Relations with officials began formally in northern Pakistan. Almost always, this stiffness quickly eased into smiles and good spirits. We were two independent travellers. In all but a few places, there were no other Westerners. This made us novelties – distractions whose presence prompted officials, and locals more generally, to do what they do so well: be the benevolent host. Even serious procedures – being registered as a foreigner by a district administrator; finding that one was to be assigned an armed guard – turned into relaxed occasions. Across the Hindu Kush’s 4600-metre Khunjerab Pass a different story played out.
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