On my first visit to Pakistan in 1992, I spent a week or so relaxing in Altit, a tranquil village deep in the Hunza Valley. My then girlfriend and I had unexpectedly (*) had to walk and hitch from Sost (the closest town to the Pakistan/Chinese border) to Gilgit, a journey of just over 180km and we were both exhausted as a result. So after a few days in Gilgit, we travelled the short distance to nearby Altit and checked into Ali’s Guesthouse for a week of doing nothing.

(*) The unexpected need to walk and hitch between Sost and Gilgit was because there had been serious floods and landslides in Pakistan’s northern regions in 1992 and as a result long stretches of the Karakoram Highway were impassable for most vehicles. 

We were both suffering from various ailments – giardiasis (both of us) and a boil up the nose (just me) – and needed the week of recuperation. We spent our days talking to other travellers, playing on our Nintendo Game Boy (*) and drinking tea and eating biscuits at the local Chai shop.

(*) I am showing my age now. When I typed Nintendo Game Boy into Google, words such as retro, collectors-item and original all came up in the search. I got my Game Boy in Hong Kong and only had two games for it – Donkey Kong and Tetris. The device was the size of a small brick and took four AA batteries. How things have progressed.

Ali's dad Hunza Valley Pakistan (September 1992)

Ali’s dad

Whilst at Ali’s Guesthouse, we got to know Ali and also Ali’s dad, who we just called Ali’s dad! Ali spoke excellent English but Ali’s dad did not. He was always happy and smiling (in a toothless kind of way) but only spoke three words of English – ‘big’, ‘no’ and ‘problem’. Because of the flooding mentioned above, there was a shortage of food supplies in the Hunza Valley at the time. Every morning we would be greeted by Ali’s dad at breakfast. ‘Morning Ali’s dad,’ we would say, ‘Do you have toast and butter today?’ ‘Problem,’ came the reply with a small head wobble. ‘OK, do you have porridge today then?’ we asked. ‘Big problem,’ was the response to this one accompanied by a sterner head wobble. ‘Could we have a cup of tea and some chapattis maybe?’ was our last-ditched attempt to get something to eat to which we were greeted with a joyous ‘NO problem,’ an enthusiastic head wobble and a toothless smile.

I know some of you reading this must be thinking that Ali’s dad must have spoken more English than ‘big’, ‘no’ and ‘problem’, otherwise how did he understand our questions regarding breakfast, right? But if he did, he never let on and these were definitely the only three words he ever spoke. He made great chapattis and eventually we did get some porridge.

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