A trip along the Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan. The road goes through some of the most spectacular areas in the world, and the people are among the friendliest I have ever met. Not many tourists have come here yet, even though it is not that difficult to get here. I met quite a few travelers who had come through China. I spend about 5-10$ per day.
"Karakoram Highway - the high road to China. A Travel Survival Kit". May 1993. Hereafter referred to as the TSK. I also brought the Pakistan Travel Survival kit, but it was not that necessary, though it had some good trekking maps of these areas. [Note: New editions of this book is available]
1US$ = 30.1rs = 6.25DKR
Flights: Copenhagen-Muscat-Karachi-Islamabad: 1000$,
Rooms: 50-290rs (most of them could hold two)
Bread: 2rs, Dinner: 30-100rs, Coca Cola: 5-10rs (cold)
1 1/2l Bottle Water: 20rs
Friday 16. September - Aarhus-Copenhagen (Denmark) I got my master's degree in Computer Science and Math at Aarhus University Tuesday morning; got a job 12pm (starting from 3.october), and bought the ticket to Pakistan in the afternoon. Today I got my passport back with the visa (it took 3 days). In the evening, I took my backpack on my shoulders and my trekking booths on my feet, and walked to the place where my graduation party was held. I have some very good friends who gave the party, and after a great evening with good food and fun with the friends, they followed me to the night train to Copenhagen.
Saturday 17. September - Copenhagen-Frankfurt-Doha-Muscat
Not much else happened, but flying, waiting, standing in line,
etc. It reminded me of the Terry Pratchet definition of an airport:
a place where people hurry up and wait.
I flew with Gulf Air, and we even got a menu-card before dinner! That was kind of nice.
Sunday 18. September - Muscat-Karachi-Islamabad Amazing that I actually caught all the flights! I even got out of International Karachi, and into Domestic without being trapped by the 1000 touts/taxi-drivers - and with my luggage. Only problem was that I forgot that they are crazy about batteries here, so those I had just bought in Muscat airport were confiscated :-( Changed 50$ - rate 1$=30.1rs=6.25DKR
Was totally dead on the second flight to Islamabad, and it really made my day that I didn't get on the Gilgit flight! While asking what to do at the information, a taxi driver agreed to drive me to the PIA flight office 'in town', where I was directed to (I'm sure he would have been willing to drive me to anyplace in Pakistan). You have to have your name on a list made the day before the flight and I'm not sure that you can get on it 'from back home'. When we got to his cab, I automatically reached for the safety belt, which was not there. The driver gave me a BIG smile, and said slowly while shaking his head: "In Pakistan - no safety belts :-)". There was no problem having my ticket changed for the next morning. I get off next door at the Paradise Inn (275rs for a single room). Buy the obligatory Pakistani dress (a shalwar quamiz), which is baggy trousers (15 sized to big) tied with a string, and a shirt which reached below the knees. Great in the heat, and it is easy to hide your pouches below.
The hotel restaurant had made arrangements for 100 on the roof, and the 3 cooks and two waiters were ready for ... me. Well, I just wanted a soup, and to go to bed... (I felt a bit sorry for them).
Monday 19. September - Islamabad-Gilgit Up at 5.30am, on my way at 6; a taxi to the airport (60rs), no problem with the flight this time. They had put in an extra plane, so two flights were scheduled for Gilgit. Met two girls who had been traveling 6 months in Pakistan and India. Glad I missed the flight yesterday; it is perhaps the most fantastic, adventurous, fascinating, incredible experience I have ever had. Couldn't believe that the mountains just kept getting bigger and higher for more than an hour. Around Nanga Prabat (8126m), we were flying BELOW the mountains and looking up at them! If you have seen the movie '7 years in Tibet', it is the mountain they are climbing at the start. Great flight - don't miss it for the 17 hour drive instead. Be sure to have a window seat - on the right side. Met a British couple going to visit friend around Gilgit. Some foreign girls had actually bought veils, which might be a good idea. The 3 of us had decided us for the Hunza Inn, and a nice surprise was that the first persons we met outside the airport, were hotel staff from the Hunza Inn, so we got a free ride there. Good service. Got a single room for 100rs. Several trekking places wanted me to go on 2-300$ treks - for just a few days. Checked for White Water River Rafting. :-( Needed at least 4 people. 25$ for a half day trip. Could have been fun. In the afternoon I went on a trip from 11am to 4pm. (The Kargah Buddha & Kargah Nala, mentioned p.144 in TSK) Took a 3rs bus to Kargah, an easy walk to the Buddha carved in the rocks. Well, I couldn't see it until some friendly people showed where it was. Walked on the high road to Napur and down to Gilgit. The road cruises at 1440m. Gilgit is at about 1200m. Very nice and pleasant walk. Nice view of the peaks around the valley and of the Rakaposhi (at 7790m).
Tuesday 20. September - Gilgit-Sost (or Sust) I was told to be at the bus stand at 7.30 for the 8.00 bus to Sost. Well, I had time for breakfast first; to buy stamps (11rs to Denmark), before the bus finally left at 10am. I guess it wasn't too bad. Only 100rs for the trip to the last town before the Chinese border.
How can I keep being amazed like this? Then the fantastic scenery started... I had thought Gilgit was amazing, but it is NOTHING compared to the views in the Hunza valley (or the fabled Shangri-la, as some say). Had thought the flight was the most beautiful experience of my life - but no - the bus trip kept on astonishing me. I don't know what adjectives to use! Picture yourself at 1500m, looking straight up at 6-7000m high 'things' (mountain peaks) - that is 6 kilometers, for your information! I felt ashamed of myself to ever had sighed at Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, the Rundetaarn, the Eiffel tower, CN-Tower - all less than 1km. Or like the highest place in Denmark, Himmelbjerget, which is 150m - that is 1/40 the height of this! Well, I don't have words to describe these wonders of the world, and unfortunately the pictures are not good at it either.
Close to Karimabad, a truck had turned over just 5 minutes before we arrived as the first persons. The truck hanged out over the rim - 400m straight down! The driver was all right, but imagine the experience: Hanging over the edge with your head down, and the truck over you! He looked a bit shocked though. We had to shovel a lot of dirt and rocks (the overturning was because of a landslide) before getting on. A bus full of tourists arrived which didn't make things better (10 Americans with video-cameras).
One of the most spectacular sights: The Rakaposhi (7790m) from Ghulmet, Ultar Peak & Bubulimating (the Razor sharp rock) from between Altit and Ahmedabad where you really can see the steep side of the mountain (from 2000m up at 7400m).
From now on it started getting colder. In Sost, I got a room at the Khunjerab View Hotel (everybody with the TSK had filled the Mountain Refuge Hotel) for 125rs. Went to find out how to get up to the Khunjerab pass to China for the next day. I had seen a lot of tourists at the Refuge, and went into the dining hall to ask whether any of them were going. I had luck; a Belgian couple had rented a jeep for the next day, and I was welcome to join them! Got dinner back at my hotel. Met 3 people who had just arrived from China. It was very interesting to hear their stories; it seems everything is much more expensive, and people are much more unfriendly in China. I'm glad I'm only traveling in Pakistan. The ride from Kashgar had been pretty interesting; taking lot of pictures in the mountains of wild flocks of camels, horses, yaks, sheep and cows. Wow! It was Miguel from Spain, and Lynn & Matthew from England (had worked 2 years in Hong Kong).
Wednesday 21. September - Sost-Khunjerab Pass-Sost
Strange, I don't know what Pakistani women look like - and I've been here for more than half a week! I've seen a few on the road above Gilgit, and in the Cliff-town of Sost, and they are real colorful with make-up and beautiful dresses. All for their husbands (and other women). When I looked around in the Bazaars and in the town streets: Men only! Also, when a western couple spoke with a male Pakistani, and the woman asks and comments, it is easy to see that the Pakistani is a bit uncomfortable. I think the western woman should bear that in mind, and let the male do the talking :-) Some of the people I met had asked many times for permission to take their picture - and had always gotten an No for an answer.
Met with the Belgian couple (they were 60-years old 'travelers') at their hostel, and had breakfast with them. TSK-Update: Mountain Refuge Hotel: It seems every foreigner goes there first (everybody have the TSK) - and it isn't so great as the book says - they serve really bad food (according to the people who stayed there).
Started in our jeep at 8.45. The pass is 80 km from Sost, and there are no villages or towns on the way. No problem at the check-post. They didn't keep our passports like the TSK mentions. The first rock slide was 10 minutes up the road. The first part along the Hunza river is in the very narrow gorges, and goes up kilometers; very beautiful - and a bit dangerous. While we were waiting to have the road cleared, we spoke with the post-man who were going to China every day with the mail. It turned out he were going even in the winter! Amazing, there must be just as many rock-slides in the winter - in addition to the snow. That is service!
The stretch is 80 km, which took about 3 hours. The last 18 km is gaining 2 km of altitude, and you end up in the plains in 4730m. The air is clean, thin, and cold, and you feel great! You are in the same height as the mountain peaks north and south, and the plain is grassy with yaks and sheep. We walked from the Pakistani post and well into China - I went up a slope and took a picture of my altimeter at 4800m. I was going for 4880m which I thought was the height of Mt.Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, but didn't get over 4800m. Well, I found out when I got back that Mt.Blanc is 'only' 4807m, so, HURRAH! I have been up just as high! Got very exhausted of running the last stretch, but what can you expect when you are this high? Nothing uncomfortable, though.
We met the bus coming from China, and a couple of Americans were out taking pictures. The woman asked if we were going to China? No, we were just up to see the pass. Hallelujah! she exclaimed. It must have been bad...
You don't have the same grandiose feeling as looking up 8 km high mountains, but it has it's own special beauty up here, and it is a must to come here. It is brownish-yellow (it looks like the mountains have lots of iron ores) and grassy, and the snow is very close. The sky is the very special 'mountain deep blue'(TM). Going down is a bit faster (2 1/2 hours). There is road maintenance most of the way - it is a fantastic job they are doing, trying to keep the road clear. A couple of other landslides had happened since we had come up, and we had to wait a while, while bulldozers were clearing the road. The road has actually more heavy traffic than I had expected. On the way down we might have passed 15 vehicles (excluding those working on the road). 4 busses, and most of the rest were Chinese lorries with trailers.
When we got back, our driver complained that we were 3, and the Belgian couple had said they would only be two. He had gotten 1000rs for 3 yesterday. We settled for 50rs more than the agreed price of 800rs. It is OK for 160km in a jeep, I think, 270rs per person. Glad I didn't take the bus - they go at half the speed, and you don't stop to take pictures.
Went for a walk (in Sost) up to the village, which is on a cliff, so you can't see it from the KKH. Very nice walk; even saw a couple of women there, and one of them even said 'Good afternoon'.
Postcard writing, and a good talk with Lynn and Matthew. They had been working in Hong Kong for two years as a buyer and a lawyer, and had just gotten married a year ago. Been traveling many places. This time they were going for a year: China, Pakistan, India - and then to South America.
At 6.30, a whole bunch came from the Mountain Refuge to have dinner here - instead of the dreadful food from their hotel, as they put it. There is only one dish here at the Khunerab hotel - chicken curry with cabbage and potatoes - but it is great. It is also really cozy. No electricity in the towns (their generator has been down for 14 days), so it is good old oil lamps. The Belgium couple came too, and also a Dutch guy who cycled up to the Pass - we met him 18 km from the top. He started at 5.40am and had gotten to the pass around 1pm. Got a lift back though.
Thursday 22. September - Sost-Passu
My plan was now to work my way back to Gilgit, a bit slower. Together with Matthew, Lynn and the two Belgians we took the Suzuki the Belgians had ordered (we passed their hotel at just the right time :-). We paid 300rs all together for the trip which took 45 minutes. We had heard of a new place - the Village Guesthouse, and we all went there. The others got the two doubles; I took the dorm (50rs), which turned out to be right in the dining room. The two next to arrive (a Danish girl and a British guy) also took the dorm.
The two-suspension bridges-tour was highly recommended, and I went on my way immediately. The tour: (map, page. 106, TSK): Passu-Zarabad-the two bridges - 3 hours from the second bridge-Hussaini-Borit lake - 1/2 hour Borit Lake-Passu - after 2 hours I had 20+ pictures left, but they only lasted to Borit Lake.. so very beautiful.
First: along the river to the first bridge was like 10m over the river on a footpath on a hillside, 1/2-1m wide. Then the bridge came into view! Wow! Just like those in Romancing the Stone and Indiana Jones. The bridge spans 150-200m over the river. It is made of cables with planks every 30cm. That was cool! Crossed the plateau through the Zarabad village. Strange, didn't see a soul there... Walking on a ledge to the next (even cooler) "bridge" was fun too. A wind had started blowing, and the ledge is quite high - like 100m or so, over the river, straight down. Wasn't dangerous anywhere, though. Around a bend, I eyed the bridge: half of it was gone! Great, I thought; then I'll have to swing along it! But no, when I got closer, there was another one right next to it... which was ok. Just when I had crossed, a hunter came along, and I got a nice picture of him, like the one on the cover of TSK. By the way; the woman on the cover is living here in Passu, our guest house owner says. It's a great picture since the women don't let you take photographs of them - I guess John King didn't ask for permission :-) The background mountain-peaks were beautiful here in the afternoon sunlight. The hunter showed me through Hussaini to the path to Borit lake. It goes up very steeply 150-200m before you reach the lake - which isn't anything special. When I got to Borit, 3 small boys wanted to guide me (perhaps 7-8 years old). I said I would pay them 1rs. They wanted 100rs - I laughed and continued on. 30 they yelled. No. After some time they came after me and told me another direction. I said 10. One of them said 15. I said 10 - OK. they followed me to the top; pointed down. Talked for a bit, and he got his 10rs. When I got 50m down, the path ended in a hole. Of course the boys had led me in the wrong directions... Well, I had 2 1/2 hours before sunset, so I continued north across a rocky landscape and scrambled up a ridge. Here I luckily found the path again, the Passu Gar trail. There was a great view of the glacier - there are lots of glaciers here, by the way. 4 glaciers in Pakistan are more than 20 km - this one was one of them. All white ice. Nice walk down - 300-350m loss of altitude. The trail isn't easily seen from the KKH.
Was a bit tired when I returned; my stomach had been taken over by terrorists - they were demanding milk tea. Several other travelers had arrived; we were like 12 travelers here. All but me and the Belgians were 'long time travelers' (1/2 - 3 years on the road) and had come from China. It was a nice, very instructive evening. Everybody had a lot of travel info to share. It is invaluable. An interesting thing is that several of them had been to Tibet; it seems to be just a money problem, and getting in from the right direction (best to fly in, worst to come from the west (Kashgar)). Later two more joined us; they had been on a 4 day trek with a guide/porter for 1500rs - a 21 year old student. It was a rock bottom price, it seemed. The shepherds were packing up at the upper summer pastures, and were on their way back to the lower villages at 3000m.
Trip info: Passu 2600m; Elevation gained: 790m in 6 hours.
Friday 23. September - Passu-Karimabad
Trip: Passu Gar to Passu Glacier.
Good walk up to the Passu Gar (from 2600m to 3250m). Actually, it is the first time I've been close to a real Glacier. I was a bit tired from yesterdays walk, so it took 2½ hours to climb up. The last stretch was really hard. The glacier is like 20 km long, and this area is filled with them. The last climb was quite hard, and I got exhausted in the thin air. Not that it was a problem, and the lunch above the glacier was quite nice. I had brought some apples and chocolate biscuits and a bottle of water. This picture at the start is taken here.
Got back, and went to the road. Miguel had waited 2 hours this morning, but the morning bus had had a breakdown, and didn't arrive. Also it was Friday (the Muslim holiday), so there weren't many vehicles on the road. But I had hardly taken off my backpack before I got a lift from two young Pakistanis in a pick-up truck. This was at about 2.30pm. After a couple of stops (by friends places?), we got to Ganesh around 4pm. A jeep gave me a lift (for free) and put me off at the New Hunza Tourist Hotel. Very basic, but 80rs for a double was OK. Got at very needed shower - freezing of course. The place even had electricity at nights. It had its own generator. North of Hunza valley: No electricity, no hot water, no chocolate (just so you can be prepared). Never had a Mars-bar tasted this good! Karimabad seems to be a bit of a tourist-magnet. No wonder; the village is neat, and from below (from the KKH), it is 6 km straight up to Ultar Peak (7388m) and the 'razor'-peak (Bubulimating, 6000m). It is a fantastic sight. It seems the village has just a bit too many tourist shops, but I've spend so little money up till now that I might go for a look for gifts tomorrow.
Dinner was OK - first a good soup; rice, potatoes & spinach and a purple something for desert.
Glacier trip: Time: 5 hours. Max. height: 3250m.
Saturday 24. September - Karimabad
People I meet are all very impressed by my Avocet Vertech altimeter watch and all want to have one. Well, it is very useful (has altimeter, weather forecast, thermometer, how much you climb up and down a day, etc.). Took a morning nap, and slept till 8.30. Had decided to take an easy walk today; my legs were still a bit sore from the previous days hikes. Here in Karimabad there are some neat things. Bought some nice Lapis Lazuli saucer (2 pieces for 450rs) and some other small things. Took a walk to the Baltit forth - which was practically a building ground and the Mir's house (the Hunza King). After lunch I took a walk down through Ganesh. When I came to the KKH, people were shouting to me from all sides. I was just standing there, not understanding their problem (and language). A big explosion sounded, and I saw rock's come flying close by. They had tried to blow up a big rock in the middle of a hole. It seemed that they didn't succeed in cracking it. Walked east along the KKH, past the big bridge over the Hunza river, up to what is called the 'Sacred Rocks'. It is just some big rocks with carvings of animals and stuff. Supposed to be pretty old. Well, my reason for coming here was to take pictures of Ultar Peak. There is a great view from here, up from the river, past the Altit fort, and way up at the peaks - one of the most impressive sights in the world. On my way, I kept looking at the peaks. It is just indescribable. Took a lot of pictures though it is impossible to squeezed it into 15x10cm. Found some rock crystals in a crack in the rocks. Got a lift back by a Suzuki (2rs).
Took a walk through Mominabad to Altit. All these villages are on a very steep grassy slope. Very fertile. Greeted a lot of people with the usual 'hello', 'salaam' and 'good afternoon' on the way to the Altit fort. Found a nice stone shop. I was just looking at the window, and soon invited in for tea. Two business men were having tea with the owner. Pakistan had much more stones than I had realized. Even Emerald and Ruby mines around. One of the mines had just found a lot of Peridot too. He shoved me a quite big green specimen - at least 20ct. I think their problem is that they can't cut them here in Pakistan. A good place for buyers of uncut stones, I think. Well, the Altit fort was closed, and I went back. Stood below a bridge (perhaps 100m up) and admired the view of the peaks above. The clouds had just cleared up there and the sun lighted them up. Had a cup of coffee back in town with the Danish girl I met in Islamabad. It was not just 6 months in India and Pakistan, but 5 years she had been traveling.
Sunday 25. September - Karimabad
Day trip to Ultar Glacier
Was on my way at 8.45. The one thing everybody is supposed to do, is to climb up to the pastures just below the Ultar Peak & Bubulimating. I started with a 30 minutes detour - beautiful view over the Hunza valley and the Rakaposhi though! A bright, shiny morning, good views in all directions. One thing the maps in TSK doesn't show is that the path goes up very steep, all the way up through the ravine. I reached the shepherd's huts at 11.45 - in about 2½ hours. The ascent is from 2400m to 3300m. I was given a good piece of advice by a Pakistani: "Just keep left", which is quite useful. It is quite easy to find the path though. You walk up through a deep ravine, and somewhere up, the path was 'broken', and you would have to do a little bit of climbing on the cliff-wall. Water from one of the water channels was pouring out, and washing the dirt out. Wow! Here I found a pocketful of garnet crystals (a red gem); even some nice ones. It is the first time I find gems myself, though they are worth nothing. They were there just for the picking. The pastures are quite photogenic; peaks all round. Met a Spanish guy from my hotel; he was going on up to Hon. He had been part way up the other day, so he knew the paths. Well, why not try. I wasn't really tired yet. So, up we went. Your bear right toward a waterfall (left of the glacier), which is real pretty (had rainbows, 30m drop, etc.), and cling to a stone wall up to a ravine to the north west. It was just mud! Climbed up for two hours, and it seemed to be only half way... No path, just mud, a steam, and rubble falling down. It should be the best view over Hunza valley up at Hon. Well, next time. My friend continued further up; I went down (30 minutes to the pasture). Around the huts, two parties had camped. Looked quite cozy. You hear the glacier booming once a while. It looks like a big white waterfall coming vertically down several hundred meters from Ultar Peak. The climb down was OK; found some more garnets. In Karimabad, I went to a shop where I had asked yesterday for a woven vest, Hunza style. It was made by the shop owners brother, just yesterday. 220rs. Also bought a Hunza-style hat for 50rs. On the way, I met John whom I saw walking from hotel to hotel. Strange, it seemed that all the cheaper rooms were taken. My hotel was full too, so we shared my room. 16 people for dinner this evening. Pretty interesting hearing about people traveling in China for 6 months; many had been to Tibet, Iran, Burma, Yemen, and other out of the way places. Glacier trip: Karimabad (2400m) - Shepherds Huts (3300m) - towards Hon (3770m). Time: 8½ hours.
Monday 26. September - Karimabad-Ghulmet Lousy day. Well, the weather was OK and it was easy to get on a minibus to Ghulmet (5rs), and on to Aliabad (3rs), but then it got harder. Finally I got a lift to nearby Hasanabad, and walked on. Got a lift from a jeep, and passed the spot where we had waited for the turned over truck a week ago. Well, I could not spot it! The road had been cleared and paved! Amazing. After a detour to Minapin to pick up the drivers wife and kid, I got off at Sikandarabad, because I had noticed it had pretty nice views here. Well, only problem: No places to stay here and no 'Snow white hotel' as the TSK mentions. I followed a guy BACK the road (I had now changed my mind for Chalt further towards Gilgit) and further back on a tractor (free) - and... further walk back. He said there would be accommodations around. Well, I stopped at a place to have a soda (and biscuit). It was just opposite the Muslim Folk Party headquarters - or something - in the middle of nowhere. It seemed from all the posters to be election time soon. Well, I was coming to the point where I was a bit sour, and NOT in the mood of talking with the dozens of kids crowding around (why didn't they have more tourists around here, so they could have their interest satisfied? :-) At two o'clock (after waiting 1½ hours), I was desperate to pay ANYBODY a lot of money (even 100rs) to get me to somewhere (Ghulmet or Chalt), but there was just nobody to pay. Finally a bus passed, going back east, so I jumped in, and got off in Ghulmet. Got a "room" at Rakaposhi Mountain Hotel (which) it isn't yet: a 'depot' room, no window (just a hole) and lots of cements sacks. 120rs! Well, I had no other options, and I was so tired I didn't bother to haggle. Well, the only good things was it had a nice view of the Rakaposhi (7790m) from the altitude of the road (2100m) though it seems just like a hill - it's the problem with most mountains here; you cannot grasp the size of them, unless you can spot something to compare the sizes with, like a village up the mountain. OK a few other good things: a cool coke, hot milk tea when the sun was setting, and great food too: Baked bread and potatoes in a sauce. Yummy.
Tuesday 27. September - Ghulmet-Gilgit
Up early; kind of glad to get out of here. Give them 200rs, and hurry down to the road, and get on a bus immediately (7.15pm). The bus is ok; except for the usual Pakistani music. What am I supposed to answer to the usual question: "You like Pakistani music, Yes ??" at the same time as they turn up the volume? It is just not my kind of music... Arrive in Gilgit at 9.15am - the trip cost 30rs. Stop in at the PIA office, just when they opened the door at 9.30am. Well, they can't help me with the Islamabad flight until tomorrow. You have to come here the day before departure to reconfirm the ticket. Walk towards the Hunza Inn, but decide to try the Chinese Lodge, next door just for a change. The second room I am shown is all right (the toilet seat is not missing, as in the first one). Ok, 100rs for a double with bath. Spend most of the afternoon in town, shopping, and drinking tea. At one tea-shop, I am invited inside for tea and some greasy cookies (just baked), and have a good talk with several people about my country and theirs. They spoke pretty well English, so we got beyond the usual exchange of name and country. At 6.30pm I ask "what about my dinner". Yes, Sir he answers. "What time?", I try again, and points to my watch and mouth. "Ah, Kitchen is closed! Sorry." Great, why do they always answer "yes sir" to whatever they don't understand! Argh! One has to remember not to ask yes/no questions. Walk to the next door PTDC- restaurant; but dinner was not until 7pm, and it looked just a little to fancy for me. Continue to the Mir's Lodge. Beautiful place with tinted windows and a moved lawn. I have a filling meal for 100rs. How can that pay the cooks and two waiters? OK, another couple shows up later...
Wednesday 28. September - Gilgit
I'm a bit worried about my flight to Islamabad; I am to confirm my ticket today, and get it back at 2pm. I have already checked the other options - which is actually only one option: a 15-17 hours bus to Rawalpindi. Which I would rather avoid. I have to be there Friday, 3pm, to catch all my connecting flights... Well, I get in the line in front of the PIA office. We 4 foreigners are waved through for special treatment. The 3 others, wanting to get a ticket for tomorrow, leaves unhappy; nothing for 2 months. They will have to check every morning for free seats. I guess they'll have a chance when they get first in the queue every morning. They take my ticket, which I can pick up at 2 hopefully. I had prepared several speeches like "I have a lot of connecting flights; I'm a tourist..". Luckily I won't have to use them. It is interesting that I can get on a flight 5 days after I have bought it in Denmark, but everything is sold out when you get here?! I guess a good piece of advice is to buy it from home... A strap on my daypack is broken, and I visit a tailor who sews it on again - he didn't want anything for his bother! Amazing, considering I look like a tourist...
I end up in a tea-shop, where I get delicious, spicy milk tea. Which I had read about in the TSK. I realizes that this very place is 'the best tea in town'-shop. The Haidry Tea Shop. Well, the price has gone up from 1rs to 2rs per glass of milk tea. No wonder with that amount of ginger and cardamom they put in... I try some of the different "dishes" available from the vendors; the delicious pizza-style-baked bread (2rs), roasted corn (2rs), a plate of switched cubes of liver with onions and stuff (5rs). I also visit my tea-friend from yesterday and try some spicy meat-cake things, which actually tastes OK. Hang around until 2, where I joyfully receive my ticket with a confirmation for the first flight for the 8.30am flight tomorrow. I think it will be possible; the weather is fine, and the air pressure is still going up (another nice function of my watch).
Whatdoyouknow - meet my Swedish friends again (met them in Passu, Karimabad and here). They are on the way to the police to 'become residents', which one will have to when staying here more than 30 days.
Walk east of town - nothing happening here, though. A quiet afternoon in the garden, with a good book. Quietly advise a tourist coming in, to try next door 'Hunza Inn' instead of here. He appreciated my piece of advice.
Dinner again at the Mir's house: An excellent rice-vegetable chicken dish, and a spicy mutton mixture. They don't actually make their dishes too spicy here, even though I asked for it. Best meal I have had here yet. It is funny, when I come to think about it; I don't think a woman has done any cooking for me during my visit. At all the guest houses, it has always been the (male) owner, or male, hired cook who has been doing the cooking.... What do the females do here, except pushing cows, bearing children and wearing colorful dresses? I just wonder. They get the front seat in busses, and always look away from you. O yes, I saw some very funny postcards: 5 Pakistani women, all veiled up, not even their eyes were showing - looked exactly like ghosts in white dresses - could have been the Monty Python group dressed up.
Thursday 29. September - Gilgit-Islamabad/Rawalpindi
Was the first one at the gate at 7am, and was a bit surprised about it. Some more people lined up later, and the check-in opened at 7.30. First through the whole system: x-ray of everything, weight of baggage, seat: window on the left - "of course", the man replied. Tags to the hand baggage. Stamps on tags. Scanning of hand baggage, search through everything in hand baggage. Clip of tags on hand baggage... 1 person to each job. Again, a fantastic flight. I don't know if I just have seen too many mountains with snow by now to really be able to appreciate it. Still, I caught myself in awe with open mouth a couple of times: Great view of the Rakaposhi, and those white fluffy things hanging around Nanga Prabat; the KKH going through the valleys... I felt like a little boy during takeoff - and a little scared: a 600m runway! It's just so short. And you barely get off the ground before the end of it. I should never have picked up the newspaper: 650 dead in a ferry accident between Finland and Estonia... Somebody I know? It is the first news I have had in 10 days.
Phew! So very hot in Islamabad. Get a young Taxi-driver - who don't speak English (only a few do, it seems). 60rs to Rajar Bazaar. But the boy could not read a map, even though I told him he was going the right way. At a point he asked a passer-by about the hotel (Masriq) I wanted to go to, and found out it was on the City Saddar Road. Oh, Saddar Bazaar, he thought and turned back. After a detour to Saddar, we got back to Rajar... I was following on my TSK-map, so I knew he was going the wrong way, he obviously could not read and did not understand my map. Well. The hotel was full; the nearby 7 Brothers hotel only had a couple of doubles left at 200rs (no discount), but the New Palace Hotel had a single for 100rs. The room was OK. I only had planned to go and take a look at the supposedly biggest mosque in Asia: the Shah Faisal mosque in Islamabad. A taxi (80rs) didn't take long. Islamabad is quite different from Rawalpindi; the change occurs quite suddenly - long straight streets; big mansions, big gardens. I thought the mosque looked bigger from the outside - a four minaret version. Free to get in. Well, I didn't think it was that big - seen from the inside. In the middle of the mosque hangs a big globe of lights - it looks like the lights are woven into a big grid. Nice feature. From a distance it looks quite nice white, clean, and all marble, but when you look in the corners, it needs repair already. Walked a couple of blocks, passing the big villas - wonder if Benashir lives here?
Decided to take the Intercity bus back. That way I got to see most of Islamabad since the bus goes through in a half circle from NW to SW. 10rs. Took some time though. When back in Rajar Bazaar, I decided to look around. It was actually a tip from a fellow traveler at a dinner discussion: most had had bad memories about 'Pindi - but he had said Rajar was the most intriguing bazaar he had ever seen, and he had been many places in Africa and Asia. And now, I think he may be right - it is much more interesting than the bigger Saddar Bazaar (where I was 1 1/2 weeks ago) - and it is BIG here! It's like a labyrinth with shops in every corner of the maze - and like dungeons and dragons, it is on several levels - underground and on ground. And you can get everything I won't go into details. It is divided with streets of special kinds of goods. One street had perhaps 50 or 80 jeweler shops on it - they seemed exactly the same, with the same kind of jewelry in the windows... You can walk around here forever. Didn't buy much though, just half a kilo of Almonds.
A big rally stopped all traffic for a few hours. All the busses had gone. The people had the whole Rajah square - in the middle, the leader with microphone and big speakers, and people all around. In the news, they said the opposition failed in gathering many people to their rally. Well, I thought there was many people - and hundreds of policemen wearing the full set of armor, shields, guns and everything phew, everything dissolved quietly.
During a nice dinner at the hotel, they showed cuts on TV from the 3 Indiana Jones films, which had just arrived here. It was great; it showed all the beginnings, all the points of the movies - all the surprising exposures of the double agents and the whole ending! Great, you won't even have to see the films after this, at least, nothing can come as a surprise. Well, I'm glad I had seen them. The Bazaar was still busy until 8pm where they were packing up. Must have been a long day. Wonder if they are open tomorrow, Friday.
Friday 30. September - Islamabad-Muscat
Spend the morning looking around in the Bazaar once again; many places are open today, and the streets are filled as usual. Take a taxi to the airport, and catch all my flights: Islamabad - Karachi - Muscat
Saturday 1. October - Copenhagen
Muscat-Frankfurt-Copenhagen. Arrive in Copenhagen at 11am. Train to Aarhus; back for afternoon coffee. Brewed. A great trip; so many big impressions. The mountains are burned into my retina for the rest of my life. Actually, I want to go to see the K2 some time. You can make a trekking tour to one of the most remote places in the world in about 30 days, forth and back...
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