Hidden Treasures: Two Rather Old Men in Pakistan’s Hunza Valley

Joel Carillet's picture

“This is Osama bin Laden,” the driver said matter-of-factly, knowing I was American and pointing to his bearded friend in the passenger seat. I gave the man’s friend a good look and placed my hand on his shoulder before saying, “Great, we’ve been looking for you!”

 

Joel Carillet

 

The men laughed as I sat back in my seat, still not entirely at ease with the bin Laden humor. I had heard it couple times previously this week as I hitchhiked my way through northern Pakistan. Now I was on my way to Karimabad, a Pakistani town tucked into the mountains about three hours south of the Chinese border. Speeding northward, I peered out the window at the sharp, barren peaks of the Karakorams, the mountain range home to most of Pakistan’s one hundred and one peaks that soar to more than 23,000 feet.

 

Joel Carillet

In addition to jokes about someone’s buddy being bin Laden, the week had been marked by strange dreams. In my sleep I had gone for a walk with Israel’s Ariel Sharon, and I had watched Fidel Castro’s helicopter crash head-on into a tall building, coming to rest, entirely intact, inside a conference room. On another night I had sat on a Florida beach, watching Russian sailors scurry to the beach as a tsunami loomed in the distance and then was upon us.

I was accompanied today by Martina, a young Dutch woman traveling alone through Pakistan and loving it. In Karimabad we checked into the Old Hunza Inn, where the only other guest was a 23-year-old guy from England who back home made his living as a chef. Together the three of us enjoyed a vegetarian meal, and at 9pm I went to the room to write. But it was too cold to write long—the unheated room soon left my hand numb.

 

Joel Carillet

That night I slept in four t-shirts, two long-sleeves, and a sweatshirt. I also had two blankets and Martina’s spare sleeping bag around me. When the sun rose, I threw our front door open, plugged some Johnny Cash hymns into my ears, and lay curled in bed watching wind blow snow off massive peaks in the distance. Soon the sun had heated the room enough that it was easy to get out of bed. Since we had arrived at dusk the night before, I now noticed for the first time a large marijuana plant, maybe seven feet tall, growing outside the room. Goats were feasting on the leaves within reach.

 

Joel Carillet

Martina and I chuckled at the gnawing goats as we got ready for the day’s event: a hike to nearby Ultar Meadow, home to a glacier and an astounding view of the Hunza Valley.

 

Joel Carillet

For days the sky had been overcast, but this morning it was pure blue—the kind of blue you find in unpolluted air at high elevations. Since the trail to the meadow began on the far side of Karimabad, our journey would first take us through town. It shouldn’t have taken but a few minutes, but on account of the friendly folks we met along the way, it took more than an hour.

 

Joel Carillet

At one turn in the road we came upon two old men, 91 and 93 years old, sitting side by side under a tree. The Hunza Valley is renowned for human longevity, and the studies scientists have done to learn why make for interesting reading. Sharp in mind, the two men spoke some English and were friendly as could be. The younger man, when conveying the status of his wife, said in a way that somehow seemed jovial, “She is finished!”

 

Joel CarilletJoel Carillet

 

I would relish the hike to Ultar Meadow, but the highlight of the day was meeting these two men. One twirled a yellow leaf in his hand; the other had a flower in his hat. It was an autumn day in the sharp mountains of Pakistan, and two old men—friends since the early 1900s—sat together to enjoy the simple pleasures of life: good weather, community, friendship. And when they saw two strangers passing by, they said hello, invited them to sit a while, and made them feel welcome.

Joel Carillet

 

 

 

Joel Carillet is Chief Editor of WanderingEducators.com. He is a
freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. His most recent
project is 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia, due for release in July.

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