After five days of Karachi chaos I needed a place to get some rest. This place was found in Zood Khun, the last Wakhi village of the Chapursan Valley. The valley lay in the most northen area of Pakistan, near de Afghan and Kirzigistan border. To get to this place I had to take a flight to Islamabad and then a 33 hour bumpy bus ride. The last 4 seats were empty and I only found out why, when the bus would reach the mountain pass. I was launched to the ceiling every now and then. During this ride of terror the bus stopped only twice: for dinner and for breakfast. I didn’t bring enough water and had to pee. In the meanwhile I was getting sicker and sicker of the bumping of the car. The Karaokaram Highway is number 8 of the most dangerous roads of the world and also one of the most beautiful. I couldn’t care, feeling sick, thirsty and in need for a pee stop. The road was in terrible condition but they and the Chinese were working hard to make little progress. The Pakistani ministry of infrastructure knows to spin this in a positive way. They put on signs saying: ‘the road to success is always under construction.’
The astonishing view from the horrible busride on the Karokam Highway
28 hours later I arrived at Hunza, a beautiful area surrounded by snowy mountain tops. I found a hotel with an astonishing view and terrible food. Here I could have my last wifi shot, before driving back into the 19th century. I shared a room with a Chinese guy, who’s English name was Mike. He thought the pancake idea was cool, but it seemed better to go back home and find myself a real job. Traveling the world was a waste of time and money. We would go to Sost together the next day. In order to do so we had to make a plan. A plan is important. I was watching the last bit of sun setting behind the mountains. There was no time for such nonsense. ‘Come now, we need a plan!’ he pulled me to the hotel room. Carefully he got 30 sheets out of his briefcase. ‘This is from a Chinese man who also did this route. These are the hotels, these are the busses we can take this here is the price.’ Explaining me in detail where and when to go and how much it should cost. Even with this waterproof plan he was anxious things would not go according to plan.
The next morning, as I was enjoying the first sun beams touching the mountain tops, my Chinese tour operator told me we had to hurry to get the bus to Sost. We were exactly on time at the bus station, only the bus was one hour late. After an hour drive the road stopped and a beautiful lake appeared. A landslide made place for this lake. blocking the trading road between China and Pakistan. All the trucks had to load their cargo on the small improvised motor boats. After a two hour boat ride, we continued by bus for two more hours. I saw a sign saying Sost was five kilometers. I told my Chinese friend that we were almost there. He looked at his watch: ‘Wrong,’ he said, ‘according to the plan we will arrive in 50 minutes.’
I met Alam Jan in Sost, a village near the border of China. He had a guesthouse in Zood Khun. When I asked him about the lake dividing two cities four years ago, he told me it was the first time he ever seen and been on a boat. Whenever he didn’t see mountains for too long he grew home sick.a He was a poet and wrote about them with a divine gratitude.
‘When is the jeep leaving to your village?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know, somewhere between eleven and three. you will see once it starts moving it’s time to get on’ The jeep ride through the beautiful valley took three hours. I sat on the roof because the bus was too packed.
The people in Chapursan live on what they grow on the land. Breakfast would be dry bread with tea. My dinner and lunch would be potato with spinach. The people still use the agri techniques they used in the nineteenth century and before. Alam Jan’s family was fortunate enough to own a tractor. At first sight it looked like they didn’t use anything from the 21st century at all. Then the oldest son asked me if I was on Facebook. Later on the youngest son was disappointed I didn’t have angry birds on my phone. Also this valley is the most literate piece of pakistan. Everybody speaks at least some English and most kids go to Lahore or Islamabad to study. This is because the money raised from charity is spend in an honest and constructive way.
On my birthday I wanted to organize a birthday party, serving my pancakes to the kids in the village. In Whaki culture there is no such thing as a birthday. ‘We work too hard, there is no time for celebrating.’ said Selim while he was chilling on a group of kushions sipping his fourth cup of tea. The people don’t really care about age or aging. When I asked Ariam how old he was, he said: ‘nineteen, or eighteen maybe. I don’t know exactly.’ You could see a seventy year old woman that looked ninety or an eighty year old that looked sixty-five. When I asked them to say happy birthday for Tanne in Wakhi language, they told me there is no such thing as Happy Birthday in their culture.
That didn’t matter. I was celebrating anyway. Farishta helped me finding the right ingredients for the pancakes. We were walking to one of the houses three hundred meter further asking for eggs. They didn’t have any. ‘Try the house on the hill’. That house had three eggs. ‘But the house further must have eight.’ They had seven. Seven eggs was seventy rupees. I only had 500 rupees. Only after the sixth house and one km further we found someone that could change 500 rupees to pay for the eggs. The man invited me for tea and told me he is the cousin of Alam Jan. Everybody in this village is a cousin of Alam Jan.
The milk I used, came straight from one of their cows. The flour came from their grain and the water came straight from the glacier. The only thing that wasn’t home made, was a topping. There was a small shop that only sold clothes, gasoline, tea and chocolate sweets. I decided to crush the chocolate sweets and melted them. Farishta invited all his friends, we listened music and I was taught how to dance like a Wacky Wakhi. I also invited some men from the village. They didn’t like the pancakes that much and sat grumpy in the corner, while the kids were dancing. It was a remarkable birthday. Afterwards one of the grumpy older men told me: this was a good birthday party, no?!’ It was. It was the best and only birthday party they’ve ever had.