PRIOR WARNING!: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEVERAL HOURS TO KILL
Just in case you are wondering, Danny suggested the title for this latest post. Around two weeks ago, we began planning for a little excursion to the Hunza valley in the mountains of northern Pakistan. The plan was to end the trip with a yak safari – unfortunately no yaks or alternative bovines were forthcoming, so this post is in honour of them.
Our flight up to Gilgit where we were to begin our journey was scheduled for Friday 22nd June. We had lots to do on the Thursday before. Danny’s solution to this was to write down everything that we had to do or buy, whilst muttering excitedly “let’s make a list!” every so often. By the end of the day, with all necessary goods and services purchased, we headed over to a new art museum that was having its grand opening. Apparently, this wasn’t just any museum, this was, as the email promised, “BREATHTAKING. SUCH A PAKISTANI TREASURE THAT HAS BEEN BUILT THAT IS GOING UNNOTICED” [sic]. Well with that glowing review, how could one resist the sheer artistic allure?
On arrival we were informed that the museum was only operating on a ‘sneak preview’ basis. You had to be special, nay worthy to gain entry. We were bustled into the executive’s office to await our fate where we amused ourselves among his personal effects, including an autobiographical book entitled “My Heartrendingly Tragic Story” until he waltzed in half an hour later to tell us it had closed half an hour before.
With that we left, and push starting Danny’s geriatric car went home. Later that evening we went to dinner at a Korean restaurant where the conversation returned to the lately popular topic of cannibalism, and more specifically whether we would eat each other if our plane crashed in the Andes ( or somewhere else where you might encounter such a dilemma). I wouldn’t, he would. I had a nice introduction to Korean food minus some weird stuff that tasted like sauerkraut although also tempting was the ‘Mange juice’ and ‘American’ available at the vending machine outside for only 15r apiece.
Recent flights having been cancelled, we weren’t too sure of the status of our flight to Gilgit. Luckily the skies were clear and we took off without incident. The small passenger plane does not fly above cloud level, so we had spectacular views of surrounding mountains, valleys and lakes. At one point to our left you could see the magnificent River Indus and to the right arresting views of Nanga Parbat, the 9th highest mountain in the world. Flying below the heights of large mountains, you could see why clear weather was such an imperative for flying conditions.
I had secretly been dreading finding transport at the other end and moreover the prospect of taking a wagon and having to sheath myself in fabric once again. My prayers were answered quite creatively when we met Lucy, a girl from the Czech Republic who had hired a jeep to Duikar, just beyond where we were headed. A photographer, we stopped regularly to take pictures, and she would not let us give her anything at the end, so we saved quite substantially. The route to Karimabad is on the Karakoram highway, and follows one of the paths of the ancient Silk Route. The highest international highway in the world, it took twenty years to build (mostly by blowing sides of the mountain away with dynamite) and claimed almost 900 lives.
The feat of engineering is incomprehensible. It takes you up through traditional villages to the arid, inhospitable mountainous regions. That being said, an intricate maze of irrigation channels have been meticulously constructed to create arable pasture from the challenging surroundings. There are messages written in stones on the mountainside that read “Nice to see you” and “Welcome to the royal couple” which we assumed were directed at our stately arrival, and later regretfully discovered were meant for the Aga Khan (the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims – so almost!).
When we arrived in Karimabad we found a room at the Mulberry hotel and set our stuff down so we could go and explore. We went for a late lunch at a little café called the Hidden Paradise where we tried the local food – chap schuro – a sort of flatbread stuffed with minced meat and garma – a mix of spinach, potatoes and a secret blend of herbs – all washed down with fresh apricot juice. There is abundance of apricots and walnuts in the area and every last bit is used to some end to make apricot oil, flour, juice and walnut chapatti, bread and cake etc. When the bill came it said VIP guests (handwritten) at the top which fuelled our delusions of grandeur and general regality.
Later we took a stroll to the Baltit fort, and then settled down for an early night in preparation for a little expedition the next day. Unfortunately my body had other ideas so we reverted to plan B next day which was eat and nap. We ate cherries, delicious walnut cake at the fantastic Café de Hunza (accompanied by real Lavazza cappuccino – this guy knows how to make a mint), and later BBQ chicken and local cheese. We read, and snoozed. We revisited the fort and took the tour following a 60-strong bunch of schoolkids who quite possibly hadn’t been introduced to the wonders of deodorant just yet.
That afternoon, we went to find Kate, a friend of Danny’s who lives in nearby Altit. We gatecrashed a meeting at the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP) and were given somewhat cryptic clues as to how to find her. We needn’t have bothered because after a picturesque walk past waterfalls and greenery we arrived at the village, our enquiries met with joyful faces. It seemed everyone knew Kate. We were guided to a derelict hotel which, it appeared had never had paying guests. It takes a brave person to live alone in a deserted hotel but it seems Kate is our girl. We suggested that she starts sub-letting the other rooms for a bit of residual income!
On Sunday morning, we finally set off for Ultar Meadow, with the plan to stay the night and come back down the next day. We took stashes of raisins, nuts and plenty of chocolate and water. The first part of the walk was through a labyrinthine network of houses and fields, through a waterfall and up a steep hill to the start of the trail. Then we got to Danny’s ‘favourite part’ because it made his heart go really fast in a good kind of way. Or something. The path, which is less than a yard wide in several places follows a water channel carved into the rock to your left. To your right there is a sheer drop of…hmm…about 50,000ft. My powers of estimation are not great, but when you get past a few hundred feet it doesn’t really matter how big the drop is you know? It still gives you mental pictures of dying a really long horrific death if you’re me. What can I say? I’m morbid, and I see death in everything and am always looking for new and exciting ways I could feasibly (but not statistically) die.
The view was amazing, but I still held Danny’s hand for that part because he’s a lot more surefooted than me (read: if I go down he’s comin’ with me!). The next part involved scrambling up some rocks (there’s nothing like the sound of falling scree to inspire confidence in an amateur hiker such as myself!), and then it levelled out a bit before a final scramble to the top. On the way, we came across several optimistic/sadistic signs that claimed it was only 40 minutes or so until we reached our destination. These have obviously been put there by locals who have been using the trail since they were five to train for marathons. Forty minutes turned out to be around two hours, but we reached the meadow in four hours, which the guide book suggests is good time. However when we purchased Cokes at extortionate prices from Ladyfinger restaurant (ie. a man with a crate of Cokes) he didn’t seem very impressed, screwing his face up and muttering ‘very slow’ and ‘problem’ or words to that effect.
Sipping our drinks, we encountered several bemused goats (They always have that huh, what’s going on here? look about them), one of whom we christened Anila the goat. She (I hope – we didn’t check) had brown curly hair which bore a striking resemblance to my own but I think that’s where the similarities end.
Ultar meadow (at 10,730ft) is beautiful. You are hemmed in by snow-capped mountains on three sides including Ultar peak, the razor blade-like Ladyfinger (which Danny suggests be renamed ‘Sabre of Death’) and Ultar glacier. Ultar peak is supposedly the highest unscaled mountain in the world, but although there haven’t been any recent attempts, a couple of Japanese expeditions made the summit in the early nineties. There were fatalities on the way down however, and the climbers’ graves are nearby.
We found a level spot to camp and no sooner had we laid out our sleeping mats, we spotted a huge avalanche in the distance to our left. You can hear constant rumbling of distant snowfalls so we were amazed to actually see one and we stood there mouths open for the full duration…
The next morning we woke to find curious goats nibbling on my boots which are clearly a delicacy in these parts. We found a stream to wash in and refilled our water bottles ready for the descent. My feet were blistered and Danny’s knee was playing up so together we were the walking wounded. I slipped about three or four times but I didn’t die so it’s okay. About halfway down, Danny suggested we took another route by a separate water channel which to me looked like it abruptly culminated at about 50,000ft. His words were “We would be the stronger for it, if not deader”, assuring me it would be character building. I assured him it would be friendship breakdown-ing.
The surrounding mountains look like Mordor so you feel as though you are in a fantasy film, and the rabbit warren-like village at the bottom add to the quest experience. We made it back to Karimabad in around 3 ½ hours and following a burger (more like spot-the-burger as it was only 3mm thick) we headed north to Gulmit.
There we found the Hunza Marco Polo Inn where we were quoted 1500r for a room. The guy assured us there was hot water. This is a familiar experience in Pakistan. “YES! Garam pani! 24hrs a day – you can check!” We checked and it was cold. We bargained a ‘special price’ of 350r. We then discovered there was no electric either. Not to be discouraged we went to the garden and placed our dinner order. Unable to compromise, we attempted the elimination method. Danny told me a somewhat morbid story of a butcher treated at his parents hospital who had caught is fingers in the mincer and subsequently sold the batch of ground ‘beef’ fingers and all. Qeema being hastily struck of the list we went with chicken biryani. When it arrived it smelled suspiciously of rotting bodies and after one bite we concluded that the electricity had probably been off for some time. It later made a brief appearance that evening when we read/washed by strobe lighting on account of the sporadic generator.
The next morning, our festering chicken experience was redeemed by yummy Hunza bread and honey. Our tummies full, we set off for another mini-adventure. Just another day in the life of the Dannyanilamobile! Our journey took us on a steep climb to Kamaris village and onto Borit lake. As soon as we started, I felt a vague wave of malnoia (see previous post) as I realized that my blisters were still providing me much discomfort. Danny complained of pain in his hip flexors (what the?). It was time to pray. Miraculously, some white van men appeared along the deserted road and offered us a lift. We hitched a ride to the village as Danny wearily asked me what I would be praying for next (manna or maybe cake from heaven maybe?). The climb would have added at least 2hrs to our journey time.
We tried to find our way in the village, but couldn’t seem to find anyone over the age of five. Mind you they were all tri-lingual (Wakhi, Urdu, English – ‘hello, one picture?) which is pretty cool if you’re five I reckon. Later, we thought better than to seek direction from infants and consulted a 12 year old who was offering his services as a guide. Thinking we could use the help of a local we agreed. He took us to his house. Swaggering in, he barked something to his mother in Wakhi, which roughly translated I imagine meant “White people. Make chai.”
She was a lovely laid back lady who offered us genuine hospitality. She spoke little English, yet she chuckled as she served us ‘organic’ (her words!) chapattis. Wakhi households consist of a pillared quadrangle with a small sunken area in the middle for dining and lighting a stove in winter. Light is provided through a central skylight. Traditionally there are few inner walls or doors, giving a communal, cosy feel. We sat on the floor to take tea and then set of at breakneck speed with her older son, headed for Gulkin glacier.
After about 15 minutes our guide Nazir-u-din relieved me of my pack, but even so he appeared to be moving at a running pace and I struggled to keep up. When we reached the glacier we realised how insane it would have been to not take a guide. It looks other-worldly, like a Martian surface or the earth as it might have been in prehistory. In fact, I doubt much has changed for many years indeed. The sheer size is imposing – the route across is not at all obvious and I am sure would daunt even the most experienced walkers.
You feel miniscule as you try to negotiate the ridges. At the top of each crest there are large boulders poised to fall and split your head open and die (I told you I’m morbid – but some were falling so I felt it was a realistically envisaged fatal scenario). I scraped myself once on the hand to prevent one such rock taking my foot out. The irony was that I could have done with some ice and just below the dirt underfoot was a huge packed icy mass.
We found a glacial pond which was only several metres wide but incredibly deep according to our guide who repeatedly urged us not to swim and threw in boulders in a rather theatrical manner in order to prove his point. When we reached the uppermost point, we began our descent using a ‘controlled slide’ technique down the sandy/rocky mountainside. Danny felt this was an opportune moment to make useful comments like ‘It’s like an escalator – you get more for each step’ and ‘Is now a bad time to ask you if you want a piggy back?”. At last we reached Borit lake. Last year, Danny’s friend Grant gave this place the double thumbs-down. If Ben, the Japanese guy we met earlier (see first posts) were to have seen it he would have probably given us his best unimpressed face. He said Macchu Picchu was ‘a bit rubbish – not old enough’ which cracked me up. Having said that, just the sight of water after being enclosed by sinister red rock on all sides was a relief. On closer inspection, I discovered the water was inhabited by large clumps of weed. Past experience with wild underwater plants combined with a brisk breeze were enough to put me off going swimming. Swimming through reeds feels like a thousand hands reaching out to touch you. It’s creepy. Danny (among others) likes to remind me that I find pretty much everything creepy. I protest the untruth of this.
Undeterred, Danny took to the waters and we briefly tried to take out a rowing boat, until we realised the wind was steering us into a particularly ominous looking patch of weedy mulsh. After much gentle insistence on Danny’s part and strong resistance on mine, we took dinner (a successful biryani – woohoo!) and retired to the room. It had a homestyle feel about it like many of our previous rented abodes replete with fake wooden beams and carpeted floors. All the same it wasn’t particularly homely, but who can argue for 150r a night?
The following morning, we walked down to the KKH and attempted to hitchhike. This was slightly problematic given that the highway was devoid of any traffic whatsoever. Luckily though, the second car that passed through gave us a life to Sost for only 70r each. We reached Sost after 45 minutes, I changed into something more…respectable (a Punjabi suit) and we located the jeep that was bound for our next destination… the Chapursun valley. While we were waiting we were invited to take tea with a guy named Hassan. Initially I thought his baseball cap, high waist jeans and faintly southern tone derived from a long-held adulation for all things American. We discovered however that he was an ex-proprietor of a grocery store and would-be jeweller who regularly resides in Birmingham Alabama. I feel I should be less cynical in future.
Our jeep, when it finally took off had less than thirty but definitely more than twenty people inside. We sensibly decided to ride on the roof. Three dusty hours later after much ducking cliff overhangs and dodging tree branches, we made it to our destination of Zood Khun in one piece (two pieces if you include the boy).
This small village does not have any guesthouses as such, but is inhabited by one Alum Jan whose reputation precedes his actual being. We were directed to his house and welcomed with some warm Hunza bread by his wife only to find that the legend himself was back in Islamabad collecting a party of hikers. We discovered that a journey by yak would require collection of said animals from their residences further north and that that would take around ten days so unfortunately our safari plans were scuppered. Those of you who read my Indian Summer blog will recall the um…abrasion induced by a camel safari so I can’t say as if I was that devastated. Danny on the other hand found a corner and rocked back and forth sobbing, at least that’s what he would have done if he hadn’t contained his emotions so well.
To aid the grieving process we took a stroll in the village, encountering a somewhat curious lamb and its rather possessive mother. Later that evening, we met a Quiet Frenchman and a Loud Swiss who were also staying at the same place. The Frenchman entertained us with his fervent views on tomato ketchup. Adding it to spaghetti is abhorrent (take note Suzy!) if you’re cultured apparently. Oh how I love the French’s views on cuisine. French dude, who shall be known only as Monsieur Dupont (should Sarkozy be reading this) revealed that for the past 8 years he has bee living off €400 per month only they haven’t realised that for the duration he has failed to check in each week (much like Jobseekers where you have to prove weekly you’re still jobless). The crazy thing is there is nothing at all illegal about it. Monsieur Dupont also taught me a new French word though I haven’t decided whether he is just playing on my gullibility. He claims they use the same word (sac à la viande) for body bag as well as sleeping bag liner. Hmm…if anyone could confirm or dispel this notion it would be much appreciated
Settling down to bed later that evening, we found we were sharing our ‘room’ (the quad) with an overexcited mouse/shrew who Danny claimed was “super-soft – I stroked him!!”
The following morning we awoke to the sound of the Loud Swiss talking to the Quiet Frenchman. In actual fact, I imagine he was talking at the Frenchman whilst Monsieur Dupont politely nodded at acceptable intervals. In fact, such were Loud Swiss’s monologues, he probably wouldn’t notice if Monsieur Dupont/his audience were dead.
After some greasy parathas for breakfast we donned our hiking gear and went out to explore. We crossed the river on a dodgy suspension bridge and a little while later found Jhui Sam, a place the guidebook said was interspersed with arcadian foliage and crystal lakes. The lake we found seemed sulphuric, and far from crystal clear. However our initial disappointment turned to wonder as we ventured far back and found dreamy scenes that looked like they were straight out of a fantasy computer game. Those familiar with the likes of Myst or Riven (my sister Rhea, brother Aaron) will know what I mean.
After lunch during which we were joined by some rather friendly, overenthusiastic, yet still thoroughly bemused goats we walked up a nearby mountain, and to the land beyond which the guidebook ever-animatedly described as the Garden of Eden. Well, Danny and I joked that the author should re-consult his Bible as it was maybe too favourable a description. That being said, in all honesty I had expected cascading chocolate waterfalls and lemon bonbon trees so maybe I should go back to Sunday school too…
Still it was very beautiful and we spent the good part of a day exploring, finally returning home after six hours. We met Bert from Holland and his wife Maria from Bolivia who were travelling in the region. We swapped travel tales and I was pleased to find that Maria too shared my morbid fear of sheer drops (in fact I believe she had a more extreme version of the phobia). I realise that my phobia is somewhat irrational as it is not a fear of heights per se, but a fear of instability and more specifically sheer drops. If anyone could supply me with the Latin for ‘sheer’ and ‘drop’ I’d be most thankful because I’d be halfway to making it sound like a legitimate fear.
The next morning we had a jeep to catch at 5am which meant waking at 4.45am. And to think this was meant to be a holiday! Luckily we had a mere 13 or so in the jeep and it was raining so riding atop the vehicle was not so much of an option. Passengers included a young mum and her baby who was being breastfed and sicking up his own babyweight in turn, and a spritely sexagenarian a.k.a. SuperGrandaddy! who jumped out when required to throw stones in flooded streams to aid our crossing.
Our taxi (a Toyota Corolla) from Sost to Karimabad was positively luxurious by comparison. The opulence was short-lived however, as we came up to a roadblock and noticed mud gushing from the side of the mountain. Close up we found a sizeable landslide that was not even negotiable on foot. A local guy said it would take 2 weeks to clear and the policemen said we couldn’t get through. We soldiered on nevertheless (stiff upper lip and all that). We ventured down to the river towards a bridge ahead where we could see some guys making a temporary bridge across part of the river that was quite narrow. What was slightly worrying was that it appeared to be constructed from old girders that had broken off another older, broken-er bridge. Soon though we got across and pioneering a trend, others followed.
Once across, we met a bunch of students from Punjab University who were on a roadtrip up north for the first time. They were quite excited like us by the adventure they were experiencing. They were blatantly like Londoners heading to the Lake District or the highlands for the first time. Or anywhere ending in –shire for that matter! They took photos with us – their looking rather chuffed to have made friends so quickly (“You got stuck in a landslide? Ohhh, we have so much in common!”) and us with somewhat more bewildered, goat-like expressions on our faces.
Then they crammed all 20 of them into a small wagon and took off. Five minutes later they reversed and offered us a lift. Or rather issued us a challenge – if we could fit we could come. Well of course we could. It’s at times like these that I am not so thankful that God blessed me with height!
Lots of singing of Hindi movie soundtracks and performing of really bad magic tricks involving a napkin ensued and around 30 squished minutes later we arrived in Karimabad. Refusing several offers of chai we headed to our favourite Hunza haunt – the café de hunza – for some well-deserved revitalising cafetiere coffee and walnut cake.
Then we set off for Duikar and the Eagle’s Nest, our last stop in Hunza. Another uphill walk, we were followed by a retinue of 8-9 year olds, who took us on a shortcut. For the last leg, we held on to the back of a jeep that had stopped for us. This is no mean feat with a pack on your back weighing you down so we were relieved to finally get there. When the contents of the jeep spilled out, what do you know, one of the guys had spent 15 years working in South Woodford where I went to school. Small world.
Our room was the nicest so far and had gorgeous views over the valleys that no picture could ever do justice. The ‘welcome’ mountain tea was not so nice. In fact it reminded me of a vile mixture my dad used to give me when I was younger to induce vomiting. That’s nice.
Lunch was hilarious. The English menu offered ‘Alakat Brake Fast’, ‘Form Fresh Eggs Cary Style’ (still wondering who Cary is…) and Buffed lunch. We ordered the Jalfrezi. Over lunch, we couldn’t help overhearing the following words uttered by a rather rotund member of the jeep party we had previously encountered:
Rotund lady quizzing local dude: “In the evening, do you go back to your… village?
Local dude: [silence] *puzzled look followed by answer in the affirmative*
RL: In your village…do they have cows?
Disclaimer: These events may have seemed infinitely more amusing at the time of passing.
We showered our dust-ridden selves. After a long-long waited dinner we exited and were struck again by the sheer size of the surrounding mountains. Trust me, as long as you are here, you wake up every day shocked that they are still there and still just as huge. By night, the only parts that are visible are the snow-capped peaks. They look like neon parallelograms in the sky and are ever so slightly creepy. But amazing nonetheless.
Saturday 30th June was Danny’s 25th birthday. To celebrate, we did… nothing. Ah-ha! But zis vas de plan all along! To be honest, he’s getting on in years so I am urging him to take it easy. For the best part of the day, we wallowed in our collective laziness, reading, sleeping and eating chocolate at will. At 4pm we sauntered over to the look-out point slightly further up from the hotel and watched the sunset. In the evening we watched “Voice of India” (like Pop Idol but not) with Indian Jeff Goldblum as we waited for them to buff dinner (they did a buffed dinner as well as buffed lunch). This programme really has to be seen to be believed. It’s car-crash TV. Like, you really shouldn’t watch it but something is compelling you all the same. Wow. The producers really seem to have gone to great lengths to assemble the most ugly people in India and then coaxed them into singing (very few seemed to enjoy the experience). We discovered unsightlyness seemed to be a prerequisite for audience members too when we spotted an Indian Gollum among the masses.
Anyway, that was a bit of an aside! On Sunday, Danny set his alarm ridiculously early to take pictures of the sunrise, and then proceeded to hit snooze a couple more times for good measure. What a sweetie. We later packed up and were looking forward to some exercise after several slothful days. We saw some Americans in the car park and went over to say bye and wish them well (and hint at getting a lift maybe?). Five minutes later they passed us on the downhill slope and offered us a ride. We lazily agreed, and breaking our previous record managed to fit 9 people and 9 large camping bags into a teeny jeep meant for 4. Funnily enough one of the girls had met Danny’s parents at their hospital in Pakistan the summer before. Good times.
Back in Karimabad again, we said thank-yous and goodbyes and killed time shopping which Danny definitely enjoyed thoroughly. I’m glad he was there though because he was able to prise me away from the antique jewellery counters when, presumably, he could see my eyes twinkling with rubies and emeralds.
Amid a dust storm, we took a taxi to Gilgit. Gilgit is a grimy transit town which is best used as a place to stay whilst arranging treks and transport further north. Hunza peoples seem generally more open and friendly than anywhere else I have been in Pakistan. You almost feel in another country because the language is so different (not in the least bit related to Urdu) and even visually there are huge differences (Hunzakuts often having extremely fair skin and hair and blue eyes). Gilgit seemed more hostile by comparison. There has been a recent history of sectarian violence, so there are military checkpoints with men carrying big scary guns. Thankfully, we didn’t look dodgy enough to get stopped.
We had planned to stay where the Americans were but there was no room at the Inn so we found a bed at the Madina guesthouse. On Monday morning we went to confirm our flight tickets which has to be done in person 24hrs before. It was grey and rainy and we were told one flight was delayed and several cancelled on previous days. We tried to forget about the possibility of going by road (20hrs!!). With little to do, we amused ourselves reading the daily papers over lunch. Under Marriage Bureau one can only guess what some of the descriptions were euphemisms for: tall male, sharp features, foreign nationality holder, fair-complexioned, eastern values, professionally educated (doctor, engineers, MBA) [sic]. None of your fancy arts degrees will do here…These two here particularly cracked me up. Again, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions:
‘Urdu speaking 5.8” handsome exec post in multinational company seeks fair, good-looking, smart graduate 5.3”-5.4” aged 30-35 domestic chores expert unmarried girl.’
’38, Sunni conservative Muslim male, short, 5’4”, bald, dark skin, Bengali origin, residing currently in NE U.S. divorced with one child, gainfully employed.’
As you can tell we were rather bored by this point. Then, Danny had the genius idea of going to the Serena and spending the rest of the evening in the grounds there. It was a sterling idea. Readers of this blog will know our fondness for staying at run-down dirt-cheap holes and hanging out in expensive hotels. For some reason the Serena has had a particularly powerful appeal, so we decided to make it a hat trick.
We got there early evening, perused pricey Persian carpets and jewels and took a walk in the gardens. The pikey extravaganza continued as we made our way to the restaurant for an expensive buffet dinner. To put it in perspective, we worked out that the dinner cost 4 times as much as we were paying for our hotel room. But it was worth it for the yummy food. We had to suspend our disbelief at the automatic doors though because it would not have looked particularly refined and might have resulted in pompous cries of “I daresay old boy, how terribly uncouth!” The only question that remains is… which Serena is to undergo the chav treatment next? Danny suggests we conquer either Kabul or Zanzibar…
On Tuesday, we awoke at 6am to head for the airport. I woke up long before though, thinking about the 20hr ordeal we might face if the flight didn’t go. I couldn’t bear to even open the curtains and check the weather. When we left it was partly cloudy. When we arrived at the airport we heard that the outbound flight hadn’t even left Islamabad. Thank God, about half an hour later it left so we checked in and waited. About an hour and a half late we finally took off. We were flying PIA (Pakistan International Airways). There are various other… less motivational interpretations of the acronym (Pilot Is Asleep, Parachute Is Advisable, Panic In the Air, Perhaps I’ll Arrive, Please Inform Allah etc) so we were thankful to finally land in Islamabad an hour later after a smooth flight.
To celebrate we dined at Mcdonalds (what?! It has to be done) and then moved our stuff to Pam and Peter’s house. These are two ex-pat friends of Danny’s who asked him to housesit for a while. They have a fabulously lovely house embellished with items from each country they have lived in, which from my reckoning seems to be everywhere. It is very sumptuous especially in comparison with Danny’s characterful flat. Haha.
They have lovely AC, cable TV and Internet which is why I have finally been able to write this short novel. As you might expect, we have spent much of our time since Tuesday watching DVDs, going online, eating and sleeping. This is the life.
On Thursday Danny got up at 5am (gargh) and went climbing and then we went shopping ALL DAY (a threat I had vowed to carry out – Danny lured me to Pakistan with promises of new shoes). An initially unsuccessful trip was made good in the end with 3 consecutive purchases in three shops. Problem is, there is a lot of tat to sift through to find stuff and before you know it the proprietor has whipped out 478 leopard print shawls and it’s all too much. I never did get any new shoes from the boy. We spent Thursday evening at the Rasmussens who invited a large gathering for dinner. Yesterday, we didn’t even leave the house til around 7.30pm to go for another delectable feast at Anna’s. It’s so nice to have people cook for you!
Today I haven’t done much apart from write this epic post. I’m not even ready. Like I said, this is the life. You may have seen in the news plenty of reports about problems here in Islamabad at the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). It is a shame that things have kicked off and the police have had to move in. Danny climbed on the roof and could see a column of smoke where some radical students set the Ministry of Environment alight. And last night, I was up pretty late and amid thunder and lightning I thought I heard explosions. Actually I thought I was tired and losing it and imagining things but I read this morning that there were exchanges of gunfire in the early hours. It seems to be localised though so we are just going to stay away from the area.
We might head over to the US embassy for a swim. All I need is a fancy cocktail with an umbrella and ten straws and a sunchair. Else I might just roam around in PJs and watch a few more DVDs…
My flight leaves Islamabad tomorrow morning so I shall be setting several alarms to ensure my timely arrival at the airport. Can’t believe my five weeks are already up, but it’s been great. Thanks for reading, tune in next week when I may do a post-mortem blog entry. Promise it won’t be as long as this…Peace and God bless.