Home > Uncategorized > The road between China and Pakistan

The road between China and Pakistan


By Alice Albinia

Published: July 4 2009 00:40 | FT.com

Drying apricots under the sun

Drying apricots under the sun

In the customs hall at Tashkurgan, the last town on the road from China’s Xinjiang province into Pakistan, I felt a by-now familiar sense of trepidation.

Over the past six years I have travelled through Pakistan at least eight times – from the fertile valleys and snowy peaks of the north, to the deserts and shrines of the south – crossing in and out of neighbouring Afghanistan, India and China. I have friends from Karachi to Kalam, a salwar kameez (traditional dress) for every occasion, and an array of choice Urdu swear words. There are parts of the country I know better than the land I grew up in.

And yet standing on the outside, looking in, I feel afraid. And if the thought of travelling to Pakistan affects me like this, it is understandable why the number of foreign visitors has halved since 2007. The World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009 placed Pakistan in the top 25 per cent of global destinations for its World Heritage sites, which range from the mangroves in the Delta, to the 5,000-year-old cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. Yet it was also named the nation worst affected by terrorism.

Despite the jihadis who dominate the airwaves, however, Pakistan has a proud tradition of hospitality to outsiders. It is prudent to show some reserve in dress and behaviour, especially for lone women. But this restriction of personal freedom is amply compensated. Pakistan is a land of breathtaking beauty, rich in the interleaved histories of cosmopolitan cultures. And for the nervous traveller who fears becoming part of an international news item, nowhere is better than Hunza, Pakistan’s northernmost valley on the border with China.

Outside the Chinese customs office, I get chatting to my Pakistani Jeep driver and soon he is boasting about the improvements being made to the road that links China to Pakistan, the Karakoram Highway.

This road traces an epic route from the Muslim city of Kashgar in north-western China, through a tangle of mountains, and down into the plains of the Punjab. Work on the highway began in 1966 but it took intrepid Chinese engineers more than a decade to blast their way through the mountain rock, open up the Khunjerab Pass, and pour Tarmac on to goat paths. Locals like to repeat the macabre fact that almost one worker died for every kilometre of road constructed. Most of them were from Pakistan…Source (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/76d57272-6764-11de-925f-00144feabdc0.html)

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