Vladimir Lysenko. RAFTING IN PAKISTAN (June of 1992)

(Braldu, Shigar, Bunar, Indus Rivers)

Our (my and Nikolay Melentyev’s) adventures (more exact, the misadventures) have begun long before that as at the beginning of June 1992 the aircraft of Pakistani airlines PIA, aboard which we have risen in Tashkent, has arrived to Islamabad. In basic they were connected with the financial problems: because of them we had for 1.5 months to move the beginning of expedition. At last, Boeing-737 has delivered us to capital of Pakistan.

However the tourist firm, with which we had the preliminary arrangement, "has changed it's mind" to serve us and has transferred me and Nikolay to another firm - "Walji's Adventure Pakistan". However, we needed from tourist firm in two services only - the help in "paper" business and the giving a guide. To sum up we have received the guide of cost of 33 dollars per a day.

The first impressions from Islamabad were of dual character. On the one hand, it is the beautiful town, precisely planned for districts with through numbering, in it there are enough greenery, modern houses. On the other hand, the relation to not-Moslems (and the more so, Russians - all Pakistanis remember Afghanistan, and many were there at war in volunteer groups against "incorrects") here is not warmest. Frequently there are met the women in veils.

After the two-day staying in Islamabad we have moved to Karakoram. However here were the new complications. The region between Besham and Gilgit has become the arena of furious collisions between the "sunnits" and "shiits" - the supporters of two Moslem directions (and majority of the population here is the "sunnits"). There were killed a few dozens of people. The avia-route Islamabad-Gilgit was canceled, the bus on this route has ceased to go. The whole flow of the passengers was switched to the avia-route Islamabad-Skardu (namely to Skardu we should arrive at first). The tickets for this flight for the foreigners were not for 10 days ahead, and for our guide - for a month. Therefore we have decided at first to reach up to Besham (where buses went) and then to make the attempt to break in any car through this "hot" region to Skardu. Our guide was the "shiit" and, naturally, did not want to go through this region, offering to raft on the rivers in other places of Pakistan, but the region of Skardu (Baltistan) suited him quite as it is the "shiit" territory.

Getting in Besham and not having (on words of our guide) opportunity to break to Skardu, we have decided for the beginning to have rafted on the Indus down to Thakot, and then to come back to Besham and to expect the passing automobile.

The rafting on the Indus has turned out to be unusual owing to the huge (a few thousands cubic meters per a second) water-flow in it here in June. It was possible to bypass the large rollers (of up to 3-3.5 m height), only exerting the huge powers because of the significant width of the river. The rafting has liked. Then we have come back to Besham.

After our returning the guide has informed, that there is the opportunity to employ a car up to Skardu (and "cheaply" - only for 130 American dollars), and other such opportunity for the nearest days will not be. Though the price of travel confused, but it was nothing to do. It was necessary to agree.

The following day in the morning at 3 o'clock we set out. Since Sazin there were the numerous police-check-posts, where our passport data were taken out. In the region of Raikot the policeman has told to our driver to go faster up to the bridge over the Gilgit River. It was expected, that for nearest hours the road will be blocked. In the evening we have arrived to Skardu.

The next day has left in order to rent a jeep for the trip to the Braldu River higher Hoto (before Askole) and to buy some products. We have examined the local fort, towering above the Indus. In the morning of the following day we have unloaded the catamaran in the region of Hoto. However we have arranged the base camp much below - in settlement Apoligon, named by the name of the old man, which has created here the irrigation structures and has transformed this place in oasis (on Pakistani standard, this settlement owed therefore refer to as Apoligonabad, but everyone call simply Apoligon). In the region of Hoto on the Braldu there are the most dangerous rapids, and a little lower the river rushs into the narrow (of three meter about width) slot of length of about 200 m. Just here one Englishman in 1991 was lost, when, turning over higher with stream, could not moor to the bank before this slot. I do not know exactly, but think, that another Englishman - the famous Mike Jones - was lost in 1978 here. The slot, naturally, was impassable for our catamaran. But after it there were the normal rapids of the maximum severity grade. In basic it were the powerful 2.5-meter water-throw-downs, "holes", rollers. And it lasted so until the left tributary of the Braldu in two kilometres about below Apoligon. For the passage of these rapids it was required three days. To the point, in Apoligon there was the curious acquaintance with the Pakistani soldier at the army check-post. He is the former "Afghan", was at war, naturally, against "incorrect" Russians in the voluntary group. This one alerted us already, however the soldier has turned out to be rather hospitable - treated us with tea, meat, and in parting has handed to us two cans of butter, prepared specially for the army of Pakistan (on tin was written so). The butter has turned out to be rather tasty. From the soldier we have learned, that his salary is 2,500 Rupees (100 dollars) per a month. It is necessary to serve for 15 years, after that he will receive the pension grant in the size of more than 1 million Rupees (more than 40,000 dollars). The holiday for two months each year is the customary thing. His wife, naturally, lives in his house on the native land (he sees her during holiday only). For the children of military men the education is free-of-charge, and the cost of the medical help is small.

After that as in 2 km lower Apoligon the river was simplified a little, the rate of our moving has increased. And on the Braldu, before the confluence of it with the Shigar, there were yet three rapids of the fifth severity grade, rather powerful in large June water.

The Shigar River at first rather peacefully carried its waters south-east, however before settlement Haiderabad has unexpectedly burst by the powerful rapid of 4-5 severity grade. However, hereinafter, down to the falling of it into the Indus, on the Shigar the obstacles were not. We have safely fallen into the Indus and have moored to its left bank.

At the hotel in Skardu there was the surprising meeting with the members of the Russian-American climbing expedition on Mt.Chogori (K-2) Lena Kulishova (the organizer) and Yura Stefanovskiy (the expedition doctor). The chief of expedition Vladimir Balyberdin was at that time in Islamabad. The singularity of the situation was in that Baltistan (however, as well as whole Jammu and Kashmir State, as Pakistan had robed India of this territory) was considered by the Indian and Soviet governments as territory of India exclusively (it is enough to look at the maps, published in these two countries). Therefore the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not give the permission for the visiting this region by the Soviet climbers, though in Karakorum there are four 8-km-peaks (Chogori, Broad-Peak, Gasherbrum-1 and Gasherbrum-2). In this state there is located also the fifth (truth is, Himalayan) 8-km-mountain Nanga Parbat. One Soviet climber only succeeded in body of the international expedition to break to Karakoram. I and Nikolay were here the second and third persons from the former-USSR. And now there was a surprise - five Russian climbers arrive to Skardu all at once. Besides it has appeared, that the birthday of Yura is today. So we have celebrated this birthday a little.

Now we should have rafted on the Bunar River, into which there falls the Diamir River, running from Diamir Glacier at the foot of Nanga Parbat. On the last 10 km from the mouth of the Diamir River to the Indus the slope of the Bunar is very large - about 50 m/km. The truth is, the water-flow is small, but it is possible to raft here in June (in spring and in autumn hardly). The river represents itself the continuous rapid of 5-6 severity grade with the powerful water-throw-downs and "holes", strong heaving onto stones.

There was arose the problem again. As the Bunar flows in the region of tension between the "shiits" and "sunnits", our guide has refused to go there together with us. It was necessary to change the strategy of passage of the river. We have decided to drive from Skardu to Gilgit in the regular-route bus, not disassembling the catamaran, and there to rent a van, to reach in it with the assembled catamaran up to the Bunar mouth, further as far as it is possible to bring it upwards on the trail along the river, to have rafted on the Bunar during one day and then to raft on the Indus. And we made so. The Bunar has appeared the rather severe river, and at the end of it (twenty meters before the Indus) there was the three-meter pass between the large stones with the waterfall of height of 2 m about.

After the fast Bunar the Indus, as at first it seemed, was more slow river. However the huge (a few thousands cubic meters per a second) June Indus water-flow have produced the great impression on us. There were (especially in the pressers) the large rollers (of up to 4 m height) and "holes". It was necessary to bypass them.

After the Indus I had desire to go on the Kishanganga River yet, but the guide has become to resist to this, declaring that the special permission is necessary for visiting there, though before our trip in the car to Skardu he offered me this river. In addition Nikolay did not want to go to the Kishanganga. Therefore I had to agree with them, and we have gone at once to Islamabad.

As the money was running out, we had to ask the guide to find for us a cheap hotel in Rawalpindi - the old town near Islamabad, poorer and cheaper. The guide has kept his promise to arrange us at the hotel, not more expensive than 40 Rupees per day for a room for two persons. However already in 3-4 hours after that, as he has left, the owner of the hotel has offered us to leave it, as he, ostensibly, has not the rights to accept the foreigners. Unfortunately, nearby anything was not found cheaper than the hotel, where it was required 80 Rupees for a room. It was expensive for us too, but we were compelled twice to stay the night at it, untill the manager of "Walji's Adventure Pakistan" has suggested to us, that near his office the camp for foreigners is located. This camp has appeared for us a gift of fate. The daily cost in it in nature's lap (not in a house) is three Rupees only. Around there are the trees, there are shower and toilet. It is possible to have a rest properly, except for an interval between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. This period is the time of mosquitos. Without anti-mosquito net on the first days it was hardly. Then I have purchased such net, and everything has become good. As the money is not left at me, I had to sell the catamaran. And, at last, we have begun to solve our last (but very large) problem - the departure from Islamabad to Tashkent.

The fact is, that because of four-times delay of term of the expedition we could not beforehand to have reserved the seats for the return flight from Islamabad. And on the day of the departure from Tashkent at the office of PIA we have been told, that the seats for the return flight we shall reserve in Islamabad at once after arrival there, and we had the tickets with open date of the return flight. In Pakistan it was found out, that for June 22 and 29 the free seats for the flight Islamabad-Tashkent are absent. We had to address to Embassy of Russia for the help. There our request was met with understanding and sympathy, and due to the help of Vladimir Antonyuk my companion Nikolay was able on June 22 to depart to Tashkent. But I was compelled to remain. However Antonyuk have promised, that on June 29 I shall precisely depart. I had to be at the camp for a week more. On the one hand, to wait the flight during whole week - it is rather melancholy employment, but on the other hand, I have got to know a set of foreigners. Almost all they - the people, travelling the world over during 6-8 months (some - even during two years). They "grasped" 10-20 countries each. Many ones have arrived to Pakistan from Japan or Korea through China (Bejing, Urumchi, Kashgar) on Karakoram high-way (we passed on its site from Gilgit to Thakot). I made friends with the young, twenty-year-old, Japanese fellow Takashi Okada, very modest, he looks as the "home" boy. Nevertheless, he travels alone and is not going to give up this employment. The overwhelming majority of the travellers conducts such mode of life: during a pair of years they work intensively, earning money, and then during, for example, one year travel the world over, then again two years of work - and again wanderings...

At the camp there was also a family, having arrived in the large van (with kitchen and refrigerator). The capacious trailer was loaded by the subjects of cosiness. Young daddy and mummy, the one-year-old child and the dog had the magnificent rest. Both motor-cyclists, and bicyclists have visited the camp. The dealings of the representatives of different countries – what can be better? In this sense the cheap camp in centre of Islamabad at three minutes of walking from different food-product establishments - it is really magnificent idea. Despite my love to Nepal I must to say, that did not see such camp in Kathmandu.

And, at last, on June 29 (not without the help of Antonyuk) I succeeded in getting on the aircraft, flying to Tashkent, and in less than three hours, I have appeared in the capital of Uzbekistan. The overwhelming majority of the passengers (Pakistanis) flied to "do" business in Uzbekistan. However the leaders of airport Tashkent, in connection with new trends (to counterbalance the former, show for effect), have decided at once to open to the visitors the real situation in the country (without any embroidery): we (90 passengers) at first have been conducted through any garage-semi-basement with repaired motor vehicles, then we have been drove into a dark room and started to pass (one at a time) through "revolving door" (the frontier-guards worked here, and there was the passport control). All frontier-guards were Russians, practically not speaking English. But the Pakistani businessmen, naturally, did not speak Russian. Therefore the dialogue of the visitors and the local people occured rather slowly. But, at last, I have appeared in Tashkent. That's all, the expedition was actually finished. There remained the flight to Novosibirsk only...

And the memories about the magnificent landscapes of Karakoram and Himalayas, the wilful Braldu, Bunar and Indus Rivers in due course begin to be perceived as a wonderful fairy-tale.