Thursday, December 25, 2008

dec 25 1.31 pm
we're almost at the Khunjerab Pass. two Chinese trucks are stuck in front of us. they're putting on chains while we sit around watching waiting - i take pictures, write my notes.

the passengers have fallen into a heated political discussion, Musharraf, Taliban, Islam, terrorism, politics, America.... all sorts of views. by and large no love for the Taliban, terrorism and extremism or America. but then most of them are from the northern areas, liberal Ismaili's or shias... one guy is form the plains - long black beard, young, serious looking, speaks punjabi - dosent agree with any of them. theyre on his case - he holds his own, says theyre idiots anyway. baaji what do you think? wasnt musharraf good for us? these idiots got him thrown out. now look what we have. baaji only listens, shes foreign. from karachi, what does she know anyway! bearded youngster only glares at baaji - what are you doing here writing your notes - why arent you home with hubby- his thoughts are written all over his face--- he cant fathom mine, or so i hope. youre one man against 20 of these guys. quit arguing, just listen for a change, i think to myself, feeling sorry for him.
moving again.

At the pass 15000 feet 1.54pm dec 25 - Merry Christmas Pakistan - happy birthday Qaid e Azam!
its beautiful - snow everywhere, the road white and icy, driving like we're on rollers. driver wont stop so i can take pictures- click click click, glimpses, hazy, hurried, missed the ibex, once, twice - got them finally. missed the border posts - a snippet - Pakistan- got the whole Chinese post - too large to miss even in a moving bus.

bactrain camels, yaks roaming, grazing --its 2008, feels like 1889 -
meanwhile stomach growls - been chewing on channa, gurh, apricots, bread, cake - were all sharing. the guys give me a large dollop of cream on paratha - its good for the pass they say - height - you need this or you'll be sick, dizzy, nauseated. i eat away - they needn't know I've been there, done that - paratha and cream how can i say no. yes weakling baji needs it badly.
we clear our first immigration check - soldier jumps on board for the one hour ride to takshkorgan, sitting piled up on bags in an already packed bus. not a smile cracks his face - no chatting in broken Chinese with this guy. stomachs growling louder and louder - hey mister got to get off here. they all talk to him at the same time - baji has to go - stop Ali stop. whats he to say except watch me run out of the bus, poofy down coat, cap almost covering my eyes, gloves, boots, plonk plonk all bundled up running across the snow in the middle of miles of surreal Kirghiz grazing land looking for a spot to poop!
i sit behind a shuttered shepard's hut for 10 minutes - or so it seems. tempted to take pictures as i squat, my butt touching the cold snow, my stomach hurling it all out! hands too cold to use a camera - frozen solid cleaning myself with snow, it was a strange mess--i sat there taking it in and out all at once. took the pictures in spite of it all - in case memory fades and or never get to see this again -
by the time we got to tashkorgan and our third immigration check my stomach had gone berserk. we rolled in at 6.30pm, pitch dark already -20C. i ran to the bathroom at the far end of the grounds like a crazy person. locked! ran right back inside the warm immigration hall for help. qing wen qing wen keys keys - la du zhi le!! no one has keys so i dash right out and simply squat outside the bathroom -- few minutes later Razia joins me - we both smile that smile 'relief'! i calmly walk back looking as dignified as i can - they stick a thermometer under my arm right away - no fever guys, just diarrhea.
baaji you ok? yes yes --- only diarrhea. my most fluent sentence in Chinese - " i have diarrhea " got the whole immigration hall paying attention - damn!
every bag thoroughly checked, walked out the other side and piled in with three of the traders for my night ride to kashgar. stopped for dinner in tashkorgan - no food for me --just a glass of ispaghol and water - thanks to my new found protective friends. piled into the shared taxi ride. i ask the guys - please no smokes - baajis allergic - they oblige again, till a few hundred kilometers and several hours of hair raising driving on a dark icy road --- finally, the hell with baaji and her spoiled ways - we're smoking lady, you can roll your window down and breathe in the -30c air all you want. no they dont say this, but i hear it loud and clear as i breathe in their smoke into my frozen body!

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