Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thanks for your comments

I really enjoy hearing from you all, so please keep'em coming!

Rakaposhi base camp - Room with a view

This is the view from the meadow i slept in on 29 July, at an elevation of 4000m. The meadow is surrounded by Massive glaciers flowing down from Rakaposh mountain (see previous map) and a two other neighbouring peaks (one of which is pictured). Rakaposhi is 7800m, the pictured peak is slightly lower. Its amazing to sit an contemplate a mountain like this. The alpine climber that i was sitting with was telling me how he would go about ascending the peak.

The meadow was about 35 degrees by day and 0 degrees by night.
I met some local Shiite dudes on the way up. THey were sweet dudes. They asked me what i thought about Isreal. I tested the water before diving in. They were students, and were fairly open minded. However, i'm getting into more conservative territory now.
Men and women can't be friends in Pakistan. So a man will barely have contact with a women before he is married. For this reason, the men are pretty desperate (obviously i am generalising, i'm sure this is not true of all men). They tend lear at western women in a way that makes me extemely uncomfortable. One women that i met was politely asked on the way up to the rakaposhi camp whether she wanted to have sex. She hit the guy with her shoe. She said he was quivering with fear, because men are not confronted by local women like this. Men here think that western women are easy, because of what they see on television.
Because of the lack of affection, Men instead show affection towards each other. THey sit on each others lap, and hold hands often. ITs bizarre to see this behaviour. Apparently Homosexuality is common. One guy i met was asked to stay at a local home, and accepted the offer. He woke up with a guy lying behind him, naked.
I should point out that 99.9999% of people here are fantastic!
Versus from the Quran are read and sung over PA systems throughout each town 5 times per day. Even at 3am. It sounds really freaky sometimes, because there will be several people chanting in harsh dischords. It sets a strange mood, especially because it reverberates off the mountains.
I'm off to a place called Fairy meadow tomorrow morning. Sounds nice doesn't it.

Karimabad - the Hun Pass

Karimabad (refer to previous post with map) was my next stop in Pakistan. It is located in the Hunza valley, which is surrounded by massive peaks in all directions. I met a friendly local dude, who took me to his uncle's place for a feed (apricots, break, tea). Then we walked through the valley, which is a fill of beautiful plants and trees. The town is hydrated by a complex network of canals (usually about 1m wide) that seperate what look like rice paddies (steps of land on the side of a hill). But they are actually mainly potato plantations. There are also huge marijuana plants everywhere in peoples gardens. I'm talking up to 2 metres high! My trekking partners from Batura glacier had a smoke (they're hippies/buddhists), but said that it didn't really do much.
My new local friend and a bunch of kids took me down a whole lot of 'secret' paths through the village. FOllowing the canals around the village. It was amazing to see people tending to their plantations. Each household has only a tiny piece of land, but they really make the most of what they have. Apricots are a big part of the economy here as well. The locals all have trays on their roof covered in half apricots, drying in the sun. I wanted to eat some.
Anyway i got pretty sick in Karimabad. But as soon as i could get out of bed a decided to climb the Hun pass, which is a formidable 2000m verticle metres above Karimabad, at an elevation of 4300m. So i got up early and began the mission. I got lost a few times, but eventually found my way to the top of the pass. I was ABSOLUTELY EXHAUSTED when i summited the pass! The smile you see in the photo is totally fake, i had about 4 attempts at the shot before i managed to get that fake smile working.
To get there i had to walk around this canal which was cut into the side of a cliff. The path was about 1m wide, with a dizzying verticle drop of about 150metres over the edge to a roaring river below. On the way back i came across a shephard hearding his sheep in the opposite direction. What a ridiculous situation. Canal and cliff on one side, 150m drop on the other. I wasn't about to be pushed off a cliff by a sheep so i made them take the dodgy side.

My Accomodation at Karakul Lake -

I stayed in this yurt with a Tajik family for a couple of days. Karakul Lake is about 200km north of the Pakistani border. I had know idea what they were saying, but it was still fun.
This is at 3700m, so there is not much air. I tried to run to the toilet soon after eating curried vegetables (the toilet was a hole in the ground nearby) but was unable to run more than 20m before having to rest, gasping for the small amount of oxygen that is in the air.
The mountain in the background is 7600m high. WIcked!

Telecommunications in Pakistan - It makes you think

Telecommunications is cheaper in Pakistan than in NZ. Text messages cost US$0.02, phone calls are slightly more per minute (my swiss mate Chris and I are now phone buddies). This is in a country where electricity only works 1/2 of the time!

Granny 1 Jase 0

I went on this day run that crosses the river Hunza to a village on the other side. Check out how dodgy the bridge is! (and check out what happened to the old bridge! THis is the only access to the village.
The raging river, which is 200m wide, is a long way down. I carefully edged my way across the bridge. The gaps between the wooden steps were about 1m. I was clinging on for dear life.

All of a sudden i feel the bridge start to shake! I turn around to see an elderly local women closing in on me from behind. Naturally i speed up to avoid the embarassment of being taken out. But sadly by the halfway point she had completely closed in on me, and i had to let her past. She strode ahead, barely even touching the hand-wires. When i got to the other side the locals, probably out of sympathy, invited me to their home for lunch. The fed me some wierd stuff.

Batura Glacier Trek

The Karakoram highway is incredible. It is impossible to aptly describe the mind boggling scenery that you witness as you weave your way through deep valleys, alongside the hunza river, surrounded by massive rock walls on both sides of the road. Half the time is spend navigating the bus around rock slides that have covered much of the road.

Every few days the highway is closed because of new rock slides. THe costs of keeping this road open must be significant, but both CHina and Pakistan benefit considerable from the trade that can occur because of the route.

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.

Regulating Beef Noodle Prices in China

In Western China the state government is considering fixing the price of beef noodles. The government is unhappy that the many hundreds of noodle stalls throughout the Xin Jiang province have been increasing prices over recent months, and is not convinced of claims by restaurant owners that the price increases reflect similar increases in the costs faced by noodle outlets.

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

The Karakoram Highway - Sunday 15 July

From Kashgar, i will now proceed south towards Pakistan. My first stop will be Karakul Lake, which is not shown on the map below, but is south of Ghez, located right in between the two peaks identified on the eastern side of the KKH. From there i will head to Tashkurgan for a quick stopover, before crossing the border into Pakistan. Once i am in Pakistan, i will make up my plans as i go (and as the political situation allows).

I will fly out of Islamabad in mid-August, destined for Istanbul.

It's gonna be sweet.

Kashgar Sunday Market

Kashgar was an important trading mecca on the silk road ( a historic trading route between the middle east and CHina ) . It is also the start of the Karakoram highway, which traverses the Karakoram/Himalayan range into Pakistan.

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.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Where and What is Urumqi?

Urumqi is my entry point into Western China (pronounced Wu-lu-mun-kh). It is a city with 1.2 million residents, located 200k from the Kazahkstani border in central asia.
My first impression upon my arrival at the airport late last night was - am i the only westerner in Western CHina. No one tried to sell me anything, even the taxi guys were quiet (i guess they were lost for 'english' words). I have since found a few westerners, which was quite a relief. When around the locals i just keep my mouth shut, which is a challenge for me, but was suggested by Nana before i left (thanks Nana).
People do everything very late here, its wierd. Last night there were families everywhere at 1am, I even had dinner with one family. They also eat rabbit heads here, whats up with that.
The few people that can speak english (mainly students), are very friendly towards me. They want to practice. So that has been quite helpful, i can teach them how to give me directions in english. Everyone else looks at me funny, as though they're thinking - what the hll are you doing here? On the way to the lake pictured above (read below), people in the small villages were yelling out 'hello' to me as we drove past in the shtty bus. These villagers live in mongolian style tents, called Yurts. I'll be sleeping in a couple of these types of villages over the next week.
I went running up to the pictured lake today. Its called the heavenly lake. Unfortunately what is missing from this photo are the two 5000 metre peaks in the background, which are doused in cloud. The lake is at 2000 metres, so as you can imagine, the peaks would usually look pretty spectacular, maybe even heavenly. It was a mild 18 degrees up there, which made a nice change to 30 plus degrees in Beijing and Urumqi (which is nasty when combined with suffocating smog).
Tommorow i'm heading to Kashgar, in far Western China. From there i will be hitting the Himalayan/Karakoram mountain range. excellent.
Thats all from me, its time for my standard meal - egg fried rice. I'm a sucker for monotonous food choice.

The Great Wall of Smog

After 24 hours in transit, i finally arrived at my hostel in Beijing at 9am on Wednesday morning (local time). Since i had missed all the Great wall tours for the day, my only option was to take public transport. This involved a 2.5 hour mission each way, along with a 2 hour run on the great wall in between. As you can imagine, i was quite tired from the outset.
After returning from my day out, i was invited out for dinner and drinks by some Irish dudes. We went to this Lake that is surrounded by bars, restaurants, and night clubs. It looks amazing, with crazy lighting, and people cruising around inlittle boats. I returned to the hostel after they decided to hit the nightclubs. That just wasn't going to happen.
Went to Forbidden city the following day, that was ok i suppose.
Here is what i think of Beijing:
- Cant see crap because of smog (streets disappear into it) This means you can look directly at the sun, not that you would necessarily want to.
- There are people everywhere. Its a madhouse. Its like a party on every corner, except with no party.
- Not many people speak english, not many westerners here really.
- Public transport is pretty sweet, because you see heaps of wierd stuff. Although it is complicated, and requires you to spend a lot of time communicating with locals using hand gestures.
- Its cheap as chips.
- People don't seem to give a crp about you, but then become very helpful when asked. People will go out of their way to show you the way somewhere.
- Everyone talks to each other on the bus, I don't know why, or what about. I may never know.
- There are more building being built, than there are buildings that are occupied.
Interesting place, but i'm happy to be heading West to the twilight zone. On to Urumqi then.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Goodbye Wellington

It is with some regret that i pack my bag and leave NZ, a place that i have only begun to really appreciate in my post-teen years. While in some ways my connection with NZ makes the move harder, in other ways it's good to know that this will be a great place to return to at the end of the adventure.

As much as I like the rolling hills and small town feel of Wellington, it's time for a new challenge. Something that will push the boundaries a little, break out of the comfort zone, and change my perspective. Perhaps an experience that will heighten my appreciation of NZ even more upon my return.

The accompanying photo is a view of Wellington, taken from the hills that loom over Tawa (my home town). The photos that will accompany my subsequent posts will represent a Wellingtonians perspective of a much less familiar, and potentially more intriguing world...