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Published: November 28th 2009
For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
“My father is an ibex hunter. Tonight we will eat ibex”.
“But I am vegetarian. I don’t eat meat”.
“It is all we have. We are preparing it for you”.
Am I really going to break ten years of vegetarianism to eat an endangered animal? But I am not going to say no to this family who has so kindly invited me into their simple mud and brick house for the night.
We sit around the central wood fire in their home as mother and daughter press chapattis and spend several hours preparing the meal. The warmth is a pleasant change from the freezing 4$ hotel rooms I have been sleeping in.
The women remove cups of chai for me from the large pot over the fire before they add salt, Tibetan style. They know that foreigners prefer their tea sweet, not salty. The children sit quietly doing their homework from raggedy textbooks under the dim light of a single bulb. Gul Suma, the 17 year old daughter who has invited me in, is the first and possibly last
Pakistani female who has approached and spoken to me during my visit to the country. Her English is impeccable and based on her maturity level, I would have guessed her to be 25 years old.
The ibex sits heavy in my stomach and mind, and at night, asleep on the floor in a small room with the father of the family, I awaken from a nightmare.
The next day I am off on my own again. Back to the freezing hotels.
I had entered the Northern Areas on a 19-hour bus ride along the mighty KKH (Karakoram Highway, if you can call it a highway) from Islamabad. We pass Nanga Parbat, 9th highest peak in the world. The three great mountain ranges converge at this single point: the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalaya.
This death defying narrow dirt track clings to slopes of mountains and valley walls, with barely enough space for colorfully decorated trucks to pass, following the ancient Silk Route up over the Khunjerab pass, the highest navigable pass in the world, into western China. Buses and vehicles slog through at 15 kilometers an hour, navigating avalanches, detours, potholes, donkey carts and
Chinese highway workers with blackened faces. The vehicles that didn’t make it can be seen on the valley floor far below.
Getting off the bus, I think my body would feel less abused had I walked. My itinerary is crammed full with trekking plans. On my first attempt, an ascent to the base camp of an 8000-meter giant, Rakaposhi, the snow comes down hard and I don’t make it. I make some big changes to my itinerary. The weather clears up and my camera comes out. So do my books.
It is autumn in the Karakoram and the villages are stunning. At this time of year northern Pakistan is uncomfortably chilly but painted Yellow, Red, Orange, Green, Grey, White and Blue.
The sun sets early in the mountains. Electricity cannot be relied on. Candles provide light for reading after dark. Internet exists officially but after 2 frustrating hours of trying to open a few e-mails, I give up. Hot showers are a special treat that happen once every three days if you are lucky. The food is a little monotonous but prepared with love; eggs for breakfast, lentil daal, veggie curry and chapattis the rest of the
Pakistani War Veteran
This man spent 4 years in an Indian prsioner of war camp
time, and lots of chai.
Pakistan is a dry country, but in one trekker’s village, silver cans of Chinese beer peer out from the shop windows, enticing the eyes of the thin stream of grungy backpackers and cyclists. At 400 rupees, a single can costs more than my hotel room for the night. But at least it is cold enough here that the beer doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
When the electricity comes on, locals wrapped in blankets and scarves sit around the television set and see images of the aftermath of daily suicide bombs from Peshawar near the Afghan border, not so far away from where we are. But the Northern Area of Pakistan is safe, always has been.
There is an election going on right now, and you won’t hear locals talking about anything else. The streets are alive with excitement; trucks loaded with people, cheering the names of their candidates, sporting headbands and flags. In a nation where democracy is new, elections are a BIG deal.
My birthday comes and goes, and I look to the snow-capped mountain peaks for inspiration. They tell me that I am alone, but that this is good. For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
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