June 23, 2018
It’s was a beautiful Saturday morning in Skardu, it’s wasn't quite sunny but the birds were chirping and from the hotel's garden I could see the murky Indus River slowly flowing by. The Indus was our constant companion today as we drove for six hours to the village of Askole, following it most of the way. Our journey started after breakfast, and when I walked out of the hotel, there was a convoy of vintage Land Cruisers waiting for us. I wanted to chose one based on their vibrant colors - they were turquoise and red and purple and bright green - but I instead made my decision based on whether the driver appeared to be a smoker and the amount of tread on the tires, tire tread taking priority. My decision was quickly overruled; though, as I was escorted to the lead vehicle with Klara, the other woman on our team. I'm not exactly sure why, but our Pakistani team was adamant that we ride together in the caravan's lead vehicle. I'm already amazed at the drivers who have such pride in their vehicles - despite the dusty trip ahead, they were all wiping them down with towels in the hotel parking lot.
The journey to Askole turned out to be exactly what I expected, hours of bumpy, curvy, rocky, skinny roads along a silty river. I lost count of how many times we crossed river, often the bridges that we used were new and modern, but not always:
Along the way we replaced the tires on our Land Cruiser five times (thankfully never on a wooden bridge). Each time, the whole caravan stopped and drivers from the other vehicles would smoke cigarettes, squat in the sand along with our driver and discuss the best course of action to take. Usually they borrowed a tire from another vehicle and we'd be on our way in less than 30 minutes.
We’re in very remote villages now, and it feels like weeks since I lounged by the pool in Islamabad. I think it's good to have a slow transition from the modern comforts that I'm used to to the harsh mountain conditions that I'm about to endure for weeks, and I'm thankful that my body and mind can somehow transition from comfortable beds and swimming pools to sleeping bags and blistering winds.