4.5 out of 5 stars
It begins with Jamie meeting some Pakistani men in her town of Fife. They were seated just outside the Coop all wearing brightly coloured cloth and anoraks to keep out the Scottish cold. It bought back memories of her visit to the northern town of Gilgit a decade before. She says hello and they explain what they are doing and the next thing is that they are being welcomed into her home. They are on a peace walk and Jamie tries to find them accommodation for the night before they move onto the next town; it is sorted in an unexpected way. They spend some time with them the following morning and she passes her book on to them of her account of staying Pakistan. It had been out of print for a while and as they walk back into their house the phone is ringing. It is another publisher asking if she would like to see it reprinted and more importantly would she like to return there?
Ten years before, to get to Gilgit she had to travel along the ironically named ‘Friendship Highway’ a road built between China and Pakistan who shared little love. Passing through customs took hours as the Chinese scrutinised their passports in detail. After a long time had passed they were herded back on and continued their journey onward.
Eventually arriving in Gilgit, she heads to the Golden Peak Hotel. It used to be a palace for the Mir in its heyday but it has no elegance or beauty that you’d expect from a palace. After resting she heads out to the bazaar to get a feel for the town. She sees no women out and about, apart from one begging by the post office. It is a cacophony of noise from people, animals and vehicles along the long main street. It becomes a daily habit and Jamie becomes to get a feel for the town dynamic. This part of Kasmir is a tense place too, there had been massacres there before and she would hear the sound of mortar fire in the distance on occasion.
She gets to know the people a little and then she has an invite to stay in the home of a local family. She accepts the invitation but is nervous about being there, but slowly her fears were allayed as she became accepted by the women there. Her presence in the town though attracts attention, she is watched by someone from the security services, it offends her host tremendously and he sets about sorting it out.
The place had got under her skin and when home in Scotland, a whiff of spice would take her back there immediately. A year later she is back again. It is still an assault on the senses, crowds of people thronging as she headed to the bus station. Climbing aboard the de-luxe service bus she realises that the luxury level is determined by the gaudy paintwork and the amount of decoration. Being a lone Western woman she is allowed to sit at the front. Well away from the wandering hands. The journey was terrifying and delayed but eventually, they closed in on Gilgit. She couldn’t wait to see her friend, Rashida and settle back into life there once again.
A decade later, Jamie has changed, married now and with children too and she is wondering how all the friends that she made on those original trip have changed too. The journey there is not without its drama, but she cannot wait to be there once again. It is still the centre of Intrigue and she, according to her host, is the only Westerner in the region. The reunion with Rashida is charged with emotion and joy. It was good to be back.
I did really like this book as Jamie is a wonderful writer. You can trace the foundations of her later works quite vividly at times, partly by the warmth of her character and her attention to detail to the things happening around her as she moves around the town. Her deep curiosity is very vivid too, and the prose is such that you feel that you are standing alongside her as she observes the ebb and flow of people in the market. She is intrigued and interested in the differences and similarities between her and their cultures. She is fortunate that in a lot of this she is considered an honorary man and can spend time with male and female without any of the usual discrimination that takes place. This book is a wonderful insight into a region beset by trouble, but with a population that is trying to live its life in some form of normality.