terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Muzaffarabad, Part 1

In the end, it wasn't the trip I had expected.

I wasn't expecting the plane to smell of piss (seems like the carrier that'd been chosen for our team didn't require passengers in-transit to leave the plane at a stopover - and didn't stop passengers from using the facilities while nothing on the plane, including the flush systems in the toilets, was running) and I wasn't expecting to be stopping over at KL (plane ticket seemed to indicate a direct flight to Karachi). We spent most of the first two days, and the last two, travelling. Just travelling (one hour to KL, one hour stopover, 5.5 hours to Karachi, 1.5 hours to settle the boxes we'd brought, 2.5 hours' rest at the airport hotel - where I had my last shower [cold water] - 2 hours to check in for the next flight, 2 hours for the flight to Islamabad, 2 hours settling the transportation to Muzaffarabad [most of which was spent by some members of the team in the facilities at the house of Dr Tariq, head of PIMA, to freshen up for the next leg] and 7 hours by minibus to get to the UN compound at base camp).


Didn't even arrive at the base camp until Wednesday night at about 6 pm (9 pm Singapore time).

Originally uploaded by Terz.

The layover in Karachi wasn't as I'd feared. We managed to secure accommodations at the airport hotel until it was time to check in for our flight, though making arrangements for the 69 boxes (66 after the rain damaged some of the boxes in-transit and some items had to be repacked into new boxes) of medical supplies, food and equipment made it such that we only had 2.5 hours to shower and to sleep before we had to leave for the airport again.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

It didn't occur to me then, but the shower would be the last one I had until I got back home. More things that we don't [I didn't] appreciate until it's too late.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

Because it took us so long to arrive, I only had one day, proper, to take the shots to document Team Singapore's (can I just say now: I don't like this term too much? Thank you) efforts in Pakistan.

But I ought to be thankful I arrived at all.

The trip to Muzaffarabad took seven hours by minibus. The driving is a lot like the driving in India - lots of occasions when you feel like you're sitting in the Millennium Falcon and there're swarms of TIE fighters/ interceptors streaming past your canopy. Wasn't too bad at first - I was seated in the first row of seats with Fred. Then when we got to the mountains, our driver inexplicably forgot how to get to Muzaffarabad and had to stop several times to ask for directions.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

Which makes sense if he didn't try to outrun the other vehicles in our convoy (3 minibuses and 1 goods lorry) at all times. There were other drivers in the convoy who knew the way, but for some reason (*cough*machismo*cough*) he wanted to lead all the way. I mean, I'm used to it. India was enough to convince me that these drivers knew what they were doing and they knew how to avoid accidents. He'd know when to slow down or get out of situations of unavoidable collisions.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

Apparently, I gave him too much credit. And even before we'd completed one-quarter of the journey, we got into an accident.

Completely avoidable, of course.

Driver decided to overtake the vehicle in front of us, on a winding mountain road (one lane - barely! - either direction), and in the opposite direction, Someone dictated that there would be a similar bonehead coming our way. The other bus sideswiped ours, hard enough that everyone who had been asleep was woken up immediately. Hard enough that Pearl (CNA correspondent who'd come along on assignment) felt the impact and could pinpoint exactly where the transference of the force hit her side.

I can still see the whole thing happening in slow motion.

Things got heated, while we remained on that single-lane road unsure whether we should step in, and there was definitely an incidence of shirt-collar grabbing. Then the driver tells the other that they should move off the road (yeah, thank you dude, twenty minutes after the accident, during which huge trucks drove by at speeds they weren't meant to go at), and discuss this in the nearest town.

Smart decision, we thought...


Our driver decides that this was the best time to speed up and lose the other guy. So, instead of settling it in the town, our driver takes off, at breakneck (and every fucking other bone in our bodies) speed down another road. It took about thirty minutes of us shouting at him to slow down in Urdu (new language learnt!) for him to actually slow down.

Scared shitless? Tell me about it.

Turns out to be a fucking blessing in disguise because our driver had taken a completely different route from the other vehicles in the convoy, and we manage to catch up with the goods lorry.

And when we stopped at a bridge spanning the Neelum River (halfway to where we needed to be), it was all I could do to accept a cigarillo (actually, to smoke the rest of it - it'd gone out during Mr Toad's Wild Ride after the accident) from Fred, with shaking hands, and smoke it in front of fasting Muslims.

And we were only halfway there.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

Related Links:
Flickr Photoset

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9


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