Tuesday, July 31, 2007
My first stop in Pakistan is Passu, a very small town about 100k south of the border. As soon as i arrived i found my first trekking companions, whom were sitting in the front garden of my shtty hotel negotiating with a local guide to trek the Batura Glacier . 5 minutes later i was in on the conversation, and 12 hours later i was trudging up the Glacier in my (soon to be destroyed) trail running shoes.
Batura Glacier is a massive 65km long, and is surrounded by 7000+ peaks on both sides. The 70km trek runs accross the glaciers edge, up to a meadow which lies half way up the glacier. During the 5 day trek I camped under the stars most nights in my bivouac, surrounded by mountain goats, Yaks, and possible snow leopards. One morning i was rudely awoken by a cow trying to rub its nose against my face. It wasn't a pretty thing to wake up to! I told her i wasn't interested.
On our way down the glacier we ran into a group of 50 local Islamic women that were trekking for the first time. Our guide Zakir (pictured above leading his cows) told us that this was an important occasion for Northern Pakistan, as it was organised by a new 'womens' group that has been formed by the local government. The formation of this womens group, and this organised trekking event, marked a significant occasion for the people of Northern Pakistan. I felt very lucky to bear witness to the event.
Women in Pakistan lack the freedom enjoyed by women in the west (its very sad). But the Islamic people in the North are Ismaili Muslims, which are a minority, and are quite liberal compared with the SHiites and Sunnis. Even so, the husbands and fathers of the women were asked permission before these women were permitted to come on the trek.
We camped in a village where the women were staying. We enjoyed a picnic with them. Later i was asked, as a kiwi, to umpire a cricket match between the local men and women. I came under heavy critisism on the final ball when there was a controversial run-out by one team. I think one guy on the losing team may have put a Jihad on me. THey take cricket very seriously here.
These ladies were having the time of their lives. THey even played tug-of-war. They sung lots of local songs throughout the day. It was pretty sweet to see really.
My guide Zakir and I had some good trekking races (running/stumbling with our packs on). He kept trying to shake me off but I stubbornly stuck on his heels.
Apparently for most people in this region, switching to other breakfast foods is not an option. THey must eat beef noodles for breakfast! As a result, they have been 'forced' to pay excessive amounts in recent months.
What intrigues me is that the Chinese government think that noodle stalls have the ability to collect monopoly profits by drawing on some sort of collective market power. Where does this market power come from? There are about ten noodle restaurants on every street fighting for the same customers! I can't see how they can possibly collude on prices.
It surprises me that the government would be so naiive in this day and age. I thought that CHina was past that.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I will fly out of Islamabad in mid-August, destined for Istanbul.
It's gonna be sweet.
In the end i picked up a cheap flight to Kashgar from Urumqi, which saved me an epic bus journey across the desert. The Kashgar airport is surrounded by sand mountains. I half expected R2D2 and C3p0 to appear at the edge of the runway as we taxied towards the minimalist terminal.
Kashgar is still a trading centre for buyers and sellers from CHina through to the middle east. I learnt this first hand, as i later shared the back of the bus with all sorts of random goods that were purchased at the Sunday market, and were to be delivered to stores throughout Pakistan.
THe sunday market is a crazy place, with lots of interesting looking people yelling at each other in a bunch of different languages. I saw some strange things, like a buyer and seller brokering a trade of cattle on the back of a cow (using the cow as a table). And another guy trying to get a cow to jump off the back of a truck, which was probably 1.5 m off the ground. The cow didn't look happy.
There is stuff going on all around as you fight your way through the crowds of people. If i stopped to look at something, i would all of a sudden find myself surrounded by curious locals, who would look at me funny, and start inspecting my bag, watch, guide book - anything that was exposed.
At one point i found myself in the path of an optimistic who was blitzing it down a narrow alley on the back of a donkey cart, closely followed by a pursuing police car with its sirens blaring. I quickly jumped into a fruit stall to avoid a collision. Everyone was cheering the donkey dude. I was backing the police car to take out the donkey myself. It reminded me of when people try to run away from police helicopters.
Most of the people here are not chinese. THey are called Urgher people. Their features are something inbetween Chinese and middle eastern. THe Xin Ziang province (in which Urumqi and Kash are located) unwittingly found itself to be part of the Chinese empire after its leaders were mysteriously killed in a plane accident about 50 years ago. Since then, the Urghers (my spelling may be wrong) have pretty much been shafted by the Chinese. THey get the shtty jobs and the CHinese are apparently doing as much as they can to prevent kids from learning the language. I can say all of this now that i'm not in CHina ( a guy i met got booted out of CHina for talking about this stuff with the locals ).
THere is much more sensorship in China than i thought. THe newspapers always tell positive stories about great things the government has done etc. Nothing bad ever happens in CHina, according to the local media. Half of the internet is blocked, including my blog, and anything about Tibet or anything remotely political (BBC site etc) .
I have some great pictures, which i may post if i can find a computer that works properly.