Saturday, November 24, 2007

Train to Lhasa

Train to Lhasa, originally uploaded by Nice Logo.

We’d been contemplating whether, or how, we should go to Tibet. I was not keen on paying the PRC for expensive permits to visit Tibet, it seemed absurd them proclaiming Tibet part of China’s motherland but then also charging for entry permits, which directly fuels the regime.

Jackie got a message from a friend who had just got the train from Goldmud, without a permit. So we decided to give it a go ourselves. We got the night bus from Dunhuang to Goldmud arriving at around 5am. We got a taxi to the nearby train station and got a ticket over the counter, using our guidebook and ordering in pigeon mandarin for the 5.30am to Lhasa.

It’s a beautiful 15 hour journey from Goldmud to Lhasa, on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (QTR). The train line is the highest in the world, going to heights over 5000 metres and has oxygen on tap. It has caused much controversy, provoking H.H. the 14th Dali Lama to warn of ‘cultural genocide’ as Tibet’s famously isolated homeland of 2.8 million is linked with China seething 1.3 billion, a point echoed by many in my film Team Tibet.

As it was early, 5.30, and we’d be travelling through the day, we’d bought the cheap (170 RMB) hard seat ticket. The carriage was packed mostly with Tibetans, but also Hui and Han Chinese. Some had an insane amount of luggage and could have been migrating. Others looked like they were Pilgrims. We took our seat and soon our friendly neighbours were sleeping on our shoulders and sharing their bag of boiled eggs.

There’s only so many boiled eggs you can eat and we hadn’t come as prepared as others in our car. We tried the ever popular instant noodles but they don’t fill you up so we headed to the Canteen car. In the Canteen car we met people from all over Europe, USA, China… Including ‘Geeza Haniker III’ and ‘Alicia Skipper’, two members of 'European Train Enthusiasts'. We had some good food, which wasn’t too expensive. It was great place to sit, eat, read and watch the stunning scenery go by.

The road runs close to the rail track at times and we passed scores of Tibetan pilgrims, prostrating their way to Lhasa. The plains were full of Yaks and a lone shepherd. We saw huge birds of prey flying in the unbelievably blue sky high above the snow capped mountains.

At one station there was a lot of construction, we were told it was going to be a hub for the ‘development’ of Tibet. The train bringing raw materials and migrant workers.

As we approached Lhasa, there was much excitement amongst the pilgrims in our carriage.

Nice Logo's Train to Tibet photosetNice Logo's Train to Tibet photoset


Team Tibet Film


Sand buggy, originally uploaded by Nice Logo.

We got a night bus from Turpan to Dunhuang, the full moon lighting up the desolate desert landscape. I watched it unfold from my narrow bed until I drifted off. When the bus stopped later that night for an improtu mid desert toilet stop the moon had set and the sky was a wash with stars. It was f f f frrreeeeezing cold.

The main attractions at Dunhuang are the nearby Mogao caves and huge Sand dunes. The caves are expensive (180 RMB) but well worth visiting. Set in a canyon stretching almost 2km, the caves contain over a millennium of Buddhist art. Unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside.

The Sand dunes, or Mingsha Shan aka Shazhou (Town of Sand), near Dunhuang have been turned into a ‘gated’ tourist mecca with sand buggy's, camel rides ... Your supposed to pay around 120 RS to get in ! although its easy to just walk in to the left of the main entrance. The first day we did this with ease and got a sand boogie up to the top, we went the next day with two friends, Jackie from Glasgow and Ben from San Fransisco, but got spotted walking up, by 'The man in Black' dressed in a snappy suit and bombing around on a sand buggy.

More info on Mogao Caves at:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


From Urumqi we got a sleeper bus to Turpan with Tristen. Turpan is a legendary desert Oasis, at 154m below sea level it is the second lowest depression in the world (after the Dead Sea) and is also known as the hottest spot in China. It’s famous for it’s silk road history and ancient settlements

We stayed in a hotel near the bus stop, behind it was the markets, busy with mainly Uighur traders and shoppers. There was plenty of Nan bread, Yoghurt and fruits especially grapes of which the region is famous for.

In the town square at night we saw TV news projected on water fountains, which seemed both spectacular and ridiculous, this supposedly being an oasis town in the middle of the desert. The news was from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Communist Party conference in Beijing.

Opposite was a huge outdoor pool hall, where we stopped for a game with Tristen.

The next day we hired a car with Tristen and a Chinese Buddhiset Nun for a tour around Turpan taking in Gaochang and Jiaohe Ruins amongst other sites. It was a good day but as often with tours it felt a little bit conveyor belt, tick the box. The entry to each site wasn’t cheap and soon added up. The ruined cities were impressive though and well worth it.

Gaochang (Khocho Ruins) was originally settled in the first century BC and rose to power in the 7th Century during the Tang Dynasty. Also known as Khocho it became the Uighur capital in AD 850 and a major staging post on the silk road until it burned down in the 14th century. We didn’t take the ‘donkey taxi’ deciding to walk around the ancient dusty desert city.

The Bezelik Caves were not that great and were pretty much empty after being looted most famously by German archaeologists in 1905. Known as 'Thousand Buddha caves' the name means a lot of Buddhas rather than an exact amount. Tristen was not impressed and said "Its like everywhere I've been in China, slightly disappointing

Driving around the region we saw many square vented structures, which are were used for drying grapes and other fruits.

We had lunch at a Uighur Restaurant in Grape Valley. It was a nice spot, eating outside under vines for shade. We had Laghman, hand pulled noodles with Veg, which we had a lot in Xinjiang, it was one of the few veggie options we knew how to order in Uighur restaurants, and was nice.

We stopped at Emin Mosque, an Afghan style mosque and minaret, founded by a Turpan general Emin Hoja, but didn’t go inside. Outside the mosque were many stalls selling local fruits, grapes and raisins alongside tourist tat. The Peoples Republic of China flag was raised on the entrance gate ensuring you remember who's land it is. 'Religion, Tourism and Commerce'.

The Jiaohe Ruins were probably the most impressive site. Also known as Yarkhoto, it's one of the world's largest, oldest, and best preserved ancient cities. 6500 residents once lived here. It was established by the Chinese during the Han dynasty (206 BC - AD 220) as a garrison town.

We met many tour groups, mostly Chinese, their guides talking through hand held tanoys and leading the masses by flags. We had to make use of our guide book and the useful signs in ‘Chinglish’ that would give in depth knowledge such as “The layout of the whole temple is full of characteristics’.

The next day we took a local bus out to nearby Tuyoq. The bus was held up on route, by the PRC army on parade wielding shovels? I took a photo which upset their boss, who came onto the bus shouting ‘No Photo’. The bus which was full of Uighurs didn’t seem to enthused about the display and delay.

We had a great day just wandering around the area and old town, walking up to Tuyoq Mazar, the symbolic tomb of the first Uighur Muslim.

We jumped on the back of a local tractor/ taxi to get back to the bus stop, where we had some delicious Laghman, whilst waiting for the bus back to Turpan, we ended up getting a shared taxi back for around the same price as the bus. It was a much more rewarding way of getting about and cheaper than the tour yesterday.


We spent longer than intended in Urumqi. Urumqi is a big city but easy to get around on great cheap buses and the city had a good feel to it. We tried but couldn’t get our lens fixed here, so we got a 50mm 1.4 lens to use in the mean time.

We found this great Hot Pot restaurant near Wuyi night market. You pick skewers of vegetables, tofu, mushrooms etc, from the shelves then cook them at your table in a huge hot pot which has a soup base with tons of herbs, spices, onion, ginger, garlic.

It was great as it can be hard ordering vegetarian food because of the language barrier. We have written down in Chinese and Uighur “No meat or fish please, we only eat vegetables”, which works most of the time. There’s great Vegetarian food here, including Tofu etc but they often like to sprinkle port bits on top. Sometimes there is an English menu or pictures, on one menu under vegetables it had ‘duck intestines’ and ‘old man fungus’, you can see why we liked the hot pot restaurant so much.

We sat outside alongside the bustling night market. To pay the guy counts how many sticks/ skewers you’ve used. We’re sure the couple opposite us were throwing a few of theirs into the street. It was a great place and cheap with Beer around 3 Yuan (20p).

On the way home a guy insisted we join him and his mates for a beer in a KTV (Karoke Bar). Why not. This one was a little scruffier than others we’d seen, we went in, through the warren of corridors and was given a room. Beers came and the guys selected their favourite love songs to crone along too. A little later a parade of girls came in, some in jeans others a little more skimpy, and stood for selection! This wasn’t just a Karoke place, a couple came and sat by me and the guys. We made our excuses and left, the guys stayed.

Claire and her friend Andrea came a few days later. I went out to ‘Fubar’ a great pub run by an Irish guy, to catch the Rugby final with them along with Tristen from Washington state US, and Ken ? also from OZ.

There was quite a crowd there including one South African and a load of young English volunteers who were out here on the British equivalent to the US peace core - teaching English. The game didn’t start till around 4am Beijing time (?) so there was plenty of time for drinking before hand. Also met Josh from Oregan who is living here and working as a Uighur to English translator. It was quite a night with more drinking when we got back to the hostel till way past sunrise.

I got maybe an hours kip before we had to leave to get a bus and taxi to Tian Chi (Heavenly Lake). Andrea was leaving the next day, so it was her last chance, so still a little drunk to be hung over we went for it, us, Claire, Andrea and Tristen. It was a Beautiful drive, the trees glorious in their autumn fall.

Tian Chi is beautiful but over developed to the point of turning nature into a theme park. Large TV Screens display images of nature at the car park and entrance. We took the well laid path and bridges up to the lake, signs would alert you to ‘be civilised’, that ‘green grass is afraid of your trample’ and ‘Please have mercy on the green grass’. There were plastic bins modelled on trees or the endangered Panda bear. At the lakeside you can get dressed up in 'traditional costume' and have your photo taken.

We saw two couples having their Wedding photos taken whilst we were there, wearing trainers and jeans underneath their wedding dresses to try and keep out the cold breeze. We were told its quite common to have your wedding photos taken like this, going to several locations, like a photo shoot, not on the day of your wedding. Coming down we followed the road taking short cuts down sketchy trails and under barb wire, which was more fun.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


One of the first things that struck us in Kashgar was the people, so many types of faces and it was if everyone was speaking a different language.

Kashgar, an important centre on the infamous Silk Road, has been an important trading town and cultural crossroads for over 2000 years. It is the heartland of the Uighur people, whose language and culture is more linked with Turkey and Central Asia than China. As well as Uighurs the city is a also a mix of Pakistani traders, Mongols, Kyrgys, Tajiks, Persians, and Chinese.

In the last 10 years the city and area has changed drastically with the opening of a modern road and rail link, which has brought a huge influx of Han Chinese people and modernisation. Most of Kashgar is now a modern Chinese city but the old town and character still lives on.

‘At the end of WW11, Xinjiang declared independence as the Republic of East Turkmenistan, aided by Mao Zedong in exchange for Uyghur resistance to the Nationalists. But after Mao’s founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the fledgling state collapsed when most of it leaders died in a mysterious plane crash en route to Beijing to negotiate with the new regime.
Xinjiang was subsequently declared an ‘autonomous region’, an Orwellian sleight of hand that has failed to deliver much in the way of autonomy. Although China has invested substantial funds developing Xinjiang’s infrastructure, Uyghurs frequently argue that all the good jobs and business opportunities are dominated by Han Chinese’.
Lonely Planet - Pakistan & the Karakoram Highway (2004). 6th Edition.

We got speaking to a Uighur Shoe maker, who spoke excellent English, in the Old Town. He said that he hasn't much work nowadays, everybody is buying the cheap 'imported' Chinese shoes.

In Renmin (People's) Park a Statue of Mao Zedong, one of the biggest in China looms over the square.

We had our ‘17th anniversary’ (celebrating the day we met 7/10/90) at Intizar, a beautiful Uighur restaurant around the corner from our hotel. The huge lavish restaurant was packed, the mix of people was amazing, everyone wearing unique hats according to their backgrounds, Uighur, Tajik, Pakistani, Chinese…

We met Mae, a Chinese girl who lives in New York, at the Seman Hotel. She came with us to book a table for a party/ meal for my birthday, on the 10th October. There was a ‘Uighur music/ dance programme’ happening at the restaurant behind the Seman and we booked a table there, Mae negotiating that we could bring our own wine and booze.

We invited Claudio, Fernando and Lili, and a few others we had met, either travelling here from Pakistan or in Kashgar. There was about 14 of us and lots of booze, many of us had just come from ‘dry’ Pakistan, it was a messy night, which at some point included me dancing and singing to Rick Ashley on a stage in some other club.

We had a great time in Kashgar, staying a week. We made some nice friends their too, including Jon, Zoe and Claire who we met in the busy atmospheric food market. Jon was from Sydney, Zoe from China and Claire from Adelaide.

We were there for the end of Ramadan. Uighurs also call this their holiday. At sunrise it seems everyone flocks to the mosque then feasts in the broad daylight! After 1 month of fasting during the day, they now really go to town and there’s a frantic festive atmosphere around the food stalls of the old town, where people chomp on mounds of flesh, nan bread, fruit… Outside the Id Kah Mosque, Uighurs and other Muslims gathered and danced a piper and drummers played music from on top of the mosque. It was nearly all men dancing but a few women and kids joined in. There seemed to be more people asking for alms, outside the mosque and on the streets. Most were elderly and some disabled. The women had their faces covered with a brown cloth.

The day before we were looking around the Old Town with Jon and Zoe and got talking to a Uighur couple who invited us into their home. They had one very homely room which was their bedroom, living room, and kitchen. We all sat on the rug and they proudly showed us pictures of their family. Jon, had a Chinese to Uighur phrase book and through this and much sign language we sort of understood each other. They invited us to come back to theirs for food on the morning after Ramadan. We took some Watermelon and Grapes and met one of their friends.

Later that day we went up to The Apak Hoja Mazar (tomb), the resting place of Abakh Hoja, one of Kashgar's more popular rulers. Also believed to be buried here is his granddaughter Ikparhan. She is known as Xiang Fei 'Fragrant Concubine' and led the Uighurs into revolt but was defeated and ended up becoming Emperor Qianlong's concubine.

Waiting for the bus from Apak Hoja Mazar we met Amy, a Uighur girl who is studying to be an English/ Uighur Teacher. She invited us into her Grandmothers house which was nearby, and a huge feast was laid out in their best room. Amy came with us to the Sunday markets and helped out as our guide, practising her English.

The infamous Sunday Livestock market may have as many cameras as camels but still manages to feel sort of timeless. Mostly Uighur traders barter for Sheep, Goats, Cattle and most iconically camels.

Our camera lens had been playing up for a while, but luckily Jon another keen photographer let us use some of his lenses. Thanks Jon!

Nice Logo's Kashgar photosetNice Logo's Kashgar photoset

Tashkurgan and onto Kashgar

The road from Sost hadn’t been bad, but as soon as we were in China the road turned to a state of the art, super smooth highway with two wide lanes.

About 20km later at Pirali (4100m) we have to get out off the jeep into the freezing night and go through a security post showing our passports, they take a look at some of the baggage. and two young Chinese guards in their snappy uniforms join us in the mini buses making us squeeze up more. They spend the journey bossing our Pakistani driver around, “more heat, slow down, less heat, faster …” and watching Chinese Pop concert videos on their state of the art Mobile phones. Most of the Chinese officials were nice and polite but these two were young, arrogant and enjoying their uniforms too much. When one of the guys sparked up a cigarette up inside the bus, as his mate took a leak on the side of the road, Kaz didn’t hesitate to tell him to go and smoke outside, he seemed shocked but obeyed.

They stayed with us for another 100km until we got to the Immigration centre at Tashkurgan. Being the last out the minibus and inline we got an easy time through Immigration, they must have been bored by this time, others in front had to take their layers off and had a thorough search, it was cold.

A Pakistani guy recommended a cheap hotel to stay in I think it was called the ‘Punjabi Hotel’, and we checked in getting a good deal after bartering for OK rooms at 20 RMB each person, about £1.35 (£1 is around 15 Yen). There were a few drunk Pakistani staying there, with visits from local girls, who looked Russian or perhaps Tajik. We put our bags in the room and went out into the freezing empty streets of Tashkurgan in search of food, along with Claudio, Fernando and Lili. We were escorted by the hotel’s security guard, a tall Russian looking guy in an army jacket who looked like he’d already had 10 drinks too many. The empty modern streets with huge lit blue road signs and pavements looked like suburban LA but with Siberian temperatures.

We found a place where a few of the Pakistani guys from our bus were eating and drinking and got some nice Veggie Noodles and Beer! Our escort sat opposite us and carried on drinking.

He later fell off his chair knocking the table and everything flying, “think it’s time we better walk him home”.

Claudio, Fernando and Lili left the hotel earlier than us, the next morning, as they had to change money, we said we’d see them at the Bus Station. It was a strange walk to the Bus station, watching and hearing Tashkurgan wake up, there was communist style music piped into the streets, it was a cold but bright brisk morning with only a few people about, they didn’t look anything like Pakistani’s or Chinese, more Russian or East European if anything. As we approached the bus station I saw Fernando waving from a truck. The truck stopped and we crossed the road to join them. They got us a lift to Kashgar with a truck driver, there was room for all of us in the comfy heated cabin and he said to give him the same as what the bus cost. There was no sign of the bus and he was going now, so we hopped in.

It was beautiful journey. We stopped at the stunning Kara Kul lake , there were Yurts set up where you could stay but it was freezing! In summer it would be perfect place to camp, not now. A guy past us, walking his camels.

On the outskirts of Kashgar, the driver stopped and started to negotiate with a bus he’d flagged down. We think he’d got some warning about Police, maybe he’d get fined for carrying tourists? Not sure. Any way we paid him 50 RMB each for the lift and he gave some of this to the driver for the remainder of the journey. We got into Kashgar around noon and we checked into what was formely known as Seman Rd Hotel, opposite the grand Seman Hotel. It had changed its name to Shadaar? We got a nice ensuite double room for 70 RMB (£4.66)

The Khunjerab Pass and the road into China.

The NATCO bus left Sost around 10am after we’d passed through Pakistani customs…

The journey from Sost to the Khunjerab National Park gateway at Dih passes through some of the narrowest gorges on the Karakoram Highway. We had to pay $4 to pass through the park home to the rare Marco Polo sheep and Himalayan Ibex. The road climbed for the next 50 km towards the pass, it got colder with snow and ice around. We got to see some Himalayan Ibex chasing each other across the icy hills. Just short of the pass our bus broke down! The driver and his mate opened the engine, which was to the left of his seat and started looking and poking around. When a bus passed, going the other way, the driver jumped on it without explanation and left us on the bus. Atmosphere on the bus was quite jolly for the first two hours then when it started to get colder as the sun dropped there was a little panic. “I don’t want to die here” cried Lili, only half joking. Three hours after he left, our driver returned with a mini bus and a jeep, smiling and apologising. We changed vehicles and continued, crossing the pass - one of the highest vehicle passes in the world at 4730 metres, just before sunset.

The border with China is at the pass, at which we changed from driving on the left hand side to the right, leaving The Islamic Republic of Pakistan for The People’s Republic of China.

Emergency in Pakistan

We were both shocked, but I guessed not entirely surprised, by the recent events in Pakistan with Musharaf declaring Marshal Law (Nov 3rd) and locking up opponents and critics. There are of course many different views on the future of Pakistan's Politics, most people we met had little faith in the government, army and politicians, but yearned for a stable, peaceful country where they could live their lives in peace. We hope the situation becomes more stable quickly. Pakistan is a great and beautiful country with wonderful warm people.


Pakistan Special Report by the Guardian
Timeline of events


We set off early the next morning, after a hearty porridge breakfast, with Kevin to walk the Yunz Valley trek, a stunning and lengthy seven hour hike taking in views of both Passu and Batura glaciers.

Some of the paths were very narrow and Kaz not being too fond of heights was bricking it at times, but with Kev’s help, he’d done this trek before, we made it.

We had an early dinner after the trek at Glacier Breeze Restaurant, a lovely place just below Passu lake and Glacier. Kevin brought some of their famous apricot cake for Lili’s Birthday.

The next morning we had breakfast, including a pot of real coffee, at Glacier Breeze Restaurant then met Kev to do the first part of the ‘two bridges trek’. The bridge looks almost impassable but its quite safe really, but you still get a bit of an Indiana Jones buzz as you cross it, especially as you cross over the fast flowing river and the wind picks up.

We got back to Passu Inn around noon, had lunch (you guessed it Dal, Veg and Rice) then Kaz and I got the bus to Sost the border town before China. We didn’t really want to leave Pakistan, there was tons more we wanted to see, including Chauperson Valley, but our China Visa said we must be in China before 8th October, so we had to leave.

We stayed at Asia Star Hotel in Sost, where we met Lili, Claudio & Fernando again. It was dark when I went out to look for a place to change our remaining Ruppees into Chinese RMB and I felt a little sketchy walking around the dusty border town. It wasn’t that it was necessarily dangerous it’s just that strange atmosphere border towns precipitate and the fact I had quite a big stash of ruppees in my pocket, we had over estimated how much we needed and hadn’t been spending that much.

Nice Logo's Northern Areas Pakistan photosetNice Logo's Northern Areas Pakistan photoset

Saturday, November 17, 2007


The Baltit fort looms over the beautiful town of Karimabad, the heart of the Hunza area and a pull for the dwindling numbers of tourists. Kevin had said last time he was here it was heaving with Jeep Safaris and tourists, because of news reports of instability in Pakistan and especially the Red Mosque siege Pakistan’s 2007 year of the tourist, hasn’t been quite the year they planned.

We stayed at Mulberry Inn which had a beautiful garden with panoramic views of the mountains and fort. We splashed out on a nice room with a huge double bed (most places are twins), nice bathroom and TV (with BBC…)

We done some amazing treks around Karimabad including one up to Ulta Meadows/ Ulta Nala, where there is a huge glacier, coming back along the narrow water channels, with huge drops to please Karen.

We spent most of our evenings at Haider Inn, where the friendly owner Haider and his cooks whipped up a huge feast every night for 70 RS (65p) a head. Another good restaurant we frequented was Hidden Paradise Restaurant, which served great Hunza food including Vegetable Chap Shuro. Their menu was perculiar with attractively named dishes such as ‘Water, Salt, flour and rancid butter cooked together in a pot to make a plain dish often eaten by pregnant women’.

A man we met in a newspaper shop/ news agency invited us to his house for dinner, we walked together to his village delivering newspapers en-route, he must be the oldest paper-boy in Pakistan. His wife cooked us up some fine Hunza food.

It was good to get a newspaper from him too, The Dawn, and catch up on what was happening in Pakistan and the world. There was a good article in it - ‘Would Orwell have been a blogger?’ by Robet McCrum, reprinted from Guardian/ Observer.

From Karimabad we jumped on the back of a Suzuki to Aliabad where we got a bus with Kevin to Passu.

On the bus we met Lili from Spain/ Mexico and Claudio & Fernando two brothers from Brazil. We all stayed at The Passu Inn having Dal, Veg and Rice for dinner.

Rakaposhi Base Camp

We got a minibus from Gilgit to Mirapin with Kevin, a bloke we met at Madina Guesthouse. Kevin was from Shefield and emigrated to Canberra, Australia, six years ago and has developed the strangest ozzie cum Yorkshire accent. Kevin loves Pakistan, “It’s my favourite country” and has been here six times. Last time he was here he climbed up to Rakaposhi base camp with his mountain bike then whizzed down at break neck speed. This year he’d been up two times already, without bike, but the weather wasn’t clear. He’d brought all the gear, snow shoes, tent, cooker… “I’ll give it one more go”.

We stayed at Diran Guest house, a beautiful place with a stunning orchard garden. We had an early breakfast the next day and set off around 8am, ish. It was a good long days walk but we reached the grassy meadow of Tagaphari (3261m) by around 3pm.

There was a Kitchen tent at the top hosted by ‘Dali’, as David our friend from Spain dubbed him due to his curly tosh. Dali cooked us up some well needed Dal and Rice. We decided to stay the night and they pitched us up a small dome North Face tent. Kevin had his own gear and food as he was hoping to stay a few days. The only other people at the site were three Australian girls plus their guide, cook and porters.

We took a walk up the mountain bank opposite us for fine views of the meadow, glaciers and peaks. The glaciers from above look like a mountain range themselves, as if you were flying over. En route we befriended the camp goat. The goat thought it was a dog and followed our every step.

It got cold at night but we were pretty snug in our tent with all our clothes on and the thick sleeping bags we hired off Dali.

In the middle of the night, Kev said, from his tent, “are you awake, its been snowing, you’d best push the snow off your tent”, I pushed and tapped it off from the inside then went back to sleep. Later in the night the cook from the Ozzie camp came over and shook our tent. The next morning he was saying that he had been up making sure the snow was off all the tents as if it gets too thick you can suffocate from lack of oxygen in your tent!

It had snowed heavy in the night and the meadow was now thick with snow. It was going to be fun going anywhere. Kevin decided he better come back down with us as it would be difficult to go anywhere up there. We had breakfast then set off down, our goat following us all the way. It was a little tricky as the snow was quite thick, around 20cm, but we managed to find a path. Karen, white with fear, was dragged by Kevin and his Ice pick through the worst bits.

We stayed another night at the Diran indulging in their lovely roast potatoes. The next morning we got the bus north to Aliabad where we got a Suzuki shared taxi to Karimabad. Kevin headed back to Gilgit, but would be heading north later.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chitral to Gilgit

We got the 7am Jeep from Rumboor to Ayun, missing breakfast, where we got a bus to Chitral. Ramazan (Ramadan), the holy month of fasting for Muslims, had started a few days ago. Muslims should fast between sunrise and sunset, nothing should pass their lips during this time not even water. We had been staying with a Kalash family, who being ‘kafir’ or ‘non belivers’ don’t follow Ramazan, so it had not been a problem getting food during the day. In Chitral it was a different matter. It’s rude to eat in front of people who are fasting especially in public. We managed to find a hotel where we could score some food, the curtains drawn, we tucked in. It felt like we were having a cigarette behind the bike sheds. After visiting the post office we got a shared jeep to Mastuj. We met Caroline, an English girl from York, who was sitting next to us on the Jeep, she was living in Mastuj and teaching at the school. She was fasting saying, “It’s easier when staying with families”. It was a beautiful and bumpy four hour ride to Mastuj. We stayed at Tourist garden, where Caroline also stayed. It’s a lovely place with a beautiful garden with peach, pear and apple trees, surrounded by the reddish rock of the barren Hindu Kush mountains.

‘Iftah’ is the meal Muslims break their fast with after sunset each day. This is usually done with dates and some snacks such as Pakora, followed by dinner. In Mastuj, what sounded like an air raid siren marked the starting time. This is also published in the newspapers, on TV and radio. We joined the family for Iftah, then asked if there was anywhere to watch the cricket.
Fahed the youngest son (10), got very excited by this and suggested someone’s house. We trekked across town to a families house who had satellite TV. We had missed the England V New Zealand game, which England lost by five runs, but managed to catch Pakistan beat Australia by six wickets.

Fahed became our guide for Mastuj and took us on some great walks around the town and up to ‘Donkey Rock’ which had some amazing views, but looked nothing like a donkey. His mate joined us and we met another friend who was carrying a rifle, “Want to shoot some stuff?”.

We stayed there three nights, also catching the dismal England Vs India game, before catching the NATCO bus to Phander. A stunning journey over the Shandur Pass (3810m), where a huge Polo festival takes place every July with games between rivals Chitral and Gilgit. The bus stopped at Shandur for a while and a Tea shop called us over. The bus conductor treated us to tea and biscuits even though they weren’t partaking due to Ramadan they insisted we should.

The road followed the Gilgit river, the colour of which changed from a shining turquoise to jade to silver to grey, impossible to capture on photograph. In Phander we checked into ‘The Over the Lake Hotel’ and went for a walk around meeting most of the small village, including a very friendly teacher and his family who invited us in for tea and bread. They were not following Ramazan, “We are Ismaili, we cannot do Ramazan, we also need to work in the fields, we can’t work if we do Ramazan”.

The majority of the people in this region are from the Ismaili Shites branch of Islam, which was founded in Iran and arrived here via Afghanistan. Their current leader is Prince Karim Aga Khan who lives in Paris. The hills were full of welcome message’s to him, from his last visit here. The Ismaili women dressed in bright colours and were less concerned with fully covering themselves with veils.

We had meant to stay only one night but the 10am bus, the second bus of the day, whizzed past us, full. There was no other bus, we waited on the side of the road for a jeep which didn’t come so we stayed another night, a bit pissed off as we wanted to catch the Semi Finals of the World Cup Twenty20 cricket.

We went to the large PTDC hotel which was closing up for winter, but a few staff were still there. We asked if we could watch the cricket, nobody could receive the channel which had the cricket on, but we managed to listen to the commentary, half English, half Urdu, and watch the score change on a small text box on a news channel. We had Iftah and dinner there following the Pakistan V New Zealand game, which Pakistan won by six wickets. India beat Australia by 15 runs setting up an exciting India V Pakistan game for the final.

We got up at 4.30am the next day to make sure we caught the first bus, which came just after 5am. The road from here was a lot smoother, but for some reason Karen got travel sick here, maybe it was the greasy parantha we necked before jumping on the mini bus. We got to Gilgit around 9.30am, checking into the Madina Hotel. Dave, the Australian guy we traveled through Iran with, recommended it to us “Say hello to Mr Yacoob, he saved my skin, getting me on the plane after I had kidney stone problems”. It was a nice place, the rooms set around a pretty garden, and they had well needed hot showers! Mr Yacoob is a very nice guy and a bit of legend.

We had a sleep, shower, shave, then headed to the plush Gilgit Serene Hotel. Situated above the town and giving stunning views across the valley to Dumani and Rakaposhi peaks. We had a walk around, then stayed for Iftah and Dinner served outside in the gardens with an amazing view and sunset.

The next day we took a walk through Raja Bazaar down Punial Road to Kargah Nala, catching a taxi the last part of the 5km journey. Buddhism flourished in this region, traveling through here to Tibet, China and other parts of Asia. Carved into a rock face at Kargah Nala is the image of Buddha, which may date from the 7th Century. A lad showed us a tricky path to get a closer look then invited us to play Ludo with him and his friends. Kaz won. We walked back to Gilgit via the village of Barmas following a water stream. A beautiful peaceful walk, we were joined only by a shepherd and his goats.

We got back to Madina just in time to watch the Final of the Cricket, Pakistan V India. It was a great game, especially towards the end where it got very close and tense. It looked like the game was over when Pakistan’s Afridi, “favourite shot, anywhere for six”, got caught out on his first hit, but then Misbah had a great run hitting a few sixes, taking Pakistan very close to victory. India won by 5 runs after Mishbah got caught out by a hit which was heading for six and would have meant victory for Pakistan.

Nice Logo's Chitral to Gilgit photosetNice Logo's Chitral to Gilgit photoset

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