A May 2001 trip
to Pakistan by themymble
Quote: Feeling blue and full of flu one Sunday teatime in February, I booked myself on to an expedition with Exodus. It started in Islamabad, Pakistan, and took me along the notorious Karakorum highway, and over the highest road pass in the world.
* The Hunza valley, which is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth
* Visiting schools in Alliahbad and Ganish Khun
* Crossing a Very Scary Rope Bridge
* The strange pearlescent water
* The view of The Cathedral Mountains
* Climbing in the Hunza valley, and seeing the Gulkin Glacier, which had chasms that have altered the definition of 'big' in my mind's dictionary.
* The scent of olive flowers
* This trip was run by Exodus, and I cannot recommend them highly enough
* Girls, wear punjabis - or at least baggy clothes and a head scarf. People stare at you less, and it is much cooler.
* The fruitful Hunza Valley is supposed to be well worth seeing at blossom time. And the dried mulberries are excellent.
* You might find www.toursim.gov.pk helpful.
* See the Chinese part of my big adventure at The Silk Road - After Marco Polo (part two)
Despite its unprepossessing outside, my room was clean and had a fan, a shower and a bed – which at the time was all I wanted. Looking back, and comparing it with some of the other places we stayed, it was expensive for what you got.
As to the swimming pool…it is in a pleasant (compared with what’s outside) green courtyard, and it’s not at all a bad place to sit. I peered through the brick screen to see what the other women were wearing. There were about six of them wearing light cotton dresses, shrieking and splashing. Later I ventured in myself. I’ve swum in worse-coloured water, although I’m thinking of a pond. The water was green, and I couldn’t see the bottom. But the temperature was climbing, and it was cooler than my shower, which was stuck on hot. Two of my travelling companions introduced themselves, and laughed at me for swimming fully clothed. "It’s what the other women were wearing," I replied rather sniffily.
"Oh those weren’t women," said Alastair.
"The pool’s been full of transvestites all day," Sam added.
Other highlights included seeing a man in leg irons chained to a policeman eating his breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The food was fine – although if you are craving familiar, homey western food, hope on. Our driver claimed that when he first came to Flashman’s, there was a sign on the door ordering customers to leave their guns with reception.
Flashman's also has a secret bar - although Pakistan is dry (being an Islamic country) – you can sign a chit saying you aren’t a Muslim, and they let you buy bottles of beer to drink in your room.
I recommend Flashman's only because it was amusing. I wouldn't want to stay here for more than two nights.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on December 8, 2002
There were a dozen two-man tents stashed away, but as we moved south and it got hotter most of us lay under the stars. A good sleeping bag should go on the top of your packing list, and a roll mat too.
The toilet facilities consist of um... trowels, bogroll, disinfectant hand sprays and a private spot. In very flat parts of the desert, sometimes there is nothing for it but to rely on people not looking in your direction. We only had enough water for washing round the edges, but we stayed in hotels one night in three or four, so things never got that bad.
We mostly kept the green canvas sides furled – because there was so much to see, and for coolness. We rolled them down against sandstorms, and one day when it rained and other trucks threw up great sheets of water. I felt sorry for the cyclists we passed, despite their bright rain capes. When it got cold we sat rolled up in our sleeping bags – I wished my duvet jacket was not still at my parents’.
We broke down twice; both in the middle of nowhere. Our leaders and guide sorted it without swearing too much. Another time we got a puncture – again, this just meant we were a bit late starting. And really, who’d expect to drive right across China without a few technical hitches?
We had some brilliant camping spots, which I will mention in separate entries. Often we drove quite a way off road in search of a sheltered place, or a stunning view, or sometimes because our drivers liked bouncing us across rough ground. It might have been in part to deter passing drivers from nosing round. However, a few mornings, we found the wheels had sunk into the sand, so we couldn’t go anywhere until we’d put sandmats down. We would give her a mighty shove, the driver would make a dash for solid ground while we followed with the gear.
Our leaders, Jez and John, were superb. Both were old hands and added hundreds of little touches that made life easier. John also has a fine collection of stories that go down nicely with a few bottles of beer and a campfire. He was very proud of the truck because he’d helped design it.
We all got rather fond of the old girl, and were sorry to leave her in Beijing. I left some of my books aboard – I like to think of them travelling on without me.
You can investigate Exodus holidays by clicking here.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 14, 2002
One of our leaders suggested barbecued chicken - whole chickens are cheap and always fresh, because you pick them out of the flock. I sighed with relief. Jointing a chicken is one thing I do know how to do.
"I’m making pakoras," announced Nick suddenly. "We did that on my last trip, and it was great. You need is flour, potatoes and spices."
So we set out in search of pro-things. The vegetables were either limp or squishy and flyblown, but we picked out a fairly perky cabbage.
We found a place that would sell a couple of chickens. They took us round the side of the shop and showed us the chicken pen.
I looked at Nick. He looked at the hills. I looked at the fat biddies happily scratching in the dust, clucking contentedly to themselves. "Um," I said, "We’ll have… thatoneandthatone." I pointed out two at random, hoping they were wicked chickens.
The shopkeeper caught them by their feet and took them, protesting at this affront to their dignity, to the far side of the pen. The clucking was cut off with a thud. And then again. He offered me the warm bodies. I compared them in my mind with shrink-wrapped chickens from the supermarket. Something wasn’t quite right… "Please could you pluck them?"
He looked puzzled.
I mimed feather pulling. "For cooking," I added, rather un-necessarily.
"One hour," he said.
We made the pakoras – the practice batch was brilliant – crisp on the outside, hot and fluffy in the middle. We ate most of them ourselves. The second batch was not so good. It was something to do with chilli sauce, judging from the taste, and they stuck to our hands, the mixing bowl and the bottom of the frying pan.
Expedition leader John took one bite and then a long swig of beer. "Stew is fine; poison pie is not."
And then Alastair and Sam returned with the chickens in two plastic bags. "I think he misunderstood you."
They’d been boiled. The greyish meat was falling off the bones. And, horrors, they still had squishy, livery, lungy, hearty things inside.
I jointed them as best I could and put the pieces sadly on the grill. We disguised them with an emergency satay sauce of peanut butter, chilli, honey and orange Tang powder. John supervised the chilli very closely.
For pudding we gorged on cherries. We’d come at just the right time of year, and they were lovely. Plump with thick, sweet juice, dark and shiny. We’d bought them first thing and they’d been sitting all day in water with a few crystals of potassium permanganate added to kill any nasties.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on December 15, 2002
On this 220 yard bridge you can look at your feet and the fast flowing Hunza River at the same time.
We were on our way back to camp from a day out on the Gulkin Glacier, and our expedition leader, John, decided this bridge (which is pictured on the cover of the Lonely Planet Karakoram Highway guide) was something we needed to see. Perhaps it was his way of working out what his new group was made of! Our drivers took us down off the main road and our local guide, Shabbir, led us down the zig-zag path to the river.
As soon as I saw the bridge, my stomach churned, my knees melted, and my lungs seemed about half their normal size. I looked down at the fast water 30 feet below and thought, If I fall in, there is no way I could swim.
Three of the boys strolled on, looking as if crossing rivers on spans more holes than bridge was part of their daily commute. I decided it was best to sit quietly and watch.
But John said: "Are you not going over, Clare? I’ll take a picture."
All I had to do was hide my fear behind sarcasm: "Do I look like Indiana Jones?"
Instead, what came out was: "Gosh, why not? Here’s my camera." What was I thinking? How could I have been less afraid of that bridge than I was of looking like a big girl’s blouse?
A hand on each wire, I shuffled forwards. I found that if I kept my eye on the next slat, I could stride normally. "Wow. I’m doing it. I’m actually doing it!" I was so cocky I looked back to have my picture taken.
A quarter of the way across, I suddenly became aware that, instead of slat-watching, I was focussing on the river, and it occurred to me that it would be easy to put a foot wrong. Then some nasty little boys started coming in the opposite direction, giggling and bouncing.
The photos were taken and no one could say I hadn’t been on the bridge, so I decided that my work here was done. I turned around and retreated, as fast as was safe and dignified, to solid ground.
This is more of a curiosity than a major tourist site, but it’s a good diversion on a trip along the Karakoram Highway. I didn’t notice any signposts on the way down, so it’s probably best to ask a local for directions.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 23, 2003
The whole arrival thing happened quickly – one minute I was walking across hot tarmac; the next I was whiling away a short queue by comparing passport stamps with an American girl I’d met on the plane (she won by virtue of being a diplomat’s daughter); and then suddenly I was on the airport forecourt with a bag that was almost bigger than me, wondering what I should be doing to get a taxi to Flashman’s Hotel. (See separate accommodation entry.)
While I hesitated a religious service in a language I didn’t recognise came on the loudspeakers in the arrivals hall. I saw a man walk past carrying an enormous gun. I suddenly felt very far from home. Then a swirl of cheeky sparrows landed in front of me and somehow it all seemed a little less alien.
A woman dressed in black and white strode purposfully up to me. "Taxi?" she demanded. Before I had time to reply she picked up one handle of my bag and half led, half dragged me to her yellow cab, which was decorated inside with a generous display of plastic grapes.
Having ascertained that I did want to go to Flashman’s ("Not good hotel. Plenty better."… "But I’m meeting friends there."), she told me that she was the first woman taxi driver in Pakistan, and that a journalist from an English newspaper was coming to interview her. I was rather intrigued by this, but she turned the conversation to her weighty catalogue of health problems. I had no idea one person could have so much wrong with them.
We zoomed through town – instead of indicators, use your horn. When you overtake, use your horn. After not long at all, I found myself standing with my enormous bag on the forecourt of the concrete horror that is Flashman’s Hotel. "Reception is there," said the only lady taxi driver in all Pakistan. "I could take you to another hotel if you want."
How much is it to take me back to England, I wondered, as the eight hour night flight and a bad case of homesickness caught up with me.
Tunbridge Wells, United Kingdom