Archive | 22:24

Jeeps Up The Karakorams

5 Jan

Ink and wash drawing: jeeps in the mountains.

 

About 4 years ago we visited Pakistan, an amazing country, and travelled around in a minibus. We did an incredible 2 day trip up the Karakoram Highway, from Islamabad to the North East mountain region – Pakistani Kashmir. We managed to avoid altitude sickness because our journey took so long, we became acclimatised as we slowly travelled higher and higher. The Karakoram range has eight of the nine highest mountains in the world, including K2. Only Everest in the Himalayas is higher.

We stayed in the lovely village of Karimabad, around 5 thousand feet and built around the ancient fort of Baltit. One day we piled into jeeps and travelled to ‘Eagle’s Nest’ a holiday complex much further up the mountain – about 9,000 feet. The road was punishingly steep and the jeeps crawled slowly, but much faster than we could have done. There was an incredible view of the valley below us, coloured pale pink by the blossom of hundreds of thousands of apricot trees in full bloom. I sat on a rocky outcrop to draw the jeeps, opposite the restaurant where we ate a delicious meal; the cuisine is a mixture of Pakistani and Chinese, we were only about 40 miles from the border with China.

Afterwards we travelled to the tiny village of Altit where the local head teacher had arranged a banquet in our honour. We were expecting tea and biscuits but the entire village had laid on a wonderful spread in the village hall, the only building large enough to accommodate our group and even then it was a tight squeeze. Their generous welcome was so touching because the standard of living in the area is very low compared to Western standards. Everyone has healthcare, education and employment but there are no frills, none of the things we take for granted in the West. For example, the village hall had the only television and video camera in the village, no individuals owned one.

The jeeps had left us in Altit and we all walked back to Baltit, only a couple of miles but at that altitude it was punishing. Elderly people whizzed past us, their lungs used to the thin air, and put us to shame. The garden walls were made of rough lumps of white quartz. As I looked closer, I saw tiny flecks of brilliant colours, green, red, blue, purple – emerald, ruby, sapphire and amethyst. I was incredulous. These rocks are rejected by the local gem mining and cutting industry because the fragments are too small to bother with, so people use them in their gardens.

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