Guns, weed but no booze: Pakistan on a GS (150..)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Apr 19, 2019.

  1. bnschroder

    bnschroder Adventurer

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    I traveled all over the area in 1992 when my uncle was at the German Embassy in Islamabad. What a wonderful memory to see those pictures.
    Did you take the little 150 over the Deosai Plateau?
    #61
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  2. Gestalt

    Gestalt Been here awhile

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    Brother, this is not your standared adventure, I check it out first thing everyday, some of us are happy to live trough other eyes, me for sure at this level but dam, life is still a learning experience even if its through others, you be safe.
    #62
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  3. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    The sword thing makes sense. But these days we use our left hand, to greet our fellow riders. So, right side drive is right :super
    #63
  4. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Yup. Stay tuned..
    #64
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  5. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    The next morning I wake up early in my grubby little room. Lovely view on the Main Street from the balcony. It doesn't get more local than that:

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    I head downstairs to grab some breakage. Lo and behold, one of the security guy slept int he reception. Of course, he won't let me get on the street.. they've made tea and some chapatis are coming. I'll have to make do with that.

    A little while later the head of local police (or whatever) comes back and tells me that I'm free to go to Chitral, but not alone: they'll have to slap an escort on me. I'm not entirely surprised, those guys want to get this tourist out of their jurisdiction as quickly and as safely as possible. The hot potato needs to be handed over to Chitral police. Fair enough, so I pack my stuff, pay the room and get on my bike. I follow them to their offices, where they gather a few cops, put them on the back of a pickup truck and off we go. They lead and I follow. The road follows the valley along the river, it's beautiful.

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    So I stop for pictures. That means that they have to get back, wait for me and start again. After the second time they get tired so they tell me to go ahead first and they follow. Makes sense. Although I don't ride hard (come on, on my 150..) I quickly lose sight of the in my mirror. I don't care, they'll catch up. I make a break and wait 5 minutes, "chatting" with local guys. They're really nice dudes, but they only speak the local lingo, Khowar. Pakistan is a patchwork of different people, most have speaking their own language. In Chitral, the local people are the Kho. Unless they're visiting from Peshawar and they were talking to me in Pashto... or they were making an effort and speak in Urdu ? :hmmmmm

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    Still nobody. Guess their car broke down, or they figured I would be all right alone. I couldn't care less so I keep going until Chitral, without any problem.

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    I knew all foreigners should register in Chitral so I head for the police station, a large fortified compound in the middle of the bazaar. They direct me to the foreigner's office. There are a couple guys in very cramped office with papers up to the floor and big ledgers. I explain them where I intend to go (the Kalash valleys). They make me fill a form with my details and they fill in a permit. Meanwhile, a group of tourists arrive, they've bene driving from Gilgit, the road I intend to take after my visit to the Kalash. They look pretty beaten. How's the road I ask ? "You don't want to know. It's a nightmare !" They've been driving non-stop, maybe 12 hours in the back of a taxi. I can feel the pain, but as I will find out later, the road is not as bad. It's just that when you come from Europe, the comparison is pretty bad.

    Back to the police, they ask me if I have room no the rear of the bike for a passenger.
    - No way, I'm full !
    - Ok, no problem, you can go.

    That's it? I'd heard that foreigners needed an armed escort to get around Chitral, but I guess they can't spare a truck for every single guy, so if they don't have a car, then the security stays at home. Good for me ! I waste some time to try and buy a new SIM card, one that would work in that area, I get some cash and some petrol.

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    A little note about Chitral: until the end of the 19th century, it was an independent state with a prince at its head, called Mehtar. It was described by the British as ruthless and keen on fighting with his neighbors (and killing its next of kin in family feuds). At the time, the British didn't control the high mountains of the Hindu Kush. It's only in the 1870s that the Brits started to exert the authority over Giglit and Hunza, and in 1885 that they took Chitral under their protection. The Mehtar kept on ruling the country after that, in fact even after Pakistan independence in 1947. It's only in 1969 that Chitral was fully incorporated into Pakistan as a normal district. In the 19th century, Chitral exerted its authority over a larger territory that included what's today part of Afghanistan. Indeed, there was no distinct border between Afghanistan and the British raj at that time, which was annoying for such organized people as the Brits. So they tasked Sir Durand, a civil servant of the raj, to trace a border between the two countries, which became known as the "Durand line" and still defines the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan today. This will become important as we talk about the Kalash later on. Suffice is to say that, like so many borders of ex-European colonies, it doesn't make any sense: there are Pashto on both sides of the border, and the "natural" road connects Chitral to Jalalabad in Afghanistan. The road to Peshawar through Lower pass, before the tunnel, was much too risky and cut off by snow during the winter.

    Today there are two place worth mentioning in Chitral: the polo ground, because polo is famous in Chitral (we'll come back to this when I cross the Shandur pass in a few days) and the mosque, which isn't that old, it was built in the early 20th century.

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    After a quick lunch, I leave for the Kalash valleys. When I was in Lahore, the manager of the hotel was actually a Kalash. He gave me an address where to stay in Bumburet valley, one of the 3 valleys. The festival was supposed to start 2 days later. I rode back a few km downstream to a bridge, where I didn't see the soldier manning the gate and he had to call me for me to stop.

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    He checks my permit and writes down all the detail, but only after calling the head office to know what's going on with this guy. In fact, at every check-point somebody would take his cell phone and call to know what to do. I wonder how they do where there's no cell reception ? they probably don't put a checkpoint. As always it's very friendly, the guy gives me a seat and a glass of water. In short time I'm let go and can ride on.

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    The road turns to shit just after that bridge, and will stay that way up the valley. Locals drive Toyota Corollas here, but they must kill them pretty fast. Tourists use jeeps and and landcruisers though. I pass a little town with a bazaar and a bus stop, the last one.

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    The ride is beautiful but the short travel of the suspension and the fact that I can't stand up is killing my back. Surprisingly, the low clearance isn't a problem, I hardly ever scrape the sump.

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    There's another bridge just before the split between Rumbur and Bumboret valleys and, of course, a checkpoint.

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    Here just like at the 3rd checkpoint they ask me which place I want to stay at and they call to check. Hopefully I had the address of a guesthouse, I guess you can't just ride in and improvise. Security is tight. Of course Afghanistan is just a stone throw away, but I think they're more worried about the religious hardliners who don't get along with the Kalash. But there's also a lot of contraband getting through those valleys from Afghanistan so they must be checking that too.

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    It becomes greener as I reach the main village, at about 2000 m altitude. It's also quite a bit cooler than in Chitral, and I grateful for that.

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    Finally I arrive and ask my way to the guesthouse. It's up a pretty steep path and my little 150 barely makes it to the top. Kids walk me to the guesthouse where I wait for the owner. A guy is sitting there smoking a big spliff, which he kindly shared with me. Yay, that's not too bad of a welcome. When the owner arrives I find out he's sort of a child of the village. He's got a few nice rooms and a dorm. A group of Italian tourists have booked the rooms but the dorm is empty. We make a deal for full board, at a good price because the guy makes tons of money from the package tours. Nice vibe.

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    The setting is great, with a beautiful view on the valley. All houses here are wooden with a corrugated tin roof, it's quite nice. I just relax while I wait for the dinner.

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    The food is simple but good. Rice, vegetables, chapatis and cheese. And the evening is spent chatting with the owner, and his family. He speaks good English (unlike his wife), and has a seemingly unlimited supply of weed.

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    Next installment I'll tell you all about the Kalash (or about the weed, depends on what you're interested in..)
    #65
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  6. makad

    makad P/T Shed Dwelling Hermit

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    Brilliant RR Laurent, really enjoying the narrative & photography. The short ride video "Pakastani Drivers" from Lahore to Islamabad was nuts! Truly going with the flow man. Looking forward to the continuing tales
    #66
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  7. sledrydr

    sledrydr Been here awhile

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    One of the more interesting RR I've followed. Talk about going above and beyond the norm! Now lets hear about that weed:lol2
    #67
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  8. steved57

    steved57 Been here awhile Supporter

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    Awesome ride report - loving every bit of it
    #68
  9. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Well, I don't know about you but where I live, here in Marseille, France, lane splitting is what I do every day to get to the office. And all bikers do it on a. regular basis. So it's something I'm used to and I know the danger of it. It may not be as chaotic as Pakistan here, but in the long run, I'm far more likely to have an accident here with my 800GS than over there ! Someday I should get a GoPro along and show you guys how crazy it is in Southern France. And I'm playing safe compared to the kids on scooters...
    #69
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  10. Gestalt

    Gestalt Been here awhile

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    French, no great surprize.
    #70
  11. yamalama

    yamalama wet coaster

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    yup. they have all the fun!
    #71
  12. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    I live in the Pays Bas, we lane split like crazy and grow our own weed, industrial scale.:bubba

    So bring on the Kalash please! :lurk

    Absolutely great adventure Laurent!
    #72
  13. IndiBiker

    IndiBiker Been here awhile Supporter

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    Atlanta, GA
    Love this RR! Anyone else having trouble with the images?
    #73
  14. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Thanks. What's wrong with the images, they're not loading ? they come off my own server, but it seems to be up and not overloaded, although not very speedy. Tell me if you have trouble reaching it (it's actually hosted in France but there may be a Huawei router involved..;-).

    There's a bank holiday coming here so more bike riding and less RR writing.
    #74
  15. 2old2Bbold

    2old2Bbold was 2bold2getold

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    I see them fine. Thanks.
    #75
  16. GregDavidL

    GregDavidL Been here awhile

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    I see them fine.
    #76
  17. hooligan998

    hooligan998 Save a life, grope your wife.

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    I see the images and am amazed by them.
    #77
  18. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    The Kalash

    Chitral area (and more generally the area between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan) is at the crossroads of many civilizations, and saw a lot of merchants and armies crossing from one side to another, from the steppes of central Asia to the Indian subcontinent, from Persia to India, from the Bouddhist world to the Islamic worls, etc.. it's fascinating to see how much happened here from the Ancient Greek time up to the Soviet Afghan war and the so-called "War on Terror". So there's a lots of mixed people and mixed religions here whose ancestry date back centuries of millenia.

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    The Tadjiks, the Pashtuns, the Punjabis, the Khos, the Hunza, the Wakhis, they all meet here, or close by. But there's a small group of people (a few thousands) who don't resemble any of these: the Kalash. They have a pale skin and aren't muslim (or Christian for that matter). They don't relate to any Pakistani of Afghan numerous ethnicity but they may well have been here for much longer than them. Their history have puzzled the historians for a long time. From the first time travellers heard of them and reported about them, lengends started to appear about who they are and were they come from. When the country was islamized, they were the only one who kept their faith. They were known locally as "kafir", which means "unbeliever", and their country called "Kafiristan".

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    This country was made of remote valleys hidden behind several high passes at the foot of Hindu Kush. Little was known about them because they were living far from the main cities and were known as hostile to foreigners. Bandits even. Their pale skin made them stand out from the rest of Pashtuns and Tadjiks, in fact they could easily pass as Europeans. Because it was known that Alexander the Great Armies went through this region, the legend caught on that some Macedonian soldiers left behind are the ancesters of the Kalash. But that was before we knew much about the early inhabitants of the Asian steppe, several thousand years ago. They're the Scythians, who the ancient Chinese writers described as fair skinned, blonde or red hair with blue eyes. So it's much more likely that the Kalash are actually the direct descendants of Scythians who didn't mix with other people. Fascinating. Indeed, if you go to other remote valleys such as the Bartang in Tajikistan, you'll also meet red-heads and blue eyes. Here's a photo of a kid in Roshtqala valley in Tajikistan:

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    The Kalash were though of as a genetics "isolate", which means they had no connection with other people. But the progress of the genetics brought other conflicting theories and found much in common with currrent Europeans. See here for more information on their discoveries (if you're interested): http://www.admixturemap.paintmychromosomes.com

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    The most interesting descriptions of these people come from a British offcier, George S. Robertson, who in 1895 made the most thorough exploration of the Kafiristan, and wrote about it in "The Kafirs of the Hindu Kush". At that time the British seized control of Gilgit and Chitral, and sought to make sure that the borders of the Empire were secure against invasions (mainly because of the Russians pushing in from the north). That's when the border between Aghanistan and Pakistan (then the British Indies) was traced. The Afghan Emir then decided to subdue those infidels and convert them Islam. Most did, although a few thousands fled through the border and settled in 4 valleys in Paksitan. The rest became muslims and their territory became known as "Nuristan". To this day, it's still a harsh and resless country were few people go (and come back alive). The Russians lost many soldiers there, as did the Americans. On a brighter note, you can read the story of 2 British fellows who trekked there in 1956: "A short walk in the Hindu Kush" by Eric Newby. Now THAT was adventure! Anyway, of the 4 valleys inhabited by fleeing Kalash, 1 of them eventually converted to Islam as well, of their own will apparently. The other 3 soldiered on and still keep their tradition, faith and language intact. But they're under pressure from muslims who have begun to buy land and open shops there. So the Kalash valleys are not uniformly kalash but they get along more or less okay, it seems.

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    I find these isolated people fascinating, so that's the main draw for me to come here. They live insulated from the rest of the country, in short numbers, a bit like the Himbas in Namibia or the Tsataans in Mongolia, or even the Assyrians in Turkey. Meeting them is opening a living history book, they tell us about our past. But they're also at risk of being wiped out entirely, either because they're killed or because they're assimilated by the dominant ethnic people.

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    Today they face several threats: first of, there are the muslim extremists who don't like people of another faith. Then there is povery and modernity which pulls the youth towards the big cities, Chitral and Islamabad. It's difficult to fight internet and cable TV.. Finally, there is a wave of tourism hitting them badly. The foreigners are few and afr between, but the Pakistanis are coming en mass, and that is something new for them. Even as recently as 10 years ago when I rode through Pakistan I saw very few domestic tourists. Now they come by the busload, they're loud and noisy and act like they're in a zoo. Well, Western tourists are also like that but they're often of the more educated kind, although as I've been really put off by the behaviors of some of the tourists I've met here.

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    WTF ? The upside, I guess, is that they make some good money running guesthouses here, so that's a reason for them to stay.

    One thing that's refreshing, is that you actually see women. All around them, women are invisible, clad in black burkhas that don't allow you to see even the eyes. But here, women are just as free as in Europe and you can freely chat with them. That's quite something, and I'm pretty sure that must piss off some of those crazy extremists.

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    They're not Muslims, they're not Christians, they could be called Pagans because they believe in various Gods or god-like entities, but I haven't really researched much of it I must admit. It looks pretty complicated. There's a small museum in the valley where you can see some of the artifacts, religious or not, that have survived the destructions by the surrounding majority religion, until now.

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    The few written explanations in English were not easy to decipher and the guide only spoke Kalash and Urdu, so I didn't get much out of it. But the statues are fascinating nonetheless.

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    That all about for today, 'nough lecturing. I'll leave you with those two gals. A bit crazy but good company.

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    #78
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  19. Perre

    Perre Adventurer

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    Fascinating and very interesting. Thank you.
    #79
  20. Olirider

    Olirider Been here awhile

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    Thanks for letting me discover the existence of the Kalash people.
    Your pictures are also excellent. :clap
    #80
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