Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ain't no river

The minibus might leave at two o'clock, but everyone seems a bit vague. We bag a couple of seats and wait for it to fill up. And wait. And wait. Just after three there's a sudden rush. The roof rack is loaded up, the seats are taken, there's fellas hanging off the ladders on the back and we edge out of the parking lot and out of Gilgit. We are heading north, back on the KKH, which is now a badly-maintained almost single-track road gripping the edge of the valley. The hillsides around us are dry and brown but nearer to the river below there are green fields and tall plane trees, villagers eking out an existence in this inhospitable terrain thanks to infinite water channels feeding off the surrounding mountains. We seem to be rolling along okay until we stop by some roadside stalls. All the men get out and go shopping. Mangoes, ice creams, water melons, cups of milky tea. A man picks out a chicken and a boy weighs it, folds it's wings, holds it to the ground, and with what looks like a rather blunt knife, saws away at it's gullet until the blood comes. Mmmm, chicken tonight. Then we're off again.

By evening we reach the village of Minapin, the starting point for our trek. The people here are mainly Ismaili muslims, and the women (my goodness, there are women) do not cover their faces. A sign at the entrance to the village prohibits photographing them. Some graffiti proclaims 'Down with USA and Israel' which seems out of place in this backwater. You'd think they'd be more concerned about the electricity shortages or the literacy rate, which is so low in Pakistan that one third of the men and two thirds of the women will not be able to read the slogans. We camp in the garden of a guesthouse. The owner tells us that business is not so good since 9/11. This is not the first or last time we hear this. It seems that there is a real push to get more national tourists to visit the north nowadays.

In the morning we begin our climb up to Rakaposhi base camp. (A climber later tells us that no-one has ever climbed the mountain from this place, but it sounds good.) We quickly pass by houses covered in drying apricots, and through fields irrigated by endless channels, and start climbing a series of well-built switchbacks up a steep canyon. It's sunny and hot, but the river below us brings some welcome cold air. Very quickly we can see the end of the glacier feeding the river. Our walk takes us higher and along the valley beside the glacier, but we are kept apart by a ridge of morraine debris that has been deposited by the glacier over the years. We walk through pine woods and past a few stone houses with terraced fields of potatoes and then climb steeply again to reach the top of the morraine ridge. It takes us six hours but the view over the glacier is stunning. There's a morass of ice blocks either black or stark white and spreading back across a huge valley the glacier sprawls out in front of us, reaching right back to the mountains of Diran and Rakaposhi.
It is a mighty frozen river and it groans with its own weight and tardy progress. We edge along a cliff-hanging path to a small meadow that runs beside the glacier, and we climb onto an old morraine ridge with good views and pitch our tent. We're a bit breathless with the scenery and the altitude and a 1200 metre ascent, but very happy to be here. In the meadow are a herd of cows and three women who are sat by the butchered remains of one of their herd. The head sits on the ground next to them, eyes watching. Some local lads are picking their way across the glacier, one barefoot, and they come over to gawp at us gawping at the glacier, none of us appearing to tire of the sight. It's possible to cross the glacier but it takes about three hours and you should have a guide, and we are quite happy with the view thank you very much. At night time we watch the full moon rise over one of the peaks, its light reflected brightly off the packed ice below. This turns out to be our last sight of the tops because the clouds draw in and the drizzle begins. We descend halfway the next day and then head to Karimabad, the capital of Hunza, the following day.
local produce


yellowlemonie said...

ever such amazing stuff you get to see! :) *jealous* glad to know that you're both enjoying yourselves and are healthy and well!

meanwhile, i'm back in Singapore (for good! - mostly anyway) and have just started my PGCE course. no visas required of course. ;p

slowmotion said...

Fantastic reading once again. I hadn't kept up for a while because of some time-consuming occupations; so now I am briefed again! I feel a bit crooked thinking of 20-hour bus-rides and breathless imagining the mountain-climbs. But the tent on the mountain-meadow under the stars would tempt me very much.
Enjoy your hikes and be careful. Lookink forward to read about the next adventures. kirsten