On our way to Hushe

standing by for visas to be sorted out

Leaving Skardu turned out to be complicated.  Because of a colossal oversight, and falling short of  basic competency and commons sense, the Pakistani Consulate in New York failed to issue them enough time on their visas.  So we found ourselves on the day of our departure to the village of Hushe (I forget, but maybe it was June 19th or 20th) with the Jeep loaded to the gills and sitting there in the parking lot of the Concordia Hotel while our little team sought to deal with our own personal crisis of jumping through the Ministry of Tourism’s unapologetically inconvenient hoops.  Another way to say this is that we – or really Ben and Josh – had a good buggering by the Pakistani Government.  The concerned members will probably be a better source of truth about this little episode; however, I, being little more than an observer and bystander, could afford to see probably a little more humor in the situation than they could.  justifiably so.  This all took place more or less in the lobby of the Concordia Hotel, with little forays to the office of the Deputy Commissioner (I didn’t go, but I’m told he was a regular swine), or to the passport agency, and many many trips to the copier place on the corner to repeatedly make copies of our passports and visas.

the big boys working their contacts

Normally, in the past, visa extensions could be issued in Skardu within 15 minutes by the Deputy Commissioner.  But now, thanks to Raymond Davis and SEAL Team 6, this is no longer the case.  In any case, as I heard it, the Deputy Commissioner said he needed a letter, requesting a letter, requesting permission to extend their visas, which would be sent to Islamabad and dealt with there.  Well.  So, somehow, and this is beyond my comprehension, we had to wait for some form to faxed to us from Islamabad, which Ben and Josh needed to fill out for the Ministry of Tourism (we’ll just call them the MOT).  Well, naturally the ink quality was too poor to read, and it had questions on it like: What’s your Father’s husband name?  Weird.  We didn’t know what to make of it.  So a long journey was made down the road to print out the same form, and we didn’t know why that couldn’t have been done in the first place.  And again, naturally, one copy of the form was printed, and brought back….

“so we’re good to go.  let’s get it filled out”

“we need to go to the copy place.  we need two copies… one for you and one for you”

yeah...

So like the Keystone Kops, the little entourage moves off to the copy place for the third or fourth time, and again we weren’t sure why there hadn’t been two copies printed out in the first place.

Well.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  At last, some sort of complicated deal was worked out where Mr. Sultan Kahn of Nazir Sabir Expeditions would try to get their documents taken care of while we would be in the mountains… but we all needed our passports to get through police checkpoints on the way to Hushe.

Hmmm.

At this point, you may well guess that you have not hear the last of this issue.  You would be right to guess that, but we’ll move on for now.

The drive to Hushe is incredible beautiful.  We saved some cash by hiring only one jeep – instead of having one for luggage and one for passengers.  So we four were tangled up in the back of the Land Cruiser atop a pile of food and gear.  Zahid rode in the front, and we could hear trippy eastern music floating out of the cab through the canvas roof.  We suspected they were having fun in there.  Once you get through Kaphlu, the road turns to dirt and gets pretty rough.  But as you head down the road towards Hushe, there sits Mashabrum squared up on the center of the track, and towering over everything in all of it’s rugged

Mashabrum in all it's splendor(!)

spendor.  That makes up for the added discomfort of having your spine smashed over and over on the steel bars that enclose the bed of the jeep, and the occasional low branches that try to rip your eyes from your face (and they will if you’re not paying attention).

There was a bridge out.  One that spanned a turbulent drainage.  Zahid had told us about this; said that we might not be able to get the jeep across and would potentially need to ferry all of our crap about 100 meters to the road on the far side; said that then we’d need to send for a jeep to come Hushe to get us.  One word: pain-in-the-ass.  But, he also said that he’d tell the driver that we would give him a healthy tip if this didn’t have to happen.  It occurred to me, and probably also my compadres, that this little monetary nudge might not be quite the right incentive if the creek turned out to be truly dangerous.  But we decided to wait and see what would happen.

When we pulled up to the near side of the drainage in question, Matt McCormick and company had already arrived.  Our driver got out and joined the drivers of the two other jeeps in the flow to scope it out.  We got out and sort of winced at the look of the water.  The jeep drivers had their pants rolled up to their thighs, and were wading around sticking their arms into the water up to their shoulders to reposition large rocks on the bottom.  There were all kinds of people out there yelling and gesticulating; the water boiled and roared.  twenty or thirty people from a nearby village had come out hoping to make some money helping to ferry gear.  Zahid was standing out there on a rock with his hands on his hips, supervising.  He had this little smirk on his face when he turns to us and says:

“He say he give it a try!”

the Supervisor

“Yeeah…. what if the jeep flips?”

“He say he have good jeep.  He ask to me he try.  He good driver… have big heart!”

How can you argue with that?

We went back to the jeep and pulled our money and passports out.  Just in case.  And he rolled right on through the torrent.  The water was up to the running boards – maybe a little higher – and moving fast.  He had to execute sort of a sharp left hand juke around a boulder, which was more cruxy since it looked like there was a hole there, right at the key spot.  Then at the instant the tires were at the deepest, the hood of the jeep cleared the eddy and took the full force of the water on the far side of the rock.  He lugged the engine a bit, then down shifted and a thick cloud of black smoke puffed out of the exhaust pipe.  He kept right on trucking… made the road on the far side, lit a cigarette, and walked back to spot and shout directions to the two other drivers who came after him.  It was a proud thing to see.

the crossing

We made Hushe that afternoon, maybe around 4:30 or 5:00.  Zahid brought over his son in law, and said that this was the only person who could be trusted to carry out the task of bringing the passports of Ben and Josh back to Skardu so that they could be mailed to Islamabad.  The son in law was bummed because he had been hoping to make a little baksheesh by working as a porter for us.  Se la vie.  Josh dug out his passport and handed it over.  “Good luck”.  And that was that, for now.

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