Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Climbers’ hangouts

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Twenty-five years ago, there was this hotel and restaurant (or was it just a restaurant?) in Jutial, Gilgit that I tried to locate on my last visit in 2010. I failed because Jutial has changed so much. I do not remember the name of this establishment, but it was a lovely, atmoshpheric place. In the tree-shaded garden the owner had put up a sort of pavilion under which was a large rectangular table surrounded by chairs. They were all fruit trees that made the air rich with the fragrance of apples, peaches and pears and the air resounded with bird songs. Here at all three meal times people ate together.

There would be white people from places you did not even know existed, some Japanese and Korean, and a couple of Pakistanis. The talk, mostly in English, was generally about mountaineering and trekking. Great tales were swapped, new trekking routes were bandied around and sometimes immortal friendships were cemented. I think that is where I met Matthew (French) and Mareille (German) who later married and even came to stay with us in Lahore. We kept in touch long after the couple had left Pakistan and settled in Thailand and were having babies. But I lost contact after I changed my email address because the old server went defunct.

Here over the meal (which was always exceptionally good) one could learn where to purchase a headlamp and ice axe or how to walk when shod with crampons (with your legs slightly apart - if not, you snag the claws in your pants and fall on your face), or if it is better to tackle Skoro La from the south or the north, the best camp grounds on the east side of Deosai where one could watch the bears and campsites to avoid on the Baltoro Glacier for their stink of human dung. There was nothing that was not talked about at this dinner table.

There was such heart-warming camaraderie among the bunch of adventurers assembled here. The best thing was that when someone talked, everyone else listened. They waited for the speaker to finish. There was no babble. Everyone was interested in hearing what the other had experienced. Great yarns of high adventure were on feature here. What a great place this was. But gone are the days when ordinary trekkers and even more ordinary travellers who simply came to unravel the magic of names like Gilgit, Nomal and Hunza could freely roam around the country without being threatened.

Though the people of Giilgit-Baltistan are far from the violence of the terrorists of the tribal areas, the fear has nonetheless spread. Few foreigners are now seen just wandering around the bazaars of these places. I suppose that is what did in the Jutial establishment. I last dined at this table in, I think, 2002.

Incidentally, in the mid-1990s someone tried a copycat restaurant in Skardu. Though the garden was all right and so was the setting of the gazebo, but they could not somehow pull it off. I forget the name of the Skardu locality but it was on the left side of the road as one went past the military hospital en route to the cantonment.

There were also several stores in Gilgit and in Skardu owned by retired porters or mountain guides where you could purchase all sorts of climbing gear. The store in Skardu (it's still there on the road just by the polo ground) was always expensive. But the several stores in Gilgit had very competitive prices. The owners were also great tellers of mountaineering tales.

Today only hard core climbers come to Gilgit-Baltistan. And they head straight for the mountains. The bazaars and restaurants of Gilgit and Skardu are now so much the poorer. I wonder where today a Pakistani youngster can hang out with climbers from all over the world?

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 08:59,


At 22 October 2015 at 10:44, Anonymous mehr said... usual.....bu t are the youngsters of today serious about real trekking and climbing.....??? The whole idea has hope things get better in the security front. Warm regards.

At 22 October 2015 at 12:21, Blogger Unknown said...

Why every good thing is gone with the old times ?

At 23 October 2015 at 09:58, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

As a matter of fact, Mehr, since my younger days when i was the ONLY trekker in the wilds, we now have virtually hundreds of young Pakistanis out there. Many are going into serious climbing too. So, it's a pretty good sign here.

At 23 October 2015 at 10:01, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Mujtaba, we lost all that was good when we were led down the path of perdition by that great bastard called Shar ul Iblis Haram ud Dahar Lanatullil Alameen Zia the Bastard. We are paying the price for his agreeing to fight the US-funded jihad. We will continue to pay it for another lifetime. Fifty years more.

At 23 October 2015 at 12:15, Blogger Unknown said...

A rolling stone. ..............
Get it?

At 23 October 2015 at 13:55, Anonymous Mehr said...

Nice to know that Sir....may the tribe increase !!!! Very encouraging....


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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