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Brad’s Travel Diary

Monday, 05 Sep 2005

Location: Gilgit, Pakistan

MapSince last writng I've traveled quite an incredible distance, probably getting close to 3000kms! Way too much time spent on a moving object...

The day after my last post I left Zahedan at early in order to begin the mammoth journey to Quetta, the first town of any size in Pakistan, about 12 or so hours away. After arguing for half an hour with the taxi drivers to the border (they tried to charge me eight times the amount it cost Iranians) I eventually found a nice one who ended up taking me for free to the border corssing into Pakistan. Although I had anticipated some problems at the border, it was the most straightforward crossing I've made yet - the whole process only took about 15 minutes! Feeling justifiably elated I bought my ticket on one of the more expensive, 'luxury' buses to make the long journey across the desert to Quetta to in comfort. WELL, little did I know my worries had just begun...wecome to the bus ride from hell.

I jumped straight on the bus after crossing the border, which left pretty much straight away...only to drop me off at a cafe in Taftan, (the hot, dusty border town five minutes from the crossing) teeling me the bus didn't actually leave for another four hours. Feeling a little irritated, I sat there, drank some tea, and consoled myself that it would be worth the wait because I was on one of the good buses. Sure enough, the bus came to pick me up an hour late, and we began the long long drive to Quetta. After driving for about an hour we came over a rise to see several men dressed in black standing on a hill next to the road waving guns in the air and running towards the road! I sort of freaked out for a few seconds until it became apparant that it was some soldiers from the Pakistani army. A dozen more men were scrambling out of a truck and running into the desert towards a figure in white who seemed pretty desperate to get over the horizon and out of sight asap (Osama?)! Such was my introduction to Pakistan...

All seemed to be going smoothly (well, as smoothly as the TERRIBLE road would allow) until about 9 o'clock when our 'luxury' bus irrepearbly broke down in the middle of the desert - about fifty kilometres from Afganistan. Everybody unloaded their stuff and proceeded to camp out in the desert, until about 2, when another bus with some spare parts arrived. We got moving again, only for the bus to break again just after sunrise. At least this time it was close to a small village, so me and the thirty other crazy looking bearded men sat and drank tea while the problem was fixed. After an hour or two the bus was pronounced well again and we set off again. The journey went pretty smoothly from here, until about 100kms from Quetta we stopped at a police checkpoint. Apparantly there was something wrong with out luggage (all tied to the top of the bus) or someone was trying to smuggle something in, or some problem, which resulted in the bus turning around, driving half and hour back and spending another two hours preforming various actions concerning the luggage. FINALLY, after getting through the checkpoint and lumbering up a pass at about 5kms per hour, our bus staggered into Quetta at 6 in the evening - 26 hours after we left.

Quetta is a pretty crazy place, everyone wears the shalwar kamiz, a kind of tunic and loose pants, so I've bought one too and people have been staring at me a bit less. It's a very dirty place, with rubbish being burned in the streets and unbelievable air pollution from the hundreds of motorbike rickshaws (mostly vespars with a carrige attatched to the back) and the trucks passing through the town. Pakistani trucks are amazing, they are nearly all hand painted with bright, intricate designs, pieces of metal (like chimes) haning off them and some even have flashing light displays on them at night.

After two nights in Quetta (there's not really much to see there) I splashed out and got an air conditioned sleeper carrige to get to Islamabad. It was a good thing I did too, because that trip went halfway across the country (not in the direction I wanted to go) and back, and took 32 hours! It was pretty comfortable, and I shared the carraige with some nice middle class gentlemen, who shared their food with me and talked all about Pakistan. Unfotunatly Pakistan is the most sexist, gender-seggregationist country I've been in; it's a pretty rare thing just to see a woman, in the streets the proportion is about 98% to 2%. What I want to know is, where are they all?

I ended up staying in Rawalpindi the closest big city to Islamabad. Islamabad is a bit like Canberra, its a planned city and is quite pretty with lots of parks and trees, whereas Pindi is a great big chaotic dirty city. I spent a day there organising my visa for India, and then headed for the hills.

...and what hills! Running through the Northern Areas of Pakistan is an incredible road called the Karokaram Highway, which links Islamabad to China over the wetern Himalayas through some of the highest, most rugged terrain on the earth. The first stage of the highway, from Islamabad to Besham in not so inpressive, but yesterday I caught the bus from Besham to Gilgit (the largest town on the highway). The road follows the Indus river, clinging to steep rocky cliffs and dwarfed by the huge mountains on either side. Rockfall is a constant danger - twice the bus had to stop because there had been a rockfall and we had to wait for it to be cleared.

Today I'm leaving to do a short treck (three days) up the to Rakpori Base Camp. I've hired a guide who's organising everything for me (food, tent etc.) and we'll set off tomorrow morning. We spend most of the second day crossing a glacier, and no doubt the scenery will be unbelieveble. Check back in a few days to see the pictures...