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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Apr 19, 2019.
Love this RR, please post more often if you can.
Laurent, thanks so much for the fascinating story of the Kalash people!
Edit: forgot to say, that photo of the girl taking a selfie with the old man in the foreground is a perfect sum up of their situation as you described it!
Have to disagree with your conclusion though, we haven’t had not even nearly enough lecturing, please keep it coming!
Ok, but what about weed you may ask ? well, cannabis actually originates form this area. It's been known for a long time though, ancient Greeks and Romans have written about using it for its soothing effects. Of course, hemp has always been cultivated for making ropes an paper, but we're talking here about smoking the buds.
There are roughly 2 subspecies of cannabis, Cannabis sativa (= cultivated) and Cannabis Indica (= Indian). Cannabis can be cultivated pretty much everywhere, but here it grows wild everywhere, next to the roads, etc. Funnily, I've just watched Netflix' "Murder Mountain" where they explain that in the 60s the hippies started growing cannabis in northern California using Mexican seeds that gave low-quality smoking weed. At some point, on of the guys traveled to Pakistan and came back with much more potent seeds, and that's when the business of growing weed for profit exploded !
Unlike in America where the weed is sold and smoked as herbs, here it's always transformed in hashish, or charas as they call it, and smoked mixed in cigarettes. They don't have rolling paper, so they carefully empty cigarettes without breaking the paper, mix tobacco and hashish and refill the cigarettes. It's theoretically illegal in Pakistan but the police usually looks away, although the Muslim extremists would like them to do a better job at enforcing the ban (Quran forbids use of any drug besides alcohol). There's a semi-official exception made for the followers of Sufism, a sect of Islam where the use of hashish is central to the practice of the faith. I talked about going to one of these Sufi shrines in Lahore before.
Of course, all plants don't give enough THC to be worthy of smoking, so maybe that's the case with what was growing in this area. If you rubs your hands over the plant you end up with a nice-smelling gooey stuff in your palms, but I didn't try to smoke it. I asked the guesthouse owner where it got his hashish, and said it comes from the FATA, the tribal areas near Afghanistan that are semi-independant and where Pakistani laws aren't worth the paper written on it. I never got a straight answer as to why they don't grow their own, I guess it may have to do with the long and painstaking work of converting bugs into resin, that the Pasthuns have mastered (there's a great story about how Howard Marks visited the hashish production sites in FATA in "Mr Nice").
With weed, alcohol aplenty and unveiled women you can actually talk to (but not more, guys, this ain't no spring break!), this small valley is quite the heaven bang in the middle of one of the most conservative area in Asia. I'll spend 4 days here R&R, even though I've been riding for 3 days only !
Ugh.. I just got that in my inbox:
Hey Asianrider, we were able to update the software to increase the image attachments from 4 to 10 per post and up to 25 for site supporters and PayPal subscriptions are here!
If you want to go ad free + 25 attachments per post and a free t-shirt you can sign up here, the support really helps!
Thanks! So that's why some of you don't see the photos ? we need to pay for this now ? I haven't been around much for the last couple years so I haven't followed the changes of ownership or the monetization of it..
I have no paid subscription to adv but can see all photos. So I don’t think it’s an issue for those that read. Unless maybe if ones uses an add blocker. Perhaps in that case the photos don’t show?
I'm running adblocker and can see the pics. No paid subscription either.
Edit, and I'm loving the report.
Thanks all. I'm trying to keep the pace but it's taking time and I've got to stuff to do besides my day work. I've just fitted new rotors on my f800gs, that was way overdue..
I got the same PM from Rudy. I can see all your pics and post as many as I want to. But I'm using SmugMug, don't know if that makes any difference or not. Love the RR.... keep it up please.
Fascinating history, that young boy looks just like my cousin from Charlotte North Carolina in the US when he was a kid.
The remote pictures of the landscape are gorgeous, these fascinating places Like Pakistan ruled by Hard Line Muslim Extremists, I couldn't see one being very safe from exploitation to the backward laws these countries keep. I applaud you for your story and by all means be safe. The bike seller you showed in an earlier post seemed quite perturbed by the camera, or negotiations.
Best ride report I've ever read, thank you for taking the time to share with us.
I'm not trying to hijack or derail this thread (mods please delete this post if Asianrider objects to it), but many other country's citizens currently view the US the same way that you are viewing Pakistan - dangerous, full of religious extremists, and with backwards laws.
What seems perfectly normal and 'correct' in one culture seems batshit crazy to another. To many people in this world we (the USA) are the batshit crazy ones. It all depends on your perspective.
“Viewing Pakistan - dangerous, full of religious extremists, and with backwards laws”. Other than the possibility of the backwards laws bit which is also likely true the rest is undeniably true whether you agree with the reasoning or not, it is still true. That said this chain is fascinating and it is great to see the realities of the world, the good the bad and the indifferent. I look forward to more of the same. While wishing this guy a safe trip, while riding a bike, the possibility of getting shot is the least of his worries. .
The Ride Reports on this site are a treasure chamber, filled to the brim with a wealth of perspectives on just about any corner of the world. All we have to do is open our eyes and take it all in. I’m convinced that the more perspectives we take in, the less judgmental we get.
And this RR in particular is a gem amongst all that treasure to be found on adv.
Yeah, the thing is, you need to change your mindset and accept the way other people manage their live. If you can't stand it, easy, just stay at home. Many people don't like the way the USofA are heading. Fine. Just don't got there. But if you do, put up and shut the fuck up.
Now, as for danger, I've never felt threatened in any way, so that's mostly a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. I'm sure it's more dangerous for locals to live there than for foreigners to travel there. And at the end of the day, you're much more likely to be killed in a road accident than in an attack (same in France or in the US).
Has anybody written a RR about traveling in Humboldt County (Murder Mountain) ? no escort provided there I reckon ;-)
Great introduction for the next installment (from a Pakistani perspective):
Fantastic RR... thanks so much for sharing...
I've been to pakistan in 2001.... and have very fond memories of the country, despite the "slightly" difficult times back then.
Your RR increases my desire to see more of the country and perhaps on a bike too.
Stunning photos as well...
here's one of mine (shitty little APS Film camera I got after I managed to kill the old Nikon F3 that I had originally taken along...)
Arriving in Brun (Bumburet valley), I manage to find the guesthouse I've given as my place to stay. As I arrive, the owner greets me and introduces me to my escort. The policeman is obviously off duty as he's wearing causal trainers and sweat pants. He's been caught off-guard and has to rush back to his house to don his police outfit - and grab his rifle, of course.
This is clever, it seems they use Kalash people as police. Other tourists who came on a day trip from Chitral have a Kho (outsider) escort, but here they use village people. Mine (forgot his name) is really nice and we get along nicely.
The thing is, the guy is with you 24x7, so I you can't get out of the guesthouse without him in tow (theoretically - I did manage to walk around the village alone from time to time). But what could be a burden actually turned out to be quite enjoyable as the guy knows absolutely everybody here and in the neighbor valley, so it opens quite a few doors.
When I rest at the guesthouse he's chatting with the owners, or go back to his home to grab a bite or take a rest. We would often go and walked in the valley and he would showed me around, talking to everybody he met on the way. Of course, he's not a guide, so I don't need to pay anything, but his English is quite OK so he's does double duty. I gave him some cash at then end of my stay but he didn't ask for it and didn't expect any.
It was a couple days before the festival so it was still quiet around. He showed me the museum and the "open-air" cemetery with coffins laying there.. at one point we were walking around in the village and I smelled the unmistakable smell of fermented fruits (my grandad used to do his own eau-de-vie).
I asked him where it was coming from, so he climbed a few stairs and entered a nondescript wooden house where a DIY alembic was dribbling a white liquid. There was a guy laying on a hammock busy doing nothing. I asked what it was about and he replied it was apricot. So, of course, I bought him a coke bottle (1.5 l..) of booze for the evening. (which the owner was pretty happy to polish off mostly by himself ;-)
A few houses later, girls were having fun with water and dancing around. It seems quite dull, but it's out of question in the surrounding Muslim areas.
As we walked up the valley, my cop buddy said we should turn back. I said what was over there and he said it was a nuristani village, and out of bound for me. But it seems even they don't like to mix with them. In addition, an army border guard forbids entry to anybody who's not local. These nuristani are afghan refugees who settled there semi-officially, and as long as they do not cause trouble they are tolerated but the Pakistanis. Afghanistan is just across a high pass, so I'm told they do a fair bit of trading between the two countries.
Finally came the big day, the Uchal festival. There are three big festivals in Kalash country: Joshi, in May, is the big one. Uchal in August is also drawing a lots of tourists. So I was told by the guesthouse owner that the best one to attend is Choimus, the Winter solstice festival, because you see much fewer tourists and it's more authentic. The night before, locals in Bumburet gathered in the main square and danced to the sound of music under the moonlight. But the real one happens in Brumbur, the neighbor valley.
So we head off with my security buddy in search of a car to get there (about 1 hour driving). But the cars are in high demand, and even him as a local can't get us one (for a decent price, that is). No big deal, let's take the bike! I'm not really comfortable, as skirting around the mammoth potholes two-up on a small bike is not my thing, but hey, it's there, so let's use it. We go down the valley to the checkpoint, register again, and head up the other valley. The road is really beautiful but we have to pass tons of SUVs who arrive from Chitral for the day. Mostly domestic tourists but also quite a few foreigners, including the Italians who were staying at the same guesthouse.
The advantage of the bike (and the cop) is that we can ride all the way into the village. My friend starts by visiting a friend of his. As usual here, we're offered a kind of bread with fresh cheese on it.
Today is the day when the shepherds go down the valley to sell their cheese, but unfortunately it happens very early and now they've already returned. I ask if we can go see the shrine up the valley, and my frienjd says why not ? so we ride up a steep and tricky dirt road along the river, until he finally tells me the shrine is on the opposite side and there's no bridge... all right, so we ride back.
Boy would it be a great off-road trip on a decent dual-purpose bike ! if ever this region opens up to tourism and solved the security equation (unlikely in my lifetime), it would make for a world top-rated bikers spot.
Back to the village the guy asks me if I'd like to go to a little hamlet above the village, where his wife's family is living. Yeah, of course! he introduces me to them and we have tea in the garden. it's quite the place, with a beautiful view on the village and the valley. But I can imagine it must be hard during the winter. They tell me they get a lot of snow and it gets really cold.
Here's some khalash language, which apparently traces directly back to indo-aryan language a few thousand years back :
Without my security that was imposed on me I would never have walked up there and met those people.
Back to the village the party has started on the main square so we go there. it's quite a small place, with many, many tourists attending.
In the middle are a couple guying playing the drum (no other instrument), and the Kalash dressed in colorful dresses dance around.
Or actually, run around with arms locked, there doesn't seem to be real dancing and we think of. It's quite joyful but, I have to admit, a bit boring after a while. Many tourists are taking photos and I do as well. I'm OK with that, it's the main party, you expect a lot of attention.
But what's really pisses me off is all those stupid tourists taking the same picture of a poor girl in the middle of the street. For me it's a show of disrespect.
And that's about it! I was expecting a little more, so it was a bit of a let down. And even though it's one of the less touristy place in the world, painted red by most governments' advisory, it felt like a zoo. Imagine what it'd be like if it were like Ladakh.. actually, if you've been to a festival in Ladakh, you know what I mean !
(etc.. many more pics like this)
The next day I say farewell to my host and head down.
The valley is really beautiful.
As I make my way through the holes and around the rocks I hear my water bottle falling down. So I park my bike and go back on foot.. only to hear it crashing down, as I had extended the stand on soft ground. No big deal right ? expect that it's crappy quality. So the clutch lever snapped, par for the course I guess, but more worryingly a pool of fuel forms around the bike.
What happened is that the petrol filter snapped. It is fixed to the tank petcock. The thing is all plastic and clumsily placed where it takes the first hit. So I clean the grit as well as I can and put it back in place, with some gaffer tape.
The clutch lever is another problem. I have no spare so I'll have to do without. Fortunately it's mostly downhill from here to the river, and then good tarmac. I'm not used to clutchless shift and I've never felt the use for it, so I'm not good at it. Up a remote valley in Pakistan is as good a palce as another to start and learn. The up-shift came along pretty nicely, if I hit the right timing it's quite smooth. But the downshift... let's just say that if you slam the gear lever hard enough (with the heel, remember the upside-down shifting ?), then it will downshift but the noise of the synchros ramming into each other is upsetting... hopefully I'll be able to fix it in Chitral. Taking off is another matter; obviously, downhill is ok. On flat and smooth ground, a big push with the feet allows me to slam into 1st. But a couple times, I have to admit, I used the starter in gear to get it in motion... (hem). And of course, when I come to a stop, I sometimes forget which direction to shift to to put it in neutral.
Fortunately I arrive in Chitral during a holiday and the traffic is very light. I first stop at a roadside shack where dudes are fixing small bikes. I explain them the problem.. well, in those cases you don't need to master the local lingua to get the message across: I just point to the broken lever. The guys gesture to me that they don't do this kind of big bore bike (;-) and they don't have a spare for it. But it doesn't mean that will let me down. While a kid fetches me a cold drink (ugh..), another one finds an old Honda CG lever in a pile of random spares and proceeds to file it down until it kindof fits. It's good enough to get me going, and (should I be suprised?) they absolutely refuse to taker any money from me!
Did I mention that I, for once, just brought my F800GS to a BMW dealer for servicing here in France, and not only did it cost me dearly, but it now doesn't want to idle at all, after 4 new round trips to their workshop! so now I'm down to sending them registered mail to have them sort it out. So who's the developed country here ?
I start off and had for the market where I find an open bike parts shop. They don't have the stupid little petrol filter holder but.. they have the whole petcok assembly with the filter holder. So I had to buy the whole thing (for a grand total of 5$) to replace the 0.10c plasticy thing..!
I go back to Chitral's police HQ to ask if I can go to Chitral National park. I've spotted some great tracks on Google Earth and it is supposed to be really nice. Unfortunately, the area is completely out of bounds to foreigners. Or so they tell me. Too bad, but that's understandable, so close to the Afghan border. They ask me where I'm headed to, always keen to know the whereabouts of the foreigners. I'm afraid they'll force an escort on me, but I tell them I'll go up the valley toward Mastuj, Shandur top and Gilgit, which the normal road, and they're fine with that. Good! Too late for today, so I take a hotel for the night and I'll start early in the morning for the long road ahead.
this is so much more than just a ride report. mesmerizing, it is - merci.
a wonderfull rr,I learned abouth kalash people first.