Christmas in Pakistan – where else?!

I write this blog from the Hunza Valley in the Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan, where I have been spending my Christmas holidays. Me and two of my friends made our way here through China and the Khunjerab pass (through the Himalayas) – the highest paved international road in the world. It was a really spectacular journey, first stop Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China. The Chinese government have cut off all internet access and international phone calls in Xinjiang since the troubles with the Uighurs in the summer so we were totally isolated until we reached Pakistan. It was pretty scary being in a city where the oppression by the government was so overt. The Han Chinese soldiers patrolled the streets in military trucks, slowly scouring with their guns pointed at civilians. It was like going back a thousand years in some parts of the city. We went to an animal bazaar and saw young boys taming horses and humungous woolly camels for sale. It was very cold and eerie in the streets though so, as interesting as the place was, we were glad to leave and get into a region where contact with our families was possible. From there we got a bus through the desert to the Chinese border at Tashkurgan. This was also a cold and eerie place but we were invited for a hot pot party with some local men where we took shots and sang and ate all evening. The next morning saw the second leg of our journey begin in a Pakistani driver’s land cruiser. We squeezed in with four other grown men and shared dried apricots as we meandered our way through the Khunjerab pass. The scenery was indescribable. Huge mountains covered in snow. The road was cut into the mountains at great heights. The corners were sometimes precarious and we saw three overturned trucks on our way.

Finally we arrived at the first Pakistani checkpoint, and what a contrast from the Chinese ports of call. Smiling men appeared from quaint, coloured, wooden huts shouting ‘Welcome to Pakistan!’ and offering cups of tea. The light even seemed to have changed, and plants began to sprout from the mountainside. We were forced to accept Biryani and more tea once we arrived and have never stopped drinking the stuff to be honest. The people of the Hunza Valley offer infinite hospitality and curiosity, and the place is divinely beautiful. We have visited ruby mines, glaciers, one thousand year old forts and hope to squeeze in a visit to some hot springs this week. Next week we will venture to Lahore for some city slickin’ and to the Wagah border with India where an aggressive performance takes place every morning and night when it opens and closes.

Then back to HK for semester 2. We’ll see what that brings. If it’s anything like semester one, I’m not sure I have the energy! Semester 1 was the most indescribably busy time of my life. But due to that I have learnt and experienced more than ever in my life before. Everyday life was actually exhilarating. You wake up each morning knowing you have no choice but to go out there and get everything done – but also knowing that you also have no choice but to learn and experience so much that you haven’t before. HKU is certainly a unique place, as is HK itself, and the other exchange student I have met (people who all deliberately let themselves in for this crazy experience, just as I did) are similarly of a certain unique breed.

Semester 2, bring it on.

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2 Responses

  1. I am from Pakistan. I wish, I could also be the visitor of the same beautiful valley. I could not visit some of very beautiful places of my country and Hunza is one of them. You are lucky to be there. I am sure must have enjoyed the trip.

    Best Wishes for you and your friends and family

  2. Victoria: Thanks for posting your experiences in China and Xinjiang Province. I’ve been to Urumgi five times and have taken the train down to Hami. This was in 2006, before there was any “overt” trouble. Had a wonderful time, lots of good food (if you like lamb) and wonderful, friendly people. Too bad this has all changed now. Be aware in Pakistan. It is not safe.
    Enjoy your studies. You are a lucky person to be able to experience studying abroad.

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