Translate this Blog

Traduisez , Übersetzen Sie, Traduca , Traduza , Traduzca , 翻訳しなさい , 번역하다 , 翻译 , يترجم

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Pakistan Osama bin Laden Never Knew

The place where Osama bin Laden last walked, the hill station of Abbottabad, is also the Gateway to the Silk Route, the ancient trade path to China through the Karakoram Mountains, the deadliest chain of peaks in the world. Due north of Abbottabad runs the deadliest river in the world, running through a cave-pocked canyon: the Indus River.

The Indus rises from a holy peak called Kailas, a symmetrical mountain of quartz and ice in the high plateau of western Tibet. It is cited as the source of wisdom, and as it spills from the jaws of its glacier, it is called the Lion River.

As it leaves Tibet and the rarefied realm where belief overpowers fact, the Indus slices like the blade of a sickle between the Himalayas and the Karakorams, passing into India in the region known as Little Tibet, Ladakh. There it is joined by tributaries from the top of the world, gathering force as it drops 12,000 feet in 350 miles, crossing the northern provinces of India into Pakistan and joining with the Gilgit from the north. The redoubled flow twists through deep canyons to the base of Nanga Parbat, the world's eighth-highest peak; then the Lion finally breaks free of its mountain domain and winds and wanders across the plains of Pakistan, across the Sindh desert, finally depositing its load of silt and glacial dust into the Arabian Sea from its broad delta near Karachi.

Cutting through Tibet, India and Pakistan, slaking the thirst of three major religions -- Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam -- the Lion River has also tempted the explorer's hunger with its promised feast of firsts. Several score have died on the slopes of Nanga Parbat, the 26,660-foot peak that marks the Indus's midpoint. The peak is draped like a coffin with the sobriquet, The Killer Mountain. And the currents of the Indus itself have carried many to the farthest shore.

Early in July 1956 a strange crew converged on the banks of the Indus some 30 miles north of Skardu in the contested Baltistan region, claimed by both India and Pakistan since partition in 1947. One was Lowell Thomas, the journalist and broadcaster; he was with several of his skiing buddies -- two actors and television director Otto Lang. Their reason for being there was a new film technology called Cinerama, which they hoped to boost with a full-length drama, showcasing its best qualities. A short Cinerama production, a roller-coaster ride, had already created quite a stir among audiences who viewed its huge, wrap-around screen and lifelike resolution made possible by its three-lens camera system. Thomas's planned film, Search for Paradise, was to be about two newly retired air force pilots who search the top of the world for a personal Shangri-La, only to return to the States when they discover at last "there's no place like home." The thin plot was an excuse to film some of the most extraordinary scenery on the planet, including a rousing finish with the first-ever raft trip down the Indus.

To run the two inflatable boats for the film, Thomas enlisted the father-son team of Bus and Don Hatch, experts in the whitewater rivers of the western United States. Bus, at 56, was something of a pioneer in river running, having taken commercial passengers floating as far back as 1929, and having made a number of historic first descents in Utah, Colorado and Idaho. His 27-year- old son was brought up in the family tradition, and it was said he could row before he could walk. They were probably the best river rats around at the time; even so, nothing had prepared them for the power and the treachery of the Indus.

They brought with them two rafts: a 27-foot pontoon bridge of the type used on the Colorado, controlled by two Johnson outboard motors mounted on a rear transom, complemented by three sets of oars; and a small assault raft, 16-feet long, manned by a single oarsman. Their first run was a trial, without cameras. Otto Lang, the Hatches, and a crew of four put on the Indus some 30 miles above Skardu and immediately were swept away by the overwhelming current. The Indus was running close to its peak, nearly 100,000 cubic feet per second (by comparison, the Colorado through the Grand Canyon runs about 10,000 cfs). Haystack waves towered as high as the pontoon raft was long. After covering 30 miles in four hours, including an enormous rapid squeezed deep between the walls of the gorge where a portage was impossible, the crew drifted into Skardu, the first to raft any portion of the Lion River.

The thrills notwithstanding, Lang and his crew decided that this stretch was too violent to risk the project's expensive cameras for extended shooting. The operation was moved to the Gilgit River, a major tributary from the north, about 100 miles downstream of Skardu. A comparatively gentle run, with just a fraction of the volume of the Indus, the Gilgit also afforded views of Nanga Parbat wheeling in the background of river shots.

For several days the crew negotiated the Gilgit without mishap, encountering heavy but runnable (and filmable) rapids. The only problems were from the monsoon's clouds, squalls, sandstorms and flash floods. The Gilgit met with the Indus, and the filming drew to a close on July 20. On the final run, before wrapping the production, Jimmy Parker -- one of Lowell Thomas's friends, playing a pilot in the picture -- decided to try the raft for the first time. There were only seven life jackets on the expedition; Jimmy was the eighth person on the water that day.

They pushed off and almost at once came to the first rapid. Don Hatch led the way in the small assault boat, sliding down the tongue and riding into the standing waves of the turbulence below. As the pontoon followed, one of its outboard motors died. Bus couldn't get it started again and lost control as the huge raft slid sideways into a hole. The craft was tossed up and over, capsizing 90 seconds after leaving shore.

Six swimmers struggled to shore through the mad glacial waters. Don Hatch rowed to an outcrop in the smaller raft, having barely taken in any water. The eighth man was missing. The soaked crew ran along the edge of the surging river yelling, searching, looking. A reward of 1,000 rupees was posted for any trace of the lost rafter. It was never collected. Jimmy Parker's body was lost forever in a region some have called paradise.

At the foot of Nanga Parbat, the Rakhiot Bridge crosses the Indus. Carved into one of its stone columns are names of climbers who lost lives trying to conquer The Killer Mountain. Now the traveler crossing the bridge finds not only the names of climbers, but that of Jimmy Parker, first rafting victim of the Indus.

I began working for Hatch River Expeditions as a river guide on the Colorado. I was nineteen. Bus Hatch had died a couple years earlier, and now Don and Ted, his two sons, ran the business. Sometimes late at night, with campfire shadows dancing on the canyon wall, talk would turn to Don's Indus expedition. None of the guides knew the full story, just tidbits dropped by Don at the office, the bar or the put-in. He didn't talk much about it, but enough for the stuff of a legend. "I'd give my right oar to row the Indus," a guide once told me. And whenever I'd screw up a rapid, break a frame, wash a passenger overboard or simply scare myself with a close call, I'd think of the Indus. This is nothing, I'd say to myself. Don ran the Indus -- ten times the size of the Colorado, three times the speed and cold as winter.

Such it is I find myself in Pakistan with nine companions, ready to retrace Lowell Thomas's expedition and do what he had not done: connect the line between Skardu and the Gilgit confluence by rafting the Indus.

It is the first week of October, and besides my friends we are joined by Captain Sohail Iqbal of the Pakistan army, on assignment as chaperon in this politically delicate region. The Indians hold that their border extends north to the Hindu Kush range; the Pakistanis feel the northwest frontier is theirs. We take off from Rawalpindi, flying over Abbottabad towards Skardu. Looking up I see the underbelly of great grey frigate clouds, and higher still, a sky nearly black, pulling into nothingness. Moving out over the plateau, the land spreads in shelves, in ripples, in straggling eaves. The road looks like an infected scratch across the weathered skin of the plateau, curvilinear in some places, sharply angled in others.

Upon landing we are met by a landscape wild beyond the ken. A great oval basin, 7500 feet above sea level, some 20 miles long and eight miles wide, the Indus Valley here is enclosed by mountain ridges and peaks that soar up to 17,000 feet. The air is thin and crisp, and the details of shapes and colors, even at long distances, show dazzlingly clear. The valley is carpeted in fine, pale sand, gray as tarnished silver, patched occasionally with ochre, lemon and purple. In the middle distance, across the broad valley, the Indus snakes lazily between wind-ribbed dunes. Over millions of years the river has progressively cut its way into the rock, and the cliffs that now wall the valley are ledged and terraced at different heights by the old beds of the river. Farther back, the dry and bony mountains rise to their saw-toothed crests, intricately folded and overlapping. At the two ends of the basin, where they converge, it seems impossible that even a great and ancient river could force a passage through.

It is a landscape that could have been created only by earth forces at their most influential, and the entire welt of mountains that defines the north of Pakistan -- the Karakorams -- is indeed the product of a phenomenal series of events. It dates back to Gondwanaland, the semi-mythical "first continent," whose outlines were long discernible only to the imaginative who perceived in Africa's west coast and South America's east a near fit. Imagination gave rise to investigation, and investigation showed odd parallels between the rock, the history of the land, even the life forms on these opposite shores.

With the recent science of plate tectonics, this impossible supposition has been confirmed: most of the land masses on earth were once joined in a solid hunk of matter, floating on a primordial soup. Over the eons Gondwanaland has been split and bits and pieces borne away along the convection currents of the molten mantle, separating into today's continents. The Karakorams were created -- are still being created -- by the collision of the Central Asian plate with the Indian plate, which was once tucked against the east coast of Africa. Along the front of collision, the crust has uplifted and folded and thrust and folded again into a mountain range over 1500 miles long and, at its roof, 5 miles high.

An ancient camel trail runs from Skardu to Gol, where the Hatch party began its first descent. A police jeep escorts us up the winding road to the put-in. Precipitous cliffs of somber rock, ancient metamorphic seabeds and long-frozen lava towers over the milky flow of the river and over us come to challenge it.

In the shadows we unload the two Avon rafts that will be home, hospital, diner and means of conveyance for the next three weeks. I slip down to the river's edge and dip my hand in the dark water, as Don Hatch had done on his arrival. It stings with the cold, though the air temperature is in the eighties. Captain Sohail Iqbal recounts that local lore tells of a bare-headed man who once stretched his legs into the water after a long overland trek and fell asleep in the sun. When he awoke, he found he was suffering from both heatstroke and frostbite simultaneously.

Since it is after the summer monsoons, the water is at a medium low level and dropping, whereas Hatch and crew arrived at the river's peak flow in July. We estimate the flow to be about 20,000 cubic feet per second. Beneath a wall of pictographs, depicting ibex and Buddhist temples, we make camp. I drift into sleep with the Indus softly calling at my feet.

The day dawns diamond clear. The boats are rigged, loaded, and launched with little fanfare beneath the curious, silent gaze of a score of Islamic villagers -- all men and boys. Almost at once the judgment of Don Hatch that the Indus was a river of deception rings true. Veteran oarsman Jim Slade steers the lead raft into what appears to be a moderate rapid, but the raft and crew are grabbed by a hidden hole and shaken like ice in a martini mixer. The Lion River growls its warning.

Slowly rolling through the big waves and hydraulics, our party makes its way down the gorge toward the huge cataract above Skardu, the point at which the Hatch party had been persuaded to move filming to a less dangerous tributary. With the lower water it doesn't look like the monster Hatch had described, and so I slide in with some semblance of confidence, sneaking down the left side, bumping between exposed boulders that would have been dangerous heads of holes in high water. Slade's run is also clean, and so, reassured by success, we set up camp just downstream.

Evening brings a villager floating down the river, on a craft more easily portaged around the big drops of the canyon. His is fashioned from six inflated goatskins, tied together with legs upright and supported by a framework of sticks. Using a pole rather than oars, he carries a cargo of fruits and vegetables downstream to the market at Skardu. The goatskins leaked, but to re- inflate a sagging portion of the vessel, he merely blew down the upright legs. After we trade rides on the two far-distant generations of inflatables, he floats off in the sunset towards Skardu.

In the sweet liquid light of the Pakistani morning, we push off and enter the natural amphitheater of Skardu, passing the first major tributary along the route, the Shigar River, which drains the Chogo Lungma and Biafo Gyang glaciers to the north. The Shigar increases the flow of the Indus by a third, and the current speeds past Skardu to the second night's camp at the Askandria Fort. Its origins are lost in history, but at least it is at least four centuries old; some say even older, dating from the time of Alexander the Great, whose easternmost thrust brought him to this region in the fourth century B.C. Standing on a narrow mesa 1000 feet above the Indus, the fort overlooks the entire Skardu basin, and has afforded an enviable security for its occupants -- whether rajas, Sikhs or Muslims, during the conflicts between India and Pakistan in just the past few decades.

Jagged peaks block the sun, filtering the slanting morning light as though in a cathedral. We depart the sanctuary of Skardu's valley and ride the current downstream into the gorge. At first, the rapids are runnable, though enormous in power and complex in design. By the start of the second day in the gorge, life gets hard.

The rapids become littered with huge boulders, which the water twists off, over and around to create enormous hydraulics and holes, some deadly. Portaging is the only course for some passages, an exercise anathema to river runners, a depressing tug on the leash by reality's grim hand. The portages increase in frequency and difficulty as we lurch downstream. Two crew members break toes in the carry-rounds.

If you liked this post, Dont forget to BOOKMARK it for others as well. Please CLICK your favorite SOCIAL BOOKMARKING ELEMENT:

StumpleUpon Ma.gnolia DiggIt! Blinklist Yahoo Furl Technorati Simpy Spurl Reddit Google

No comments:

Contact Me or Subscribe to my posts

Click to Join my FaceBook Blog Group Page

If you want to send a quick message to me, please click

To Subscribe to my posts, please choose:

Search my Blog for posts that are of interest to you...results will be displayed below

Custom Search

Here are the Results, if you seached for a post

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Dubai, DXB, United Arab Emirates

Washington, USA

Western Europe Time (GMT)