Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

On my way back from Mintaka Pass

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The best way to go is by one’s own shanks or one’s own wheels. Riding camels, donkeys, horses what have you is unnatural business: if Nature had meant humans to ride these creatures, She would have fitted the beasts with handle bars. On a bicycle the handle bar lets you steer quickly this way or that and you can hold on to it in order to prevent a fall in case someone knocks against you or if you have to brake very hard.

You can hardly tell that inside these boots I have bleeding feet

But what is a flimsy bridle? It cannot keep the rider steady. It cannot prevent a fall and I have never been able to figure out how polo players and other equestrian experts bloody well stay in the freaking saddle.

I have ridden a horse in the Hindu Kush in Chitral (at least been on one being led by the bridle), camels in the mountains of Sindh and Balochistan, a yak across the Braldu River east of Shimshal and double-humped Bactrian camels in the Shaksgam River valley of Xinjiang. But I had never been astride a donkey in my life.

Now at the fag end of my hill walking days I had to face this ignominy. Returning from Mintaka Pass to Misgar just over forty kilometres away was beyond me with my large weeping blisters and so I requested to be carried down on the donkey.

The beast that had borne me to the base of the pass was a gelding and therefore of gentle disposition. Even so, on the way down, negotiating the long descent into Murkushi with the path strung out on a steep talus slope and the river bounding along three hundred metres straight below us, I was terrified out of my wits. Holding on to the buckle at the top of the surcingle, I cast fearful glances to my right wondering how I and the donkey would go bouncing down the slope were I to cause the animal to lose its footing.

At Murkushi, we found two other donkeys minding their own business. That, thought Irfan, was not good enough. He cajoled the larger one, a spirited jenny as I was soon to discover, for my riding (dis)pleasure. But having noticed how terrified I had been on the donkey, Irfan wished to show me riding was no big deal at all. He arranged the blanket on the animal, tightened the straps and jumping on thrashed the animals rump with the withe he carried.

The beast bucked so hard that Irfan who had been riding since infancy was thrown off. And now to get even with the beast (and perhaps with me as well), he prepared it for me to ride! This animal trotted along at a neat clip, but it had one bad habit: it braked very suddenly. Now, all donkeys sniff every bit of donkey dung they come against. This jenny did too. Only trotting along merrily, she would suddenly stop dead to do the needful. Amanullah observed that she had servo-assisted brakes. 

Every time she did that, I very nearly somersaulted over her head. And one time when I was not especially mindful I did take the dive flying straight above the animal’s head and landing on my knees in front. Thankfully, no patellae were fractured.

Though I eventually reverted to the gelding, by the end I was so terrified of being on its back that I balked every time we approached a particularly steep section with the river running below. Despite my painful blisters I dismounted and walked. If that was bad enough, the worst was riding pillion on the motorcycle of Naib Subedar Iftikhar Ali.

Upon Amanullah’s request and in view of my horrid-looking blisters, the good man kindly acquiesced to drive me the last eight kilometres from Qalandar Chi to Misgar. And what a drive! Evel Knievel would have marvelled at the skill of our Multani in Misgar. He would gun the Honda 125 for all it was worth on the upward slope and we would take curves at something like thirty kilometres an hour. And these were curves on an unpaved road sprinkled with loose pebbles on which a motorcycle would skid like a dream. A good way below us on the right was the frothing stream.

It was not without a great deal of relief that I espied the first trees of Misgar. My relief was even greater when I was deposited in one piece in Misgar outside the home of my host Ataullah Khan.

Mintaka Pass Part 1: Walking History’s Highway, Mintaka Pass Part II: Hill Walker’s Requiem

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 12 May 2013 at 10:16, Anonymous Carol Yates Wilkerson on Facebook said...

Brian Wolf Leverich, you and this man might have something in common, at least in the hiking experiences.

At 12 May 2013 at 13:02, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Carol, Just checked out Leverich. Good fun. We could go travelling together!

At 21 May 2013 at 10:54, Anonymous Labib said...

True, destinations like Mintaka aren’t easy to get to.

"The colors are always brighter if a place draws a little blood first." No?

At 21 May 2013 at 14:55, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your drawing of the connection between the vividness of colour and first blood. Well said, sir.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days