Slowly, Slowly (What's Urdu for That?)... Khaplu, Pakistan

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August 22nd 2019
Published: February 3rd 2020
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Day 23

Sleeping in Khaplu (2601m)

Tour 2- North Pakistan Adventure is to commence today. I email conversed with a few companies but ultimately went with Iman Rahim from Snow Leopard Tours in Melbourne. We went back and forth to eventually come up with an itinerary and costing that we were happy with. Bottom line- private tour for 2 for 14 days with guide, driver, all meals (bar lunch), decent car and all transport, all entry fees and accommodation for USD $1235 each. This would cover Skardu-Khaplu-Machulo Village-Deosai National Park-Rama Lake-Fairy Meadow Trek-Gilgit-Hunza-Karimabad- Ganesh Village-Hopper valley-Gulmit-Ghulkin Glacier Trek- Borith Lake-Passu-Shimshal Village-Sost -border crossing into China (Tashkurgan) .... phew! Iman was easy to deal with, we were on almost the same time zone, all of the correspondence was professional and detailed and it was easy to make payments versus bank transfers to Pakistan. They also provided all the required documents for the visa application for both Pakistan and China.

The Pakistan arm of Snow Leopard is called Hunza Discovery Tours who handled all of our in country arrangements. The staff for both countries are all related and have a seemingly infinite network of contacts.

So, without further ado here goes, Part 2....

Mary makes a stellar recovery, showers, washes clothes, has breakfast..... stellar recovery is short lived, crashes and burns.

Our new guide Karim Baig (2 yrs younger than me, charming, mover and shaker, knows everyone) arrives promptly and we decide that the military hospital is our best option to sort Mary out. It's not so far to drive. Our new driver- Niaz (awesome, v genuine, good looking, hip, young, and as we would come to find out has an odd taste in retro Indian music) and drives a Prado- I think anyone who is anyone here drives a Prado. The Prado is blue (no idea of year or odometer or where it's from- so not a car person). Interestingly Karim offers up the front passenger seat, it's an impressive move on his part- how does he know this is where I like to sit? He says he knows his place (????). I'm happy (note- despite offering to switch seats every time we get back to the car over the next couple of weeks he never takes the front seat, I'm very happy).

The hospital was impressive, a couple of security checks and a very short wait in the Emergency Department before Mary was taken into an exam room. History taken by nurse, obs, O2 sats, ECG, and peak flow. Very nice fluffy blanket. History taken by doctor ( a female army colonel), neb given and chest xray organised . History taken by ICU consultant, CXR reviewed (no pnuemonia) and advised to stay in hospital for a night- diagnosis exacerbation of asthma . Mary, feeling good post neb, had other ideas and as her friend was a nurse (moi) and had taken great care of her so far, she convinced him she would be fine to go- so, after 3 hours, another neb and a shot of IV hydrocortisone we paid about $17 to the cashier (this included the discharge meds) and were on our way. Got to say, it was a pretty amazing experience. The staff were really thorough and very compassionate- the female army nurse hugged us, the female army colonel doctor invited us to stay at her place should we go back through Islamabad and the army ICU higher-than-a-colonel doctor gave us his mobile number with strict instructions to ring him if we needed anything!

By now it was lunch time and I think Karim and Niaz were very ready for a cup of tea, we certainly were. We drove to the Snowland Guest House back in Skardu and had the most fantastic couple of hours in their garden. The garden was gorgeous- really colourful, apple trees everywhere, perfect spot for lunch. Had a guided tour around the accommodation- really, really clean, wish we could have stayed a night. Kind of a Swiss chalet feel, intricate carvings, lots of light wood, excellent wifi and really nice staff.

It is now after 1pm- time to start the next part of our journey. Nearly 3 hours of driving - despite only being 111km from Skardu. The conversation flows easily as we get to know our new travel companions (they felt like companions very quickly, as opposed to guide and driver). We reach the Khaplu valley which is located on the banks of the Indus and Shayok Rivers around 1630. I'm totally happy with this though as the sights from the window never get old. We go through a few small towns complete with dusty roadside shops, one of which looks to be a yak butcher shop with yak heads and fresh meat laid out for sale. Never did find out how much a kg of yak meat, or a yak head for that matter, cost. Eventually we ended up at the ancient Khaplu Palace.

The Khaplu Palace was built in 1840 by Kashmiri and Balti craftsmen, it has many influences in its architecture- Tibetan, Central Asian, Kasmiri, Ladakhi and Balti- lots of wood and decorative painting. It was the royal residence of the Raja of Khaplu. It was extensively renovated from 2006-2011 by the Aga Khan Foundation with assistance from the Norwegian Government and US Aid and is now partly museum and partly hotel. The Serena Company run a 21 room hotel on site and we splashed out on staying there for the night (Karim knew the manager, an upgrade was given- this would become a common event for the duration of our trip)!!!!! - Of note were the whitewashed heavy stone walls and beautiful traditional finishes, a blissfully hot shower! Shampoo and soap! And slippers (not that you needed them, the first bathroom floor for weeks that was absolutely and positively shiny clean). The other stunning feature was that we had a beautiful view of a garden complete with heaving apricot trees. It was really amazing to stay on site, we were given free reign of the entire compound. Sitting up in the sun drenched balcony room of the palace, sprawled out on cushions with the Karakorum's as my view was awesome (one of the trip's enduring memories actually). It also had an onsite restaurant with a traditional Balti menu (or non-Balti if you wanted)- real protein for dinner! After some hard core travelling in the last couple of weeks, taking a HOT shower and putting on some "nice-ish" clothes was a treat. Karim and Niaz headed off to see friends so we are all able to have some time out. As we were the only dinner guests (despite a long table set up for 20 people) we also really enjoyed chatting to our waiter who was more than happy to tell us all about his traditional life and studies. Unmarried at 28 he was hoping to marry soon and was leaving the choice of his bride completely up to his parents, it was a fascinating snapshot into his life in the village. The dinner was great- salad with leaves, cottage cheese and apricot oil,
Yak Butcher ShopYak Butcher ShopYak Butcher Shop

Very typical village shop set up. As we drive by everyone waves. Very friendly. Mary said she felt like the queen in the back seat.
Biyagno fasanjoon -chicken in a rich walnut sauce (OMG, delicious), chapatti, rice and DESSERT - a heavenly local dish called Shahi kheer - a cardamon spiced rice pudding (my mouth is watering).

Wow, what a day. Despite being squeaky clean and in a super duper bed with really fresh linen it was hard to drop off to sleep (maybe due to the amazing dinner, but not such a bad thing). So quiet. A little bit surreal.

PS- Mary is feeling "Ok"

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24



Reception Room, note ceiling
Close Up Of Ceiling Work Close Up Of Ceiling Work
Close Up Of Ceiling Work

No nails used in the ceiling construction, lots of finely carved decoration

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