“Travel returns us…to sharpness of notice; and to be saturated in the sight of what is entirely new…is to revisit the enigmatically lit puppet-stage outlines of childhood; those mental photographs and dreaming woodcuts or engravings that we retain from our earliest years. What we remember from childhood we remember forever-permanent ghosts, stamped, imprinted, eternally seen. Travelers regain this ghost-seizing brightness, eeriness, firstness.” - Cynthia Ozick in her short entitled “The Shock of Teapots”


I’ve just finished reading a few travel narratives. I particularly enjoyed Rory Stewart’s book on his solo travels in Afghanistan in 2002, “The Places in Between”. Good travel writers capture the sense of wonder and innocence to which Ozick refers. Good travel writers are unpretentious; they are ready to learn from every encounter, ready to see new things. Perhaps my aunt, who has spent years studying travel writing from the turn of the century can attest to whether or not this has always been the case. I suspect that travelers of the past have looked down at exotic cultures from their perceived high place of enlightenment and civilization. I suspect this may have been subtle in some writings and more blatant in others, but always there. Maybe it still exists, but I can’t see it.

Much of the travel I’ve done in Pakistan has taken me to places I was before. But I was a different person then. My “mental photographs”, “dreaming engravings” and “permanent ghosts” grew up out of experiences I had as a child in the same places I now visit as an adult. Yet I try to maintain the innocence of a traveler, an alien, and overlay my childhood memories with new ones, fresh experiences of places seen, now with different eyes and an older mind.

I’ve stayed in the town of Karimabad many times. Now I traveled up from the town to a different place and I looked down from a vantage point previously unknown. I sat above the town and remembered walking its streets with my family and friends. I remembered the restaurants we frequented; the hikes we didn’t take because I objected; tea in the sun; parathas and eggs and chai in the crip mornings at the restaurant on the side of the mountain; the lights of the October festival. Then, I sat and looked up at the burning tires rolling off the mountain sides, now I walk among the burning tires of the same festival and hear the laughter of the young men lighting them and tossing them off the precipice. Then, I stayed inside the hotel room, drank tea with my family, and played Lists with my sisters. Now, I hover above the town and drink in grander views of the mountains and the stars through the thinner air. Then, I relished a school holiday. And now I relish a life holiday. I stay by myself and think slowly, processing light and colour and sound like a delicate, hand-made truffle. Then, I thought life would never end. Now, I look back to the life before and the life now that’s a circle of friends in an Indian restaurant. New and old, superimposed, make a picture of ghosts and life.

Travel is a series of simple, everyday encounters that jump out at the traveler because she’s looking for them. I took a short cut on my hike back up to my hotel on the afternoon of the day before yesterday. I clambered up a dusty slope with loose rocks. At one point, I realized I’d have to cross over a low stone wall where a gap in it’s crown of thorn bushes had been left. As I climbed the wall, I realized I was stepping right into someone’s yard. A small stone and mud plaster house has been squeezed onto a terrace. There was a fruit tree in the small yard. I felt bad for trespassing, cringing at the image I must present: ignorant, insensitive white person, ogling quaint native domestic scenes. I hurried over the wall and up a stairway set in a wall, eager to exit the property. Suddenly I heard someone call out behind me. I turned, embarrassed. But the ancient Hunzakut woman who had called out was smiling and insisting that I take an apple from her hand. I retraced my steps, wishing her peace and thanking her. As I accepted the apple, she called out in the direction of her house. A younger woman appeared carrying three more apples. She didn’t cover her head and approached me with self-confidence and dignity. She, like the older woman, spoke no Urdu. I accepted the additional apples graciously and tried to thank them. I felt foolish for having no gift to offer them in return. I smiled again, bowed and climbed up and out of their sight.


I’m an invader, an imperialist, whether I like that or not. Some would argue that by dropping the equivalent of a decent month’s salary into the local economy over a period of two days, I am contributing to the one thing that can help these people: economic growth. I wish development was that simple. Everything is complicated. Poverty is subtle, especially in such a beautiful place. From my perch this weekend, I looked down on a scene of breath-taking beauty. I traveled the mountains by water channels, carefully and painstakingly built to bring life-giving water to the valley. The water erupts in the fragile beauty of fruit blossoms in the spring, bold green in the summer and the dazzling earth tones of fall. Neat stone houses and dry stone walls dissect the fertile bowl into pleasing shapes. From high above, where I watch jet airplanes burst over sun-drenched peaks-my escape vehicles-I look down and see beauty and not the poverty, desperation and the fragility of livelihood that exists there. From the seat of my CIDA and DFID funded jeep I struggle to see it. I squint through the fog of privilege and the haze of worldly wisdom to try and see the opposite.


“Traveling is seeing; it is the implicit that we travel by. Travelers are fantasists, conjurers, seers-and what they finally discover is that every round object everywhere is a crystal ball: stone, teapot, the marvelous globe of the human eye.” – Cynthia Ozick

Pretty words, and true, but travelers pass by and leave.


I try to climb a mountain

It's been a while.  I just got back from a couple of days of holiday in central Hunza.  I'll write more about those days, but here's the appetizer.
I finish work early and visit an apricot processing plant.
I walk up a windy gorge under a cloudy sky threatening rain and hear water running.
I look out the back of a moving Suzuki, feel rain drops and smell the samosas I'm about to buy
I get a ride home from a friend
I savour a few days off work
I look at the sun and try to climb a mountain with two Canadians, two Americans and a Brit
I learn to drink tea from the Brit in the Serena dining room looking out on Gilgit town and the space usually occupied by Rakaposhi, now sealed in with clouds.
I chill at my house.
I wake up late and make coffee.
I shoot hoops on my private court
I get the front seat of the van to Karimabad, next to an old man who grins up at me
I eat food at midday with my back turned to the fasters
I arrive in the town and hire a jeep
I step out on the edge of a mountain and gasp at the beauty of snow and ice-bound rock and azure sky and golden sun.
I look down at the valley spread out under me.  Under the irrigation line of thorn-bushes the earth is laced with golds and ambers and greens and Horatio's russet mantle pulled off the dawn and cut into ribbons.
I watch the gold on Spantik and shadows on the glacier and nearness of a 6000m granite spike hooking the last rays of the day.
I eat by myself, smiling at peace and solitude and the crisp air that greats me when
I step outside, dazzled by the milky way, more brilliant through the thinned air and
I sleep.
(I (will) try to post more picture on my Flickr page and hope that it works :)


exhibit from an alien place

(written on 17 October 2006)


Pakistan beat Sri Lanka in style today at the ICC Champions Trophy in India; it was Pakistan’s first game of the tournament.  I got to watch it on the TV here at the hotel which was a bonus, as I don’t have a TV in Gilgit, nor access to one.


I’m finally getting into the actual work of my project with AKRSP.  On Monday, I came out here early.  An engineer from my project area and I went up to one of the potential hydel sites we visited last week.  I didn’t really do anything but observe.  But I was able to watch the survey (for elevation, exclusively) of the site from the existing channel to a potential powerhouse site.  As I sat there on a large boulder in the warm morning sun, I looked up at the surveyor's rod, past the survey tripod and level to the top of a sheer rock face that rose up behind the channel.  The day was fine, clear and clean.  I marvelled at the opportunity I have been given to get right in with this kind of grass-roots engineering. This is where it’s at, where engineering and social responsibility and real needs come together and one person can observe all three aspects of development work and quickly evaluate how well they come together for a certain project.  Today, as we sat around in a circle with the institutional development manager for the region and about 10 village “notables” discussing the feasibility of widening the current channel for the hydel site, I was further struck by the integration of engineering and social responsibility at this level.  Previously, I wasn’t sure if such was possible.  The merits of development work are dubious at best in most cases, it seems, and the merits of large-scale commercial engineering projects are rarely even that well established, beyond their immediate profitability.  I’m not saying there are no problems at this level, just that it’s more clear what they are and how to resolve them responsibly and sustainably


The discussion around the water channel emphasized to me the utter dependence of these people on secure water supplies.  This must the case in any arid area.  In the west, especially Canada, we take our supply of fresh water completely for granted.  Here one channel can be the life-blood of a village.  If it ceases to function, the village cannot exist.


As I walked up through the market town where I am staying, today I marvelled at the water flowing along the road (which became a strangled, rocky path and then a road again), neatly guided by a series of channels.  Large, healthy trees overhung the path.  Neat dry stone walls ringed private property and agricultural land.  At one point the water overshot the path landing in a channel on the opposite side and continued down through the village.  Despite the poverty that exists everywhere, the village is quaint and picturesque.  And its livelihood is on display.  Available resources are visible.  When they are depleted, their loss is painfully obvious.  A barren, boulder-covered field stretches out above the village, where water has not been channelled.  And higher up, where there is water again, trees cling to the sides of vast piles of ancient glacial moraine.


From atop the pile of moraine I looked down into the valley and across to the foot of an intersecting valley.  There, as is the case everywhere where settlements exist in these valleys, the irrigation channel supplying the underlying villages charts a straight line of green across barren, rocky, vertical slopes of grey boulders, red and white granite and yellow deposits.  Below, where gravity takes the water, things grow, above the land is dead and hostile.


Higher up, in winter, snow covers the high ridges.  In spring it melts and feeds the hungry valleys.


I’m encouraged by the work that AKRSP is doing.  Perhaps the greatest asset of the programme is it’s people, they are the same people as those they serve.  Their villages are down the road, perhaps beneficiaries of the programmes they work on.  When discussion concerning a development project takes place, as it did today, AKRSP staff and the villagers discuss the matter in one cultural context.  I feel like an invader, an unnecessary, expensive exhibit from an alien place. 


Day 3 in the Valley

Today I made a third visit to the area my project is focusing on.
On the way, along the Gilgit River, I saw a man balancing precariously atop a telephone pole anchored to the river's bed.  I was straddling the top cross bar and held a phone receiver in his hand, apparently trying to make a call.
The sky was overcast today and rain briefly washed the jeep we drove in.  The wind picked up when we reached the main town of the district.  An engineer from the area office there joined us and we proceeded back towards Gilgit for a short ways and then turned onto a stunning new Chinese-built suspension bridge.  Once in the project area we started the process of finding the person we sought, one of the village organization leaders.  First we asked a group of men on the street (men generally group on the street or in a chai shop or somewhere, doing nothing in particular, ready to be asked about anything).  They told us to go back a ways and then up a side road.  We stopped the jeep at the intersection and then engineer took off up the dusty street.  He was gone for about 15 minutes. In the mean time, another villager approached us, engaged my driver in animated conversation (in Shina, the local language of the Gilgit and Ghizer districts).  He seemed to know where the man was whom we sought.  Presently, the engineer returned with the man and we got back in the jeep.  On the way up into the side valley, we picked up two more "notables" of the village.  And then there were four people crammed into the back of the jeep, all talking at once, in great earnest about the channel we had come about.  The conversation was all in Shina.  Shina incorporates quite a few Urdu words, but other than these I understood nothing.
Suddenly the engineer pointed out that I knew Urdu so they tried to switch to that.  The VO rep talked to me at length.  I understood about a 1/4 of what he said which reflects only the poor state of my Urdu.  But he did get his message across to me.  We stopped at a couple of places along the road and it was explained to me where the village proposes to build a new water channel which will irrigate as well as supply water for the proposed micro-hydel.  We eventually arrived at the point upstream where the current channel starts.  A weir is built there to divert some of the river's flow into a channel that rises up out of the river and then continues parallel to the river but at a shallower grade.  We got out of the vehicle and all four men tried to explain to me why they require a new channel.  The current channel passes through a number of private properties and those property owners demand compensation.  Providing this compensation is problematic for the village.  So they want to re-route the channel around these properties.
We followed the proposed course of the channel around the back of the village through a huge boulder field, up against the ridge that borders the river on that side.  The sky looked troubled and the wind picked up, kicking up dust.  When we rejoined the road, I could see dust billowing along the Gilgit river bed, obscuring the main town on the far side.  The clouds had descended into the mountains above the Gilgit river. 
Once we got back to the vehicle, the VO rep explained again to me why the channel was important and that everyone would be happy and eternally grateful if the channel was rerouted.  I told him we'd perform the survey as planned and do what we could.  He was sure that as an engineer I'd know what to do.  I was not.  But it will be fun to play civil engineer.  That will probably start on Monday.  Actually probably just be holding the stick thing (if I was a real civil engineer I'd know what it's really called) while the real civil engineer determines at what level the new channel will flow based on where they village wants to start it, upstream on the river.
Speaking of the stick thing, I know what the other part is called: a theodilite.  In my senior year of high school, after exams, my physics teacher gave me and my classmate (there were just two of us in the physics class) a lesson on how to survey manually.  Out of an ancient wooden box, he produced a manual, optical theodolite.  It looked like something George Washington used on his first job.  Along with the precision optical instrument, we used an equally ancient tripod (equipped with a plumbline for levelling) and the aforementioned stick thing.  My classmate and I, using a pencil and black leather-bound notebook took measurements in a circuit on the hillside on which our school was built.  We managed, to our great delight, to come within 10cm in our final measurement.  I couldn't think what use the exercise had been.
To and from the project site I observed the corn harvest that is going on in earnest these days.  Most of the corn is cut and stands on the fields in shooks.  In circles, in the middle of the fields, women sit husking the corn and throwing the liberated cobs into a huge pile in the centre of the circle.  Golden corn dries on the flat roofs of the village houses.  The scenes are quite picturesque.  The men are nowhere to be seen.  They're off standing in groups, in the bazaar, waiting to be asked anything.


Day 47 Reflections

I’ve been in this town for about 12 days now and I’m finally getting comfortable with being here, totally transported from my life in Southern Manitoba to a place where I get to do what I’ve wanted to for so long, but doing it alone and in a strange and familiar place.  Part of that comfort, let me call it peace (I know I'm at peace when I can listen to Sparklehorse without becoming melancholy), comes from getting the hang of my job, becoming a bit more autonomous and feeling like I’m getting something done.  On my contract I’m called a consultant, which is flattering, but not at all the case.  I’m a student.  I know nothing and I’m here to learn.  How many times have I been reminded since I attended the calling of the engineer ceremony nearly 3 years ago that I know nothing?  But I’m also learning and I continue to learn.  I will start to worry when I stop learning.


Sometimes I have the sensation of being transported to a high place where I can look back on parts of my life to places I’ve been and see them in a different light.  Sometimes a novel takes me to that place, an especially good novel.  And sometimes an experience does that for me; this is the case now.  What I’m looking back at is North America, a place I’ve become much better acquainted with over the last 8 years.  I see the order and ease and cleanliness and insurance of my own society.  And I see it as a bubble floating, oblivious, above the rest of the world.  Everything we take fore granted in our “civilized” societies is anomalous; it's not normal or common.  We’ve hoarded a huge percentage of the earth’s resources and have constructed a haven for ourselves and we live in it and think that it is normalcy or that we’ve earned it; it is completely justified in our mind, we believe the lie that it's sustainable, that it will keep on getting better.  Without tearing myself out of that context, I’m caught up in the same illusion. As soon as I go back in December I’ll slip right back into it, too ready to complain about violations of my rights, my small paycheck, long waits for healthcare, crumbling infrastructure, corrupt and ineffective government – not having a clue what I’m talking about.


So here I am in Gilgit and the Northern Areas, getting a feel (again) for what most of the world knows as life.  In ignorance and with more than a hint of arrogance, I wonder how these people can bear to live like this, in such isolation, in such small spaces of the world with so little.  A foreigner I met here, well meaning, having given up a significant income in his own country, said, “If only they’d change their worldview, they’d be able to get the same comforts that we enjoy in [my country].”  I’m guilty of the same kind of patronizing simplification in my own mind.  It’s we who need to change our worldview.


One reason why I feel the urge (an urge that is quickly being solidified as I spend more time here) to work in this part  of the world longer term is to keep a more balanced perspective of the world; this is a selfish reason, I’m aware.  I have other reasons, but this one keeps coming back to mind.


If you read my blog regularly you will quickly point out a contradiction in my thinking: on the one hand I say that to survive here I need to be pampered and on the other I look back at my compatriots and criticize them for an insulated outlook on the world.  I don’t deny this problem.  I hope that one of the things I continue to learn is how to live as a rich person of privilege in this place or another that’s part of the rest of the world. 


In saying the things I’ve said I don’t want to discount the reality and the hardship experienced by too many people in my own country, people we treat with as much indifference as the poor across the world we’ve never seen and whose presence we don’t really feel.  Experiences similar to mine are to be had not three hours’ drive from my hometown.



On October 5 I went on my second field trip, deep into the Hunza valley on the KKH towards China to a town 10km south of Sost, the virtual border town on the KKH (the Kunjerab pass on the Chinese border is another 100 km or so away). The day was perfectly clear and so all the big mountains along the way would be visible.

As we started out from Gilgit and turned north into the Hunza valley, through a town called Danyore, I tried to remember everything about the road that I could. My last trip up the valley corresponds to my last trip south on the KKH. It's been a while. And things have changed, too. And I had forgotten how big all the mountains are. The day before leaving Islamabad, I bumped into Isobel Shaw's traveling companion, Ruth. She had come back to ISB early and was flying out in the next few days. Her impression of the Karakorum and Himalaya had been the shear size of the mountains. The ridges visible on along the KKH through Hunza are probably 10-15,000 ft high on average. And the big mountains visible from the road, Rakaposhi, Ultar & Passu, are all above 7000m.

The village up near Sost has a micro-hydel that is no longer used, though it is operational. I wasn't sure why it was suggested that I go up there, but the ride was nice and each visit to a site gives me a better understanding of how this technology works. The second visit, back along the road, in central Hunza, however, really demonstrated the skill and determination and ingenuity required on the part of the village organization to actually build a micro-hydel.

The second village was Ahmedabad. Along the road to Karimabad you turn off onto a jeep track that winds its way along a vertical cliff, 3 or 400 ft above the Hunza river for 8 km. The road in and of itself is a remarkable feat of the mountain engineering. We stopped at the site of the powerhouse. Three villagers were working, one filtering larger stones out of a pile of sand and the others worked on the dry stone masonry to surround the powerhouse. I saw a green nylon rope stretching off up the hill, the path that the penstock will take. One of the village activists agreed to take me up to the site of the forebay, 400 vertical feet above us and out of sight.

I adjusted my aluminum, shock-absorbing, Austrian-made trekking poles to length and started up behind him. He reached out and broke off a poplar branch to assist his walk up the hill. I don't think he really needed it. Slowly we wound our way up through the arrow-straight poplars typical of the valley now turning a brilliant yellow, dramatic against barren, vertical rock faces and the snow-capped peaks behind them. At one point we came close to the edge of a gorge we were following and I realized that on our right, the ridge we were following dropped vertically some 200ft to the glacial stream below, the source of the power channel we were approaching. Things got a little scarier as we reached the powerhouse site. A crude staircase of flat stones had been built the last 50 feet to the the forebay site, balancing over the edge of the gorge with little in the way of security.

The forebay is currently a hole blasted into the vertical rock face of the gorge, 200ft above the stream bed. A wall is being built on one side of the hole and gravel fill to line the reservoir is brought in from the stream bed by wheelbarrow along the irrigation channel, which my guide and I proceeded along. The channel is also blasted out of the shear rock. Fortunately, the water irrigates the gorge side of the channel and dense thistles grow along the edge giving on a false, but necessary sense of security. My trekking poles also helped ease my mind.

Far below, a wooden footbrigde crossed the stream. "The glacier used to come down to the bridge," my guide said. He remembered that from when he was very young, maybe 50 years ago. At the end of the channel where water was diverted from the glacial stream, the view opened up to two towering rock faces, maybe 2000ft higher than the point where we stood and close. The scene was rather breathtaking. And the understanding of the determination and courage required to build such a channel was equally impressive.

I kept taking photos, perhaps to the annoyance of my guide, but I didn't know if I'd be back there.

Soon we were back to the forebay. My legs felt a little more steady as we picked our way down, back to the jeep track.

As we headed south on the KKH, the sun was setting, highlighting the Eastern side of the valley. We stopped for supper at the point on the road where you can look from the point where you're standing all the way to the summit of Rakaposhi. The site is over-run by tourist-trapping tack, but the view is unadulterated. The perspective looses some of the immensity of the scene, but it's impressive non-the-less. The sun set. Rakaposhi's southwest shoulder glowed brilliantly pink and orange and then went dull white.

The near full moon made the mountains glow. Across the valley, as we drove back to Gilgit, lights blinked, testaments to the determination of these people to survive in these dramatic, isolated places of the world.

It took a while to actually post the above because of this skittish internet connection, hopefully things will improve in that department.

Thanks for your comments, those you have posted on my blog and those you have e-mailed. They encourage me to keep writing. Again, if you have any questions, let me know.


where "it's" at

Day 38

I repeat, internet access is very slow, but I'll try to keep posting.

Yesterday I went out on my first fieldtrip. The organization I'm with operates a fleet of 2-door Toyota Land Cruisers. Their sturdy, efficient vehicles that can go almost anywhere. Another engineer joined me and the driver shot off down the Karakorum Highway, south, toward Islamabad.

The last time I travelled south on the KKH was in late July, 1998, it could even have been August, I forget. It was early in the morning and still dark. I don't know if we had stopped for breakfast. I was sitting in the back of a Toyota coaster with a number of people who will likely read this post. We'd finished a post-graduation excursion into Hunza. It had been a magical, unreal time. Time stood still, as we wanted it to and we basked in the moon-glow of denial. It was great. One day we hiked up a glacier, imagining we could cross a 5000m pass and then return to our guesthouse, but that didn't turn out to be possible. Still, it was a most exhilarating day capped by stunning views of the origin of a big glacier and the ice-covered peaks surrounding it. That night we camped beside the glacier in an open and roughly level space. Three of us lay outside in our sleeping backs gawking at the millions of stars visible through the thin, clean air.

And then we had to leave. At one point we rounded a bend in that grey dawn and there was Nanga Parbat shining in the morning sun. One of the imagines stamped in my mind. I was listening to U2's song, "Where the Streets Have No Name" and so when I play that song, I can relive that moment, although many details have faded.

So that's one of the things I was thinking about as we raced south for a ways and then turned East, off of the KKH and onto the Skardu road. I'd driven by that intersection many times, but never turned there. There's a bridge to start out with, a single-lane, steel, prefabbed military suspension bridge. Our driver butted ahaed of the waiting transport lorries (they'd take forever to cross the bridge anyway) and raced on, into the northern Indus valley. The valley is immediately different than the Hunza valley or the lower Indus valley. It's even more desolate, strewn with blackened bolders at first and then narrow, with towering ridges on both sides of the river. The ridge-lines are jagged. Between them higher peaks are visible. There was new snow on some of them. Some were shrouded in clouds. The Indus boiled at their feet. I wished I knew more about whitewater so I could gauge the difficulty of the rapids. Some looked ruthless.

Early in the afternoon we reached our desitination, a small village with a brand new mini-hydel installation (300kW). Mini/micro hydropower is a remarkable form of power. It's about as low impact and sustainable as you can get. In this case, a stream empties into the Indus through the village, dropping it's last 50 feet in a stunning water fall emitting from a high, narrow, smooth gorge; tapping into the streamto create power and the returning the water to the stream is straight-forward. The penstock (pipe that delivers water to the turbine) snaked up and out of sight, above the water fall to the point where water from the stream was collected in a large, open tank called the forebay (the report says the penstock is 1000ft long). The other engineer and I had a look at the turbine and generator, both humming like mad. Then we took a walk up above the village to the forebay, roughly 400 vertical feet above the powerhouse. And there we stood, on the edge of a small ridge overlooking the power channel, discussing the merits of small scale hydropower and the benefits it had brought to the village.

Once down, a local farmer offered us fresh pomegranetes off of his tree. They were sweet and perfect. The sun glistened off the rock face across the river and to our right (back along the road) a towering snow-bound peak was visible bewteen jagged spires. That's how engineering should be done, I say.

Unfortunately I didn't have fresh batteries in my camera, but tomorrow I'm off again, up deep into the Hunza valley to visit two more micro-hydro projects so there will be pictures.

This morning there was a live mouse on my kitchen counter which somewhat reduced my appetite for breakfast.


Getting my Bearings

Signor Ros is a great nordic band from Iceland. My friend got me onto them. The music is: sitting in candle light at the end of the day with a good beer and muted conversation behind a window that looks out into the forest; wondering what will come next; dreaming of something elusive; waiting; falling asleep and dreaming about tomorrow and yesterday at the same time.

I'm waiting for blogger to load up on my ultra-slow dial-up connection here in Gilgit, capital of the Northern Areas, Pakistan. At least I have an internet connection. I'm thankful for that. But life is slower up here. Cell phones are rare, gaurded by the government. Electricity is sometimes on. I have to clean my rice before cooking it. The market is a half hour walk away. But I've managed to rent a small house on the compound of the Vision International eye hospital here in town. I'm right by the river, which is turning blue as it settles into its winter course. On my little lawn down by the river I look almost straight up at the 10,000ft high ridge to the north of Gilgit, rising up out of other side of the river, 5500ft above where I stand.

Gilgit is hemmed in by mountains, bare, rocky, brown ridges towering above the town on both sides of the river. If you go up the alluvial fan on which the town is build, towards the south, and a bit to the east you can see the south ridge of the Rakaposhi massif marching up to it's peak above 7000m. Gilgit is just a taste of what is to come should one travel up Hunza valley or to Naltar or back down the road and east to Baltistan, home of the 8000m peaks in Pakistan.

This is a different world. Now I'm where I'm supposed to get serious and get some work done. I write more about that as I know more.

Yesterday I went up to the market and tried to recall how to shop for basic items in Pakistan. I have forgotten the Urdu words for so many things. The main bazaar road is crowded, of course. I was up there about two hours before the breaking of the fast. I stopped by a stand, greedily looking at the pakorras. I bought 1/4 of kilo for 40 cents, picked up some other necessities and went home. I made some chai and sat down to enjoy.

The sun sets early behind the high ridges. First the eastern slopes light up in darkening shades of gold and then the sun bursts up behind the opposing peaks, through the clouds and is gone. And the valley begins to cool and the wind picks up weaving through the roar of the river.

The stars are bright and unhindered by smog.