Sept 25 – Passu
After a deep sleep I was unable to sleep past 6:00 and so walked the street (only one) of Sost for a bit, before anyone in our hotel was up. Sost is a border town in the mold of other central Asian border towns. Ramshackle buildings serving as hotels, quick food places, money changers and probably expediters. Our hotel is one of the few solid buildings. On the street at this time quite a few people are out looking for rides on into Pakistan. There are no women and the men almost universally have the over shirt that hangs down like a dress. I met the Pakistani we first met at the station in Tashkurgan. He was negotiating a ride in a mini van down the road; ultimately to Peshawar.
We had an egg and toast breakfast and then headed down the road. I stopped every few hundred meters for a while as pictures leaped out at me everywhere I looked. Soaring mountains rising straight up from the road; groves of trees and fields trying to turn yellow; friendly people, all of whom waved and offered their hellos. The road initially was fresh smooth metal (tarmac), but ultimately we caught up to the road crews and for about 15 km dealt with the Chinese road building crews. Each village we passed through showed us lots of interest. I was given two apples, which grow abundantly everywhere, by young girls who let me take their picture. The fresh metal began again and we had a long fast coast ever downward as we followed the Hunza river south.
Before noon we stopped at Passu and checked into the recommended hotel, had a light lunch and walked in and around the town, as our hike in the area. The people in Hunza are Ismaili and that means the women are not as skittish about meeting unknown men. In Passu we walked around the winding rock lanes and the similarly constructed houses. Each had a patch of garden and apple trees laden with over ripe fruit. It looks like they do not have use for the abundance of apples grown here. It is particularly nice here that the women and young girls say hello and are not overly withdrawn, as will likely happen as we go south in Pakistan.
We had a nice dinner in the hotel and the owner is very pleasant with what proved to be accurate informaion about the way ahead.
We had an easy 40 km ride from Sost today, and a three hour walk.
Sept 26 – Karimabad
We had a nice english breakfast at 7:30 and headed on down the road within the hour. The new metal highway continued, but to keep us honest we had a 200 m climb just out of Passu, which meant that we had a long look down to the river far below us, and then a long fast run down to the river bottom just as the metal ended and we had a 2 km very rough track to the mayhem that is the boat loading area for the newly created lake. .
|There is no dock, boats of various sizes are nosed into the bank and hundreds of porters are carrying loads from the trucks down to the boats. There is no official place for us to buy a passage. We are told we can get on a boat almost loaded. I start to make my way down the bank with my loaded bike, but when I came to big step down in some rocks two porters, one front and one back, grabbed my bike and carried it the rest of the way down. I gave each the equivalent of a dollar. Rich had one guy carry his bike and bags in two separate trips down. The loading continued for another half hour and we were underway.
At this point we are still in the fast flowing Hunza, and a few minutes into the trip we got stuck on a gravel bar. It took our captain half an hour of powering first one of the rooster tail motors and then the other back and forth before we finally broke loose and continued on into the lake proper.
It took us about two hours to cross the 27 km lake that was formed in 2010 when the avalanche that dammed the Hunza occurred. The lake has wiped out the road effectively locking the people above the lake out of normal commerce with the rest of Pakistan. What was created was this lake transport business. The transport boats have been brought in from the Punjab and the boat captain is probably Punjabi as well.
The real excitement happened when we came to the end of the lake. A number of boats were already there, possibly in the best places. We pulled up close to the huge boulders that were deposited by the avalanche, getting to within a meter of the rocks when close to a dozen guys jumped on board and started fighting over our bikes and bags. We had to step across the meter gap to a big boulder and then clamber up through the boulders following our gear. At the top we had a great hullabaloo as every one wanted money. Rich had no little money and so I handed out about 8 dollars to one guy and then hoped that he would distribute it among those that actually helped. Probably not. Our boat ride cost us 500 rupees (~$5+) each. I imagine the porters would be lucky to make $2-4 a day carrying cargo between the boats and trucks.
Now we had 15 km of extremely bad road to get to Karimabad. It started with a rough track up and over the avalanche and then onto the old un-improved KKH. Lots of dust and some considerable climbing which got us way above the river, followed by a bone and bike jarring ride down. Over half an hour pulling on the brakes tested our wrists as well.
It is all over now, after a tough climb back up from the river to a lovely hotel overlooking the green amphitheatre that is Karimabad, the main town in Hunza and which is also referred to as Baltit. We washed out bikes, got more money, had coffee and cake in a coffee house and had a blissful shower. And now we wait to go to dinner. Hopefully the power will come on by then and we can connect to the wifi the inn keeper claims they have. We will spend 2-3 nights here to clean up, do a hike and recuperate.
Today’s ride was 35 of the toughest kms I have ever done.
Sept 27 – Karimabad
I awoke this morning as the sun was rising on the flank of Rakaposhi, 7788 m, that dominates the southern views from |Karimabad. Rakaposhi and its sister mountain Diran, 7270 m, both snow covered year round are part of what makes the setting for Karimabad so spectacular, and in part why Rich and I are planning on three nights here. Today we have contracted with a local guide to shepard us up to the Ultar glacier, which spills down from Ultar, 7388 m, on the north side of town.
We started out about 8:00, winding up through the labyrinth of lanes and passage ways through the town. Our guide, Karim, talked to us about the schools in town, as the children were lined up for their procession into school to begin the day. One of the schools was built by a Japanese woman whose husband died in an avalanche while climbing Ultar. Part of our walk was along the canals that bring in glacier water to feed the fruit and nut fields that seem to occupy more of the town than buildings do. Our way up connected us to three levels of these canals, the uppermost of which took us around to a gully that would take us up to the Ultar glacier, our destination.
The path along this highest canal was very narrow and breaking away in part. I was looking out at Diran and Rakaposhi as they were continually rising to more prominence as we climbed when I heard a yelp from Rich. I turned to see him head down over the side of the path and Karim rushing to grab him. He had put his walking stick down to balance and there had been no purchase for the stick and over he went. I am not sure if he would have gone if Karim had not been there, but it would have been close. He came out of it with bad abrasions on a hand, his arm and a banged up knee. We made our way to a better place to stand and he washed up a bit before we carried on. After a bit, the trail now much wider again, shock settled in a bit and he had to sit down to collect himself. We carried on, but it was certainly a close call.
Once off of the canal paths, a steep rough trail took us up the gulley to a lovely meadow overlooking the glacier and Ultar rising above. We had our hotel prepared lunch and tea cooked by Karim’s brother who is working on a project to bring spring water down to Karimabad. We continually had to shoo away the goats who were bound and determined to share our lunch. We enjoyed a pleasant hour watching the clouds waft around on the spires above us.
Our way down seemed slow as Rich’s knee was now quite stiff, but in fact we didn’t take any longer than most groups. Instead of taking the canal paths we continued down the gully and up over a ridge next to the Baltit Fort, that overlooks the town and for 800 years, until about 50 years ago, been esidence of the Mir of this area.
Sept 28 – Karimabad
This is primarily a rest and clean up day. We are having our clothes washed and walking about town to see things a bit. I started by taking a tour of the Baltit Fort to see how the Mir liked through the centuries. The Mir was both secular and religious leader (Imam) for the Hunza people. One interesting thing I was told was that for hundreds of years the Mir sent some gold each year to China in return for tea and other commodities. A pleasant old war veteran allowed me to take his photograph outside of the fort; he was obviously very proud of his past position.
The fort is heavily fortified as they were continually at odds with the Nagyr, who live across on the south side of the Hunza river. To this day things are not copacetic between these close neighbours. One difference is that the Nagyr practice Shiite to the Hunza’s Ismaili doctrine.
In the afternoon I went to Hasegawa Memorial Public School and College, the one funded by the Japanese in honour of the fallen climber. I had tea and talked with the Principal for a good hour, on all manner of things in addition to education, including such things as religion and the treatment of women. This reinforced the developing opinion I am gaining about the how open people here are and how skewed our perception of Pakistanis can be.
Living so far away and being primarily exposed to people through the international press they attract it is so easy to be misinformed. In just a few short kms into Pakistan I can already see incredible variance with the public persona. The Pakistanis I have met, primarily Ismaili Hunza, do not fit any of the preconceptions one might have. The women are openly friendly, the men gracious and generous. No doubt in a country with this many people and hundreds of different groups there are no stereotypes that will work.
Tomorrow we will mount our bikes and head on down river to Gilgit, and a different group of people.