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Back to Baltistan

8th June 2017

The trip had been a great success.

The group had been the perfect mix of ages – sexes, couples and singles – the weather had been glorious and the journey passed off without incident. Leaving the Kalash valleys we’d had fun in Chitral, where the first polo tournament of the season was taking place, and from here driven along my favourite road under clear blue skies to Mastuj beside the towering mountain Buni Zong. From here we’d crossed the Shandur Pass – walking some of the way – before cracking on to Hunza, where we took a boat ride on the new lake at Attabad, walked on the Hopar Glacier and enjoyed the epic views of Mount Rakaposhi and the other 7,000m plus peaks which frame this most sublime valley.

But here the group split. Those that had to get home drove the Karakoram Highway with our guide Salahuddin to Islamabad, while myself and a few others in the group headed deeper into the Karakoram Range to the distant town of Khaplu, in a region known as Baltistan. Located about as close to the Line of Control as you can go on this side of the border, Khaplu sits at the confluence of the Shyok and Indus Rivers at the head of the Hushe Valley and is the access point to Baleygon where the Wild Frontiers Foundation has built its first school.

I try to get back here whenever I can, to check on the progress of the school, make sure the teachers and the students are turning up and if I can take some clients with me so much the better. But it is usually with some trepidation that I visit – I always wonder what will I find.

And this time was slightly disappointing.

Most of the things I had asked to get done the last time I was there were still waiting to be actioned: the latrines still needed doors, the water in the latrines needed to be turned on, the outer walls of the compound needed to be painted, the white boards fixed to the walls and, most important of all, the electrical wiring (which was packed in boxes along with the four computers we donated a while back) was sitting on the floor. When we started the project back in 2010 I was under no illusions just how hard it would be to make a success of it. It was hard not to show my frustration.

But as always the kids made up for it. Sixty four of them were there, packed for our benefit into two classrooms, with ages ranging from about three to twelve, and melted our hearts particularly with musical renditions of ABC and pointing out different countries on the new world map we had brought and stuck to the wall.

And there was more good news as well. While the teacher I knew was away at a wedding, a new teacher had been supplied by the government. Not only did he have an MA in English and came from a village nearby, meaning he is likely to hang around, the fact that the government had appointed him to our school meant they now accepted it as a proper school and might in time be convinced to take it over fully, leaving us free to build another. He was also very switched on, promising to get all the final bits and pieces finished before our next group arrive in August.

Well, we’ll see about that but at least with him I think we have a chance.

Jonny Bealby

Rock singer, writer and travel entrepreneur, Jonny Bealby has streetwise savvy and miles of travel under his belt. His experiences have given him the …

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