No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth. I just took a vacation, had an especially crazy month of work, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to do very simple things like 1) get rid of the ants in my kitchen and 2) figure out why the internet hasn’t worked at my house for 6 weeks. So at present I’m short any substantive update about the grooviness of life in Pakistan over the last month. But I figured at least I could show you a few vacation pics!

The idea was radical: take a long weekend off in a place with no cell or functioning internet service, where no one could do work of any kind and everyone could relax. I got away from the city, gulped down a ton of fresh air, visited the highest plains in the world, and read two books front to back. After four months of working weekends, putting in more than the occasional 12-hour day, and living and breathing my job, getting away felt like a long drink of water in the desert: much needed. The only bad news is that I got trapped in the mountains and started to despair of ever returning to civilization.

A ticket to Skardu will cost you about 8,000 rupees, (or 14,000 rupees if you’re an American and don’t have one of your Pakistani friends pick up the ticket for you which luckily, I did. Thanks Fahim!!) Either way it’s a steal. The only downside is that the sole air carrier to the mountain towns is PIA, the government-owned airline of Pakistan where service is indifferent and your trip home is sort of optional. What can you reasonably expect from an airline whose baggage claim looks like this?

But the bottom line is that one of the best perks of living in Pakistan is that you are close enough to the Himalayas to go for the weekend. This means that from my house in Islamabad, it costs about $100 to get to the most famous mountains in the world. (What about the Alps, you say? They are the Himalayas’ scrawny little sister. The Rockies? Please.)

After a bumpy, five-hour trip made more eventful by frequent stops to fill our wheezing Land Cruiser’s radiator with water, I got to see the Deosai Plains in bloom. Much of the year the plains are covered in snow; for a few short weeks they are covered with delicate little blossoms instead. I found it the perfect setting for forcing one’s traveling companions to belt out highlights from the Sound of Music soundtrack while fighting back high-altitude dizziness.

We stayed at Shiga Fort, the old home of the Raja of the territory, where the Raja’s families have traditionally been living for centuries. The latest Raja got wise, sold the fort to the Serena hotel chain, and now lives in a fancy house next door after pocketing his cash. Shiga Fort is, as a result, the perfect combination of 5-star hotel (strong, hot showers and toilets that work) and stripped-down, zen peace retreat with a zesty sprinkling of history. I highly recommend.

One of the best things about the Fort is the huge garden that wraps all the way around the grounds and is liberally covered by large lounging divans. On my favorite day of the trip, I read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, drank sweet mixed tea all afternoon, and laughed and talked with friends as ripe apricots fell out of the trees and split neatly into our laps, reminding us that even the effort of peeling would be unnecessary labor in this paradise.

One day we took a dusty walk down to the little town of Shiga to search for provisions, which we found in the form of ancient packets of cookies and mango juice boxes. There was a 350-year-old mosque in town which I didn’t visit, being neither male nor Muslim, but I did see the town mullah while I was there and a bunch of cute kids.

After two days of delayed flights home (airline strike! weather! computer problems! No one will ever know for sure…), I started to get a little nervous even in the most relaxing place on earth. Even the best long weekend away has to come to an end sometime. On the third stolen day of vacation, this one finally did. So I packed up my extra juice boxes, came down from the mountain, and returned to “ordinary” life, whatever that means these days…