“This is the one as in the pictures!” I stammered, as we bounced up and down the potholed trail. The collection of planks held together by some iron wire came closer into view. This was not supposed to be happening.
We had been told that the government had constructed a new bridge. One that was strong and safe, not like the rickety one that was proudly displayed on enormous posters all over the northern areas of Pakistan: a collection of planks held together by some iron wire.
For the previous two months of our journey through north Pakistan, my partner Coen had been keen to cross that bridge. I had vetoed the idea, a fact that was helped by the fact that the bridge had collapsed. However, with quite un-Pakistani speed, the government had constructed a new one, probably because this bridge was the only thing connecting the town of Skardu and the Deosai Plains.
With the news of this newly constructed bridge, Coen concluded that we now had to add this mind-blowing region to our itinerary. I agreed. With K2 to the northeast and Nanga Prabat to the southeast, the area around the Deosai Plains was definitely an attractive destination.
From Skardu we meandered up to the plains, which are an extension of the Tibetan plateau. From jagged, bare mountains, gorges and lakes, we suddenly hit a lightly undulating surface. At about 4,000 meters stretched kilometers of grasslands that are accessible only in summer, and hidden below a layer of snow for the rest of the year. We were there in mid July, when the the Land of Giants (as the plains are locally known) were flowering meadows, while mountaintops in the distance remained perpetually covered in snow.
In 1993, the Deosai Plains became a national park in an effort to protect the Himalayan brown bear. While once there may have been as many as 10,000, today the bears live in small pockets throughout the Himalayas. Golden marmots, on the other hand, live here in large numbers and are easy to spot. The phias, as they are locally called, lay stretched out on flat rocks, taking in the sun or running through the grasslands. They didn’t appear to be disturbed by us.
We easily crossed two bridge-less streams, but the third waterway wasn’t a stream; it was a river and it was too deep. Thankfully there was a bridge. However, this was the bridge from the pictures! Identical! What did they mean, a new bridge had been built?
“Yes, yes, it’s new,” a local confirmed with fervor.
“But it’s the same,” I argued, having expected at least some kind of concrete version this time, and expressing that.
“No, that would have been far too expensive. This one is new, it is strong. Cars cross every day.”
“Those are light-weight, short-based jeeps. Our car weighs three tons. Can it get safely across?” we asked.
Pakistanis are among the kindest people, always willing to help. They don’t like to say, “No, it can’t,” and so the question was useless. We had to trust our guts.
“We’ll cross,” Coen stated.
“I’ll walk and take photos,” I insisted.
The roles were divided without further argument. As I walked across I felt the bridge wobbling lightly with every step. I picked my vantage point on the other side of the river, partly expecting to be photographing a car falling through the bridge. Coen crossed slowly but with determination.
Lo and behold, the bridge held.
Article by Karin-Marijke Vis.