On Top of the World

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Kashgar - a bustling Chinses city full of minivans and electric scooters and very busy - a bit of a shock after Kyrgistan pastoral scenes. But fun for a dya.
Our liaison officer, Abdul, a mild and pleasant Uygur (they make up 15% of the popultation in the Uygur region, Kyrgis - 80% and chinese only 5%) had the unenviable task of trying to keep track of 8 headstrong and differently minded people as he gave us a tour of the bazaars and old town of Kashgar. 'Herding cats' is I think the phrase. However, he accomplished it with real gentleness and politeness and I think even enjoyed the experience. During the course of the day, more carpets/rugs were purchased, along with other interesting items because, after all, we had just had 5 days of genuine deprivation in Kyrgistan where the most exciting purchase was some bottles of beer and a swiss roll.

We had our tastebuds re-awakened be authentic and excellent chinese food on several occasions - my stomach didn't know what to do with all the fresh vegetables - after weeks where the speciality was shashlik (kebabs) when they had any, that is, it was wonderful.
Our second night we ate in a restaurant in the former British embassy - now a hotel, but not as nice as the one we stayed in - in the old part, which is over the top Edwardian splendour and was where Shipton - mountaineers may know - lived and worked in between trips up mountains.
Then off to the border vis the start of the Karakorum highway.
On the chinese side, the highway runs through a flat plain bordered by high mountains. There is pastureland all around and all the way along, groups of yurts and families pasturing their animals, all Kyrkis. We stopped at Kara Kol Lake, about halfway to the border town, for lunch and had fresh baked nan, clotted cream and salt tea in the house of a local family, watching the mother sew one of the traditional felt rugs.
Our last night was in Tashgurgan, where we were to leave Abdul once he had seen us through the customs formalities. At dinner, he produced 2 bottles of Tibetan wine, which he had purchased for us, because he knew we were interested in trying anything local and he had asked a friend to recommend something - we were really touched. The wine, which Roger intends to introduce to the Wine Society, proclaimed itself to be 'Tibetan Barley Ice wine" and was very interesting and very drinkable.
Chinese customs wasn't too bad - Abdul smoothed it all through, though there were mutterings about us having to stay with a bus because of border troubles, which in the end came to nothing - though they again checked us all with a machine to see if we were harbouring any deadly diseases, or lice!
Then on with the road and wound our way gently up, through some check points and suddenly we were at the top of the pass and saying hello to some well spoken Pakistani border police. And no-one down with altitude sickness and no vehicle over heated or with brakes failure.
Then the descent and how amazingly different on the other side. On the chinese side, the mountains remained still at a polite and awesome distance right to the top. Once over the pass, they crowded in and we were in precipitous gorges, water roaring by, the very image of the Karakoram. The road surface deteriorated immediately and though I'm sure this is partly due to chinese efficiency and industry, it has to be said they have the easier job. This side rock falls affect the road all the way down and they have teams constantly working to clear them Apparently a 2 year project to upgrade the road is due to start soon, bringing in 10,000 chinese workers.
Through Pakistan corder control and customs with the help of Ali, a rep from Walji's, the company HK has links with here - including a medical from to complete confirming we don't have AIDS, bird flu, SARS etc and not suffering from a headache, cough, snivels (!) etc. The got to Karimabad, a town perched on the side of the valley, with green terraces reaching down to the thundering river below and views of snow capped peaks.
Today, one way and another we've all been to see the 13th century Hunza fort at the top of the town - some of you will no doubt be getting a postcard of it - it forms part of the entrance ticket. The guide who took me round with Sally, Dave and Ann-Clare was brilliant - an economics student in his summer vacation doing the job for love of it, a local guy, with an absolute passion for the area and its development. I learned more about Pakistan in an hour than I've ever known.
After that, strolling around town, into the surrounding fields and - yes, I'm afraid. yet more carpet buying - couldn't possibly say who or what, but there had better not be too many more buying opportunities, or I'll have to get a bank loan.
We continue on down tomorrow, passing by Gilgit - we haven't made a decision about stopping there yet - apparently there has been trouble at times and it's not recommended. I wouldn't mind a look just to say I've been there - it was a major name in 'The Great Game'. but we'll see.

geo! 36.307 74.632

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This page contains a single entry by Deborah published on August 15, 2008 8:05 PM.

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