...and Pieces

Last week and this week are cut out for writing my report. The days have gone by surprisingly quickly and have been largely uneventful, but profitable none the less. Now I’m 6 days away from my departure from Gilgit (if the plane will fly on Sunday).

It’s getting colder. Every time the clouds roll in, the snowline descends on the surrounding hills. Yesterday I was showering in the evening in my cold concrete bathroom and the flow of hot water inexplicably stopped cold (pun fully intended). I was left standing there, the soap lather on my body doing little to stop the heat racing from my body. I thought the problem might be temporary, possibly caused by sudden use of hot water by the Northern Scouts who share my plumbing system in the building next door. But the water was about to return and I was slowly turning hypothermic. So there was nothing for it. I dried the water and soap off, jumped into my blessed long underwear (thank you MEC) and headed to bed.


On Sunday I got up at 6:30am. I don’t have many pictures of Gilgit so I thought I try taking some sun-rise pictures. The Urdu verb associated with picture taking is “nikalna”, not “kanchna” as I thought – maybe it’s a Gilgit thing. The verb carries the idea of extracting or taking out. So there I was, shivering in the dewy pre-dawn, pulling pictures from the smoky grey around me.

I live on the road called “Riverview Road”. Surprisingly, it skirts the Gilgit river for the length of the very long town. My section of the road veers away from the river and in between the two is a gravelly wasteland. Crews dig rocks out of the area to dress for walls or crush for gravel so there are mounds and holes scattered across the area. Spindly, sad-looking trees sprout up between the stones in a few places. The road is built up across the alluvial deposits and an electricity transmission line runs beside the road held up by square lattice galvanized steel poles. At one point, asphalt makers have set up shop. The met tar (bitumen) out of rusty barrels and mix it with gravel and sand in huge, black rotating drums. The tar is lit to keep is soft and flames leap from the rotating barrel while laborers shovel gravel and sand into a hole in the middle of the drum. It all looks rather industrial and barbaric. They’ve pitched tents in between the gravel mounds close to their flaming drums.

I started shooting from just outside my door (producing poor results) and then started walking along the road towards the asphalt maker and the encamped workers as the sky lightened. Broken clouds spread across the sky forming a porous roof and settled raggedly on the brown ridges that march away toward the Indus.

I parked myself at a high point on the road, facing the rising sun with the asphalt camp between me and the sun. Smoke hangs heavy in the Gilgit valley and filled the air between me and the trees bordering my property. Before the sun rose, the asphalt workers emerged from their tents to start their unforgiving labor. One man climbed on top of the drum. Another started a smoking fire under the tar melting station and others passed buckets of something to the man on the drum. As the sun crested the last ridge before hitting Gilgit, I shot the asphalt station with a small aperture and fast shutter speed. I shot the wasteland by the river – weak yellow sun-light seeping through the smoke making ghosts of trees and shrouding the feet of the ridges that end at the river.

The results were strong, silhouettes of the asphalt men on their black machine with dirty smoke rising and electrical poles fading into the yellow sun and smoke. It reminded me or Mordor.


Yesterday, the guy I usually buy samosa from tried to teach me to count to 4 in Pashtu.


Today I went to have supper at the restaurant I frequent and either they have a new cook or the current one decided to experiment with his recipe for chicken jalfrezzi (a tasty and enigmatic northern Pakistani curry that I haven’t been able to reproduce). The result was insipid and watery and the price unchanged. As I ate I read a paper on the impacts of 9/11 on South Asian states from a journal put out by the Strategic Studies Institute in Islamabad. And then I walked home in the dark, because I think, to save electricity, Gilgit must have legislated “Streetlightless Days” – perhaps they coincide with Pakistan’s meatless days. Or maybe the guy who throws the switch had to leave for his village in Baltistan because his wife’s father’s oldest brother’s second cousin from Nagar was getting married in Lahore.

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