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15

A VIEW OF THE NANGA PARBAT WITHOUT AN OXYGEN MASK

The flight from Islamabad to

Skardu

in the north is phenomenal! It only takes half an hour but

guarantees 30 minutes of pure enjoyment of an unparalleled view of mighty mountain peaks. We

fly over an area where three mountain ranges - the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush

- meet each other. Pakistan has eight of the fourteen so-called “eight thousand”, the highest moun-

tains in the world. This includes the notorious K2, the second highest mountain in the world after

Mount Everest, with a height of 8611 metres. For seasoned alpinists, the K2 is almost the Holy

Grail because it is known as the most difficult mountain on earth to climb. A characteristic from

which it derives its nickname 'killer mountain'. We are wonderfully blessed with clear weather which

means we can see the snow-white top of the Nanga Parbat (8126 metres high and number 9 in the

rankings) shine against a steely blue sky. The pilot treats us to a second loop. So much solid beauty

takes your breath away

THE BEAUTIFUL EXTREME NORTH OF PAKISTAN

The people in Skardu have those typical faces of a mountain people, with tinted skin and a per-

manent blush on their cheeks. We are at 2,500 metres here and notice the altitude by the popping

in our ears. We take deep breaths of the pure mountain air. Afzel, our local guide, is waiting for us.

We immediately leave for

Khaplu

, a town 100 km distant from Skardu. The dusty road meanders

through a beautiful landscape with deeply cut valleys, desolate plains and dramatic mountain

peaks. Summer has dried out the area, but the yellow colour of the tree leaves already heralds the

arrival of autumn. In at most two months from now, the region will be covered again in a thick layer

of snow. The grey-green Indus that flows through the valley like a silver garland will also change

along with the seasons. Currently, its water is at a low level and numerous sandbanks are exposed,

but in the spring when the melting glacier waters flow downwards, the river will swell and fill its bed

from bank to bank. We pass a checkpoint. It doesn’t amount to more than a table, but the soldier

scrupulously notes the data from our passports in a bedraggled logbook. We are currently in the

controversial Gilgit-Baltistan area. The region has an autonomous status within Pakistan, which

is not recognised by India, however, because Gilgit-Baltistan lies in the territorially and politically

heavily disputed Kashmir region. The border conflict has been dragging on for decades and for the

time being there is no solution in sight.