Posted: October 28, 2008
Pakistan is falling away to the south. The canyon walls narrow and the air grows thin. Somewhere in the near distance is China, looming at the tip of our expectations. We’ve watched the massive Chinese trucks ramble past our mountain camp all week. They’re a hint of what’s to come, and speak to the power and wealth of a grand nation whose influence is spreading in all directions, even into the impossible, high places of the Karakoram.
The little village of Passu had a big week. A huge red truck sat parked along the stream, the same stream that was once a glacier. Behind the restaurant, within sight of the dwindling glacier, a hutch of colorful tents poked up beyond the thorny shrubbery of the Pakistani countryside. Every morning, chatty Westerners would snake their heads out of these tents, look up at the surrounding peaks, and spill out into the valley. They’d saunter off to the restaurant to sip tea and read, or gather all manner of silly implements in their packs and go hang from the nearby cliffs. Some would crowd into the back of tractors, minibuses, jeeps, or family cars, hitchhiking to other villages for long walks, all the time looking at the rock.
The trip up to Passu from Delhi was long, and a little hectic. I spent the first few days relaxing. Those who went climbing reported extremely brittle rock, dangerous rock. Treks were organized, but I mostly sat and sipped tea. We had a few days of rain and the snow line dropped with the temperature. Early in the week I accepted that I would only manage a postcard version of the Karakoram, and went about finding pleasure in the view from the warm restaurant.
The Khan family has been exceptionally prolific in the valley around the Hunza River, the river that meets the mighty Indus a few hundred kilometers to the south. The owner of the small restaurant at which we loitered, his father, and his nephew were all lovely people. Finally roused from my tea-sipping, they sent two of us up-valley for a look at the rock in the village of Khumood. Owen and I rode all the way to Sost in the cab of a beautiful carrier truck from Islamabad. The rock was bad throughout, but in Khumood we met more Khans who took us into their homes and smiled over brimming cups of tea. We had the good fortune to make a friend of a young Khan, a sharp man in his thirties who studies in Karachi, who took us on a long walk to see the boulders of Boibar Valley. That there were no boulders in Boibar Valley mattered very little; the cultural exchange of that day, and that afternoon in particular, was a small wonder. We made a late return to Passu after taking food in the homes of the Wahki people, the many Khans, of the small village.
The walk to Boibar invigorated me. On one of our few remaining days I made a tip down-valley to Karimabad, the capital of the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The people of this peaceful, remote state are ethnically distinct from the those in the rest of the nation, and watch the spread of violence and extremism with great trepidation. All are Muslim but practice Ismaili Islam, a small offshoot of Shia Islam that is exceptionally progressive. Despite the remoteness of their lives, they are a modern people with modern aspirations: freedom, independence, and global interaction. Above all, they are civilized and hospitable in a way that make me think that we of the West have lost something invaluable.
On our last day in Passu my camera was lost on the road between Passu and Gulmit, probably dropped in my haste to hop on the back of an inviting tractor. I think now of my lost camera as an offering to the valley, but at the time I hoped that it might be recovered by the exceptionally honest locals. To help things along, I went on a karmic quest. This involved a dangerous climb on loose rock and poor protection, a climb to recover the some gear lost by one of our drivers a few days before. My second trad lead, I spent nearly two hours climbing up and then down thirty meters of crumbling cliff, usually well above a poorly placed nut. Despite a short fall, I survived and even recovered the gear, but my karma was apparently unaffected. My beloved camera is almost certainly sitting in a shop window in Islamabad by now. I guess travel insurance will have to pass for karma on this one.
Viist Orignal Source: Khunjerab border