Turbulent Nature, the Silk Road, and Pakistani Ingenuity in the Northern Areas

Some people aren’t good with babies, others aren’t so hot with dogs…

…though both of the above give me equal amounts of anxiety, mother nature is probably what agitates me most.

A mountain range in Baltistan, Pakistan

We often get so engulfed in blue beaches and starry nights that the fear of being alone or lost among them starts to evaporate. The intensity of nature feels incomparable to our sober lives. Exploring the vast northern areas of Pakistan exposed me to just how unworthy and incapable I’d be in its survival. This was the land where I took my first steps yet I quivered setting foot on it again.

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A 5-hour journey going down a mountain in Skardu, Baltistan while making several barf stops.

Truth be told, Pakistan’s landscapes surpassed my reality. This was beauty: real, untouched, hypnotizing, and fucking terrifying BEAUTY.

A lot happened in the week we spent up north but three things stood out the most: how I almost shat myself either by being mesmerized or terrified by nature, the never-ending road we drove on for pretty much the entire trip, and the ingenuity of the folks that inhabit the areas. I also lost my favorite pair of glasses in the hole-in-the-ground toilet, but that’s a story for another day.

Turbulent Nature

Star Gazing

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Cold Desert, Skardu, Baltistan

We got to the Cold Desert at sunset and I could feel the nerve in my head pulsating for its next hit of caffeine. My fourth cup of chai that day was a well-earned reward for climbing up the massive sand dune. On the horizon, chunks of mountains traced the sky and on their edge, a small village glimmered through living room windows. A splatter of pixie dust layered the night sky and if you gazed long enough, shooting stars started playing hide and seek. They crossed the sky in blinks of the eye, but the accomplishment of looking in the right place at the right time made it worthwhile.

Stars are one thing iPhones can’t capture (well, anyway) and somehow, I was okay without the documentation.

Angry Waters

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Manthoka Waterfalls, Skardu, Baltistan.

Maybe because we were up in the mountains and gravity does this thing where stuff has to come down, most bodies of water looked pretty pissed.

Just look at this restaurant we stopped at for lunch:

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A road-side restaurant somewhere in the state of Baltistan.

I’d willingly surrender to death without even splashing my arms if my clumsy ass slipped off the edge.

The F*cking Mountains 

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The Shangri-La Hotel built among mountains in Skardu, Baltistan.

I didn’t want to swear but that was the first word I said when I woke up from my nap in Baltistan.  It’s out of my ignorant scope to comprehend just how breathtaking this view is, but more importantly, the possibility of the harshest landscapes sustaining life.

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The meeting point of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, and the Himalayas mountain ranges.

Five of the world’s fourteen mountains taller than 8,000 meters can be found in Pakistan. The three that intersect in Pakistan’s Northern Areas are the Karakorum (which includes the world’s 2nd largest peak, K2), the Hindu Kush (which crosses 5 countries: India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, and China), and the Himalayas (on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan).

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The clear blue water of the Skardu Dam.

Ever felt like your vision wasn’t enough to grasp the entire picture? That’s Pakistan’s north. I’d rush to our bus just so I could get the window seat and scold myself after for missing the view on the other side.

The Silk Road

The Karakoram Highway

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Babusar Point in Naran, Pakistan overlooking the KKH Highway.

The Karakoram Highway (known as the KKH) is the highest paved international road in the world. It’s the road to paradise – if you like exploring the mountains, that is. The KKH is regarded as one of the world’s hardest alpine climbs as it consists of hairpin curves and dangerous drop-offs.

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Stopping traffic on the world’s highest highways for Insta flames.

The KKH connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an elevation of 4,693 meters above the sea level. 810 Pakistani and 82 Chinese workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides, while building the highway. The route of the KKH traces one of the many paths of the ancient Silk Road.

Landslides

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A sheppard bringing his flock of sheep down from the mountains.

Several times on the road, we were stopped to be warned of landslides ahead.

On our way from Skurdu to Naran, we were advised by a vendor that the roads ahead were closed. For 6 hours, we were stuck amidst mountains. When the road was finally bulldozed clear of rocks, busses unloaded passengers to cross by foot in knee-deep water in the pitch dark because a heavy vehicle was more likely to get stuck along the way.

Indigenous Ingenuity

Jingle Trucks

Jingle trucks in Pakistan (Source)_.

“Jingle trucks” was a nickname given by the American military in Afghanistan thanks to bells strewn across the bumpers. The tradition of decorating started with owners wanting to individualize there logo to be recognized by illiterate people. In Pakistan, truck drivers can spend up to two years’ salary decorating their vehicles. Now, the art is seen as a business investment, as potential clients are more likely to hire a truck that’s beautifully painted” (Stewart 2018).

Growing up, I hated these. I didn’t understand why there were so many bells and whistles pouring out of giant trucks that slowed down the traffic and overwhelmed the scenery. After living in the West and seeing minimalistic, color-coded transit, I’ve come to appreciate just how intricate and full of life these are.

Cage Crossing

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Crossing the river in a hand-wheel controlled cage, Naran, Pakistan.

We were having breakfast in Naran when I saw two girls across the water get into a cage hanging by a wire over the river. An old man spun a wheel and the contraption brought the girls to our side.

Of course, I had to try it. And I did. It wasn’t a roller coaster, but knowing how organic and simple the process of the crossing was, I still got butterflies.

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Chilling with baby goats in Deosai National Park, Baltistan.

I had a really hard time dishing out this blog because it was my last international trips this year. Writing it meant I had to accept that fact. For those of you who don’t know, I started school again and it’s sort of taken over my life. Nonetheless, for the sake of sanity, the rants should continue. Until then, xo.

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