Cycling in Pakistan - Gilgit to Chitral - Part 5 - The friendliest people

All the way from Gilgit we have been constantly harassed in the nicest possible way by the lovely people on the side of the road wanting us to stop for 'Chai' (tea), to take their photograph, to sit and talk to them, to give them 'one pen, one pen', or more annoyingly to walk beside us and stare as we labour up a steep hill, struggling to go in a straight line and to get enough oxygen into our lungs.

We can hardly blame them, not many tourists come this way and any that do are packed inside the NATCO bus or in Jeeps insulated from the people in the villages. We are today's entertainment. If anyone wants to practice their English, we're a great opportunity...
'Hello, How are you?'; 'What is your name?'; What is your religion?'; What is your village name?'; 'Photo,photo, photo?'; 'Green Chilli!' (all that one little boy could say in English)

We would often meet large groups of children walking huge distances to get home from school, anxious to interact with the strange foreigners and their loaded bicycles. Some were shy, others desperate to show off their English skills. Many of the children go to Government schools, (8 Rupees/month – $0.1) but others are lucky enough to go to the Aga Khan English Medium Schools (350R/month - $5) and speak superb English for their age.

Because some of Northern Areas isn't officially part of Pakistan, but part of the disputed Kashmir, the local people rely on the Aga Khan to build bridges, schools and medical centres, put pipes in for drinking water and build irrigation channels, as they receive very little from the Pakistani government. His picture is everywhere and the prowess in English of so many of the children is testament to the success of his many schemes in the area. Amazingly his schools are also co-educational which may help explain the more relaxed relationships between men and women in the countryside.

Women would frequently talk to us and many spoke better English than their husbands, and it was almost liberating to see them walking alone and unveiled, shaking hands with men from their village, something we would never see in towns.

Many people wanted us to take their pictures and then send them copies when we reached a larger town, our notebook is now full of addresses. Some people wouldn't even want the photos sent to them, they just wanted the interaction and to see themselves on the screen of our cameras. Often if we stopped to take a picture of something, groups of men would line up beside it to add interest, or ask for us to take photographs of the whole family. Children nearly always got really excited as we arrived, and thanks to well intentioned NGOs, we would hear the chant of 'pen, pen, pen, pen' echoing round the terraces above us.

One other thing that amazed us was the number of children with pale skin and red hair, and others with amazingly blue eyes, so unlike the rest of the population of Pakistan.

Here's a slideshow of some of the people we met:

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