Abroad and In Peril

Photographer Mark Staff shares a tale of his own harrowing adventure in the Middle East.

It started out to be a soul-searching solo motorcycle trip to northern India’s Kashmir province. Traversing perilously rugged roads and struggling with AMS (altitude mountain sickness), Mark Staff crossed the three highest mountain passes in the world over the course of a sixteen days on a thousand-mile journey. But he found the greatest danger lie in the turmoiled town of Kargil near the Pakistani border.

“As I walked the street, I noticed how much I stood out. I was the only American looking person there,” says Staff. “As I passed groups of men typically dressed in shabby baggy trousers and old jackets, they glared with hatred at me. I felt a sense of foreboding dread. People spit at my feet in passing.”

Despite a warning from a friendly Sikh he encountered that he should leave as soon as possible, Staff spent the night at a hotel in town. When he work up the next morning, all hell had broken loose.

“As I pulled from the alley onto the Main Street of Kargil I ran right into the middle of a thousand chanting people walking their way into the town center. All were wearing black and carried banners and shouting. I weaved my bike as carefully as I could through the oncoming throngs of people trying to avoid hitting anyone. At one point I had to stop for a group of pickups and SUVs with loud Islamic rap music blaring out from speakers in the back of trucks. Men wearing what looked like the ISIS head wraps and brandishing guns in the air, while waving black Shia banners in the wind, passed by me as I stopped to avoid confrontation of any kind. I knew I was somewhere I should not be.”

Staff hightailed it out of town as soon as possible, but he was left with one hell of a story. But that is just part of the adventure, as Staff put it. “If one has an ordinary life, you will have ordinary stories.”

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