It happened on the Silk Road ...

I was travelling on the Silk Road with my group of German tourists. Precisely, we started in Islamabad and went up the Karakoram Highway, entering China via the Khunjerab Pass. Our first overnight stop was in Besham, the next in Gilgit. From there we continued to Karimabad in the Hunza Valley, where we spent the night. From Karimabad to the border it is around 180 km and the Paki checkpost is in Sost, about 90 km from Karimabad. There we got our exit stamp for Pakistan and said goodbye to our English speaking guide. Our driver spoke only broken English. We went straight to the border, passing the Batura glacier and the ‘Passu cathedral’ on the way. After a while, a Chinese truck with Xinjiang number plates blocked our way and we had to drive behind it as we slowly approached the border. A few minutes had passed until we had to stop as there was a huge flock of sheep, slowly moving on the road towards the border. The animals were guarded by three herdsmen, accompanied by herding dogs, as far as I could see. The bearded men in traditional garb were armed with old fashioned rifles. The truck in front of us stopped and then slowly made his way through the flock, our bus on its tail. Everything went fine until one ram decided to cross to the other side of the road – taking the shortcut under the truck. And of course the inevitable happened: the animal got under the truck’s wheels and was killed.

The Chinese driver didn’t seem to have noticed what happened and continued slowly. The herdsmen got very upset and fired a shot in the air which caused the driver to stop. Then they climbed up to the steeple cab, pulled the poor guy out and started to beat him up. I ordered my driver to stop, alighted from the bus and ran to the scene. The Chinese driver was in shock and I intervened, asking the herdsmen to stop and to discuss the matter. Which they did after some arguing. We agreed (neither of us did understand a single word of what the other was saying) that the driver would have to pay compensation for their loss. I have no idea about the price of a sheep on the Karakoram Highway but their claim seemed to be a bit on the expensive side. As it turned out, the Chinese had no money on him – or at least he claimed so.

The herdsmen started pushing him again until I offered to come up with the money as I didn’t want to get stuck on the border which closes according to Beijing time (3 hours ahead of Pakistan time). The Chinese guy didn’t even thank me and we continued towards the Khunjerab pass, which at about 4.700 m above sea level is the world’s highest international border crossing. We reached there in time and after some vomiting we finished the entry procedures and continued towards Taxkorgan, which is home to the lousiest hotel I’ve ever stayed at in the Middle Kingdom – The Pamir Hotel. The next day we continued to Kashgar, having a quick lunch on the way at Karakul Lake which is located at the foot of Mt. Mustagh Ata. Much to my surprise the Tajik waitresses were wearing evening gowns. Maybe they were expecting a VIP … We arrived in Kashgar in the evening.