A big bag of plums

Day 143: 09/08/19
Location: Gilgit, Pakistan
Miles Driven: 68
Our day started in a gorgeous wild camping spot, in the valley, not too far from the Hunza river. From the top of the hill came three teenage boys, making their way down the steep mountainside with expertise rivalled only by mountain goats. The previous night Chris had chatted to the boys, three brothers, who lived at the top, and had spotted us putting up the tent. This morning they came carrying a huge carrier bag of plums. Our breakfast. We chatted some more. They were keen to know about British schools, whether we knew which schools would accept international students, and if it were possible for us to help them with their applications. We shared a glance and inward chuckles – not at the boys themselves, but at the situation. In First Overland, over 50 years ago, they describe the exact same situation…

Often the conversation came round to the fact that they wanted to go to Britain for further education… How should they set about this? Could we help? How much did it all cost? Could we write them a letter of introduction?… Should one be realistic and pour cold water on their impractical aspirations or should one encourage them with false hope? Rightly or wrongly, we usually did the latter, for it seemed kinder at the time.

First Overland, Tim Slessor, 1957

For the First Overland crew, their dilemma was slightly simplified by the fact that lack of social media meant that the people they advised would never be able to get in contact with them again. We gave the boys a list of schools that may or may not accept international students, but admitted that they would get far more information from Google than we could give them.

The boys and the plums! Their house is just about visible poking through the trees at the top. Not sure why they look so serious! They were very smiley when we were chatting.

We drove further south, to Gilgit. The largest town we had visited since arriving in Pakistan. The first thing we noticed was the heat and humidity. We were still fairly high (1500m), but it was seriously humid. It was time to get used to humidity, as it wouldn’t get much better over the next couple of months, in fact quite the opposite – it would be getting much worse.

Another beautiful drive along the Karakorum Highway to Gilgit

Whilst in Kyrgyzstan, we stayed with Karin-Marijke and Coen from Landcruising Adventure in Bishkek. They left the Netherlands in 2003 in their yellow Toyota Land Cruiser, and are still on the road, with no intentions to “settle down” any time soon. They highly recommended Guesthouse Madina 2 – they themselves had stayed there when they visited Pakistan 15 years ago, and still kept in contact with Yaqoob, the manager. Yaqoob’s face lit up when we told him how we knew about Madina (now in a slightly different location to where Karin-Marijke and Coen had stayed), and showed him the photo of us with Karin-Marijke and Coen. He couldn’t believe that they were still on the road, and even in the same car – how do they keep going, he asked. We had asked them the same question. He invited us to share lunch with him, so we spent the afternoon sat in his beautiful garden, eating daal and chapati. Having ran the guesthouse for over 30 years, he had many an interesting story to tell us.

The brilliant and lovely Karin-Marijke and Coen from Landcruising Adventure
The beautiful garden area at Madina 2

Days 144-150: 10/08/19 – 16/08/19
Location: Gilgit, Pakistan
Miles Driven: 14
We spent over a week at Madina 2. Initially we planned to stay for a few days whilst we got some jobs done. The main job being creating some sun shades for the car. We also needed to get a new wheel nut for the spare tyre after the thread had broken when we changed the tyres due to a puncture in China. The day after we arrived, we ventured into the town to do some shopping.

Working hard on some sun shades for the car
Tadaa! One of the finished sun shades

Gilgit itself could not be described as a town of beauty, but it did feel like we were getting a true taste of Pakistan. The streets were dusty, lined with shops. As in many of the countries we have visited, shops selling similar items were clustered together. We stood out like sore thumbs amongst the locals, but on ‘car parts and paint street’ I stood out even more being the only woman in sight. Everyone stared, which felt somewhat uncomfortable, however they were stares of intrigue rather than unfriendliness. Cars stopped as they passed us offering us a ride. After our conversations with Yaqoob the stares were not surprising – Western tourists were a rare commodity here. Further down on ‘material street’, there were more women, but it was still predominantly male.

Tyre delivery to car parts street

After an hour or so of browsing the shops, we hadn’t got very far. I had several mosquito bites on my feet that were making it painful for me to walk, so we decided to give up and try again later. On our return, Yaqoob enquired if our shopping trip had been successful, and when he discovered that it had not, offered to take Chris back into town (whilst I sat and elevated my feet at the hotel) to help him find the bits we needed. More than three hours later I was starting to get slightly concerned that Chris had not returned. Just as I was getting up to check at reception whether someone could phone Yaqoob to see where they were, Chris came through the door. Success – they had found a perfect fitting wheel nut. Chris explained why they had been so long. Yaqoob had taken Chris to each and every car parts shop they could find. In each one, the large buckets of assorted (unorganised) wheel nuts was tipped onto the desk or floor. Chris, Yaqoob, and the shop keepers rifled through the hundreds of nuts trying to find one that was the right size. In a country where Land Rovers are virtually non-existent, it was not a common sized nut. Eventually, after searching in several different shops, they managed to find one the perfect size.

The 12th (Monday) was the first day of Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday also called the Festival of Sacrifice. Traditionally an animal is sacrificed ritually and divided into three parts – one for the poor and needy, one for home, and one for relatives. The festival lasts for three days, everyone wears their finest clothes and families gather for a feast. Yaqoob and his team put on a celebratory lunch and evening BBQ for all of the guests. We all sat together, British, German, Japanese, Pakistani enjoying a huge lunch of daal, chapatis, rice, salad and meat. Between lunch and our evening BBQ, we spent our afternoon in the garden with Max and Julian, on a three week tour of Pakistan from Germany. All the best holidays should be wasted away with good food, conversation, and games, so we taught Max and Julian the card game Shed, and in return they taught us a dice-based game called Qwixx.

The bustling town of Gilgit was a ghost town during Eid al-Adha. Not the best time to go on a shopping trip!
An afternoon in the garden with Max and Julian
Not the best photo, but this was just as we were finishing our evening BBQ. All of the guests came together to eat.

Our plan for the next part of our journey was to drive back into the mountains, towards a place called Skardu, and have a few days wild camping. This meant we needed to stock up on food. With everything closed over Eid al-Adha, it wasn’t a difficult decision to stay at Madina for a few more days, waiting for the shops to open again before we left for the mountains. With some quite fortunate timing, I suddenly developed a bad cold, and had to spend the next three days in bed unable to do much other than blow my nose. Once I had made a suitable recovery, the holidays were over, the shops open, and we were ready to get back on the road again.

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