China - A Trip Along the Silk Road (Part 3 of 3)

by Lynn Salmon, Spring 1991

(Back to Part 1) // (Back to Part 2)

(June 9, 1991) SUNDAY MARKET IN KASHGAR

We got up and had what has become our staple breakfast at John's Cafe, French toast and a pot of lemon tea. I'm feeling better today, but now John seems to have my cold and sore throat.

We rented two bicycles and headed for the Sunday Market. Sunday Market is what Kashgar is famous for and people come from miles around to sell or buy goods. As we neared the market grounds, the road became too crowded with donkey carts and all manner of other conveyances and we had to get off and walk the bicycles. When it became too crowded to push the bikes through the crowded street, we parked them down a side alley hoping to be able to find them again later.

We followed the crowds and made our way to the market. On the way there, John had his pocket picked, but it was a clumsy attempt and I noticed what was going on in time to say something. John tapped the perpetrator on the shoulder, and the guy quickly produced the wallet and handed it back. Our passports and most of our cash and traveller's cheques were safe in a pouch I wore around my neck under my shirt, but John's wallet was a convenient location to keep a small amount of spending money easily accessible so we were glad not to lose it.

We got to the market and walked around the place for a while. Different types of goods separate themselves so all the hats collect in one spot, all the lumber collects in another, horse supplies group together, cloth one place, animals another place, etc. I took a lot of photos but this kind of place is beyond the ability of film to capture. The local flea market in Pasadena will never seem quite the same.

There was a whole array of sheep products to be had. You could get a live animal or a bale of raw wool. For those who like their goods more processed there was plain white yarn available plus an array of dyes arrayed in piles of brightly colored powdered pigments. Some yarns were dyed and woven into cloth or rugs, and even a few ready made garments. Something for everyone.

There were spices, knives, shoes, scrap metal, bed frames, brooms, brasswork, iron, stockings, bridles, lumber, farm implements, tea, medicines, birds, chairs, cows, goats, vegetables, and probably a lot we didn't get to. There were a lot of men running around with brand new pitchforks and scythes. Ice cream was being churned and big blocks of ice were cooling huge bowls of ice tea, plus lots of other foods, both cooked and fresh could be found. Alas, we couldn't find the camels!

We found the horse test drive area and met an American from Nebraska who had tried to test drive one, but it got away from him. Anyone can roll up and try out a semi-wild horse sometimes taking it careening into the crowd of onlookers. Deciding this wasn't the safest place to hang around, I backed into a pack of sheep and before I could extract myself a guy tried to sell me one.

After a few hours we headed back to our bikes, which were where we had left them, and we tried to visit one of the tombs on the outskirts of town. We were thwarted by the map in LP which indicated a bridge across a river. We found our road dead ended at the river and no bridges could be seen in either direction. John was feeling more under the weather by now so we rode back to the hotel.

We got a response to a note we posted on the message board about sharing a jeep to Pakistan. We went to the Chini Bagh Hotel to look for the people, Molly and Brett, but they weren't in. There's a brand new hotel up at the site of the former British Consulate, a modern high rise affair and it's only been in operation for a couple of months.

We caught a donkey cart back to our hotel and were caught in donkey cart rush hour as many people were heading home with their various market day purchases. They had their newly acquired sheep and cows and pitch forks loaded with the family on the carts. Actually, only calves were in the carts, bigger cows and horses were being led along by rope.

We got back to the Seman Hotel and bought some fresh apricots across the street from a vendor who gave us each a free sample to show how good they were. They were good, so we got a large bag (~25 apricots) for 1Y (20 cents) and I ate 10 of them when we got back to the room. Apricots are one of my favorite fruits.

(June 10, 1991) CHINI BAGH

We checked out of the Seman Hotel and transferred ourselves to the Chini Bagh Hotel. The new hotel is quite nice, much better than the Seman and the cost is only 10Y higher for a double. Of course, the check in rules require all weapons, radioactive materials and explosives to be checked at the desk. No kidding, they had a sign posted saying this.

John had a restless night with a fever and saw a Chinese doctor this morning. He was given a variety of concoctions from her collection of jars, and he's trying to rest before we set off for the border. We met Molly and Brett who are also sick and that's why they want to jeep instead of taking the bus. We also met an Australian couple interested in the jeep, and we all went together to check on the details. After discussing it with an obstinate CITS representative who insisted only 5 people will fit in a jeep unless you pay more we all decided to take the bus.

We walked around looking at what's left of Chini Bagh. We think we found part of the stables and the cliff that Lady McCartney said their house was perilously close to. We can also see the snow capped mountains in the distance.

(June 11, 1991) BUS TO TASHKURGAN

We got up and purchased our bus tickets to Sust (100Y each), a bit cheaper than 1500Y for a jeep. Getting on the bus was a confused affair. We were told the bus leaves at 12 Noon but common rumor had said it always takes a while to load and would probably not get going until after 1pm. Expecting this, we still felt we should collect our bags and be on hand at Noon in case the bus was running on time. We found Molly and Brett plus a Japanese guy, with tickets waiting around, no sign of any bus loading. There was also a group of Pakistani businessmen with baggage hanging around a building labelled customs. We walked through customs hoping to glean some useful information and found two Chinese officials (well they had pseudo-uniforms) playing checkers and a few Pakistanis milling about playing with the baggage scale and the like. So we waited, and waited, and waited....

Molly and Brett went inside to wait in the lobby, and at some point Molly came running out, saying she was just told that there's no bus today. We all acted confused and wondered what to do. The Pakistanis are sure there will be a bus but there is some rule change about the amount of luggage they are allowed and they are waiting for that to be resolved muttering "stupid Chinese" under their breath. It turns out that the Japanese guy speaks Chinese, and English, and we get him to ask around to find out what is going on.

There are many answers depending on who is asked or who does the asking: 1) There is no bus today; 2) There will be a bus today; 3) There are not enough people for a bus today; 4) The Pakistanis have too much baggage and we need to get a special vehicle; 5) Wait 20 minutes. So we waited planning to camp out in the lobby until something happened, though we rounded up some food and drink while we waited. Eventually, around 5pm a bus got ready to go and we 5 tourists plus the 20 Pakistani traders clamber on board and wait some more, but the bus finally got going.

Despite this beginning, the bus trip turned out to be quite pleasant. Since the bus was uncrowded, there was room for people to spread out. We got to know some of the Pakistanis a little. They were both on holiday and doing a little business in China, buying silk and also beer, though they had to dispose of the latter before returning to Pakistan.

The Chinese road is in very good shape -- better than any other we have taken in China, so the ride was smooth with pleasant scenery, snow capped mountains in the background, pasture with grazing camels and yaks, and horses, and goats, and sheep and cows. Occasionally the bus would have to slow up while a flock of sheep got out of the way. I was so happy to finally see Yaks in the wild. All through Nepal we hoped to find some Yaks and never saw one, but there were heaps of them today. They are very big, and pretty ugly fellows.

The ride to Tashkurgan took 7 hours with only a couple of checkpoint stops. The first stop at Ghez fortunately had a clearly labelled toilet. Everyone had to get off the bus and present their passports to a guy at a desk behind a dirty window. He wrote my name down in Arabic script and picked a random number appearing on my passport and wrote that down. An unhappy looking young Chinese guard wearing an ill fitting army suit and holding a large Mongolian coat about himself was standing nearby. His function is to lift the gate post and let the bus pass through. That's pretty much all there was to Ghez.

There were no further stops until Tashkurgan, other than another check post where a guy got on, had us all wave our passports lamely in the air, and he got back off satisfied by a job well done. We stayed at whatever hotel the bus dropped us at in Tashkurgan. It was late and dark and we weren't about to go searching for other accommodations. The hotel had beds in quads for 10Y each and a very good noodles soup for 2Y a bowl.

(June 12, 1991) KUNJERAB PASS

A knock came on our door at 9am and we were all out and on the bus and moving by 10am. Quite a surprise compared to yesterday's start. The ride over the pass was an enjoyable one. Rugged mountain scenery and incredibly deep blue sky. I kept seeing large prairie dog like critters (marmots?) popping in and out of their burrows all along the route. The trip to the Pakistani border post of Sust took 7 hours and required a stop for a while in Pirali for everyone to formally exit from China.

In Pirali we changed our remaining FEC's back to US $ and tried to spend our leftover RMB which isn't convertible. We only had 4.8Y in RMB and we borrowed 0.2Y to buy a chocolate bar. However, when we went through exit formalities John had to pay a 1Y fine for having lost his departure card. This entailed returning the chocolate bar to get money for the fine. Fortunately the officials were quite friendly and let me, who had already "officially" exited China go back in to return the chocolate and get a soda for 4Y plus the 1Y for the fine at the store.

After Pirali the road got much rougher and we climbed until we reached the Kunjerab Pass at 16,000 feet elevation. The bus stopped and we got out for a few minutes. The pass is marked by a dinky sign saying "Kunjerab Pass, 16,000 ft," plus a stone marker on either side of the road saying "exiting China" on one side and "exiting Pakistan" on the other. There were a few more road signs including "Pakistan - drive left" and "China - drive right", but there was so little traffic that the bus primarily drove down the middle. There were also a couple of Pakistanis in military attire posted at the border. They look so much more serious than the scruffy Chinese army, though they appeared to be doing nothing more than loitering around on the Chinese side of the pass. There were no Chinese in sight.

Now in Pakistan we got to set our watches back by 4 hours to be on Pakistan time. We drove on for a couple hours before reaching the border post of Sust. We passed some more road signs, my favorite one was "Save Marco Polo's sheep." Evidently they have been hunted nearly to extinction.

At Sust, border formalities were pretty tough. A friendly gentleman greeted us, asked if we had any contraband items in our bags, we said no, he smiled and said have a nice stay. That's it, we're in Pakistan.

We first set out for the bank but found it closed for lunch. The innkeeper next door was willing to feed us all on credit and we had a lovely lunch of lightly curried vegetables and dahl with flat bread. A welcome change of pace from the food we had been finding in Xinjiang.

We decided to stay and rest in Sust rather than heading onward. Molly and Brett changed some money with the manager of hotel and managed to hitch a ride on a bus from Punjab University, since they were in a mad rush to get to a city where they could get medical treatment for amoebic dysentery. The Japanese guy also arranged transport on a farm vehicle heading to Passu, the next town down the KKH (Karakoram Highway).

We found the bank open later in the afternoon and were invited in and given seats and apologies for there not being any tea. We eventually managed to change some traveller's cheques after some conversation with the banker. We got travel itinerary tips, etc. The bank didn't have any proper currency exchange forms but managed to dig up some letterhead stationery and put a few stamps on it and asked for our approval. We approved and got 9000 Rupees. ($1 = Rs22.5) Fortunately they have 1000 Rupee notes so we don't have a ridiculously large number of bills.

We took a short walk to look at the scenery and met a few children who tossed us a ball and offered to play catch. The few people we passed all greeted us. In fact, we found the people in Pakistan incredibly friendly every where that we went. Between the bus ride and the altitude we are both pretty exhausted and decided to return to our room at the Mountain Refuge Inn (Rs100 for a double). I fell soundly asleep and slept better than I had in days.

(June 13, 1991) GULMIT

We got up at 5am, which wasn't difficult since I'm still operating on Beijing time which would be 9am. We had planned to catch the 5:30am bus, but we didn't get to the stop until 5:32am and found it had already gone. Since there had been no sign of it on the road (there is only one road) it must have left a bit earlier than 5:30. We decided not to wait around and caught a Suzuki special and had it take us to Gulmit for Rs300 for the 1.5 hour drive. Suzuki's can hold 8-10 people and generally operate at some fixed price per mile, or you can rent them as a "special" at a negotiated price. This didn't seem like a lot of money to pay given that we didn't want to hang around Sust all day waiting for 8 more people to bring the cost down.

The ride was pleasant, although a bit chilly. We passed a couple of glaciers and took one detour where a bridge was out. Pakistan is a remarkably different world than China. In China towns of 500,000 people can be too small to make the map, distances are huge, service sometimes brisk. In Pakistan the distances between towns are short, the towns here in the hills that make our map have tiny populations, and it is overwhelmingly peaceful and serene. Business transactions may take a while because one must sit down, have tea and get acquainted. We were also told today that 95% of the people in the Hunza valley speak English so communication has not been difficult.

We picked out one of the top end hotels in Gulmit, the Marco Polo Inn. It's Rs385 for a double with such amenities as a shower with hot water and electricity. It was a short walk up from the road along a winding path. The proprietor is also the curator of the museum, the only museum in the Hunza valley.

We had breakfast and have since been relaxing in chairs on the porch outside our room which overlooks a rose garden sloping down to green terraced fields and the river by the road with a mountain rising straight up on the other side. This could very well be one of the most beautiful places on earth.

At the moment we seem to be the only guests, though a few checked out after breakfast. These included a Japanese woman with a trekking guide who had come up from Karimabad yesterday. He told us that there was a big rock slide blocking the road down past Karimabad. We thought of Molly and Brett being stuck and the trekking guide remembered seeing the Punjab University bus stuck in the sand somewhere with the people out pushing it. There was also an American writer on his way to Kashgar. His name is Shuman, but I'm not sure what type of books he writes.

We took a look at the museum later in the afternoon. The museum is a small traditional style house with cooking implements and other artifacts arranged to depict traditional family life. It also had some other items collected like a stuffed snow leopard and a Yak's head and tail which were a little dorky, but the curator was very enthusiastic as he displayed his collection.

Later we took a walk down by the Hunza river looking for a bridge mentioned in our guide book. We now have two books, The Lonely Planet KKH book and Isabel Shaws Guide to Pakistan, we are finding the former good for it's tips on getting around, and the latter best for it's hotel recommendations and detailed descriptions of cultural sites. We didn't find the bridge but found a 12-year old boy planting trees by the river, and he wanted to guide us back to the bridge. His English was very good even though there is no English taught at the Gulmit school and he has been learning it only from his 19-year old brother.

(June 14, 1991) GULMIT TO KARIMABAD

We departed the Marco Polo Inn shortly before noon intending to find a ride to Karimabad and have lunch there. We later regretted not spending more time here because it was the most beautiful of all the places we stopped. The way to get around along the KKH seems to be to just go to the side of the road and wait for a vehicle to go by, negotiate a price and get in. Public buses only seem to run very early in the morning and no one is sure what time they're at. Suzukis and jeeps run whenever they have collected passengers and pick up more along the way. We found a lovely place to wait under a shade tree next to a waterfall and sat along the side of the road and read for a while. It was like spending the afternoon in a park. Unfortunately, due to the road being out a ways south very few vehicles were travelling today.

In 2 hours, 4 vehicles passed going the other way, but finally after 2.5 hours a jeep came along with a driver and one passenger who turned out to be the owner of the Silk Road Lodge in Gulmit. We got in the back and paid Rs100 for the 1 hour drive to Ganesh. Karimabad, our destination, is a 2km hike uphill from there.

We trudged up hill, loaded with our packs, and took a slight wrong turn toward the Altit fort rather than the town proper. Some villagers stopped us and directed us to a short cut to Karimabad. I would not have identified the path as a path let alone the way I wanted to go. The short cut consisted of rocks, vaguely resembling stairs, passing through a waterfall. We trudged on and eventually got to town and picked the Hunza Lodge as a place to stay. Basic accommodation for Rs70. The room has a perfect view of Rakaposhi summit (7788 meters).

(June 15, 1991) KARIMABAD

Lots of banners have appeared lining the streets of town and everybody seems to be out running about. We discovered it's due to a visit by the Aga Khan's brother and his wife and their entourage. (Princess Zahra and Prince Rahim). The Aga Khan is the religious leader of the area and is very beloved by all of the people.

While milling about in the crowd we met a man named Jahan who invited us to his house to meet his mother. It's only 10 minutes from here he said. Two or three hours later we were back to where we started having had an interesting diversion. We were offered tea, which we accepted not realizing this entailed collecting firewood, building a fire, etc. The funniest part is we were looking through our guide book while our host identified the various peaks named on the map and it turns out that a picture of the very house we are in with the mother sitting on the ledge appears in one of the color plates in the Lonely Planet Karakoram Highway book (opposite page 128).

The ages of Jahan and his mother really surprised me. I thought he looked about 40 but he was only 24, and his mother looked to be 70 but was only 55. Jahan was recently married but his wife was at a neighbors house so we didn't get to meet her. She was only 15.

We left our host and made our way back into town and headed toward the Mir's house. We got there just a few minutes before the Prince and Princess were to depart. We followed the crowd and were initially stopped by a guard who wouldn't let us by, then another one waved us on, presumably because we looked harmless enough. We ended up right at the car the Prince and Princess were getting into. We also ran into the proprietor of the Marco Polo Inn in the crowd. He's some relation to the Mir of Karimabad and came down for the festivities. We live in a small world.

I went around wearing the Hunzakut hat I bought earlier in the day and felt that I got a lot of attention from the women in town. It seemed generally friendly, but I couldn't tell whether they were smiling at me because they wanted to greet me or because they were pleased to see me wearing one of their hats, or perhaps because of some amusement. Perhaps I had it on backwards or something. I talked to a few school girls briefly, one named Benizir, but they scurried away then John joined me. The town is still celebrating causing most of the restaurants to run out of food. We later saw the Prince and Princess leave in a helicopter.

(June 16, 1991) KARIMABAD

We moved up to the Park Hotel where we got a large sunny double for Rs150. The room has windows on two sides, one with a view of Rakaposhi, the other with a view of Ultar Peak, the highest unclimbed peak on earth. The place also has excellent food. Of course, the first thing I did at lunch was spray my shirt, the only loose cotton shirt I have to wear, with chicken curry. That's what happens when you move uptown and get a knife and fork after eating dahl and chapattis with the hands for a couple of days.

After lunch we set out on a walk up to Baltit fort. Unfortunately, the Mir has sold it to Aga Khan Foundation and it is not currently open to the public. We then took a path around back of the fort that went along the irrigation channels over a bridge and up a steep slope to more irrigation channels.

These channels are pretty amazing, they run all over the hillsides and men with shovels maintain them daily, diverting the water from place to place by filling in here and there with rocks and silt. We saw several men in action and one channel that had been flowing rapidly when we initially went by had been turned off by the time we returned.

We kept walking until we had gone some distance along a narrow path with a precipitous drop. For a while we had had a reasonable footpath next to a precipitous drop, but that turned into just a line of rocks and I'm no mountain goat. Deciding the path was not going to widen again, and fearing for our lives, we turned around and headed back to town.

We had dinner and went to bed early. First we sat outside and watched the cook catch some chickens and pick some mint leaves. Dinner was chicken in mint sauce, plus wonderful cherries. We noticed in the guest register that no other guests had registered in the last month. In May there had been two parties, and someone else stayed in April. The place was probably closed during the winter the last guests of last season departing in November. How does this place stay in business?

(June 17, 1991) KARIMABAD TO GILGIT

We got up, had an early breakfast, and then set off to find transport to Gilgit. We passed on an offer of Rs1000 for a jeep. We sat in Karimabad for a while watching the little kids wearing green outfits going down the hill to school and the big kids wearing blue outfits going uphill to another school. After about 20 minutes and no vehicles we walked down hill to the town of Ganesh and waited on a bench outside the store of a friendly shopkeeper. He showed us his letters of recommendation as a trekking guide for an expedition taken by Hugh Swift who has also written "the" English language guide, "Trekking in Pakistan."

After about 20 minutes a Suzuki came by and we got taken to Gilgit for Rs70 for the 3 hour trip. Every leg of our trip seems to get cheaper. The way was quite pretty with one amazing river crossing that felt like being on a ride at Disneyland. The jeep enters a pitch black tunnel in the side of the cliff, using no headlights, in total darkness, in a tunnel no more than 8 feet wide, we make a 90 degree turn, and then burst out onto a suspension bridge over the Hunza river. Fortunately, nothing was coming the other way.

We were dropped in Gilgit near the Hunza Inn where we got a luxury double for Rs250. It's not as nice as the Park but the room is very large with a ceiling fan intermittent between power blackouts. There is supposed to be hot water in the morning as well.

After a satisfying lunch at the hotel we killed most of the afternoon checking on possible travel arrangements from here to Islamabad. We have gotten to that stage in our travel when we feel we should be making our way homeward. The northern territories have been beautiful, but the temperature is increasing as we approach the lowlands which we feel should be appreciated in the winter rather than summer. We are not in a mad rush to leave, but now that we've made up our minds to head home our strategy is to head to the nearest city with an airport.

There is an airport in Gilgit, and the flight to Skardu is supposed to be spectacularly beautiful but there could be a long wait to get another flight out from there, and there are no seats available on flights to Islamabad for 30 days. The other option is to take a bus or jeep to Islamabad which will take 15-20 hours. Comparison pricing was Rs350 for the plane, Rs5500 for a car hire, or Rs170 for the bus.

(June 18, 1991) GILGIT

We got up early and I took a wonderful hot shower, well worth the extra few dollars for a luxury double. Feeling refreshed we set off on a walk through the streets and bazaars of Gilgit.

We first ran into a guy named something Amin who wanted to buy us a soda, he persisted after we declined so we accepted and went into a nearby grocery. We tried to do a separated transaction and pick up some milk for later but he insisted on paying for that as well. Had we known we would have waited until another time to get the milk.

We wandered a bit picking up some snacks for the bus and were later invited in for tea by a family from Peshawar running a fruit stand. We did some photo opportunities and they arranged me in the watermelons for a group shot. They had to go get their hats for the photo. Later we ran into a guy with a snake but I avoided him because I'm not too fond of cobras.

The bus turned out to be reasonably comfortable since we purchased three seats for the two of us and our bags. Otherwise we would have been a bit squished. There were two women, one American, one British in front of us who had been bumped from the plane flight and weren't too happy about ending up on the bus. The younger one was having some annoyances with the men on the bus. The man next to her kept whispering suggestive things to her and the driver had been hitting on her. We joined them at the one dinner stop which was at a ragged road house. Weapons had to be checked at the door and the cashier was intently examining some of the guns as we left. John thought he overcharged for the meal, but wasn't about to complain to the guy holding all the guns.

The bus ride took 15 or 16 hours altogether. The driver only stopped the one time. I don't know how he managed, though he played one cassette tape of Urdu music over and over the whole way. We must have heard it 30 times!

(June 19, 1991) RAWALPINDI AND ISLAMABAD

We pulled into Rawalpindi in the early morning feeling a bit wasted from the bus trip. The last few hours we seemed to be driving much faster and hitting more potholes. In the early stages of the trip the driver had been carefully avoiding the potholes to the point of creeping out on the crumbly bits near the edge of the road. The bus also got stuck twice, once on a sand hill and once in some mud. Each time the men had to get out to lighten the load but no one had to do any pushing.

We took a taxi to Islamabad and stayed at the Sheherezad Hotel for Rs200. It was supposed to be twice the price and have air conditioning, but the AC wasn't working. With a fan running full blast the room was barely tolerable, though the temperature outside was not that unreasonable at 32 C. However, the place was conveniently located near everything we needed in the city.

Our first order of business was trying to get plane tickets homeward bound so we would know how much we could do in our remaining days or hours in Pakistan. First we tried to convert the return ticket I possessed on United leaving out of Beijing into something usable. However, that turned out to be impossible without telexing the travel agency in LA where the ticket was purchased and getting them involved. The ticket had been purchased by my work sponsor so I didn't know if they would also have to give permission. We also found, quite to our surprise, that we had stumbled in the day before the Eidul Azhal (Eids) holiday period so every business in town was going to be shutting down for the next few days. This meant we had to either act immediately, or plan to hangout for a while in the heat. We decided to get new tickets and work on a refund of my ticket back in LA.

While looking for the United Office we stumbled into a travel agency where we were seated and served tea by a pleasant guy named Nassir Butt. The ESL agency had a big United decal in the window, but unfortunately, Nassir couldn't help with our ticket change, but he did check the address for United and made sure we had good directions and tea before letting us go. This is why we decided to go back to that travel agency rather than blindly picking another one when United turned out to be a bust.

Most of the rest of the day ended up being spent in that office where 5 people were hard at work getting us to LA. We are far from home. Either going Islamabad-London-Ny-LA or Islamabad-Pacific somewhere (i.e., Bangkok, Tokyo)-LA were about the same price. However, we are trying to fly on a day equivalent to the eve of the Xmas holidays when everyone in Pakistan wants to go visit their family. Our problem is that we can get flights out of Lahore or Karachi, but we can't get out of Islamabad.

Watching this travel agency at work was a fascinating way to spend the day, and air conditioned, too. We are pretty tired having spent the night on a bus and would have done very little today anyway, and it was too hot to sleep in our hotel room.

The people in the ESL office were on the phone constantly and in among the Urdu words we would here Lahore-Bangkok, London-NY Karachi-Bangkok, che (yes), aacha, chika, aacha....so we knew they were talking about us all of the time. Plus the woman in charge of the office seemed to know everyone in the business. The head of JAL came by to collect her for lunch and he chatted with us for about an hour and was on the job of seeing what JAL could do for us. They were checking the special reserved-for-the-secret-service type seats but even those had been gobbled up by other people with well connected travel agents. But progress gradually was made and they really seemed to be checking all of the options and sending runners off to the PIA office to wait around for cancellation updates, etc. They got us some lunch and endless cups of tea while we waited. Eventually we left having partly confirmed flights here and there seemingly on every airline between Pakistan and LA, but connecting to any of them within Pakistan, since most were leaving from either Karachi or Lahore, was proving to be a stumbling block.

We walked back to our hotel along a tree lined residential neighborhood looking not too unlike nicer parts of LA, though greener. Pakistan has been getting rain early this year, fortunate for us because otherwise it would be much hotter, but some clouds help keep the temperature down. John had dinner at a funny place called Pik and Move. I was too tired and went to bed early and slept very soundly.

(June 20, 1991) ISLAMABAD

We did a little book shopping in the morning and I found a copy of a book I was sort of looking for, a translation of Fa Hsien's journey along the silk road in the 5th century. We then checked by the travel agency and found we had been confirmed either Karachi-Bangkok-Tokyo-LA or Lahore-Bangkok-Tokyo-LA with hotels in both Bangkok and Tokyo since they were forced stopovers. Getting to one or the other starting point was still up in the air however.

Nassir drove us around to American Express to change more money for our tickets (50,000 Rs is a thick stack) and then he decided to take us on a driving tour to show us some of Islamabad. The city is modern, laid out in neat grids with a lot of undeveloped spaces.

Finally in the afternoon things were confirmed for the flight out of Lahore with a bus planned for the Islamabad-Lahore portion, though Nassir offered to drive us there but we didn't want to put him out that much. Tickets settled, we realized it was best to leave this evening if we wanted to see anything of Lahore. We did a little last minute shopping and got a Shalwar Kameez for my mother, a clean shirt for John, plus traded our paperbacks for some books to read on the planes. Then we set off for Rawalpindi to catch the flying coach.

There are 7 private companies each running minibuses to many places. Fortunately they are all located together in one place. Unfortunately, we are trying to travel in the evening starting off a 4-5 day holiday period and all the seats have been sold. We had been assured that buses ran very frequently and there were a lot of them so it would be no problem to catch one.

We waited around for a while and John talked with a fellow named Javeed, who works for Digital in Islamabad. We didn't realize how convenient this chance conversation would prove. First, we learned that a few more seats would possibly open up as a bus pulled in from Peshawar and people got off so there was a stand-by waiting line for this that we wouldn't have otherwise known about. Furthermore, when the bus got in, Javeed having more experience with proper hand position for shoving through the bars of the ticket window, plus he was a tall guy with long arms, got in first for tickets. He called to John to give him our money and he bought 3 tickets. The only 3 tickets open on that bus. This was after 2 hours of waiting.

We sat with Javeed on the 6 hour drive to Lahore and he turned out to be a non-stop talker and told us about wedding customs and taught us some Urdu words. Javeed is in the pre-engagement stage. He has picked out a woman, his cousin, that he would like to marry. He has talked to his parents and they will be talking to her parents in the near future. She will probably be consulted in the matter, but at the moment doesn't know anything about it.

Javeed isn't planning to get married for a few years. He is currently working but plans to go to graduate school in computer science in the US and will marry after he settles back into a job after that. He told us how he spends all his money taking his friends around when they visit him and he makes Rs6000 a month.

We had one meal stop on the trip and Javeed insisted on getting our dinner. He seemed disappointed that the bus didn't stop at a very nice restaurant. We finally got to Lahore around 2am but there were a lot of cabs at the bus stand so it was no problem getting to a hotel.

(June 21, 1991) LAHORE

We tried to make our last stay in a hotel a special one and chose the Hotel Faletti which was described as "a gracious old hotel with much more character than the big modern chain hotels." While that was true, I was also expecting hot water for Rs940. We got AC, a refrigerator, nice furniture, huge room, good service, bath tub, but alas, no hot water.

Otherwise our stay in Lahore was very nice. We got up a little late, not having gotten to sleep until 2:30am and made lunch our first meal of the day at an upscale restaurant called Saloos (Rs400). We had been doing Pakistan for less than $25 a day until Lahore. Lunch was very good with huge portions.

We then visited the Lahore Museum which reminded me of the British Museum. While not as large as the British Museum, it still had am impressive collection and very informative descriptions of all the items on exhibit in both Urdu and English. I particularly liked the display of the Ghandara Buddhist carvings which were arranged to show a chronological progression of Buddha's life rather than grouped with other carvings of the same period. There was detailed description of what was going on in each one giving a more comprehensive description of Buddha's life story than I've seen anywhere else, and we were specializing in Buddhist stuff while in China.

We had a pleasant interaction with a museum guard who we thought was about to stop us from taking a photo. Instead he just wanted to help by turning on more lights in the manuscript room. After a long time at the museum, we spent the rest of the afternoon at Lahore Fort. Since this was both a weekend and a holiday a lot of people were spending a relaxing day with their families at the fort which has a park like feeling and costs only Rs2 for admission. Many people approached us for conversation and some wanted us to take their pictures, others wanted to take our pictures.

One major thing we noticed in conversations in Pakistan that wasn't in China is that people want to know how long we've been married and if we have children. This follows soon after the hello, and where are you from part of the conversation. Then they want to know why we don't have children if we've been married 8 years. Not wanting to get into detailed reasons for why I don't want children with random strangers I'd typically shrug and say I don't know. This created an amusing response from one guy who said to me "oh, you are defective." In China I don't remember family coming up that much and the most frequently asked questions were about how much things cost in the US or what salaries were.

Among the people we met were a large group from the Sind up on holiday with a couple of English speakers in the group translating questions from their friends. We met another group of students by day, singers by night. Also, a family that wanted to take my picture holding their baby, plus a bunch of school boys. There were lots of people with kites playing kite games, throwing the controls in some fashion and someone would catch it before the kite got away.

We took my favorite form of transport on a long trip from the fort to dinner on the other side of town. I like whizzing madly through the city in a motorized rickshaw that seems to narrowly miss other vehicles at every pass. I like the street signs that say "Keep Your Lane." There are lanes painted on the streets but I don't think people paid any attention.

We were lucky to see Lahore on Friday which is market day and today had an especially large selection of animals which will be consumed for Eids feasts in the next day or two. We even got to see camels! The best site was a couple of goats complacently riding home in the back seat of a compact car.

Dinner wasn't as good as lunch, though prices were similar at the Gulberg Cabana Restaurant. Service was slightly poor, but there was a large, possibly a wedding party, going on that may have needed extra attention. We were at a window table looking out at the patio where the wedding party was gathered. The women were wearing beautiful evening Shalwar kameezes, but most of the men were in just casual western shirts with pants. No suits or special looking Shalwar kameezes for them except for one which I would identify as the groom. He had a satin Shalwar kameez and was showered with flower petals as he entered. There seemed to clearly be two families, one arrived first and waited around until the second showed up, both with their share of small children underfoot.

After dinner around 10pm we decided that not much could be accomplished before a 4:30am flight. What an awful time for a flight! We wanted to get to the airport by 2am which would mean leaving town around 1am so we decided to just leave now figuring we have to sit around somewhere for a few hours, it might as well be the airport.

This turned out to be a mistake as the airport has only concrete chairs with pentagonal shaped backs. Artistic, maybe, but not in the least bit comfortable. Many people struck up conversations while we were there which made the time go a bit faster. One guy offered me a job and wanted us to forget our flight and come to his house in Karachi with him.

Finally 2am came and various check in procedures could be started which took almost 2 hours to complete. Our bags were not searched though most other people's were and we had to wait around because there was only one guy doing it. Then after waiting in the economy class line for check in and seat assignments we found we had been bumped up to executive class because coach was full. So we got to go to the other counter window which had had no one in line the whole time. The change probably got made sometime after we left the travel agency while we were en route to Lahore. It was a pleasant surprise.

We had Rs70 left at this point so we spent Rs35 on tea and cakes in the 30 minute wait in the plusher part of the airport for international departures and donated the remainder to the World Wildlife Foundation which had a collection box conveniently placed for people like us with a few Rupees we will have no use for at home and not enough to bother reconverting to dollars.

(June 22, 1991) PIA FLIGHT TO BANGKOK

The PIA flight executive class turned out to be much nicer than the JAL executive class I took to Beijing. Big comfy seats, very few passengers, and attentive service from the crew. A several course breakfast was served in nice china that was quite good. I made a wrong choice for door to the toilet and found myself looking into the cockpit. Our pilot, C. Everett Koop (or his twin) directed me next door to the proper room. The toiletry kit given out to the passengers also included a pair of clean socks, very welcome since all of mine are dirty at this stage of our travel.

We got into Bangkok around noon and checked into The Royal Hotel. It turns out to be perfectly located in the center of town near all the major attractions that we might want to see in our two days here. Within five minutes of entering the room I was luxuriating in a hot bath. Then we went to sleep having had little of it in the last couple of days.

(June 23-24, 1991) BANGKOK

After breakfast we set off for the Grand Palace a couple blocks walk from the hotel. Since we had not planned to stop in Thailand we haven't read anything about it until we picked up a guide at the tourist information booth in the airport.

The Grand Palace turned out to be one of the most impressive places we've seen on our trip. We just walked around going "Wow", "this is so beautiful" the whole time gawking at the place. It's full of gold and funky architectural features galore. We thought it was great and stayed till lunch time.

Outside as we were leaving we met a Thai law student/Buddhist who talked to us for a while and made a lot of recommendations for where we must see in only two days in Bangkok. The Grand Palace was #1 on his list. We learned that Thais often take a few days, maybe a month depending on their time schedule, off work periodically and become monks for a few days. I didn't realize that, though I know that many, if not most, Thais are Buddhists and they take their religion very seriously.

We had a ho-hum lunch at the hotel then visited the National Gallery followed by the national Museum. The museum turned out to have a much larger collection than we expected but closing time came at 4pm, before we had seen as much as we would have liked.

We sat in the park across from the museum and in front of our hotel for a bit to watch some soccer players. We met a couple more students, one law, one economics. They had more things-to-see recommendations including a place with dinner followed by Thai dancing. We took them up on their offer to drop us there on their way home when they left the park. We drove by their apartment on the way there but it was very close to the place so we didn't take them much out of the way. A one room apartment costs 6000 Baht/month ($1 = 25Baht). I was told that an engineer would earn about 40,000 Baht/month.

The guys decided to come in and help us buy tickets at the box office. We offered to buy them drinks or something but they needed to be somewhere to get a present for a girl friend. They told us about a gem cutting store across the street where we could kill time before the show but it had just closed. It was a weird place, one of the students got the attention of the owner inside who let us all in apologizing for being closed but at the same time offering us a seat. Some cold drinks appeared and he talked to us about all the Thai people he knew in LA. The students had to go and we extracted ourselves from this talkative fellow ~15 minutes later. We're not sure if he would have gotten around to trying to sell us something or not, but he apparently just wanted to chat. It was weird.

We went back to the dinner/dance place and had our dinner. It was 300 Baht each for dinner and the show. Having not prepared to come to Thailand we have little idea what to expect things to cost, but dinner alone at our hotel would probably cost more. This place, I have no idea of its name or even the exact location since we were taken there and the sign is only in Thai, had fairly good food and the dancing went on for about an hour afterwards and was mildly entertaining.

We got a motor-rickshaw type vehicle back to the hotel. They are called Tuk-tuks here, but they are much larger and not nearly as frenzied a ride as their cousins in Pakistan, and therefore not as much fun. We did manage to bargain the price down to what the students had suggested would be a reasonable fare, so we felt we had a small bargaining victory. We both hate bargaining and usually don't feel like bothering if the price starts out any where reasonable.

After breakfast, check-out, bag leaving, and assorted trip finalization details we set out for the day. We first headed for Wat Pho, the temple with a large reclining Buddha. On the way there we ran into a Thai guy who said it was closed but would re-open after 1pm. He said he was going to another temple, Wat Arun, if we wanted to walk along with him. We decided to go and went to this temple across the river at which you can climb up for a view of the city.

Afterwards, the guy wanted to go back to Wat Pho with us, but first he needed to make a stop. He was in the gem business and we ended up in a store not unlike the one we were in yesterday. What is the scam going on here or is there even one? Neither time were we subjected to any high pressure or any sales pitches. In fact we were told that the place was open for members only and we couldn't buy if we wanted to. The gem guy went off to a table and examined stones by himself and we got cold drinks and chatted with another guy in the store about LA and stuff. He did give us his card but otherwise there was no sales overtures, though he gave us a fairly serious education in distinguishing fake sapphires from real ones.

The first guy we were with excused himself and said he had to go to the bank and would be back in a few minutes. We weren't sure if he was really coming back or if this was all some part of an elaborate scam that we couldn't make sense of, but we also didn't want to be rude if he was just a nice guy. He had told us he was in the gem business and was in Bangkok for a couple days on business and wanted to visit as many temples as possible while he was here. He was apparently doing nothing more than that.

We set off in the same direction he had gone but didn't run into him, though we passed several banks and he could have been in one. We ended up walking back to near our hotel. We decided to go visit Vimanek, the former house, now a museum of one of the kings, Rama V, I think. We tried to get a Tuk-Tuk, but the first one we found wanted to take us to a special promotion on the way there, only 10 minutes he kept insisting and his fare would drop incrementally as we refused. Since tuk-tuks are all over the place we flagged down another one as the first guy kept insisting that the promotion would only take a few minutes and we had plenty of time. We took the second Tuk-tuk with a driver that didn't speak English, but we had the place name written in Thai on our map and sign languaged an agreeable price.

Vimanek is run by guided tours that take an hour and go through about 30 of the rooms in some detail. I was exhausted by the end but we realized we would have to hurry if we wanted to get back to Wat Pho before it closed so flagged down another Tuk-tuk and went there without a rest stop.

We got to Wat Pho 30 minutes before it closed so I'm really glad we avoided that "promotion-only-10-minutes" Tuk-tuk guy. The reclining Buddha is very large and the best vantage points are looking from either the head down or the feet up along the length. Anywhere else and you just see a wall of gold in front of you. There's a lot of gold in Thailand.

Around 5pm the monks seemed to be gearing up for business and we were politely cleared out of the temple. We first contributed all our loose coins to the restoration of the wall paintings project that had a collection box at the temple.

Sitting outside studying our map we met another Thai gentleman offering us directions if we needed. We asked him for a restaurant recommendation and he suggested a place nearby and gave directions to a Tuk-tuk we flagged down. The place turned out to be very good and very cheap and full of what I assume are local people, none of them looked like tourists in any way. We had half a dozen dishes, the best being the fresh (i.e, raw) shrimp in lemon sauce.

After dinner we had just enough time to claim our bags and get our reserved taxi to the airport. We had changed only a little money, but seemed to come out with just enough. We spent our last 150 Baht on a large chocolate bar at the airport and are now waiting to board the plane to Tokyo. Unlike when exiting China, we got to keep this chocolate bar.

(June 25, 1991) FINALLY GOING HOME

It seems like we are finally on our way home. We were on the way home once before but suddenly became tourists again for a couple of days in Bangkok.

I was very disappointed in JAL overall. Their coach wasn't nearly as nice as I've found Singapore Airlines, and PIA executive class was far superior to JAL's executive class. I was especially surprised that we got no breakfast, or even a morning snack, on a flight arriving at 6:30am. I was very hungry by then, whereas, I usually find airlines feed us far too much and I pass on about half of the food. This was the first time I recall going hungry. Otherwise, I fidgeted around and was quite restless on this 6 hour flight and didn't get any sleep. I can sleep on trains, or bumpy buses, but not on planes.

Another flight to go, still on the way home.

The final 10 hour flight finally dragged by. There was only one movie, LA Story, and one meal on an otherwise very long flight. Fortunately, it wasn't very crowded. We got back to LA and cleared immigration and customs in record time, they had an automatic passport scanner thingie so probably in less than 10 minutes after landing we were on our way out of the airport. On our way to driving in endless loops around the airport and dropping people off all over downtown before finally being taken to Pasadena by a super shuttle. There's got to be a better way, next time I'm taking the bus to Pasadena.

THE END

Lynn Salmon <>{