Gemstone Hunters from the Karakoram is a story that explores the lives of miners in Pakistani Kashmir. It documents men fighting to feed their families in one of the most rugged and unfortunate spots on earth.
Baltistan is one of the most remote and poverty-stricken regions in Pakistani Kashmir. It is linked to the country’s center via a single road that traverses the treacherous Karakoram mountains, and by a sporadic charter flight that only goes to Islamabad and Lahore. The local population barely ekes a living out of tourism (which dwindled drastically after 9/11), logging, energy production-related jobs, and gemstone mining. The “gemstone hunters” of Baltistan chip away at cliff walls while suspended hundreds of meters above the ground and securing themselves with decaying ropes and extremely old harnesses. They carry very heavy compressors with rudimentary anchors and make use of large quantities of a cheap explosive that is very easy to come by.
All of the men that the story includes are part of Baltistan’s “mining industry”, which, when looked at in-depth, is hardly an industry and really doesn’t revolve around mining. They test the boundaries of regulation on a daily basis and struggle against the misery and misfortune of the inaccessible mountain region where they were born. In this region, like in many other areas in Pakistan, survival comes first and abiding by the law, second.
This series of photographs and a text by alpinist and journalist Simón Elías was published at The Independent On Sunday in the UK and El País Semanal, in Spain.
Text by Simón Elias