It was snowing lightly when we rose at 7 a.m. and a shroud of mist enclosed the whole valley, cutting visibility to a few hundred metres. By the time the minibus turned up, our packs were covered by a thin coating of snow and the ground was becoming white. The mini-bus ride down to Gilgit was quite exhilarating. The road was somewhat slippery in places and a few small avalanches of rock had come down from the steep hills above.
We stop for chai at Gulmit while the driver bled the brakes, then we carried on down to Gilgit and booked into the Hunza Inn once again. We had a hot wash from a bucket of water then caught a Suzuki up to the Serena Lodge where we pigged out on burgers and chips, read the latest copies of Newsweek and wrote up our diaries.
The others joined us later and we watched 2 videos: Not Without My Daughter starring Sally Field, and Sleeping With The Enemy starring Patrick Bergin and Julia Roberts.
THE LAND OF W.A.R. We packed our bags early and paid the bill then set off to walk up to the minibus station. Halfway there, a minibus pulled up beside us and the driver proffered us his card: P.T.D.C.¹
He offered to take us up to Karimabad for RS35 each, provided we stay the night at the PTDCmotel for RS60 rupees each. We agreed to this and piled our gear onto the roof, and half an hour later we entered the land of W.A.R: water rock and air.
The broad shingle valley of the Hunza River quickly narrowed and the peaks above shut out the sun, throwing the right-hand side of the valley into a cold gloomy shadow. Across all the opposite bank, the old Silk Road followed the contours of the mountains through precarious bluffs and across fans of running grey shingle.
The road rose sharply, in places cut into the solid rock, or taking sharp turns to cross deep, ragged ravines. Below the towering flanks of Mount Rakaposhi, 25,000 feet of solid ice and wind-blasted rock, the Silk Road crossed a sheer face of bare rock, clinging to cracks shored up with walls of neatly built rocks. Every inch of arable land was terraced and every patch of land had a cluster of flat-roof houses and stands of tall bare apricot trees.
We stopped a village called Aliabad, at 8,000 feet, and were surprised to be told by our PTDC man that this was where we would be staying and that Karimabad was “just up the road!” The hotel, which was called Rakaposhi View Hotel, was cold, with no heating, no running water, and the promised ibex stew was distinctly muttony.
We wandered around for a bit, but there was nothing to see or do so we sat in one of the rooms and played arsehole!
It was a full moon at night, and after we had eaten dinner I went up onto the roof of the hotel and took some time exposures of Rakaposhi: a stark, sterile giant of rock and ice seen in negative through the crackling air.
¹Another government organisation, the Pakistan Tourism Development Commission.
NOTE: This text is from the Wikipedia entry for Rakaposhi. The Karakoram Highway link also has some interesting information.
Rakaposhi is notable for its exceptional rise over local terrain. On the north, it rises 5,900 metres (19,357 ft) in only an 11.2 km (7 mi) horizontal distance from the Hunza-Nagar River. There are views of Rakaposhi from the Karakoram Highway on the route through Nagar.
Rakaposhi is the only mountain in the world which rises straight from beautifully cultivated fields to the height of 25,550 feet. From many places, this wonderful spectacle can be viewed right from the base to the top.
Linda and I skipped breakfast and headed off out on our own to do some exploring. We followed a backstreet into the Saddar Bazaar area of Gilgit and wandered through the narrow alleys of the market where merchants squatted amid bags of coloured spices, piles of vegetables, and sides of freshly-killed meat. We spent half an hour watching and photographing a baker and his staff baking fresh naan bread in a traditional oven consisting of a stone bench with a flask-shaped oven set into it. The dough is rolled out flat then spread over a piece of wood covered with cloth, then slapped onto the inner walls of the oven which has a hot fire burning at its base. After 5 minutes or so the naans, which have blistered and bubbled as they cooked, are flicked out with a metal hook and stacked ready to be whisked away to the nearby restaurants.
When we left the bazaar, we walked out of town through the acres of neatly terraced fields, bare of anything at this time of the year except the leafless stands of trees. We followed the dirt road up a long valley for about 7 km from Gilgit where a carved figure of the Buddha decorates a sheer cliff above a steep stream.
The figure is about 2 metres high and framed with a pentangle, and it is at least 9 m above the ground. It was a strange edifice to see so far from civilization, out here in the mountains. However, we didn’t linger too long as it was very cold there were a bunch of quite menacing dogs prowling around and children throwing stones at us. We caught a Suzuki back into town and made our way through the bazaar and back to the Hunza Inn. About 4PM, the five of us headed back up to the Serena Lodge to watch the nightly video followed by a slap-up meal of roast beef and mashed spuds.
We breakfasted on the porch of the hotel with the two poms, Jonathan and Tim, who had arrived on the morning flight from Rawalpindi, then set off to do some exploring in the nearby hills.
The air was cold and frosty, but healthy and full of the smells of winter – cold earth, smoke and animals – and we decided to cross to the foot of the hills on the south side of the valley and climb up to the water channel running around the bluffs about 200 ft above the valley floor. Linda and Magnus chose a diagonal route, which Magnus soon abandoned, leaving Linda, who stuck to her route, for an easy, safer option, while Tim Jonathan and I took a direct route straight up through the bluffs.
It was a good climb and we all arrived sweating and breathless at the top then set off east along the water channel, then south up a steep, narrow gorge leading up into the hills. We followed the steep, boulder-strewn stream for about half a mile into the hills then stopped intending to have a brew of tea, but I couldn’t get our little petrol stove to burn – probably due to the altitude – so we retreated from the biting wind blowing down from the snowy peaks above the river, which blocked out the sun and threw the gorge into an icy shadow.
At the mouth of a gorge, I climbed up one of the scree slopes to photograph the towering Haramosh Peak across on the northern side of the Gilgit Valley.
Once we were clear the gorge, we walk down to the Gilgit Serena Lodge lodge – owned by the same hotel chain that operates the Mara Serena Lodge that we had stayed at in Kenya. At the Gilgit lodge, we ate delicious cheese and tomato toasties, with chips and coleslaw, and drink several cups of hot chocolate while we watched a hilarious video, Shrimps on the Barbie, an Aussie film starring Cheech Marin. Terence Cooper Emma Samms, and a selection of New Zealand and Australian faces including Garry McDonald. By the time it finished, it was cold and dark so we caught a Suzuki van back to the Hunza Inn.
It was a fine day so Magnus and I took a walk up the road leading over to Swat¹. We crossed the river by a swing bridge and wandered up through the terraced farmland above the river, and sat and talked for a while to an old man who is probably telling us to get the fuck off his land!
On the way back to the bridge a young man who spoke reasonably good English invited us up to his house for chai, so we followed him up to a group of mud-brick buildings. We sat in his tiny dark guest room with him and some of his relatives, who all lived in the same collection of houses, while bright-eyed and grubby children cavorted and giggled outside the door. We answered the translated questions of his uncle’s and try to find out a bit about their lives, but most of it was lost in translation. After chai we took some photos of the young man and his family, promising to send him copies² then we descended through the neat, winter-bare terraces to the bridge and walked back to the hotel.
¹The isolated Swat Valley.
² In 1994, when we returned to the north of Pakistan, I took them a copy of the photograph we took that day.
The interminably long trip stretched through the morning, with several long stops, during which Mike [an extremely tall Australian] and I wandered around outside beside the tracks, and played a few kicks of football with a tightly rolled up sleeping bag.
We finally reached Lahore at 2PM and fought our way out of the station into a tuk-tuk which “TUK” us around to the Salvation Army Hostel where we parked up in style with comfy beds and hot, hot showers.
. We caught the train from the Cant Railway Station and left Karachi at 10:30 a.m. precisely.
The train was shabby and crowded, and we were crammed into economy class amongst men, women, children and beggars of all sizes and disabilities.
The trip north was interesting, and most of the Pakistanis on the train went out of their way to be friendly to us by offering us food and giving up their seats for us. The cooks in the dining car even offered Mike and me a blow on their hash pipe!
It became very cold as afternoon drew into evening, and as night fell we all separated to find places to sleep. I ended up on the floor at the back of the carriage, where a howling wind and the clattering roar of the wheels on the tracks came in through the broken door.
And so we came to the end of our time in Africa. Back in Harare, we celebrated New Year with Scotty and Devi at a dance held in the ZANU-PF headquarters, and on New Year’s Day, we went for a picnic with Devi’s relations out to a lake near the city.
And it was on our way home from there that we saw the final wonder of all our African travels: three Rhino, a male and a female with a youngster. The male walked across the road in front of us, turned and glared malevolently at us from behind the impressive protection of his horn. An amazing site to end our African adventures with.
A 4-hour flight from Zimbabwe put us back in Nairobi and we stayed the night at the New Kenya Lodge. There was no water, we were overcharged, and the manager had become an arsehole, so we left the next morning and moved out to Mrs Roche’s Camp on the outskirts of the city.
By a stroke of luck, we got our flight to Karachi moved forward from Thursday the 9th to Saturday the 4th, so at 1 p.m. on that day, we lifted off the runway aboard a brand new Gulf Airlines Boeing 767-300, bound for Oman and Pakistan.
The dark continent fell away below us: a vast patchwork of brown and green beneath the scattered clouds, and soon was lost under 30,000 ft of hazy air.
On the ground far below, a herd-boy boy listened to the distant roar of a jet engine from far away. He gazed skyward for a moment, squinting his eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun beating down between the clouds, catching a glimpse of light reflected off steel wings. His attention was drawn back to his cattle by the bleat of a calf, momentarily separated from its mother. Thoughts of the aircraft disappeared from his mind, and he returned to the thought that an occupied the minds of his people for thousands of years…survival.
SUNDAY 29 DECEMBER The train arrived in Bulawayo at 9 a.m. We took a taxi to the camping ground. Repeat the 10th and did some washing then walked over to the Natural History Museum where we spent a couple of hours looking at the very well set out displays. Then we wondered about in the gardens for a while gradually moving in the direction of town. At 5:30 we went to the movie theatre and watched Robin Hood Prince of Thieves from the comfort of Z$6.50 armchairs.
For tea we bought greasy chicken and chips which we ate back at the camp, then we hit the hay in anticipation of an early start in the morning.