Welcome to Baltistan – II

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The fight - III

By the time I ended up going to Skardu, after a day of indecision and counting pennies left in the bank, it was my third trip [albeit on a different route] on the Karakoram Highway. This time around, I was the only woman in the bus – and similar to my experience in Karimabad, everyone on the bus took it upon themselves to ensure I felt comfortable and was never ill at ease. Of course, this turned a bit awkward when the bus stopped at a rest house at Astak Nala en route to Skardu and everyone urged me to check out the “ladies room”. Attempts at explaining that I just wanted to stretch my legs and have a nicotine break did not go down very well, but the uneasiness vanished away the minute a friendly old uncle urged me to sit down and have a cup of tea and roti with him, and explained to me how Radio Pakistan, where he was employed as a director, functions in the Northern Areas.

But back to the route and the sights: the crazy goras [who I later met in Skardu] who decided to enjoy the seven hour journey on the perilous road where one is easily in danger of having their head lobbed off by the mountains if they’re not careful on the top of a bus. There are the plaques that one comes across often, bearing the names of those killed during the KKH’s construction [according to Wikipedia, 810 Pakistanis lost their lives in the process of building the road], and the rickety old bridges, that link towns and villages together. The yaks [or are these goats?] fighting on the mountainside, with the white one rearing up to lock horns with its mate. The frequent travelers on the Gilgit-Skardu route call out to their friends working in shops or walking by on the road along the KKH, and dozens of streams of melting snow trickle down the mountains. The arguments on the bus: Babar Awan, PPP and fake degrees and the helpful suggestions of what one should do in Skardu. Apricots were left to dry on the rocks, and enterprising villagers flag down every bus and sell them to the by-now starving visitors.

And while the trip is exhausting [you spend seven hours in a bus and then we’ll talk], it leaves one oddly invigorated – there is so much to see and feel, that one is just left breathless by it all. But that’s nothing compared to what the Skardu Valley has to offer, but that’s a story for another day.

The Skardu pictures are still in the process of being uploaded, but you can see the ones from the Gilgit-Skardu route here.

P.S: My deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the horrific incident in Islamabad yesterday.

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