Monday, 6 July 1998
Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan
Getting into Pakistan was more tedious than complex. We got an early bus for the border 35km away without too much problem, only to find once we got there that the border did not open until 1030, an hour later. During our wait we chatted to a very spaced out Swiss electrician who we lost in Lahore but who eventually caught us up in Rawalpindi. The border consisted of a series of posts, eight in all, spread out along 500m of no-mans land. At each post we would have to fill out forms, answer questions about our baggage, have are passports peered at etc. This took about an hour and a half all told and after this we got a minibus to Lahore.
Lahore provided us our first demonstration that Pakistan was generally a more laid back country than India. Having avoided changing too much money with the very unofficial looking money changers at the border we needed to draw more money out in Lahore to pay for our onward journey. We were standing looking rather bit bemused in the midst a sea of taxi drivers of various descriptions when someone reached out of the crowd and said to us in English "Please come with me". We followed the guy to his car and started to panic a little thinking it could all be some scam to part us from our luggage. We got in the car anyway, explained where we needed to go and set off. It turned out that instead of being a ruthless thug this chap drove us around Lahore for free and even asked us back to his house for tea with his family. Unfortunately because of time pressures and not yet having shed the shell skepticism we had built up in India, we refused him. However thinking back on it I regret not having taken him up on the offer.
We then hopped on a mind numbingly slow coach to Rawalpindi. Coaches appeared to be the only traffic willing to pay to get on Pakistan's tolled motorway. However despite the fact that we were nearly the only vehicle on a four lane road, and a 120km maximum our driver insisted on trundling along at 60km, something which annoyed us at the time but we were praying for on our subsequent Gilgit leg. Once in 'Pindi we quickly located the Popular Inn and settled in.
Tuesday, 7 July 1998
Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan
We had originally decided to hit the bazaars on our first day but Mohammed's birthday meant that the shops were all shut up. So instead we hopped on an amazingly decorated bus and headed to Islamabad. The bus journey offered us our first unique insight into Muslim life, it was segregated with women sitting up at the front and men in the back, so I had to part company with Anna for the duration of the trip.
Coming from Rawalpindi Islamabad is like stepping into another world. The Pakistani government decided in the 50's that they needed a purpose built capital and hired a Greek architect in to come up with a blue print. The result was quite a dull grid scheme in which the intention was to make each block self sufficient with a mixture of jobs, shops and homes. The end result is a bit odd, because everything is so spread out, each grid square is huge, it is a nightmare to get around on foot the consequence of which is that everyone drives. This makes the city very disjointed, and it seems to have very little life short of ambassadors receptions and parties thrown by well heeled Pakistanis. However having said all that it is a much cooler and quieter place than Rawalpindi so is still well worth the trip. What was also quite amusing was that we found some rather unusual flora growing literally everywhere through the capital...
The main reason we were in Islamabad was to get some explanation added to Anna's passport. The problem was that the Greek government had decided that as their country is called Hellas that they would change all the English in passports to reflect that. The result is that so far going through border posts although people spoke a little English it was difficult to make anyone understand that "Hellenic Nationality" in fact meant Greek. So we went to the Greek consulate and asked for an official looking letter to explain things to border guards. Whilst waiting for it to be generated there was a fairly amusing incident. A rather rich looking Pakistani walked in and explained that he had a lot of goods he wanted to ship from Pakistan to Europe and he had heard that the Greek shipping fleet was the best in the world so could the consulate recommend anyone. One of the aides thought about it and then replied "have you tried the phonebook". We were amazed.
Whilst in Islamabad we decided to visit the Shah Faisal Mosque, a present from Saudi Arabia and the largest mosque in Asia. I knew that since I had shorts on there was no way I was getting in, however Anna managed to borrow a head scarf and went for a look inside. Whilst she was doing this I decided to relax under the shade of the trees outside the Mosque. Unfortunately relax was the last thing I could do, as soon as I sat down a group of ten men gathered around me and launched into the usual set of questions - where was I from etc. No sooner had they left than I was mobbed by a second group. This time it was a family, the father asked me the same series of questions whilst, I eventually realised, one of the sons video taped the interview. This is one of the differences we found between India and Pakistan, the latter is a lot more friendly. In the big cities in India being asked where you were from was, nine times out of ten, a leader in an attempt to sell you anything from a hotel to mescaline. In Pakistan everyone is a lot more friendly which, although it can be irritating at times, makes travelling a lot more interesting.
Wednesday, 8 July 1998
Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan
Quite bizarrely for me I had been having skin problems for the last few days. Spots not unlike acne had popped up all over my legs with a few on my upper body. Although it just seemed heat related we decided it was best to head for the Rawalpindi General Hospital just to be on the safe side. It was quite a bizarre place, a little rundown but with pockets of modernity. It took us a while to find the dermatology department and when we did find it we were slightly worried because like most other departments there was a mile long queue outside it. However quite disturbingly we were ushered to the front of the queue, we did not argue because we assumed it to be a form of "hospital"ity. It turned out that it was pretty minor and I was given some antibiotics and a cream. I am not sure whether it was this or our subsequent move to less sweaty climes but it was all cured within a few days of that.
That afternoon we finally got down to our shopping. I purchased an off-the-shelf Shalwar Qamiz and Anna had one made. Sadly she picked a fabric for the trousers that was so see-through that she could not wear it without another pair of trousers on underneath. Otherwise it was just another sticky day in 'Pindi.
Thursday, 9 July 1998
Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan
We would have been out on the first bus to Gilgit had it not ben for Anna's Shalwar which was going to be ready at 1800. The morning was dispatched with a bit more shopping but pretty soon it became far too hot to be outside.
As I was suffering slightly from the humidity we decided to pass the time in the hotel with the other Western guests very few of who seemed to spend much time outside of it. We played cards with Andy, an Austrian geography student, and the two guys we met on the Pakistan border Hiro and Faxi. This went on for hours and between hands we managed to assemble the stories of Andy - who would have been travelling in the same direction as us had it not been for his girlfriend getting sick forcing him to return to Austria, and that of Stuart, a farmer from Yorkshire who had spent a total of eight years travelling but had become slightly unglued on this trip because the Iranians had delayed giving him a visa for the last five weeks.
Around 1900 we set sail for Gilgit. At the bus station we had initial disappointment because the last bus was fully booked. However we found the "Office" of another company - a man and a desk in the middle of the street - and got booked on the 2100 bus. At the bus stop we met an ex-sea chef who spoke very good English who worked during the summer at a restaurant in Skardu and was on his way there for the season. He took us to a restaurant he knew to pass the time and imparted a wealth of facts about Pakistani cooking.
Friday, 10 July 1998
Gilgit, Northern Areas, Pakistan
Waking up in a bus with a mad man is bad enough, realising that he is the driver is a nightmare. It appeared that there are two schools of thought when it comes to bus driving. One is to drive well under the speed limit along the motorway, the other is to drive as fast as the bus physically allows actually accelerating into the corners rather than slowing down. Sadly our driver belonged in the second camp and scared Anna to death. The physical rigours of the journey were hard to cope with but in addition we had several near misses including the inevitable crash into roadside just 20km S of our destination. As usual the driver accelerated going into a tight corner but this time there was someone on the other side. Our bus driver dealt with it by swerving the entire vehicle into the rock face, the result was that we got a face full of grit as the bus scraped along the mountain side. Everyone seemed quite jolly about it - lots of laughter etc.
The scenery on the road to Gilgit is amazing, the mountains soar above the Indus and the road is a barely wide enough shelf carved anything up to 1000ft above the river. In between the surrounding barren mountains you can catch glimpses of snow capped peaks of mountains such as Nanga Parbat the eighth largest mountain in the world. Just before Gilgit the Indus valley is a barren desert punctuated by the occasional road side village. You very much get the impression that the real life is up in the hills. At Gilgit you dip slightly into a valley green with trees and the temperature dips from the heat of the barren wilderness before. The temperature, still hot, was made bearable by the fact that there was little humidity. Life also seemed to take a dip in terms of speed, no rushing cars and with a load of white faces very visible not the same level of fascination as we had encountered elsewhere. We found our hotel, the Horizon Guest house, which was run by a New Zealand woman, her Astori husband and his huge extended family. Sadly they seemed to be quite booked out and so the room we got was not very good.
Saturday, 11 July 1998
Gilgit, Northern Areas, Pakistan
We changed hotels for the Mountain Refuge - a bit of a hippy hangout but there we met a few normal westerners. These included Ollie and Chris, a couple studying medicine at Nottingham University, and Lucia and Angelo, an Italian couple who had rented out their market stall slots to go travelling for two years. With them we planned a trip to the Upper Naltar valley, an alpine valley at 3000m in the mountains above Gilgit. This took the rest of the day to prepare for, we had to find a jeep driver to take us to the valley and back, a tent and some provisions. On the first two counts we did extremely well, sadly on the last we didn't spend enough time thinking about it as we realised later.
Sunday, 12 July 1998
Gilgit, Northern Areas, Pakistan
It was a very early start to collect the tent, finish packing and have breakfast. The jeep driver arrived an hour early for some unknown reason and had to wait until we finally got going at eight. Everyone was very chatty on the way there, a two and a half hour drive first on asphalt then on a very rough track punctuated by streams and rock falls. We said farewell to the jeep driver at the village of Upper Naltar and started out on the 12km trek to Lake Naltar.
At first everyone walked quite fast, still chatting to each other and looking around at the lush green scenery towered over by snow gullies, shattered brown peaks. Even a slight detour in the wrong direction was met with good humour. We passed little Gujar kids who cheeped "Rupee, Pen, Rupee, Pen" at us like rows of excited birds. We walked first through the fields of the village and then were out into the wilderness.
After about two hours Anna and I decided to swap backpacks and dropped behind the group to do so. Lucia came to a halt at the side of a trickling stream and the other three stopped right behind her. No sooner had we finished our exchange than we heard a shout of surprise. It appeared that whilst standing there the water had risen halfway up Lucia's leg, whatever had been holding back thousands of litres of glacial melt water further up the slopes had ruptured leading to a tidal wave of chocolate brown water. Ollie was first to react and got across without to much trouble, I set off with Anna to cross in the same place but it was clear that what had been feasible half a minute before was no longer, the water was rising. It looked for a while like Ollie would have to come back but Angelo, and then I managed to get across getting our feet soaked in the process. The three girls were stuck on the other side and an attempt by Ollie to get them to get their feet wet had to be abandoned as a great plume of water announced that the place where he was standing was soon to become a lot wetter. Finally the river temporarily abated and they got across, sadly only to realise that we had another three or four such channels to get through before we were to be back on terra firma. However by this time everyone was totally soaked so it was more a question of blind wading than trying to pick a dry route across. In the pine forest on the other side we finally took off our sodden socks and boots, chatted about our drama and spent a quite pleasant half hour recuperating.
This was not to be the last river that we had to ford. However this time we tackled it without shoes and socks which proved to be so mind numbingly cold that I was not sure which of the two experiences was worst. An hour after this we stopped to have a break by a spring at the side of a twisting river on a mossy plain of pine clad moraines. At this point we were getting suspicious about the stated 12km to the lake and so I climbed a tallish moraine in a vain attempt to spot our eventual goal. However the climb up did achieve one thing which was to exhaust me. From this point on there was little talking. At the crest of every tiny lump or bump raised expectations came crashing to the ground. In fact we realised on the way back that from the "Golf course" as Ollie referred to it later to the lake was little more than a half hour walk but to our tired legs it seemed more like four.
Naltar Lake, it turned out, was not quite what we expected. Rather than a glacial blue lake it was totally clear with a weird green algae growing on its bottom. We quickly picked a place to camp, dispelled any ideas of going for a swim and then went to collect firewood. Once we got the fire going we became the centre of attention. It seemed that half of Gilgit's children had been sent up to the valley for the summer and pretty soon they were all grouped around us demanding rupees and pens. We gave them a few biscuits and Ollie put a plaster on some kid's ankle but it was at least half an our before we were left in peace to sit around our small fire and chat before retiring to the tents.
Monday, 13 July 1998
Gilgit, Northern Areas, Pakistan
Waking up after a night of rain to a fresh mountain landscape is nice, waking up beside a looking glass still green lake is even nicer. The only slight imperfection of that morning was the return of the hordes of kids plus friends. This time they were sorely disappointed getting little more than some chewing gum and a couple of photos for all their tenacity. As soon as the sun had lit up the lake and we had got a few photos of it we headed off in order to catch the various waterways before they really got into full flow under the heat of the afternoon sun. This time it was really routine, we still had the chilling cold of a barefoot crossing of the first stream but it turned out that the deluge of yesterday had been a one-off and where there had been numerous pounding channels of chocolate water there was just one orderly channel crossed via a bridge made of two slimy logs which provided some drama for Anna but was a lot less like a scene from a disaster movie.
On the other side we stopped for lunch and we met two people who were cycling around the world starting from Alaska two years ago. They had a fairly spectacular journey including a totall unauthorised trip from Lhasa to the KKH they had also extended their Chinese visas themselves through the use of a blue biro - a perfect forgery as far as we and the Chinese authorities, could tell. After lunch, in a somewhat zombified state, we trudged the remaining km back to Naltar where we had cold drinks and annoyed our jeep driver by hanging around in the cool mountain air for as long as possible before our return to Gilgit and civilisation.
Tuesday, 14 July 1998
Gilgit, Northern Areas, Pakistan
A rest day, mainly taken up with lazing around and washing clothes. In the evening we walked along the Gilgit river which, despite its amazing power, people were bathing in. We walked up as far as a suspension bridge, not one of the incredibly Indiana Jones style ones that the region is famous for but it still wobbled alarmingly as we, and several vehicles crossed it. On the way back we stopped at a river side cafe where a group of Punjabi tourists introduced themselves. As we had been warned they were as out of place as a group of western tourists and about three times as rude.
Wednesday, 15 July 1998
Karimabad, Northern Areas, Pakistan
We had already made arrangements to get to Karimabad on the first NATCO bus at 0700. The others had opted for a minibus at 0900 that went directly there rather than dropping you at the Ganesh turning, some 2km down the hill. As it turned out we arrived hardly half an hour before them, our driver stopping for hours for tea at Aliabad followed by the loading of sacks of flour at a shop 50m down the road followed by the refueling of the bus using hand powered petrol pumps. Had we have known Aliabad was little more than 5km up the road and we could have saved ourselves an hour!!
The accommodation situation in Karimabad was pretty good, and we found a room with a superb view over the entire valley from the snow capped Rakaposhi to Diran which shines golden when the rays of the setting sun catch it. Coincidentally the others independently found their way to the dorms in the same hotel so we met up very quickly. We planned to trek up to Ultar Meadows and a ridge above them called Hon in three days and so set about trying to find a guide. Ollie located Ali, a colourful character who tried to give us the impression of knowing everything but really just reminded us of a Pakistani Fonz. We found out that the campsite at Ultar meadows was well equipped and so we had little need to take anything apart from a sleeping bag with us. However we still decided to take some supplies with us to avoid overcharging.
Anna's first thought was to get some fruit, however when we looked around Karimabad there was nothing, plenty in the trees but none in the shops. Since we had seen some for sale in Aliabad we hopped in a Suzuki and set off back down the mountain. On the way we got chatting to the guy sitting next to us who turned out to be a farmer. It seemed that the answer to the mystery of the fruit was simple, there were so many apricots in Hunza, its most famous export, that for Hunzacuts they were free. So he offered to take us to his farm and give us some straight from the tree. He was a strange guy and seemed to own half the fields in the valley growing everything from pomegranates to marijuana. We followed him along two kilometres of raised walkways amongst the fields and eventually found a tree of ripened apricots at which point he attempted to fill an entire carrier bag with them. With difficulty we persuaded him to let us off with just a quarter. Getting back to Karimabad proved a little trickier, everyone seemed to say "special rupee" when we asked and we had a fair idea what this would mean. Eventually someone pointed out a Suzuki to us and we got on board. However it took us quite a while to get back as he performed eight circuits of the town in order to drum up enough passengers to make the trip worth his while. When we got back we had dinner together and talked about the trek.
Thursday, 16 July 1998
Karimabad, Northern Areas, Pakistan
The Fonz turned out to not be quite so reliable, he had a commitment in Gilgit so turned us over to his brother who, being a experienced guide, did not get out of bed for less than seventy dollars a day so in turn passed us on to another brother who turned out to be an economics student from Karachi. Although it turned out that we only really needed him in a couple of places it would have been nice if he had been able to provide us with more insight, when asked a lot of glaciers and peaks turned out to be called "no name".
The trek was quite hard going and Anna was suffering from something she had eaten the night before. After a scramble uphill we came up to an irrigation channel. In Hunza all the irrigation is provided by channels gouged out of the rock face which bring water from streams higher up in the mountains many kilometres to hillside terraces around the towns. They are unmistakable because the resultant vegetation creates precise pencil thin lines of green across the sheer rock faces which can be seen from the towns far below. Describing one of these channels is a lot easier than walking along one. The "lip" of the channel, along which you have to walk, is often less than 30cm wide and a degree of stooping is required as the rest of the rock face overhangs the channel.
After a while we reached the terminus of the glacier. The Ultar glacier carries a lot of grit in it and so, like several in the area, is black. The amazing thing is the sound, as the ice within the glacier slowly moves towards the terminus it continually cracks apart and then reforms. The sound of the cracking is very deep and fills the entire valley. At the meadows you come face to face with an almost vertical ice flow which pours out of a basin into which several smaller glaciers flow. Here you can really hear the glacier, in fact the next morning after a snow fall in the night we saw as well as heard when a cascade of ice poured into the basin with a monumental crash.
It took us about five hours to climb the 900m up to Ultar Meadows. It turned out that meadows was a bit of a misnomer - rather than a flat lush green field we found a near vertical grass slope with a shack-cum-restaurant and a few tents set on a flatish bit near the bottom. As soon as we had lunch it started to rain so we got inside one of the yurt-like tents. The interior looked like a scene from the Arabian nights as it was piled high with quilts etc. We played cards for the rest of the day, listening to the rain and the sounds of the glacier.
Friday, 17 July 1998
Karimabad, Northern Areas, Pakistan
I woke at 0430 just in time to catch the dawn which was magical because by now nearly all the clouds had cleared so the sharp peaks above us could be seen, including Lady Finger, and the few wisps that remained were lit up pink in the dawn light.
I climbed back through the bodies into the freezing cold tent and snoozed. Eventually everyone else started to wake up and get going. We had some semblance of breakfast and it was not until 0800 that we set off to climb to a saddle above us called Hon Ridge.
This section almost killed us. It looked like a very short distance but it was pretty close to a 45 degree slope and we had to do lots of traversing and scrambling. The very last section was even steeper and we had to crawl/drag our way up an eroded couloir. But when we finally pulled ourselves over the lip we realised that it was worth the pain. The 4500m high north-south ridge commanded a 180 degree view of the Hunza valley with the snow white peaks of the Himalayas and Hindukush encircling it. We could also see a lot of the Karakoram that would otherwise have remained invisible to us like the tongue of the huge Hispar Glacier. It was a shame that our guide was completely useless, I am sure we would have been able to see K2 if only we knew which way to look. It is no joke that we actually pointed at one of the larger peaks and asked him what it was called only to receive the rather puzzled answer, "a mountain".
Getting back down was twice as bad as going up and I had to do it slowly as my legs felt very weak. When we reached the bottom we had quite a large argument about what we would do next since Lucia and Angelo did not want to push themselves to get back to Karimabad that night whereas I wanted to get down as I knew my legs would cease up the next morning and Ollie wanted to get down so that they could have a full day's rest before moving on to the next place. This put quite a strain on the weak links tying the group together and it was quite clear that after this trek everyone would go their separate ways, as they did. In the end we got down in about two and a half hours, had dinner then crawled into bed.
Saturday, 18 July 1998
Karimabad, Northern Areas, Pakistan
Another rest day, this time well justified on my part since I had bad stomach problems all morning and was only fit to face the world at around four. We all went to a restaurant for a sort of farewell meal but this was a little stilted as everyone was tired and the food took ages to turn up.
Sunday, 19 July 1998
Gulmit, Northern Areas, Pakistan
Heading on we were not quite sure where to go, on the tourist itinerary Passu is next but we were a bit bored of following the crowds so decided to head to Gulmit which is traditionally the capital of Gojal. It turned out to be a wonderful place, the hotel we found was set in an orchard, the food was good, we had a traditional style room and above all the place was quiet.
Once we had settled in we went for a walk around the central polo ground and visited the museum. This was basically another traditional Baltistan style room stuffed with dusty artifacts which were listed to us in quick succession by the curator "This is head of Marco Polo sheep, this is gun presented to mir by Lord Kitchener, this is gun that shot...". He wanted to set up a web site and talked to me about that. I also got chatting to him about why the Highway was so quiet (decreased tourism due to the nuclear tests coupled with a strong Chinese Yuan hitting trade between the two countries). After this Anna watched a volleyball match and I relaxed in the orchard. Over dinner we chatted to some Americans who had some useful insights on China.
Monday, 20 July 1998
Passu, Northern Areas, Pakistan
After talking to the Americans, who were on their way from China, we decided to go to Borit Lake which is in the hills just before Passu. We caught a minibus to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and then, with not too much faith in the guidebook, staggered with our rucksacks up a small hill. However when we reached the other side we found that there was indeed a small lake there and a few signs of life. When we finally found the hotel it was very basic but we decided to dump our bags there and head off to Passu Glacier.
The walk up to the glacier was nowhere near as tiring as those of previous days. We walked to the end of the lake and through a moon like landscape of erratic boulders and large moraines. After about an hour we found ourselves overlooking Passu lake and roughly on a level with the terminus of the glacier. It was amazing, before we had only seen black glaciers which could easily be mistaken for rock formations. Here however was a white glacier which seemed to be literally oozing out of the mountainside. We soon found the path which again involved walking along the retaining wall of an irrigation channel. This time the channel was dry. We later found out that it had been abandoned because it had proved impossible to keep up with the retreat of the nose of the glacier.
At the end of the channel we had a gruelling half hour climbing up one of the moraines at the side of the glacier followed by a half hour of traversing a scree slope above the glacier. This last bit was worrying because every so often we would come to a bit where a landslide had recently wiped the path away so you had to tread very carefully until you rejoined the path. After this we reached Passu Ghar which was basically a collection of shepherds huts on top of a moraine overlooking part of the glacier. Here the views were stunning and we stopped for a while as the sun slowly disappeared behind the mountains at the head of the valley.
When we finally got back to the hotel we found that we were to share our stay with a group of four Swiss tourists who had commandeered a jeep from Chitral. They were quite obnoxious complaining that we took all the best cuts out of the chicken curry at dinner (when in truth, like all Pakistani meat dishes, all of the pieces were mostly bone and gristle anyway). It was with great horror that I realised that they too were heading to the border the next day and that we would be stuck with them.
Tuesday, 21 July 1998
Sost, Northern Areas, Pakistan
We decided to hitch our way to Passu and await the bus to Sost. We got a lift quite easily but found out that one of the bridges was out of action so the bus would not be turning up for a while. Fortunately there was a cricket match in Sost so there were quite a few people going that way and we got a cheapish lift in a Jeep. One of the guide book describes Sost as like "Waiting for Godot", I have never read truer words. Because of the early morning bus departure times you are forced to spend the night there. There is nothing to do and the entire population seems to spend the evenings (and most of the day) watching satellite TV. In our case the occupants of our hotel seemed absorbed in WWF Wrestle mania and I had to watch the fight that "everyone said would never happen, the executioner fights his brother Kain" at least twice all the way through.
Wednesday, 22 July 1998
Tashkurgan, Northern Areas, Pakistan
Awaking to realise that you are going to China is exciting, waking up to realise that you are leaving Sost multiples this by about five times. Customs took about an hour whilst they unpacked our rucksacks but finally we boarded our landcruisers and set sail for China. Sadly out of the two vehicles crossing the border that day we had ended up in the same one as the obnoxious Swiss group that had been staying in the same hotel at Borit lake.
As predicted they managed to annoy us pretty early on in the trip by throwing sweet wrappers and used tissues out of the window in the middle of the Khunjerab National Park, which has a delicate enough ecosystem at the best of times. Nevertheless this did not affect our enjoyment of the scenery, which was spectacular. At first we travelled along the Hunza river until it turned into two tributaries and we followed the Khunjerab. We then followed this stream which, having little sediment this far up, was a turquoise blue.
The valley got narrower and narrower until we eventually emerged onto the saddle of the Khunjerab Pass where, at 4700m, you literally feel like you are on the roof of the world. Over the other side of the Chinese border the sharp peaks of the Karakoram give way to the rounded mountains of the Pamirs and you travel inside a wide valley on a grass plain sparsely inhabited by Wakhi and Tadjik nomads. On the way we tried out our first few words of Mandarin with the soldier who accompanied us through no-man's land.
After five or six hours we arrived in Tashkurgan which at first seemed like a communist version of Sost with huge wide streets and dull concrete buildings. However once we had dumped our bags we found a shop and renewed our acquaintance with beer, having been in dry Pakistan for the last three weeks, in the form of the local Xinjiang Brew. We took the beers up to Tashkurgan Fort and sat on the walls of the fort looking out over the flat mountain encircled plain as the sun slowly descended.