Walking through the heart of Pakistan | SierraSun.com

Walking through the heart of Pakistan

Courtesy photo/Sierra SunRuth Anne Cocour visited some of Pakistan's most remote areas when she visited the war-torn country in 1998-99. On Monday, she will speak at the Resort at Squaw Creek.

Some friends tried to convince her not to go, but Ruth Anne Kocour was determined to experience firsthand the culture and the terrain of Pakistan ” even if the country’s political and social climate was in turmoil at the time.

An author and photographer based in Galena, Nev., Kocour will share experiences from her journey to Pakistan with Tahoe Truckee residents at a talk Monday at the Resort at Squaw Creek.

The presentation, to start at 6:30 p.m., is sponsored by the Squaw Valley Institute.

“I’m really giving an anecdotal account of my experience there,” Kocour said in a phone interview. “I’m really not trying to convey a message.”

The time was 1998 and 1999, when Kashmir was the site of armed conflict between India and Pakistan, a military coup put Pervez Musharraf in power and when people were listening to Osama Bin Laden’s message of Islamic fundamentalism. Despite the ongoing conflicts, Kocour walked hundreds of miles through Pakistan’s spectacular mountains, up and down thousands of vertical feet.

“[Pakistan is] one of the most incredible destinations on earth,” Kocour said. “It makes the Himalayas … it makes them pale.”

For weeks on end, Kocour was surrounded by peaks scraping the sky at an elevation of 20,000 feet ” a rugged landscape inhabited by some of the most remote tribal communities on the planet.

“I don’t think people realize just how isolated and cut off these people are from the modern world,” she said.

In the mountains, Kocour said she wasn’t worried about terrorism, kidnappings or beheadings. Instead, she was more fearful of avalanches, rock slides and earthquakes.

She crossed ancient passes on trails that were once a part of the historical silk route traveled by Alexander the Great and Marco Polo.

Kocour, a mountaineer who has traveled extensively to developing and undeveloped countries, climbed up the Baltoro Glacier and through the Karakoram Range to witness K2, the world’s second-highest peak at 8,611 meters.

The following year, she returned to hike along the contentious border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, up the Wakhan Corridor ” a somewhat lawless and isolated mountainous land governed by tribal authorities based on blood lines.

Kocour walked through restricted military zones, within nine miles of the line of control in the Kashmir conflict. She stayed in villages that were the breeding grounds for al Quaida. And she recounted a time when she walked around a corner only to have a machine gun pointed at her face.

“You never knew what was going to happen next ” ever,” she said.

It was her respect for the culture, Kocour said, that kept her safe.

“If they like you, you’re family,” she said. “If they don’t like you, you just don’t come back.”

Kocour dressed in traditional clothing, with a scarf covering her hair at all times. She quickly learned how to conduct herself in concordance with local customs, traditions and morals. And she was as helpful and generous as she could be.

“Because it was clear that I respected their culture, I was treated with respect,” she said.

Kocour said her desire to visit Pakistan was like a gravitational pull, something that had been gnawing at her for years.

“I just had to go see it,” she said. “And my life would have been less if I hadn’t.”

Looking back, she said her trip was “wild, weird, quirky, scary and intense … fun and funny.” It was a mix of emotions she hopes to share with others who may never have the opportunity to experience a trip to Pakistan.

“I love the world,” Kocour said. “So you know, I’m not afraid of it. I’ve always said I’m more afraid of not living than I am in dying.”

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