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Guest Post: Adventures up the Silk Road

Posted on July 11, 2006
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Culture & Heritage, Travel
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By S A J Shirazi

The souls that pave the way for the modern tarmac road known as the Karakorum Highway (KKH) still seem to flicker amongst the sharp moving shadows of the unstable rocks and the almost countless but crumbly semi-transparent glaciers that constantly threaten its existence.

There has always been a long pass into, and out of China over what is sometime called the "Roof of the World" but in ancient times it was a very hazardous passageway. One wonders how Alexander might have crossed the Karakorum Mountains in 325 BC or how early travellers like Marco Polo, Hieun Tsang and others might have tracked on the route without backpacks, four wheel driven powerful vehicles and even the roads, till Pakistan Army engineers spread asphalt through one of the most difficult terrain in the world and created this great engineering feat that some call the eighth wonder of the world.

Northern Pakistan has some of the most beautiful and mightiest mountain terrain — Hindu Kush and Karakorum — in the world. Besides raw natural beauty, the territory is very difficult for men and machine to work even in this modern age. The road is in fact reflection of man’s incessant struggle against transcendental power.

What one sees while commuting on the highway? A quote from the North West Frontier Province Gazetteer reads:

"the path is certainly narrow, and often clung to the sheer faces of the many deep resonant gorges that confine their turgid, animated rivers. A traveller along the path sees at one glance the shadowy valleys from which a shiny mist columns rise at noon against a luminous sky, the forest ridges, stretches fold behind fold in softly undulating lines — dotted by the white specks which mark the situation of Buddhist monasteries — to the glacier draped pinnacles and precipices of the snowy range. He passes from the zone of tree ferns and endless colonnade of tall stemmed magnolias oaks and chestnut trees, fringes with delicate orchids and festooned by long convolvuluses to the region of gigantic pines, junipers, firs and larches. Down each ravine sparkles a brimming torrent, making the ferns and flowers nod as it dashes past them.

Superb butterflies, black and blue, or flashes of rainbow colours that turn at pleasure into exact imitation of dead leaves, the fairies of this lavish transformation scene of nature, sail in and out between the sun light and gloom. The mountaineer pushes on by a track half buried between the red twisted stems of tree-rhododendrons, hung with long waiving lichens, till he emerges at last on open sky and the upper pastures — the Alps of the Himalayan – field of flowers: of gentians and edelweiss and poppies, which blossom beneath the shining store house of snow that encompass the ice mailed and flouted shoulders of the giants of the range."

Get off the Grand Trunk Road — main artery of Pakistan — near Hassan Abdal; travel northeast through plains of Hazara and you are already in tourists’ zone. Cyclists riding trendy machines and cellular phones even with local are commonly seen and almost all commodity items for the use of foreigners are available with vendors right on the roadside. Lucky ones may also have the pleasure to watch performance of Chinese artists at Silk Rout Festival that moves from place to place and gives spectacular performance.

Passing through outskirts of Mansehra, the road starts winding and climbing through forested hills, with houses climbing to the contours of hills and countless eateries lined up along the road. The travellers here are introduced to forbidding nature of the terrain. The River Indus gushes below and cliffs of bar rocks soar above as the KKH begins to cut its way through the gorges of Kohistan. After dipping into, and out of the Indus’s wide bed the road also seem vying for the right of way with Gilgit and Hunza Rivers before it heeds direct to the historic Khunjerab Pass into China. Voluminous traffic and rather unpleasant riding conditions becomes lighter after leaving Mansehra and remains so almost to Khunjerab Pass and beyond (to the end of the highway in Kashgar, China.)

Before crossing on the Chinese side of the Khunjerab Pass, the road passes through Hunza Valley. The intricate terraced fields, held in places by dry stone or wooden retaining walls and the complex system of irrigation channels leading down from mount Rakaposi or Ultar are testimony to the skilled labour of the locals who are famous for their different culture, friendly nature and long lives. While the entire Hunza Valley is breathtaking in its splendour and beauty, one of my most enduring memories of this place is watching the sunrise over the hills. And, when you devote enough time to look at the mountains, it becomes a bit chameleon — clouding over, changing colours, cliffs turning into convex and concave according to the slant light.

At night, lights glow in this tiny isolated villages. But, the village women still do not know the use of simple electric appliances of modern age. Community hydroelectric system has been installed on torrents. The system allows only few bulbs per household. Men and women are found working together in the fields, homes or collecting woods from hills in conical wicker baskets. They are welcoming and seem to be living at peace with themselves.

The highway is also called the "Silk Road" because it approximates the trail of what was once one of the many silk, jade and spice carrying caravan trails that congregated somewhere near Xi’an, in China, and terminated in the vicinity of modern Syria on the Mediterranean sea coast. Like long lines of exploring ants, determined traders, merchants and adventures wore a path through narrow gorges, high grass sheathed valleys, across waterless deserts, around higher mountains, and over ranging rivers in pursuit of bargains.

The passage of time has not altered any of these geophysical conditions. Rest every thing in the area has changed though. The developments found their is greatest physical manifestation with the construction of the KKH, built along the path of the caravan routes of the Silk Road, a joint venture between China and Pakistan (which is why it is also called as Pakistan-China Friendship Road). Work on the mammoth project, which is said to have cost one life for every kilometre of road constructed, was begun in 1966 and completed in 1982. With commissioning of the road, the entire area has been laid open to trade and tourism. The resulting progress is undoubtedly causing a great deal of visible societal change.

While regular bus service ply the KKH to Gilgit, Hunza and the Khunjerab Pass, and the route eastwards through the Indus gorge to Baltistan, four-wheel drive powerful vehicles can only negotiate many of the remaining roads dissecting the region. There are lots of rough tracks leading to off road habitats on both sides of the road. For the adventurer who wants to go beyond these to really explore the mountains there is a highly developed system of trails built up over thousand of years by the tradesman, nomads and herdsmen, all granting access to some of the most magnificent mountain scenery on earth.

S A J Shirazi is a Lahore (Pakistan) based writer. (See more at Shirazi’s blog ‘Light Within’).

In Italy, a startling new kind of trade fair

International Herald Tribune May 10, 2010 | ELISABETTA POVOLEDO

ELISABETTA POVOLEDO International Herald Tribune 05-10-2010 In Italy, a startling new kind of trade fair Byline: ELISABETTA POVOLEDO Type: News

What was billed as Italy’s first divorce trade fair was held in Milan over the weekend.

The exhibitors at what was billed as Italy’s first divorce trade fair were a predictable mishmash of lawyers, real estate agents, divorce planners, paternity testing centers and dating agencies.

No less predictable was the media scrum to record the latest seismic transformation of society in Italy, a mostly Roman Catholic nation traditionally centered on the family.

That stereotype is fading fast. In 2007, according to the most recent statistics available, more than 81,000 of Italy’s 59 million residents at the time separated and about 50,000 divorced. Thirty years ago, divorces did not break the 12,000 mark. goodbye in italian

Lifelong marriages and close-knit family “values are great, but women have begun to live a different reality,” said Lorenza Lucianer, a twice-separated office worker who came to the fair with two friends. “We’ve turned into America. Everyone is on their second marriage. It happened later here, but it happened.”

But it’s not quite like America.

For antsy Italian singles-in-waiting, U.S. divorce laws — at least of the cinematic variety, where marriages are dissolved in the time it takes for ink to dry — are the stuff dreams are made of.

In Italy, a divorce takes around five years from the first separation hearing, said Claudio De Filippi, a lawyer who had a stand at the fair over the weekend.

His studio, he said, was challenging Italy’s divorce laws at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, because in most European countries divorce takes around one year. “But, of course, we have the Vatican here,” he said. “Divorce has tended to be viewed as an extreme measure.”

Italy approved divorce, in a referendum, only in 1974 and critics complain that Italian legislators have not kept up with changing times.

For example, Italy fine-tuned its joint custody legislation in 2006, but “la mamma” still ends up doing most of the child-rearing, said Umberto Vaghi of I Love Papa, an association that organizes an annual Daddy’s Pride Parade in Rome and fights for the rights of fathers and minors.

He said his association has been “battling a cultural problem that discriminates against men and women” because it “presupposes that children will stay with their mothers.”

“And that forces mothers into a role that might not let them do other things in life,” he said.

The growing divorce rate is what led Milena Stojkovic two years ago to open what she claims to be Italy’s first divorce planning agency, Ciao Amore. “Ciao means both hello and goodbye in Italian,” she said, adding that she “wanted to give the idea of ‘I never want to see you again’ and ‘this isn’t necessarily a goodbye.”‘ see here goodbye in italian

With offices in Rome and Trieste, a branch is expected to open here soon, she said. “Divorce planning was a very new concept in Italy,” she said, but the business has been satisfying.

And now, a trade fair.

It was held in the basement of a large business hotel, not the sort of lodging where people find themselves in situations that lead to divorce.

According to Franco Zanetti, the journalist turned impresario behind the event, Vienna was the first European capital to hold a divorce fair two years ago.

“It was also in a hotel,” he said. “Really Viennese, everything behind closed doors.”

A Parisian version last December “was too sociological and ideological” and open to widows and widowers, which he thought would not have gone down as well in Italy, he said.

So his fair had a bit of everything, including a self-proclaimed seduction expert who gave tips on how to pick up women in a discotheque and mimed a male orgasm during his public pep talk.

Mr. Zanetti said he had “no ideological vocation” toward divorce – - in his late 50s, he married only four years ago — but he has experience in designing trade fairs for the public.

In 1994, he said, he was one of the organizers of Italy’s first sex fair, Mi-Sex, which drew 62,000 visitors in three days. His ambitions this time were more modest. “A thousand visitors would be great, but it’s a small place,” he said.

The potential economic implications of a growing divorce rate were not lost on the Slovenian Tourist Board, which, especially for the fair, quickly put together “regenerative weekends” that could — but need not — include cosmetic treatments for “fresh divorcees,” at several spas, said Maja Slivnjak, a tourist board representative. Slovenia, she added, is “the only country that has love in its name.”

Slovenia is a short drive from many major Italian cities. “We used to focus on couples and families,” but divorce is “a very interesting market,” she said.

Divorcees were not out in big numbers on Saturday afternoon, but those who came had specific agendas.

Virna Modena, a wedding planner from Modena who is divorced, said she had come to the fair “to see the other side of the coin.”

And to check out its commercial potential. “Perhaps it’s a better business to be in,” she said.


3 comments posted

  1. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    October 2nd, 2007 6:11 pm

    Happen to see now your blog Shirazi,

    well done,its a dream for those who believe in dreams, I went
    uptill Naran thats it. Wish to go on that paradisiac crazy route.

  2. Benawa says:
    July 10th, 2009 11:31 pm

    Simply exilarating! Thank you so much!

  3. July 18th, 2014 11:30 am

    I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
    Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone
    to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to design my own blog
    and would like to know where u got this from. thanks

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