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Ancient Route to China Is Busy Again

May 24, 1988

TASHKARGAN, China (AP) _ An ancient road traveled by the likes of Genghis Khan, Marco Polo and Babur has become an active artery of commerce today between China and Pakistan.

More than 2,000 years ago, silk and spices made their way out of China on the route, while gold, silver and wool made their way in.

The commerce today is considerably more diverse, if not as exotic.

As many as 80 Pakistani merchants travel the road into China each day in battered buses to buy silk, porcelain and pearls, and Chinese businessmen head in the opposite direction toward the Khunjerab Pass on the border as part of a barter arrangement between the two countries.

The barter enables the Chinese to trade hydroelectric equipment, farm tools, textiles, quilts and porcelain for Pakistani cigarettes, medical herbs, dried fruits, shoes and razor blades.

The volume of official barter has increased to the equivalent of $3 million in the past year, compared to $300,000 in 1986, according to Sadeq Malek, sales officer of Pakistan’s Northern Areas Traders Cooperatives.

The road also is being traveled more and more by tourists.

From Pakistan’s border post of Sost the road follows the Hunza River, then runs along the icy Khunjerab River into China, crossing numerous glaciers. As it climbs to the Khunjerab Pass, it goes through a series of narrow chasms and steep declines.

At Tashkargan, the first Chinese town across the border, workmen are building hotels and inns to accommodate the growing number of travelers passing through.

Kamel Tahsin, manager of the government-run Pamir Hotel in Tashkargan, said the new hotels will be more modern and better equipped.

″Business is getting better,″ he said. ″So we have to add a couple of wings to our hotel.″

Tahsin is one of about 12,000 people in Tashkargan who are Shiite Moslem Tajiks, the tribe dominant in the area. They are distinguishable by their sharp features and their women by their colorful costume.

Across the border in Sost, Pakistanis also are building to meet the growing flow of tourists.

Assif Khan, a Pakistani government tourist official, said big tour groups now travel to China four times a month compared to twice a month a year ago.

But it’s a tough road to travel, says Amanollah Mogul, the bus driver who makes the journey about once a day back and forth to China.

The Khunjerab Pass, he said, makes him dizzy.

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