Pakistan - The Karakoram Highway
August 2003 - 52 min 00 sec
10’00’07 The first day of classes at a school with special significance for the peasants of the remote mountain valley of Bagrot in Pakistan. They have joined forces so that their children can enjoy a better education
10’00’43 This education will focus on learning English which the people of the Bagrot Valley hope will open doors to the world for their children
10’01’12 A tribal elder sums up the hopes of a whole valley this way: „In my day,“ he says, „there was still no school here. You are lucky, because thanks to the English school, you won’t have to work in the fields anymore. You will become doctors, teachers and engineers and you will develop our valley further.”
“In our Pakistan, when you go for a high post you have to do this examination in English. For high post, this examination you have to do in English. This is a pity. Government likes to make – ha – some wealthy people big and the poor people they should go more down. Therefore we feel ourselves why we should not go high.”
10’02’16 The Karakoram Highway – Road to Globalisation
10’02’33 In the 1980s, an impressive engineering feat was completed in northern Pakistan. It was the 1,300-kilometer-long Karakoram Highway leading from Islamabad through the wild Karakoram Mountains over the nearly 5,000-metre-high Khunjerab Pass to China.
10’02’56 Originally built for purely military-strategic purposes, the highway has since become a crucial civilian artery for the Northern Areas in Pakistan. At the same time, centuries-old infrastructures have been destabilised by the road.
10’03’15 Through the Indus Valley, where caravans once travelled along a simple track, now the paved highway wends its way past newly-established villages and through regions where the age of machines used to be only hearsay.
10’03’41 The Karakoram Highway – or KKH for short, has suddenly enabled the rapid movement of a vast number of people and goods. It has greatly reduced travel times and has radically changed the traditional lifestyles of village communities. And there’s no turning back. The KKH is a one-way street towards globalisation...
10’04’15 The route from Islamabad to Gilgit, the capital of the Northern Areas, is almost 600 kilometres. The perilous trip by bus takes around 14 hours and frequently the road is impassable
10’04’52Quote bus driver
“Once there was a huge rockslide and I had to take the passengers back. The road was blocked for two days. I often have problems with the tires, the engine and the brakes.”
10’05’06 The large buses from the lower areas travel to Gilgit. At this point, most passengers transfer to group taxis and small buses which take them to their villages further along the KKH and in the side valleys.
“In earlier days we made the trip here from Pasu on foot and by horse. That took eight to 12 days, then another eight days which meant we were travelling 16 days in all. Then the trip took us further to Skardu. That was another 20 days and from there to Srinagar in Kashmir in 16 days. Today we can often make the trip from Pasu to Gilgit in one day – instead of 8.”
10’06’00 In recent years bus travel has increased enormously and this necessitated the construction of a new bus station outside the city.
10’06’11 Enterprising merchants set up their wooden stalls around the large square.
10’06’23 Some of the merchants cater for the drivers and passengers. Others sell products only recently available here in the mountains.
10’06’41 Gilgit is bursting at the seams. This once small city is spreading rapidly. Many new arrivals come from the lowlands, but most are from the mountain valleys in the region.
10’06’55 Every day, trucks deliver supplies from the lowlands to the growing population.
10’07’06 At the end of their long trip the drivers still have to wait before unloading. To prevent complete traffic chaos, they are not allowed into the city until the evening.
10’07’18Quote driver 1
“Normally, it takes a week from Karachi to Gilgit. This time we needed longer because we were held up for two days by a breakdown and then there was an important holiday along the way.”
10’07’30Quote driver 2
”At first, we were uneasy about travelling along the dangerous sections of the KKH, but now we’ve gotten used to it. It is well constructed and that’s good for our business.”
10’07’48 At 5 p.m. the truck convoy is allowed into the city.
10’08’07 The range of goods being delivered is wide. Much of it is provisionally stored to be picked up later by traders for distribution and sale elsewhere.
10’08’19 One item of particular value is cement, tons of which are delivered from the lowlands.
10’08’31 The face of Gilgit is changing more and more as concrete structures constantly shoot up.
10’08’50 Since the opening of the KKH, Gilgit has developed into a commercial, transportation and communications centre of regional importance. Once a remote administrative centre in the mountains, Gilgit appears more and more like a provincial capital in the lowlands.
10’09’10 The city library was built during the British colonial era. Its director, the historian and author Sherbaz Barcha has personally experienced the changes of the past decades.
“Before the construction of the KKH, this region was totally isolated. It was in miserable condition: no economy, no education, everything was backward, but the construction of the KKH brought tremendous changes, in the economy, as well as socially and politically—too many changes.
10’09’56 Chinatown in Northern Pakistan...
10’10’02 Produce from China, imported along the Karakoram Highway from the north over the Khunjerab Pass into Pakistan is one of the most striking of the changes in the bazaar of Gilgit.
10’10’18 More and more China traders have settled here in recent years. Their cheap products attract many customers even from the lowlands. But the good times already appear to be over.
“In the beginning business was good. But then gradually competition increased and now with the present political situation I have fewer customers.”
10’10’43 With the traders came the bankers. One bank after another set up branches in Gilgit. In 1994, Alan Jan opened a currency exchange office in his native city for the growing number of tourists. In the beginning he was very successful.
It was very good – just – you can say - in 1998 and 1999. After that it did decline a bit. But after this 11 September you can say there is no business at all.
10’11’26 Today, the highway is bringing fewer outsiders, but the connections with the lowlands and the rest of the world is guaranteed thanks to up-to-date communications. The Internet cafes in Gilgit draw people from the whole region. Often people come from villages along the KKH to communicate with the world beyond the Karakoram over the electronic highway
“This KKH road played a good role for the lift up of this area - we depend on this KKH. This KKH - we changed a lot for the last 30 or 35 years when this KKH was built.”
10’12’20 The highway has offered new opportunities and created new dependencies. Today, the mountain communities of the Karakoram can no longer provide for themselves. The region has become dependent on products from the lowlands.
“One thing I tell you: our society is a consuming one. We consume everything - we do not create the things. There are three sorts of nations in the world: the number one creator ones, second the copiers, the third one is consumers. So we are consumers. This is alarming.”
10’13’05 This once poverty-stricken and neglected region is receiving outside support both from the Pakistani government and from international development organisations. As a result, many people can afford the new consumer goods from the lowlands.
10’13’28 Now local products that were once important for self sufficiency can be delivered more cheaply by road. For example, flour.
10’13’40 Thanks to the Karakoram Highway, the miller Tawalt Shah is a two-time loser: state subsidized flour is delivered from the lowlands along the highway and the remaining grain still grown in the mountains is no longer delivered to his mill.
10’14’03 Today, Tawalt Shah mills grain only for his own needs.
”We used to mill between 16 and 100 Man – a Man is 40 kilograms. We used to make a profit of between 10 and 20 Man in the really early days. We milled flour for the royal family and for other people. The people from the villages came to us with their grain and we would make a profit of between six and 10 kilograms a day. Now they have electricity in the villages and electric mills. There are only a few water-powered mills still operating. Here, there is just this one left, but earlier there used to be 20 mills working by this canal and every miller would work 24 hours a day.”
10’14’59 For centuries the peasants of the Karakoram Mountains have worked the land using irrigation. Countless small canals thread through the countryside.
10’15’13 In the spring, before the parched soil can be tilled, the fields are flooded and fertilized with manure.
10’15’25 Water is scarce and each farmer tries to use his share as efficiently as possible.
10’15’59 Later, after sowing, the fields must be regularly watered.
10’16’08 Traditional teams of oxen are still a common sight. In many places these animals are the most appropriate for working the land.
10’16’27 But their use is being challenged by tractors shipped in on the Karakoram Highway along with the diesel fuel that powers them. The modernisation of agriculture makes life interesting for businessmen like the money changer Alan Jan.
“I invested a lot of money in farming you see – I get a little bit money from farming, from food, from vegetables, so if there is no business no problem, I get at least something to eat from there, you see.”
18’00 With his earnings from his currency conversion business, Alan Jan bought land which he lets others prepare for cultivation.
18’12 First, the stones and rocks have to be removed and humus dug in. Within a few years, the soil should be fertile enough for farming
18’23 Cultivable land is in short supply and the areas being farmed are increasingly exposed. But the businessman is optimistic.
18’32Alan Jan “Hopefully I will do business with cherries, preserve the cherries. Because we are very near the KKH, you see there is no problem of transportation – the only problem is electricity. Because to preserve the cherries, we need electricity.”
10’17’50 At the moment, electricity supplies in the Northern Areas are lagging behind the constantly growing demand. Besides shortages, there are more and more outages of undetermined length. This is hampering the development of an independent economy.
10’18’10 Potatoes are stored over the winter and used again in the spring, but not for private purposes.
10’18’23 Many farmers along the Karakoram Highway have concentrated in recent years on the production and sale of seed potatoes. This makes money, but at the same time the people become that much more removed from the old principle of self-sufficiency. They become dependent on the market. At the moment however they see only the advantages.
“Growing grain was a lot of work. We had to do everything by hand because we couldn’t use machines on the fields. We had cattle to help with the threshing. But with potatoes it’s easier to plant and harvest. And they’re easiy to sell along the highway. If we can sell a sack of potatoes for 400 rupees, then we’ve made a good profit.”
10’19’17 More and more farmers are planting seed potatoes. In the mountain climate, problems with potato blight are rare and demand for Karakoram potatoes is high. But the more agriculture here relies on seed potatoes, the more the Northern Areas become dependent on the lowlands
10’20’11 The middleman receives his supplies from the lowlands. Because, grain is hardly grown in the mountains anymore, even the straw for the animals is delivered by truck along the Karakoram Highway.
10’20’33 Ibrahim Shia receives delivery of a ton of. His store is right on the edge of the Karakoram Highway, a steep two hours drive from Gilgit.
”My father was a businessman too. He used to make the 85-kilometer trip to Gilgit on foot. He bought salt there and brought it back. It took four to six days to make the round trip.”
10’21’13 Today, Ibrahim Shia receives shipments several times a week from traders from the lowlands.
10’21’29 Once they have agreed on a price, the deal is sealed with a plug of Naswar – a Pakistani chewing tobacco – and a cup of milk tea.
”It doesn’t matter if the highway is blocked for a short time. We have enough supplies to last for five to six days. But if the road is closed for longer than a week, then the problems begin. We don’t have enough medicines for the hospitals. The people don’t receive their flour and I run out of supplies in my shop. If the road between Rawalpindi and Gilgit is blocked then every once in a while I buy what I need for the store in Gilgit.”
10’22’21 Ibrahim Shia also has a small cinema beside his store.
10’22’30 Indian films are a welcome diversion for the men who gladly pay the 10-rupee entrance fee which includes a milk tea.
10’22’53 Whole villages, such as Aliabad, have sprouted along the Karakoram Highway.
10’23’04 Twenty years ago, hardly anything came from outside. Now, the products of the global market are gradually gaining the upper hand.
10’23’21 Many people try to make their livings along the highway. These gas canisters come from the lowlands of Pakistan. The merchants transfer the gas into smaller containers, hoping to sell them to customers from surrounding villages.
”I sell foodstuffs between June and November. That’s the fruit season. We sell fruit to travellers and also deliver to the lowlands. It’s a good business, but in winter we sit at home with nothing to do. That’s why two months ago I decided to start selling gas here too. So far business hasn’t been great but it’s better than nothing.”
10’24’03 On the other hand, tire repair services flourish along the whole of the Karakoram Highway. Its many curves and deep potholes are incredibly hard on vehicles.
10’24’21 Landslides constantly block the road. After they have been cleared there are holes and debris, broken pavement and sections that are difficult to negotiate.
10’24’54 Every year, around one-tenth of the overall length of the Karakoram Highway must be repaired. A special unit of the Pakistani army is responsible for monitoring the condition of the road. Road maintenance is hard work, but it is an important economic sector in the Northern Areas and a source of income for many men in the region.
10’25’54 The KKH has brought the Hunza Valley with its majestic peaks, ancient fortresses and countless legends within the reach of tourists from around the world.
10’26’26 In Karimabad, the touristic heart of the valley, numerous hotels have been built – the first one goes back to 1976 and was built by the founders of the Hill Top Hotel.
“This was the only piece of land our family had. So – it was very small for our family because we have a big family so it was not enough for agriculture. So my family, my father and uncle decided to build a hotel for the tourists. So they started from the beginning. They started with very small building, six rooms first. And then every year tourist increased. So every after year we got a little bit money so we increased this hotel. And we have now 36 rooms.”
10’27’24 Before the family hotel was built, guests were put up in this building.
“When we opened this hotel, our neighbours and the whole of Karimabad were very happy because it would bring more tourists. The farmers were particularly happy because they could sell fresh fruit and vegetables to our guests. When the owner of the house wanted to take the building back, the neighbours were very angry with him.”
10’27’57 Tourists have special needs. Meeting these needs is the secret of a successful tourist industry.
10’28’06 The first tourists to the region were mountain climbers from the West. To avoid paying airline overweight charges for their equipment many visitors bought locally and sold it again when they came back from their 7,000- and 8,000-metre climbs. Ali Ahmad was one of the first to try his luck in this new business branch.
10’28’27Alí Ahmad “I was selling used items from the army and from private citizens – clothes and jackets and shoes – to the local population. Then in 1987 a Polish mountain climber said to me that I could do well with this business in tourism. He said that many tourists would be coming to this region and hopefully they would like it. Therefore I should build up my stock by adding climbing equipment that they would need and also learn a little English.”
10’29’10 Ali Ahmad successfully followed the advice. Until September 11, 2001, the number of tourists grew steadily. Today however, as a result of the fighting in Afghanistan and the conflict in Kashmir, things have changed. The broad palette of tourist services has fallen into disuse.
”The most important thing is that the tourists come. I hope very much that they will come, even though it will be in smaller numbers. I hope there will be no war between India and Pakistan and that other countries help to prevent such a war.”
10’29’50 In the souvenir shops of Karimabad, owners wait in vain for customers.
10’29’58 The situation has jeopardised a project of the Karakoram Development Organisation, KADO. This project has been highly successful in recent years and because of it the women of the Hunza Valley have been able to earn money for their traditional embroidery work.
“I learned embroidery from my mother and older sister. I used to embroider caps but only for myself. Then this centre opened and the people there contacted me. Now I can sell my work for good money. I use the money to send my six children to the English school. I also use some of it for the household.”
10’30’53 The embroiderers deliver their handiwork to the KADO centre where other women process them into souvenir articles.
First embroidery was only caps – like this – now we changed our products into gift items, purses and other things like shoes, cushion covers. The design is the same, but we just changed our colours of designing.
10’31’48 Because of the initial success with souvenir embroidery, KADO opened a weaving operation in spring 2001which gave other women a chance to learn and earn money.
10’32’09 Cloth weaving is not a part of the tradition of the Hunza Valley, but the new craft has been eagerly accepted by the women.
”Before I started work here, I worked in the fields and the house. When KADO built the weaving mill, I applied to work there and now I am very happy. It is pleasant work and I am getting paid for it. I use the money for the household and to pay for the schooling of my two children.”
10’32’50 Twenty-two-year-old Mulika Meary is in charge of the weaving operation. She is an enthusiastic designer of new articles and production models and would like to take further training in the textile branch.
”I love the Hunza Valley very much, but I would like to go down into the flatlands to continue my training and learn everything about materials and design. There are so many opportunities in this field. Then I would come back here and teach what I have learned to the women in the village.”
10’33’29 The fabric waits for the tourists in a shop in Aliabad. For the local clientele the prices are exorbitant.
10’33’39 Almost 30 years after the opening of the first hotel in the Hunza Valley, its founder Ibadat Shah makes this critical but positive assessment:
“On the one hand our culture has almost disappeared. On the other hand, 20 years ago everyone here was very poor. The tourists came and brought money with them. Before, there was no English school. Now our children speak fluent English.”
10’34’07 Taking English exams on the former polo field at Karimabad. Along the Karakoram Highway around a dozen different languages are spoken. Although the official language of Pakistan is Urdu, parents who can manage it, send their children to an English school in the hope that these children can make more of their futures.
10’34’50 The KKH leads from Karimabad upwards through barren mountain landscape to Khyber.
10’35’07 As is the case with many schools in this region, the one here is supported by the Aga Khan Foundation. Teacher Forman Beg, who is also head of the nature protection committee in the village, places great importance on natural history lessons.
10’35’27 For these children high up in the mountains, their future prospects differ little today from those of the children in the flatlands.
10’35’38Boy “My father does business with China and I would like to go to Karachi and become a doctor.”
10’35’46Girl “I would like to be a doctor”
10’35’49Boy “My parents are farmers and I would like to go to down to the city and become an engineer and then come back to my village.”
10’36’02Girl „My father works in a factory in Karachi. My mother is a housewife and I would like to become a teacher.”
10’36’12 Khyber is around 3,000 metres above sea level. Ninety-eight families, or around 1,000 people, live in the spacious village – most of them from agriculture. But here too, much has changed because of the Karakoram Highway.
10’36’43 The ibex was on the verge of extermination in the region. Local hunters and hunters from the outside, drawn here after the completion of the road, had reduced the ibex herds to a remnant. A good hunter enjoyed great prestige in Khyber.
”I began hunting when I was 18. I went to the Khunjerab Pass for the first time when I was 20. It was there that I shot my first Marco Polo sheep. I shot this ibex here in a valley near the village. My father and my brothers were all very proud to be hunters. I hunted regularly until I was 54.”
10’37’34 Now at 58 years of age, Enda Mohammed still goes stalking game but without a weapon. Hunting ibex in the Khyber region has been banned since 1995 and Enda Mohammed has been working as a game warden for the community as part of a project of the environmental organisation IUCN .
10’37’58 The number of ibex sighted in the Khyber region since the hunting ban went into effect has increased almost 10 times.
“With the KKH came organisations who told us that we shouldn’t shoot every ibex to make sure that the animal is not exterminated. Thanks to the road, now we no longer have to rely on game to get us through the winter.”
10’38’24 Depending on the amount of game, two to three hunting licences are sold each year to outsiders. These trophy hunters are a good source of additional income for the village.
“The trophy hunting fee is for Pakistanis 25,000 rupees and for foreigners 3,000 US Dollar. So the KKH brings these tourists and the tourists come to this village and they hunt here. In the future we plan that this income generating programme we will spend on our health facilities, on our education facilities and we have lot of barren lands.”
10’39’07 An important condition for the exploitation of this land was the construction of a bridge. The men of Khyber tackle this work together supported by a development organisation.
10’39’23 This bridge will enable the peasants to cultivate land on the other side of the river and to deliver the products to the village and to the Karakoram Highway.
10’39’45 In Utar, a wooden footbridge used to lead across the river but it was constantly being washed away by high water. Now they have built a cable car connecting the village with the highway
”Using the bridge, you needed something like one and a half hours to get to the KKH. Now it takes two minutes and you can also transport cattle, foodstuffs, sand, stone, whatever you need.”
10’41’20 The Karakoram Highway is gradually bringing change to the remote side valleys too.
10’41’30 The road in the Bagrot Valley is not paved and up until a few years ago was completely impassable for vehicles.
10’41’46 The route over loose gravel along precipitous slopes is dangerous. Rain often washes out the road.
10’42’15 Every day, jeep taxis shuttle back and forth between the villages in the uppermost part of the Bagrot Valley and Gilgit.
10’42’33 Even though the trip is tiresome and dangerous, the connection to the outside world has become an essential part of the life of the people in the valley.
10’42’50 Until only a few years ago, the Bagrot was one of the most isolated and backward valleys in the region. The land produced barely enough to feed the people. The headman of the valley Ahmed Ali remembers those difficult times clearly.
“At that time hunger was there, my father’s cousin came here as a guest. They cooked for my father’s cousins – I demand: give me also – my mother said let – it is only cooked for the guest, not for you. But I wait that they finished and some food will left and I would eat it – but it went, I could not eat.”
10’43’50 Today, Ahmed Ali no longer goes hungry. He was elected as a delegate to the regional administration and lives with his family near Gilgit. He takes sacks full of manure from the Bagrot because it is supposed to be better than what he can get in Gilgit.
10’44’17 Ahmed Ali frequently visits his aged mother and brothers and sisters in the Bagrot Valley. By jeep the trip takes nearly two hours. When he was a child, the first time he saw a car he fled in terror. Today he takes such changes in his stride.
“Now everybody you see – childs are using pants and shirt without cape wandering here and there. At that time it was very prohibited to open head. Now these are the changes to come new generation to see the Gilgit people, to see the Punjab people, to see the foreigners – they have changed their dresses, their foods – their living standards also.”
10’45’21 This radio telephone has just been installed by a private individual. Now for the first time, the people of Bagrot can directly call Gilgit, Islamabad or even abroad.
10’45’39 A barren mountain valley such as the Bagrot has only a few resources which can bring money following the opening of the KKH.
”Before we had the road, the hills were heavily forested. After the road was completed, people began to fell the trees and take them away. At the time the people were uneducated and didn’t know about the importance of the forests. So they cut the trees and sold the wood in the lowlands.”
10’46’13 Along the Karakoram Highway there are huge lumber yards at the junctions with most of the side valleys.
10’46’26 The great demand in the lowlands led to a large-scale destruction of the forests of the Karakoram mountains. Clear-cutting has bared the slopes and reforestation is hardly an option.
10’46’42 The villages in the Bagrot Valley recognised this danger and set up a forest committee with 13 men delegated to watch over their forest.
“Logging has been completely banned. If somebody from the valley needs wood to build a house, he must get a permit from the forest committee.”
10’47’26 A guard post on the main road checks all passing cars to see that wood is not being smuggled out of the valley.
10’48’05 Up until 10 years ago it was unthinkable for a girl in the Bagrot Valley to go to school. But with the opening of the valley, even this has changed. Religious leaders no longer oppose education for girls. Nevertheless, the local Mullah warns against the influences of the KKH:
10’48’25Mullah Mir Hussain
“Our Islamic culture is threatened by new developments, especially as far as women are concerned. Islam offers women protection and it was the highest commandment of Allah to Mohammed that girls should hide their bodies and faces with the purdah. But the purdah tradition is in danger.”
10’48’47 But Mullah Mir Hussain is not completely opposed to change. For example, he uses the Internet to consult with his superiors in Iran. And he welcomes schooling.
10’49’01Mullah Mir Hussain
”This kind of education is good for scientific progress and for our life here. Through a combination of religious education and secular teaching we can improve our everyday lives here in the valley and in the whole world.”
10’49’24 Boys and girls at their first day of classes in the new English school in Bagrot: in a revolutionary move, they are being taught in the same class. Until recently mixed classes would have been unthinkable.
10’49’45 There are seven classes, six of them in the open air.
10’49’53 The first hour devoted to Koranic studies takes place in a simple room.
10’50’11 Many of the children can already speak a bit of English. Now they must learn to speak it correctly.
10’50’37 Urdu is also on the curriculum. For most of the children, the official language of Pakistan is also foreign.
“This was the first day of school and we are very happy that we successful together and I hope that we will – this success will come any time with us more forward.”
10’51’42 Closing credits