Edgar Dürholt
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Thar desert

Delhi – Lahore – Kaghan Valley

After a day of sightseeing in Delhi with our friend Ryoshi Matsui and after having elaborated on the experiences made so far my wife left for Germany by plane.

Matsui-san and I wanted to take off for Lahore/Pakistan early in the morning, but when we got to my car we found that the hood of the vehicle was lovely decorated with flowers. What a lovely gesture and fine example of hospitality by the Oberoi Hotel. 

Even though we did not have to cover a great distance that day, it was a little bit difficult for Roy because he had to get used to drive in this part of the world.

Originally we wanted to visit Amritsar for sightseeing but because of unrest between Muslims and Hindus there we went directly to the border town of Atari and the Wagha border.

As far as customs were concerned we were prepared for the worst but got a surprise. Ignoring the long line of local vehicles with drivers waiting for the check, I manoeuvred our vehicle right in front of the immigration and customs house and asked the officers for the formalities. Fortunately different procedures are applied to local and foreign vehicles and no foreign vehicle was in front of us. We had carefully prepared our documents, which made it easy for the officers to check them. The immigration formalities took only a few minutes and were followed by customs. After having inspected all the documents they were stamped. When we thought it was almost done, another officer showed up introducing himself as the boss. I immediately remembered my Bombay experience. But I also remembered the letter of introduction granted by the Indian Embassy in Tokyo and handed it to him. He studied it with interest without saying a word. When we walked to the vehicle it was fortunately very hot (fortunately, this time) not only for us but also for him. He inspected the body number of the vehicle but not the engine number because it was too hot to lean on the fender. That was all they checked and we were glad to leave thinking of the trunks with spare-parts on the roof-carrier and all the cumbersome work and sweat involved with loosening the ropes, open the trunks and tie everything up again.

What was going to expect us on the Pakistan side? It started all fine, immigration was fast and visas were granted on the spot as we were told in Tokyo. The immigration officer, though a Pakistani, was even more suffering from the heat than we did.

Hundred meters down the road was customs. Roy decided to wait outside the office and have an eye on the vehicle while I went inside with the documents. An officer started to check the documents submitted to him and then entered all the formalities required into a big book and into my passport. All the time at least 10 elderly customs assistants kept watching us when suddenly another officer so far staying outside and having a chat with Roy stepped in. He stopped in front of me and asked whether we were carrying any alcohol with us in the vehicle. At first I was so perplexed that I did not know what to answer. Then I decided that it might be better to tell the truth since I did not know the contents of the conversation he had with Roy . So I answered that we were carrying one bottle of whisky. He made a serious face and replied that the bottle had to be confiscated since no alcohol was permitted into a Muslim country and walked off. After he had left the customs assistants expressed their mind and advised me to ignore the officer's statement and to finish the bottle on the spot. This in turn made me laugh as I realised how I would feel after 15 minutes or so. But the men insisted that I had to do something about the confiscation. They urged me to complain and to file an application with the supervisor. So I went to see the supervisor who made a serious face as well and then turned down my request.

But the men did not give up pushing and after all suggested to forget about the bottle and instead of having it confiscated, hand it to them so they could share it. The bottle was confiscated and probably consumed by the supervisor himself. Later we found out that the price of a bottle of Black & White in Pakistan was DM 200.00.-

The whole confiscation issue however also had a good side effect; we did not have to open anything and were glad to be allowed to leave for Lahore.

The Indian sub-continent is behind us and so are the beautiful palace-type hotels, which made us feel like kings or maharajahs. Also behind us is the Thar Desert with its heat and dryness and aridity, the famous Taj Mahal and our first border crossing experience.

We spent the morning in Lahore by visiting the world's biggest mosque, the old fort and the bazaar. We also visited the Automobile Club hoping to get some more information about the route up north i.e. to the Kaghan Valley with the Babusar Pass, Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu, Naran. However we had to experience later that the information given by the Club was more than poor and unreliable.

Anyway we were happy to leave Lahore after lunch, because it is so noisy and polluted. The city as such is rather small but packed with cars, people and animals and we thought that photos of such a town would be something to show to our friends at home. The pollution of the air is so heavy that one believes it would be possible to cut it into slices or pieces. The air only cleared up after about 30 km outside of Lahore .

The road took us to Islamabad, the governmental capital of Pakistan. As we already knew from India , main carriers for overland travel are busses and the rooftops of such busses are packed with people. We wondered what would happen if the driver of such a bus carrying 20 or more passengers on its roof would suddenly have to push hard the brake. How many of those passengers would fall off?

The scenery on the way to Islamabad changes from soft green near the cities to dryness in the countryside. The condition of the road between Lahore and Islamabad can be called fairly well with the road being relatively wide. Traffic is moderate but drivers are undisciplined as in India .

We reached Islamabad late in the afternoon. Compared with what we had seen before, the city is rather clean and this obviously is due to the government and foreign offices and missions located there.

The next day promised to be very interesting, since we were going to enter one of Pakistan ’s famous valleys, i.e. Kaghan Valley, where we intended to climb up to the Babusar Pass. Our way led us via Abbadabad, Mansehra, Balakot to Noran in the Kaghan Valley.

The road leading up to Mansehra is quite normal but after about 10 km it starts winding with steep gradients into the valley. The river looks like being sometimes more than 500 m deep in the valley, so that the driver really has to watch the track carefully. There are no safety planks, the road is no longer paved but seems to be made of potholes that require the drivers’ utmost attention. The deeper we enter the valley the smaller the track gets. We left Islamabad 4 o'clock in the morning and reached the small village of Kaghan, named after the Valley, after 14 hours. There we decided not to stop but to proceed to Naran, which was, as we were assured, not more than 1 1/2 hours' drive away. Immediately upon our arrival in Naran we looked for the so called government guest house.

This is a small unattended house and works on the “first come first serve” basis. We were the first and prepared for diner as we had a long day of driving behind us.

We went to bed at around 10 p.m. and could not find any sleep for quite some time because of the torrent coming down beside our hut. But finally the day's pressure and the long hours on the road caught us and we fell asleep. But for a short time only as the alarm system of the vehicle woke us up. At first we did not recognise the sound, did not know where it was coming from and what it meant, but seconds later we were up on our feet, grabbed pants and boots, ran out as fast as possible equipped with torch lights and knives. Once outside, we started looking thoroughly around the vehicle and the hut but could not find, see or hear anything. If somebody had tried to open the vehicle got obviously shocked as we did and escaped as fast as they could. After this experience we checked the car system all over again, then locked the hut, had a beer that would make us fall asleep again.

The beer we had bought in a government-operated bottle-shop upon representation of a so-called liquor permit, which is granted by the local authorities to non-Muslim tourists only. Non-Muslim tourists are entitled to one bottle of whisky or 16 bottled of beer per month. The beer does not taste so bad at all but it is very expensive, i.e. DM 11,- per bottle. The cheapest bottle of whisky costs about DM 90,-.

Again we got up at 4 o'clock in the morning because we intended to leave soon after sunrise when it is no longer necessary to drive with the headlights on. We wanted to get to Battakundi, climb the Babusar Pass (4.200 m) and descend to the Karakorum Highway. We knew that the road would continue to be bad and very small with simple bridges to cross and maybe ice and snow on the pass. Therefore, we allowed 12 - 16 hours to get on the Karakorum Highway . The morning surprised us with a beautiful sunrise shining through the Himalaya cedars but it could not make up for the road, which seemed to consist either of big stones or mud or of both. After about an hour we saw an old man standing on the roadside and waving his hand. We stopped. He was between 80 and 100 years old and looked quite interesting in his green outfit, the turban and with his red coloured beard. As we stopped, he immediately walked beside the vehicle and, by trying to enter it, expressed his desire to get a lift. So we got a hitchhiker somewhere in the Himalayas . The moment he got into the car he started praying and spitting (fortunately out of the window). All we could understand was the word "Allah" which he kept on repeating for about 10 minutes. We wondered whether this was his morning prayer or whether he was saying a prayer only because he was driving with us and felt that a prayer would avoid the worst. After having another look at the path or track we agreed that to say a prayer was the best and most advisable thing to do. The more we got into and up the mountains the more beautiful became the scenery. Some of the ranges were already topped with snow. And then there are the majestic Himalaya cedars and the people who look kind of wild but are, as a matter of fact, very friendly. The condition of the path however worsens; it is only 1.80 m wide. It is impossible to drive faster than one could walk and one has to keep an eye on the ditch. Sometimes it happened that one of the wheels was hanging over such ditch.

After about 4 hours or so the old man gave a sign to stop. So we let him out. As a gesture of good-bye and to remember our first hitchhiker in the Himalayas we took a few photos for which he was very thankful, as were all the men we met so far. It is not advisable and in fact prohibited to take any photos of women. After a kind of ceremonial good-bye and a "thank you" from his side by clapping me on my shoulders we started heading for the Babusar Pass.

We passed a village with a handful of houses only and almost hit the overhanging roof of one of them with the roof of our vehicle. A man in front of that particular house made a grim face, a face that looked even grimmer to us due to the rifle he was carrying. Only a few meters further the path between the houses got even narrower. It was quite a task to manoeuvre the vehicle between the two houses as there was less than two cm of space left between the car and the houses.  

The track outside the village of Battabundi even worsened. We drove over big stones along the mountain slopes with-perpetual snow of more than 2 m even in summer. We crossed small mountain rivers. Some parts of the track could only be managed by being guided, i.e. Roy got out of the vehicle and directed me. We had to cross a bridge, which did not look too solid and stable at all, since it was made of stems that did not seem to be very strong. Furthermore, the bridge was so small, merely as wide as the vehicle. Again, Roy got out and guided me over the bridge, which was swinging when I crossed it. From now on one small bridge after the other had to be crossed. Usually they are located at the end of a steep slope, which added to the required driving skills. Often bends could not be taken in one turn but so that I had to go forward and backward several times.

Upon passing another slope we saw some men repairing a bridge, again made of wooden trunks and wooden branches. We stopped the vehicle in safe distance to the repair works and walked towards the men. After exchanged greetings we tried to talk to them with mouth and hands. All we understood, however, was that they doubted we would be able to cross the bridge presently under repair with our vehicle. Finally, one of the men took a branch of wood, measured the bridge and then the vehicle, shaking his head and started to take measures again. After some discussions among the men they agreed that we should try to cross. And so we did, fortunately without any problems but sometimes with a wheel slightly hanging over the chasm.

The track had been described as suitable for jeeps. But we wondered what that meant, since it got smaller and smaller and we were still 3-4 hours away from the Babusar Pass from which we would have a superb view over the mountains up to the Nanga-Parbat (8.128 m). We continued to drive along the mountain slopes with chasms of depths of more than 800 m. The wheels had on either side not more than 5 cm to manoeuvre, realising that the slightest mistake or negligence would have brought us not up to the Pass but down the chasm.

We came to another tiny bridge, which was damaged, but in the process of being repaired. We learned that it would take 3 – 5 hours till repair works would be completed. But there were two more things we learned from the men, namely that even though repair works on this bridge would be finished the same day there would be the next bridge about 30 minutes up the track which was completely destroyed due to a landslide. Since that latter bridge was bigger in size it would require weeks to repair it. The second thing we learned was that the men were positive that our vehicle would not make it up the Pass with the track getting even smaller the higher we would climb.

That implied that we had to decide whether to continue to drive up the unknown range in an attempt to reach the Babusar summit and to descend to the Karakorum Highway as originally planned or to return all the way down to Mansehra which would take us about 15 hours. From there we would proceed to the north on the Karakorum highway along the Indus River. We decided not to take the uncalculatable risk and to return. Only a week later at Lake Satpora near Shardu we had to learn that our decision was wise and with our car it would have been impossible to climb the pass and to descend on the other side. We learned this from a local trader who had crossed the pass by caravan several times and was quite familiar with the conditions of the track.

So we drove back along the slopes the same way we came until we reached a spot at the Kunhar River where we prepared for a late lunch. Our stomachs were empty but we did not really feel hungry. Was it the day's excitement or disappointment?

We had gained a lot of experience; we had seen some beautiful scenery in the Valley but had not managed to reach our goal, the Babusar Pass. After the lunch break we followed the Kunhar River to Mansehre and turned north again towards the Karakorum Highway .

On the Karakorum Highway along the Indus River to Gilgit and Karimabad

In the meantime it got dark but there was no place to stay overnight except for Besham, which meant about 3 hours of driving in the night. In the area we had to pass a lot of Afghan refugees’ settlements. They are living in tents set up on both sides of the road at the hills and also have their livestock around. For security reasons it is not advisable to stop or stay overnight in this area. So we switched on all our front lights and drove fast but carefully. Driving at night was another experience that day, an experience we actually wanted to avoid because of the special danger connected therewith. However this time we had no other option and staying somewhere overnight would have been even more dangerous. As said before we did drive quite carefully and this for a very good reason. It is common in this part of the world to drive without lights switched on, i.e. one could only make out oncoming traffic or traffic ahead the moment our lights caught it. Only then the other driver would switch on his lights but only until he passed us. Such driving without any lights is dangerous particularly in winding terrain where it is impossible to spot other vehicles but only a few meters before a possible crash.

On the way to Besham we were stopped several times by guards or local policemen at barriers across the street. Some of them were friendly and even invited us for a cup of tea, whereas others were quite the contrary. When passing through villages we saw men carrying rifles over their shoulders and walking always in the company of at least another person. Seeing all this and with the darkness surrounding us we were happy when we arrived in Besham. We knew that there was a place providing accommodation but we did not know where it was located. So we stopped in front of a house right at the main road. Two men were laying on a kind of frame supposed to be a bed just besides the road. We asked them for advice and without any further question they offered us their help and guided us to a house where government travellers usually stay. We were lucky that a vacant room was available. It was not a luxurious place at all instead it was rather dirty. But there was no alternative and if one is hungry and tired, dirt does not matter too much any more. Roy cooked some tea and coffee, warmed up a vegetable can for dinner and I went to find some local bread. The day ended with a good bottle of beer.

The following day we drove via Patan, Dasu, Chilas and Bunji to Gilgit, all the way on the Karakorum Highway.  The Highway was built more than 20 years ago and many workers lost their lives in construction accidents. Chinese workers built the last portion of it between Pakistan and China . The construction of the bridges with its ornaments in form of small stone-cut lions at the entrance clearly evidences this fact.

The Highway follows the Indus River all the way up to shortly after Bunji. The vegetation decreases. After Dasu there are only bolders, rocks and sand. It is very, very hot, too hot actually to have a meal outside the vehicle. We, therefore, opened a can and consumed its contents inside the car.

After that short break we continued our way through a moonlike looking terrain when all of a sudden the battery discharge indication lamp flashed up. It is easy to imagine that we did not expect something like this to happen. An empty battery somewhere in the middle of the Himalayas is something not actually needed and desired. We immediately switched off all power consuming appliances, stopped the vehicle but kept the engine running and started to check all possible sources of defects. This check did not reveal anything but the fact that a measuring instrument was required to detect the point of defect.

It was hard to decide whether to go back to Islamabad and have the vehicle checked and repaired which meant no Gilgit and no upper Himalayas or to proceed without air-conditioning and refrigerator for cold drinks. We voted for the latter, since the battery was still strong enough for the time being and we would need its power only to start the engine. We continued to drive with the windows open for "cooling", but the temperature inside the car rose to 55 Celsius degrees which means that the outside temperature was over 60 degrees Celsius!

After about 6 hours we spotted a huge mountain covered with snow, the Nanga Parbat (8.128 m), one of the mountains we desired to have a close look at. It was so good to see the cold and snowy mountain while driving through the heat. Without knowing its cause, the battery discharging lamp suddenly went off and from this moment on we did not leave an eye from it.

All the time we had hoped that Gilgit would be cool at night due to its altitude of approx. 1.500 m. However, what we experienced was not quite what we had expected. It was hot during the day and hot during the night.

Gilgit is the capital of a scattered district which stretches into Central Asia and comprises some of the finest mountain scenery in the world. Within a radius of 100 km there are eleven peaks ranging from 6.000 to 7.000 m, six from 7.000 to 8.000 m and eight of over 8.000 m.

Gilgit is located in the north east of Pakistan and bordered by the Chinese province of Sinkian in the north and by Baltistan and Ladakh in the East. In former times the famous "Silk Road" with its caravans from Central Asia to the bazaars of the sub-continent led through the Gilgit district. To guarantee a safe passage, the caravans had to pay high dues. If they failed to do so, they were robbed completely. It is not too long ago that this practice was stopped and until about 50 years ago no government was able to control the local lords and their doings. (When I wrote this in ’82 I believed what I read about government control. But at the end of the ‘80 th it started all over again and today in September 2008 it is worse than ever). 

We had actually planned to stay in Gilgit for a few days and to drive from there to Hunza and Karimabad, where we wanted to find an old man I had read about in the National Geographic Magazine years earlier, and to proceed from there to Skardu along the Indus River which turns to the East there between the Karakorum Range and the Deosai Mountains.

We anticipated an 8 hours drive from Gilgit to Hunza and Karimabad, not much if compared with the previous days. The cities are located further up the Karakorum Highway towards the Chinese border along the Hunza River . The scenery along the road is extremely rough with mountain ranges and rocks only and except for a few settlements with fruit trees, mainly apricot trees and a variety of vegetables and some corn. Without knowing, one can see that life up here is quite simple and people are living on a low standard. There is no water or electricity available. People have to use candles or petroleum lamps and have to carry drinking-water over long and difficult distances. We saw young women carrying water containers on their backs and climbing up the steep stairs to their stone huts. What a difference to life in Tokyo.

Almost all the way up to Karimabad, the Rakaposhi (7.788 m) is towering over us. He appears and disappears behind mountain ranges. Upon our arrival in Karimabad we asked for Mr. Joonu, the man I read about when preparing our trip. I had seen a photo of him in a 4 years old magazine of National Geographic. At that time he was 102 years old.  I had a colour photo copy made and took it along to give it to him as a kind of introduction.

Fortunately the village is small and everybody knows everyone. So we soon found someone who knew Mr. Joonu and who could also tell us where he was living. We climbed the steep stairs to his stone house but even before reaching the house we saw him sitting under a tree with a group of elderly men, chatting, of course. We told them who we were and were invited to join the group. Mr. Joonu was 106 years old by now and still looked very healthy.

As a matter of fact the Gilgit district is famous for the longevity of its people. The group of men we were asked to join was a good example of it. Amongst them there was fortunately one man who could speak some English which enabled us to communicate with them and Mr. Joonu. His name was Sajidullah Beg and he had been a wazir (minister) of Hunza.

Of course the men wanted to know what made us come to the mountains, where we were going next, where we were coming from and so on.

Finally Mr. Joonu asked me about my profession after having first carefully studied me and my outfit. In order to make it easier for the translator, I answered that I were engaged in sales. (I thought that marketing was an unknown word for them especially the meaning.) Again Mr. Joonu looked at me and replied through the translator: "What a pity, he looks like a good army officer, but unfortunately he is only a shopkeeper."

This remark made the day for us and on the way back to Gilgit and on our trip to Germany we always remembered that remark and had a good laugh. On the way back to Gilgit we had to fight a big landslide that had occurred after we had passed through for Karimabad.

In order to have a photo taken by Roy , I stopped on top of the landslide. He was about to walk a short distance and adjusted the camera when road workers gave us a sign to pass fast because the next landslide was expected every second. So I started to drive on but could not do so because Roy was standing in my way and had not seen the men's sign. Finally, I chased him away and we speeded off the danger zone.

An hour later we stopped for lunch and to change the engine oil.

We picked a beautiful spot beside a mountain river plunging directly down from the Rakaposhi glacier. We had only stayed there for about 10 minutes when we were surrounded by men and children starring at us. Knowing how poor the people are up here I presented a short sleeve shirt to a young boy and a long sleeve shirt to one of the men. At the moment I had forgotten that these people are wearing shirts much wider than ours and so I thought I had given the shirts to the wrong size of people. They however solved the problem among themselves. Even for the old engine oil we found a happy user in form of a truck driver who probably will have used it up to its last drop. When the oil changing job was done I had a shower under a natural shower source, a mountain river. The water was not only extremely cold but pouring down quite strong and I had difficulties to stay on my feet.

The road to Skardu and Rawalpindi

Today is my birthday and we are on our way to Skardu. It proved to be a difficult and at the same time dangerous undertaking but fortunately we did not know about that in advance.

Skardu is located East of the Karakorum Highway and the track follows the Indus River . Skardu is the base for all mountaineering expeditions to the world's second highest peak, the "K 2", and may be other peaks. Normally people fly to Skardu but we came by car to find out what it really means to drive to a place where the road virtually ends. Needless to say that we had reserved two bottles of beer to celebrate my birthday in the evening.

It would be easy to fill pages about the track and driving on it to Skardu.

It follows all the way the Indus River , sometimes almost on the same level, sometimes high above the river. The track is about 2 – 2.5 m wide with a few spots wider to give way for the onward traffic. Often it narrows to a path under an overhanging rock. It is bumpy and there is always a fear of landslides in the air. The Pakistan Army is reconstructing the road at some parts, since it is always subject to natural damage.

Only small boulders indicated that at certain points the road rim is very soft i.e. driving on it could result in sliding down into the river. There are spots where big rocks had come down and cut off pieces of the road. What a weight and size must that rock have had? The road construction was and is not an easy job and is documented all along the road by signs erected by the army divisions in charge of the construction and indicating the time spent for the construction and the number of men who lost their lives. We counted more than one hundred men over a distance of about 120 km.

After several kilometres of driving we spotted three pigeons following or flying in front of us, respectively. We first spotted them when we were about to descend to the valley. These "guides" accompanied us as far as Skardu, i.e. for more than 100 km.  

The looks of the Indus River along this track is like that of a wild animal. Its waves are reaching heights to 3 - 4 meters and hit the rocks in the river. Anyone falling into the mouth of this animal will be crashed in seconds into bids and pieces. It is hard to believe that shortly before Skardu, actually at Kachura, the Indus is peaceful and smooth flowing.

30 minutes after we had left Skardu behind us we reached Lake Satpara and prepared for the night and dinner.

We had covered 120 km in 9 hours. It was a hard job. Our accommodation consisted of two bedrooms and one sitting room. However, the roof of one of the bedrooms had come down and the windows of the other one were broken. We stayed in the one with the broken windows. Late that afternoon a cool breeze came up and, at an altitude of approx. 2.500 m, the temperature became quite comfortable. Later on, however, the breeze changed to a very strong wind and now we realised why all the windows were broken. We learned that every night there is a change of the air pressure at a high plateau (5.000 m) creating cool air which hits the valley.

At night some younger army officers joined us in the sitting room, we changed some food with them and obtained valuable information about the conditions of the roads in Southern Pakistan where they were stationed before. Finally, the moment came when we celebrated my birthday with some cups of beer and tea made from crystal clear water of the Himalayas . Having driven up to the foremost corner of our trip we had to return via the same road we came fearing possible landslides for hours and hours.

The next day we returned to the bridge leading over the Indus River. We had to cross it if we wanted to get to the Karakorum Highway . We reached the bridge at 6.00 a.m. but it was "closed", i.e. it was the so-called "road block day" and nobody whoever was allowed to cross it that day due to repair works in process. We had to learn that on three days of the week the bridge is closed because of “road block day”. We saw army personnel sitting on top of the bridge tightening screws for maintenance purposes. We were stuck.

Then two army jeeps approached from behind, one jeep with a two star army general who was as we heard on an inspection trip and who wanted to cross the bridge as well. Hope came up again that the maintenance men would change their mind and allow us to cross. However, since the repair and maintenance works had reached a stage where it is impossible for anybody to pass, we had to give in and understand.

Since the general wanted to go some place west he suggested us to follow him on the old road and the old bridge where we could try to cross the river and reach the track. We followed his jeep over adventurous paths for small jeeps and just big enough for our vehicle but even though difficult to drive. We crossed a small bridge, i.e. one by one, because of the weight of the vehicles and descended down steep slopes.

We could see the old bridge already. But all of a sudden the two jeeps in front of us stopped and everyone got out of the cars. We did the same. What we then saw was not encouraging at all: a landslide had simply washed away the track for about 15 m. It would take months to repair it and we had no other choice but to return which meant that we were stuck for the day. We decided to go to Kachura and to stay at the lakeside accommodation called "Shangri-La", a new accommodation that had just opened. It was there where we learned that a jeep with 8 people on board had plunged into the Indus River on August 1st. 2 of the 8 passengers were found on the rocks with serious injuries but the remaining 6 people were still missing. Even the car had not been found.

The following day when we passed the bridge the number plate of our vehicle was recorded to facilitate the check on lost cars. Again we drove up and down, climbed over landslides hoping that around the next corner there would still be a piece of road. Of course, we used the 4-wheel drive not only to be able to cross the landslides but also in order to be prepared for the unforeseen. We met a soldier who asked us to carry a letter for him to the Rawalpindi post office which we did. After a few kilometres we met the pigeons again and they followed and guided us, respectively, to the Highway. When we passed the point where the jeep with the people had gone down there were still men searching for them and a religious symbol had been set up. Landslides blocked the road at many places and one could do nothing else but to wait until the biggest portion was removed so one could climb over the rest. We reached the Highway after another 9 hours and were back to the heat.

It took us another 3 hours to get to Chilas where we had planned originally to stay overnight. But we changed our plan, considering the fact that we had been without electricity for 7 days and with the heat even at night we were really looking forward to a more comfortable accommodation with a shower which we hoped to find in Rawalpindi. That however would take another 12 hours of driving. It did not take 12 hours but 14 plus hours which meant that we had been on the road for a total of 23 hours without any break, while we took lunch and dinner while driving.

We took the road recommended by the army officers in Skardu and that road led us via Abbottabad and Muree to Rawalpindi. Even though the road was small but in a rather good condition it became slippery when we had to climb up to more than 2.000 m, where it was cold and rainy. And all that in the middle of the night. Almost on top of the mountain a big truck got stuck in the middle of the road. It looked like a transmission breakdown. Men staying around the truck came to see us and their eyes glanced at what we carried. We did not feel comfortable at all and therefore hurried to change to the 4-wheel drive in order to pass the mud on the side of the road and to escape in the dark.

Sometime later I saw an oncoming open car, of course without lights on, but could not see much more. Then somebody from that car ordered me to stop. What was this, some bandits who wanted to rob us?! For a moment I did not know what to do, to speed away or to follow the order. Fortunately I decided to follow the order. When the car came closer we saw four policemen pointing their sub-machine guns at us. As soon as they realised that we were foreign tourists they gave way and we were allowed to drive on.

We reached Rawalpindi at 3 o'clock in the morning after 23 hours of driving. We were worn out and starving. I almost lost balance when I got on my feet first.