We lurched onto the roadway with our super minivan, into the chaotic hustle and bustle town. Pedestrians were all over the road jostling for a clear path. School kids in their uniforms made their way on the dusty path to school. They are well dressed with a jacket or sweater. Kids can be seen hanging on the back of the highly decorated trucks with an upholstered shell on the back.
Two lanes of traffic turned into three and back again, to miss the double parking. Guards with pistol-style rifles stood outside of all banks and shopping centers. We traveled with skies that are clearer today, as the hills could be seen, up to a mile away.
Stern looks adorn the faces of the locals,until they are greeted with our smiles. A warm hospitable nature of these people are quick to offer tea or help in anyway. As we moved out of town and wind up the roads, the traffic eased up. Adobe fireplaces with a cooking surface don the roadside food stalls. They have simple structures with outdoor seating.
We climbed into the mountains, past huge canyons with undersized streams. Evergreen trees with long leaf pine, fir and spruce cover the hillside. We climbed along a huge river canyon and spotted a mongoose scurrying across the road. It climbed up the steep bank, cut just high enough to look into our eyes as our vans stopped. It was particularly interested with Bunny’s blue eyes and blonde hair. A tuk Tuk truck scared it and it ran back across the road. The small work vehicle barely misses it.
We progressed to a road checkpoint and the tourist police inspected our passports and visa. They ask me a lot of questions and wrote in their books; our name and numbers. The tourist Police spoke with me in length and assured us that the place we were going to was very safe. I told them we will increase tourism with our stories of Pakistan.The man who seemed to be in charge, obviously possesses DNA, related to the British colony past. He looked like he just got here from London, but he could not speak any English. It is as shocking, just as we have experienced the same, going to London and talking to a Pakistani who holds a strong British accent. Finally they let us go. The Brit-looking gent let me take his photo and I introduced him to my Bunny. I rubbed Bunny’s lucky foot and we took off to see the best of Pakistan.
The cliff-hugging road soon turned into a dirt; one lane road with a huge drop off. The grey skies have not disappeared and the town we were going to stay in, in Kashmir was, in no way, a destination we normally seek out. We continued on to Neelum Valley. We have some Fox News here, along the side of the road a Fox lazily walked, like a local dog heading home to get dinner. It was light brown with grey hair, on the small side, but was definitely a Fox.
We got close to the border with India, and India was shelling bombs very heavily. A few people were killed and a baby sustained injuries. One of the Tourist Police that told me how safe it was in the Neelum Valley, found out how the Indian Government was shelling the very area he had approved our going to. A decision was made and he took off on his motorcycle to catch up with us and give us an escort, and hopefully turn us around. He drove about one hour to catch up with us, I can only visualize him racing to catch up. Being on a motorcycle gave him an advantage, as he could weave around the slow traffic. He appeared very cool and it seemed like he was rested by the time we got to his checkpoint. We were shown videos and pictures of victims of the carnage on his phone, the shelling had started after sending us into the danger zone. The area had many fires from the explosions from the bombings. He said if we wanted to continue further, he was there to escort us to insure our safety. He said today was too dangerous to visit, but if we wait a day or two, everything will be safe again. We have decided to wait two days and see if things have settled down. The people were hiding in bomb shelters, nothing to see here, we moved on.
The canyon was beautiful with crystal clear water. We chose to return to the city, where the only lodging is. We are still past the checkpoint, so we are allowed to remain, and proceed with caution. This was the first day that bombing from India has happened in 13 years. The borders skirmishes has been the ongoing problems between Pakistan and India since 1947, when the borders were set up by the United Nations.