Published: October 10th 2007August 13th 2007
To see the subtle differences between neighboring countries that crossing a land border presents, has to be one of my favourite parts of traveling. But, crossing the kilometer of no-mans land between the India/Pakistan border at Wagah, in 40 degree heat, was not much fun. By the time all the formalities had been completed，I was drenched with sweat from head to toe.
My first port of call was Lahore. The first differences noticed here was the order of the traffic, cars neatly lined up in lanes at traffic lights is something you don’t see very often on India’s anarchic streets. Women are no longer dressed in brightly coloured saris, instead, the women are almost invisible. With women practicing purdah, the custom among conservative Muslims of keeping women in seclusion or veiled, they are rarely seen. Men are dressed in long flowing shalwar kameez, a long-sleeved cotton shirt-like top that comes down to the knees with loose matching cotton pants. As opposed to the Indian style of impossibly tight, package hugging pants pulled up to their nipples, revealing a male version of the camel toe. But one disappointing difference is, with Pakistan being an Islamic republic, no alcohol!
of Lahore were extremely friendly to me. Whenever I would stop at a street side lemonade stand to cool down in the forty plus degree heat, a local would strike up a conversation with me, usually about cricket after they find out I’m Australian. Then they would insist on paying for my bill, which is usually only five or ten rupees ($US0.08 to 0.16), not a lot of money but a welcome gesture after constantly arguing over money with Indians.
My next stop was Islamabad, Pakistan’s purpose built capital city, like Canberra, not a lot going on there. It has a good camp site though, pretty close to the Red Mosque. After the few days it took to get a Chinese visa in my passport, I was off to Peshawar. Just in time too, the whole Red Mosque thing kicked off a day after I left. Some other travelers I was meant to meet up with in Peshawar couldn’t get out of the camp site.
Peshawar is on the eastern end of the legendary Khyber Pass, with Kabul, Afghanistan on the western side. But for me it would be the most westerly point reached of this journey, I’ll
save Afghanistan for another day. Apart from its old city and nearby smugglers bazaar, which is now off limits to foreigners, there’s not a lot to do in Peshawar. But, close by in the Kohat Frontier Region of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas is the village of Darra Adam Khel, where everyone makes one thing: guns! The Tribal Areas are inside Pakistan, but outside Pakistani law and the area is officially out of bounds to foreigners. When I arrived in the village a tribal police man was there to greet me. He took me into a grubby old building, had some tea served to us, then unloaded his Kalashnikov and handed it to me for a close inspection. We then negotiated the bribe paid for me to tour the factories, which ended up at two hundred rupees (US$3.30). I was guided through several primitive workshops where men and young boys make replica Chinese pistols, American shotguns and the local favourite, the Kalashnikov, also known as the AK-47. A Darra gunsmith, given a rifle he has never seen before, can duplicate it in ten days. It is estimated that over four hundred guns are completed every day. My tour was punctuated by the
cracking sounds of gunfire as craftsmen tested their finished products in the street. I was then offered the chance to let off a few rounds of the police man’s Kalashnikov, the replicas sometimes blow up, but it was a little expensive.
I then traveled north to Chittral, followed by the Kalasha Valleys. The non-muslim Kalasha people are said to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers. Their pale skin, blue eyes and fair hair add a little weight to this story. I spent a peaceful three days in the valleys relaxing by the gushing rivers and wandering through the villages. The Kalasha people were extremely friendly. I was invited into one house by an elderly man who promptly ordered his daughter, who would have been no older than ten years of age, to cook up some local style flat bread and serve it, along with some local goat cheese, to the family and myself. At this point in time, I’d been completely won over by Pakistan and its people.
Upon returning to Chittral, I caught wind of a little known polo festival in the far northern region of Broghil, bordering Afghanistan’s Whakan corridor. I met up with three
other travelers to take the journey of two days by jeep, and two days hike with. This passed the spectacular scenery of glaciers and the high peaks of the Hindu Raj Mountain range.
Arriving at Broghil we were then treated to more Pakistani hospitality, with a feast of goat and bread followed by some Chittraly dancing. The festival then began. The following four days were spent watching locals play football, donkey polo, horse polo and yak polo. The festival was quite small with about two hundred spectators and players in attendance with a mix of locals, Afghanis, Pakistanis who’d traveled from as far as Lahore to watch the spectacle, and twelve foreigners. The perfect amount for a game of donkey polo. The match was more than likely put on for the locals to have a laugh out our expense, and with people falling off out of control donkeys all over the pitch, they got their laughs. I had a small donkey with my feet dangling only six inches above the ground, so it was just about impossible for me to fall off. The grand finale for the festival was a game of Buskashi. Buskashi is a game played on
horse back by an unspecified amount of players, who wrestle for possession of a be-headed goat which is laid out next to a flag. When one of the contestants has won possession of the goat they gallop off up the hills and then return to dump the carcass next to the flag. When the games were finished the distinguished guests and foreigners presented trophies to the winners. I got to present the trophy to the football champions.
I then moved east into the Karokoram Mountain range and spent the next month doing some short treks. Pakistan has some of the best trekking the world has to offer. With the highest concentration of seven thousand plus meter peaks, the Karakorum Range is said to be the most mountainous region in the world. The huge snow capped peaks with glaciers running down their sides, plunging into narrow valleys flowing with rivers fed by glacial melt makes for some spectacular scenery and good trekking options. But I’m definitely not a keen trekker, so I just stuck to the one or two day short treks. I did one solo two day trek, which took me over the 4800m pass named Burji La to
get a distant glimpse of the world’s second highest mountain, K2. Which from the distance I was at; K2 was a tiny grey pyramid on the horizon. For me, the spoils of the view at the pinnacle of a trek don’t outweigh the sacrifice made to afford them.
Pakistan has to be one of my favorite countries I’ve traveled in, the people are genuinely friendly and the scenery in the north is amazing. I loved this country. Pakistan has a bad reputation of danger and terrorism portrayed upon it by western media. In my time there, I never once felt threatened. Although a few incidents did occur at places I had previously been. I narrowly missed the Red Mosque siege, and an Islamabad bakery I had been in weeks before, was blown up by a suicide bomber.
During a conversation with an elderly local on one of my last days in Pakistan, the man learnt of my plans to go to China. He said to me ‘China is better than Pakistan’. I asked why? ‘China has fewer mountains and has beer!’ it had been seven weeks since my last drink, so I had to agree with his last
In the next few days I made my way up the Karakorum Highway, over the world’s highest border crossing at the Kunjerab pass into China.
There are more photos below