobic, allowing me to hop out whenever we stopped. A flat on the jeep in front offered one chance: while waiting we inspected some population control graffiti painted onto cliffs - "small family, easy life" (photo). There were also signs announcing development projects funded by Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Then we were back in Chitral. We were dropped off in the bazaar and everyone went their own way: I changed money in the bank and collected a huge wad of small denomination notes, suspecting from previous trips that change would be to come by in rural areas. (As it turned out, I was not to spend anything at all for more than a week!)

I wandered around by myself for a while and then ended up with Pat and Ruth in a carpet shop where Pat was buying saddle-bags: the owner served us really excellent cardamon tea. After some aimless milling, we settled in to the guesthouse where we had had lunch the previous day: I had a room to myself and it was clean and very comfortable, with all the amenities (towels, soap, and so forth).

polo match Half a dozen of us were just setting off for a walk when Hawas offered an alternative - watching a polo game. PeterC, PeterK, Tom, Ruth, Hawas, and I packed into a jeep and went to the polo field. It was five a side, with no fouls and no referee, and accompanied by drum and flute music. The backdrop was just amazing (photo). Afterwards we took a quick look at the mosque and fort (photo), the location of a famous siege in 1895.

Back at the guesthouse, Vera and Brigitte and Gerard reported on their walk - an interesting climb up the hillside - so Ruth and I set off to replicate it. We walked along a winding path up to the irrigation canal, where the hill-side turned brown. Lots of women and children were to be seen, away from the main road: a young boy (4?) was collecting apples while someone in the tree knocked them down (almost hitting us), a young girl (5? 6?) was carrying a bucket and her younger brother, and a whole family was carrying planks up the hill. It was dusk and a very pleasant temperature, and we sat for a while on the canal and watched the views. Then we walked down to the river, got our feet muddy getting across some flats, and clambered back up to the road and our hotel in time for dinner.

Custard was served for dessert, to great applause (someone had been wishing for it). After dinner Ruth and Hawas and I sat up and talked till late (this became a regular custom). All told, it was a really good day - it was wonderful to have half a day to explore, rather than spending all the daylight hours travelling.

Tuesday 24th August: a scramble up Kuragh ridge

Tirich Mir I slept poorly and was up early, so I sat on the front balcony and watched the world go by. With no clouds, Tirich Mir was clearly visible to the north (it is over 7000 metres high and there is nothing remotely so high nearby): it was white - almost unreal, impossible - above the brown hills. The river was burbling away quite noisily: here it was hundreds of metres across with broad mud/gravel flats (photo). Otherwise it was quiet: the occasional flock of goats was shepherded along the road (photo), a green-veiled girl with a milk bottle stopped and stared at me for quite some time (which was most unusual), and men in Chitrali caps passed by.

Others in our group came out one by one to photograph the mountain; the sunlight was descending the hills on the other side of the river, with rays visible in a slight haze/mist. We had coffee at breakfast (much to Gerard's delight), along with porridge and more eggs, and blurred CNN on television. And we watched a plane take off from the airstrip (photo). (The first plane of the day from Peshawar to Chitral usually makes it - the later ones are often cancelled due to bad weather in Lowari pass, as the Fokkers can't climb high enough to go over the range.)

After breakfast there was much aimless milling - our passports had to go to police at the last moment. But I just went back to the balcony and went on watching: it was still very peaceful, with a small herd of cattle was being driven along the river, people washing and swimming, and so forth.

Finally we were off! And I was back with Hawas and Ruth and Pat in a new jeep (with a driver named Abdul), with the top down and music playing. This was to be how we travelled for many days (actually only five, but it seemed like much more), and the four of us - and Hawas and Ruth and I in particular - were to spend a lot of time together.

At Kuragh there was a ridge with interesting geology. Not knowing what we were doing, when our jeep arrived Ruth and I and others simply scrambled over the side and started climbing, following Tom and James (who we assumed knew what they were doing, being geology students). Our vague target was a grey limestone area where fossils were to be found...

Kuragh spur We went up a gully with moving rocks - the scree slope to the sides looked exposed and more dangerous. Eventually we came to a difficult bit, which only Ruth and I and then PeterK managed to get past, the others stopping. (I suspect it was not actually very difficult, but we were tired by then and it felt dangerous: Ruth said it was the only time in her life she had ever been scared.) The three of us then scrambled another hundred metres or more up the hill (I was finally getting the hang of it), before I noticed that all the geologists had stayed way below and PeterK pointed out there was no way to get to our ostensible target from where we were. (I was tempted to climb to the top of the ridge (photo). just to have gone somewhere, but thought better of it.) At this point we were maybe three or four hundred metres up - with a reasonable view, but circumscribed, since we were nowhere near any kind of local maximum (photo).

So we started descending, one at a time to reduce danger from falling rocks. After PeterK had gone down, I descended to a shady spot in the shelter of an overhang and waited for Ruth. At this point we saw Hawas waltzing up the scree slope as if it were flat or he was a mountain goat - he had been helping some of the others, who had got into trouble right near the bottom, and was now coming to help us. Miraculously he turned out to be carrying lunch, in a plastic bag! He had no water with him, but I had a litre or so spare (being paranoid about water) and the three of us sat in what shade we could find and ate dried apricots, apricot kernels, and biscuits.

It turned out the scree was actually much easier to walk on than it looked, and not that exposed (at worst we would probably have slid a few metres, though there was a nasty drop onto the road at the bottom). With Hawas helping Ruth (probably unnecessarily) we descended quite rapidly, catching the others right at the bottom. I had scored a bruised palm and some scratches, while Ruth had sat on a thorn bush or two and Vera had been hit by some quite big stones. The only people madder than geologists are those studying to become geologists - and those who follow them blindly up hills! (Many of the group - PeterC, Brigitte and Gerard - had taken a saner approach and spent the time rummaging around for fossils near the road.)

Short of water and rather hot, we drove on to the nearest little resthouse, where we sat in the shade and gulped mango and lemon juice, water, tea, and a lot of tinned fruit.

Then it was back to the jeeps, with Tirich Mir now behind and Buni Zum on our right. We punctured a tire (the spares on the jeeps were pretty sorry looking, almost completely bald, so this was a bit of a worry) and stopped in a tiny village where we failed to get it repaired. One notable thing about the Yarkhun was that there were fields of marijuana everywhere...

At one point we stopped by a mountain stream to wash and much to Hawas' relief all three of us drank from it: he had been wondering how to get enough bottled mineral water for twenty people up the Yarkhun, I think! Pat had been drinking local water all the way, on the grounds that it hadn't caused any problems when he had visited this area twenty five years ago. But I stuck to bottled water or spring/stream water where the catchment looked clean, suspecting population growth and pressure on water and sewerage systems.

We were the last to arrive in Sonogarh village, dodging trees overhanging the road at dusk. There were children everywhere, watching the group put up tents in a field (photo). The facilities were ok: there was a shack with a toilet about fifty metres away and an irrigation channel for washing alongside the field though it was too cold for more than hands and face. (We had a brief language lesson while washing, with Hawas explaining that a "Lahore bath" meant just washing hands and face.)

And lo, the huge mess tent from Nagarh was waiting for us! Riaz taught me some more Urdu at dinner (only Riaz and Hawas really good English for effective language teaching) and gave us our passports back, along with papers giving us official permission to exist in Chitral district. Thus were all my ontological perplexities resolved.

I sat up till after midnight with Ruth and Hawas, learning more Urdu, and slept in Hawas' tent again.

Wednesday 25th August: to Inkip

We had breakfast at 6.45am (this was pretty standard for the next week) and there was only a little aimless milling before we headed off: we were getting more organised with practice. Our jeep stopped in Mastuj so Abdul could change the tire and Hawas could register us all with the police: Ruth, Pat, and I walked on ahead for a good 45 minutes until Hawas came striding up to join us - and eventually Abdul caught up with the jeep.

on the road We stopped for petrol (photo) and took the cover off, even though it was very hot. The road was rather hairy (well, Vera told me later that it had frightened her and others in places) but I was too busy marvelling at the scenery to notice (photos: 1, 2, 3, 4). One jeep hadn't known where to stop and had gone ahead so we had a long lunch stop just before Brep, where the road ran along a village polo ground (photo: waiting for lunch). I washed my shirt in an irrigation canal, only to have it end up dirtier than before (I was beginning to regret having so much white clothing).

on the road The road got worse the further we went (the road-head had only recently been extended) but the scenery was still spectacular (photos: 1, 2, 3); even Ruth started taking photos of mountains with interesting rocks. There was a wash-away just before Lasht, our destination, so we camped at Inkip in some convenient fields. (I stayed near the mess tent so I didn't have to walk to dinner, but half the group was a few hundred metres down the road.)

Hawas put up a proper snow tent: I convinced him the outer wasn't necessary, which turned out ok. (It was a lovely clear night and I probably wouldn't have bothered with a tent at all if I'd been bushwalking.) Vera and PeterK's tent ended up awash when someone opened an irrigation channel a little up the hill - but six of us picked the whole thing up and moved it, and nothing important got wet.

Sitting in the mess tent writing in my notebook, I tried to pick up a kerosene lamp by the vaporisation coil. It was damned hot, but somehow I didn't get any blisters.

We were treated to some music (flute and drums) and dancing by our newly hired porters, who were very happy to get the work. Many of the men in our group joined in (I had a brief go, but I'm not a dancer). Ruth would have liked to, but didn't think it would be right for a woman and, despite being a tomboy, wasn't convinced by suggestions that she take the earrings out, bind her breasts, and talk an octave lower (she was already wearing a man's shawar kamiz).

Lying in the sleeping bag, I found my heart pounding strangely, presumably due to the altitude (Inkip was at about 3200m). I tried to control my breathing and fell asleep quickly - and had no problems thereafter with altitude.

Equipment: What I Brought Back

I picked up a cashmere scarf, a shawar kamiz, three books, a small selection of jewellery and semi-precious stones (photo), and two pieces of rock. (I ended up carrying items for Vera and Ruth on the way home, since I had room in my pack.)

During the trip I ditched one shirt, one jumper, two pairs of socks, and two of the books I had taken. Apart from the socks, that was as planned.

People: Amjad

Amjad was quiet and serious. I didn't talk to him much after the first few days in Peshawar.

Travelling: In an open jeep

jeeps on the road A jeep with the covers off was definitely the best way to travel. One could climb in and out easily and the views were far better than from an enclosed jeep or even from a bus with big windows. And when one stood up! Swivelling the head gave 360 degree views around, and sometimes almost 180 degrees up and down (from the river below to the mountains above).

I don't think any of the other jeeps ever took their covers off. I don't know why we did: perhaps it was the combination of Ruth and I both being young and crazy and Hawas being there to convince the driver.

There were some drawbacks. Dust was only a minor problem: it came in larger quantities but it also went away faster and if we drove a reasonable distance behind the jeep in front it was no problem at all. Sunlight was the real problem. We spent a lot of time applying and reapplying sunburn cream: I did my hands and back of neck only, and very occasionally my nose, but apart from a few spots on my hands, I had no problems, just going brown; Ruth, being fair, had to be more careful and ended up with some burning on her face and the back of her neck; Pat became quite badly burnt, having neglected to use sunburn cream at all at first, and later he smeared on so much zinc cream he looked like a painted New Guinea highlander; and Hawas just got darker. On hot days thermal load was also a problem, but I just made sure I drank a lot of water and kept my hat on. Oh, and at one point I had blisters on my fingers from hanging on to the bars while standing up!

If there's a single memory from the trip that is strongest, it is of standing in the jeep with the wind on my face, Indian film music playing, and awe-inspiring scenery all around me.

People: Ruth

Ruth was a "body" person: she was into sport, beaches, and so forth and had been a serious gymnast (she did cartwheels given half a chance). But she was also the only other member of the group interested in learning Urdu and she wrote prolifically in her journal.

She was just about to start a job with Qantas as a flight attendant and made us all envious talking about the 10% air fares.

Ruth had an infectiously welcoming smile: wherever we went, young children invariably converged on her.

I got on really well with Ruth; Hawas fell for her quite seriously.

Travelling: Music

At the start of the trip, I couldn't get out of my head the tune and words from ladrang Asmaradana, one of the pieces my gamelan group[ext] had been performing: "Anjas moro, ari mami...".

Our jeep had a collection of tapes, but the only one Abdul could get to work was a compilation of music from Indian films (and later a Frank Sinatra tape) (Hawas and many others preferred Indian to Pakistani music.) We spent so much time listening to this that the words and tunes became imprinted on us. And the tape followed us when we changed vehicles - I was listening to it on my very last day in Pakistan, when Hawas had a copy made for me to take back to Australia.

In Gilgit, others bought tapes of the local music. I didn't want more to have more to carry, so I decided to wait till I got back to Australia, where I could spend twenty times as much on recordings with proper liner notes and ethnomusicological background information... but now I can't seem to find anything!

People: Art

Art managed to stay with us despite having a crook knee. He was carrying a bivvy bag rather than a tent, so he obviously thought the same sort of way I did about roughing it. I just hope I'm still doing this kind of travelling when I'm seventy five! Art

Equipment: Photography

I didn't take a camera with me. People thought this was strange, but I'm a lousy photographer and didn't want the extra luggage. Fortunately I've been able to borrow and scan photographs taken by other participants.

The photographs accompanying this report came from PeterK and Ruth (a few were taken by myself after the trip using a borrowed digital camera). They are available in a separate photo gallery.

Geology: the Conference

International Geological Correlation Programme: North Gondwana Mid-Palaeozoic Biodynamics - IGCP 421, sixth international meeting.

I missed the conference proper, since I left a week earlier. And as the son of the partner of an ex-colleague of a real geologist, I was I think the furthest removed in the group from being a genuine participant. On the other hand, I knew enough geology and paleontology to follow most of the discussions. (Most of the participants were paleontologists, and I picked up a bit of paleontology - the different hypotheses for conodont phylogeny, for example.)

People: Brian & Beverley

Brian was a raconteur and often the life of the party, keeping us all entertained - and also helping to smooth over occasional rifts. Beverley was sick for much of the trip, but was often lively. They made an endearing couple. (photo)

I managed to conceal my geekiness completely, under cover of Brian's. He was also in the computing industry (a high-powered contractor to the defence forces) and was carrying digital cameras, GPSes, mobile phones and a laptop - even on the trek up the Yarkhun!

Background: Linguistics

I encountered many languages on the trip: Urdu (everywhere in Pakistan); Pashto (in Peshawar and most of NWFP); Khowar (in Chitral); Wakhi (along the upper Yarkhun and in Hunza); Shina (in Gilgit); Burushaski (in Hunza); Kyrgz (along the Karakoram Highway in Xinjiang); Sarikoli ('Tajik' - in and around Tashkurgan); Uighur (most of Xinjiang); Mandarin (China); and Panjabi (in Islamabad).

For more information about these, see Ethnologue[ext]. A sample:

WAKHI (WAKHANI, WAKHIGI, VAKHAN, KHIK) [WBL] 9,100 in Pakistan including 4,500 to 6,000 Gojal, 2,000 Ishkoman, 200 Yasin, 900 Yarkhun (1992), plus refugees; 7,000 in Afghanistan (1979); 7,000 in Tajikistan (1993); 6,000 in China; 29,000 in all countries. Northeasternmost part of Chitral, called Baroghil area; in glacier neighborhood. Gojal is in the upper Hunza valley from Gulmit to the Chinese and Afghanistan borders, and the Shimshal and Chupursan valleys; also in upper Yarkhun valley of Chitral, and upper Ishkoman valley. Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Eastern, Southeastern, Pamir. Dialects: GOJAL, ISHKOMAN, YASIN, YARKHUN. Ishkoman and Gojal have 84% lexical similarity, Yasin and Gojal 89%, Ishkoman and Yasin 91%. Dialect intelligibility is reported to not be a problem even with those in other countries. Speakers have a positive language attitude toward Wakhi and Urdu, in which men and young people are fairly bilingual. Fewer than half the women, and few older people in remote areas speak Urdu. Older people and those who live in mixed villages in Gojal can use Burushaski. The people are called 'Guhjali' in upper Hunza, but call themselves 'Khik'. Valleys. Pastoralists: sheep, goats, cattle, yak, camels; agriculturalists: barley. Ismaili Muslim. Needs survey.

I had thought Tajik was the language spoken in and around Tashkurgan, but a query to Ethnologue produced this reply:

What is called 'Tajik' in China is actually the Sarikoli language, an Eastern Iranian language linguistically, and not the same language as the Tajik of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, which is a Western Iranian language linguistically. The two languages are distantly related.
(I was actually surprised to learn that Tajik is Iranian and hence Indo-European: I had assumed it was Turkic, like Uzbek.)

I learnt a little bit of Urdu during the trip.

People: Brigitte & Gerard

Brigitte (photo) and Gerard (photo) were from Montpellier. Brigitte was a paleontologist; Gerard a professional speleologist. They were among the few real trekkers in the group and were planning to return to Pakistan on a proper trekking trip.

Both of them were really friendly and easygoing. (Gerard's English had a classic French accent, which made it a pleasure just to listen to him speak.)

Travelling: Trekking

I was expecting to be doing some quite serious trekking on the trip. The sight of our huge mess tent at Nagarh was one intimation that this might not be the case. At Kan Khun the full scale of our enterprise became apparent: there were twenty of us, forty three porters, maybe twenty donkeys, and an assortment of horses and horsemen.

It quickly became clear that most of us weren't up to serious hiking: the older geologists were not as spry as they had once been and the younger participants fared worse, if anything (altitude didn't help). Brigitte and Gerard were, with me, the most active hikers in the group. Of the other Westerners, Vera and PeterK seemed to cope the best, while Tom and Gilbert were slow but steady walkers.

People: Christina

I hardly talked to Christina at all - she was subdued as a result of sickness for much of the trip.

Travelling: Language Learning

Ruth and I spent a fair bit of time learning Urdu, mostly from Hawas. But it never really took off - with so many English speakers around, it was always easier to speak English. (And as before, I found myself trying to speak Indonesian all the time.)

Our language lessons weren't entirely one-sided - in return we corrected problems with Hawas' grammar ("sheeps") and pronunciation ("spectacular") and taught him some English idioms. (And some Australian ones - every trekking guide should know about "bushwalking" and "scrub bashing"!)

Being the dill I am, I made exactly the same mistake I had in India last year[ext] - thinking that with the variety of languages around it wouldn't be worth learning any one (forgetting about the status of Hindi and Urdu as national languages). I quickly regretted not having brought along a proper Urdu phrasebook and dictionary. All I had was a six language word list (Khowar, Kalash, Nuristani, Urdu, English, Pashtu), which I had printed off the Net for fun, and what was in other people's guidebooks.

People: Danny

Writing about myself? Deprived of my Internet connection and computer and with limited reading material, I presented (as I do also, perhaps, when hiking in Australia) a different aspect to the world. As I told Ruth at one point, 90% of my life is normally "in the head".

The Upper Yarkhun

Thursday 26th August: Inkip to Kan Khun

I was up at 5.30am, packed, and washed with Hawas. PeterC was sick (probably altitude), so I gave him some of my stemetil (he had lent his to James). Hawas had a bag of French medicines, presumably left from an earlier trekking party (a lot of French trekkers come to Pakistan) and was suggesting that PeterC take some anti-histamines, which I don't think would have helped...

The local people here were noticeably poorer than further down-river and also more curious about us. I gave fifty rupee to an old women everyone photographed. She spoke no Urdu, only "strali" (which I presume was Chitrali/Khowar). A group of young girls clustered around Ruth, who swapped her hairband with one of them, having run out of pens to give away. They looked a lot older than they were: my weak attempts at Urdu elicited much laughter but also their ages, I think.

Everyone was splitting luggage into three: some to leave behind, some for the porters to carry, and a daypack to carry themselves. Being a masochist, I left my daypack with surplus clothing and carried everything else myself (but heck, it was only about eight kilograms). Fernando and Covadonga were to go back to Mastuj with the unwanted luggage: he was suffering from asthma.

We had breakfast at 7am, not 6.30 as planned... and there was much aimless milling before we finally broke camp (photo), with donkeys all over the place (photo), porters everywhere (photo), lots of women and children, and a horse for Art.

walkers We walked through Lasht and then along a flat, open stretch: Art was ahead, Ruth and I following, others behind. There were views up side valleys (photo) and of glaciers across the river (photo). We crossed Kan Khun creek (I walked across and got my volleys wet, the others took off boots or walked upstream to a bridge) and stopped for lunch.

It was windy and raining a little. Our porters were sitting in groups of three or four around fires, brewing tea (Photos: 1; 2), and there were donkeys everywhere. (Photos: 2; 3.) The full size of our party became apparent for the first time.

Beverley was sick and others weren't well, so after lunch decided to camp there instead of pressing on. It was not an ideal camp-site: it was open and exposed (and very windy), the ground was hard, and the only convenient water, Kan Khun creek, was dubious for drinking. PeterC and I walked on for a kilometre or so - the track climbed onto the hill-side and the valley became much steeper.

I did some washing with Ruth and Hawas - cold (glacial melt) water poured on the head, brrr... I put the bowl I was using into the stream - it floated away and Hawas only just caught it - and then I did exactly the same thing again, aaarggh! Ruth and Hawas and James and I walked up the hill a little and sat for a while watching the camp. The porters had mostly left for the night, I think to stay with relatives in Kan Khun village.

Entertainment was provided by two donkeys - a wild female had turned up and was teasing the one male donkey left (as bait?) tied up by a hind leg. He was too eager to get at her and would pull the rope to full extension, leaving himself no slack for actually mounting. Ruth asked "why doesn't he just lie down and go to sleep", a comment which seemed hysterically funny at the time... and then James fell over a tent rope and managed to look just like he'd been tied by the ankle for a moment! Sometime later two small boys - the youngest can't have been more than ten - came down the hill with a rope and tried to catch the female. They chased her around the river-bed for a while (which must have been rather cold) and then she wandered up the hill, with them trailing wearily behind.

I spent some more time chatting with Ruth and Hawas by the stream after dinner. It was a very windy night and I was sleeping with Hawas in a badly pitched tent: with the walls flapping in and out by almost a metre, I expected it to go at any moment. Fortunately Karim, the assistant guide, had anchored the pole ropes really solidly. The monster of a mess tent, though, did come down in the night - the tubing bent.

Friday 27th August: Kan Khun to Ishkarwaz

A clear morning. Hawas had arranged more horses: it was obvious that some people weren't coping with the walking and our early stop the previous day meant we had more than 25 kilometres to do that day.

Vera on scree Soon after we started off up the hillside (photo), I rode a horse for a hundred metres just to prove I could (the last time I had been on a horse was when I was seven: it had bolted, throwing my sister and me off). Back on foot, I raced ahead, far faster than the horses on the rock scree slopes, found a sheltered spot in a flat bushy stretch by the river where the current wasn't too fierce (photo: not where I swam!), stripped, and had a very brief swim (well, immersion up to the neck for about five seconds, anyway).

I stopped at Kishmanj (where we had meant to camp the day before) and had to wait half an hour there for everyone to catch up. Having got there well before 11, it turned into a very long "elevenses" break, as we had lunch there and didn't leave till 1.20. There was light rain and a lot of aimless milling. But with Hawas' help I obtained some biscuits, a jar of peanut butter, and assorted dried fruit from the cooks: I felt much more comfortable carrying a bit of food myself.

Then it was a long haul to Ishkarwaz - lots of ups and downs and it must have been almost twenty kilometres (photos: the bridge over a side creek, horses in the riverbed). Ruth and Hawas and Pat and I ended up walking together for most of it. I was faster on the flats but Ruth ran up the hills, Hawas following; Pat lagged behind and we would stop every so often to let him catch up, lingering by little side streams and munching on the snacks I was carrying. (And we handed biscuits to passing porters.)

Chantiboi glacier The scenery was simply amazing, with massive snow-clad peaks and glaciers to the south, but the highlight was the Chantiboi glacier (another photo), which terminates on the river in an ice cliff. Crossing a bridge over a side-creek opposite the glacier, Pat almost fell in while taking photographs from a now disused bridge (photo). We then crossed onto the south bank of the river and sat for quite some time, watching the calving of icebergs into the river with loud cracks. The view was also spectacular looking up the glacier to the Darkot Pass (photo). We were the last into camp. (Photos: looking back down the river, a hamlet, approaching our campsite )

I mentioned to Ruth that Hawas was clearly besotted with her - and added that I could tell because I was a quarter of the way there myself! But she didn't seem at all worried.

I pitched my fly (with help from PeterC and Gary) and then scouted for water up the hill, wanting it as clean as possible. Only after a quarter of an hour beating around did I realise that the cooks were using a spring! I decided this was safe enough to drink; many of the others used water filters (I had left mine in Inkip, taking a guess at the ease of finding water) and some only drank tea and bottled water.

Vera used a tray and spoon to try and signal dinner, since there were tents scattered quite some distance away (Photo: the western end of our encampment). I didn't eat that much (I rarely do when hiking) but some jelly went down quite nicely (and I discovered that red jelly actually does taste different to green jelly). We organised a tip for the porters (who were being sent back to their villages, to be replaced with porters/horses from closer villages): fifty rupees each. They played drums and sang while they waited for us to decide on this.

Again, I sat with Ruth and Hawas for a while after everyone else had gone to their tents. Ruth had a sore ankle and Hawas produced some balm and rubbed it on. I wasn't at all sure Ruth understood how different Pakistani mores concerning physical contact between men and women were - but then they were behaving rather like lovers anyway, so...

It was windy that night: quite cold with some rain. So I slept in Hawas' tent again rather than under the fly. (Though I've slept in far worse under a fly before, without problems.)

Saturday 28th August: Baroghil Pass

I sat in the early morning watching the river below. There were some quite serious falls just downstream, so rafting wouldn't have been much fun. The donkeys and porters had all gone; our horses for the day were assembling - and the first yak I had ever seen was coming down the hill. I sat in the sun with Ruth, writing. She befriended a young boy from the nearby house who was curious about her postcards, waterbottle, etc and she was soon giving him lessons in writing the roman alphabet. (English teaching overseas had been an option if she hadn't got the Qantas job.) I had picked up some nasty looking blisters the previous day, but some blister pads provided by Vera worked fine. Our camp was at 3500m.

There was some confusion over who was going on the day's trip - Vera ended up staying behind, along with a few others - and who would ride (there were a dozen horses). I walked, of course. So we crossed over the river by the bridge (photo) and climbed gently up towards Baroghil Pass. We stopped in a small hamlet (drystone walls, mud/thatch roofs, I think Wakhi-speaking), where the locals gave us (Yak?) yoghurt and cheese and some fresh bread (Photo: John eating). Ruth held court to a group of young girls (Photos: 1; 2) again, handing out sweets (provided by Gary) and biscuits. There were stunning views in all directions (photos: snow-clad peaks of the Hindu Raj to the south, Art on a yak, looking south-west 1, looking south-west 2). But it was hot in the sun and there was little shade.

Baroghil Pass We then proceeded upstream, towards the pass. (photo, and looking back). When the group stopped, PeterK and I walked on, thinking the pass was only a short distance away, but it became apparent it was several kilometres. This was disappointing, as I would have really liked to stand on the watershed between the Oxus and the Indus. It was broad and flat and very pleasant walking (and, thinking about British fears of Russian invasion, quite passable to nineteenth century field artillery, or modern armour).

Heading back towards the others, I assumed they would be continuing back towards Baroghil village and the rock formation we were heading for, so I cut across directly, climbing up a little as I did (and stopping to watch some marmots). The others stopped however, and ended up having lunch there. Apparently they thought I had got lost - I thought I was in plain view all the time, though I did end up a kilometre or two away and was obviously well-camouflaged. Since I'd left my day pack in Ishkarwaz I wasn't carrying anything, so I curled up by a rock on the hillside, covered myself from the sun, and enjoyed the view and the occasional cloud. It was quite nice to get away from everyone, though flies were a nuisance for the first time. Herds of yaks and sheep, with women in brightly coloured robes herding them, moved up into the pass (photos: 1, 2).

Vera with women Eventually they started moving again and I met them just outside Baroghil village (photo: closeup of village women). We wandered a short distance along an irrigation canal to the site of interest, where the geologists spent all of ten minutes collecting a few bags of rock samples, hammered off boulders while I had a late lunch - they had eaten all the tinned fruit, unfortunately.

Vera was washing clothes in the Yarkhun when we got back; Gaetani had arrived. Ruth and I did washing, along with Gary, and Ruth gave me a really excellent massage. (I tried to get a repeat during the trip, but without success, even though I had faithfully kept secret from everyone else in the group how good a masseur she was.) I started reading The Gilgit Game, which PeterK had bought in Peshawar. After dinner we wanted to play cards but no one had any - James had had the foresight to bring some on the trip, but had left them at Inkip.

Hawas had put up his snow tent and Ruth and I sat in it until late, talking with him about Australia and Pakistan and differences between them (e.g. the amount spent on the armed forces). I felt a bit awkward, as I was often to, what with Hawas obviously besotted and Ruth seemingly not indifferent. And then Ruth went on about how nice a tent it was and how comfortable it was, and looked like she was about to go to sleep... At this point I actually wrote in my notebook and showed Ruth, so Hawas couldn't see: "Would you prefer I leave you alone with Hawas? I feel like a chaperone..." But she said "no" - and that was always to be the answer to that question, explicit or implicit.

Sunday 29th August: the Hindu Kush

I slept under my fly: having carried it and the poles (maybe a kilogram together) all the way, I felt I had to use it at least once. It was cold in the morning: I was up around 5am, along with Tom and Riaz and Brian, who was wandering around in a t-shirt, brrr...

After breakfast there was much aimless milling, arguing over who was to ride and who walk, and so forth. Our destination for the day was a white spot high up on the other side of the river, west of where we had been the previous day. I climbed there directly, following Brigitte and Gerard and Tom, who had set of earlier. The others took a longer route via Baroghil village, since most of them were on horseback.

It was nice to be by myself for a while, though there were plenty of local people around: men carrying hay, women working in the fields, young boys possibly on their way to school. Not having a suitable day pack, I wasn't carrying anything at all - so I drank some possibly dodgy water from an irrigation canal. It was a steep but steady climb, with the sun warm but not fierce. I had no aerobic problems at all (despite the altitude) and the blisters worried me more than anything.

I quickly passed Tom, who was having a hard time of it, and reached the target limestone formation just after Brigitte and Gerard. Brigitte gave me some water, explained some paleontology, and lent me her poncho when it became overcast and cold and small hail (grizzle?) started coming down. It turned out we were at about 4300m, the highest I had yet been in my life (it had looked like a 400m climb from below, but distances and heights kept deceiving me on this trip and it was actually 800m).

glacier The cavalcade turned up a little below us, so we scrambled down to join them for the usual packed lunch - at 4190 metres according to the folks with the GPSes. Just around the ridge there were great views of the Chantiboi/Darkot glacier and the 6800m peak of Koyo Zom to the south. I walked down with Brigitte and Gerard, Vera and PeterK following behind. It took just one hour going down!

I washed some clothing only to have it became dirtier than before, as usual, even though I rinsed it in spring water. Then I read some more and sat on a convenient rock looking at the river. This was quite a torrent, with powerful waves tossing dirty mica-laden glacial melt. Swimming was impossible and anything dropped would have been gone, to be found way downstream, if at all. It was also very noisy, apparently from rocks moving. But Riaz told me that it almost dries up for most of year, with July and August high water months.

After dinner we borrowed a pack of cards from the cooks - a quality plastic deck, even! Ruth, Hawas, James, Gilbert and I played, with Riaz and Javed advising and PeterC watching. It was a basic trick taking game with bidding, with scores plus or minus 10 per trick bid, depending on success, and 1 for each overtrick; bidding 0 or 1 was not allowed... I came last. An early night - 9.20pm finish.

I slept in a tent with Art, who told me I was "gung ho" (which I took as a compliment). It was cold during the night - there was frost on some of the tents in the morning.

Monday 30th August: upstream

My washing was damp. And then the sun suddenly hit, as it does in that sort of terrain. We stood around talking as the horses and yaks arrived. I tried to talk people into climbing a small hill (maybe a thousand metres above us) to the south (above our camp site) but there were no takers. So we all set off upstream. I walked with Riaz and Amjad; the horses took another route.

We stopped at a place where the path went between huge rocks on either side. Gerard climbed up to a watchtower on one side, I climbed the other. And Pat and Ruth and I explored an abandoned house nearby. Then we wandered a few hundred metres on and spent an hour or so looking for fossils on a limestone scree slope. I found lots of brachiopods and conoids and Vera found a trilobite (?the pygmidium of an ascidia??).

It was hot, so after a while I sat with Ruth in what little shade we could find (on top of some dried goat dung) and then with Vera and Pat while Ruth did cartwheels and other gymnastics (until she found she was attracting attention from all the horsemen and stopped). Pat explained that she'd gone to Amsterdam when 14 with a gymnastics team - and Ruth told the history of her nose piercing, acquired on a later trip to Amsterdam.

I sampled a tiny bit of dolostone from the Chilarabad formation for Ronni[ext] (who had requested some rocks). We had our usual lunch before heading back.

On the way I followed the horses until we reached a side-river which had risen, and which the horses and horsemen had quite some trouble crossing. I decided against it and went back and around by the pedestrian bridge I had used on the way out. We got back around 3pm. Gary was lying under my fly - apparently it was the coolest place to be found! Talking with John and Brian and others in the mess tent, there was an undercurrent of hostility to Hawas.

Meanwhile Hawas and Javed were paying for yaks and horses and arranging porters and animals for the following day. They sat in the tent with the horsemen gathered gesticulating around them. (I could picture a nineteenth century British explorer paying porters in a very similar scene: there is some authority inherent in sitting in a tent while others stand around.) It was quite complex: Hawas spoke no Wakhi and I think some of them had little Urdu (and the same names), and the work had to be spread around the different villages lest it upset local politics.

I borrowed Pat's copy of Barchester Towers and read fifty or sixty pages of that - I couldn't really imagine anything further removed from where we were! I had to fetch Hawas and Ruth from down by the river when it was dinner time: afterwards the three of us sat and talked again, but only till 9.30.

Tuesday 31st August: back to Lasht

It had been decided to return to Lasht in one day. With a 35 or 40 kilometre hike ahead of us, we were up at 5.30 and left between 7 and 8 after the usual milling, so we straggled out over about 5km right away. I started off with Riaz and Amjad, then stopped for half an hour watching the Chantiboi glacier. I walked down to the glacier, but a little side-stream was enough to stop me getting right up to it. After that I stayed with Ruth and Hawas. We had lunch at Kishmanj, where I made the mistake of washing myself but not drying off properly, which resulted in nappy rash on the final stretch. Some of the terrain (scree slopes with nasty medium-sized rocks) was very hard on the horses and I think the riders really should have dismounted for a lot of it.

On the way to Kan Khun Ruth gave her horse away and we and Hawas ended up at the tail of the group, with Pat until he took a horse and then with Gilbert, who didn't like riding and walked slowly but steadily. At Kan Khun they had left some horses to ferry us across the stream and the others rode the rest of the way. I had to speed up a bit to keep up with the horses (Ruth wanted to canter but the horseman wouldn't let her: she had enough trouble getting him to let her take the reins). Near the end Vera and I loaded up with water from a spring, since we weren't sure of water at the campsite, so I trotted into camp carrying maybe fifteen kilograms.

The road had been fixed, so we camped in Lasht. Some peoples' luggage was late arriving, as it had been put on yaks, which were a lot slower than the donkeys. (We wondered that the yaks had made it along some of the tracks at all.) My blisters were bad, as expected, but that was all the trekking for the trip. I was the last to go into the tents again.

Travelling: Sleeping

Physically the trip was not that taxing, but it involved more exercise than I usually get. And mentally I was idling for most of the trip (though I started writing more towards the end, even some poetry). For whatever reason, I found I could get by with five or six hours sleep a night instead of the eight or nine I need normally: I was regularly going to bed after midnight and waking up around six.

I ended up sharing a room or tent with as many as ten different people at one time or another: John, Hawas, Art, Gilbert + James, PeterC, Shah Jahan, Ruth, Bruno, and Myriam. (Of the single people, I figured I was the best able to cope with this, so I usually waited till the end when room allocations were being done. The unpredictability did start to get a bit stressful towards the end of the trip, though.)

Geology: Mountains and Tectonics

The tectonics of Pakistan is convoluted but exciting: the basic India-Asia collision is complicated by the intervening Kohistan island arc and possible early impacts, with bits of Gondwanaland and Laurasia breaking off ahead of the main impact.

But it was the geomorphology that was most arresting. The mountains, obviously, but also the erosional features carved out of them...

People: Ruth and I

at Kuragh Ruth and I on Kuragh ridge.

At Ishkarwaz I told Ruth I was a quarter of the way to being in love with her, which seemed to make sense at the time. At later times I wasn't at all sure: some of the symptoms of limerence were very pronounced, even if others were entirely absent. In the end, I think it was mostly emotional dependency brought on by the pressures of travelling.

Anyway, I felt really comfortable and relaxed with Ruth and we had a lot of fun together. It is most unlikely we would ever have met in the normal course of events, but I hope we stay in touch: it's good to have (differently) crazy friends.

When I told Ruth we were like cousins, she suggested brother and sister instead (whether because it fitted better or because it was a safer degree of consanguinity I'm not sure). Unfortunately I don't think Qantas' employee benefits scheme extends to cheap airfares for honorary siblings.

Travelling: Coping

Physically I was in close to perfect shape for the first half of the trip: no health problems (bowels like clockwork even) and no problems with fitness, even at altitude: blisters and nappy rash were temporary and minor problems. But after the grapes did us in in Gilgit I don't think I was ever really 100% again: intermittent diarrhoea, sometimes a slight fever in the mornings, and so forth.

Emotionally and psychologically the trip wore me down slowly (pathetic fallacy: just as everything around us was being eroded). It was not so much the travelling itself but the consequences of too much of it - having to settle in to a new place every night (often not knowing with whom I would be sharing a room or tent). Towards the end of the trip it became harder to reach out to new people and I fell back on those I felt most comfortable with.

Some of the group never really seemed to cope: some were clearly relieved when they were heading home. The older participants seemed to cope as well or better than the younger ones.

People: James

James came from a background foreign to me: he was a rugby player, into drinking, etc. He collected a huge number of different hats, maybe a dozen, and he looked like a local in a shawar kamiz and a Chitrali cap.

Tom and James Tom and James at Kishmanj.

Travelling: Writing

Many of the group kept diaries, ranging from short notes to quite serious undertakings. Mine took the form of extensive but cryptic jottings, often subsequently unreadable even by myself, intended as the basis for this report (photo). (I sometimes wrote in moving vehicles, which didn't help things.) Ruth wrote copious amounts of connected prose, but not for anyone else to read. (I showed her portions of my notes when I thought they'd be interesting.)

I didn't write many postcards. But as the trip progressed I wrote more and more in the back of my notebook: attempts at emotional self-analysis, mini-essays (some of them now incorporated into this report), and even some poetry.

If we'd been travelling a little longer, I might have relearnt how to write connected prose without a computer!

People: PeterC

PeterC was a fellow bushwalker, but I failed to talk him into any mad mountain climbs. The travelling and altitude sickness knocked him about quite badly, I think.

PeterC and Gilbert PeterC and Gilbert at Kishmanj.

Equipment: What Was Useful

I used my medical kit more than ever before on a trip - for stemetil, gastrolyte, panadol, rehydration salts, and immodium. I appear to have survived not taking anti-malarial drugs: apart from a few in the first few days in Peshawar, I saw and heard no mosquitoes (and I haven't come down with anything, though that could happen for several months yet).

Taking a tent fly rather than a full tent was a bit of a gamble, but Vera and PeterK were using my only decent tent and I didn't want to have to carry a tent just for myself. I only used the fly once, but there was nowhere it wouldn't have been adequate. If we'd been camping any higher, however, or it had been any other season, then I think it would have been dodgy.

Not having a watch was never really a problem, though I was late for meals once or twice a result.

Thanks to others being generous sharing their photos, not taking a camera wasn't a disaster.

Travelling: Food and Cooks

Four cooks accompanied us for the first part of the trip, from Nagarh to Gilgit: they fed us whenever there was no hotel or restaurant to eat in. Javed and Eisa Khan had the most English and were the only two I really talked to.

They tried to get to our camp-sites ahead of us to prepare. They would put up our huge mess tent - big enough to sit twenty people, cross-legged on the floor, and to stand up in - and their own cooking tent.
mess and cooking tents Mess tent, cooking tent, and cooks at Sonogarh

Some of the food was taken out of tins, but much of it was fresh - the chapatti were freshly made (and often kerosene flavored) and meat was usually freshly killed - so it often took quite some time to prepare dinner.

While trekking a typical breakfast was: porridge, chapatti, fried egg, and apple and mango jam. Lunch: dried apricots, apricot kernels (like almonds), dry biscuits, tinned sardines and tuna, sultanas, dates, caramel sweets, and tinned fruit. Dinner: rice and chapatti, okra, potatoes and peas, goat, fried chicken, chips, and once or twice jelly for dessert. Meals were regularly accompanied by big thermos flasks with unpredictable contents: tea of different kinds, hot milk, hot water.

People: Gilbert

Gilbert carried a golf club and half a dozen balls with him throughout the trip, even up the Yarkhun. He practised driving wherever given half a chance, notably at all the major passes we crossed!

Travelling: Organisation

There were some problems with the organisation, mostly caused by communication failures; people were never properly informed of what was planned and there was poor communication between Hawas and Shah Jahan (the tour guides responsible for implementation) and John (who made the ultimate decisions, I think). I think John was too laid back and Hawas wasn't assertive enough (and a little distracted, too).

But a lot of it was probably unavoidable - when travelling through some of the most rugged terrain in the world, in a country with poor transport infrastructure, some problems are inevitable. The tour guides also had to coordinate bookings through their head office in Islamabad, which didn't help things.

Vera was surprisingly upset by the organisational problems. I sympathised, but it didn't really bother me, I think because a) I was in "Asia travelling mode", where I simply wasn't going to let delays or aimless milling upset me, however pointless or frustrating and b) I was travelling with Hawas most of the time, which meant I had more control over what was happening. (The others could only talk to their drivers, who had little English and didn't always know that much anyway.)

On a few occasions I was sorely tempted to take over the organisation of the trip... but it wouldn't have been worth the trauma.

People: Hawas

Hawas was our tour guide (except in China). He was a geology student at Peshawar University, but also ran a small gemstone business and worked as a tour guide (as almost everyone who spoke good English in northern Pakistan seemed to).

I spent a lot of time with Hawas, so I got to know him well. He was open, transparent, and warm. He picked up quickly on my odd sense of humour and was generally quick to understand (my normal spoken English was a bit much for him, but then it taxes many native speakers). On several occasions I almost felt I could read Hawas' mind.

Hawas fell for Ruth in a big way.

Riaz, Hawas, Amjad Riaz, Hawas, and Amjad at Kishmanj

Background: Hospitality

The Pakistanis I met were almost overwhelming hospitable. From the vice-chancellor of Peshawar University to Wakhi pastoralists at Baroghil, people everywhere made us welcome.

Fazli in particular was a model host: as an organiser of the conference he obviously felt personally responsible for us. Hawas was forever asking Ruth and me "are you ok?", even when we were patently happy. (Among the very first Urdu phrases we learnt were "don't worry, it's ok", "it doesn't matter", and similar others.) And the postgraduate students who looked after us in Peshawar suffered the indignity of having to shepherd mad foreigners around far more willingly than a similar group of Australian postgraduates would ever done.

Hospitality, or melmastia, is particularly important to the Pathans.


Wednesday 1st September: Lasht to Mastuj

jeeps on the road We were back in our old jeep. There were some major problems in the newly created ford where the wash-away had been: we had to get out and push, move rocks around the stream bed, and so forth. When the group stopped for some geologising (on a rather exposed section of road, left), we took the cover off the jeep - and of course we were playing the same cassette. I was really beginning to feel at home in this jeep!

At one point we stopped because one of the jeeps in front had broken down, and bought apricots (yum) and small apples from the locals. We had a quick lunch stop in a field by the road. It was very hot in the sun (though cool when there was cloud cover) and there was noticeably more water everywhere, presumably from melting.

bandaging blisters We camped in the garden inside Mastuj fort, a lovely green area with trees everywhere, surrounded by a stone wall. The wind made a lot of noise in the trees but was hardly felt - unlike up the Yarkhun where it has been silent but penetrating. Fernando and Covadonga had been here for the week, in a big tent lent to them by the caretaker.

There was a big queue for the shower: I got in early but found there was no water at all. Vera came and worked out that all the other taps in the area had to be turned off for it to work! I bandaged my blisters. Ruth and Hawas had wandered off together at dusk and I walked around looking for them without success: I then sat down and tried to work out if I was falling in love or just unhappy about being left out.

At dinner I felt breathless, in a kind of reverse altitude sickness (Mastuj was at 2400m). We played more cards - the same game as before (but I won this time) and then Cheat and a kind of Rummy. James and Hawas and I were the last to bed.

Thursday 2nd September: the Shandur Pass

Hawas slept in. I repacked into two bags, repadded my blisters, and we were off again at 8.40. We left the main Yarkhun/Mastuj/Chitral river and headed south up the side valley that lead to Sor Laspur and the Shandur Pass: more rough roads and awesomely dramatic scenery. As I stood in the jeep I imagining what it would be like to be riding point in a military convoy.

We stopped for chai at a police check-point (photo). Apparently the drivers hadn't had breakfast and some of them were stirring anti-Hawas feeling. We had to wait 20 or 30 minutes for the chai, but there was a nice breeze and it was very pleasant sitting on chapoys in the shade. Then it was a series of switchbacks up to the Shandur pass (Frank Sinatra? give me Indian film music any day!).

view from Shandur The Shandur pass (3700 metres) was rather pretty, with a lake (photo), goats and sheep wandering, a rest house that used to be the prime minister's, and a polo ground (the highest in the world, where Gilgit and Chitral play every summer). Little chai tents under UNHCR canvas (photo), provided tea and snacks. (Hawas had to get receipts from them - no doubt one of the more annoying jobs of a tour guide.) We had lunch in the open, under a hot sun: I joked that the distinctive yellow and brown pattern on the plastic our food was always served on would soon be enough to make us salivate all by itself...

On the other side of the Shandur, in the valley of the Ghezer (photo: headwaters), it was greener, and the water was a light blue rather than a dirty grey. There were also more cows and sheep (and people waving to us) and the farms seemed much more prosperous. Once the valley widened out (photo), a series of lakes made for a really lovely setting.

We were staying in a run down resthouse with no (or only intermittent) water and maybe half a dozen rooms - though Hawas quickly found an extra one for Pat and Ruth when they proposed to sleep in the mess tent or on the floor of the living room (which is where I ended up sleeping, along with John and Gilbert and James, on a carpet which was neither level nor smooth).

No one wanted to walk down to the lake (wimps) so I walked out along the ridge (a moraine dumped during the last ice age, through which the river had subsequently cut) and sat on a rock and watched the world go by below me. I went into a weird kind of fugue state, trying to reanchor myself to the world but ending up quite detached instead. It was windy but I had my jumper and rainjacket on and was quite comfortable: at one point I was even thinking about getting my sleeping bag and sleeping out there (though it was as if nothing else existed). And when darkness fell the stars were really amazing. It was pretty weird, anyway.

People started worrying about me when I didn't turn up for (a late) dinner, fearing I had walked down to the lake and got lost in the dark or something like that. But I was only a hundred or so metres away, and Hawas found me in a couple of minutes when he came looking.

Everyone went to bed right after dinner.

Friday 3rd September: to Gilgit

I was feeling reconnected to the world at breakfast. When Ruth enquired I tried to explain what had happened to me the previous night, but it didn't really make sense to me so it was a bit hard! Setting off, we drove maybe a kilometre and then returned for Pat's camera, which he had left behind... It was a beautiful river and we stopped for water and to wash at side creeks. A toilet stop at a resthouse by a lake turned into a serious snack/tea stop, with some excellent fried fish. (Vera and PeterK were annoyed again at the lack of information they were getting about what was happening.)

the road blocked Ruth was a bit sick, so she sat in front with Hawas. We came to a stop 15km before Gakuch: the road had been blocked by a landslide (or possibly by deliberate road-widening) and a dozen other vehicles were already waiting (photos: close-up of road-work, Gerard on a rock). Reports on how long it would take to clear varied from half an hour to four hours. So we sat by the road and ate what lunch we could put together: biscuits, sardines, and so forth.

Aftewards Ruth and Hawas and I sat and chatted, about differences between Australia and Pakistan, especially in personal relationships. (Just as in India, this was perenially fascinating for Pakistanis - the men, anyway - I never got to talk to any women. But I guess it's the number one gossip topic everywhere.) Ruth suggested the ideal marriage would be at fifty, as a way of finding a companion for old age. She was thinking of Pat, whose partner was to meet us in Gilgit the following day, but it sounded sensible to me. Ruth dozed off at one point (she had an uncanny ability to do that in all kinds of places) and I rather naughtily provoked Hawas into reciting Shina love poetry to her.

In the end we waited two and a half hours.

Then it was a long ride to Gilgit. Hawas bought some grapes on the way, which we "washed" by pouring a bit of water over them. Ruth and Hawas were sitting in the front feeding each other grapes flirtatiously. I ate some, but not nearly as much as Ruth or Hawas, and Pat ate even less...

We arrived after dark and Hawas had to phone Islamabad to find out where we were staying. Our hotel, Mir's Lodge, was sufficiently flash that I felt bad about sitting on the chairs in reception in my filthy trousers. I guessed it could be in the US$40 bracket, but Hawas said it was 600 to 800 rupees (US$12 to 16) a night, with a special discount for tour operators. (Still, there was no plug for the sink and it had fans, not air-conditioning.) The best parts were a green lawn to sit on, a rooftop, and a small first floor lounge area. I was sharing a room with PeterC.

The first thing I did was to have a proper shower, which was wonderful, and I handed in a large load of laundry. Dinner was a buffet, rather fancy after a week of roughing it, and also quite spicy. Ruth couldn't cope with anything at all spicy and asked for yoghurt to go with it; Pat had been complaining about the lack of spice regularly, but now he found himself too sick to enjoy it properly. After dinner I sat with Ruth in the lounge area, writing up our journals.

Hawas joined us and he and I discussed plans for tomorrow/future. Then we sat around talking. It was almost amusing, watching Ruth looking at Hawas; Hawas not looking at Ruth; Ruth almost asleep; Hawas almost asleep; - and I was a little tired myself. It was past midnight again when they went to their rooms; I sat up a while longer, wondering if I was supposed to be a chaperone... I was damned if I could work out what was going on, but decided that Ruth must know what she was doing: she had to have broken enough hearts in her time.

Saturday 4th September: Gilgit

A whole day in one place! Yay! I was up at 6.45am, even though we had decided on a late (8am) breakfast at dinner the previous day, so I went and sat on the rooftop and talked to Hawas. Hawas and John were busy organising: 2000 rupee each as a tip for the cooks (who we parted company with here) and a bus to Sost tomorrow.

Pretty much everyone went to the bazaar: I ended up with Ruth, Hawas, James, PeterC, and Tom. After rescheduling flights (Tom was leaving us here) and phone calls back to Australia (for everyone except me, since I'd come with the rest of my household) it was shopping time. The handicraft and antique shops in the bazaar had goods from all over, from China and India and Afghanistan and Iran and Central Asia as well as local ones. Tom led the way again, buying musical instruments, gems, ...; Ruth bought some pillow coverings and a Gilgiti cap; everyone except me bought tapes of the local music. I started bargaining for a cashmere shawl, thinking I'd be passing through on my way back in a week and could resume then. And there was a bookshop with a good selection of books, but I had decided in Peshawar to leave my bookshopping till I reached Islamabad at the end of the trip.

Hawas tried to get a pass that would allow him to go to China with us (as a resident of the Northern Areas, he didn't need a full-scale visa), but without success: he was obviously very unhappy about it.

Brian and Beverley had visited a Buddha carving in the morning. After lunch, some went off to see that, I went with seven others to watch a polo game. On the way there I bought juice and condensed milk sweets for everyone: most of the latter ended up being given away to children. We arrived at half-time, with the horses being walked, one quite badly injured. Ruth was feeling sick and went back early with Hawas.

Ruth was lying in the lounge, trying to throw up and failing. I did what I could to make her comfortable with a wet handkerchief and fanning, before Hawas came and took over energetically. Eventually she went into her room, to come out later having thrown up. The others had arrived, but were in another hotel and Pat wasn't happy about it... so Pat and Hawas were busy plotting.

A shower. Dinner.

Suddenly Hawas is calling in a doctor, worried about Ruth. She has had diarrhoea for several hours and he wants to send her to hospital. I panic, wondering how I am going to convince a Pakistani doctor, a love-lorn suitor, and an unpredictable father that hospital - with its germs and psychologically alienating environment - is the very last thing needed. Then I remember Vera and go grab her (she had worked as a nurse).

The doctor comes. He says it isn't cholera, but wants to put her into hospital anyway, of course... we convince him it isn't necessary. He prescribes oral rehydration salts, stemetil for nausea, a course of antibiotics, and something for fever. I try to stop them talking loudly about it all... Vera is going to stay with Ruth overnight; Pat has a room downstairs with Jean.

In the middle of the night there is a blackout - the fans stop. I get up to check on Vera and Ruth, but they have found the candles in the dark. Then in the wee hours of the morning I come down with severe diarrhoea myself, crawl out into the lounge and throw up into the very pot I fetched for Ruth earlier. Vera gives me some rehydration solution and I start drinking that and go back to bed.

Sunday 5th September: Gilgit to Sost

Ruth and I both missed breakfast and neither of us were feeling very with it at all. There was much aimless milling: we were not sure if we would have one big bus, several coasters, or jeeps provided courtesy of the Northern Area government... but eventually one big bus turned up. Ruth and I took two seats each near the back and slept most of the way.

the Hunza valley The trip was a bit of a blur: we passed through some amazing scenery, but I was not up to appreciating it. It was also overcast and dark. All I remember clearly is lunch at a viewpoint where Rakaposhi was not visible and where it rained a bit (photo), and then a stop in Hunza to look at petroglyphs (photo), with Ladyfinger mountain and Baltit fort looming above (photo).

In Sost we were spread over two hotels. I had a room to myself next to Vera and PeterK; Ruth and Hawas and Pat were in the other hotel. I was up to walking around a bit after dark, it was quite lively. At dinner I was properly introduced Shah Jahan, our new guide, and some of the other people who had joined the group in Gilgit. I ate a little boiled rice and chips.

Nazir Sabir - Pakistan's most famous mountain climber - was in the only other group in the hotel restaurant. He gave a brief speech welcoming us to Pakistan and when Brian asked a couple of Dorothy Dix (Australian idiom? = friendly) questions he talked more about his involvement in politics: he had been elected on a youth and anti-corruption vote and was apparently the first commoner to challenge the Mir in Hunza for 920 years...

Shah Jahan told Vera that there had been problems with grapes. That had to be the explanation for what had hit Ruth and me (she had eaten many more of them than me, hence the greater severity and earlier onset). And Gerard had had a mild attack of the same thing, also after eating grapes. It were the grapes what done us in.

People: Ruth and Hawas

Every story needs a central dramatic thread: in this case it was a romance, with the two people I spent the most time with starring.

It was obvious immediately that Hawas was interested in Ruth, and pretty soon that he was seriously smitten. Ruth's response was harder to read: she obviously wasn't indifferent and it often seemed that she was encouraging him, if not actively flirting with him. And the cultural differences created obvious possibilities for misunderstanding.

Ruth said that they had talked about it and it was agreed that they were just friends. But as I told her, what you do in these situations matters a lot more than what you say. (Of course achieving any kind of objectivity with this kind of thing is hard at the best of times, let alone when sick and suffering travelling stress.)

Ruth was I think too compliant, finding it easier to go along with what others (Pat as well as Hawas, and sometimes also I and others) wanted her to do rather than to assert herself. (Her combination of compliance with outgoing openness was perhaps a dangerous mix in an Islamic state where - in women - the former is assumed but the latter is almost forbidden.)

They made a good couple, anyway, and if it hadn't been for the practical problems... E.M. Forster wrote that every novel had to end with a separation or a marriage, and I wasn't sure how this particular story would end. And, since Ruth was staying on, I didn't find out till two weeks after I returned.

And my part in this drama? Candidates are Confidante, Fifth Business, the Chorus, Third Point, Chaperone, or possibly even the Villain!

Background: Tourism

Tourism was obviously an important part of the economy in northern Pakistan: in some places, half the traffic on the roads seemed to be carrying tourists. (And the most popular trekking destinations are further east than we reached, in Baltistan.)

There was only one place where the effects of tourism seemed really bad: Bomboret. Many new hotels were being built there and tourism was obviously booming, but the people running things all seemed to be Muslim and it looked to me like the Kalash were basically getting shafted. Signs saying "all visitors must be accompanied by a Kalash guide" and "no more hotel building allowed" looked like they were being happily ignored. (I'm told one of the other Kalash valleys has been holding out better.)

In the upper Yarkhun, the employment we brought was looked on as a kind of manna: tourists are not I think sufficiently common to have produced structural changes in the economy. In Hunza tourism was clearly a major part of the economy and a significant force for change (Pat said it had all been farms when he was there in the 70s), but it seemed to have been handled quite well: the hotels were being built in local style, everything was run by locals, and the benefits were obviously being shared around. Perhaps it was a result of the tight-knit Ismaili community.

Once again I felt I should have read some of the literature on tourism before the trip. After all, tourism one thing you are absolutely guaranteed to see happening whenever you travel outside your home areas!

People: John

John An experienced traveller, John always managed to look comfortable, finding somewhere to lie back and recline even in the most inhospitable places.

Travelling: Roads and Driving

Some of the roads were dynamited sideways into vertical cliffs. Others were bulldozed across what were effectively permanent landslides, with rocks that fell onto the road simply shovelled over the side. At one point (on the Bomboret Road) a concrete wall and roof had been built to keep the rocks and sand off the road. In many places roads were clearly temporary, built with the knowledge they would soon need to be rebuilt.

Not everyone was so impressed with their drivers, but all the ones I had were really, really good. They were not just careful but also cooperative: only once or twice did I even twitch. My fifteen hour bus ride down the Karakoram Highway through Indus Kohistan, at night, sitting right in the front, was particularly impressive. And Abdul did a great job on the roads in Chitral.

People: Pat

"Mad", amended to "totally mad" is what I wrote about Pat in my notebook. And he looked just like a great eccentric geologist ought to, too. Pat really came alive when explaining geology (and was an inspiration to his students.) He had travelled through much of the area we traversed twenty five years ago and could tell us how things had changed.

Photo: Pat on a horse heading up the Yarkhun.


Monday 6th September: the Khunjerab Pass and Tashkurgan

I was late for breakfast (one of the perils of not wearing a watch) but managed porridge and some bread. Outside everyone was photographing the truck depot, with its brightly and elaborately decorated Afghan trucks (photo), which were being cleaned and polished by their owners. At the customs check our passports were stamped en masse and our baggage perfunctorily checked (photo). We said goodbye to Hawas and got underway at 10.15. Our passports were checked again at a post further up the road.

Pass At the first stop I climbed out through a window, bruising my hands. I almost convinced them to let me ride on the roof (with the baggage) for the next hop (twenty kilometres or so) but Riaz and others vetoed it. (I think I may have been trying to make up for being sick the day before.) There were some great views, especially on the long series of switchbacks up to the Khunjerab Pass, but the views from the bus just weren't in the same league as those from an open jeep. At the pass we got out and took photos (above, 1, 2) and wandered around for a while.

The landscape on the Chinese side of the Karakoram was noticeably smoother - the flattest we had been in since we crossed Lowari Pass, in fact (photo). There were still impressive mountains to be seen - the snow-clad Pamirs to the east (photo) - but the valley was more open (photo). Yaks, sheep, camels, and people could be seen from the bus, and everything seemed different even at a distance, even the water was a different colour.

We ended up in a bit of rush to get to Tashkurgan before the customs post closed - which might have forced us to sleep in the bus - so we ate our packed lunch on the move. We were held up while a big truck that had gone off the road was levered and winched upright - the asphalt road had been damaged by unusual rain and flooding the previous month. Art, lying down in the back, was being bounced around badly (he lifted a good half metre off the seat at one point) and hurt his back, so Fazli ended up sitting with/on him to stop him moving. The bus was not in good shape - "falling apart" is the description that came to mind.

At customs (officials with very serious uniforms) we transferred to two minibuses: one with Abdullah, our Chinese guide; the other (mine) with Sadiq, his assistant. It was only a few kilometres to the Seman Hotel, quite a bit hotel (apparently 500 beds) and apparently the only place to stay. I was sharing a room with Shah Jahan.

I walked around what there was of a market with Pat and Jean and Ruth (Vera and PeterK had read their guidebook, so they went and visited the ruined fort). The people (mostly Tajik, with some Uighur and Han Chinese) were clearly not Pakistanis: apart from differences in gait and clothing, there were far more women on the street, (they were also wearing skirts Loudspeakers on the telegraph poles broadcast radio, while pool "parlours" were scattered along the street (the hotel was clearly in the most affluent part of town). And the food at dinner was definitely spicier.

I washed my head and upper body, then wandered around, glancing at the hotel shop and assorted discos and nightclubs (not my scene, anywhere). Ruth emerged after an hour long bath, and we wandered around a bit. She said the nightclub on the hotel grounds was "a dive": they all looked pretty seedy to me.

Shah Jahan had gone partying with friends but was still going to bed early (about 11), so I sat in Ruth's room and we wrote and talked until around 1. I told her she was like an honorary cousin; she suggested brother and sister. Shah Jahan was sick during the night - he had partied a bit too hard, I think, taking advantage of the availability of alcohol in China.

Tuesday 7th September: to Kashgar

I washed my lower half using a bowl of hot water and gave some disprin to Shah Jahan. Novel items at our first Chinese breakfast included sliced bread, cake, and pickled vegies. I changed some money in the hotel, then it was back into our buses and onto the road again.

We were looping around Mustagh Ata, which stands alone in the plain and made for great views. At nearly 7500 metres it may be the highest mountain I could ever hope to climb (Sadiq said that no technical skills were required, just coping with altitude) and I'd like to go back one day... There were also views of the Kongor range further away. We stopped for photos on the Subash plateau (at 3900 metres), where I collected a piece of biotite schist.

Ata Along the road there were yak herds and scattered yurts, with some permanent villages (photo). (The Kyrgz no longer migrate across the Pamir, apparently, but move into fixed settlements for the winter.) When we stopped, children would come out and try to sell us various items (photo: Fazli with children). We had lunch at Kara Kul lake, in a resthouse with great views of the mountains over the lake, but also with the most unhygienic toilet seen yet... There was a mini-market (mostly jewellery) and our first chance to see camels close-up.

The road (photo) ran through dramatic scenery: coloured hills (photos; 1, 2), 3) and then a salt-lake and near-desert (photo). It was quite hot. (And the temperature was to go nowhere near eleven degrees, let alone minus six, during our stay in Kashgar.)

In the flatter stretch on the approach to Kashgar, we sat in the back and played cards (I taught them Black Lady). Again we talked about marriage and related topics: none of us - Ruth (22), James (23), Sadiq (28), me (29), or Shah Jahan (33) - were married, but I was an anomaly in that I didn't want to get married or have children. Ruth and James both wanted "lots" (I told them they could share my quota). Shah Jahan said he travelled too much and hadn't met the right girl.

We were all heartily sick of buses by now and it seemed like a long haul into Kashgar. Unfortunately we were only going to be staying there one day (two nights) instead of two, as a result of problems booking hotel rooms in Tashkurgan on the way back. The Quinibagh Hotel was quite plush (apparently the best in town and possibly the most expensive place I stayed in during the trip). I shared a room with Ruth; we were on the 4th floor with a big window and views out the back of the hotel.

That evening I went for a wander around the local streets with James: he bought beer, I bought an icecream. Back at the hotel Ruth and I ate half a watermelon. Ruth had never carried any money of her own, living on what Pat doled out: I thought this was ridiculous and lent her some small change, so she could at least buy herself a melon or a drink. Dinner was good but too spicy for Ruth - and they had the strange habit (for me) of serving the rice half way through the meal. I showered (it ran hot eventually), went out to buy some water, and then we stayed up writing till around 12.30.

Wednesday 8th September: Kashgar

I slept well and woke up early. I sat on the window-sill, listening to street noises and watching the colour change on the clouds in the sky, and reading a little. Ruth slept in and had worn her watch to bed, so I had no way of knowing the time, but we made it to breakfast (8am) on time. This consisted of bread, cake, etc. and oily fried egg. I was getting sick of egg for breakfast.

Most of the group were going on the buses to visit some tombs, but we had had enough of buses - and of the organised tour thing generally - so Pat and Jean and Ruth and I wandered off by ourselves to visit the mosque and the bazaar. The mosque was old, run down, and not that grand architecturally, but it was very peaceful. One really odd sight in the streets was some of the veiled women: they wore brown scarves that covered their heads completely (presumably they could see throught the weave), along with fitted jackets and heels (photo).

melon sellers The bazaar was vibrant but reasonably quiet: we bought figs, dried apricots, and deep fried mung beans, looked at cloth (photo), cloth dyers, nuts (photo), butchers (with goats' heads), metal workers, carpenters (photo), and all kinds of other goods and activities. There were lots of small children around (photo). Ruth played with a few, chasing them around a building pillar. The youngest boys wore pants with open bottoms - she kept trying to photograph this, but they would always turn around when they realised they were being photographed.

After the bazaar, we wandered through the old city, munching our way through a huge round naan bread for lunch. School was out and Ruth was almost mobbed by young children (only a few were interested in me or in Pat and Jean). We walked back to the hotel around the north of the city, through an auto and industrial area. Ruth slept; I read for a while. When the others came back from their expedition Vera and PeterK's reports didn't suggest we'd missed anything essential.

The same four of us set off at about three, this time walking the long way around the south to the Sunday market. We saw remnants of the city walls (packed earth, a kind of artificial sedimentation), a big Mao statue, and the more affluent part of town. Uighur women started talking to us, curious about Ruth's guidebook, and were actually hard to get away from - we were definitely not in Pakistan any longer!

In the market we bought some silk scarves and I helped Ruth buy a Kyrgz rug, enjoying a good haggle with a carpet seller (the others weren't bargainers at all, and wouldn't even let me do it properly). We caught an auto-rickshaw back to the hotel, where Ruth and I wandered off and ate half a watermelon, followed up with cans of coconut drink. Afterwards we chatted with others in the bar: Brian had had his own chop (seal) made up.

After dinner we all went to an Uighur dance and music performance, at the end of which Pat and Ruth danced were roped into dancing. Afterwards Ruth and James and I wandered out - James was looking for alcohol. Not being able to speak any of the languages or read labels (though Ruth could recognise a few signs from her Japanese), we ended up buying the seventh bottle from the left in a roadside shop. This turned out to be half a litre of 50% proof spirit of some kind, I think Mao Tai. Anyway, Ruth took a trial swig and got a shock... so we bought lots of coke and Red Bull as mixers.

Back in our room, sitting on Ruth's new carpet, James got down to serious drinking. (I didn't touch the stuff and Ruth drank one cup, but three quarters of the bottle went... which meant James drank at least 150 grams of ethanol, by my calculations.) He told stories about getting drunk and talked about the conflict between his passion for geology and his desire for wealth and material prosperity. He wanted us to join in and Ruth told about getting drunk for the first time at fourteen, but I didn't really have any suitable stories to tell. At one point Ruth and James wrestled each other around the room, with me taking cover between the beds. (James was big, but Ruth was more than capable of looking after herself.)

I eventually broke up the party, James tottered off to his room, and we went to sleep around 2.30am. Overall, the evening confirmed my feelings about drinking: people a little drunk are fun, but after that they become less interesting. But then I'm a stuffy intellectual <grin>.

Thursday 9th September: Kashgar to Tashkurgan

Ruth and I skipped breakfast and ate watermelon sitting on the window-sill: we supplemented it with some yoghurt bought just before we set off. There were twenty one planned geology stops, sixteen of them that day, with Suzy, a Chinese geologist who had just joined us, showing us the sites.

We stopped for bread and more melon in Upel, then it was back into the hills. At the Ghez checkpoint (photo) we stuffed ourselves on bread filled with capsicum, eggs, and chilli. It was rather warm, so Ruth and I sat with the locals under a verandah, while others looked at rocks or stayed on a hot bus. James was rather peaky, not surprisingly! Black birds circled and bare copper wires shone in the sun (they were either new or it was too dry for them to corrode).

We stopped at Karakul lake again for lunch: mostly melon. The outdoor toilet was appalling - and the whole area around it was decorated with little piles of shit and toilet paper. PeterC said if we'd stayed there he'd have taken his tent a few kilometres around the lake rather than risking the facilities. (Photos: yurts set up for tourists, camels)

We had a brief stop for roadworks and some golf from Gilbert, a petrol stop, and then we were back in Seman hotel. Ruth and I walked to the fort and had a quick look before someone demanding we pay money chased us away. I walked to the market and bought some icecream (photo: Tashkurgan street scene) . At dinner we heard the first news about East Timor[ext], from someone who had managed to download the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald web site in Kashgar... it seemed almost unbelievable, Australia actually taking action after twenty years!

I had been assigned to a room with Fazli and Bruno, but Fazli didn't like being in a room with three people so after dinner I moved with Shah Jahan into a room vacated by Pat and Jean as unsatisfactory. It was getting a bit stressfull never knowing who I would be sharing a room with till the last moment.

The night attendant in our wing was learning English from a companion book to a video he didn't have. The book was written in Chinese and he knew only a little Chinese (he was Uighur), so it was not the ideal learning tool for him by any means.

I stayed up a while talking to Shah Jahan about the trip, how much we were paying for it, and so forth. (I showed him a plastic Australian $50 note, which impressed him - and I looked at what was depicted on it carefully for the first time.) He explained the problems they were having with the trip being micro-managed from above and with last minute changes - they had had to rebook hotel rooms in Hunza (our next night) twice, for example.

Travelling: Porters

Our porters on the "trek" up the Yarkhun river were paid 250 rupee - about US$5 - per day, which was not just a good salary for Pakistan, but I think a rare chance at acquiring any money in hand: my impression was that the upper Yarkhun valley has barely been touched by the cash economy, with subsistence farming dominating (photo: Wakhi farmer at Kishmanj).

The result was that people converged from far and wide when word got around that we were hiring. Hawas explained that, given so much competition for jobs as porters, the locals chose who got them - but that he suggested the work go to the poorest people and insisted that no more than one person from a household benefit.

The porters had to supply their own food and accommodation and carry 25kg for us. But they did this with donkeys - one between two porters - carrying 50kg each. They stayed in nearby villages each night.

The horsemen were paid 500 rupee per day.

Background: Women

Women were not just veiled but rarely to be seen at all, at least in the open in Peshawar and the towns. In the tiny backstreets they were more visible, and of course in the countryside they could be found working. There were plenty of young girls (photo) around and they were open and friendly, but as they grew older they started veiling themselves and by teenage years were disappearing.

The constraints on meeting and talking to women are one reason I could never live in Pakistan.

People: Riaz

Riaz spoke fluent English (easily the best of any of the Pakistanis) with an American accent (he had lived for five years in the States). With a camera around his neck, he could almost pass himself off as a tourist!

Background: War

Part of the background to The Gilgit Game is the fear of the British that the Russians would use the Hindu Kush passes to invade India. As they eventually realised (and I saw for myself), there wasn't a real threat: while an army would have been able to cross the Baroghil Pass easily enough, getting it down the Yarkhun and supplying it would have been another matter entirely.

Standing up in the jeep, I tried to imagine what it would be like riding point in a military convoy, scanning the hills for ambushes... a total nightmare. In the kind of terrain we were in, all the advantages would be with the defence. Simple explosives would be the weapon of choice: used to destroy roads, precipitate multi-thousand-ton landslides, and so forth. Air power might help, though it was hardly ideal terrain for fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter gunships would be vulnerable to any kind of anti-aircraft capability.

I could see now why the Russians had had so many problems in Afghanistan (and why the Taleban haven't been able to winkle Masood out of the Panjsher) and the sort of problem the Indians faced at Kargil.

People: Tom

With his video camera, Tom was almost an archetypal tourist - and the hawkers certainly homed in on him! He also had an infectious enthusiasm about everything. And with a cap on top of a white scarf, he looked just like Yasser Arafat...


Friday 10th September: Shangri-La

We were up around 6.30am, as usual. (Shah Jahan had no watch, either.) I spent most of my remaining money on a small piece of green jade I had decided I wanted four days ago. Neither Ruth nor I could face more egg and bread, so I cut up the watermelon we had brought with us and stole some rockmelon from the breakfast table - but Ruth had slept in and we ended up eating most of it on the bus.

At customs I spent the rest of my Chinese money on chocolate and drinks. Shah Jahan mentioned that friends in Pakistan had asked him to bring back alcohol and I offered to put some in my luggage (they apparently don't care if foreigners import alcohol), but we'd left it a bit late. Afterwards I wished I'd brought a bottle back for Hawas. There was a minor drama when we'd been through customs: our driver counted us and obviously didn't get the right answer; and then counted us again, with no happier result; and then men in uniforms with guns counted us; and again; and again; and eventually everyone seemed happy...

at Khunjerab pass On the way up the valley to the Khunjerab, PeterC was trying to photograph a camel; there were marmots all over the place near the top. We ate a rather scary looking packed lunch (it was intriguing enough that Ruth photographed it). At Khunjerab itself there was a little bit of snow behind rocks, so we threw snowballs at each other, while Gilbert drove another golf ball. (Photo: descending from Khunjerab.)

Hawas there to meet us at Sost, naturally. We had to fetch the customs staff: it was a half day, being a Friday. John and Christina and Gilbert went off in a jeep to look at some sedimentary deposits, but the rest of us shifted into three small buses and started for Karimabad, with geology stops on the way. The lunch caused some problems: Myriam was throwing up and Ruth wasn't well. So one bus full of non-geologists went on ahead. (Photo: Passu cathedrals.)

Karimabad (Baltit), Hunza, is a really lovely place. I can't put my finger on exactly why it was, but we all felt really relaxed almost immediately after arriving. But then it is, after all, the original Shangri-La (which I had always thought was in Tibet)!

I went for a walk with Jean right after arriving. Karimabad is an obvious tourist centre, with shops aimed at them everywhere, but no one was selling anything aggressively - we walked up the street without a single person approaching us. There were lots of Japanese tourists: some shops had Japanese signs. Later Shah Jahan introduced me and Hawas and Ruth to a friend of his called Wafee, who worked as a school teacher but did volunteer work for Aga Khan Rural Development Program and worked as a tour guide on the side. (Karimabad was Shah Jahan's home town.)

Dinner was excellent and many of us had already decided we wanted to stay there longer. After dinner I went for a walk in the dark with Shah Jahan and Wafee and Raymond and Monique - I had the only torch. I had a comfortable room by myself, but the hot water wasn't working (everything was running on generators as the power grid was out).

Saturday 11th September: Karimabad

Baltit fort, Ultar mountain Waking up early, I walked with Gary up the hill, visiting the cemetery on the way back. The views really were amazing. Really amazing. ( left: Baltit fort with Ultar behind). Then I wandered around for a while with Hawas and Ruth, buying yoghurt and a melon for breakfast.

There was a lot of planning over breakfast, with four options: we could go to Gilgit that day (as originally planned), stay an extra day in Karimabad and go to Gilgit the following day, head straight for Islamabad (with Riaz), or visit Fairy Meadows for a close-up view of Nanga Parbat (Yobst's idea). Now we were doing more interesting things, I was tempted to extend my stay, but I would have had to go to Islamabad to change flights. In the end, ten of us decided to stay on an extra day - Vera and PeterK and I, Pat and Ruth and Jean, Brigitte and Gerard and Raymond and Monique. And Hawas, of course, and Shah Jahan.

Rakaposhi I spent a while sitting on verandah with PeterC, watching the views (left: Rakaposhi from the hotel). I was tempted to join the four French for a climb up to an icefall on the glacier above the village (a three hour climb), but I didn't want to be the only English speaker. So I visited the Baltit fort with Ruth, Hawas, Path, and Jean. This had just been restored (with US$1.6 million spent over six years) and was well worth the 250 rupee admission - we had the place and a guide to ourselves and spent more than an hour being shown around it and admiring the view from the top (photo).

Lunch was excellent again. It started with soup, boiled eggs, potatoes, etc. - followed by a main course of chicken, lamb, okra and so forth. I jested "why is dinner being served five minutes after lunch?" I had mild diarrhoea, but it wasn't stopping me eating. Others were leaving for Gilgit, so we said goodbye to James and Myriam, who would be going straight on to Islamabad. (As a parting gift for James, Ruth wrapped up a coke and a Red Bull - unused mixers from that night in Kashgar - in pink toilet paper.)

We went back to shopping, which mostly consisted of chatting to the shop-keepers and maybe haggling a bit: a pleasant way to spend time. I bought assorted earrings, Jean bought a US$100 silk cover (many of the shops had credit card facilities). Ruth was compiling a mental list of what she wanted. There were some bookshops with interesting books, too. A pleasant breeze sprung up and some clouds came in, shrouding the mountains a little (quite attractively). We sat on a rooftop and had tea and snacks "on top of the world".

Towards dusk I had a cut-throat shave from a Pathan barber. Afterwards I went looking for Ruth and Hawas but couldn't find them, so I sat and talked to Wafee and friends of his for a while (his comment on me looking for them was "competition" and "everyone has inner passions": uh huh...) There were no English newspapers to be had and the satellite television was only giving Indian Z TV, not BBC or CNN.

I got involved writing a postcard and was late to dinner. People thought I looked in my early twenties without the beard, though some actually thought I looked older without it. Ruth noticed I was a bit depressed (she always seemed to notice) so I owned up to having been writing a postcard to someone who hadn't been on speaking terms with me for more than a year. I mentioned Wafee's "competition" which seemed to throw her a bit...

There were excellent views even at night, what with the village lights and the stars overhead, and I sat up watching Brigitte and Gerard take photos of the fort. I had diarrhoea and a mild fever overnight.

Sunday 12th September: back to Gilgit

I slept in till 7.45am: even Ruth was up before me! I had a craving for porridge at breakfast, but it was not to be. Then I sat in the sun on the roof looking at the views, mountains above, young kids working. There were huge pumpkins and drying hay on the rooftops below me - right next to satellite dishes. But it seemed to me that modernisation and tourism had been handled quite well in Hunza.

Vera and PeterK were walking to Altit fort, but I didn't feel up to it, so I spent a leisurely morning doing more shopping. I bought one book and a cashmere shawl (US$30) - I'd bought three in India last year[ext] and then given them all away, much to my regret this winter. Pat and Ruth bought loads and loads of stuff - almost more than they could afford.

We drank cardamon tea with Wafee on a rooftop and talked about Kashmir: Wafee said that he would vote for independence if a referendum were held; Shah Jahan wouldn't be drawn on how he would vote. On the way back I bought a piece of agate and a lapis lazuli egg. I had a long shower - with hot water, yay! - and put on my clean shawar kamiz; then we had lunch and were back into jeeps.

Ruth and Hawas and I were back in a jeep: Hawas produced our old tape and at the first geology stop we took the cover off, so it was just like old times. We drove through Hunza, not directly back to the main highway, giving us a good view of the area. Everything was dominated by Rakaposhi and Diran looming over everything - I got to see everything I hadn't been able to appreciate properly on the way north.

With John off elsewhere, Pat was directing the geology stops, so he stole Hawas for his jeep, wanting a translator. (I had visions of an Urdu phrasebook containing a translation of "excuse me, where can I find the Main Mantle Thrust?" - almost as good as the famous "my postilion has been struck by lightning".) Talking to Ruth, she wasn't sure what she would do when we get to Gilgit: I told her she had to go with the others so Hawas would follow, saving Shah Jahan, who was sick, from having to work as a guide.

There were quite a few geology stops (we passed by the Northern Suture, the boundary between the Asian plate and Kohistan). One turned out to be a bus stop as well - a bus pulls up and out of nowhere five or six people appear from the shade behind a rock. When the geology was over Hawas rejoined our jeep and he and I stood up all the way into Gilgit - there was quite a wind in the face when we hit 90km/hour on the flat, whee! We crossed the Hunza at the Danyore bridge and reached Gilgit along the north bank of the Gilgit river.

And then we were back in Mir Lodge: Eisa Khan was there to greet us and it seemed so familiar. Ruth was in the same room she had been sick in - and the spot on the carpet where the pot I had thrown up into had leaked was still visible... I sat on the roof with Jean, writing, through the call to prayer and the sunset. I was leaving the group the next day and it was a bit sad to be stopping half way through the story, as it were.

We went to dinner at a fancy hotel (Ruval Inn) as guests of the owner. An amazing meal, easily the fanciest of the trip, with a big enough selection of desserts that I only just managed to try a bit of everything. Ruth wandered off with Hawas half way through dinner... he wanted her to leave the group and go with him to visit Fairy Meadows (on Nanga Parbat). Back at the hotel,I had a long talk with her, explaining why I didn't think it was a good idea, among other things.

Then I did some washing, talked to Hawas for a while, and went to bed just before midnight (I was sharing with Bruno). I had diarrhoea during the night - nothing too bad, but I started on rehydration solution just in case.

Monday 13th September: many farewells; a long bus trip

I am up at 7am, with a bit of a fever. Ruth has talked to Hawas again and been half-convinced again: she doesn't know what she wants to do - she doesn't seem to have a will of her own. Over the breakfast table Hawas and Pat are busy planning everything for her, with me feebly interfering. Then at the last minute she talks to Beverley and decides to stay with the group.

So I stand and wave goodbye to people as the jeeps set off: there is a long time between the first and last to go, with lots of aimless milling. And now Hawas wants to go with them, of course - he has his luggage and is running backwards and forwards - but there is no space and they have two guides already (Shah Jahan and a new guide who is poor and needs the work). Eventually he gives up. Watching, it is quite eerie how easily I can empathise with him.

So I washed and went out walking by myself, ate two bananas for breakfast, and bought a card from the bookshop. Meeting Hawas, we went to arrange our bus trip to Islamabad (I discovered that he smokes). I was rather tired and had a mild fever and sore muscles, so I read a bit and then slept till one. When I went out for lunch all I could manage was a couple more bananas, half a chapatti, and some mango juice. Hawas was also sick, suffering from dizziness. We sat and talked for a while, mostly about women...

At 5pm we caught the bus, along with Saddur, another guide returning from a trip near K2. I was sitting in front and there was enough light left in the evening to fit in some sights: the Hunza joining the Gilgit joining the Indus, now a seriously big river; the awesome sight of Nanga Parbat, pink with the setting sun, then fading to grey; and a sharp crescent moon over everything.

There was more traffic (particularly trucks) on the road at night but we had an excellent driver and I was never worried. There were also quite a few police checkpoints (the guidebook says sometimes vehicles move in escorted convoys through parts of Indus Kohistan) and once or twice Hawas had to show them paperwork on my behalf. There were regular stops to drink and wash hands and face, and at dinner in Chilas I managed to eat some rice. Hawas didn't eat anything and was lying down and even sleeping a bit whenever we stopped: I gave some anti-nausea pills to him and another person who asked for some. I slept quite well, waking to find we were in flat green country, approaching Rawalpindi.

People: Myriam

There were too many people I never had a proper chance to talk to. So it was great to meet up with Myriam unexpectedly in Islamabad and spend an extra day with her.

Myriam and Christina Myriam and Christina at Kishmanj.

Background: Books

Some books related to my trip.

History and Culture

Pakistan in the Twentieth Century and Pakistan - A Dream Gone Sour
I read these before the trip. I'm not sure I'd recommend either.

The Pathan Borderland and The Way of the Pathans (James W. Spain)
I bought these in Peshawar.

The Gilgit Game (John Keay, Oxford University Press 1979)
PeterK bought a copy of this in Peshawar; I read it during the trip. (A photo.)

A Look at Hunza Culture (Stephen R. Willson, Summer Institute of Linguistics and National Institute of Pakistan Studies 1999)
I bought this in Karimabad, entranced by the place and the people. I haven't read it yet.

The Voice of the Nightingale: A Personal Account of Wakhi Culture in Hunza (Sabine Felmy)
I saw a copy of this in Karimabad and should have bought it - buying a copy online after the trip was much more expensive!

Hindi/Urdu Phrasebook (Richard Delacy, Lonely Planet 1998)
This is one book I should have taken with me...

The Cambridge History of Ancient China (Cambridge University Press 1999)
I was half-way through this when I left for Pakistan. Its earlier chapters focus on eastern China, however, and the only useful info I recalled from it during the trip was about packed-earth walls, examples of which we saw in Kashgar.

The Languages of China (S. Robert Ramsey)
A review copy of this arrived while I was away. It had interesting information about some of the languages we encountered.
Much Sounding of Bugles
An account of the 1895 siege of Chitral.
The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan (M. Nazif Sharani)
Published three years after my trip. This is mostly about the Kirghiz, but provides some background on the Wakhi, who we saw around around Boroghil, and the Wakhan corridor, which must be similar to the upper Yarkhun.
Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (James A. Millward)
Published in 2007, this is an excellent history of Xinjiang.
Reviews of other books on Pakistan, Central Asia, and China.


The Geology and Tectonics of Pakistan (Kazmi and Jan)
I would have liked a copy of this, but they had run out before the conference.

Legends of the Earth (Dorothy Vitaliano, Indiana University Press 1973)
Gary recommended this. I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution (Robert L. Caroll, Cambridge University Press 1997)
I was half way through this when I left for Pakistan. Something on invertebrate paleontology would have been more relevant to the trip.

Evolutionary Catastrophes (Vincent Courtillot)
A review copy of this arrived soon after I returned from Pakistan.

Reviews of other geology books.


Love and Limerence (Dorothy Tennov)
I read this just before the trip: events kept reminding me of it.

The Deptford Trilogy (Robertson Davies)
Fifth Business is the first book in the trilogy. Its leading quote:

Those roles which, being neither those of Hero or Heroine, Confidante or Villain, but which were nonetheless necessary to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business.
A photo of some of these books.


Tuesday 14th September: Islamabad

I had intended to stay in Saddar in Rawalpindi, but had forgotten to borrow a guidebook, so I ended up taking the course of least resistance and letting Hawas and Saddur arrange everything for me. We got off the bus, caught a taxi to Islamabad, and around 9am I checked into a hotel right in the middle of block G-9, backing onto the Karachi market. I was on the fourth floor, which was quite a climb.

I showered and rested and didn't expect to do anything till noon, but Hawas and Ishaq (his boss: the person behind North Pakistan Treks Tours and Expeditions) picked me up around 11. We drove in their air-conditioned mini-bus to Saddar to pick up James and Myriam, who were most surprised to see Hawas and me again! They were staying in a fancy hotel, costing some 1000 rupee (US $20) a night - three times what I was paying.

We were then taken to lunch at an expensive place in the business district - I don't know just how expensive, as Ishaq insisted on paying. Over lunch (and elsewhere) people were gently making fun of Hawas for being lovesick: some information had obviously reached his colleagues in Islamabad. After lunch we visited the Faisl mosque, where Ishaq and the others made it obvious they weren't overly religious - they suggested the money would have been better spent on a hospital and rather ostentatiously didn't know the prayer times. Myriam and I then outvoted James and we went book shopping. (I didn't end up buying anything, though, as there were simply too many books.)

Then we went back to the hotel in Saddar and had a cold drink. Myriam was leaving at 3am that night and Ishaq proposed to take her to the airport, so instead of staying with James till then, she moved into my room in Islamabad - poor James was to be left to himself until his flight at 11 the next morning. There was much fuss at the hotel about someone else (a woman?) moving into my room, even for just six hours, but Ishaq and Hawas sorted all of that out, or so we thought. When Myriam and I went out for a walk around the market, however, they wrote down her passport details again and asked me to sign it! Who knows what they thought...

In the market we bought watermelon and bananas and apples for dinner and wandered around. Sights included dyers matching colours and a sieve for straining sand right next to very similar looking satellite dishes. We sat and talked for a while, then Myriam showered and slept; I read and wrote. At 11.30pm Ishaq and Hawas turned up and we all had tea before driving to the airport: Myriam was saying goodbye to Ishaq for the first time, to me for the second time, and to Hawas for the third time.

When I got back to the hotel I had only 200ml of drinking water left - less than I'd ever had before on the trip. The only open eating place didn't sell bottled water, so I scoffed a Mirinda (Fanta) and then went to bed - it was 12.30am.

Wednesday 15th September: Taxila

Having slept in, I eventually headed off at around 10am. A coaster to Abottabad (70 rupees) dropped me in Taxila town. Avoiding the suzukis waiting for the tourists, I sat down at a stall and was immediately befriended by a local from Jaulian, where one of the sites is located.

We hopped on a local bus together, packed in along with a dozen other locals, and I spent 5 rupees for the 10km or so ride. I couldn't see anything, unfortunately, as I was inside, and it was really, really hot - sweat simply pouring off me. But it was great to be on a perfectly ordinary local bus. Then the two of us walked the two kilometres to Jaulian, which turned out to be another ruined Buddhist monastery (similar to Takht-i-Bhai, but better preserved). My friend ran a shop there and gave me a little chapatti and vegetable for lunch (and I drank lots of cold fruit juice).

Heading back to the museum, I got a lift on a motorbike with two Punjabis out on a day trip from Islamabad. They stopped for a few minutes to have a go at lifting stones, some kind of athletic exercise. The museum was worthwhile but not that exciting - a very old-fashioned presentation, with hardly any contextual or background information.

Then I caught a suzuki to the main road (25 rupee, a rip off) and two public buses, first to Rawalpindi and from there to Islamabad (16 rupee total). The latter bus is used regularly by people commuting from 'pindi to work in Islamabad (which seemed to have only fairly affluent housing). I couldn't work out the vagaries of the Islamabad city buses so I ended up walking back to my hotel - only six kilometres or so, but I found it tiring in the heat. Walking is a good way to see a city though and Islamabad is a pleasure to walk around, having so many trees and parks. (It must be one of the greenest cities in the world.)

It was good to spend a day by myself.

Thursday 16th September

For my last day in Pakistan I hired a car. Hawas came along with me and we headed up into the Murghalla hills for lunch. He pulled out our car tape, so it was just like old times - except for the empty seat where Ruth should have been. Sitting up on a hill admiring the view, we had a long conversation about the differences between friends and girlfriends and so forth: I showed Hawas my list of names and addresses for sending postcards and tried to explain my relationships with the women on it, but I'm not convinced he understood it intellectually, let alone practically or emotionally. (Though admittedly I do things more weirdly than most, and certainly my relationship with Ronni is hard enough to explain to most Westerners!)

We had a copy of the car tape made for me. Insane Pakistani hospitality was a problem: Hawas had insisted on paying for lunch (300 rupee, Islamabad is definitely more expensive) and then, while we were wandering one of the markets, bought me several pieces of lapis jewellery that I was only idly contemplating. I did manage to make Hawas accept some money, though: I gave him an Australian $50 note and a $2 coin, following an old Chinese tradition of giving a note and a coin for good luck. (When I was a child, my grandmother used to give us two dollars and twenty cents for Chinese New Year.)

My last dinner in Pakistan was champagne watermelon, bananas, a peach, and an apple - followed up with mango icecream with Hawas in the hotel restaurant, before the hired car took us to the airport, where I made my final farewell.

I had a few minor hassles at the airport. There was a long queue in customs, where they were opening everyone's luggage and rummaging through it quite seriously (even opening bottles and sniffing them). One irate Japanese youth was threatening to sue people after the sniffer dogs attacked his sleeping bag, but I stayed calm and polite and didn't have too much trouble repacking everything.

At the later security check they also confiscated all my batteries - the ones from my torch and the spares from my medical kit. I should have been expecting this, as the Indians do the same thing.

During my ten hours in Bangkok Airport I ate pork three times... only realising it afterwards.

Background: Religion

Religion obviously played very different roles in the lives of Pakistanis: Riaz and Amjad were devout, while Hawas and Shah Jahan never showed any overt signs of religious belief. It wasn't always clear what role religion played in the relationships between them, and I think the complexities of Sunni-Shia-Ismaili relationships went over my head.

For a scary glimpse at Christian missionary mentality and organisation, take a look at this "unreached people profile"[ext]. Apparently there are 2260 genuine evangelical Pashto-speaking Christians in Pakistan...

People: others

People who joined the group later:

  • Fernando and Covadonga joined us in Chitral, but missed the week in Ishkarwaz due to illness.

  • Gaetani joined us at Ishkarwaz, having come up the Yarkhun a day behind us.

  • A large group joined us in Gilgit, having come direct from Peshawar: Fazli, Asrar, Jean, Laurence, Raymond and Monique, Bruno, Yobst, and Heinz.

  • Shah Jahan replaced Hawas as guide in Gilgit, and Sadiq was one of the two guides in China.

  • Suzy was a Chinese geologist who joined us in Kashgar.

Of these, Jean and Shah Jahan were the only ones I spent much time with. They were both easygoing and interesting company.

Geology: Erosion

If I had to summarise what I saw in northern Pakistan in one word, it would be "erosion".

All kinds of erosional landforms were to be seen. Scree and talus slopes and alluvial fans of all kinds: of sand and pebbles and rock and boulders, large (kilometres high in some cases) and small, steep (mostly) and gentle (photo: alluvial fan in the Chitral valley). Glaciers (photo) and glacial moraines of all kinds (photo). Rivers and gorges (photo). And so forth.

Yarkhun gorge The gorge of the Yarkhun, looking east from Ishkarwaz

Passu fans Alluvial fans near Passu, Hunza

Wakhi hamlet Wakhi hamlet on the Yarkhun

I think five hundred years would be enough to sweep all trace of human existence from northern Pakistan. The roads certainly needed regular ongoing maintainance, and at one point we saw an alluvial fan that had recently obliterated most of a village.

The destination of it all? The huge submarine fan off the mouth of the Indus.

Background: Violence

Parts of Pakistan are undoubtedly dangerous: murder rates in Karachi are like those of cities in the United States. And in Peshawar we were given a stern warning by Fazli soon after our arrival and then the vice-chancellor scared us all by talking about police escorts.

But I saw no signs of violence at all on the trip. There were not even that many people with guns around, only concentrations of police and soldiers in a few places. >Certainly you should take sensible precautions, but fear shouldn't deter you from visiting northern Pakistan. [As I write there has just been a military coup in Pakistan, but it appears to have been almost bloodless.]

People: Gary

Gary was lanky, relaxed, and easy-going and had a American drawl to match. He was probably the best of the geologists at explaining things for non-specialists.

Photo: Gary at Kishmanj.

Wrap up

Saturday 25th September

Vera and PeterK arrive home.

Friday 1st October

I talk to Ruth: there was no last minute marriage.

October 1999


It was a great trip: I learnt a little bit of geology, saw an exciting part of the world, and spent time with pleasant and interesting people. One day I will have to return to Pakistan.

Travelogues << Danny Yee