2003.10.26 Chitral, Pakistan

Morning tea
Kabul 2003-10-19

Ramadan starts tomorrow. Should prove interesting to see how things change during the fast. I don't think I'll be observing it this year; I did fast the entire month when I lived here, as well as the year thereafter.

I can't explain the religious thought behind it, but the basics of the fast are to not eat, drink, or smoke from dawn to sunset. (Some people take an even stricter line, refusing to swallow or administer medical injections during these hours.)

Certain people are exempt: young children, the elderly, those who are sick, and travellers. Of course as non-Muslims (which is beyond many people's comprehension here) we're exempt as well, but should of course eat with discretion.

I'm not sure to what degree it will affect our travel. Certainly getting a meal will become a lot more difficult. Restaurants all close during the daylight hours; in Lahore the only exception were the Chinese ones. The timing has already dashed our plans for next week. Traditionally Gilgit celebrates its independence day with a week long polo tournament starting November 1st. We'd coordinated our travel to arrive then, but have heard that the festivities were held early because of when Ramadan falls this year.

We're planning on exploring the valleys where the Kalash people live over the next few days. They're people who have maintained a separate, indigenous religion despite being surrounded by Muslims for thousands of miles in every direction. There are only a few thousand of them remaining.

After leaving these valleys, Michael and I hope to cross the Shandur Pass directly to Gilgit. It's probably not yet closed, though snow should come fairly soon. Perhaps more of an issue might be finding suitable transportation. We could hire a jeep for about $100 US. Being the cheapos we are though, we'll likely try to make it across piecemeal on whatever happens our way.

I'm content to poke along at whatever pace. We do need to make it to the border with China before snows close the Khunjerab Pass. However, this is such a beautiful part of the world it'd be a shame to hurry. We crossed the Lowari Pass from Dir today. Switchbacks; waterfalls; forests; mountains; dimly lit, smoky, teahouses--it feels almost like travelling back to some past century.