That morning when we started our journey towards khunjerab pass. The sky was clear blue and the atmosphere was totally different from the day before. We crossed the beautiful Attabad Lake which looked amazingly different but did not stop as we had planned to take a stop for about an hour at Sust, the midpoint from Hunza to khunjerab Pass for our breakfast. It’s also the immigration and custom base for those crossing the border either for trade or tourism.
Sust itself was a flat land, dry, rocky and brown but the surroundings faraway were green mountains with snow-covered tops. The temperature was also moderate.
We settled in a small tea and breakfast stall. Surprisingly it had a small dining hall for families, which was filled by us in no time.
‘We’ve ordered spaghetti along with Parathas and omelette,’ Bhaiya said.
‘Ah that’s great I’ll have spaghetti.!’ exclaimed Muhammad and with his loud announcement every single kid bounced up and down.
Our order came soon after I with many others had a great long trip to the government guest house nearby just to take the kids to the toilets.
And the eternal fight among all the kids began.
I need more! I want more!
It seemed like spaghetti were the most exclusive breakfast they were having that day although the Parathas with that amazing tea they served were very delicious too.
We started our journey again. The road was winding fascinatingly around the snow-covered mountains.
The scenic view changed from rocky dry to lush green grassy lands within thirty minutes of drive. We then saw many small and big glaciers along the way. At one moment, we were below the clouds and the other above them viewing the crystal blue sky.
As we reached to the plateau of that remote pass, the temperature lowered and all of us started putting on the layers of jackets.
We had to take stops at the army posts along the highway to enter our ID and confirm them that we are only visiting the pass more times then you could imagine. I liked their way of securing the border. It felt like we were heading towards something important.
‘Guys this pass is more than 4500 meters above sea level so we should only stay for half an hour as the oxygen over here is lower. Do not walk fast. If any of you started feeling dizzy or getting headaches, short of breath, please do inform me or any other elder. it’s surely a sign of altitude sickness.’ Bhaiya warned all of us.
‘The Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border crossing in the world and the highest point on the Karakoram Highway.’ Baji elaborated.
‘The amazing fact is that this is one of the international borders where left-hand traffic changes to right-hand traffic’ Riaz bhai added.
‘And it’s also very near to the Khunzerav National Park. You know guys there are snow leopards and very remarkably rare sheep.’ Baji said excitedly.
‘Yes, it’s not khunjerab it’s basically khunzerav, Khun means “blood” and Zerav means “to stream” in Wakhi, the native language of this region. It’s a common misunderstanding. I read that at wiki when I was searching for our tour.’ Bhaiya grinned while giving the piece of information and our driver slowed the bus to enter the parking area.
‘Can’t we take the bus near the pass kids are sleeping.’ I asked and kissed shaji who was sleeping on my lap.
‘O Jee we have to park here they won’t let us take the bus near the pass, so I’ll wait here.’ The driver parked the bus to the left of the road where lots of our cars and buses were already parked. The gate was almost a mile away from us.
‘Alas, what will I do shaji is soundly sleeping he won’t get up anytime soon.’
‘You can leave him with me I’m not going. Tired as hell.’ Apa muttered sheepishly. She had got up early in the morning in fact before the sunrise to prepare things for Obaid bhai as he had scheduled to go back to his site office that day. His vacations were over. Consequences of being a civil engineer.
‘Okay, please give a call if he wakes up.’ I said while spreading a small blanket for shaji on the seat beside Apa.
‘Let’s go, take the water bottle and see if the kids are properly packed it’s very chilly out here.’ My husband peeked from the door and said. As always, he was the first one going out of the bus to look around.
‘I think Hadia and Zunaira are good, please let Ali wear this cap he’s not listening to me.’ I handed the woollenn cap to him.
Getting out of the bus without the toddler in my hands felt totally different. Light and energetic. I inhaled the fresh cool air. The atmosphere was soothing. Fresh chilly air and the smell of damp soil mixing with the amazing smell of the wildflowers and the grass.
The view of the paved road, clean and huge, going towards the pass in a straight line was totally enchanting. We could see the square concrete gate far away and it grew bigger and bigger as we walked towards it.
The road was filled with people going towards the pass, laughing and talking, groups by groups.
Both sides of the road were embraced with thick green grass along with little ponds of rainwater complementing with the snow-covered mountains way behind the grassy land. It was fascinating. These plain grasslands were the reason we were hit by the strong chilly waves of wind by and by.
Also, there were few remains of glaciers on the land either sides.
Just when we reached the gate. A group of military jeeps came from our back.
‘Please make space for the cars.’ said one of the guard and all of a sudden the road was cleared and the audience made a line to welcome the cars coming in between the army jeeps. They were Chinesee delegates coming back after surveying the beautiful Karakoram Highway they constructed. Thanks to them we had this great expedition and we didn’t have to suffer unpaved rocky roads the ones we had before Chinese constructed this one.
‘Wave your hand Hadia say hello to them.’ My husband took Hadia up in his hands. The Chinese lowered their windows and started waving themselves. The sparkling grins on their faces showed how happy and cheerful they were to see the crowd. A group of the tourist started dancing in the right side corner, on the beat of the drums (Dhol).
The traditional Hunzai dance.
The delegation stopped at the other side of the border and stepped out of their cars. To meet and greet us.
I cannot explain my enthusiasm. I was literally crying with happy tears. This is what Pakistan really is. Calm and peaceful. Greeting each and every smiling face. We don’t need any favours. All we want is a little acknowledgement. A little feeling of pure friendship and we’ll melt like any butter. We are the simplest nation of all.
The scenario right in front of me was overwhelming. People were taking a selfie with The Chinese across the border the only thing dividing us were the barriers. The Chinese were also talking picture and capturing videos of the dancing group.
And when they left one of the eldest Chinese said the magical words in Urdu and waved his hands.
‘Pakistan Zindabad’ (long live pakistan).
My husband took the kids with him and requested the army soldier by the machine gun, to take pictures with him, he was with the group who came here to drop the Chinese delegation to the border.
Our adventure didn’t end there that day. When we were about to leave, there came a second set of army cars along with two more civilian cars. This time it was from the other side. They stopped near the gate and what came out from those cars filled our energies to its higher level again.
Everyone started greeting and waving to the three cutest Chinese girls. Wearing army pants and enjoy the scene. It was an amazing site they were three different forms of Chinese girls one could ever meet. One of them was tall, the other was short. The moment they stepped out they began taking pictures and selfies with the tourist of our side.
‘Oh, we should take a group photo here’. And with that all of us started gathering in between the crowd.
‘Hassan bhai give the mobile to someone else and come join us.’ said Bhaiya in a loud voice.
The person to whom my husband handed the mobile phone was in his mid-thirties. He was considerably nice and educated looking man. As he took his position and just when he was about to click or maybe he clicked…
‘Oh wait, Omaina we are having group photo join us.’ Shahid bhai almost shouted.
Then when all was set again.
‘Wait Anni come join us.’ I heard someone say.
‘Oh Taymia.’ Bhaiya waved her in.
The guy, ah his face was the face of the century that day he was holding the mobile with one hand and the other was waving in the air. Then he finally Said.
‘Are you all in? Or if someone’s still left please call them in.’
‘No no it’s okay please take the pic.’ Bhaiya said smiling widely.
‘Please raise your hands where group ends I don’t seem to get whom to take in the Frame.’ The guy said, taking his head out from the mobile. Surely one could get confused with us being such big a group plus with the huge crowd around us.
‘That’s it, here you go.’ he was smiling with a huge grin on his face when he handed the mobile back to my husband.
‘Let’s go back to the bus now.’ Shahid bhai said and we ambled towards the parking.