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  • Writer's pictureVoita

Riding the Karakoram Highway

"I want you to increase my salary." "What... did you say?" "I am working every day from one to nine, that's a lot..." "...normal?"

I exchange entertained and ashamed looks with another patron of the Chinese-owned cafe where I'm waiting for Ehsen bhai.

Neither the Chinese manager nor the Pakistani employee have very good English and I wonder what a struggle it must be for the Chinese family to eke out a living in this foreign country. Or working in two languages they don't have much of a grasp on.

The story ends well - for the Pakistani guy. Boss clears his request over phone and I can see the dude's smile. I'd wager he'll put the money to a better use anyways.

green highway / cafe negotiations

You cannot learn royal manners. Those come with blood and upbringing.

But if there is royalty left anywhere on the planet, Pakistan is close as it gets.

Westerners have become very conscious of their wealth and rank, and the lack of in their not-quite peers. Wantingly or not, we sort ourselves and compare ourselves - one of the signs of impending doom. Seriously.

In Pakistan people are still brothers and friends while living on different planes entirely.

mansions

House servants are considered one of the lowest employments possible - but I've seen my friends treat them well and with respect and I've been told they employ the family members across generations, like some distinguished British butlers.

We sit with Ehsen bhai at little plastic tables wedged on a strip of grass between two parking lots and he has half a dozen guys run around to bring us food and give massage, while having a colloquial conversation with them.

Can you imagine similar interaction between a western millionaire and street vendors?

massage

Expectation:

I reach the designated bus terminal, get my day bag with food, board the bus, take off into the night.

Reality:

Ehsen bhai is running behind me as I'm marching across the dark terminal to a closed office. The bus left a while ago - the online booking portal, largest in the country, has, after collecting my money, somehow forgotten to forward my booking to the bus company, meaning nobody notified me of the time change. Even though I received a plethora of messages that the ticket is confirmed...

negotiations drawing a crowd

Royal solution:

The fastest one. Ehsen bhai has a patient waiting and needs to be off, but host's honour won't let him leave me until I'm taken care of.

One phone call gets us a promise of a refund on the botched ticket - although I've no doubt it'll take days to sort out, but anyway. Next.

I get sat on a car, for convenience. Have you ever tried spending a night in a driving car?

everything fits

But I surprisingly manage to get decent few hours in across several stretches.

KHK, formerly the most dangerous road in the world, is as clean as it gets and we ride through the night with only few pit stops to keep our driver awake. He spent the night listening to Hindi songs. Go figure.

clear road - induced landslide line

road bridge and rare greenery

entering the mountains

How often do you get to say "Look, I nearly died there!" Even to me this doesn't happen too often. We passed the trifork between Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountain ranges in the early morning and soon after reached the crossroads where one road branches off to Skardu. Right before that we had our motorbike's tyre blow up with Hadul in February. Only torn and re-sewn trousers and gloves serve as a reminder of that adventure now.

'tatoes

'welcome' weather

my stray bus pulling in

Gilgit and the surrounding peaks are surrounded by clouds and rain as we reach the town after 14 hours, as fast as it gets.

And it's cold.

But I'm back and I have nearly two weeks to attempt a final ascent of the season.

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