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First Days in the Northern Areas of Pakistan

Gilgit is a multi-faith town, with Sunnis, Shiites and Ismailis co-existing relatively peacefully. As little as ten years, ago sectarian violence erupted in the town and consequently it now has a very heavy army presence. Gilgit has a harsh exterior (lots of men in Pashto hats with long dark beards and serious expressions) but a soft interior (friendly smiles and handshakes for "guests"). When we set out in the morning to explore the town we weren't even sure if it would be appropriate to photograph people. We began cautiously, but by the end of the morning people were popping out from every corner requesting a photo or offering us a cup of tea. It took a bit of adjusting when people offered us tea, we were used to our Indian reply of "how much?". People seemed a shocked by the suggestion that we would pay for tea after being invited! We visited a cobbler, whose shop walls were plastered in posters of scantily clad Indian filmstars , a kebab stand and a bread making shop. We sat in the bread shop after being invited by the baker sweating away, pulling naans out of a huge clay oven. He didn't speak any English and he and his three co-workers were all Afghanis. Their small assembly line was cracking out flatbreads at an furious pace and restaurant workers were coming and going, picking up fresh bread to go with their kebabs. We were surprised by two bottles of ice cold mountain dew delivered to us, a gift from the bakers. The two drinks probably set them back the equivalent of 15-20 bread sales. Walking back towards the hotel we had to start turning people's offers of tea down, there were just too many. We couln't leave the bazaar without picking up a few pashto hats though, little did we know that we chose the Chitrali hats instead of the Gilgiti ones (we remedied the situation a few days later). The main thing to do in Gilgit is people-watch, and once we had enough of that we took a mini bus towards Skardu, the base for K2 viewing treks. The ride was another painful one, 18 people in a van designed to fit 10. The road to Skardu is a narrow, rocky one, perilously winding alongside the raging Indus River, beautiful but scary. In usual Asian fashion our driver was driving way too fast.

We weren't doing a trek, way too expensive and way too tough, so we didn't actually really know why we had decided to go to Skardu. The town is conservative, isn't very pretty and we didn't exactly get a warm welcome either. There are even fewer women on the streets here than in Gilgit (we saw five in Gilgit, zero in Skardu, in the words of a fellow blogger the last time it rained in Skardu it rained men). We huddled in our hotel room wondering what to do next, we couldn't bear the thought of doing the return trip to Gilgit the next day.

What we ended up doing was taking an overpriced taxi to Satpara Lake about 10km from Skardu, there are only two hotels on the banks of the lake and we had a quiet, cool, peaceful setting for two nights (except that they are building a big ugly dam and they work on all night). The eve of our departure it began to rain, and rained throughout the night. Our taxi back to Skardu had trouble getting us up a small hill that had slightly turned to mud overnight (I really wanted to suggest that I drive the car up the hill, but I didn't think that would go over too well, but he was pretty painfully incompetent). With only one rainfall, the main road between Skardu and Gilgit had also completely degenerated. After a few hours of driving we arrived at the sight of a giant mudslide, with a few mini buses deeply submerged and a few dozen others waiting around. Our minibus company had another one of its buses stranded on the other side of the mudslide, so all we had to do was empty our minibus and switch to the other one. This saved us alot of waiting, it didn't look like anyone was going anywhere for a long long time.

3 comments:

Jean said...

I had to tell Mom that that was a photo of Yann as a Taliban.She was shocked.lol

mom said...

Not "shocked" more surprised as on a quick glance I had no idea it was Yann. Handsome in any culture...

Anonymous said...

coucou mes 2 amours,

Est ce que c'est toi Yann ou Youssef Lamontagne, j'ai regarde bien des fois avant de dire que oui c'est mon beau Yann. Nous avons montre la photo que tu as envoye a ta mere et Raymond l'a montre a grandmaman. Gros choc, elle pensait que c'etait Gerald Larose (chef syndicaliste au Quebec). Ou est ton beau chandail jaune et tes pantalons bruns,

On t'aime quand meme, meme deguiser comme cela.

Faites attention a vous, on vous embrasse tres fort et o vous aime beaucoup beaucoup.

Ta vieille matante Denise et mon Oncle Raymond.

P.s: Si cela continue avec vos deguisements, vous allez faire faire une crise de coeur a mon beau Raymond.


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