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Himalaya

Day 20: Gilgit to Skardu

Michael Palin - HimalayaWe have been given the go-ahead by the Pakistan military to join one of their helicopters on a service flight from Skardu in Baltistan, to Concordia, close to the Chinese border, where ten of the world's top 30 peaks are clustered, including K2, the second highest mountain in the world.

It's mountaineering made easy but not to be sniffed at for all that. Last night I called my friend Hamish MacInnes in Scotland for the reactions of a world-class climber. He gave me various words of encouragement, among them the fact that the road to Skardu is known as 'the road that eats jeeps'.

Skardu is only 99 miles (160 km) from Gilgit, but we're told it will take most of the day. Progress is slowed down by rock falls and landslips at roughly one-mile intervals. Some bring us to a halt, some have to be negotiated with infinite care. Road gangs, muffled like mummies against the dust and heat, stop to watch us pass, then resume the Sisyphean task of fighting landslides with spades, shovels and wheelbarrows.

We turn off the KKH and stop for refreshment. Across the road a large man sprawls across the threshold of a very small shop. He's sunk deep in an armchair and has one leg up against the door-post. A sign above him announces 'Ahmad, Gems and Minerals. We Deals In Precious Stones'. Up here, mineral seams are routinely exposed by the massive geological upheavals. As they bring our tea they tell us we've had one big piece of luck. The road that eats jeeps reopened only two days earlier after unusually heavy spring rain closed it at 126 separate places.

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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 20: Gilgit to Skardu
  • Country/sea: Pakistan
  • Place: Gilgit
  • Book page no: 43

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