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Here is our Newsletter #13!
Pakistan. It is probably the country that caused the most lines of worry in our parent's faces. But it has been definitely one highlights of our trip so far. We had not known anything about this country, we had not had any expectations nor fear. After four weeks, we are overwhelmed. Sometimes, it is exhausting to convince the police that we do not need escort. It is kind of annoying to be forced to follow them, not to be allowed to camp anywhere.
But the people let us forget all that. We've met so many friendly and open minded new friends here, with endless hospitality but still keeping the right distance. We forgot the feeling of being hungry and thirsty - there is always enough food and tea in the house!

Read all about our last four weeks in Pakistan in this newsletter.

As usual, you will find one of our favorite photos as a full resolution download below. And because it is Christmas time, you get two pictures!
Have fun!
The tough start

Our trip through Pakistan started with police escort, 24 hours a day. Right after the border crossing from Iran, we were brought to the Levies' compound for the night. The Levies are paramilitary forces, responsible for security in some parts of Pakistan instead of police forces. Balochistan, where we entered gets a fair share of Taliban activity. It has a long border to Afghanistan and is an easy terrain for smuggling. It consists of vast deserts and rough mountains. Although, it forms 40% of Pakistan, only 5% of all inhabitants live here.
In the Levies' compound, we met our travel partners Marvin, from Germany, and David, from Spain. Both are traveling with their motorbikes. We spent the next two weeks with them and had a lot of fun together. During the next days, the escort brought to the first big city, Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. We had to stay in a hotel and were not allowed to go anywhere without police. Over the Bolan pass, a beautiful mountain area, we arrived in the province of Sindh in southeastern Pakistan. Here, the Levies left us.

We have to say, the Levies guys and all the police in Pakistan have always been very friendly and caring. They really felt responsible for our safety and we are thankful for that. Nowhere else, a local government is taking as much care for their tourist's well-being as here!
The first cultural experience

In Jacobabad, a small town in Sindh, we met David's friend Attah. With him and his friends, we enjoyed a great barbecue in the evening and could join the culture day of his childhood school the next day. The children were dancing and performing with a lot of power. We could thank them with never ending smiles for the tons of selfies they took with us.
Sightseeing and relaxing

Our trip continued to Uch Sharif, where we visited the impressive tombs, and Multan, the capital of the province of Punjab, with some more shrines. Mughal architecture at its best! From time to time, the police escorted us again, always due to "security problems".
In Jaranwala, we stayed with members of the "Jaranwala Trekkerz". A club for hikers, climbers and all friends of nature. Salman, one of its founders, invited us to stay at his house for the nights.
We met many nice Pakistanis from all over the country at their annual convention, that took place just during the days we stayed there. Besides the convention, we enjoyed funny days, visited a famous Sikh temple, ate a lot and relaxed without driving and without police around us.
Jaranwala was also the place where we said Goodbye to Marvin and David. Both continued their trips in another direction.
More friends, more culture

Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, was our next stop. Via Facebook, Heiner had been in contact with Sanaullah, a motorbiker. He invited us to stay with him and his family. We visited a few sightseeing spots and arranged our visa for India. Willie got some maintenance and we decided to accompany Sanaullah to his hometown Peshawar. Peshawar is the capital of the fourth province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. We stayed there at his friend Ali's place. Together with their off-road club "ZOR", we visited a traditional brown sugar factory and Peshawar's old fort. One of the members showed us his paper factory, Ali his former college from 1913. One evening, we were invited to a wedding. Pakistani weddings are quite different to European ones. The whole celebration continues over three days. Women and men celebrate separately. On the first day, the bride receives "Mendhi", henna drawings on hands and arms. The second day, which we could join, the bride's family invites the guests. At one point in the evening, the groom enters the women section with his best friends and has to pay different amounts of money to see the bride. All accompanied by music and dancing (and of course a lot of food). The third day, the groom's family invites all the guests for dinner. Usually, all these days take place in a wedding hall - in villages, it is not uncommon to invite 2000 or more guests.
The Northern Areas

From Peshawar, we drove into Pakistan's famous Northern Areas. First, we explored Chitral valley in the west. In Chitral, Sanaullah fixed us up with the members of Chitral 4x4 Club, who took extraordinary care of us. We had a lot of fun with Farroq, Hanbal, Sangeen and all the other guys. For one day and night, we visited Kalash valley. It is the only place on earth where the special culture of Kalash people survived. The people there are non-muslim, they have their own religion with an abstract god. Many of them have blue eyes and lighter hair. The women are the bosses and live without any restrictions. When we were there, the last day of their winter festival took place and we could see their traditional singing and dancing in their colorful dresses.
You can see some of the beautiful Kalash ladies on one of the full resolution pictures below.
Anna and one of her Pakistani patients - having a cold is not surprising in the mountains. He even said "Thank you" after the examination! :)
On 24th of December, we said Goodbye to Chitral and our friends, and spent Christmas Eve in the mountains with our own Christmas tree and a nice camping dinnner.
The next days, we crossed Shandur pass on around 3700 m elevation with fantastic snowy and sunny scenery. This is also the location of the world's highest Polo ground. After that, we entered Gilgit valley and finally the town of Gilgit.
This region, called Gilgit-Baltistan, is the main tourist spot in Pakistan. The famous Karakoram Highway (KKH) from north of Islamabad to the Chinese border and further into China (all in all 1300 km long) passes this area. Several 8000+ m high mountains are here, e.g. well known K2, and the landscape is breathtaking. Many shorter and longer hikes take the tourists into the mountains. Of course, winter is not the best season for that...
Happy New Year

For two days, we drove the KKH before we took another pass westwards into Swat valley. Here, we met our friend Sanaullah and his family again. We spent two days together, took the chairlift in Pakistan's only ski resort (unfortunately no snow, yet..) before they left for Islamabad. The night into Heiner's 31st birthday, we stayed at Kashif's place. He is the Assistant Commisioner of the region and a really funny guy. We had a tea with him and a member of the province's parliament at a hill station with great views and a small private party at night - including a birthday cake for Heiner.

Our most northern stop for the next months was Kalam at the beginning of Swat valley. We could stay at the Commisioner's rest house and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Heiner could cure his bowel problems with a lot of tea, sleep and Anna's care.

And very calmly but happy, we celebrated the beginning of the new year. Hopefully, a year with many more adventures, new friends, tasty dishes and great experiences.
 
 
We wish you all the best for your 2017! May you and your family stay healthy, happy and joyful!
FOR YOU

Here it is! Our regular gift! Two of our best pictures, made by us, for you!
For an impression of the Kalash people during their winter festival, just click HERE
A picture of beautiful Shandur pass is HERE

 
See you on the road!
Anna and Heiner
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