SILK ROAD TRIP Spring 2000
Friday April 21
9:30 a.m. flight San Diego-LA, 12:30 LA-London. Luckily we didn't get our wish to change someplace other than LA, e.g. Chicago. SD-Chicago flights canceled due to weather. There was also some problem delaying the LA-NY London. Uneventful flight to London. English boy about 8 kept leaning across me from the aisle to confer with another boy in the center of my row regarding details, strategies and progress on a game boy type adventure game (Pokemon?) Reminded me of Lance and the Austrian Ambassador's son connecting via Dungeons and Dragons on the boat to Yugoslavia.
Saturday, April 22
Arrived London 6:30 a.m. Early check in at Le Meridien Excelsior-Heathrow, plus non-smoking request got us an upgrade to a suite. Three hour nap and watching 1930s version of Pride and Prejudice with a young Laurence Olivier and recent make of Return of the Native. Walked an hour or two through villages near Heathrow. Amazing, open fields, villlage housing, largely semi-detached, 4-5 old pubs (16c). Early dinner at hotel and bed.
Sunday, April 23
Huge buffet breakfast (and expensive at £14 each) then reading Sunday Times in the room til noon. Had thought of going into London but nothing would be open Easter Sunday, so walked around Sipson and other villages again, stopping for big lunch at the Plough, a genuinely old pub. Hard to believe one can find this walking so near a major airport. Gas here 80p./litre, about $5/gallong we figure.
British Airways flight to Islamabad departed 5:30 p.m. arrived about 6 a.m. Saw last half of one movie and first half of another. Same plane as the United flight, much more comfortable, more leg room and not full.
Monday, April 24
Arrived Islamabad 6:30 a.m. Flight lengthened slightly by having to fly in a curve south of direct line in order not to fly over Afghanistan.
Met Harry, Fred and Bob who were on the same flight as well as our group leader, Rob, a Dutch fellow about mid 30s. Looking at the three fellow travelers (late 60s- early 70s) was a bit of a shock. I hadn't quite pictured that, made me feel, well, Elder. One couple will join the group tomorrow.
Airport of this capitol city is indicative of economic hardship, very frayed equipment and basic space. Also indicative of a state with an official religion, Islam. In one corner there was a fenced off area for prayers. Customs lines were for "foreigners" "Pakistanis with foreign passport", "Pakistanis with British passport," and "Pakistanis."
All felt very familiar to me, including funny small things I'd forgotten, like how long Indians (pakistanis) spend in toilets. Long waits on the plane, wondering if they were bathing, reminded me of similar frustrations on Indian trains. The architecture was familiar, some tongas and old vehicles predominant, shoving and jostling. UN planes at airport.
Went to Shalimar Hotel in Rawalpindi -- nice, clean, a bit frayed; AC room with attached bath. We sat in lobby where coffee and tea were "Just coming" for about an hour. Met with owner of tour agency. Fred said something about this being his first visit to an Islamic country. The director immediately assured him "we are normal people just like anyone, very friendly, no need to worry." Clearly a sensitive point assuming all Americans equate Islam with terrorism or at least fundamentalism.
Free day. Don and I walked a bit and had lunch at the elegant hotel, Pearl Intercontinental. Guests we could see nearly all Pakistani, rich looking Pakistanis. Took another walk in the evening, quite a long way. Almost NO women to be seen. Passed two parks, one had males only one had a couple of women with children. None of the few women in Western dress, though few had faces entirely covered nearly all had heads covered. We're warned not to try to take photos of women at all. Heard calls to prayer as we walked and observed interesting venues for praying in addition to mosques, for example a group with mats spread out in the corner of a gas station. Walk of about 1 1/2 hours was through modern shops and office area (in contrast to more traditional bazaar) I'm sure it didn't feel very "modern" or "Westernized" to Don. Along a VERY busy road, on a sidewalk with very deep potholes. I'd read that driving is difficult because people cross roads anywhere. One reason, we found, is that there is no provision for crossing at intersections and getting away from an intersection to cross means having less traffic to consider (only two directions). Passed some of the old British buildings, e.g. library, and a lot of Military buildings. These were general large and in the best condition of anything, pretty clear where a lot of the country's money goes.
Dinner at Blue Lagoon restaurant around corner from hotel. Almost empty (clearly we were very early by Pakistani standards; people started to come 8:30 or 9:00)) Waiters very solicitous.
Watched a little TV. Movies are clearly all Indian as evidenced by dress--saris, kum kum, and Western dress on young adults. Soap Opera appearing, lots of suggested love interest (though not in English so we couldn't tell exactly) Lots of sports and singing also.
Exchange rate 53-4 Tupees/ $1. Our room, double occupancy was 45,000 Rs.
Tuesday, April 25
At breakfast we suffered the B&B mentality. There were Western rolls and Indian breads, but only one thing Don could eat, a dahl. Then Rob appeared with eggs; "you just need to ask" (from today on Rob made sure we had eggs and potatoes at every breakfast.)
I'd hoped to visit Murree Christian School about which Paul Seaman has written, as an example of a Missionary school. It is in the hills above Rawalpindi, but would have taken at least an hour to reach by cab, and I hadn't been able to contact anyone who spoke English by phone so I gave up. Murree is a summer retreat for Pakistanis.
Morning wandering through the old bazaar in "Pindi" with a local guide, thank heaven. It is huge and full of roads and increasingly small alleys. We'd never be able to find our way out. All organized by type of merchandise, from wonderful display of gold jewelry (especially large and elaborate necklaces, very different than would find in US) Fabrics, clothing, spices, electronics etc etc. The meat market had plenty of meat hanging or displayed, covered with plenty of flies. Also fat sheeps' tails, entrails, and heads (with and without skin). Heads are cleaned for the meats but not served as such. Streets filled with wonderfully colorful buses and mini buses (Suzuki) which are the main form of transport into the region around the city.
Afternoon was first part of official tour. Took a bus drive around Islamabad, the new capital of Pakistan from 1960? Drove by large and grand Prime Minister's palace (empty), Parliament building which has no parliament sitting since the military coup last year. Stopped at a village on the outskirts of the city. Just drove to the edge, got out, stood around looking. I felt quite awkward. There seemed to be nomadic people with animals... goats, sheep (with such huge fat tails I didn't recognize them to be sheep). They were slaughtering animals.
Drove on to a viewpoint overlooking the city. A young man, British born Pakistani (lower class midlands accent) was so excited to see Americans there. He had to take our photo to show his "mates" in England that Americans come to Pakistan. We saw him again at the mosque and he wanted his picture taken with us, to show his mates. His other big concern was where we'd found nightclubs. Certainly the wrong people to be asking,, and the wrong country this being an alcohol free country. Rob says absolutely no alcohol. Jamil, our Pakistani guide, says it can be found privately and that there are a few clubs. On to a second high point with view over the city and stop for tea. One of these is a park in which visiting dignitaries, including George Bush, have planted trees, which have plaques honoring them. It was impressive how many deposed dictators were included.
Passed a "Women's Police Station." I thought it might be where women are taken after being apprehended. I guess it can serve that purpose, but these were introduced by Benazir Butto when she was prime minister as places staffed by women where women would feel comfortable going to report things like abuse. Joke about Butto who led the Pakistan People's Party PPP stands for permanently pregnant Prime Minister (she had a child each of three years after marriage and while PM)
Final stop was Faisal mosque started for Islamabad by King Faisal of saudi arabia??? It is very modern and one of the largest mosques in the world. Another example of misunderstanding a question based on assumptions about our views of Muslims. Bob asked Jamil about the faucets all around the lower edge of the mosque (for cleaning feet and hands before going to pray) He was wondering if it is necessary to ritually or actually cleanse yourself before praying. Jamil's answer ended up with a discussion of it is safe to drink the water in cities like Islamabad. (We didn't risk it)
Dinner at the hotel all of us at one table with harmonium and tabla providing background music. I found it hard to hear others, it was impossible for Don and probably would be with than many even if there weren't music as pleasant competition.
Last two members of our group joined us today so we are now complete at seven:
Harry McCombie (turned 72 on trip) A Scot who immigrated to Canada at about 20, retired high school teacher from Toronto. Used to travel with his mother. As far as we can tell never married.
Fred Vermillion about 70, from Atlanta, but very liberal, an active Unitarian. He was a woods/paper chemist who worked for paper companies. He does a lot of traveling, and especially enjoys taking his grandchildren on trips with him. Later in the summer he will take his grandson to Peru, hiking four days to get to Machu Pichu.
Bob Whitney also from Atlanta, from same church. He is an avid tennis player and hiker. He is slowly covering all of the Appalachian Tail in bits. Called "Motel Man," he often hikes down to the road and stays in motels at night. Bob and Fred's wives did not find this an appealing trip. I took exception to their calling it a "no wives trip." They have made a number of trips together like this.
Frank and Nancy Laurette They are retired teachers from the Detroit area. She taught elementary school, he was a special ed. Teacher. They retired fairly young and spent two years as the entire staff -- director and secondary teacher and elementary teacher -- of the international school in Bishkek, Kyrgystan (lots of stories!!) followed by a year in similar positions at the international school in Skopje, Macedonia. They have sold their house and most of their belongings. They camp out with one of three sons or friends. They have bought a house in Arizona where his mother and sister live and where they have a bedroom to call home. They spent much of the trip deciding where they would go next, whether teaching again, volunteering to help out in small international schools or just traveling. Frank was in Peshawar, Pakistan about the same time I was in India. He was a Russian language specialist in the military who spent his time listening to intercepted Russian communications.
Rob Scholten our mid thirties Dutch guide. He studied to be a teacher, then took time off to travel and when he got back saw an add for someone to lead a group to Turkey. He's been leading tours ever since, for Elder Treks and for a Dutch company. He does Asian tours.
Jamil is our main Pakistani guide, very friendly and connected.
Farman (sp?) is the brother of the owner of the Pakistani tour company working with us. He is along as an apprentice much less self-assured and English not as good as Jamil's, but a nice person. He busily took notes on the information Jamil gave us.
Wednesday, April 26
Set off in our air-conditioned Coaster bus which seats 19. Nice size for us, would carry a group of 15 and guides but would be tight and would require the seats which pull down into the aisle). First stop was to see the old grand trunk road -- Calcutta to Kabul-- built in the 16c. by the Moguls. This small section has been cobbled, not original. The modern Grand Trunk road (now the Asian Highway) follows this route.
We visited Taxila (Greek city and Buddhist center and two Buddhist monasteries from 1st - 3rd or 4th centuries AD. These were first excavated by British in the early 20c. Stupas and Carvings have been moved to museum. There were three cities at Taxila, one on top of the other, but also three locations (a little confusing) We walked through the site of the 2nd built by Greeks. This was a ruin (a bit like Pompei but only low walls remain with a wide thoroughfare running the length. Jamil, our guide, is a specialist on this period of Buddhism in Pakistan (Gandhara?) but somehow he kept getting, or at least answering, questions about Islam. It did seem odd to be visiting Buddhist sites in this Islamic country. We spent some time at the small Taxila museum, primarily Buddhist carvings etc.
As we left the outdoor sites we were mobbed by kids eager to sell Buddhist and Greek curios. Don bit and bought a nice Greek head ("I carved it myself") and some Greek coins (I found them myself") probably for way more than worth. That was a learning experience and he was more resistant to future attacks. Although he saw the same items numerous times later he became more resistant to the pesky kids.
Lunch was at a pleasant motel/restaurant across from the museum. I had been stung by a wasp(?) in the museum and my finger began to swell a lot. Jamil and the motel person gave me the local remedy rubbing it with iron, in this case rubbing my finger with a huge padlock. Rob gave me a Dutch ointment and I took an aspirin for inflammation. Afternoon tea stop was outside just above the Indus river and overlooking plain.
Continued along Asian highway to Peshawar. The traffic was insane. Huge trucks and every other kind of vehicle machine and animal driven, competing for space, passing where there appeared to be no space, challenging each other and barely missing many collisions. Many breath holding near misses. It now appears that terrorist attack is not the real concern here but road attack. A lot of roadwork going on parallel two lanes under construction and huge bridges. Military is in charge of roadwork, (and was before the coup as well) apparently the only body which has been successful. Jamil approves of this arrangement, "they get it done on time." The importance of the military continues to be evident in the fact that the largest and best kept buildings all along the road are all military. As we entered the NorthWest Frontier Province (NWFP) big letters on a hillside proclaimed "welcome to the land of the Black Berets (a military unit). Later a sign read "entering the ______(?) regiment territory."
Frank was stationed in Peshawar in the mid-1960s so is familiar with the military scene here. He was at an American advisory base (monitoring Russian communications). The base is now all Pakistani air force. We passed two big mogul forts which are still used by the Pakistan military (NO photos!).
The entire road to Peshawar seemed edged with commerce. Regular gas stations, many seem fairly new. Signs by many of them said "premium, diesel, oil, mosque." And indeed there was a small mosque where travelers could stop for prayers. There was no open country to speak of. Mainly this was typical small shops with charpois out in front, Occasional towns and occasional new large homes in the middle of it all. There is lots of building in some stage. Does this show progress and building, or stagnation and building halted? A major industry in this area seems to be rock and gravel. Landscape is brown, some trees, many small. planted fields. Clearly this is irrigated and fortunately continues to have water in contrast to the Punjab and Rajasthan in India which are facing a terrible drought.
In Peshawar we're staying at the Sheraz Inn. It has a very unpromising façade, an opening among shops on a very busy street. But through the opening is a lawn with trees and a pleasant quiet hotel. We had a large room which was clean but with frayed and spotted carpet which we found is typical. A Big wedding party was going on. Nancy and I were invited to observe, none of the men, but when we were there not much was going on and we felt a bit voyeuristic so didn't. Dinner was at the Shiraz restaurant across the busy road (not a freeway). Traffic was very heavy and non-stop no sign of stops or traffic lights anywhere. The way to cross is to start walking into the traffic arms waiving and to hope someone decides to slow down, not all do. It was pretty frightening. Good Chinese dinner. Traffic not so bad crossing after dinner and restaurant personnel went ahead of us waiving their arms to create an opening.
Nancy and Frank have been the center of most conversation. They are peppered with questions about their two year experience in Bishkek, Kyrgystan, where we'll be going. They worked for Quality International Schools, which runs private international schools mainly in former USSR countries, with some in the Middle East. The organization existed for about 15 years with one school. At the breakup of the USSR they were asked to start other new schools in new international capitols. The Bishkek school opened in about 1994 (Kyrgystan became independent in 1989 or 1990) A school must be invited to come in and open. In Kyrgystan the American ambassador provided the invitation. At first there were three children, the ambassador's child and two children of the two teachers. When Frank and Nancy were in charge it grew to 17 including UN, the Korean part owner of the airline, a couple nationals. They were anticipating only about eight so coming up with books etc, let alone covering the classes for K-12 was a challenge. Frank and Nancy were the school and Frank was director and upper school teacher; Nancy was elementary school teacher. The high school kids worked under supervision on correspondence courses.. The US State department helps to support the schools (as opposed to supporting American families) so the schools can stay open. Many many stories of the complications of working in Kyrgystan. There was NO wood to be had anywhere so they couldn't get additional furniture or books selves or playground equipment. Heating in Bishkek is central heating, i.e. all homes and offices are heated from a single plant, which heats water, which is pumped through pipes all through the city. Someone had fiddled with the pipes to the school so they got no heat at all. They had a single space heater, which could not be used at the same time as a computer or movie projector. They were pleased if the room temperature made it up to 57 degrees F by the end of the day.
Thursday, April 27
Left the hotel at 8 a.m. in hopes of getting permission to go to the Khyber Pass. Stopped at Khyber Pass authority, it was granted. If there has been an incident recently they close the pass. We heard talk that the pass will be closed permanently in the near future. The pass has only been open to tourists since 1995 and only during the day. Two armed soldiers with assault rifles came on the bus with us for protection -- more for appearance, symbolic (we hope) still they had real rifles.
We passed into the Tribal area, which is a bit like an Indian reservation in that it has its own authority. No Pakistani police or postal workers (not sure the postal workers is still true.) The Pakistan Army is there, mainly for border control. Tribal "police" provide control settling many disputes in traditional way with tribal leaders negotiating settlement for wrongs. If the negotiation doesn't work the authority can/will make a settlement. All tribal areas together have one Member of Parliament. Until this year that MP was elected by the heads of the various tribes. Last year direct election of the MP and commissioners and other elected positions became directly elected.
We passed the smugglers' bazaar, which is huge, blocks and blocks and blocks with over 30,000 shops. Most shops were closed today because smugglers are on strike over a tax the government has proposed on smuggled goods. This seems contradictory since smuggling suggests underground, but this is far from underground. All kinds of goods come in from all over the world, through Afghanistan. And the smuggling isn't all that subtle. We saw people riding down the pass and were told they were probably smuggling bicycles, they'd take a bus or somehow get back to Afghanistan and ride another bike across. Goods are enough cheaper in the smugglers' bazaar that Jamil drives there from Pindi to shop. He had a shopping list with him from his wife who had to be told "too bad." Also just inside the Tribal area are shops selling guns and hasish, both outlawed in Pakistan. Either will be confiscated if brought into the rest of Pakistan.
We also passed by a huge refugee settlement (from Afghanistan) housing 20-25,000 refugees. It has taken on a very permanent look since initially established in tents. It is mud houses now with shops along the road. A similar, newer development across the road was being torn down to discourage refugees from settling in. On the way back we stopped to take some photos, but were so mobbed, mainly by kids, it was hard to get a photo of anything but kids. They all come up and say "hello, how are you."
On Refugees from mid '90s article on Pak Refugees Prior to Communist coup in Kabul (1978) muhajirin meant Muslim Central Asians (Turkistanis) who took refuge in Afghanistan after Bolshevik regime and incorporation Muslim lands of Turkistan into USSR. (early 1920s) This means specifically Muslim refugee. Later applied to Afghanistani Muslims taking refuge in Pakistan, esp NWFP.3.3 million Afghan refugees, over 2.3 million live in NWFP tribal area.75% Afghan muhajirin children and women. ('91)Men settle families and return to fight. 85% refugees in Pak are Pashtun . Remainder Tajik, Turkmens, Uzbeks, Hazars. (these originally to Afghan from USSR)
Signs carved in stone along wall by gate to the pass (some before the actual border and pass) one on Tribes of the Khyber in Urdu and English reads as below. The citing of valor friendliness bravery strength etc sounds like the Shors' Afghan guide's description of all Afghans as brave, courteous, strong etc etc etc (not quoted)
Alexandrian historian Heroditus writes of a country on the banks of the Indus with Pactya divided to four nations, one of which the Apartea has been identified with modern Afridis. Historically the Afridis have inherited little Grecian or Macedonian blood from Alexander or his soldiers. In truth in this region the Macedonian was a bird of passage. Though the Helenistic influence under Greco-Bahtrian (sp?) kings reached the Indus, or Kandhara, now known as Peshawar valley. But it is startling to note the Afridis have Grecian features [young may look like Apolo, old like Zeus] The Khyber area is inhabited by four tribes: Afridi, Shinwari, Mullagori, Shilmani. All these for whom as it were the land was made, not men for the land, are well armed warriors with Spartan virtues and vices who live more or less a camp life in thick yellowish grey houses behind mud walls with watch towers for each compound. These hill men are men who can out pace any man in deadly manly struggle for existence. Hence their survival through the ages. A Pathan is essentially a hill man and his proverbial hospitality, courtesy, courage and cheerfulness entitle him to respect and admiration. The Khyber tribes are no exception. Like other Pashtans these tribes have observed their code of honor, since time immemorial. This code imposes on them three main obligations: 1) the right of asylum, 2) the old eye for an eye, toth for tooth 3) hospitality to all.
The military is in evidence all along the road, guards and numerous smallish fort like buildings atop hills. Most of the landscape along the route was quite barren, but there were trees in the valleys, many villages and a good-sized town. At the border we stopped for photos looking into Afghanistan which was ok as long as no military personnel or buildings were included. There was a small tea shop there and we took tea sitting on charpois. Two boys about ten were determined to sell us piles of Afghan money. Fred did buy from one and it started quite a fight, which Rob stopped. They were very aggressive.
On the way back we stopped at Peshawar University and college, and elegant British Victorian campus with verandahs and pointed windows which reminded me much of Deccan College in Poona (where I was in 1964) but larger and grander. The Front buildings, featured on the 100 Rupee note is a male college (H.S.) and the rear is a university.
Don was feeling headachy and did not join us for the afternoon touring. He didn't miss much-- a small museum of Ghandara, mainly Buddhist friezes, and coins, and a collection of Korans. We then walked through the "storytellers' bazaar" so named because when trade caravans crossed in Peshawar people congregated here to swap information. It is now a large bazaar (not as large as the one in Pindi) with a lot of money changers.
We went to a small old mosque (17c) and then took tea at a 100 year old tea shop. It was in a large square building, several floors around an open courtyard. It was originally an Inn for caravans and now houses gold workshops, but the teashop has remained in place. We had the typical green tea in small bowls. It was disconcerting to watch them "wash" the cups, one swish through a bucket of water, which had no apparent means of being heated. A young man (12 or so) found us there and was eager to sell jewelry or hats. The others bought Pakistani hats, I said I had too many similar ones, then in an aside said I might buy an Afghan hat the kind with the rolled brim. It took him not a second to produce one, which I bought for $2.00.
We went finally to the Carpet Palace. Several of us, primarily Fred, were interested in buying carpets. Rob said this place is reputable, and takes Visa cards. He said we should buy things we like when we see them, because you might not see them again. Well, we saw a lot of carpets. Don't know if prices would have been any better, but certainly we would have had less time. I had decided to buy a carpet on this trip and even though I was uncomfortable without Don I went ahead and bought a 3x5 carpet for the front hall, a new wool Pakistani made carpet. Fred bought a 9x12 and then got talked into two runners to go with it. Harry also got a small one. It was fun because we did have time. They brought out carpet after carpet, different sizes, and different kinds of designs, new and old, wool and silk, 300 knots per inch to 500 and more. Apparently they have museum quality old carpets, but Rob had warned them we were not in that kind of market. The strategy is to roll out piles of carpets then to say "we'll start to take them away and if you are even vaguely interested in any, say so and we'll put it aside thus you could respond to a color or pattern type and they could then find similar ones in other sizes or materials. It was interesting how this helped you identify your taste. Fred ended with five, one of that was quite different, and clearly not his taste. Three were virtually identical differing only in barely noticeable details. Mine likewise tended toward reds and rusts. I know you are expected to bargain and I could and should have. He gave the price of the ones I liked at about $600. I should have offered say 350 but didn't. "because he liked me" he brought it down to $500. The problem was having no comparison, though it didn't seem out of line for what you'd pay in the states. He valued it officially for import at $135. I wonder which is closer to the real value?
Don came across the road with us for dinner, but no sooner had he sat down than he hurriedly excused himself and rushed back to the hotel. He had active diarrhea and headache. Nancy and Frank were having dinner with friends. First they visited someone in the refugee section of the city who insisted for their safety that they be outside the area before dark and that they keep Nancy's head covered and Frank's face turned away from the window.
Black flags seen on most trucks and other transport are to ward off the evil eye.
There are modern veiled women and traditional. The traditional cover their entire face and look out through a mesh. Modern have uncovered eyes.
Don and I talked with Jamil and Farman at lunch. He was born in the South and that is where his family is, but he was raised by an Uncle, director of the airport, in Gilgit and now head of Pakistan airways in at Kennedy airport in New York. He was on the Pakistani junior national cricket team and hoped to be on the senior team but had knew problems. He worked for airlines before guiding. He seems very ambitious. He has organized annual winter tours for guides with different guides giving talks on their particular area of expertise. His is Ghandara Buddhism. Farman is the brother of the owner of the tourist agency and is along as an apprentice. He is Baltit, a language group originally from Tibet. He looks a bit more Tibetan than Pakistani. His family was from a village near the Indian border in Kashmir but a few years ago the Indian army took over the area. Most in his family fled at night, but the older members decided to wait until morning. By then it was too late, the Indians had taken over and declared the village inside India, where it remains. I think Farman is just starting training, his English is good but not that good.
Friday, April 28
I got headache, feverish, diarrhea, too little sleep, some vomiting in a.m. Both of us made it through morning drive to stop at which there was a half hour hot climb to a Buddhist monastery taktht Bhai???Don went up, Harry and I stayed in the bus. Morning tea stop on a pleasant verandah.
Morning stop at largest cemetery in Asia, huge, helter skelter, not manicured. Took photos of shops with bright decorations for weddings.
Lunch at Pakistan Tourist Board bungalow, very pleasant. I stuck to rice with a little dahl and green tea. Nice open dining room with windows to the verandah, garden looking over Swat River, fields and mountains. Water buffalo being splashed & cooled in river.
After lunch we headed up the Swat Valley. The road was lined with large trees, all quite green. Driver pulled over to fix clutch and couldn't. We were just settling down along a field, some of us with books, to wait a long time for a replacement bus. Jamil marched into the middle of this busy major road and commandeered a "suzuki," a very small Toyota(?) pick up with covered hoops over the back reminiscent of covered wagons. "Suzuki" has become the generic word for near local transportation too outskirts of cities and near villages. These, like the trucks crowding the highways, are very colorful often with a windmill on the front -- trucks win. Jamil informed the Pakistanis crammed into and onto the Suzuki that they should give up their places to "our important foreign guests." (Don't know where the Pakistanis went, but there are a lot of Suzukis on the road so they probably got another ride quickly. Rob announced that we were "about to have a Pakistani experience" and we loaded our luggage on top and piled in. 10 of us in addition to the driver and two helpers hanging on the back. There are typically far more Pakistanis than this, still we were crammed together on the short benches on either side, knees touching. We got lots of air (no sides) but no view, except out the back. Too bad, it appeared to be a pretty drive up the valley and to a pass.
The Suzuki ride is very bumpy which didn't go well with my upset stomach. I was unable to reach the plastic bag I'd put with the carry on (too crushed together) and it was hard to get the driver's attention. Before I could get the word of my need to stop to the driver I vomited, profusely and broadly all over everyone and hand luggage, but especially covering Frank who was sitting across from me. Lots more came up after we stopped along a ditch with somewhat awful stagnant water one has to be desperate to use that water to sponge off. From then on I was awarded the very back seat where at most I'd hit the helpers hanging on the back, but there was no next time. This turned out to be a bonding experience for the group, source of much ongoing reference and teasing.
Group decided to skip yet another stupa. Harry was also not feeling well. Drove through good-sized town or small city (not sure of name) to the Swat (which refers to the whole valley) Serena Hotel. This was a very nice place with a very colonial feel. It turns out to have been the home of the Swat Wali (ruler) built around 1936. Rooms had 16 foot ceilings with fans (AC as well), verandahs overlooking gardens. We were in the 4-5 year old new wing, which was built faithfully replicating the older colonial architecture.
Men widel7y wear a shawl over their shoulder, which can be put down as a prayer rug
Jamil talked about traditional marri8age, especially among the tribal groups which favors cousin marriage. Pakistan is trying to discourage this. Pakistan has also passed a law regulating wedding receptions, which are typically huge and very expensive. They have outlawed big receptions; one can only serve tea or soft drinks. An official's son tried to circumvent this by serving tea but hotel provided its "usual" buffet in the adjacent room where guests could go. He was arrested and briefly jailed for trying to get around the law.
Agriculture is the main Pakistani industry rice and tobacco are big and we saw a lot, also wheat and sugar cane. Cane we saw was 5-6" high; we're told it grows to tall harvesting height in 3-4 months. Tourism is 2nd industry, Americans are not high on the list of tourists.
Pakistanis are very friendly and wave at the bus as we drive. We're perfecting the queenly wave. A couple trucks full of young men chanting and waving as they passed -- perhaps going to a wedding or other celebration. Kids are constantly saying "hello" "how are you" "what is your name?"
Saturday, April 29
Group trip organized to stupa museum (?) and bazaar. Don, Harry and I stayed back to be on the safe side. Nancy also came down with the trots this morning. Don and I walked through town taking photos (there are several towns collectively referred to as Swat, we didn't get the names.) We were surprised at a number of computer schools and one quite new and Western looking hotel on the busy main road.
A new bus and driver arrived to replace the one which broke down yesterday. This has the same number of seats, but is larger. We drove about 150 km along the Swat River to the Shangla pass at 2200 m. Then we branched off following the Alpuri River to Besham where it joins the Indus River. Leaving Mingora (the city just across the river from the hotel city) there were some very large private homes, built with a great deal of Marble. Marble is quarried and much used in the Swat region. The road for the first half of the trip til we turned off was good, lots of switchbacks on sharp curves with stones laid out along the road to form a median marker. The second half -- to Besham-- the road got worse and worse. Edges were washed away, bridges that looked narrower than the buss, no pavement -- a big challenge. The driver is very good so it was merely frightening, not terrifying. It was a beautiful drive through mountains, inhabited the whole way with occasional towns. Population of the valley is about 75,000. We continued to see some mud walls but more brick houses. Terraces (for wheat) climb up steep hills almost to the mountain ridges. Can't imagine that there are enough people to care for all the terraced fields we saw. Stopped for photo over the town of Altpuri. An informal cricket game was in progress along the river bank; cricket is very popular here in Pakistan. We see pick up games everywhere.
After another stop we walked along the road for a way (nice break) followed by kids calling after up, but not begging. Another stop to cross the river on a rickety bridge to see a lone miller grinding corn in a small dark building. It didn't look like he could stand up.
Don, Harry and I all made it without incident (of the illness type), though Nancy was feeling very poorly.
Arrived at Besham where we stayed in a Pakistan Tourist Development Board (PTDB) motel. It was clean, very basic, twin beds with attached bath. This is what I expected we'd stay in the whole trip. Small balcony overlooking river (at a bit of a distance). Closet had extra blankets and a prayer rug. Others tell me all the hotels have had prayer rugs. Also, all have candles for power outages, one of which occurred here for a very short time. When there is light it is so dim we used flashlights anyway, and kept them by the bed (as we did the rest of the trip)
To bed by 9 p.m. because we have an early start for a long day tomorrow.
New snafu has arisen. Rob got a fax informing us that Kyrgystan will be celebrating the Russian victory in WWII on May 8-9-10 and for this will close the border with China. We were to cross May 8. We decided to skip the Sunday market in Kashgar (world's largest) in order to cross on the 7th. Problem is that visas are good starting May 8 (you'd think they'd have suggested getting visas with a couple extra days on either end of planned visit to accommodate such unexpected events.) Rob has a number of border nightmare stories, including one from a Dutch colleague who was with a group in Kazakstan which did not require a visa for passing through. None was required as they entered, but when they got to the airport to fly out they were told they needed a visa and they couldn't leave because they hadn't entered legally. They couldn't return to the country they'd come from because that was a single entry visa. They spent three days at the airport, with Dutch embassy bringing food to them, until papers allowing them into the country and then out of the country were produced.
Frank was telling me on the road about life in Bishkek, Kyrgystan when they were there two years ago. Most apartments are now privately owned, but no one owns the building so no one takes responsibility for their maintenance. The halls stink, grounds are a mess. It rarely occurs to residents to join together to hire someone to clean halls etc to do it themselves on a sharing basis. When he cleaned the ground outside the school he was met with suspicion and opposition it's not your job, why would you do it? He was frustrated for a whole year by the government getting on his case and appearing threatening because the school was not registered or paying taxes. He spent a year trying to get the school registered and he wanted to pay taxes, but no one seemed to have the authority to register them and no one could figure out how to set up a system to do so, they just kept being angry that the school and other non profits including world bank were not registered etc. The World Bank rep got so frustrated he threatened to withdraw the whole program. They had no experience dealing with outside agencies or non-profits. This all makes Pakistan, which has its own quirks as does any country, appear the model of logic and rationality.
I tried to get a post card in Swat and there were none to be seen around the hotel. That seems a small and easy thing to do for tourists. When asked the desk clerk produced a bundle of assorted cards, but nothing organized. There was a little tourist shop next to the PTDB hotel here in Besham which had a rack with post cards.
Sunday, April 30
6 a.m. departure for 12 hour drive from Besham to Gilgit. It didn't seem that long because we had numerous photo stops and one walking stretch, plus morning tea and lunch.
Fantastic scenery, overwhelmingly high mountains on all sides. Road was generally good, barely two lane, paved except where there had been washouts or slides. The road was built by China and Pakistan between 1966-78. 3,000 died in the building. In many places it is straight up one side and straight down on the other. At times you couldn't see the road immediately below the window, just the descent. There were no guardrails of any kind. The edge was market by occasional white rocks. Passing could involve backing to a wide spot. It was fairly bumpy, but then we were sitting over the rear wheels.
The Swat valley is amazingly green, thickly terraced and houses throughout right up the mountains. This certainly suggests population pressure. Why else would anyone live in such difficult places as perched way up a steep mountainside. Many small villages or clusters of shops -- brick and stone began to replace mud. A lot of mortarless rock walls. A few bridges cross the river, and some river crossings are more like cable cars on cables across the river.
We saw several Buddhist carved rocks from the 4th-8th century AD. Some reportedly marked good places to cross the river. Apparently there were a lot and still are a lot around. One place two rivers joined, the side stream a bright blue looked dyed, entered a silty grey brown Indus river. Gold "prospectors" along the banks sifting through for gold. Many had tents and apparently migrate as they look for gold.
In places the walls along the river are eroded sandstone vertically ridged like Torrey Pines cliffs. In other places hard-stratified rock goes straight up. After lunch the landscape became treeless and dry except for occasional "oases" of lush green, a dramatic contrast. We continued to see plenty of evidence of washes, places where bus size rocks could easily come down. Many trails into the hills more in Swat.
Kids materialize from nowhere whenever we stop, begging -- asking for pens. Or selling bits of rock. Buying something doesn't end the pressure, it intensifies it.
Our route circled around snow capped Nanga Parbat the 7th?? 9th?? highest peak in the world. We came to a point where three mountain ranges come together. (why separate? Mainly they have different names) Took a photo of the highway as ordinary road.. Hindu Kush range on left in photo, Himalayan on Right and Karakorum at end. Left the Indus River here and followed the Gilgit. We are following the Karakoram Highway (KKH) which connects Pakistan and China, . It is described as follows on a Pakistani website.
The KKH generally follows the Silk Route along the Indus, Gilgit and Hunza rivers up to up to the Chinese border at the Khunjerab Pass; it then crosses the high central Asian plateau before winding down through the Pamirs to Kashgar, on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. The Silk Road was actually a series of trade routes linking China with the West. For much of its 1,284 kilometres the Karakoram Highway crosses a high-altitude desert, where thereis l ess than 100 mm of rain a year, passing through gorges, the road cuts along shelves on the cliff faces as much as 500 metres above the river. The highway is an incredible feat of engineering, and an enduring monument to the 810 Pakistanis and 82 Chinese who died forcing a road through what has reasonable claim to be the worlds most difficult and unstable terrain.
Rob is very well organized. We arrived at 6 p.m. sharp as planned. We're staying at the Gilgit Serena hotel. A very nice new hotel. Lobby feels a bit like some national park hotels in the US. Lovely view from lovely room. Watched CNN, talked about emailing the boys from this very Western hotel. Suddenly it feels like we are not really on a foreign trip. It bothers me, yet I am not unhappy to have such a very comfortable and pleasant hotel. At least dinner was Asian, no Western alternatives. Some nice shops in the hotel with lovely things including rugs. I kind of wish I'd waited on a rug to here, might have been less, but I didn't dare price them, that invites too much attention and pressure. Tempted by many things, but they are mostly like Indian things I already have. I don't like buying at a hotel, but passing through a bazaar in a group is not conducive to shopping.
Monday, May 1
In the morning we drove out to see a Buddhist rock carving near Gilgit, high on a cliff. Followed a path along an irrigation channel to get there.
The rest of the morning we were free to wander through the bazaar. We went around with Frank and Nancy. Bought two more Afghani hats and took quite a lot of photos. People were very friendly (mainly men) and happy to be photographed, but wanted copies sent. They gave addresses, unfortunately in Urdu. One shop had a big stamping machine pounding something we guessed to be pot or something. It was chewing tobacco which was packaged in small plastic bags for sale there.
Lunch was at another modern Pakistani hotel, after which we went to Gilgit's cybercafe. There was no café, but there was working cyber. This is the ISP connection to hotel was not working. This is set up by the government -- COMSATS (Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in South Asia) and has only been in Gilgit a year. Rob mainly hoped to get a response from the agent in Kyrgystan about the closed border, visa problem, i.e. could we cross a day early May 7. We emailed the boys and assume it went.
We notice quite a military presence around the hotel and in Gilgit. Jamil says 70% of the national income (budget?) goes to the military. Joining the military is so desirable there is a lottery to choose which applicants will be accepted. Once in it is a 40 year commitment, no resigning. Quitting means court martial. (and jail?) The military is in charge of road building and maintenance people are happy with that, according to Jamil. They are more reliable than private contractors.
Many references to the Aga Khan, photos widely displayed in gift shops. There are numerous signs indicating that the Aga Khan foundation has provided this or that social service program, school. The Aga Kahn is the title for the head of the Ismali sect of Shia??? Muslims.
In the afternoon we drove to Hunza through more incredible scenery, deep barren valleys and more open river valleys. We made several photo stops mainly of snow covered peaks and glaciers. The main peak with a big glacier is Rakaposhi which has a 4 mile vertical rise. We passed very interesting (in my mind) photo ops of very green fields and more substantial looking houses. Many fields prepared for potatoes with rectangular troughs and ridges, quite picturesque. We passed a lot of apricot orchards. That is a very big crop here, along with walnuts. We're finally seeing some women. They tend the fields, squatting and working with their hands, planting or weeding. They favor very bright clothing, lots of reds. There is water for irrigation which makes a huge difference, thouugh irrigation is well planned, and communally controlled in the valley see description in Shore quotes.
We stopped along the road where garnets are found in the gravel. Kids selling handfuls of garnet stones swarmed us. They are very persistent. (Swat had emeralds)
We're staying at the Durbar Hotel in Hunza.(the town is called Karimabad -- population about 5,000) It was built privately by the Mir ("king") of Hunza. It is on a hill with a commanding 360-degree view of the mountains. It is a large and very imposing, striking building with a high entrance and huge two story lobby with traditional art and wonderful photos of the Mir with leaders from Britain, Pakistan, India etc colonial type. The overall conception and impression are fantastic. The detail leaves something to be desired. The place is 4-5 years old and there is still stain on the window panes, electrical outlets with lots of wires just hanging out and no plates, chipped walls, splattered paint and cheapish furniture (quite a contrast to the Serena hotels) We were put in a huge room on the bottom floor but it was a bit dank and no one else was on that floor so we shifted to a smaller room on the main floor. Dinner was also elegant in conception if somewhat lacking in detail. It was served on the roof. One table of Japanese tourists was placed in the only spot on the roof where there was any light. Workers were frantically trying to string up temporary lighting for us, but didn't pull it off, so when the Japanese left our table was moved into the small lighted area. There was a good buffet with nice kabobs, though it was too dark to make out what the food on the buffet was. There was beer and wine available (first time in Pakistan, but this isn't really and truly Pakistan) but Rob assured us it was not great and at $10 per large can of beer we passed it by.
There are more Japanese tourists at the hotel than Americans or Europeans. Japanese are the most prominent tourists, they do tours of the Buddhist sites. Following Japanese are Germans, French, Dutch. Americans are a very small percent of tourists in Pakistan. May well have something to do with state department warnings against travel in Pakistan.
After dinner Don and I sat in the lobby to read. The lighting in the room is very low (maybe of necessity). Don had a headache; I had a slight sore throat, runny nose and unsettled stomach. Hope it is not the beginning of anything According to Rob the hot water here is filtered, from visible particles. When he has been here before about half the water coming out of the tap was sand and dust. The food on the roof got its share of sand in it, though could be worse.
Tuesday, May 2
Morning trip to Altit (the older) fort/castle. It is small built around 909 A.D. of stone, mud and wood. It was lived in until 1960 (That doesn't seem realistic, but is what I heard)
From the balcony one overlooks roofs of a very old housing area, traditional style. We weren't supposed to photograph the local people, but Jamil suggested we do it from an interior room through a window. Some of the roofs had Satellite dishes!
We traveled today by jeep because we'd encounter some very steep unpaved rocky roads. Our jeep had three dials showing 1) angle of jeep side to side 2) angle front to back and 3) the wheels.
Jean Bowie Shor describes Hunza in the early 1950s (After You Marco Polo).. The road then was considerably worse!
Road from Misgar to Baltit was 5 days. It was the most dangerous road in the world a trail in the mountains plagued by.. landslides, or collapsing rafiks rafik creates foot room where nature did not intend. Principle simple.. road builders moving along natural ledge on face of cliff 2.000 ft above valley. Ledge grows more and more narrow and then disappears to reappear as a rock fault often does many feet ahead. How to bridge gap? Usually there is crack in sheer cliff following the fault line. Into this crack Hunzas drive line of flat rocks. On these they lay other rocks, each successive layer protruding a bit farther over the abyss. More layers are added, interspersed with branches until a ledge perhaps 30 inches wide, and sometimes only 18" projects from cliff. Where no crack long poles were hung across gaps to form shaky bridge against wall wh. creak and sag as cross. Rafiks always under repair as have been for a thousand years. Gallery could blow off in hi wind
Hunza was until recently subsistence living. They lived on potatos, apricots, almonds & a few green plants, plus meat and milk. There is also an old tradition of wine making in this area.
Shore describes the economy in the '50s.. Money in Hunza. Is the least important commodity. Silver Pakistan rupee, (20¢) is favorite currency. They prefer single rupee piece to 5 or 10 R notes for silver keeps better and rarely have need to spend more than 1 R at a time. Half the people in the country could not change a 10 R note. In Hunza only the Mir has need for money. He conducts all import and export for subjects. Local trade is by barter and the Hunzukut who during a life time accumulates equivalent of $50 is considered a hoarder. Seldom does a man handle more than $5/yr in cash. What use is money? No taxes, no license fees, no duties. They cannot buy or sell land for land is very limited and by law must remain in family. The most capable son inherits it, not necessarily the eldest. The only large landowner is Mir with 320 acres. On occasion he gives a parcel to deserving subject who hasn't inherited any land. Or may lease acre or two to promising young couple at tiny annual rental wh may be pd in apricots, apples, meat, ibex horns or services. No Hunzukut covets a cash surplus even for emergency. If a flood should sweep away his house, neighbors will help build another. Should a horse tumble into the gorge, a neighbor will lend him horse until can obtain another. No banks, moneylenders no interest. For centuries they got outside necessities-- cotton cloth, kitchen utensils, salt, silk, knives from caravans traveling Hunza Road. Traders bartered these for dried fruits and produces of valley and for lodging and meals. Also made a little cash byt renting horses and serving as porters . For centuries practiced crop rotation and carefully replenished soil w. compost. Re by experts as among world's finest agriculturists. (quotes one such expert) "somehow their life, seeming ly hard and austere has endowed these people w. a happiness I forbear to oversteat. They have achieved engineering w/o math, morality w/o moralizing, agriculture w/o chemistry, health w/o medicine, sufficiency w/o trade. In harsh and uncompromnising surroundings of the hunza mastery of the art of life has been engendered by an unremitting agriculture. Every H. farmer is almost completely self sufficient. On a bit more than 2 acres Shah raised enuf barley and potatoes, country's chief crops, and smaller amts of millet, wheat, gram and fresh veges for his family of 7. His orchard gave apricots, pears, apples and walnuts. Like every farmer had 8-10 sheep for milk and wood. All family clothing homespun. Except in december when 2 sheep killed for feast meat rarekly tasted, but foul and eggs eaten yr round .. storerooms piled w. dried apricots and walnuts, jars of grains and strings of pears and apples. Special sectn of storeroom held emergency supply reserved for neighbors who meet w. misfortune. This was hunza social security system
The people are very healthy, most still walking and when one looks at the terraced fields climbing up thevalley walls, accessible only on foot, it is clear why. Shor writes of her husband's experience with some locals going to hunt mountain sheep.
Mir said sheep few miles up the trail, straight up. Hiked all day and by dusk reached 16.000 feet guides impatient ran ahead scouting, covered probably 3 x distance. Stop for dried apricots and walnuts. Made another 1,500 feet in next 3 hours. Hunzukuts ready to go all night. In morning to 18,500
Tourism brings in money, but is not all positive. It is felt to pollute, especially trash left by climbers and trekkers. Also damage to the culture. Jamil feels tourism is helping because it encourages education, especially as those who would be guides learn English, Japanese etc. (we do see a lot of children in school uniforms). There are now new tourist oriented shops which do provide some jobs and some outlet for local craft work, but on the whole these are owned, run and to a degree staffed by outsiders who also import much of what they sell, thus not providing as much benefit as could be. Jamil says there is, however, resentment of guides, such as he, who accompany a group from Islamabad for the whole time in Pakistan. Locals would prefer you to hire local guides. We did have local guides in the two castles. Politics must be taken into consideration when organizing trips and local guides, for example if he needs several jeeps and local drivers he must be sure that half are Hunza and half Nagar.
Across the river are the Nagar, traditional enemies of the Hunzukut, though they are not openly fighting now. Hunza and Nagar were independent states unti8l they became part of Pakistan in 1974. The Mir ruled and everyone worked for him. He charged taxes on goods crossing his land. He was in parliament, but lost the last election. Jamil feels that was due to resentment toward his European educated, snobby adult children. The Mir, according to Jamil is nice, friendly, respectful of the people and helpful to all people. His kids are very rude and inconsiderate to everyone.
Shor also describes the Mir and his role.
Mir's council meeting. Held atop old castle, tho more often now in garden at new palace. Individuals could bring issues to council problems that day mainly re: water rights. An intricate sys. Of canals irrigates most farms. The aqueduct is an engineering wonder, carrying some of water more than 60 miles along sheer cliffs and it is community owned and maintained. It is not strange that occasionally some member of comm. Thinks deserves more water than neighbor and dispute ends up in Baltit. Visited farmer near Baltit to study methods.
Mir seemed very fair, benevolent. Not always so Mir's ancestors a bit more violent
One Mir bylegend ate young children. Great uncle of present Mir murdered his father, poisoned his mother and tossed two brothers over precipice. Later reported incident to his suzerain, Maharajah of Kashmir "by the will of God and decree of fate, my late father and I recently fell out. I took the iniative and settled the matter and have placed myself on the throne of my ancestors. That Mir took to raiding British stations in India and an expeditionary force was required to drive him into exile. Present Mir's grandfather placed on throne and Hunza peaceful ever since
After visiting Altit Fort we drove the challenging road to Eagle's Nest at 3,000 meters (10,000'?) It was originally just a tea stop but now has several rooms to accommodate visitors. We walked up to a higher point with a fantastic view in all directions. Memorial stone piles all around, and two men building another tea stop on a very narrow ledge on a practically vertical mountain face. Lunch was at Eagle's Nest followed by a walk down toward the town. This was advertised as a three hour hike down. Don and I finished in 1 1/2 hours without pushing (Rob said last group was 2 1/4 hours) Road was dusty but beautiful with stone walls edging it and many trees, including flowering fruit trees with green and brown terrace fields beyone. Also stone houses along the road with very friendly people smiling, waving and saying hello. I wonder how long it will be before the kids learn to harangue you like the Pakistani kids. I wanted to take photos every ten yards. We saw women with wonderfuyl embroidered caps and colorful scarves and dresses. But no photos of women of course. People are all good looking, some very fair, but all ruddy from the sun. Women are especially beautiful.
A new potential snafu has arisen. We are to cross into China Thursday (in 2 days). Word froim the locals is that no one can cross. Local traders are being turned back, yet some Chinese came through from China the other da the y. Delegates apparently can cross. Jamil left in the afternoon to go to the border to investigate. No phones were working. Rob says the army controls the phones and sometimes closes them; it doesn't want too much communicatoin.
Dinner was across the street from the hotel, followed by good (as far as we could tell) traditional (Hunza?) music on a boron type drum, Rashad (? A stringed strummed instrument) and traditional flute. It is Harry's 72nd birthday so Rob treated us to a local Mulberry wine. Said to be 50-60% alcohol. It has an unusual taste. Jamil came at the end of the dinner and treated us to a good grape wine produced near Rakaposhi. As this is only recently part of Pakistan and as it continues to abide by its own customs and laws, alcohol can be consumed here, though it is not encouraged.
The pass saga gets worse -- maybe. Kyrgys reportedly are closing their borders May 8-9-10. Our visa for Kyrgystan starts the 8th. Rob is trying to see if we can get permission to cross on the 7th. And new information says the Chinese are closing the same border May 1-7. That is not presently confirmed That is all ahead. Our immediate concern is the Pakistan-China crossing of which we heard. The new explanation for that problem has to do with the Pakistani side. The system is that by law you must use a Pakistani government vehicle with a Pakistani driver licensed to drive from Suist to the border, about 160 km. To Tashkourgan, the Chinese border. The pass, Kunjerab pass, opened May 1 as scheduled, so that is not the problem. Rob has been held up on past trips because the road was closed by snow at that time. It turns out that the problem is the licensed drivers' licenses expired Dec. 31 and the government has not got around to issuing new ones. Only three individuals have got licenses. Jamil, has managed to book one of them with a land cruiser. It will be more crowded than the bus by a lot, but less than the Suzuki. No explanation of how Jamil did this he has a lot of connections and is good at making and using them. He grew up in Gilgit with an Uncle who was in charge of the airport there and went to a good private school there. That settles getting into China, but the problem of closed border from China to Kyrgystan remains. We considered some alterantives. If we can't go into Kyrgystan until May 11 we need to cut some days. One way would be an early flightfrom Bishkek to Tashkent and catch our scheduled flight the same day to Urgench. But thre is a real chance the midday flight has been moved to early morning which would eliminate that plan. We can't fly from Kashgar to Bishkek because Kashgar is a domestic airport only. Plans are for it to become an international airport this year, but when?? The only way Rob has to communicate with Canada is phone, if he is lucky, and then it is very hard to hear. (as we know our room is next to the hotel desk and we could hear Rob's frustrated shouting into the phone without being able to hear them or know if they were hearing him)
Before dinner I walked a bit to photograph some green and brown terraced fields near the hotel .such artistic looking patterns. A girl and young woman followed me calling out. "hello" I finally turned around and the girl asked me to sit on the road edge with them. "you are my friend." She is 15 has been through 10th grade (I think). She has 4 sisters and 5 brothers (Shor says families were typically small 2-3 kids) The other woman was a sister with a sick 2 month old baby. They'd been to the hospital for medicine and were walking back home (4 miles each way? I couldn't really get it) She asked me to take their photo which was nice since photographing women otherwise is forbidden. She does not want to be married; she wants to be a pilot.
Don left this morning with a headache. As we walked down from Eagle's nest he began feeling better. A good nap before dinner allowed a raging headache to take hold, though he felt some better after dinner.
Wednesday May 3
Baltit Fort in the morning. This is newer (700 years old) larger and fancier than Altit. Though it was still fairly basic.It has recently (1991-6) been restored with funds from the Aga Kahn, J. Paul Getty and Norway. The Mir lived here until 1950 when he built a newer palace. The director of the Fort (now operated as a museum by a public trust) took us around.
On the way down from Baltit we stopped at a shop. I got two Kashmiri hand work pieces, sort of like a patchwork quilt, all bits of fabric, different stitching etc. One is old one, new. They had large old ones which looked somewhat fragile (old and only the weight of a heavy bedspread. Jamil insisted that they would be used as a rug and would be walked and sat on. Also got a square woven reversible piece, hope one can find a place on some wall.
Don, Frank and I were the only ones who were interested in, or felt up to taking a 1 1/2 hour jeep ride up a difficult road to the Hooper glacier. Luckily we had our guide in training, Firman, because Jamil was at the border and Rob in Gilgit trying to work out plans for the crossing to China and later into Kyrgystan.. So at least we had someone to go with us. We had lunch there. Don was headachy so Firman, Frank, a local glacier guide and I climbed down a narrow steep and at times slippery feeling to me (loose pebble surface). In most places if one slipped it would be straight down quite a way. At this altitude (about 9,000 ft) it was strenuous, so good thing Don didn't try to join us. Climbing on the actual g lacier was tricky because it was covered with stones and pebbles (overall it looked like ridges of grey barren rock) and the stones easily slipped. Stepping on one could start a small landslide. In addition it was melting so in places a step sank into slush. The glacier is huge, about 90 km long. It moves fast and consequently one continually hears falling rocks and cracking. Its speed depends on who you talk to, all estimates are fast Rob and the local guide 4"/day, Jamil 4"/month. The hike back up from the glacier was not as fatiguing as I'd feared and not as fearful as the way down. As we neared the top a big wind came up blowing sand into our eyes. I think had this come up at the beginning we'd have missed going. Don bought a few souvenirs from kids who also took him hiking around the fields. Along the road we saw more men than women in the fields. Up to know we've seen mainly women. It seems to be related to planting time, higher here so later. Men do the ploughing, both plant and women do the weeding, by hand. Many women were carrying baskets of manure to dump on the fields.. composed of animal dung, human wastes and some plant material. (see quote from Shor, above describing agriculture and manure)
Along the road saw a sign proclaiming "Aforrestation" Is that new planting or a mistranslation or misuse of the word?
We had a brief talk on Hunza history before dinner by the Baltit Fort curator. A lot was about the mythological origins of these people and about their pre-Islamic beliefs.
The latest on the border saga kWe met an Australian group at the glacier. They had just come from China. They got stuck in snow on the pass and had to be pulled out by some big German vehicles. They concur that the Chinese border to Kyrgystan might be closed May 1-7. May 1-7 they tell us is a Chinese "bank holiday" and the border is closed though they crossed on May 1. Still no word on using visas a day early. Communication is difficult. Rob went back to Gilgit for phone and email, but that would be the middle of the night at the Eldertreks office.
Food in Hunza tends to have extra sand/dust even in the best places. It is very dusty with occasional wind and dust storms.
Thursday, May 4
6:30 am departure for long day. We started heading up deep valleys with many glaciers, more glaciers here than anywhere in the world except the poles.. Landscape became increasingly barren. At Sust we had to leave the bus, Jamil and Firman and go through Pakistani exit customs. It took quite a long time milling about. There was a big group of Chinese (?) with huge bedrolls wrapped in plastic. Also a group of Germans in two large camper vans and one big boxy truck like vehicle. They are on the road for 6-8 months-- Germany, Greece, Turkey, India, Pakistan< China, Mongolia, Russia and home. Big vehicle has tanks for 650 litres of fuel, spare tires with big treds for getting out of mud, sand etc.
Jamil's arrangements worked. The bus we had scheduled to cross to the actual border was there, but no dirver had permits yet. Jamil had booked a land cruiser with a driver -- one of two or three who already had permits. It was tight but we all squeezed in. Rob suggested Don and I ride in front with the driver because we are slender. I was flattered but then thought maybe he just wanted to contain any damage I might inflict.
We had a picnic lunch on the rocks in a very barren mountain ringed area. We stopped at the top of the Khunjerab pass for photos. At 15,4000 feet this is the highest interntional border corssing in the world. Frank, Nancy and Don had taken diamox for altitude. It made F&N feel bad. Don felt good, no headache!! I got some headache. Up to the border we were in Khunjerab National Park supported in part by the World Wildlife Federation which had signs posted along the road.
The road was paved most places but lots of potholes. We went through some snow but it was not at all a problem (Road only opens May 1 because of snow) Saw maybe two other vehicles and one camel the whole way. Several Chinese check points along the way. Chinese guards, in the middle of nowhere very formal. March to the car for papers and march back to the gate to open and salute. There is not much of a check point at the actual border, passports but we didn't have to get out. At the border the driver switches from driving on the left to driving on the right.
We went through customs in Tashkourgan, the first city. We passed the old customs check point near the border, but that has been abandoned for the convenience of the city. Getting into China was much faster than getting out of Pakistan. At this point we switched to the bus we'll drive in China. It is same arrangement as the Pakistani but a bit larger. In China all luggage must be inside the bus. In Pakistan it was carried on the roof.
Tashkourgan is a city of about 3,000 with one main wide street, fairly empty. We're staying at the Pamir Hotel in Tashkourgan the only town around. ET described it as "the best available." It is fairly run down but rooms have attached baths, of varying levels of functionality. Hot water available only between 8 and 9 p.m. We got it, but some did not. We decided to forgo baths. Rob tells us that on an earlier trip one of the group sat on the toilet and it went through the floor! Speaking of toilets, one difference from Pakistan is the lack of a water faucet and pitcher by the toilet for water cleaning those were by every toilet in Pakistan.
This area of Western China near the border is mainly Uiger (pronounced more or less oui gar) Women at the hotel desk were in very unfashionable unattractive western style suits (1940s?) mainly pinks and reds. They wore embroidered pill box type hats and scarves characteristic of Uiger dress. The women started to take our bags to our rooms. We intervened, seemed inappropriate, but as we were to learn hotel staff, including porters in China tends to be female. There is no room key. The hall lady lets you in -- if you can find her.
The Hotel looks nice overall though wallpaper is tearing and loose in places, the sink chipped, rug in pieces, tiles coming off exterior, some windows have two panes. (if there is not enough glass to replace they may use two pieces or only replace half a pane. Pillow cases were covered with small turkish towel. Lots of litter in the irrigation ditches alongside the main road.
All China is officially on Beijing time, so official offices operate on that time. The rest of this area uses local time (l hour ahead of Pakistan 2 hours behind Beijing). We rushed a bit to be to the Chinese border check point by 5:00 Pakistan time which is 8:00 p.m. in Beijing and is when government offices close.
We had dinner at a two table dining room. We met Abdul 1, a Uigar China Tourist service guide. He is an English instructor at Kashgar university. His Uiger name starts with A and was deemed too hard for us to master so we were told to call him Abdul or Abdullah, names Westerners can master. Abdul talked a bit about the economy of Singkian province after dinner. Chinese guides do not sit with guests, but we got him to join us after dinner. This is the xinjiang Uiger Autonomous Region of China. There is a great deal of oil here and gold. A pipeline is being build to take oil from here and a Railroad will come to Kashgar He didn't say this, but we heard that this has good and bad sides. It gives them more freedom but more importantly and negatively, it means more Han Chinese (dominant ethnic group in China as a whole but a minority here) can move into the area, and possibly gain political/economic dominance.
Went to bed early, nothing else to do. It was cold! Everyone, including us, reported sleeping in their clothes as well as being covered by a thick quilt and two blankets.
Friday, May 5
5:30 a.m. breakfast. Tables are round, chairs arranged two to a side in a square. Early start was delayed by a petrol problem. They couldn't fill the bus last night because the electricity was out in the part of the city where the gas station was. We went to a petrol station. Pumps are inside the building and hose/nozzle passed out through a window. (security, protection against freezing or both) They didn't have the right octane. We went to another petrol station which had the right fuel but it was locked (holiday) and the man with the key was on the other side of town. Luckily we were by the only thing to see in Tashkurgan, the Stone City on a small hill. When the driver went for the key, we got someone to let us into the Stone City . It was a large area of crumbling mud walls with indications of former housing and streets inside. According to Abdul this was a major outfitting point on the Silk road for caravans going E and W. A royal family lived inside the walls. It was also defensive. It was build around 1st century AD, the Buddhist period. Most of the destruction took place during the cultural revolution when the agricultural plan was to grow wheat here. They thought mud from the walls would enrich the soil so tore mot of it down to put the dried mud on the land.
May 1-7 is a national holiday in China. Worker's Day (May 1 extended) but it is not entirely followed by this area; schools are in session here. Don't know why it is a week long. We've heard that it may be in part to encourage people to travel in China. Rob says this is the first year he has encountered this, and he's been on this trip in May a number of times. He says they only decided on this in April.
The three main ethnic groups in the Tashkourgan area: It is 80% Tajik, then Uiger and Kyrgy; the Han Chinese are a minority. The Tajik language is not writtenin this area (it is more written in Mongolia) so Tajiks speak Tajik but read and write Uiger and they learn Chinese from 3rd grade on. The area between Tashkourgan and Kashgar is dominated by Kyrgy people and Kashgar is primarily Uiger. We stopped to take photos of old Tajik tombs along the road.. Tajik are Ismaili Shia and the Uiger are Sunni.
Chinese population policy varies by numbers in the population. Han Chinese are limited to one child. Uigar can have two, three if the first two are girls. Tajik can have 3 but the 2nd cannot be less than three years later.
The drive to Kashgar (now called Kashi) was about the same distance about 300 Km as Kunjerab pass to Tashkourgan. It seemed much longer because it was hot and the driver feared using the air conditioning too much because he might run out of gas. Snowy peaks in the distance, huge barren ones nearer the road. KWe followed a river to Lake Kara Kus (about 12,000' high) and stopped forlunch. It has become a tourist stop (pretty plus no other place to stop) with camel and horse rides along the lake shore. Japanese and Chinese tourists enjoyed it greatly. Also entrance to restaurant lined with people selling tourist items, mainly Kyrgy. Saw there two Brits and an American we'd met at the hotel. All are studying in Kashgar and they were on a holiday trip by public transportation. We also saw bicyclists who have cycled from France and the three vehicles of German families. Also made stops to photograph sand dunes, one with Yaks.
Middle 80 km of the road were in bad shape with many many slides burying and river currents washing out sections. It is a never ending battle. A big slide last year (we drove over the repair work) washed out the road stranding Hong Kong tourists in Tashkourgan three weeks while a temporary passage was opened. (They had no Pakistan visa so couldn't retreat)
Once the road started down toward Kashgar we got away from barren land to fields (rice, barley, potato, wheat) and villages of mud and stone houses.and lots of trees which surprised us. Trees are many poplar. These oasis towns have always planted trees, but for ten years China has had a policy that each Chinese has a duty to plant five trees per year. I doubt that many are planted byt there are a lot of young trees.
We got to the Ka Shi Quiniwake Hotel (pronounced Chinibak by Rob) about 5:30. Hot and tired, but think what it would have been like without any air conditioning, let alone on camels or horses. I have a cold. The hotel was refurbished last year to celebrate fifty years since the Communist Revolution. It is a joint China-Pakistan project with two buildings, but Pakistan has pulled out and one of the buildings is closed pending its sale (why not use it to bring in money until it is sold?) Rooms are ok; there is 24 hour hot water. Our room overlooks a kind of shanty town where people apparently live, right up against the back side of the hotel which is considerably less nice looking than the front. It also looked like storage for building material.
Good dinner. Rob orders dishes heavy on veges. The sweet and sour pork went down very well. There is beer here.
Latest news on the border problem. China has closed the border with Kyrgystan for the holiday May 1-7. This is mainly a commercial border so is closed on weekends anyway. They are not closing the Khunjerab border which is largely people. They only decided this on April 24. Kyrgystan is still closing its border May 8-10 for a celebration of Russia's WWII celebration. Upon negotiating the Kyrgys have backed down a bit and will re-open the border a day early, on the 10th. It looks like we'll have two more days here than previously planned and we thus need to cut two somewhere later. Rob suggests going to Yarkand and the Taklamakan desert. He's working with out person in the China Tourist Service on alternatives
There is a TV in the room, but no BBC or CNN. They have game shows, news, American movies dubbed in Chinese with Uiger subtitles. Chinese movies with English subtitles and news with English subtitles.
We walked around a bit after dinner with Frank. Not many people were out, though we learned later we had not walked to the busy part of town for small shops. Many of the small shops we did see had TVs to draw customerts. One had a group seated around the side walk watching TV in an almost theater like arrangement.
Saturday, May 6
Breakfast at the "informal British consulate" in late 18th & early 19c. Home of well known early (and about the only) Brit in the area, McCartny (sp?) It now belongs to the hotel and appears not to be used except for two downstairs dining rooms. In the morning we went to Abakh Hoja tomb (mausoleum), built in 1640. There are 72 people buried in 50 tombs inside What look like above ground coffins (stone) covered with fabric on the main floor just mark the place while actual burial is below. It was built for the king known as the Islamic mess .??? And his family including descendants. We also saw a Friday mosque there only used for prayers on Friday, and a mosque for daily prayers as well as an Islamic school which is closed. And a large cemetery. By law one cannot study religion until age 18. Parents can teach it but children should study sciences and technology for progress before 18.
Nine years of school is mandatory in China. 80% do three years of high school. High school and university now hav efees (about $400/year) Scholarships are available. Admission to university is by national exam. Healthcare is no longer free. One can buy insurance. If one has no insurance there is no treatment according to Abdul.
We walked through the old city en route to lunch in a Uiger home in the old city. On the way a boy stopped us and asked us to come to his grandmother's home. She was in the court yard area with her two daughters who had had babies several days apart. According to tradition they hac come home to mother's house with their babies for 40 days (they would stay longer because they were still completing sewing for the baby as I understood it.) The floor of the court yard was dirt and the babies had no pants or diapers. When we came in one was being held over the floor and was pooping the young boy covered it with some dirt. This was also done in Indian families when I was there. Incidentally, the grandmother had a stock of hats she had embroidered for sale. This house is typical for as we walked around we could see through curtains hung at street doors into pleasant courtyards filled with plants.
Lunch was at a Uigar home. It is in traditional style (50-100 years old, they didn't know) with a central open court yard in which at least some of the cooking and washing up is done. The meal was very nice, served on floor mats in a formal room with niches for vases, flowers & other display items. There was a curtain covered alcove piled high with mats. All very colorful. There were piles of food the big bagel type breads prominently featured (but hard to eat). Two main dishes one noodle and once rice and carrot. We ate so much we all stretched out on the mats and fell asleep. Rob was "very proud" of us. Most Americans are in too much of a hurry and can't relax. We certainly relaxed and Rob says it would be a compliment to the host. The Uigers follow the joint family system. Eight live there, including one very new daughter in law. There are no personal rooms, family members take a mattress and sleep anywhere.
On a wall in the old city we saw a sign listing the names of the neighborhood committee. The members are lected and serve to settle disputes in the neighborhood. They could be called in on family disputes as well, but families rarely admit their conflicts. This committee elects a delegate to the city which elects delegate to regional government which elects a representative to the national government. A sign next to this one was about birth control and the importance of study science and technology for progres..
In the afternoon we went to the Id Kah (?) mosque, the largest in China, though it was closed for repair.
We walked through the bazaar and especially an area where many things are made bending wood for steamers for dumplings, brass and cooper containers being hammered, shoe making, musical instruments etc.
Women's clothing is generally Western and generally in very bright colors with most women wearing dress shoes heels. Many of the women are in suits which are severe and unattractive in cut and made of bright reds and pinks often. Also a lot of quite fancy dresses. Some of the more religious women wear a scarf over their face. Kids all seem to know hello.
The mosque had rules posted including "no breaking wind or loud talking." Another sign pointed out several times the state has given money to restore and keep the mosque up. Sign ended with a statement about "this shows the government's commitment to preserve local ethnic cultures."
In the hotel room we found a directory of services including a price list for items in the room ranging from "teapoy" (small) 150 RMB (yuan), Blanket 400 RMB, "quile" cover 65 RMB, Carpet 1,000 RMB, Bathtub 150 RMB . I guess this covers damage as well as the possibility of taking one of these items. Rules were also listed including: "Never to privately let others stay or exchange, transfer and replace rooms or beds." "No prostitution, going whoring, spreaking salacious articles and videos in hotel." We watched a bit of TV. No chinese news in English. We watched what we thought was a bruce Lee movie, but decided it wasn't, no kung fu. It was in Chinese (probably Canonese) Taiwan with titles in another Chinese (mainland? Mandarin?)
English is the universal language here for those who don't speak Chinese or Uiger. It is interesting to watch those who speak English poorly and with heavy accents try to straighten things out with hotel staff whose English is not a lot better.
Sunday, May 7