Hispar (3383m)...and a broken record ending

The road is dust if it’s dry, otherwise, I’m told, it’s a deadly mud track and in summer, parts of it dissapear, washed away by the swollen river and constant rock slides, and have to be re-built every fall, by hand. The road branches off the KKH just past the main bridge under the Altit fort. It’s metaled for about 5km until just before the village of Nagar (Proper). The road then follows the Hispar valley past the settlement of Huru where it plunges to a few planks and logs lashed together to form a bridge across the river. On the opposite side, the road comprises a trough through large rocks recently sent hurtling down to the river’s bed. Eventually the it crosses a permanent suspension bridge and climbs steeply to the level of the village. From this section of the road, the valley opens up, hills receding on both sides and a large V of blue sky corresponds to the trough cut by the Hispar glacier.

The village consists of 150 households scattered over a flat-topped alluvial deposit. From the central part of the village, the snout of the huge Hispar glacier is clearly visible flanked by high peaks. The glacier stretches away to the southwest for 50 km before its head at Hispar La (pass) at 4770m and snow lake. From there, the Biafo glacier snakes down into Baltistan. The trek traversing the two glaciers takes around 14 days. Apparently migrants from Baltistan originally settled the village of Hispar several hundred years ago.

The day was perfectly clear. At over 3000m the sun was hot and the air chilly. The sun sets over the village at 14h30 this late in the year. The potatoes have been harvested and we met a caravan of 7 or 8 tractor-trailers (small Massy-Ferguson 270 farm tractors pulling trailers roughly the same length as the tractor, the standard, go-anywhere form of transportation in the mountains) on its way down to the town of Ganesh on the KKH to sell the produce to market. Ice stays frozen in the shade. People are starting to hunker down for winter.

We had come to visit a 150 kW micro-hydel funded by the Swiss Development Fund (SDC) and developed with the assistance of Partner Aid International (PAI) and a senior mechanical engineer who currently works for my organization and on the project I’ve been assigned to – thus the connection for this trip. A German staff member of PAI accompanied us to discuss the implementation of a maintenance fund for the micro-hydel. The first part of our visit consisted of an impromptu meeting lead by the German and the engineer. It ended in a high-pitched, but short-lived argument in one of the local languages and a side meeting between the German and one of the village leaders.

The second part consisted of tea and parathas (a local variety that is completely deep fried and beautifully flaky, eaten in this case with cherry jam and local Yak butter) at the village leader’s house and more discussion about the hydel project’s funds.

After tea we walked out again into the too-early evening. Boys played soccer in one dusty field and in another a volleyball net had been erected and a game was in progress against the sun on the brown hills and ice on the high peaks.

Finally we visited the hydel station. All the material had been carted up on a tractor-trailer. The German and the engineer had had to visit the site almost weekly at one point and during the summer they were forced to walk the last 15km. Now, when the sluice is opened in the evening, the pelton wheel hums alongside its generator and lights and heats the homes in the village.

On the ride down, we discussed why the villagers lack motivation to initiate a maintenance fund and take responsibility for upkeep of the hydel, a considerable asset to their village (according to the proposal for the project, at any rate). To us, it seems so simple: why wouldn’t you want to invest in the maintenance of something so valuable, something that you, yourselves initially invested quite a bit of time and money in?).

I thought of my own world view, once again (here's the broken record part), and how far removed my reality is from theirs. To me, the world is open – I can go anywhere at anytime. I can fly around the world if I want: one month I’m in Babur's garden in Kabul and weeks later I’m on a beach in Sydney and then, within a matter of days I’m skiing in the forests of central Canada. I have money coming out of my ears, a secure job, insurance for everything and a healthcare system that’s so reliable (let’s face it, Canadians, it’s actually quite good-I think I mentioned this before) I take it fore-granted. If there’s something I don’t know about I assume I’ll be able to find the answer somewhere. I work hard and assume it’s my right to expect ample remuneration from both my employer and society.

I don’t see how it’s possible for me to understand the world view of a villager who lives at the end of a glacier far away from everywhere, might get an education and interprets life by Nature’s cycle. To enlighten them, I assume they must move in my direction, that’s my natural ego-centric response. If I’m to move in theirs, how do I start? Some of the answers to this question have been found, if the impression I’ve gained of the organization I’m working for is accurate, but I’m still asking them of myself and of all the expensive white people who fly into poor countries expecting to make a difference. So let me ask, or tell me the answers.


Tonight the moon is nearly full. I took my last picture of the day of the fading light on Bojohagur (7329m) and Ultar (7388m) with a 1 second exposure, F4.0 using a small stone to prop up my camera as a make-shift tripod.

Rakaposhi glowed majestically in the muted, clean light, towering over the smoky valley, guiding us home.

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