Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Road to Askole

The road from Skardu to Askole is notorious for being narrow, bumpy and dangerous. Many people have died on this route as a result of rockfall or their Jeep plunging into the river below. We are lucky in that the road has been much improved over the the last ten years. Our Jeep ride took only six hours, where in the past it has taken some up to 16 hours with digging, flat tires, landslides and what not.

Fabrizio, Adam and I shared an open air Jeep on the ride up. A canvas roof and no windows allowed me to shoot out the sides effectively, but also meant that dust blew in all around us. Two thirds of the way to Askole we stopped and got out to look at a point where the massive Braldoh River pinches down to perhaps fifteen feet across as it pushes through a rock gap. Basically the entire force of the river pushes against a rock wall here and boils up and sideways to go farther down the valley. The ferocity and violence of that roiling mass iof water was quite amazing.

After our stop we changed seats so that instead of occupying the back right I had the front left (people drive on the left side of the road here). Ten minutes later we came to a muddy waterfall that fell from the right side across the roadway. I looked at the muddy road and contemplated getting out, but our driver charged ahead and I kept filming as as we passed through the torrent. I don't think I got any great video, but the audio of Fabrizio and Adam screaming as the muddy water poured in the right side of the jeep is quite compelling.

After the waterfall the driver stopped. He opened his door and put his head out. I watched him as we rolled slowly backwards, then stopped. He got out to wipe off the windscreen and I turned to Fabrizio and Adam and said, "Do you realize what he's just done?" These Jeeps have no emergency brake, so he had just rolled us back against a rock and then got out. We all shrugged. Letting go is an important part of staying sane in this part of the world. I looked at the brake and wondered if I'd be able to jam my foot onto it fast enough to keep us from rolling off the cliff. Later that day we learned that another Jeep driver had pulled the same maneuver, but his Jeep then rolled off the road and fell several hundred meters towards the river. Luckily, the passengers had gotten out beforehand.

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