Jeep Tour K2 Trek Snow Capped High Mountains Valley Travel
Close shaves in the Karakorums
A personal account of her first five days with KJTl'97 by A.W.
"As I stepped out of the plane there was an instantly
noticeable difference - the air, the smells, the sounds, the faces in the
crowds. This was going to take time to adjust to. This was unfamiliar
territory. This is not what I was used to. This was
For the past 3 weeks I had been so immersed in the sounds, smells,
scenery, and people of
We have just fought our way across town narrowly missing two men perched
precariously on a bike that weaved in and out of buses and trucks, also piled
high with grinning men. Now I'm sat in our air-conditioned hotel room taking
stock of all that I have seen today... oh yes, and trying to get used to the
long shirt and HUGE trousers, known as a Shalwaar
Chemise, that I'm currently sporting. Apparently the financial status of a
....Just returned from dinner. Karim and Shardil,
our jeep drivers, took us to eat out in their favourite place in
Day 2: Mingaora - 28/07/97:....Just
arrived at the
....Once we'd settled in and showered, Karim and Shardil took us out for dinner to the Pathan restaurant in Mingaora. It was a fascinating place. We stepped inside remembering to remove our sandals and were shown to a mat on the floor around which we sat cross-legged. A variety of dishes were brought for us, and I was just about to study them closely when... the lights went ou t . The locals carried on as normal and didn't appear to acknowledge that anything out-of-the ordinary had taken place. We were soon to discover that power cuts were not uncommon. In fact the few locals to own watches could probably set them by the power cu t s (and more than likely did - could this explain the mysteries of Pakistani time keeping?). It was strangely atmospheric sat chatting, eating and laughing in the dark and just as we'd accepted it is as the norm... the lights were back on again. No sooner had we stood up in order to grasp this opportunity and find our sandals, than the lights failed once more. Eventually we found our way out of the door and back to the Jeep, albeit in a bizarre mismatch of footwear...
Day 3: Chitral 29/07197: ....I've just h ad a shower but thought I was never going to get clean! A whole day standing up in the back of an open-top jeep, racing along dusty roads and mountain passes can get a bit grimy - but great fun. It was so exhilarating whizzing through villages waving at t h e kids who'd stop and grin back at us. one of the strangest things I have realised, is that although today we have travelled through an immense variety of landscapes - along vast flat valley bottoms, through narrow, remote gorges, and up and over mountain passes - no matter how desolate or deep the gorge, or how precariously perched on the edge of a mountain road we may be, there are shouts and cheers as we drive past, and kids arrive from nowhere running along the rivers edge or down the mountainside to g reet us!
....As we climbed higher into the mountains there was an amazing orange glow, lighting up the sandy road ahead, contrasting sharply with the lush green terraced field down by the river's edge. We soon began the windy ascent that would take us to th e top of the Lowari pass. We stopped at the top to take in the impressive view. Just then, the cloud came down to deprive us of it, and it got a little chilly in just our Shalwaar Chemise. Karim led us down to an isolated hut to shelter. We stepped into t h e murky shack to find three elderly men. who happily took us in and made us tea. By the time we had drained our cups and said our thank yous and goodbyes in stilted Urdu, the cloud had liked and it had warmed up. A final wave and we headed off on the stee p and dramatic descent to Chitral
Day 4: Kalash - 30/07/97: ...lt's 8am, no-one else is about and I'm sat on the roof of
the hotel writing this and admiring the amazing view of the lush green Chitral valley. The river below is sparkling in the early
morning sunshine; up above, the snow-capped peak of the mighty Tirich Mir
(highest in the
...Once the others had emerged, a few of us headed into Chitral, with Karim for a wander round the bazaars. The
men began their morning with a visit to the "Shave Wallah"
(a "Wallah" being the Pakistani term for
a person specialised in whichever field prefixes the term...in this case
shaving, I presume!). According to them this is the way to wake up in the
morning. Personally I can't see the attraction. As I watched from a safe
distance they approached a shady-looking character stood under a tree,
cigarette in mouth, and wielding a cut-throat razor. For just two rupees
(-3p), my male companions were treated to a close shave (too close for
comfort, in my opinion, even from where i was
stood) and a great deal of face slapping(?l). The
whole experience was finished off by a face massage using what smelt
suspiciously like Dettol, and completed at
lightening pace; cigarette still in m outh (albeit
burnt down to the butt and with an inch stack of ash teetering precariously
close to the top of each clean-shaven customer's head). I shouldn't imagine
there is an equivalent for ladies in
After the Plate Wallah had cleared away our
lunch things, an d we had collected our clean Shalwaar Chemises front the Washing Wallah,
we headed off in the jeeps into the
After two hours penetrating further into the heart of the mountains, through some fantastic scenery, it became apparent why the Kalash tribe we were hoping to stay with that night had remained undiscovered until only sixty years ago. Just when we were beginning to wonder whether there could be any form of settlement in this remote part of the world, we heard shouts and laughter from down by the river, now fa r below us. A group of young girls were swinging from a rope suspended across the water. All were in black cloth dresses, each with bright flashes of yellow, orange and red, and headdresses of similar fire-inspired colours. A little further upstream we saw more flashes of yellow, orange, and red, bobbing through the fields This time, though it was the real thing. Five flaming torches were being carried down to the river by women and girls, presumably as part of a fire-worshipping ritual.
As we got nearer the village we heard shouts of "Asparta! Asparta baba!" - "Hello! Hello sisterly - from the women and girls, and once we arrived we were welcomed by the son of 'Saif Ulah', the leader of the Kalash people. Ironically, we were told that Saif Ulah himself was i n Chitral. As the people's leader he had to learn Urdu then English, (the Kalash speak in their own dialects and have no written language) and actually went to law school in Peshawar in order to try to safeguard the future of the Kalash whose land is rapi dly being encroached upon by the Muslims. To our delight Saif Ulah arrived back in the village unexpectedly early, and he insisted on showing us round the village; an offer we were more than happy to accept.
Being shown around the village by the leader of i ts inhabitants was a real privilege. It meant that the villagers were not afraid to come up to us and chat away (in Kalashi of course), prod us and generally try to make friends! The girls wanted to braid my hair (all girls' hair is braided from an extremely young age), and the boys were fascinated by my camera. We were followed by our little Kalash "groupies all the way round the village and right up the steep, rocky walk to a platform perched on the hillside and overlooking the whole valley, where, Saif Ulah told us, there would dancing that night.
The men were then taken further up the hillside to a sacrificial site, where each year honey bees and walnuts(!) are summoned to the valley. Being a woman, and therefore 'impure' in Kalash culture it
would have been inappropriate for me to go. However, the other "impure" types and I were invited into a home, recently blessed with a new-born baby, and asked to share in a feast of goats cheese and bread in celebration; an equally privileged offer.
Saif Ulah then le d us on a short circular-walk up the hillside, high up along the valley to get a view of another Kalash village. On our return we found that Saif Ulah's son had been busy cooking for us, and we sat down to a meal by torch light, accompanied by the Kalashi "home-brew" wine, likely to be our only taste of alcohol in this Muslim country. Right now, however, we seemed far away from Islamic culture, absorbed, as we were, in the unique lifestyle of the Kalash people.
I declined the offer of a shower after dinner (the water looked a little too mountain fresh for me...brrr!), and instead made the trip with a few of the others back up to the platform we had seen in the day time, to watch the dancing. It was pitch black and our only guide was the sound of the drumming and monotonous chanting from high above us. As we climbed the last few rocky steps up to the platform. we were drawn into the crowds where fortunately we could mingle and join in unnoticed and inconspicuous thanks to the fact that the Kalash love to danc e in complete darkness.
We managed to find our way back to the others, with the help of some of the villagers, whereupon, exhausted by the day's adventures, I collapsed on my make-shift bed out in the open and drifted off to sleep to the sound of the river, chanting, drumming, and strange sounds of the woodland around me...
Day 5: Gharam Chasma - 31107/97: ...At 7.30pm our food arrived freshly cooked and carried up the hill by two men from the local Afghan restaurant (the "restaurant" was too small for all 1 2 of us to fit comfortably inside! ). we sat in the hotel garden eating, drinking green tea, and star-gazing as it started to get dark. Just as we were contemplating a night swim in the hot spring, \ldblquote Mr Hotel Man\rdblquote (as Karim referred to him), came out to tel l us of a stag night taking place in the village. Karim and Shardil offered to drive us in the jeeps - a little unnecessary I thought, I don't remember the village being far away. Twenty minutes into the most exciting and hair-raising night drive so far a n d I realised why we'd taken the jeeps! It was the most amazing journey. Bumpy, twisty, windy roads, and then up above the most fantastically clear night sky. I truly believe I have never seen so many stars. We passed many men all making the slow journey u p the hill by foot. This must be some party! We decided to get in the party mood, so Karim put our favourite Urdu tape on the stereo and we had a sing-a-long. After a further forty minutes or so we arrived in what looked like nothing more than a dark field . "Mr. Hotel Man" told us that this was the place. Eagerly we climbed out of the jeeps, excited from our pre-party boogying, to find that what we had thought was a dark field, was in fact adjust that. our disappointment must have shown, as "Mr. Hotel Man" w as quick to reassure us that our journey had not been wasted. "Listen", he said, pointing to his ear in a fashion reminiscent of Lionel Blair in "Give us A Clue". As our senses adjusted to our seemingly dark and silent surroundings we could just about make out the sound of drumming, pipes, and cheering and there were faint lights on top of the hill.
A short torch-lit walk, and we hit the hustle and bustle of the party. We had to wait outside while "Mr. Hotel Man" and Shardil, asked if it was alright for us to go in. Finally we were shown into a pitch black courtyard packed with men, where we found that 10 chairs had been neatly set out for us. We sat down (the only ones on chairs) and soon-became engulfed in the sea of musicians and dancers.
I looked around, trying to take in everything that was going on. The men and the older boys were going wild, spinning round in circles to the music; their chanting and clapping hypnotic. Straining my eyes in the dark, I spotted a row of young girls sat on a roof high above the courtyard, giggling at the men far below; and boys perched in trees, the whites of their eyes and teeth glinting in the firelight. The air was thick with the sweet and wonderfully intoxicating smells of the party. We sat for a bit longer soaking up t he atmosphere until the dancing ended and we were informed that the party was moving to a different location. We were invited to follow but, knowing that the drive was long and hard, we decided to head back, our drivers being still a little tired from all their swimming in the hot spring earlier on in the day...
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