My diary stops at this point, and my memory is of little help... we all got back to Chitral, picked up our lorry and drove back to Blitey, via Islamabad to drop Ickbal off. What has become of him since I often wonder. The country has gone through enormous changes since, not many for the better. At the time it was a lay democracy, Zulfikar Bhutto was Prime Minister and there was a certain optimism in the air. Ickbal, a moderate thoughtful person seemed to think that feudalism was being reduced in a calm and ordered way, that they were on the road to modernisation while respecting the cultural and religious context of the country. This seemed to correspond to what we saw - the North of the country was still very poor but Islamabad was bustling... none of us suspected that a little later a military coup would lead to Bhutto's execution, nor the more recent rise of fanatical Islam, but that, as has been said before, is another story.
When I returned to Sussex it turned out that I had picked up hepatitis, which explained why I had found the going increasingly tough on the walk out. I spent a month or so in Rye recovering at my parents' before returning to Paris permanently. I gradually lost touch with most of the other members of the expedition except for Harry, of course, Colin and Neville, whose work soon took him off to N America. Colin, Harry and I did some climbing in Chamonix in 1975, my last mountaineering until 2002!. I never got hold of an expedition report, but I'm still working on it - I found an old letter from Colin recently, which said it was available for sale at Lawrie's, in London, but this fine old company has long since disappeared! We were obviously pleased with the first ascents of several 6000 metre peaks, but it really would be nice to know if we had in fact done the first ascent of Koyo Zom, second highest peak, after Tirich Mir, in the area. I suspect it would be pretty tricky to know for sure after all these years.... and does it really matter?
The most important is to play the game, isn't it?
A wider conclusion
This was to be my last expedition, the last of three backed by Imperial College, which I had the honour to be part of. They certainly shaped my whole life in various direct but essentially indirect ways. They were exceptional experiences, which were possible for all sorts of unique reasons - today they would be much more difficult, if not impossible, and would make much less sense. I am very conscious of how lucky I was, both with regards to my compatriots but much more so regarding the people we encountered. Our situation was so radically more privileged than theirs that it required a very thick skin not to be touched by it. The term "guilt" is not really adequate to describe what I felt, but it goes some of the way.
Whatever, I had become increasingly ill at ease with the situation where one knows that the camera around your neck is worth more than the person your speaking to would probably ever earn in his whole life... not totally logical perhaps but enough to make me feel like turning the page. Living in the heady atmosphere of Paris in the late 70's and early 80's, when all seemed possible, and imminent, working for the first time on more than an occasional basis to pay for the next trip, gradually opened my eyes to aspects of the world that would dominate my life for a decade. The experiences in Afghanistan, Bolivia and Pakistan were a major part of this learning process.
Sadly all these countries, especially if one includes Chile, which I visited on the way back from Bolivia, have gone through horrors which make our experiences seem so trivial that it is difficult not to be ashamed at such futility, but assuming this contradiction is also part of the same process, and one that I am still immersed in today.
Navigare necesse es. Vivare no es necesse
Tacky but true.
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