Monday, September 25, 2006


Ramadan started today. I was woken at about 4am to the sound of activity & the smell of pratha (fried nan) being cooked. During Ramadan practicing Muslims are not permitted to do a variety of things from Sunrise to Sunset, eating & drinking being one of them. As the Sun came up at around 6am this meant an early breakfast for the devout. Though I've become an early riser this was a bit too early for even me & I was soon back to sleep. When I got up the Sun was up & I made use of my hotel room's balcony to fire up my stove & cooked some porridge.

After breakfast I took a walk around Dir to try & find a money changer. All the hotel staff were asleep. Many shops weren't yet open, at a time when they would normally be outside Ramadan. I found quite an unfriendly vibe in town as I walked & quickly returned to the hotel, finished packing & left.

The unfriendly vibe continued on the road. I had a few stones thrown at me, though none hit. People just stared at me as I passed didn't respond to my greetings. That & the terrible road surface put me in a terrible mood. Of course I got a flat tire. It was only due to the lack of trucks on the road that I didn't pack in cycling & hitch to Peshawar. I'm glad I didn't as things improved as the afternoon progressed. I left the Dir valley & crossed over to the lower part of the Swat valley. I was told that the upper Dir valley was pretty conservative (I saw plenty of burkas there) & since the American-led war in Afghanistan many people have become quite anti-Western. I guess I copped a little resentment. While the people of the Dir & Swat valleys are both Pashtun, like those being hurt by stray American bombs on the other side of the border, the Swat valley is not right beside the border so perhaps the people are less personally affected by the war.

There had been an abrupt change in the landscape from the day before. The Dir valley was much greener than the Chitral. Terracing used to grow crops or for grazing was cut right up the mountain sides rather than just on ledges above the river. Where there wasn't terracing there was natural growth. The mountains were smaller & became hills as I descended. I realised that I had said goodbye to the mountains & would be spending little time above 1000m.

As the day came to an end I had trouble finding a place to stay. Fortunately I came across a government run PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) motel with friendly staff who let me camp on the front lawn. It was a lovely spot right beside the river. I think I was the only 'guest' for the night. It was quite luxurious, there was even a policeman assigned to the motel. The price was right too, camping was free & even including dinner & breakfast it was cheaper than the slightly grimy place I was in the previous night.

I cycled 116 km in 7 hours & 17 minutes
Total so far 11581 km in 182 days

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