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Trader Afzal Baig tugs at his horse, frustrated by its stubborn refusal to take another step along a treacherous, snow-covered mountain pass that is peppered with the skeletons of those who have already failed the journey. The Irshad Pass, a narrow trail more than 4,970 meters above sea level, is part of the ancient Silk Road network, used for centuries by traders from northern Pakistan's Hunza valley to cross the Karakoram mountains into Afghanistan's windswept, barren Wakhan Corridor.One wrong step through the ragged mountains can end in a fall of thousands of feet, and as Baig's horse refuses to budge a blizzard grows. Human skulls and other bones are scattered in caves along the route, skeletons that Baig says are the remains of other traders.He has already lost six of his travel partners, buried in avalanches along the trail. Three warm hats equals one sheep, half a dozen plastic watches equal two sheep or a goat, and 10 kilograms of tea or 5 kilograms of flour equal one yak.One woman already wearing four plastic watches on one arm asks Baig if he has any more.Two other yaks are given on credit.
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