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Friday, 10.14.05:  Remembering Pakistan

Susan at landslide on Karakoram Highway, PakistanThis morning I'm thinking about Pakistan and the earthquake devastation there. We traveled in the area most affected during the summer of 1992.

It really is the most astounding territory and I'm amazed they can get any help to people at all. North of Islamabad the world tilts vertically, the product of millennia of massive earthquakes as the Indian subcontinent does a slow motion crash against Asia. As I look back at my notes, I see that buildings were continually being rebuilt as the restless mountains rattled them apart.

The "highway" north into China is a two-lane notch blasted out of the sides of mountains, sheer rock on either side. There are no "alternate routes" for detours, except perhaps for some old donkey paths used in the time of Marco Polo. Landslides across the highway are routine and they simply stock traffic for days till someone clears them. We ran into one of these north of Gilgit and the only way to carry on was to climb over the rubble and pick up a ride on the other side.

You have to ask yourself why people live in such forbidding and dangerous territory. It can't be just for the scenery. These mountain ranges -- Himalaya, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush all lie in the path between centers of wealth and coveted resources. From ancient days people needed to tackle the mountains to strike it rich. Trade routes sprang up. Along any route you get two kinds of settlers: the customer service people and the rip-off artists. Many of the villages, I'm sure, grew up around caravan stops, offering food and shelter. Other villages grew up around highway robbers.

These are incredibly resilient people.



Map of areas most affected by Pakistan quake

Our 1992 travel chronicles



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