Tag Archives: Karakoram Highway

An Ancient Fort in Shangri-La

13 Oct

I was lucky enough to go on an amazing trip round Pakistan a couple of years back and spent a few days up in the mountains in the North East of the country, not far from the Chinese border. We stayed in Karimabad, a small village thousands of feet up in the Karakoram Mountain range. Our lovely little hotel was set at around 4,500 feet and we craned our necks as we sat on the verandah to see the mountain tops, at around 30,000 feet. It was Springtime and the entire valley was smothered in the pale pink blossom of tens of thousands of apricot trees; a staple crop, Oxfam sells them in Britain and they’re delicious.

The Hunza Valley is reputed to be the inspiration for the novel Shangri-La and it was an exhausting journey to get there, two and a half days on the Karakoram Highway, the little minibus struggling slowly as we climbed up the Indus Valley towards China. The sense of scale is staggering. There is nothing like it in Britain. Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales and England, is 3,000 feet, lower than our Karimabad hotel. I sat on the verandah in a little wicker chair padded with beautifully embroidered cushions, in the Spring sunshine, sipping green tea from delicately painted china cups and drawing with ink and wash.

Ink and watercolour: Baltit Fort, Hunza.

I don’t usually do landscapes, but I had to try and get something of this glorious country into my sketchbook. This is the view I saw; the ancient fortress of Baltit built on a precipitous rocky outcrop at least another thousand feet up again from my hotel and the ‘Lady’s Finger’ peak towering above. The area is glacial so there is no rain but snow lies on the mountain tops all year round. Villagers grow their crops by careful irrigation and an ancient technique of ‘seeding’ the glacier, which encourages it to spread down the mountain towards the villages.

The drawing is done in Faber Castell Pitt drawing pens and coloured with watercolour washes, using Windsor and Newton artist’s half pans into an A3 Cotman watercolour sketchpad.


Apple Pulp Cake and Eggbound to Gilgit

2 Oct

Spicy Apple Sultana Cake.

It’s been a great year for apples and apart from the glut on our own tiny trees, people have been generous and given us loads, mostly cooking apples. I’ve been trying to find different uses and recipes for them and yesterday Melvyn juiced half a carrier bag full and made us some sensational fresh apple and cucumber juice. It was gorgeous and just the thing for this brilliant Indian Summer we’re having.

One of the problems with a small domestic juicer is that there’s a lot of pulp. I know I could put it in the compost bin, but I hate the waste. I’ve developed a lovely carrot cake recipe with pulp, so today I experimented and made this spicy apple sultana cake. It’s quite puddingy as I used nearly a pound of apple pulp but it’s really nice served warm with cream. I drizzled some of our home-made elderflower syrup over the top as it came out of the oven to glaze it.

Ink drawing: Bisham, Pakistan.

The drawing is one I did in a tiny travel sketchbook on my trip around Pakistan back in 2007. I travelled with 8 Brits, 16 Danes and varying amounts of Pakistanis in a minibus throughout the plains and mountains and one night we stayed in a government hostel in Bisham. The next day we woke up to this amazing scene – mountains bigger than any I have ever seen and a beautiful valley studded with flowering trees. The only thing available for breakfast was eggs – in abundance – and we travelled onwards to Gilgit on the Karakoram Highway quite eggbound.

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