Day 17: Sust

Attempted Crossing to Kunjerab.

10th July 2000


The locals confirmed the news early in the morning that the road was closed due to a landslide about ten km down the KKH. I wanted to go and check the extent of the blockage myself as I’d seen landslides before while traveling to Skardu in 1993, the FWO are usually very quick and efficient in clearing the slides. The officer incharge that day was a Mr Butta who was adamant that if the rocks did not come tumbling down from the slope to the left and gave him a few hours of working time he would clear the slide for us. The Jawans were working all out to clear the mass of rubble off the road by shoveling it into the river using a massive bulldozer.

This bulldozer had been salvaged once before while working on clearing a slide, it had been caught in an avalanche and toppled over into the river, it had dents in the thick yellow metal sheets to prove it. The way the FWO jawans carry out their work is worthy of praise, to risk your life just to clear rubble of the road is not everyone’s cup of tea, yet they do it with so much professionalism that it is hard to believe. I hesitated while crossing over to the other side of the slide as small rocks tumbled down towards me, I finally crossed over by climbing up the mass of loose earth and rocks, keeping one eye on the movement of rocks on the mountain face. When they start to fall from the top they gain immense speed and momentum that is difficult to imagine unless you have experienced them whizzing past you. The rocks shower past you tumbling and hitting anything that comes in their way. Some are as huge as a car themselves and with the speed they come down anything in their way stands no chance of survival, yet these jawans work the whole year round to keep the KKH open for traffic. It is a feat in itself that the condition of the road has been maintained for the past twenty years and is open to traffic almost the whole year round. Mr Butta was confident that we would make it to the Khunjerab top tomorrow. We drove back to the PTDC to share this good news with the rest of the group and were in good spirits.

Dr Bhutta had joined us from Hunza in the late afternoon and had planned a trip to the tunnel of water, which the locals had dug to supply water to the fields. They had cut through the mountain using hand tools so that water is channeled though from one side of the mountain to the other. They are very proud of this feat. The drive up to the tunnel was a 4×4 test and while everyone used the traction to the full, Dr Bhutta drove the Landcruiser up without a hitch and without engaging the low range 4×4. skipping and slipping as the vehicles massive six cylinder engine pulled it up the muddy gravel track. We were greatly impressed by his driving skills. The tunnel brings water from the other side of the mountain and is a good half-km long through the mountain, it supplies fields of grain which are cultivated on the plateau above Sust.

That night the locals of Sust had a dance party. The local music of the flute and the drums in the night was flowing rhythmically. They entertained us with different tunes and local dances. It was quite an experience listening to the sound of the flute and drums through the night against the backdrop of the rugged mountains of the Karakurums, and the derveshi dances of the locals.

Tomorrow promises to be the day, which we have all been looking forward to. Driving across the country through the Baluchistan desert, the Punjab plains and the rugged mountains of both the Himalayas and the Karakurums to stand on the top of the world’s highest road crossing had been our aim. Driving up to the Kunjerab pass, which stands at almost 16600 ft. and the KKH which holds the record of being the highest road in the world has so far been a great experience.

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