Skardu to Islamabad

by Luke Sheridan.

An account of a journey. As written at the time and unaltered.

Meandering plains, gently drawn pillows of silt that at times abruptly swing into a valley as sand dunes but which tend to converge between mountains to push the water into rapids. The beginning of this journey is permeated by the gentle simple sounds of Balti folk music.[1] The roads slither around mountains, brown and muddy then brilliant cotton white, coming precipitously close to sheer drops as it narrows here, and there sweeps down through some perplexingly emerald valley where trees like birch that shoot directly upwards line every path. And the land is a dancing of moss and clear pools between houses bordered by pile stone walls and where the churning of the water from the glistening rivulets and [illegible] sets the music to the softly padding pace of life.

Goats, cocks and cattle roaming the paths at leisure and propping themselves between trees or resting in dense growths of meadow flowers.

There is undoubtedly a hardship here that I would find difficult to articulate even if I could fully appreciate. However, this is, I think, the closest to an idyll one could come on this earth. The white capped Himalayan peaks show themselves above these mountains as we travel.

***

1:42pm bought some biscuits and water

Need to meet checkpoint by 4:00pm! To make it onto Babusar road.

2:38 come to confluence of the Gilgit & Indus rivers

2:41 Nampkapatwat? [sic] Mountain range? How far behind us was K2

Update (2:58) Nanga Parbat

3:12 landslide has just happened ahead of us. The truck is moving the rubble about 13ft around us.

There have been lots of butterflies around for about an hour now. All of them white.

3:12  pointed out Chilas

3:44 First time driver has been overtaken! On this whole journey.

He was checking the time and is driving at about 90kmph

I think maybe we are not on Babusar highway yet.

4:15 We got to Babusar checkpoint. Driver out of car with our documents.

The military vehicle which I assume enforces the prohibition of entry after 4pm just went past.

He spoke to them. We are through!! = 18hr car journey instead of 26hr.

By 5:00pm we are in a peculiarly brown place. A mountain of mud. Then at times looking up we could almost be in Scotland until the face comes into focus as a mossy crimson carpet. It is raining, (not heavily) but there are patches of snow and the fog hangs heavy around us.

5:20 small green ‘goodbye’ sign. We have left Babusar.

The men here dress distinctively. In thick and stiff garments (wool?) in earthy colours. With the brown round hats and sporting long and wide beards. Dark tan or brown shawls.

5:30 as we descend into the valley following the thin white river that borders on a mere stream we could easily be amongst the purple glens of Scotland, only, before us, closing off the line of the valley there are huge peaks harbouring lakes of snow.

5:33 Just informed us that this is all Taliban area. He had been looking nervous for the past half an hour at least. Hence the military prohibitions?[2]

5:53 Driver looking round attentively at the sections of the road ahead. In Baltistan & the dry white areas he just went for it, following the ground immediately before him.

6:00pm  We stopped for Tea.[3] I feel a little uncomfortable to be honest. I don’t know how long the driver will be.

This is a very green valley.

6:24  Hotel Red Glacier? – Have no clue where we are

6:31  = huge glacier

6:41 there is poverty here and lots more tents. We pass every now and then through dusty concrete villages.

6:42 Khyber Palace sign. So we are in KPK

So many goats and glaciers.

6:48 It’s dark! Think I’ll sleep because can’t see what I’m writing.

7:06 Narran.

***

We got back at 2:30/ 3:00am – 18hr journey total

Stopped for an hour at about 10:00pm. I spoke to some others who had found themselves round this way. A Ukranian and a Malaysian woman with her K2 basecamp guide.

We realised we had been driving through Swat Valley.

Thomas More was aware of the unreachability of the perfect society in his Utopia – literally ‘no place’. I understood as I drove wanting to imagine that this was the most perfect place I had ever visited, yet being unable to sustain the illusion for 18 hours. I might never see anything as beautiful and sublime again. I might think with nostalgia about the simplicity of the place. But however fond I felt from the passenger seat of that Toyota Corolla, the poverty was unavoidable as was the harshness which bred the fundamentalism of the Taliban that still plagues the country.

Footnotes

[1] 19 hours of this had me dreaming in Balti.

[2] Actually also to do with rainfall and ground treachery

[3] Every break he would come in teary wiping his eyes. Angela mentioned ‘these drivers are all on smack’.

The Poor Print

The Oriel College Newspaper. Run by students, with contributions from the JCR, MCR, and SCR & Staff. Current Executive Editors: Tom Davy, Joanna Engle and Chris Hill

One thought on “Skardu to Islamabad

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