Pakistan, North West Frontier Province – There’s a road that runs between the towns of Peshawar and Chitral, on a good day you can make it in 9 hours, on a bad day it’ll take 14, and on a day like mine, you don’t get to make it at all.
The trip was doomed from the beginning, standing there at 4.15am in Peshawar, watching 16 people and 4 children pile into a shitty Hi-Ace, luggage and more luggage strapped to the top, I remember looking at the tyres thinking ‘there’s no way that they’ll make it’, and sure enough within 4 hours the first had blown.
At that stage in the trip the road skirts just along the Afghan border, and up until then no-one had really spoken to me, standing there in some shits-ville town waiting for the tyre to be repaired, a women who was sitting in the front seat came up to me and said not to wonder too far away ‘this is not Islamabad’..
Tyre repaired and we are on our way, another couple of hours and we start to ascend towards the Lowari Pass (3118m), within moments the road turns to half a foot of slush and we are fish-tailing and powersliding around hairpin corners.
I’ve been on some white-knuckle bus rides of death, but one corner we slid soo close to the edge my stomach dropped and I was in momentary shock. I pulled Ipod from my bag and started listening to Yann Tiersen (if it was all over I was going out to that) and stuck my phone in my pocked with the idea that if we did slide over the edge, I could call someone from the bottom in my semi-conscious state and mutter some dying last words.
We almost reach the top of the pass, then momentariliy stop because its a complete white-out, snows coming from all directions and the road has disappeared.
10 minutes more and the snows too high to open the van door properly, a kid climbs out the window to dig it open.
We run into the Frontier Police office (hut), everyone shivering and covered in snow, huddled around the fire in a frantic ‘what the hells just happened’ kind of way.
6pm and its too dark to continue.
Night one spent at Frontier Police Office.
Day 2, and I am STARVING. No dinner, no breakfast, and the blizzard is worse than yesterday. In dribs and drabs the Pakistani travellers decide they are walking, platsic bags over their sandels, I figure they know how far it is and what they are in for. The police have been given directions from HQ not to let me go as they need to ‘look after the foreigner’.
With my interprter friend also disappearing into the blizzard, I’m now left translation-less in the Police hut, with only the understanding that I am to stay until the weather gets better.
Day 3, I wake up to complete silence, no wind, the blizzard is over!
I look outside and its perfect blue sky.
Police all seem excited as well, we smash some chai and chapati then head out to see the van.
We’re knee deep in fresh powder and the van is a joke.
Completely frozen over its not going anywhere for a long time (I’m later told it will stay there until April), luggage on top is like an ice-block and we have to chisel my bag out with the shovel.
Stoked that I finally have my gear, Police are packing up the hut ready to depart as well.
We set off on what I thought was going to be a stroll to the bottom.
But the road becomes undefinable and for 2 hours we’re hiking through snow waist deep.
Everyone is falling over and the whole scene is pretty funny.
They keep saying ‘you young man, no problem, no problem’ haha.
I’m having the greatest time, every 2nd step is twice as deep as I think, and I look like a snow flake.
An old man who had to wait for the weather as well is too weak to hike through it, Police wrap him in a blanket and drag him like a sled.
Me and youth cop are in tears, its hillarious, no one can hold their footing and we’re like an avalanche coming down the mountain.
Finally at the bottom, our Land Crusier cavalry is waiting.
We drive out and I drain the last of my Ipod battery, heater cranked and everyone thawing, I look back at the Pass and the trail we blazed down, I cant stop smiling.