Rowan Castle - Travel & Photography
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Pakistan 1994 - Diary

Saturday 30th July 1994. My alarm woke me fairly early and I immediately set about getting ready and checking my equipment (which had all been packed a few days before) for the final time.At 9.00 a.m. Mum, Dad and I set off for Heathrow. The M4 was extremely busy but my Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight to Islamabad was not until 4.55 p.m., and so there was plenty of time Eventually after a long queue and a great deal of stress we loaded all our baggage onto the conveyer belt. After clearing customs and a short wait in the Departure lounge we filed into a Boeing 747 for the flight to Islamabad. There was a fairly long delay before we finally taxied out to the main runway. Five or ten minutes after take off, I saw the fuel dumping outlet by the wing tip start to spray aviation fuel out into the blue sky. I began to realise that something was probably wrong. When the announcement came it was impossible to hear it because of the noise of the engines. We managed to get the flight purser to explain. To everyone's dismay he revealed that there was a technical problem with the plane and that we would be dumping the fuel over the sea and heading back to Heathrow. This was ominous, as the plane circled, fuel streaming from the wing, I tried to guess how severe the fault was. There was no vibration so I doubted that there was anything wrong with the four engines. I also doubted that it was very severe because I guessed we would have been going through some sort of emergency drill if anything was badly amiss. Finally I reasoned that there must have been something like a minor hydraulic failure, not serious but enough to make us retreat to Heathrow. For the rest of the short flight I relaxed and enjoyed the views over the golden fields of Southern England. The landing at Heathrow sealed our fate in a way no one could have predicted. The pilot brought the 747 in quite high and fast and, probably not wanting to go round again, thumped us down onto the tarmac. There was a terrific bang and the whole fuselage shuddered. As we sat in the then stationary plane the pilot tested the flaps over and over. We found out that just after take off the flaps had refused to retract fully (therefore not allowing us to reach top speed). All the time we were led to believe that the flaps would soon be fixed and then we would be on our way, and as if to confirm it the stewardesses even served the evening meal which was a very pleasant curry. However, the scenario of a minor delay was far from reality and we later learnt that during the heavy landing we had burst no less than seven of the sixteen tyres on the undercarriage. The engineers had jacked up the aircraft while we had been sitting there but the airline could not find seven new tyres. One member of our party suggested to the Pakistani steward that they should pinch the tyres from a nearby British Airways 747; which made everyone laugh. Then the news that no one wanted to hear was broken to us. PIA would transfer us to a nearby hotel for the night. While we waited for the coach transfer I phoned home to let everyone know what had happened. A short drive later we came to the Marriot / Slough Hotel, where, after a horrendous wait in the lobby I was given a room to share with Rob Munslow. The room was comfortable enough but I would have been infinitely happier with an airline seat at thirty thousand feet.
Sunday 31st July. After a night in which I got little sleep we all spent the day milling around the hotel. We were told that our flight would be in the evening some time. During the day a PIA representative wandered around and had abuse hurled at him from some of the other passengers. After that things happened agonisingly slowly. At 4 p.m. we boarded a coach for Windsor Castle, the visit was intended to kill time before we checked in at Heathrow. I spent the visit doing what I had done for most of the day, drifting around wishing I was somewhere else. At last we got to Heathrow, our flight was at ten p.m. and the wait was quite relaxing. We boarded the 747 (which already contained our luggage) and found our old seats. As before, when it was time to taxi out a film of blue sky appeared on the entertainment screen and a pre-recorded voice announced, "Ladies and Gentleman let us begin our journey with the Koranic prayer of our holy prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him". As we taxied out the prayer was chanted and a safety demonstration film was shown. After a long take off roll we gradually rose above the lights of London, I had finally left Europe behind and was on my way to a continent which would be very different. We found out from a steward that our route would take us over Amsterdam, Germany, Denmark, Moscow and the former Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and finally into Pakistan. Also, during our stay in the hotel, one of our party talked to the pilot and found out that during the first flight we had dumped 130 tonnes of fuel which cost £50000! As the sky grew darker, eventually all I could make out were the occasional lights from anonymous cities.
Monday 1st August.  Through my two windows (which were just behind the aircraft's left wing) I could see the sky getting paler in the East. When dawn broke, I could make out gray-green fields and at one point a large river, which must have been part of the old Soviet Union. I woke up some time later and the sun was quite strong against the glass so I shut the blind. A while later I opened it, looked down at the ground, and got an incredible shock. The earth below was completely desolate and looked remarkably like the surface of the moon. This gave way to a huge brown desert, scored by irrigation channels which glared in the sunlight. The desert was dotted with villages of small houses and dry, barren fields. Out of this wasteland rose large mountains which got higher and higher until they were crowned with snow and poked up at us through the clouds. After we had been flying for about seven hours we started to descend towards the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. At first we saw dry brown fields and then I saw the Muree hills, green with vegetation, rising above the plain in a sharp ridge. Meandering through the fields, it's waters brown and chaotic was the River Indus, nature's gift to Pakistan. As the aircraft approached the runway the vegetation became greener and we skimmed above the trees before making another bumpy landing. At the bottom of the stairs which had been positioned at the exits of the plane, I took my first steps on the continent of Asia. It was very hot as we climbed into a bus bound for the terminal building. The terminal was dimly lit with electric fans fixed to the pillars and one flight information monitor. We made our way to the foreign passports desk where we all had to fill in "Form A" which the officials check and then stamp your passport, this gives you permission to stay in Pakistan. I collected my luggage from the carousel and we all made our way out into the city. By the entrance to the terminal a huge crowd had gathered offering taxis or their services as porters (all in exchange for a healthy amount of money of course). Moving out through the crowd we came to the car park where our packs were loaded onto two mini-busses and we set off through the streets of Rawalpindi. The traffic was unbelievable, cyclists wobbled and dodged their way round buses, trucks and horse drawn carts. Before moving anywhere in the road it seemed to be compulsory to beep the horn. I saw one man riding a motorbike with his wife on the back holding a baby, however she was not holding onto the bike! The pavements were bordered by what appeared to be open air sewers and electricity cables were strung haphazardly from pole to pole. As we moved out of Islamabad along the famous Grand Trunk Road that runs from Delhi to Peshawar, the roadside forests were green and lush. We would constantly overtake brightly painted trucks, chains dangling from their tailgates and belching out thick black smoke. The overtaking was mostly done on blind corners or into oncoming traffic with liberal use of the horn. There were more than several times when we all thought we were going to die. By the roadside there were occasionally dingy shacks with tyres and dented cans of oil piled high outside. There were also several brick kilns with small round chimneys and we would often see trucks piled high with newly made bricks. I was enjoying the ride, despite the lethal driving. I was sitting near the front with my window open and I had a good view out over the crop fields, small houses and dark woods. We stopped for a drink at a dusty roadside shop which sold drinks and sweets. Inside there was a small, dim room with chairs, tables and a ceiling fan. We were brought bottles of Pepsi with rusting caps. The pepsi was refreshing but tasted very strange. The Muree hills, rocky and covered in small green bushes rose up around us. There were more kilns dotted around the sun bleached feet of these mountains. We pressed on through the heat until we came to Abbottabad. This is the military heart of the fiercely proud Pakistani army and after passing quickly through the rubbish strewn, crowded streets we passed the outskirts of the army base. Soldiers were parading round the drill field, Kalashnikov rifles slung over their shoulders. In the distance was a small assault course, above which were two signs with the slogans "Sweat saves blood" and "Never give in". A short way up a hillside was our accommodation, the Adventure Foundation bungalow. On arrival we were shown to our tents (the girls and expedition leaders had rooms inside). The garden also contained a small assault course which threaded it's way through a couple of trees. The view from the grounds of the AFP bungalow. We had a late lunch and after that I went out into the gardens to take some photographs. While I was out in the garden my eyes started to water and then sting intensely to the point where I could not open one of them for more than a couple of seconds. I went to the outside toilet block where one of the Pakistanis, Rastaman, helped me clean up my eyes. They continued to flare up occasionally for much of the trip. Once we had dumped all of our equipment in the tents we set off by bus and Shogun 4WD to the Bazaar. I was in the Shogun because the bus was full. We stopped by the army church which was a fascinating replica of a traditional English stone type. The grounds were overgrown and near our bus there were a couple of cannabis plants. Walking down into the bazaar we were greeted with the sight of muddy, rubbish filled streets and children flying small kites from the rooftops. Occasionally a kite would become tangled round one of the hundreds of chaotic telephone or electricity lines. The Bazaar at Abbottabad. I joined a group being shown around by Dr.Shaheed of the Adventure Foundation. He had graduated from Kings medical college Lahore; the best in the city. The main shops in the bazaar sold cloth and bridal dresses, moldy looking fruit and also necklaces festooned with fake rupee notes which a groom traditionally wears on his wedding day. We became aware of a man following us and when the doctor questioned him he backed off, but kept following. Eventually the doctor explained that the man was a drug addict. The people were so unused to tourists that everywhere we went they stared at us. Some of the women even spat at the girls in our party because they were not veiled. As we wandered up an even dirtier street covered in dung and garbage, we passed a series of wooden stalls offering food which was being freshly cooked in large pans. I mentioned to the doctor that I wanted to buy a shalwar quamiz, the baggy pyjama style suit worn by almost every Pakistani man. The doctor showed me around several shops but unfortunately they either didn't sell the suits off the shelf or they were black (not much use in the fierce sun!).However, when we met up with another group we found we were standing next to a shop which advertised "beautiful shalwar suits". Once inside, there was much debate as to who should buy what. Eventually I bought a white, medium sized shalwar suit for 545 Pakistani Rupees (£1=Rs45).   With my new suit and a wad of small change, I and the others went back to the bus in the twilight.   Over supper at the hill station we learnt that the next day we would travel to Gilgit, and according to one guide it would be the most uncomfortable journey of our lives.   Retiring to the tent (which had a loud fan and electric lighting) I decided to sleep in my shalwar suit, ready for the early start. There was not really enough room for me in the tent and so I got little sleep. 
The view from the grounds of the AFP bungalow The bazaar at Abbottabad
Tuesday 2nd August.  I woke at 4 a.m. for the bus journey to Gilgit. I left behind a lot of equipment in my small travel bag and gave my tent to the guides. Our packs were tied to the roof racks of the two busses. My trekking party, group A, travelled in one bus with group B in the other. We left at dawn and after Abbotabad joined the famous Karakoram Highway (KKH).For the first part of the journey we travelled up into the mountains, first through occasional woodland and then along a valley of brown mountains and lush green paddy fields. We passed boys herding goats and men sitting by the roadside. The second stage was through a seemingly endless valley through which the Indus flows and the KKH follows it, with miles of tortuous bends. Lunch was at a PTDC (Pakistan Tourist Development Corporation) rest house. However, they didn't want us inside so we ate our packed lunches of chicken sandwiches outside in the oppressive heat.
Our group at the PTDC motel Chilas, on the Karakoram Highway
Our party stops at the PTDC Rest House on the Karakoram Highway.
The highway was in a fairly bad state of repair. We passed over several makeshift bridges (the originals having collapsed) where only one vehicle could pass at any time. On one side of the road was a drop which was practically always sheer and fell some two or three hundred feet down to the churning, grey waters of the Indus. On the other side was a towering cliff face into which the road had been blasted, with such a high cost in human life. The road was mainly metalled although this had occasionally been eroded or cratered so that we would suddenly have to slow right down. The journey was extraordinarily uncomfortable, we had to keep the windows shut to allow the air conditioning to work (although it often didn't) and liquid refreshment was bottled water, which was understandably very warm. The discomfort was broken by two stops, one was by a clear fast flowing river for a paddle and the other was at a Buddhist carving site near Chilas, at one of the most desolate places I have ever seen. At Chilas we stopped at the Shangri-La Hotel which is extremely upmarket. We all had a very refreshing bottle of 7 UP each. After that Mr.Rawlings and I wandered over the road to buy some refrigerated bottled water. On our way to Gilgit we were fortunate enough to see a view of one of the Worlds highest mountains, Nanga Parbat, which is 26,657 feet high! It loomed over us in the twilight, covered in snow and not at all obscured by cloud. Night fell, and our Pathan driver's road technique was just as lethal as it had been for the whole journey. There were few trucks on the road but we did overtake a couple of petrol tankers in the most dangerous way possible. As we neared our destination we encountered police checkpoints with increasing frequency. At each stop our driver would have to get out and produce the required papers before the police lifted the barrier and allowed us through. Although annoying, the checks were for our own protection; banditry was possible on this road at night and so it was important that the police knew the whereabouts of all tourists. Reverend Morris recalled an incident from the last expedition where the driver had run out of bits of paper for the police and became impatient. There was a scuffle which ended with him receiving a rifle butt in the face. After about sixteen hours and having only travelled two hundred and fifty miles, we could see the lights of Gilgit nestled in a bowl shaped valley between huge mountains. A bridge into the town was impassable so we had to go off road, past a taxi doing the same. Motorcyclists darted off the dusty streets into the trees which were alive with the sound of cicadas. In the main part of town shopkeepers stared out from dimly lit stalls, mostly selling everyday essentials. Arriving at the Park Hotel we unloaded all our equipment in front of a small crowd who were gathered round the hotel fence. Supper was delicious, the waiters brought as much cold bottled water as we could drink and served up delicious nan bread. The starter was chicken stock soup followed by a buffet of rice, meat and curried vegetables. The room that Richard and I shared was unbelievably hot, even though it was eleven at night. I slept in a pair of shorts, but even so I was dripping with sweat, the temperature in our room must have been around 40 degrees centigrade. That night my eyes watered and stung so badly that opening them was just too painful. I pulled on my boots, staggered out onto the landing and managed to find the doctor. Once she had put a couple of antibiotic drops in each eye, the pain subsided.
Wednesday 3rd August.  I woke at six, checked my trekking pack and took my malaria tablets before wandering across the road to buy some cold water. Unfortunately all they had left were un-refrigerated bottles. I bought two and went back to the hotel for breakfast, which was toast and tea.   The Park Hotel, Airport Road, Gilgit. Afterwards our packs were tied to the backs of the jeeps. One group were going to Naltar (my group) and the others were heading for Yasin. The two villages are at opposite ends of the same eleven day trek. It was necessary to split because we were such a large group.   In our jeep I was sandwiched between our driver and Reverend Morris. We drove out of Gilgit, over the Gilgit river on a rope suspension bridge and onto an unmetalled road. The countryside around us was semi-desert and it was intensely hot although occasionally trees provided some shade. As we drove past houses, children came out to wave at us. Eventually we reached a broken bridge over a surging, gushing river. This was as far as the jeeps from Gilgit could travel.   Our packs were unloaded and we each carried them over the narrow, semi complete bridge; this was it, the trek had begun!   From there we walked up through the steep valley, walls of unforgiving rock all around. Stopping for lunch by the river, each of us opened the Park Hotel cardboard lunch box that we had been carrying. Inside were chicken sandwiches, a few pieces of toast and a very nice treacle biscuit.   Later, after we had sheltered from a brief shower, the jeeps arrived from Naltar. My pack went in one jeep while I had a white knuckle ride in the back of another.   The jeep track was steep, sheer on one side and extremely bumpy. Along the way we picked up a few passengers who clung onto the back. As we approached Naltar the air cooled and the spots of rain fell more frequently.   Naltar itself was beautiful, our campsite was on a green hillside by a clear, babbling stream. There was a dark forest above us and the hill looked out across the valley to the houses and fields on the other side. All around were colossal mountains, tipped with snow.   Unfortunately I couldn't take any photographs of this idyllic start to our trek because of a nearby Pakistani Air Force winter survival school, which meant that the whole site was a restricted area.   For a while I relaxed by the stream and wrote my diary until a small group and I set off to watch a local polo match.   The scene on arrival was quite incredible, on what must have been the only flat piece of land for miles, there was a melee of about thirty horses. The notably all male audience sat around the perimeter, only looking up from the game to stare at our strange foreign party. The horses were thin and muscular, equipped with only rudimentary saddles.   The game itself was quite a spectacle, as the horses thundered up and down the pitch at breakneck speed. If the ball landed among the spectators, the game continued unbroken and you would suddenly find a large group of horses stampeding in your direction.   I was soon surrounded by a group of Pakistani children, who were fascinated by my digital watch (even though many of them also had digital watches).With a mixture of English, Urdu and sign language I managed to find out their names, tell them mine and explain that I had sunburn. For some reason they thought that my name was absolutely hilarious.   With the match still in progress I went with Rev. Morris and one of the locals to the Prince Hotel in the village, which proved to be quite extraordinary. The hotel was no more than a stone hut with a few chairs and a table outside. On ordering a drink I was brought a refrigerated bottle of Pepsi. To add to our amazement, a colour television was produced, and set down in a hole in the wall. Unbelievably, this hut in a remote village had satellite television! On offer was Rupert Murdoch's Star TV and BBC World Service. The local man informed us that they could watch a lot of international cricket on the TV and the villagers would often gather at the hotel in the evening to watch the cricket over a cup of tea.   Returning to the camp, Mirzadad our cook served up the supper of soup and noodles. After doing my washing up, I decided it was time to try out my water purifier. This is an ingenious device which slots together and screws onto a military water bottle. River water is poured into the top and as it pours under gravity through the purifier it is filtered and then disinfected by an iodine resin, before accumulating in the bottle. After two minutes in the bottle the water is safe to drink. Although expensive, this proved to be one of the best pieces of equipment that I brought with me.   I retired to my two man tent (which I had all to myself) and climbed into my sleeping bag. It was now that all of the heavy equipment I had brought all the way from Britain started to come into its own. Even though geographically our camp was probably at around 10,000 ft above sea level, it didn't prove to be too cold at night and I slept well enough.
The Park Hotel in Gilgit
Thursday 4th August. After a breakfast of porridge, I took down my tent and packed up my equipment. We trekked out of Naltar, past the polo pitch and along a walled track which ran alongside the fields. This gave way to an emerald valley of grass and scattered pine trees, intersected by white fast flowing rivers. Alpine scenery near Naltar. The only problem was that these rivers had to be crossed. The first one required an Olympian jump from a small rock onto a huge, angled and wet boulder. The next river was even more of a test with only a thin log perhaps six feet long. Under normal conditions this would have been no problem, but add a huge backpack and an expensive SLR camera (which I had borrowed) and the whole operation ascended to a new level of difficulty. I favoured the quick dash method of negotiating the log and just made it to the other side. The third river crossing was fine but as I gripped an old tree stump to pull myself up the bank I suddenly realised that it was home to a wasps nest. One of the insects clung on to me but fortunately could not sting me through my baggy shalwar trousers!   Crossing the fierce river as we neared Naltar Lake. Having made it over a thin bridge (a fall into the raging river below would almost certainly have meant death) we ascended to the first landmark on our trek, Naltar Lake. The water was given the most fantastic colours by the soil beneath, patches of brilliant green and electric blue shone out from the shallows. Although small, the lake was incredibly beautiful. A short distance from the shore a sign read, "Welcome to Lakeview Hotel and Restaurant". Behind the sign was a tent and a small stone hut. Moving on over a ridge, we descended into an area where the river spread out over a small plain as it made it's way down from the mountains. It was here that we decided to camp and after clearing away small stones and lumps of dried dung, I pitched my tent. A smaller river nearby allowed me to wash my hair and paddle my feet, as well as washing my socks. Later on we had a very welcome supper and afterwards the porters performed traditional dances and chants round the campfire.
Alpine scenery of the Naltar Valley, Pakistan Crossing the fierce river near Naltar Lake Vivid colours of Naltar Lake, Pakistan
The vivid colours of Naltar Lake.
My tent at Gupa Camp, Naltar Valley, Pakistan
My tent, pitched at the edge of Gupa Camp.
Friday 5th August. Again, breakfast was a small helping of porridge with tea. The tea throughout the trek was delicious, being a much milder brew than we get in Britain it didn't require the addition of milk or sugar (although sugar was available). The start of the trek was over a very rocky side of the valley with more river crossings. The children in the villages came out to wave as we climbed alongside the river. After a steep climb we were informed that one of our porters had invited us all for tea outside his mountain hut. There then followed a further steep trek, during which Mansoor (our guide) assured us that both hut and tea were "just over this next ridge". After more than several "next ridges" we all finally sat down and waited for the tea to be brought to us. Meanwhile the local children gathered round and some members of the group handed out sweets, biros and tennis balls. I took some photographs and drank my tea, which was very refreshing. A couple of porters and some of the locals now carried hunting rifles, and one of them stopped during our ascent to take a pot shot at a bird high up in the crag, but he missed. The effects of altitude could now be felt, I became short of breath and slightly lightheaded, and many of the others were affected more badly. Mountain children at the tea stop. When we at last reached the camp it was on rocky terrain and I was forced to pitch my tent on an exceedingly dusty (but very flat) piece of ground. As I was crouching to put up my tent I found that the backs of my legs were quite badly sunburnt, which made the whole business rather painful. The view from the tea stop, looking back down the Naltar Valley. Lunch was two triangular portions of cheese plus a few digestive biscuits as well as two delicious cups of tea. A couple of people were being sick, either as a result of stomach problems or because of the altitude. Crawling carefully inside my tent so as not to become covered in dust I decided to take a re-hydration sachet to replace all of the salts I had lost through sweat. After that I stayed inside to shelter from the sun and dust as well as to write my diary. With brilliant timing I emerged minutes before supper which was noodles and curry. The noodles did not taste particularly good but the curry was quite nice. The important thing on the trek was to try and eat whatever you were given, no matter how unappetizing. If you didn't, there was so little food each day that you could quite easily have made yourself ill. Throughout the afternoon there were loud rumbling noises which initially I attributed to distant thunder. However, I found out that the cause of the noise was in fact avalanches high up in the mountains of the next valley. In the evening there was more singing and dancing round the campfire. Returning to my tent after the entertainment had finished, I did not feel at my best. I was sunburnt, extremely tired and the effects of altitude were increasingly unpleasant.
Mountain children of the Naltar Valley, Pakistan Looking back down the Naltar Valley
Saturday 6th August. Just after breakfast we were treated to a view of an avalanche on a glacier across the valley. Large amounts of ice and snow broke off, crashed down over the rest of the glacier and settled in a conical pile at the foot of the crag like so much sugar. The terrain was rocky at first but then the track wound up over steep green ridges, covered with small bright flowers. The altimeter on my watch now read 11500 ft although its figure was always below the actual value (which was now about 13000 ft). One of the porters takes a rest with the head of the Naltar Valley as a backdrop. Some of the mountains in the Naltar Valley are nearly 20,000 ft high. At this height, Emily (from Monmouth Comprehensive, like me) complained of feeling very dizzy, but was eventually encouraged to carry on. She had not gone much further when she passed out completely. Claire (the doctor), Mansoor, Mudassir (another guide) and the porters built a shelter from a shawl and some ice axes and stayed behind to look after her. As we ascended further and further I began to fall behind the main group. I could only walk for about two minutes at a time before I needed a rest. After a while Mirzadad carried my belt kit and camera for me and eventually took my whole pack. I staggered into the camp a short while later, completely exhausted. I managed to put up my tent and have lunch of biscuits, cheese and four cups of tea. I then rested for a long time in my tent, once again emerging just before supper, which was rice and baked beans followed by a custardy type pudding. The whole meal was delicious and quite filling. As the sun set in a cloudless sky, the stars gradually began to appear. At this altitude (around 14 to 15 thousand feet) and with no light pollution, the night sky was truly magnificent. Occasionally a shooting star would race overhead, past the pale band of the milky way. Wearing most of my warm clothes, I climbed into my sleeping bag and went to sleep. However, even then the altitude created problems. I would often wake up gasping for air and when I did get to sleep, it was punctuated by strange and vivid dreams.
Shani Peak, Naltar Valley, Pakistan Our camp below Phakor Pass, with Shani Peak behind.
The camp was our highest on the whole trek at around 15,000 ft, just below Phakor Pass. Shani Peak can be seen in the background.
Sunday 7th August.  During the night Emily's condition had worsened, she now had Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), a rare and very serious condition caused by the high altitude. It was so serious that she very nearly died and was almost taken down to a lower camp during the night. However, a faster descent was possible on the other side of the pass that we were heading for. It was therefore decided that we would set off early, climb over the 15,400 ft Phakor Pass and descend as quickly and as far down the valley on the other side as possible. Having rested well, I found that the going was not as tough as yesterday, despite the higher altitude. Our group set off first while, amazingly, one of the porters carried Emily over the pass on his back. It turned out that the pass was actually only a relatively short walk, although the terrain was rocky and difficult. Near the top we caught a view of Rakaposhi, the regions other giant peak, in the distance. As we neared the top of the pass, the crags and glaciers became increasingly spectacular. View of the Naltar Valley from Phakor Pass. At the top of the climb was a large glacier which glared white under the azure blue sky. The air was very thin, and as I tried to catch my breath I had increased admiration for mountaineers who climb to the summit of Everest at 29000 ft without oxygen. Both the Muslim porters and our Christian party honoured an old tradition of saying a prayer of thanks for having negotiated the pass successfully and then the descent began. For the first part of the glacier Mansoor dug his ice axe into the snow, secured a rope to it and stood by as we held onto the rope and walked backwards down the snow slope. At the bottom of the slope Mansur gathered us together and solemnly informed us that there were big snow crevasses ahead that were extremely dangerous. He said that we must walk in single file and not like "scattered sheep". He lead at the front, Mudassir brought up the rear and they held a rope between them which we all held in our left hands as we walked in single file. Mansoor weaved a route for us between the hidden chasms and down over the smooth, brilliantly clean ice. At the foot of the glacier was a large moraine which had formed a ridge. This started by a very big red boulder, known locally as Redrock. Nearby was a hollow with a flat floor and although it was a sun-trap it was the best place to stop for lunch. Moving on we had a long walk down the ridge with the sun burning my skin no matter how much sun cream I put on. This gave way to sparse trees and an annoying set of geological obstacles. As side rivers flowed at right angles to our path, rushing down to join the main river on the valley floor, they had gouged out steep canyons. Of course, each of these, like the river, was directly across our route and the path made its way down each of them and up the other side. On descending one of these canyons Rev. Morris was eager to help Emily, lost his footing and slid all the way down to the bottom on his backpack! He could easily have been badly injured. After this the going got easier as we walked down hill through a shady forest. Unfortunately the peace was broken when we were followed by about sixty small mountain goats. When we reached the valley floor we were faced with what can only be described as a climb up a cliff. It was dusty, extraordinarily steep and it was best not to look at the drop on one side. After this exertion however, the camp was only about fifteen minutes away. Finally we made it into the small village where we were camping, completely exhausted. Again, it was a real struggle to pitch the tent and with the late arrival it was soon dark. The camp was in a small green field which contained a few stone village huts as well as an irrigation channel, and drinking water which flowed out of a spring in the hillside. The hill water was rather smelly and once again I was very glad to have my water purifier handy. When the supper of rice and beans was over, I retreated into my tent.
Crags and glaciers near Phakor Pass, Naltar Valley View of the Naltar Valley from Phakor Pass
Monday 8th August.  I think that today was the hardest part of the entire trek. We walked down an absolutely horrific gorge where the path was often so narrow it could only accommodate one of your feet at a time, while you were perched on the brink of a hundred ft drop down a ravine. The path was not flat either, it was angled in the same direction as the hillside and made entirely of dust, with no obvious footholds. Making your way down required immense concentration, I don't exaggerate when I say that one slip in certain places would have been fatal, with the cliff face sometimes only inches away. Add to this the intense heat of the day and the scarcity of side-rivers from which to refill our water bottles and the walk was very difficult. The canyon stretched for miles but eventually we rounded a mountain side and could see the green fields and trees of the Ishkoman valley ahead. In a spot by the path that was shaded by trees we stopped for lunch and a few cups of tea. The next stop came when one of our party asked a local where we could find water to refill our bottles. He misunderstood the request and led the entire party into an orchard. Shortly he reappeared with a jug full of water and a tray of metal cups which he handed round. I declined as my bottle was still half full and the others, not wanting to be ill for the rest of the trip, discreetly added iodine tablets to their water. Later still we were brought some apricots to eat, I had one which was very nice. Leaving the orchard in Phakor we continued along the road towards our destination, the large village called Chatorkhand. A breakaway group set a furious pace- almost a jog, and I later learned that this was because they had heard a rumour that you could buy Pepsi in Chatorkhand! Here, at a lower altitude of 2000 metres the heat was restrictive and certainly reduced my pace towards the end. When I finally caught up with the front of the group at the government rest houses (where we would camp) they were very depressed. It turned out that there was not a single bottle of Pepsi in the entire village and they were so desperate for the brown liquid that for a while they contemplated hiring a jeep, making the six hour journey to Gilgit, and bringing back as much Pepsi as possible! Fortunately our thirst was temporarily quenched when Rev. Morris ordered 2 rounds of tea for us all from the local chai wallah. The tea was hot with milk and sugar and tasted fantastic. Despite the tea, I just had to find a cold drink which didn't taste of iodine and so I set off into the village to find one. In a place which only sees perhaps one hundred tourists a year, everywhere I went I was the focus of attention. I found a shop and asked the owner if he sold anything to drink. He shook his head and gestured down the road to another shop. However, I also had no luck there but I was just walking away when the owner called me back and took me up the road to a small, well made wooden shop. This was the local chemist, and again I asked for a drink but this time I was informed that he was just closing. I was just walking away yet again when the owner called me back and produced a small carton of refrigerated lichee juice and a straw, which only cost Rs10. As I wandered triumphantly down the road clutching my prize, Mirzadad appeared and ran towards me shouting "juice!” I gave him some of the lichee juice which tasted very nice. That evening Emily was taken to the hospital in Gilgit by jeep, which turned out to be something like a nine hour journey! By this time we had met up with the other trekking group who also camped in the government compound. After hearing that supper would not be until midnight, I decided to give it a miss and headed for my tent. We had had no choice but to pitch the tents in very long grass which was absolutely alive with every kind of chirping insect. I was so worried about finding myself trapped in my tent with some winged abomination that I developed a rather unique way of keeping out unwanted creepy crawlies. To get in, I undid the entrance zip, and still wearing my boots, commando rolled inside. In the same action I would zip the door closed behind me. After that I would check every corner of the tent with my torch. Using this method no nasty insect ever managed to get into the inner tent during the entire trip. As I tried to get to sleep I became aware that I was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe, as if I didn't quite have the energy to inflate my lungs. I kept waking up, struggling for air, even though we were well below the height at which the altitude would have been a problem. After some time I decided to go to supper after all, to get some fresh air and clear my head. Supper was chappati and extremely greasy chicken, and while eating I continually had to dodge the huge may bugs which were hurtling round the electric lights. A massive cricket landed in Kerri's cup of tea and the sound of insects filled the night air. Diving back into my tent, I eventually found that I could breathe normally and got a good night's sleep.
Government Rest House at Chatorkhand
One of the government rest houses in the compound at Chatorkhand.
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