Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



So, I’m currently in Pakistan, finished with Iran, where I had an interesting and enjoyable time. My overall impression of Iran has been positive. The people were generally hospitable and the place is generally more liberal than the media portrays. The over riding consensus was that things really need to change but their constitution is currently screwed and Khamenei and Rafsanjani are a couple of dodgy buggers who won't relinquish their hold power. The last major sight I saw in Iran was Arg-e-Bam, a citadel and city entirely made from mud, similarly to wattle and daub but on a truly grand scale. The sight was pretty deserted, and the citadel itself looked like something straight from 1001 nights, really interesting, fun and photogenic.

After Bam I left for Pakistan. After getting through the border in the late afternoon, I got on a minibus for the twelve hour journey from Taftan (the border) to Quetta. I’m telling you, the seat must have been designed by sadists, days later my arse is still recovering from the torture of the carefully placed metal lumps that were stuck in it for the journey. In addition to this I had the displeasure of sitting next to a filthy bugger, who would spit over the seats in front whilst seeing if he could push me through the skin of the bus. He would try and sleep on top of me, bash in to me and generally do what he could to annoy me. So this coupled with the seat and the blistering heat as we were going through the desert ensured that I really didn’t sleep at all.

Since then I have spent my time in Quetta, there isn’t too much to do, but chill out here. The people here have surprised me with their hospitality. Buying drinks, giving food and so on and when attempting to pay for some things flat refusing to take the money. One example was when Klaus, a Danish guy I’ve been hanging around with here went for a shave I was talking for less than five minutes to a local guy. When Klaus’ shave was done this guy insisted that he pay for it, when Klaus tried to insist he just would not allow him to pay. Although the money involved is a pittance for us (10 rupees, 20 US cents) for these people it is plenty. Several people explained to us that not only the government, but also the people want to make sure that tourists have a positive image of Pakistan. Other than this it has been nice to eat some food similar to at home e.g. samosas, pakoras, etc., but the real achievement was when we managed to find a liquor shop. The official line is that to purchase alcohol one must go to the appropriate government office, sign a form to say you are not Muslim and then you are issued with coupons allowing you to buy a certain quantity. The reality is that you go to the liquor shop and buy what you want, no hassles, easy. Needless to say it was a very welcome refreshment and my taste buds haven’t stopped thanking me. After dry Iran and potentially dry Pakistan it was a real sense of achievement to get tipsy last night.



So, I have almost finished with the Pakistani part of my travels. Pakistan has been interesting for various reasons, unfortunately major historical or cultural sights is not really one of them. From Quetta, where I last mailed you all I went up to Peshawar. Peshawar is essentially a market town with the associated hustle and bustle. When there I tried to get a permit to go to Darrah, a small town near the Afghani border. Unfortunately they weren't issuing them and haven't been for about two years. My interest in the place was because the town exclusively produces guns. There are no real factories or proper machinery, and apparently one can just walk down the street and see guys working on a basic lathe or mill turning out the arts that then go to make an AK-47 or similar weapon. Several people I have spoken to with their own transport have been able to get there and apparently the locals who find it interesting to have white folk come and see them at work give you a gun to shoot targets with, to prove their craftsmanship. Still, by bus I had no hopes of getting there without a permit so I didn't. Otherwise, I visited the museum which had a wealth of ancient Buddhist pieces, whilst waiting for the place to open the Director offered me a seat in his office as it was cooler. He then sat there with his feet on his desk scratching himself whilst buzzing his staff to come and pour some water for him, very colonial behaviour, just that now the locals have learned how to do it.

Peshawar was absolutely stifling. The temperature was around forty degrees Celsius with ninety percent humidity. That made it difficult to breathe if there wasn't a fan or air con. This was a problem because there was at least two power cuts a night. This would wake me and I would just stand under the cold shower for half an hour until the electric and therefore fans were back on. When I was chatting with one of the locals he said it was the same for them and they also wake up when the fans stop, which made me feel less pathetic as they haven't acclimatised to it in years, how can I do so in days. Another thing I did in Peshawar was to go to the hospital as I had been unwell for a while, it started as I was leaving Turkey a few weeks previously and in Iran the chemists didn't have appropriate medication to sort it out so it got worse. By the time I was in Peshawar I found that I couldn't really eat anything even semi-solid as it would be back within minutes. The doctor at the military hospital examined me, got some tests done and seems to have prescribed the right medication as now I am enjoying my food once again.

From Peshawar I went to Rawalpindi, as I was pulling up outside the hotel I saw Lisette and Oliver a Dutch couple I have seen off and on every few days or more since Esfahan in Iran. It seems to be travelling lore that one meets folks in this way. From 'Pindi I went with an Australian bloke to Taxila the site of ancient Gandara a Buddhist pilgrimage sight dating back 2300 years (for those of you who remember the old TV program "Monkey", this was the object of their quest to get Tripitaka to Gandara, so I decided to go on a pilgrimage to the sight of Monkey's pilgrimage). At the site there are intricately carved stupas and Buddha’s, the style being something of an anomaly as it has Greek influence (Alexander came through this way about 2300 years ago). The recurring them is Buddha sat in one of his traditional poses, with Atlas holding the platform on his shoulders. Rather an odd combination, furthermore some of the carving has some Hellenistic influence, making Buddha slightly more angular, more Greek.

Otherwise there is not much more in 'Pindi. Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan though is only a few kilometres away by bus. Islamabad is a peculiar place. It was built in the sixties as a modern, new capital for Pakistan. It has modern buildings, wide tree lined boulevards, very little traffic, is reasonably clean and quiet - basically, nothing like any other town in Pakistan. In Islamabad it is possible to buy things more familiar to the west. There are numerous bookshops, internet cafes ad the like. It is also the site of most of the diplomatic foreign representation. The diplomatic enclave is simply one embassy after another, within country lanes in the forest. Once again this part is something even less Pakistani in character. I went and got my Chinese visa, the people at the consular section where helpful and efficient and had it done before I had even paid for it. Apparently the first and last time I can expect this from the Chinese bureaucracy. Otherwise I just took it easy in 'Pindi. I booked a flight to Gilgit, in the north with PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) as apart from being easier to get there that way, the views en route are supposed to be breathtaking. I turned up at the airport at five in the morning, for my six o'clock flight. The flight departed roughly on time and the country side did look very nice. As the plane is only a little Fokker, it doesn't go too high so one can see below quite clearly. About half an hour into the flight as the mountains started to increase in height the captain made an announcement over the tannoy, when he did the English version the stewardess was babbling away so I couldn't hear a word he said, but presumed he was pointing out items of interest out the windows as people were looking out as the plane weaved around a bit. Another half hour later as I was looking out the window and the plane was obviously losing altitude I looked to see a very large town, which surprised me as I didn't think Gilgit was that big. When I saw the Faisal mosque (Pakistan's National Mosque), I realised we were back in Islamabad, still the views had been nice. When I got my luggage I saw Lisette and Oliver again who were booked on a later flight also reclaiming their bags. So, having booked the flight with my Amex card, I now had the associated insurance to cover my expenses until the following day, when the flight was to go again. Deciding to make the most of this I went to the Marriott hotel, apparently the best of the five star hotels in Islamabad, informed Amex they were paying for it and luxuriated in my Executive Suite. In one night due to the cancellation of my thirty pound flight I managed to spend about a hundred and fifty quid on the room, meals and room service. Not bad considering I don't have to pay. I spent most of the time chilling out, had a couple of very nice meals, Chinese buffet for lunch and a three course meal in my room for dinner, otherwise I just wallowed in luxury, as it isn't too often I get the chance.

This morning the flight to Gilgit did complete the journey and some of the views en-route are great. However once I got in I was knackered as I had spent most of the night watching TV or on the phone. So have just caught up on some much needed sleep. I have decided to head North along the Karakorum highway to China now, a slight change in plan, then follow the silk route for a fair way until I can loop around to Tibet. The idea being that this way I get to see the western part of China, getting into Tibet should be easier, by the time I get to Nepal the weather should be good, finally by the time I get to India all the monsoons should have passed. So I get to see everything I was planning, plus more, plus better weather.

So, as this is most likely my last e-mail from Pakistan I will take this opportunity to give my impressions of it. Firstly, the people here are generally very helpful, hospitable and generous. As I mentioned in my previous e-mail they sometimes refuse payment for things, just wanting to give a good impression. The Chinese food here is often very good and sometimes excellent, the local food is nice as well. The place is generally cheap. Although there are few historical or cultural sights to see there is some beautiful scenery in the north, Pakistan has the greatest collection of mountains over 7,000 metres, including K2 - the second tallest in the world. However from a cultural point of view there is something strange going on, most notably the women and the attitude to life here.

With regards to the women, you hardly see any. They are generally not allowed out of their homes unless chaperoned by a male member of the family. There is still a very high rate of honour killings whereby those women who do try to be more independent are killed by male members of the family for dishonouring them, this is particularly prevalent in rural areas. When I spoke with some of the local guys about this they didn't think it too out of order and were generally more perplexed by the fact that in the west beating one's wife is frowned upon. Public segregation of the sexes is also complete, women have different parts of the bus etc. to sit in, only family can sit next to each other (male-female). When going to Taxila on a converted pickup, Matt sat within two feet of the woman on the bench there was rapid seat changing with a male child being inserted between her and Matt, and faces like "why don't you just rape her here and now, in front of us, you bastard?" Another aspect that is rather different to western ways is the way arguments can be resolved here. As a feudal landlord explained to me, it is his job to make everyone who lives on his land behave properly, or at least as he sees fit. He said for example if some people are arguing amongst themselves, one party might approach him and ask to kill the other protagonist. It is then his job to say yes or no and meet out an appropriate fine to the murderer, to be paid to the family of the deceased. Usually 200,000 rupees or 4,000 dollars. Then there are no courts involved and the whole thing is taken care of.

It is interesting to have these things to learn about, it also goes to show how much is going on under the surface.
Still, I have had a nice time here, generally taken it easy and met good folks.


In Gilgit, where I last mailed from generally took it easy. Met up with Lisette and Oliver who I have been travelling with on and off since Esfahan in Iran. Lisette and I went and saw the Kargah Buddha, a large Buddha effigy carved into a cliff face. The Buddha itself was not as good as the local legend attached to it, to paraphrase - there was a giant terrorising the village, the locals called upon a saint to help them out, he with his powers managed to push the giant into the rock. He then said that he would have to stay there night and day and when he dies be buried there to stop the giant releasing himself. The villagers thought it was easier to kill him and bury him there and then saving food etc. and he has kept the giant embedded to this day. Funny story, but the carving has been there a couple of thousand years so given them opportunity to fabricate lots of myths.

When we got back Oliver and I decided to get haircuts, he being rather short on hair in the first place did not present a problem to his barber, when I said to mine to just trim the back and sides, grade one, and then we sort out the top, he agreed and proceeded to do so. He then got carried away and went straight over the top with the clippers. I thought we should be able to rescue this so instructed him to graduate it from the front, leaving a fringe to the now very short hair. He just trimmed the whole lot off, apart from a bit at the front that made me look like TinTin. By this stage Oliver was practically wetting himself and just repeating take it all off, take it all off. Which I then consented to have the guy do as it seemed to be the only thing he understood. So now I'm a skinhead, I do plan on growing my hair longer but at left this way it is low maintenance.

From Gilgit we went onto Karimabad, a surprisingly touristy town. Considering there were so few tourists elsewhere in Pakistan it was strange to see so many of them there. Nice mountains, including one whose name I forget, but at 7,288 metres is the highest unclimbed peak in the world. Also Rakaposhi at 7,800 metres and a rather cold climate in the evenings. Went and saw the Baltit fort there which was interesting but expensive to see. From there Lisette and Oliver headed South and I went North to Passu.

Passu is a small village surrounded by beautiful mountains, including one known as the Cathedral - with a little imagination it looks like a rather large version of the Duomo in Milan. I decided to do a short trek to a couple of Glaciers. I hadn't previously seen a Glacier and they were not quite as I expected. The first Passu Glacier ranged from black, through charcoal grey to white, with green patches. This being a relatively small glacier - only ten kilometres long it still gave off a cold chill, much like standing in front of an open freezer, when one walked behind a rock or other obstruction, the cold went - odd. Then walked over to Batura glacier a bit larger but not as attractive. At seventy five kilometres long, generally about five hundred metres deep it makes one hell of a big ice cube, but given the colour of it I wouldn't want any of it in my drinks.

The following day I decided to walk down to the suspension bridges, these being wires strung from one side of a gorge to the other with some old boards on the bottom, a couple of wires for handholds and a precipitous drop (similar to one's in Indiana Jones film or other adventure movies). As I had been reliably informed there were some nice views on the opposite side I started across after I had gone a few yards a huge gust of wind came down the valley and broadsided me into the side wires. I just about managed to keep my footing and my hat on. As I looked down I noticed the boards I was stood on were broken so I carefully backed myself off the bridge put my hat in my bag and decided to give it another shot. I went out a short way again and the wind came again. I decided that it was not a good idea to goon with the rest of the trip as I was on my own and had not seen anyone else coming this way all day that might help out if anything should go wrong, so called it a day and went back.

From Passu went to Sust the border town and waited to get the bus to Tashkurgan in China. The following day after various hold ups the bus eventually left. The Pakistani - Chinese border is probably the most dramatic border crossing in the world, from Sust to Tashkurgan the respective Pakistani and Chinese border towns takes about five hours plus bureaucracy en route. This part of the Karakorum highway goes through the Yarlung valley national park, past numerous glaciers, up to about five thousand metres, which is well above the snow line, past numerous stunning peaks and through a desert. Arriving in Tashkurgan, sorted the immigration out in no time. Went to get some food and had a good nights sleep after some nice food and beer. In the restaurant it was strange to see Chinese, Pakistani and Tajik people, dining in their own groups. The Tajik people being the local ethnic minority look very Russian and wear cloth caps and constantly toasted in vodka, whilst on the other side of the room the Chinese were also toasting regularly with whatever they were drinking.

Which brings me to this morning, when I got the bus from Tashkurgan to Kashgar the road was again very dramatic. At points there were landslides with boulders that had to be cleared before the bus could pass (I observed whilst the other passengers worked) then at one point half the road had dropped into the river so a makeshift mound was made by the passengers, whilst I was chatting to some Scots heading the other way. Eventually arrived safely and look forward to a couple of days without much travel.



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