3rd June 2019
Arriving along the dirt track/road from Chitral you really feel like you're entering into another world. An hour and a half drive away from the city and we are out amongst the mountains, wooden huts lining the streets and walnut trees lining the river. And boy, did we meet a different world – one full of colour and dancing.
We were heading to the Spring festival with the Kalash people. One of four festivals celebrated throughout the year, this particular one is a celebration to welcome Spring.
On arrival, boys and girls, men and women are already in their festival attire. The colour is so vibrant. Skirts of red, blues, yellows and purples, and headdresses made of shells and buttons, as well as flowing sheets of turquoise, orange and purple fabrics.
Huge belts adorned with all these colours are worn by the girls and a few of us in our group had a go at dressing up and wore beautiful dresses for dancing... we almost looked Kalash! I'm sure our awkward poses whilst desperately trying to hold the headdresses on gave us away (in our defense, they are heavier than they look!) not to mention our dancing skills...(the steps, too, are trickier than they look!)
The men meanwhile are preening around the ladies, adorned with a colourful garland across their body and a hat with a feather.
At the pagan festival, deep in the Hindu Kush, the girls lead the dancing, linking arms and circling, like teacups, slowly at first, then forming into lines, circling around and around, whilst the boys do the same but slightly more ferociously...and excitedly. But the girls certainly do look pretty!
The drumbeat sounds in the background almost ominously, echoing down the valley. Everybody is smiling and laughing, and local camera crews are approaching us for interviews while young children are wanting to play.
The few hours of dancing exhausted us, so we returned to our guesthouse yawning to get some much-needed rest before the fun begins again the following day.
The next day, driving through the valley towards Hunza the clouds had started to form, and rain was imminent. Looks like we were going to start thinking about putting the roofs up unfortunately. We stopped in Chalt at the fascinating area where two tectonic plates, the Indian and Eurasian plates, collided 55million years ago. The cliff juts vertical, looming above us.
This was also going to be our first sighting of the famous Rakaposhi mountain, but the cloud prevented our view.
In the distance you could see the old silk trail weaving around the mountains edge - just a small, single track road - used until the present road, the Karakoram highway, was built.
Most of our journey now continues on the famous Karakoram highway, a road that hugs the mountainside, passing through tiny villages teetering on the edges of the cliffs. It provides us all with an insight into life on this 1320km road from Kashgar. Village life, men, (never women) lazing on beds "selling" melons and potatoes. Children waving as we pass by.
Once we leave these villages we are rewarded with stunning views, which will, hopefully, be even better once the clouds clear...
Fortunately, the next morning on waking in Hunza we had beautiful clear blue skies...and for the rest of our days here. The roofs were open again on our jeeps and our faces all turned a nice shade of pink as the wind whipped through our hair.
What a truly special and stunning place. I think the magic of the fairies brought us the sun.
Fortunately, there is lots of magic to be found here.
It's the places in between, that some people aren't ready to visit, through fear or uncertainty, FCO warnings, media coverage...but these places provide me with such reward. They provide those who dare to travel there with such reward. It's as if we deserve the stunning landscapes and beautiful interactions presented before us because we stood in the face of those naysayers.
As we sit at the dinner table with the peaks towering behind us we start to discuss those parents, children, friends at home who pull a face when we'd mentioned we are heading to Pakistan! "But why?"
Oh...but why not...!
No-one here seems to have been tainted by the pull of selling to tourists, for there are none, and intrigue is still prevalent in the people's faces. The soul of the country remains alive, despite some of the horrors and stories that once plagued the Swat valley, Gilgit, and border towns of Afghanistan...but mass tourism a distant thought.
In the villages we pass, men and children line the streets, waving as we pass and you can see their faces light up with such joy. A joy that no longer graces the faces of those who have been tainted by an ongoing flux of tourists. There is something so new and raw in the interactions in these parts of the world. People are wary, uncertain but by no means at all are they inhospitable. It's like an energy that I can't seem to define.
As women, we wear scarves, but still, eyes are turned, fascinated by us. A stop at a local shop to buy fruits and vegetables forms a crowd of ...glee I guess, and we all feel like pied pipers, a trail of humans following us.
I get to visit the places that make you feel you are a million miles away from your life, from the western world, from WiFi. The wilds, the souls of people.
I don't travel to see other tourists, as many like-minded members of our group also say, we travel to see and feel. There is something addictive about seeking these parts and it's a passion that I love to experience.
When I travel to these parts I cannot wipe the smile off my face. I think there is something in every one of us maybe, that once you start to roam you cannot stop, because you taste a freedom and a new challenge each day.
You can't grasp moments, no matter how precious, so I will hopefully keep coming back...and encouraging others to feel and see these places for themselves.
To travel here is our reward. I feel very humbled by Pakistan and cannot wait to return.