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Backroads & Baksheesh, Massive Peaks, A Bucketlist Hike & The Most Silk Road Evening Ever
Oh hey guys I’m back!
No one died or shit their pants on the China, Tajikistan & Pakistan tour. Like was it even a real trip to Central & South Asia without a single pants-shitting?
So I know it’s been a couple of months since I graced your screens with one of these updates since I didn’t want to hold myself to writing an update while I was in bumfucknowhereistan at the end of June. Rather than bore you all with a long-winded post on what we all did, I figured I’d just rattle off some of my favorite (see: mostly hilarious) things that happened… Here they are:
Public Humiliation: Nifuckinhao Edition
The setting: the Khunjerab Port in Tashkurgan. This is where you technically “exit” China en route to Pakistan. After the near anal probing that ensues at the plethora of military checkpoints and border posts in China’s Xinjiang Province, you’ll be asked to show your exit stamp roughly between 4,687 and 5,543 times (and your sorry asses haven’t even driven out of the port parking lot). Finally, we’re on the NATCO bus. The engine is started. I’m fucking elated to get out of China for the second time on the trip when what is possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever witnessed happened. Chinese military man gets on NATCO bus (my thought: TF now?) He says “eggzit stahmp“. So each and everyone passes their passports forward open to the exit stamp page. But hark, there’s a very young (looked about 17 years old) Pakistani man on the first bench in the bus. He’s the last to hand his over. It’s very clear he doesn’t know what to do as he fumbles and hands the guard his passport.
“Yao tink yao speshou?”
*Man sitting next to him tries to interject.*
“Yao waysta errybody taim!”
Man sitting next to him tries to say “He’s never been here before, he doesn’t understand Engli….”
*van door slams*
*whole truck erupts in laughter*
Young Pakistani man still hasn’t a clue what just happened.
Welcome To Pakistan
As soon as the NATCO bus crosses through the fence that denotes the actual China-Pakistan border at Khunjerab Pass the whole bus erupts into celebration with several men yelling “FREEDOM!!” and the Pakistani jams go on the stereo at full blare… Quite the entrance to Pakistan, which easily has become one of my favorite countries in the world. Plus with legends like Ayub & Murad showing you some of the best pockets of Gilgit-Baltistan, it’s hard to find yourself disappointed.
Crossing Rare Border Crossing & Making Friends With Truckers
We hitchhiked across the Qolma Pass between China and Tajikistan both ways on Kamaz Trucks. I Made friends with Rustam, a truck driver from Vanj that we hitched from China to Tajikistan with. His entire family lives in Vanj and I have an open invitation to visit (we all know this will happen because I still need to make that trip to Poi Mazar to get to Fedchenko Glacier).
*Can you believe I was part of a tour that included hitchhiking across a rarely visited border crossing?
Dance Party/Rave/Graduation Party/Sheep Boil In The Middle Of Nowhere
As we bounced down jeep tracks in super remote Tajikistan about 7 km off the Afghan border we come across a family slaughtering a sheep in front of their yurt. We stop because that’s what you do in Tajikistan. The family’s daughter just finished university. She’s coming back tomorrow with her friends and the family is throwing her a party. Naturally, they invite us.
We show up the next day right as the festivities are about to kick off. About 20 young kids pile out of vehicles with big speakers. A dance party to EDM breaks out in front of the yurt. Only in Tajikistan.
Dr. Nicole, Your Friendly Yurt Dentist
Before the sheep boil commences the Dad very clearly has a toothache to which the group tells him I work in dentistry. He wants the tooth out. I tell him I’ll look at it. We set up a make-to chair in the yurt. I use a spoon handle as a cheek retractor. His tooth has a gigantic cavity in it, but it’s not really that mobile. I put some gel on it to help numb it and we tell him he needs to head to Osh to have it extracted.
Then a daughter pops in. She has a tooth that hurts. She has a root tip from a tooth that was previously extracted still in there. It’s loose. I tell her to keep moving it and it will eventually come out.
Next Dad brings in a very young daughter. Her teeth in the front hurt as well. Obvious decay. Dad wiggles her two front teeth (the ones that hurt). I prescribed an apple.
If you know me at all this shouldn’t surprise you, not even in the slightest. After waving goodbye to the Pamirs in Tajikistan it was hello to some of the world’s tallest mountains in Pakistan’s Karakoram Range.
Backroads & Baksheesh
On the final evening the whole group was in Tajikistan (a pair of our travelers were only with us for the first half of the trip) we made our way back to Murghab from literally the middle of nowhere. Of course, this required a stop at the GBAO checkpoint going into the wild east town of Murghab. That’s when it was finally noticed that one in our group was in the country illegally. Her e-visa had the wrong month. So this resulted in a visit to the police, phone calls to Dushanbe, and a small baksheesh to get the visa debacle cleaned up. Ultimately our plan, if these things didn’t work in our favor, was to skirt the GBAO checkpoints on backroads back to Qolma Pass and pay baksheesh at the border to get her out. Luckily for us, it was, and I quote “Year of tourist“, resulting in the mistake getting fixed.
However when we did arrive at Qolma Pass to exit Tajikistan we noticed that border agent #7 had his stamping privileges taken away, and it was #3’s time to shine. Gold teeth and all.
The Chinese Anti-Drug Campaign
When we got to Kalasu Port (the Chinese side of Qolma Pass), they were setting up posters and flyers for an anti-drug campaign. Makes sense that the Qolma Pass would be a perfect setting to such a campaign seeing that it is the gateway to the ‘Heroin Highway‘ ie: Tajikistan. The group got roped into a photoshoot to be published in some sort of literature that will be distributed in China.
The Near-Inkless Passport Stamp
That moment when #3 flashed his golden smile at me, then firmly pressed his stamp against my passport pages while wiggling it in a manner to convey that we both knew that he may be number 1 border agent at Qolma Pass due to #7’s mistake, but his promotion package did not include a fresh ink pad. The stamp is barely visible.
The Most Silk Road Evening Ever
It was our last evening in Central Asia. Matt and I decided to try our luck at a street side ice-cream cart in Kashgar. Luck, as in having a competition to see whose guts prevail after street ice-cream. That’s when we noticed that there were yaks, camels, and horses at the Central Square in front of Id Kah Mosque. We couldn’t leave Xinjiang without taking a quick lap around the Central square in a yak-drawn carriage while cheersing beers in Kashgar. A quick trip to a supermarket later we were on a yak carriage out front a mosque with a couple kids that jumped on with us. All the Chinese tourists were taking photos. One even turned his phone to us as he FaceTime’d to share the festivities. Of course, this night was topped off with me stepping in a bucket of yak piss and then downing a bottle of Stalin wine we found at the supermarket.
Day Jams In Dayjams
The first thing on a couple of our agendas after arriving into Pakistan was to find ready to wear shalwar kameez. Because why wear uncomfortable clothing when you wear that freeing pajama-like ensemble of the shalwar kameez? WHY WOULD YOU NOT WEAR THE SHALWAR?!
And also we were invited to listen to a man in Gupis who is noted for his exceptional sitar playing skills, and also having two wives.
Almost Famous… In Pakistan
Of course since we have a troop of foreigners touristing around northern Pakistan it only makes sense that we need to be put on the news. Don’t worry, I got sweaty and nearly had a heart attack as soon as a camera was pointed in my general direction. So if you’re wondering if I’ll be starting a vlog, that’ll be a no.
Attending the Diamond Jubilee in Pakora
On our second full day in Pakistan we were invited for an afternoon of music and festivities in a village called Pakora in the Ishkoman Valley. Of course, the females in our group got whisked away to go sit with all the women and girls. We got to spend the day chatting it up with schoolgirls, teachers, and women from Pakora. Communication was no problem at all as the amount of English spoken and understood in this area was a surprise for me because I just didn’t expect to hear much of it in a remote part of the country.
At one point there was an award ceremony for various topics, my favorite being the award given to two wives (of one man) for getting along so well. I don’t know that I’d get to see that award get given out in many other places.
One of the hikes I’ve wanted to do the absolute most in Alaska is the Bomber Traverse, mainly to get atop the Backdoor Gap. I’ve been frothing over photos for a couple years now. I finally did it. 2 days, 19 miles, 2 mountain passes, 2 glacier crossings, lots of bug bites and a small gash to the side of my head later I finished the traverse.
Cruising Kinmen Island on E-Bikes
Since we had a 22 hour layover in Xiamen on our way out of China, we figured what better use of our time is there besides taking a ferry to Kinmen Island? Although Kinmen Island is just a short boat ride away from mainland China, it’s actually a part of Taiwan (though China does claim it as its own).
Summoning A Pari & Finding Out Our Futures From A Dayal
After the above mentioned Diamond Jubilee celebration in Pakora, and then a hike to a waterfall we got to visit a Dayal (a local Shaman). She took each of us by the hand after going into trance to tell us what our futures might hold and what to avoid and look out for. Even if you’re not into summoning spirits and the whatnot it was still a fascinating experience.
Eklutna Lake In The Twilight
I kayaked all the way across Eklutna Lake and back. If you have no idea what I’m talking about it’s a lake close to where I live and it was about 13 miles roundtrip. I still can’t move my arms like normal, but also I’d never woke up early enough to see the lake quite like this either.
What Went On That I Didn’t Like
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Xinjiang. The ridiculous number of checkpoints and X-rays you have to go through is infuriating, although I knew this going there so I can’t complain too much about it
I also was not a fan of sheep lung or sheep intestine. I mean it’s not the worst thing I’ve eaten. But we did get invited to a sheep boil and grad dance party so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world…
What’ll Happen In August?
On August 29th I’m off again. Bound for Kyrgyzstan, of course with an overnight night in Urumqi (you can imagine my excitement about heading back to Xinjiang). I’m actually headed to the World Nomad Games in Cholpon Ata with my neighbor since I missed the 2016 games. Then we will head off to an undetermined destination for a couple of weeks before I go to Italy where I will spend a good chunk of fall (I can’t fathom what I’ll do in Italy for that long, it seems far too developed for my typical travel choices).
Will I Do Another One Of These Tours?
I’m hoping to do it again in both Tajikistan and Pakistan… maybe more places. I’ve gotten several emails and messages on Instagram about it already.