Northern Areas – Chitral

Everyone was pretty disappointed when we had to pack up and vacate our huts in Bumburet. Some of the village elders showed up and bid my wife’s parents adieu by draping handwoven lengths of cloth around their collars. This was their way of showing appreciation for arranging some relief work to be completed with government funds. Soon the area should be seeing a measured improvement, but that’s an entire blog in itself. Back to my vacation…

Caravan on the move

We braved the crazy back-roads once again on our way to Chitral. I chose to focus on the views rather than peering downward at the edge of our tires as they skirted the steep drop-offs. While we traveled I recalled another story that our hiking guide had recited to us. It turns out that Rahmat had met Gary Brooks Faulker in person. My impression of Gary, from news reports about a crazy American with a sword hunting for Osama, contrasted starkly with the guide’s firsthand description. Supposedly Mr. Brooks was very kind in person. With high blood pressure and bad kidneys he wasn’t exactly in ideal health to be making such a bold journey either. Just now looking at youtube, it appears that Gary came back and became quite a star.

Trich Mir in the distance

The 25,000′ giant, Trich Mir was out of view way too soon as we wove along the Chitral-Dir road. I was hoping to have a closer look at the highest peak in the Hindu Kush from where we were heading. To my disappointment this was not the case.

Chateau Chitral

We landed up at Chitral Scouts headquarters around noon on July 2. I enjoyed a glass of cool juice while checking out the place. With steep roofs and wood accents, the buildings had an architectural style that would look right at home on a Swiss Alps postcard. The first thing I checked for in my room was the one item I was deprived of in Kafiristan; Hot water. Of this there was no shortage. We even had air conditioners! These creature comforts were not expected on the trip north, but who was I to refuse?

In the evening we sat down on the front lawn for a semi-formal dinner with my Father-in-law and some of his FC colleagues. Chitral men performed traditional dances in the cool open air while we devoured barbecued chicken and mutton. Kicking back and witnessing the dancers’ spinning movements and swordplay was a relaxing end to a day of traveling. Besides, my legs could use a rest from the previous day spent hiking.

Spinning Chitral dancers

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Northern Areas – Up and Over

Our Journey Begins

I awoke at 5:30 AM on July 1. Fifteen minutes later I stumbled into the dining room with my wife’s younger brothers. A breakfast of omelets and toast was already on the table. Everybody seemed to be in good spirits and I was glad to see that my brother-in-laws weren’t planning some twisted prank to get back at me for arranging such an early wake up call. The day before, their dad had graciously arranged for a guide to take us up to the nearby summit after I had expressed a desire to get out and hike around the countryside. My hope was that we could reach the top in a couple hours and double back in time to join the rest of the family at the Kalash museum.

We checked the supplies, grabbed a few bottles of water, and hit the trail. Our guide was already waiting outside with a gunman who would also accompany us. Rahmat was carrying his water and all of our lunches in plastic grocery bags. Apparently the concept of backpacks has yet to hit the area. Despite the Guide’s awkward approach to the day’s trek, I felt more sympathy for the gunman and his AK-47 along with his extra magazines, and bulky handset (so we could keep in contact with concerned parents).

All of us formed into a single file line and crossed over a brightly painted bridge to the south side of the creek. We moved through a trail covered by overhanging tree branches and between 2 stacked rock walls. This area is supposedly occupied by Muslim families. There is genuine concern that their repressive influence could mean an end to the life of festivals, wine-making, and dancing that is such a big part of Kalash culture.

Sun making its mark on the valley below

At 6 AM the valley was still in a shadow, but the skies were already a bright blue above us as we exited the cover of trees. There was plenty of light to see by and the temperature was cool. Conditions couldn’t have been much better for us. An old timer with a thick gray beard followed beside us for awhile and kept warning us that we were going too fast. Guess he didn’t know who he was dealing with. His cautionary voice faded off as we kept truckin’. We did catch a few breaks to enjoy the vistas, take photos, drink water, etc. I saw at least 2 other old men on the mountain that could have been the first wise-man’s twin brothers.


Future Sherpas

A group of young kids flew up the hill beside us as well. They must have been around 12 yr old and were totally unimpeded by the steep slope and elevation. At first I was surprised that so many people were on the hill gathering firewood, or herding animals so early, but I guess your schedule is usually dictated by the sun when you live without a dependable source of electricity. The boys seemed pretty happy to have their picture taken by an out-of-breath American. I also managed to catch a cow’s attention long enough for a close-up portrait.

Mountaineering cow poses for photo

Rahmat had mentioned how this trip would be a good way for him to practice English, but he ended up speaking urdu for most our journey. My hiking partners would translate the important details of his stories. He mentioned how a Japanese man who had been coming to the Kalash valleys for several years had just managed to purchase a young wife from the areas; much to her distress. This story had been going around town and I had already given up trying to guess the actual ages of parties involved. Here’s another blogger’s account of the story (Kalasha Times). Rahmat also enjoyed telling us about local folklore and the healing powers of all kinds of plants. Somewhere up on one of these ridges is a stone in the shape of a man. History says that this rock was a guy who was so enamored with the spectacular view that he asked God to turn him to stone so that he could enjoy the sight eternally.

The guide recounted a story about some mystical lake that only the purest of heart could approach. Unworthy people would see their true nature reflect back at them from the lake surface and suffer some sort of tragic, and bloody fate. Keep that one in mind next time you want your kids to stay away from the water’s edge. Rahmat and I exchanged facts and figures about ourselves and family. He was married to a 12 yr old when he was 15. He maintains that his marriage continues to be very strong after 15 years. His newborn son seemed to be a source of great pride… then in just about the same breath, he mentioned his young girlfriend in the valley opposite the ridge we were currently climbing.

Looking 3 kilometers below

As we neared the top, our fearless leader began to talk more and more of this girlfriend. He even mentioned how we’d be able to see her. I remember thinking to myself “How large is this woman if we can see her from 5 km away?” Anyway, we trudged on. I noticed the gunman straining a bit under his heavy load; All things considered, he was still going strong. Rahmat kicked it into full gear and did some Olympic speed-walking for the last 100 yards of our climb while claiming the pace to be his norm.

I was happy to see that we were only about a half hour behind my desired schedule. Surely we could make up for that on the way down. That’s when Rahmat hit us with his little surprise. We weren’t coming back down the same way we climbed up. Instead, we would be going down the other side and into the valley of Birir. While chewing on my omelet sandwich, I instantly realized how we would be able to see this girlfriend of his. Our gunman radio-ed down to command central, partially to brag our conquest, and mostly to let those in control know of our change in plans. Each of us accepted that we would not make it to the museum in exchange for the extended adventure, and my father-in-law agreed to send vehicles to meet us on the other side.

Our cabins are down there somewhere

10,064 ftMy GPS finally caught enough satellites to give us decent elevation info. We had climbed from 7,000 ft to 9,960 ft in less than 2.5 hours. My guess of the climb only being 1,500 ft was slightly off. Here we sat at basically 10,000 ft! Since telling people that you were basically at 10 thousand ft isn’t quite the same as saying you climbed to over the same elevation, I had to man-up. Going higher actually meant “climbing”. This had always seemed to come naturally to me, but I could tell the rest were concerned for my safety as I slithered up the rock face.  Reaching the top was a breeze and it was well over the 5-digit goal.

100' above the rest of the team

After catching my breath, I took some photos, and realized that I needed to get back down sometime soon… should have paid a little more attention to the route that I took coming up. My palms began to sweat as everyone watched me scale around the rocks. Their shouts of helpful advice didn’t really aid my frustrations. Eventually I found a route that was nice and easy, but nowhere near the path originally followed.

Once again we were on the move. As it turns out, the difficulty with coming down was not just with the rock face. Trekking down the other side had its own challenges. Often there was no real defined path to follow. When there was a path it was almost always covered in loose scree. My youngest brother-in-law took a spill early on and cut his hand while trying to brace himself. Not to worry though, the gunman reached into his pack and took out a handy first-aid kit. The hand was field dressed in no time and we were back to slipping and tripping down the loose slope.

Somebody got a boo-boo

Less life on this side of the pass

“American Friend, Sing us a beautiful song in English.” Rahmat gave me a good laugh with that one. I just chuckled and pointed to the other guys who are much better at singing than myself. As inspiring as the scenery was, I just couldn’t subject everyone to my tortuous vocals… besides, a rock slide in such a narrow chasm could be disastrous. Nobody sang a word by the way. We were all too preoccupied with keeping our footing and wondering when we’d finally reach the bottom. The guide’s guess of 25 minutes had expired an hour ago.

When all hope of survival was lost, I finally handed out my last few jolly-ranchers to the team. If we were going to perish, then cavities would be the least of our worries. Hard candy wasn’t just for kids. It’s a great cure for cotton-mouth too.

Steep canyon walls

I remember lifting my gaze at about two and a half hours into our journey down. We had just came around a corner and all the sudden there was green grass and trees below. This was a welcome change in scenery from the broken chunks of marble that we’d been shuffling through. Coming down took us exactly the same length of time as the hike up. Weird. I was sure we weren’t hindered all that much by the talus.

At long last.. Civilization!

Surprised locals

Soon we were passing by homes built on the hillsides. Some kids off in the distance began calling out something over and over. Was it a warning? Should we be scared? Should they be scared? The locals working the field were obviously aware of the foreigners who just popped out of their barren canyon. This didn’t stop them from working the fields or sitting in the shade. Rahmat greeted people here and there. Kids gave us some curious gazes and I even shook one little girl’s hand. Too bad we just ate all the candy I had in my possession.

Fearless leader working his charms

Shuffling through Birir

An estimate of 10 minutes remaining was given by our escort. We crunched the numbers in our heads and collectively agreed that this must mean about half an hour in regular human time. After speaking to a group of women, a teenage girl began pestering us for handouts. Little did she know that none of us had a single rupee in our possession because we had just planned for a quick journey up a hill and back. I felt a tinge of guilt, but was too tired to really give a serious care in the world. She eventually drifted off and probably cursed the small pack of tourists.

Kalasha primary school, Birir

We passed by a newer looking school where the sign told me we were in Birir. This valley also had a nice stream running through it. The water was a bit more calm than the raging little beast in Bumborete, however. When we reached the guest house, everyone plopped down on their rear in the shade. It was exactly half an hour from where Rahmat told us “10 minutes left”. We explained to him that the extended length of our journey would not allow for a chance meeting with his girlfriend. He pleaded a bit and said it would only take “ten minutes”. His pleas fell on deaf ears. I checked my GPS just for fun: 5,300′. No wonder the trip down took so long. We came down 5 thousand feet, where we had only climbed up about 3 thousand. The trek was amazing, though. I passed my remaining water back to the dirt caked faces in the rear seat of our vehicle and thought silently about today’s many sights.

Man-made waterfall on the trip home

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Northern Areas – Kalash

Reflections off the hut windows

I woke up to the sun pouring in through our thin curtains and a cow moo’ing somewhere in the distance. There was no AC here, but none was needed as the evening temperatures are cool and nobody in their right mind would spend daytime indoors. Having an actual toilet again did not go unappreciated.

The clan met and devoured a quick breakfast before a few of the Kalash women showed up to greet us. They were patient as we all posed for pictures with them as if they were ancient artifacts or caged animals in a zoo. Actually, most the women shied away as the guys tried to enter the frame. After some discussion I discovered that they spoke English and were all married… maybe the hubbies would be jealous? Whatever… in the end I got the shots I wanted and you really couldn’t take a bad picture with their abundance of bright colorful beadwork and woven dresses.

Show-off on the road to the graveyard

We later made our way up to an ancient graveyard. Open wood caskets were spread across the couple-acre sight. Bones were visible within many of the coffins, and there were many remains strewn loosely about. I was surprised to see any bones around due to the fact that the cemetery was completely out in the open. A dog wandered into our campground last night so I know that there are at least a few scavengers around. I trampled lightly around and waited for our chance to move on.

Jestak Temple coal sketches

Next, we were brought into Bumburete and given some insight on how the Kalash people live. A guide shepherded us into a dark, dank, windowless building with images drawn in coal on every wall. This was the Jestak Temple (named after the Goddess of family). It is where recently deceased Kalash are bought for ceremonial purposes that I have only a vague understanding of. Apparently the bodies are propped up for display without any type of embalming taking place. From what I could decipher, loved ones then make depictions of the deceased on the walls along with images of animals or Gods that are held sacred in Kalash culture. Sacrifices are also made here by pouring milk on a shrine along the wall of the temple. I believe that this is done so that Jestak protects your family.

Kalash dwellings

After leaving the temple we went on a tour of nearby dwellings. The homes were built on top of each other and constructed of layers of stacked stone and timber beams. Their windows were lacking of any glass; Some did have makeshift screens in place. One of the village elders graciously welcomed us in and showed us her place which was actually shared between 2 families. Cooking appeared to be done next to the open window in a kitchen/dining area. There was an animal skin hanging from the ceiling that was being used as a bladder for water or oil. The only other room was the bedroom which had several small cots spread about and a wood furnace as a centerpiece. No bathroom? I didn’t ask, but could only guess that chamber pots were used and waste was carried to the fields or stream… or maybe they just take care of business outdoors?

Intricate headgear

Our hosts led us over to the gift shop and the women went wild covering themselves in handmade Kalash goods. An elder woman draped myself and the other guys in a blue and white woven neckband. The colorful headgear decorated with beads, shells, and buttons was an obvious favorite souvenir. It was obvious, however, that the ones for sale were very nice but not of the same quality as the Kalash women wore themselves. They told us that they spend countless hours on their own headdresses and would have to charge 10x what they currently do for the souvenirs being sold at the store. My wife stressed her determination to one day own the real thing.

Purchases in hand, we were brought to a large field where hundreds of Kalash were already gathered and waiting. All ages were present to welcome us. Young children stormed the party when we brought out bags of candy. Their intensity was frightening but I was happy to see them so openly excited for minor things that I often take for granted. After seeing the others get mobbed, I decided to keep the handfull of jolly-ranchers in my pocket until the crowd dwindled a bit.

Someone didn't get candy...

Soon the sounds of drums and flutes overcame the kids’ candy excitement. We were seated in the shade as women and and young girls circled arm in arm around the field. I thought, “This is what they call dancing?” As I looked closer, their legs were crisscrossing and each of them were perfectly in step to the rythm and with one-another. A few of the ladies came over and motioned for our babes to join in. After some peer pressure they jumped up into the party and caused havoc with their miss-steps and jostling. None of the others seem to care a bit… they actually got a good laugh out of the whole thing.

Dance Circle

It turns out that the circling type of dance was really just how the events begin. I guess it was a way to get all of them involved early on and made for a good ice-breaker. The long rows dispersed and the band cranked up a slightly different pulsating tune. A group of 3 young girls, must have been around 6 yr-old, danced out into the open area now surrounded in a semi-circle of Kalash onlookers. The crowd clapped along to the beat at the girls spun around with short, choppy steps while waving their arms and hands in a sort of light, flicking movement. Their joyful movements immediately brought a smile to all of our faces.

Kalash kids boogey down

Elders enjoying the show

Several more groups of women of all ages followed suit. Some of the men performed a dance as well, but their performance was not aided with the same colorful garments. The guys’ dance was more of the Chitrali style, which I had been witness to earlier in my travels, where dancers almost run full speed with arms spread wide in a flying type of action. The show was truly awesome and over way too soon. I need to come back sometime for one of their festivals when celebrations are supposed to be on an even grander scale.

All of this (watching) dancing was exhausting. Once the events were over, we walked back to the lodges for a quick nap. When I awoke, I walked around taking photos of the surrounding area and waited for the campfire to be lit. Somebody even got their hands on some of the locally made red wine. It was bitter, but I enjoyed the flavor because it reminded me that restrictions of prohibition were temporarily on hold while we were in Kafiristan.

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Northern Areas – Bumburate Bound

Adios Sheringal

On June 29th we stuffed an early breakfast of chickpeas, potatoes, and parathas before departing at 9 AM. For the last 2 days in Sheringal each of our meals roughly consisted of these items. I was looking forward to a change in diet as well as using the first modern flush system within sight. Our first PT (pee, tea) stop came soon after reaching the main road again. A couple of the youngsters were filling the ill effects of curvy roads, but they quickly recovered and we were all eager to keep moving. I made the mistake of putting even more sugar into an overly pre-sweetened cup of milk tea. With our Dir Scout hosts watching me closely, I managed to force myself to finish the drink before we left.

The markets seemed active within the city of Dir as we passed through. There were still some remains of Taliban hatred to be seen as I noticed a decaying wall painting “DOWN DOWN ISRAEL, CRUSH CRUSH USA”. Unfortunately I was slow on the camera shutter and missed the golden photo op.

Passing Through Dir

Lowari Pass basically marks the edge of previous Taliban influence. It’s also where the Dir area ends and Chitral begins. We were lucky enough to avoid the 2 hour journey over the hill by opting for a 9 km tunnel route instead. Me, my wife, and our American friend “Batool” all made a comedic attempt to hold our breath. I probably could have made it if somebody wouldn’t have cheated by poking me in the ribs. Originally the tunnel was supposed to carry a rail line, but that plan has been scrapped and it looks like there is widening going on to make room for automobile traffic. For the time being, it was just us and the construction crew allowed inside. Our access was only granted due to the fact that the leader of our party was officially on business for a few more days. We were just entering the cavern as I began to regret chugging that cup of tea.

Approaching the tunnel - Bumpy ride inside the tunnel

View of picket above Drosh Fort

Lunch was served as soon as we reached the Chitral Scouts fort in Drosh. Only after I relieved my swollen bladder, did I join the others at the dining hall. I’m pretty sure that the roasted leg of lamb was intended to be the centerpiece, but I couldn’t get enough of the sweet and sour chicken. The Drosh fort was a piece of work. Completed in 1899, it stands well above town and has a spectacular view of the valley below. Every wall is covered in intricate wood work that I would be afraid to estimate the cost of if it was done in The States. The British certainly made the best of their slave labor at this post.

We took a few quick photos and hopped back into our rides for the last segment of the day. Soon we’d be surrounded by the Kalash people who according to legend are descendants of some of Alexander-The-Great’s Generals. In order to reach the main Kalash Valley of Bumburate, our Land Cruisers and pickups had to have their mettle tested. This meant kissing the mostly paved Chitral-Dir road goodbye.

Potential Gykata Victim

An aging narrow suspension bridge over the Konar River signaled an end to everyone’s smooth ride. We guided our vehicles though townships where the buildings crowded the street so snug that hardly a pedestrian could share the traveled way. For some reason the people and structures reminded me of scenes straight out of Gymkata. I hoped for a peaceful journey so that I would not have unleash my unique blend of Kung Fu on these locals.

Half-Pipe Excavation

After a few steep switchbacks, the scenery changed drastically. Sharply hewn rock faces and aqueducts replaced the dilapidated buildings cramping our roadway. At several points along our drive the excavation looked like a frozen half-pipe with tons of earth held in  suspension above us. Any vehicle coming the opposite direction was hard pressed to find a nook to squeeze into in order to allow our convoy to pass by. On a couple occasions drivers were forced to backtrack. Having an armed escort with us ensured that we only ever had to move forward. The escort also proved themselves useful by clearing a herd of cattle and a large boulder from the narrow road.

The rock faces presented a sign opportunity too good to pass up. Hotels and restaurants painted advertisements wherever they may be read. If they were cramped for space, they left out a few letters that they considered unimportant. “UNDP Welcome” was a popular message painted in several spots. At the time, I wondered what type of work they did back in these parts. They seem to have made big fans of the locals. (Again with the magic of Google, I think the United Nations help fund some irrigation and erosion prevention programs through the valley.)

Young Kalash Onlooker

When we crossed over another narrow bridge, the covered heads of Muslim women were soon were replaced with the colorfully decorated domes of Kalash women working the fields. This was a welcome sight and I instantly felt that this area was going to be something special. These women were not just walking around with their faces in plain view; They were actually working the fields and tending to livestock… all while wearing thousands of beads and colorful headgear. I couldn’t help but envy the men here. They didn’t seem to be anywhere to be found. Then again, maybe the Kalash were like Amazons and only kept daughters in the tribe. There must be a valley of lonely abandoned boys somewhere nearby.

We quickly made our way through the dusty streets of Bumburate and pulled into our lodging for the next 3 nights. It was early evening so everyone took a quick nap. Once awake, we huddled around a campfire by the stream and planned out the Kalash itinerary. Our schedule here was already jam-packed, but my mind began to wander when I heard that Afghanistan was just a short hike away.

Campfire Visitor

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Northern Areas Kickoff – Sheringal Nights (Dir)

Scout keeping watch during tire change

The 7 vehicle convoy left Peshawar on June 27. Most of the drive was uneventful and everyone was thrilled to be leaving triple digit temps in the rear-view.  There was a brief stop in Malakand to repair our first flat tire. While I was being briefed about how the Taliban were just recently spanked in the area, the AC in our vehicle stopped functioning. Normally, I would just roll down the window and enjoy a nice breeze under the circumstances. The problem was that this vehicle was armored and none of the windows could be opened.

Fortunately our AC woes occurred early on and we were able to call for a replacement vehicle while we took a breather in Chakdara. As we sat in the shade along the Swat River, the local staff pointed up at a couple large leafy trees. When I turned to see what the attraction was, I was startled by not only the amount of Bats in the trees, but their huge size. They looked to be some sort of vampire bat from an old Dracula movie. According to the man who pointed them out, they only migrate through this area for a short time each year. That bit of info supported my hunch that these huge monsters couldn’t live off of tiny insects and must be the fruit eating variety. Plus, it was mango season. (Now that I’ve had a chance to do some google-ing, I believe that they were Indian Flying Fox bats with a wingspan of up to 5’… and that would make them fruit eaters.)

Pakistani (Indian) Flying Foxes

As soon as the new land cruiser was ready, we said our thank-you’s to the Chakdara staff and hit the trail again. Our caravan skimmed the outer edges of Bajaur before coming to a stop in Timargarha for lunch with the Dir Scouts. Until recently, the Dir and Bajaur areas had been overwhelmed by the Taliban. Now life appears to be returning to a steady pace and I even noticed a new school under construction. To be fair, a week later there was an attack on the very fort where we had lunch; The militants had their arses handed to them.

Haleem Garnish

Lunch was delicious, especially the haleem. The whole time I thought I was eating lentils. Who knew it was actually a meat dish? This would be a sneaky way to pull a fast one on a few vegetarian friends. Once again, it was time to pile back into the vehicles. We soon found ourselves departing from the paved roadway. The path became narrow with steep dropoffs on one edge and included bridges that appeared not to have been maintained since partition. One bridge even had a gaping hole in the deck from a failed attempt to blow it up.

It became apparent to me that the people of this area haven’t seen many outsiders for quite awhile. I’m used to plenty of staring faces along the streets of Pak, but EVERYONE was staring now. This ended up being partially due to the fact that some over excited individuals let the world know we were coming ahead of time, but it was an eerie feeling nonetheless.

Dinnertime in Sheringal, Dir

After roughly 1 1/2 hr driving on the dirt track, we reached our lodging in Sheringal. Expecting to spend 2 nights in a tent, I was pleased to see that they actually had some rooms for us. The rooms were clean, comfortable, and free of insects. But, instead of a porcelain throne in the bathroom, there was a hole. “No worries, Mate” as my bro-in-law says way too often since his return from Aus.

Sheringal was not the cool paradise that I had been longing for since the summer heat wave hit the low lands. Regardless, everyone made the best of what resources were available for the 2 nights. We enjoyed some cool drinks along the stream bank in the evenings, dipped our feet in the rushing water during the day, and brought out a couple .22 rifles for some target practice. There was even an attempt to record a feature length film starring the newlyweds and a kangaroo genitalia bottle opener (Australia Import). It ended up being only 1 scene long since none of us could keep a straight face.

Moon setting over Sheringal

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We gave the new bride and groom a day to rest after the wedding and then set out for Waziristan. My new sister-in-law was to be formally introduced to the Tank family roots.

Tank Fort Gate

47 deg. C is approximately 120 deg. F. That was the temperature when we rolled into the old family fort. Better yet, the generator decided to go ballistic for the day and we had no AC for relief. After some investigating by staff and Wes (mechanical engineer), everybody scratched their heads and decided just to get a replacement generator for the evening.

Excited Militia and Groom

As soon as I laid down to try and sleep away the heat, there was a knock on the door. Apparently it was time for the groom to prove himself worthy of his new bride by skillfully wielding an AK 47. Wes and myself both invited to join in the rare festivities.

The Tank militia greeted us with Salaams, mountain dew, and an arsenal of small arms. A couple soda can sized targets were placed at 150 yards distance. The groom went first and managed to nail one of the targets on his second shot. Militia members hooted and hollered… he wisely passed the rifle on while his reputation was still intact. What made his shot even more impressive was that none of us could manage to shatter the other target until a militia member decided to use a makeshift monopod.

We fired pistols at brick targets roughly 25 yd away… which in hindsight wasn’t a very wise idea. Wes ended up catching a .45 slug on his elbow that had ricocheted off a rock. He was shaken, but fortunately there was only enough velocity left in the bullet to turn his skin a bright red hue. I distinctly remember him saying “this is beyond my comfort zone” as several Kalashnikovs were fired into the air in unison.

Satisfied with our firearms prowess, the band kicked in into full gear. Drums and flutes were soon greeted with shouts, rupee showers (sadka), and a multitude of rifles being blasted into the air. My cranium was rattling as I watched the Khattak dancers shake and shimmy. The energy was crazy, yet not threatening. You could tell that the tribe was pumped up to be celebrating the special occasion.

Tribals Cuttin' Loose

Later it was the bride’s turn to be molested by maidservants, children, and towns-women. They were all anxious to get their eyes and  hands on the newest family member. Most seemed shocked at how fair her skin was. I couldn’t help but laugh at how intensely the children were staring.

Bridal Initiation In Tank

We ended the evening with a feast for all accompanied by sporadic gunfire. My light shalwaar kameez was the perfect outfit to endure such extreme weather. I believe both the men’s and women’s bands were still going strong as I dropped into bed in the early AM. Of course, it could have just been the ringing in my ears.

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New Sister-In-Law

Henna Action Before the Formalities

Weddings in Pakistan are basically 3 days of feasting and partying in front of hundreds of family, friends, and a few curious party-crashers. My brother-in-law’s union was exactly this… on a grand scale.

Day 1-Mehndi: The bride and groom were brought out to center stage and presented to the crowd for the first time together. Mehndi was rubbed onto the palms of their hands and Ghulab Jaman were forcefully crammed down their throats until they could stomach no more.

Jammin' Some Gulab

The bride’s side performed several organized dance routines for the crowd. Sword dancers from the Khattak tribe showed some impressive skills, and a set of tribesmen from Tank displayed a few steps of their own. Eventually the dances became less choreographed and the new couple were allowed to jump in the fray.

We ate, bounced around to the music, and partied till 3 AM. It wasn’t until the notorious Boozer-In-Black decided to fight everyone still in attendance that we called it a wrap. Thankfully the town clown was restrained and kept from physically causing harm to himself. He eventually sobered up in a couple of days and mustered enough courage to apologize for making such a fool of himself again. No hard feelings, but good luck getting into future weddings pal.

Bride & Groom Gettin' Jiggy

Day 2-Barat: This was an early morning event put on by the bride’s side of the family, as was the mehndi. The couple was escorted to center stage and told to sit still for 3 hr. Not exactly an easy task for a bride wearing 10+ lb of dress. Everyone took turns posing for photos with the young couple in front of the formally dressed audience. In the end, the hubby-to-be had to shell out 20,000 rupees to a group of miscreants who stole his shoe and held it ransom.

Center Stage at The Barat

We then loaded up the vehicles and headed to the Frontier for a bonus party among the closest of family and friends. A giant air-conditioned tent worked well as a makeshift VIP club. I kicked back, enjoyed a few too many, shared the last of my hand-rolled cigars from Honduras (thanks again Liz), and embarrassed myself on the dance floor. The tent crew eventually had to kick us out at 3:30 AM so they could prepare for tomorrow’s bash.

Bootylicious Sheep Buffet

Day 3-Walima: Again there was a stage; Again there was a gigantic air-conditioned tent, Again there were hundreds in attendance. However, this night was very formal and brief in comparison to the prior evening. People were greeted and seated at tables throughout the temporary venue. Gifts for the newlyweds were brought despite specific requests that none be given. Whole sheep were prepared for dinner and carved up on platters upon request. These were the fat-tailed sheep that had amazed me on my previous trip to the mountains of Pakistan. I scooped out a nice juicy chunk of the gelatinous hind-quarters and was determined to taste this so-called “delicacy”… much to the disgust of my better-half. Despite her twisted expression, she couldn’t resist watching me squish a chunk of sheep booty between a piece of naan and shove it in my mouth. The taste was mild; The texture was revolting. The oily fat coated my taste buds and slithered down my throat as I tried to hold back an intense gag-reflex. It’s worth trying once (emphasis on ONCE) just to entertain the rest of the table.

After dinner, the attendees exited the tent almost in unison. That was it! I could visibly see the sense of relief on my in-laws’ face that evening. All of the hours of planning and preparing had paid off and now they could relax. Our well intended plans to stay up late were cut short as I concurred that a good night’s rest sounded too good to resist.

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