Visiting the Northern Areas
From Islamabad I did a road trip with my goal of seeing the Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains. The conditions of the roads started off good enough, but there were still lots of crazy drivers and some jeeps and trucks that had somehow taken over a dozen people. I’m surprised no one fell off the jeep on the left, or maybe they did eventually.
On the way north I passed by the city of Abbottabad, famous for being the final hiding place for Osama Bin Laden before he was killed by American special forces in a night time raid. There is a lot of controversy about Osama Bin Laden being found here. It seems the western belief is that some elements of Pakistan were keeping him safe here in a military city. The rational behind this is that some where sympathetic to his cause or had ties with him during the Afghan Soviet war and weren’t willing to turn on him. Therefore they kept him quiet in a safe house also hoping to continue to receive US financial aid.
Most Pakistanis I met don’t believe Osama was ever here to begin with. Their belief is he was killed by the United States years ago in Afghanistan but was pretended to be alive in order for the US to use his existence as propaganda. I asked what would the point be to invade a military city at night and pretend to capture him. Their belief is they made up that he was in a military city in order to continue meddling with Pakistani affairs. I think the US is already very much involved in Pakistani affairs and wouldn’t need such a dramatic excuse! Aside from that nothing has changed after the Bin Laden incident. For example the US didn’t claim that because he was found in Pakistan they were doubling their presence in the country or any other actions.
The highway north into the Himalayas was lined with boxes of bees. I was able to try some honey from one of these guys when we stopped for breakfast. The bee keepers were found a few hours north of Islamabad all the way up to Chilas. Sometimes while driving by you could see clouds of bees around the boxes, and one time a bee flew into my open window and terrorized our car for a few minutes before I was able to push him out the window. Farther away from the city life becomes primitive again. It’s hard to believe but not much has changed for the way some of these people live in the past few thousand years! Below is a sheep herder trekking through the mountains.
In the beginning of Pakistan’s northern areas you’ll reach larger dry mountains and the Indus river. The Indus river begins in China and flows through all of Pakistan. In this region it appears murky and dull. The banks of the river don’t seem to support any type of lush vegetation like most rivers do. If you saw my post early from the WWF in Karachi, you would have seen the picture of the Indus dolphin. It’s difficult to believe, but farther down this river in a dry desolate place are actually dolphins living in the mountains!
The drive from Islamabad to Chilas didn’t use the Karakoram highway. From Chilas onward we had to use it for several hours to get to our destination. The two photos above are shots from the Karakoram highway or KKH as locals call it. This is the highest highway in the world, sometimes passing 5,000 meters or 17,000 feet! The section I went on passed 4,500 meters or higher than Mt. Rainer in Washington state.
Some sections of the KKH were bad because of some drop offs that we came across, but this was nothing compared to what I was about to do. From a section on the KKH we switched jeeps and drove directly into the mountains. Had this road not already been here I would have thought it impossible to build one in this location. In the photo on the upper left is what our road went through. The road itself was high up in the mountains traversing the steep terrain. Some sections of the road were supported by nothing but stacks of rocks like on the right. The left hand corner of that photo is the road while below is nearly a half mile drop. I can’t imagine what would be done to make this road any more dangerous. There were sections where the drop was so steep that you couldn’t see the mountain descend, rather just the very bottom.
From the drop off point we had to travel with our own two legs. As a punishment to myself for all the unhealthy food I’ve been eating and lack of exercise back home, I decided to carry all my belongings which was about 60lbs. Because I wasn’t properly acclimatized and carrying a lot of weight combined with a steep trail I found myself challenged. The trail was windy and dusty and pretty much was non stop uphill. About 90 minutes into the trek and without warning, the terrain changed from the dry hot environment to a high altitude juniper forest. The cabin and stream above were near the entrance to the juniper forest. Below are some of shots of the juniper trees which dominate the northern areas.
From my camp I did another hike several hours away the next day. I reached close to 4,000 meters or 13,000 feet, but even from this altitude I got some amazing views. On left was a shot of where I had just come from. I had stayed in the woods along the border of the canyon with my camp in the distance. You can barely see the top of a mountain poking out which is easily over 7,000 meters. on the right is a close up of another mountain I was hiking to. The occasional sound of breaking bones was echoing through the canyon as these massive ice shelves gave way and cracked under intense pressure and warm summer temperatures.
These two photos above were viewable way back at our camp, but this was what I was hiking to. Above is Nanga Parbat the ninth highest mountain in the world standing at 8,126 meters or 26,000 feet. This is one of the fourteeners in the world, the fourteen mountains that rise above 8,000 meters and are the most challenging mountains on earth. Climbing Nanga Parbat takes about two months and involves some serious risk. Locals rightly call it Killer Mountain. On the right is a close up shot of a steep glaciated section of Nanga Parbat’s south face. This massive glacier probably sits around 7,000 meters.
After another hour in the forest I reached my destination, Pakistan’s Fairy Meadows! The locals here were very kind but some of them didn’t like photos. The photo on the right was one I was able to sneak in from a distance. On the left are some cabins in front of some mountains that reach close to 4,000 meters. I should say that Nanga Parbat is right in your face at this point, but I’ll go into that a little bit later. These guys below were from a different village and were less camera shy.
One morning when I was going to go on a hike my guide I had hired warned me about the locals and said there could be dangers. I asked if it was because I was from the US and he said this is a problem for all foreigners. These people have no education, no job, just eating and sleeping all day. I’m not sure where he had planned to take me but we never ended up going. On another hike we did I asked him if this area posed a problem and with great confidence he said no, no! This is a public road no problem. The boy on the left you can see has dark brown hair and much lighter composure than… say the redhead photo way above back in Karachi. Not far from here is the border of China where the population essentially looks the same. I remember once at work talking to a friend from China about travel there. He began describing western China and said that’s where your people live, white people he said. White people native to China? The way he described it sounded very strange. Of course they aren’t white, but some certainly could pass for it. In this area of Pakistan they are known as Pashtuns while in China they are called Uighurs. Some people I saw even had green eyes and light brown hair. They could easily pass as Americans or Europeans. On the right is a local from the northern areas, and in the middle? That’s me! I went to Pakistan looking like a local.
I didn’t come across any wildlife on this trip minus birds and the mouse I was able to photograph below. Otherwise there was no missing the different species of colorful flowers the covered the meadows. I’m not yet sure of any of these flower species yet but they live over 3,000 meters or above 10,000 feet. It’s a wonder they can survive the harsh winters here and withstand being buried in 10 feet of snow.