Day 24: Phander to Gupis

17th July 2000


After great deliberations as to whether we should stay another day in Phander or head back it was finally decided that we would leave for Gupis the next morning. The NAPWD rest house had been vacated and Amjad and Hamid had moved into the new premises last night. Kabir and family had left for Gilgit yesterday. The condition of Taimur and Susan were the deciding factor and we thought that it would be best to head back in case they needed medical attention.

We had breakfast in the morning on the front chabutra of the hotel, eggs and cornflakes and orange juice. The 4×4’s were ready for departure by 11am. We rolled towards Gupis and marveled at the Phander valley, which looked magnificent, the river reflecting like molten silver in the sun as it flows through the valley. The fields in different shades of green, the rich and ready wheat fields give a contrasting mustard hue to the surroundings. The temperature according to the gauge of the cruiser was 21 degrees.

There are some places along the way where boulders have fallen down the mountain and have come to rest in the middle of the fields they are ominous sights. One imagines that they must have shattered while falling, these broken pieces of rock look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle lying close to each other. In recent years fields of grain have been cultivated around them. They tell stories of the turbulent past that must have existed centuries ago during the formation of these mountains.

We drove back to the wooden suspension bridge and took footage of the 4×4’s as they crossed over. The road is narrow and some areas are under repair, it is a gravel surface all the way to Gupis. While I was negotiating a bend and at the same time taking video footage of the road and the flowing river, a jeep came flying round a bend from upahead. It braked just in time to avoid a collision. We were now poised head to head with no place to pull up for the other to pass. The driver of the other jeep reversed a fair distance to an opening and let me through. There are many occasions on the way where vehicles come face to face with little or no space and one needs to back up to let the other vehicle pass. There are also unwritten rules of driving on these mountains, such as, the vehicle climbing up has the right of way, local drivers will always give way to the tourists and so on. We reached the NAPWD rest house of Gupis at about six-o clock in the evening. It had started to drizzle on the way and the weather was very pleasant. We unpacked and moved into the rooms. Hamid and the boys were lodged in the older block while Amjad and Patricia and Susan would be in the new block.

After dinner we all watched Omar Mukhtar on the video cd of the Landcruiser, it was drizzling and the weather was cool musty and pleasant. We had a great time as we all enjoyed the movie. It was midnight by the time we retired to bed.

I was awakened by a loud rumbling noise at about four in the morning. The whole place shuddered as a terrible earthquake hit the valley. The tremor lasted a few seconds before the second and the more powerful one. I was up and out in a flash, and found myself standing in the garden still recovering from the shock, I suddenly realized I was wearing only my skimpy nightwear. Susan had never experienced an earthquake before. She was stunned as the bedside lamp quivered and started to move on its own as the second tremor hit the valley, the girls had been rudely woken up by the shaking of the bed from the first tremor. Patricia screamed ‘earthquake! earthquake!’ as they ran out onto the terrace of the new building. We were lucky there had been no rock fall and the building had held the wrath of the earth. Amjad slept through it all and never woke up. The tremor had measured a daunting 6.5 on the rector scale, the epicenter had been near Kabul according to the newspaper. We had survived an earthquake up in the mountains; the actual gravity of the whole episode would sink in much later when driving on the KKH we would see boulders smashed up into little bits splattered throughout the valley. Luckily there had been no landslides on the road and there was no damage reported to the main road.

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