Pakistan Mineral Adventure
For me, the journey to Pakistan begins with a 3 hour drive to JFK. After a 2 hour wait in the airport, it is another 13 and a half hours to Dubai. I usually have a long layover in Dubai --- from several hours to half a day. If I could, I would stay in this hotel: the Burj al Arab. Unfortunately, the CHEAPEST rooms are about $1800 per night.
This is a C-130 Hercules transport plane. I flew this plane from Islamabad to Skardu. At the time, all PIA (Pakistani International Airlines) flights were canceled because one plane had gone down killing all on board. There were no seats in this plane --- just a metal bar and some straps! But they did have food service...
If you do not fly from Islamabad to Skardu, you have to take the Karakorham Highway (or KKH). The KKH is an amazing road. It was built by the Chinese and it clings to the mountainsides along the Indus River. It is in a constant state of repair. Landslides, washouts, falling rocks and accidents are constant hazards. In fact, Karakorham means crumbling rock. There are places where you can fall literally hundreds of feet before being swept away by the Indus River. This apple truck overturned rather than go over the edge. Strange, because this is one of the most passable sections of the road.
There are a lot of things to see along the road from Islamabad to Skardu. These people are victims of the earthquake which hit Pakistan on Oct. 8, 2005. Two years later they are still living in tents. My friends in Pakistan say the vast majority of the aid came from the US --- all of the gray tents are from US aide organizations.
Believe it or not, this bridge is for cars! I will always remember the first time I crossed this bridge: the whole thing shakes and sways while you cross it. To top it all off, the road takes a sharp right angle turn inside the tunnel.
Everywhere you look along the road there are spectacular mountain views. I hope one day I will have the time to stop and take some real pictures. This is just a snapshot out the car window! Forty of the 50 highest mountains in the world are in Pakistan...
In between the mountains are incredible valleys. The entire region depends on snow melt for water.
One of the towns along the way is Shengus. From the road you can look across the river and see pegmatites that miners have worked for minerals...
Man! Would I ever love to dig in this pegmatite. The only problem is the river in between the road and the digging area...
I just happened to catch this man on his way back from a hard day of collecting at the pegmatite in the previous picture. And you thought your hike back from a day of field collecting was hard! No, I have not made this crossing myself...but I want to! The river looks calm here, but I assure you it is not. After this man made it back across the river, he sold me a nice aquamarine and garnet specimen he had just found.
Gilgit, Pakistan is a fair sized city on the way to the Shigar Valley. My friend Saeed told me he used to have 5 rock shops in Gilgit, but he was forced to close them all. I asked him why, and he told me that there was some fighting between Sunnis and Shias in the area. Apaprently there was a lot of shooting. As Saeed said, "Life first --- business second." I assumed all of this was a long time ago. When I got to town, I was surprised to see government troops manning mounted machine guns in the back of pick up trucks. I asked Saeed when the fighting had occurred. He told me "About five weeks ago..." and we left town quickly. The rock shops are still mostly closed.
That brings up the whole idea of safety. Pakistan is not a safe place. Saeed first asked me to come to Pakistan over 10 years ago. I have spent that time trying to make contacts and gather information to ensure my safety, but there are no guarantees. I rely on my good friend Saeed to help me. This is a picture of Saeed with some local dealers. Saeed is on the right.
I do my best to blend in. Most of the time, no one even knows theres a foreigner in town. I am, of course, joking. EVERYONE knows there is a foreigner in town. This picture is from my first trip to Pakistan, from before I bought a shalwar kameez.
This is me in my newly tailored shalwar kameez (the local dress). We visited three shops before determining no one had one in my size (I am six feet five inches tall). The tailor made Saeed pay double for the extra cloth... There are many people in parts of the Northern area with Greek bloodlines dating back to the invasion of Pakistan by Alexander the Great. Apparently they are very tall people and I look a lot like one of them when Im dressed in my shalwar.
After about 17 hours of driving, you come to the town of Skardu, in the NWFP (NorthWest Frontier Province). Skardu guards the start of the long and narrow Shigar Valley, which is where so many of Pakistans beautiful aquamarines come from. I have always wanted to visit! Most mineral dealers, even those from Pakistan, do not come here to buy specimens. They prefer to wait until the stones reach Peshawar. But when I can I try to get as close to the source as possible. You may have bought specimens labeled Shigar or Hashupi or Alchori, etc. Often the label refers more to the town the miner lived in, which may or may not be the closest town to the mining area.
And here is the reward for all my travels. This pocket contains tourmalines, pollucite, and topaz. This is the miners home. In typical Paksitani style, everyone is seated on the floor. Note the tourmaline and clevelandite specimen in the lower right.
Here is the same tourmaline in my hand. It needs some cleaning! Buying like this is a little difficult because you never know exactly what things will look like when they are finished.
Fortunately, this one came out great!
Do you like combinations? This piece has tourmaline, clevelandite, quartz, topaz and pink apatite!
Here is the same piece after cleaning.
Its easy to see the beautiful pollucite, three topaz crystals and large lepidolite crystal in this picture...NOT!
Here is another fine pocket of crystals from the haramosh area. Topaz, schorl tourmaline and aquamarine --- all in one pocket!
Here is a nice piece from this find. An exceptionally gemmy, well terminated aquamarine and a quartz crystal on feldspar.
Here is a close up of the aquamarine.
Most people are looking for gemmy lustrous crystals these days, but I LOVE this aquamaine. It has frosted faces, but it is nice and fat with a beautiful powder blue color on bright white clevelandite.
Who can resist a piece like this? No need for a description.
There is something funny going on inside this topaz...lets have a closer look in the next picture.
...Aha! A screw dislocation! As I understand it, the somewhat helical looking phantom in this crystal is caused by a growth defect in the crystal lattice.