Tuesday, December 30, 2008

7.40 am dec 30 Tashkorgan
in all fairness to last nights lodgings, the sheets, the pillows, and duvet cover were clean, the room warm. i could have slept well, but for that heavy garlic laced Chinese dinner. kept me awake till 2am. drifted in and out of sleep, afraid it would be morning and the bus would leave without me. concierge -- scruffy man and woman behind the front counter window - didn't wake me up at 7am as promised. glad i was awake at 6am myself, woke the woman, sound asleep behind the window, gave her my keys and walked into the freezing temperatures once again. the first stirrings of morning... all the little restaurants lighting their wood fires, kneading the dough, chopping the meat and veggies, boiling the soup, mopping the floors--while its -30c outside, and i walk in and out of each place that has an open door, so i can warm my face and hands.
bus wala had said he'd leave for customs check by 8am - not sure if they'll all be there....so i get myself half a naan and a cup of green tea in a big hurry. tastes like heaven--anything hot! the swine wants 5rmb for it...no Pakistani hosts these...money talks here.. the more the better.
kids walking to school -- i wonder why so many girls have premature white hair--who wants caps, its only dec! its their hair frozen in the morning air. my own snot is frozen solid, as are those hands and feet that just don't want to get even close to warm.
back to the bus - not a soul - what? they're not here? they've gone to breakfast. a haha- where? come ill take you... drops me off in front of another seedy looking joint -- they're all crammed in there - every Pakistani in town.. its noisy and welcoming..im the only woman in my now grimy down coat, cap, gloves, boots and still freezing... come baaji come -- sit -- where did you disappear last night? that other place right ? no good right? too much money. come what will you eat.. get her two fried eggs and paratha and tea....baaji eats with relish, downs the tea, the greasy paratha, the tasty over fried very yellow yolked eggs. the jhelum deportees huddle around the bukhari -- i ask if they've had breakfast --yes yes they'll get to eat, don't worry -- we've been feeding these buggers all this while haven't we?... i insist i pay for them--eggs and paratha and tea on me this morning....god bless you baaji all the way from china to jhelum to Karachi, god bless you, whoever you are, traveling in this god forsaken place in this god forsaken weather .. see you in the bus :-) :-)
god bless you too and keep you safe from whatever it is you're running away from or to!

9.30am tashkorgan - customs still -30c
cleared our personal bags with no hassles, except the loaded bus with all the trader samaan, unloading all that and reloading is going to take another hour or who knows how long..mean while even the hair inside my nose is frozen..
once were done with customs, they don't let us hang around inside the warm building -- so we sit outside in minus something or the other temps, on our bags, on the low wall or just jump from foot to foot to stay warm. too cold to write -- i try to read instead, but its no fun either. I'm using the darn hand warmers -- all they do is keep the hands 'warm' as in 'malool'...

11.30am finally
the most chaotic crazy rush to load the bus. the two chinese ladies at the front of the pushing, shoving, line by the bus door, get almost trampled by 15 men stampeding to get the first seats. its hilarious. all kinds of crooked middlemen, immigration officers, the driver, they're all exchanging money, stuffing more people than the already full bus that we came with from kashgar, or that it can hold. they've sold 5 extra seats when there isn't an inch of space in the bus. the extras argue away, ...those of us that came from kashgar are pushing them out-- no space, go take some other bus .. theres nothing else going -- this is the last day guys give us a break, we paid.. well you got jipped.. there aren't any seats cant you see.. we'll stand .. this goes on and on --till three of them finally get to stay. the other two are simply out of luck!. so the extras sit on top of the piles of bags in the aisles. the driver meanwhile decides to disappear. i think he either has diarrhea or is raking it in somewhere behind the bathroom, where i see him run off to. the immigration guys have stuffed one more fellow to the already packed bus. luckily he comes with us only till the last check post before the Pass.
i sit next to the driver right on the engine - determined not be shoved to the back with the deportees -- I'm taking pictures all the way home, even if I'm toasted solid in the process!
11.35 am hes back from the bathroom visit! were off to Sost!
as one final bribe and goodbye, a bag of apricots got handed to one of the Chinese immigration guys three hundred yards out the customs grounds.
i must learn their language to really figure out whats going on around me...
murdabad china!!
the landscape-- bright clear day, miles of snow on the pamirs- magnificent!

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