There is something irrepressably romantic about the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures. Asia is full of monuments to its encounters with Europe. Every capital has its Portuguese, Dutch, French, German or British buildings. Macau is exceptional in that it still has a large population of Eurasians which maintains a separate identity. For the most part Europe's legacy is found in old stones, not the people themselves. Eurasians in Hong Kong, for instance, have been largely assimilated into the Chinese community. Little remains of the European splendors of Malacca or Goa but the edifices, but what atmosphere! It is a joy to be charmed by France's legacies in Indochina or great hotels such as the Raffles in Singapore.

But there are real blood legacies, too, in Asia. There are places with ties to Europe that are far more ancient and in a way much more intimate than the neglected palaces of imperial Calcutta. Such a place was recently visited by several SAISkateers, in the wild mountains of Pakistan's northwest frontier--the last place I would have ever looked. The secret valleys nestled near the border with China were barely touched by the colonials. The territories we visited had been nominally British but self-administered. Not a single British building did we find. Rather we found a European race, or actually hints of one, which had survived copper-haired and blue-eyed in the Hunza Valley since the age of Alexander the Great. Here dwelt European antiquity's descendents, like a puddle on the shore left by a receding wave, their ancestry kept intact by the Valley's isolation from everything around it.

Let me backtrack from the grand sweep of history to the mundane: I took a vacation. Here my account is lacking, because Tom, Tricia, Glenn and Maggie started this trip before me in Kyrgyzstan and ended it after me in Pakistan. I hope they contribute something, if they wish, because they have some good stories I can't tell. Also, we followed in the footsteps of Stefan, who made this trip several years ago.

We met in Rawalpindi, the bazaar-and-slum adjoining Islamabad, with a guide named Karim and a sturdy van-driver, Nawaz. I had been hanging out already in 'Pindi and Islamabad. My first impression was driving to a run-down 'Pindi hotel at night from the airport. Virtually every male in Pakistan wears a shalwar qamiz, which consists of matching baggy trousers and a long shirt. Pakistan is an Islamic state and everyone must cover themselves, although some people wear conservative Western dress in Islamabad. Anyway, most of these outfits are white, and racing through 'Pindi late at night, when all the men hang around outside, it appeared the inmates were loose and running the asylum. In Pakistan this is sometimes more than just an appearance.

It's just as well there's no booze allowed because driving along the Karakoram Highway was dangerous enough with sober drivers. The highway leading to China is full of lorries and other vehicles, at least for the first third. These guys speed like mad along very curvy paths. The road hugs the mountainside, there are no guard rails, and you can look out the window and see the ground fall sharply away from you. Tricia sat up front where it looked like every approaching truck was going to smash into her, or send her careening over the edge. She missed half the scenery because she kept her eyes shut.

The road, the road. It was finished by the Pakistani army in 1978 and opened to tourists in 1986. Its purpose was ostensibly to foster trade with China, but this is a nonsense. Little trade occurs over the road; it's probably cheaper to airlift it. The road is actually a military perogative. Pakistan's northwest territory consists of numbingly big mountain ranges interspersed with oasis towns and valleys with their own languages, cultures and ethnic groups. These areas are fiercely independent; the road has made them easier to occupy. There was no sign of seccessionism but the further north you go, particularly in the Hunza Valley, the people don't relate to their rulers down in Punjab. The road is bringing modernity to these isolated, quasi-medieval settlements. But only slowly.

Americans love road trips so let me share with you what ours was like. It was hot. Hot and dry. Leaving Islamabad we drove through Hazara, green and hilly, and then Kohistan, following the Indus River, green and mountainous. But then the next day we hit the desert, a long expanse of a blasted land. It is here that the Chinese, Russian and British empires touched--a buffer zone no army could breach. Everything was brown or grey, lifeless, silent mountains, hard rock, expanses of sand, a dead river. Not a single grass grew. The land was impressive in its desolation and hatred of life. It was as if the Creator had never existed--or as if the hand of a vengeful Almighty had destroyed the land. How any human survived this crossing before the age of the automobile is a mystery.

If I'm sounding Biblical, that's on purpose. You can't help but remember stories from the Torah or the New Testament when you travel through this desert and find improbable oasis towns. Small or large patches of cultivated green appeared around the bend, a hardscrabble existence off hidden glacier springs, a dollop of green that abruptly returned to rock and dust and vanished behind you. Until you reach Gilgit, a town out of the Dark Ages, a stop along the long-gone Silk Road where they now sell Chinese imports, and all around you it is green. You rest on a plateau, surrounded by mammoth peaks, in the arms of Mother Nature who has granted green pastures to this tiny spot.

Then, finally, into the Hunza Valley itself. "It's like the land of milk and honey," Glenn said. For after passing through the desert we came to this land of precarious prosperity. The steep terraced mountainsides were covered with green, winding through a long valley which would take several days to cross without a car. Here we found green and blue eyes, blond and red hair. "They look like they're from Israel," Tricia noted. Or Turkey, or Southeast Europe, or Ohio. Culturally these people were easier to grasp as well. This was the one place in Pakistan I encountered where men and women are equal in society, where the work was shared, where women would say hello to you (shyly) and even let you take their picture. It was in this garden, reputed to be the Shangri-La of old, that we found distant cousins of the West. I don't know where they come from; I don't know where we were. But it wasn't Pakistan.

I'll let someone else write about our excursions, about a bridge and about ice, about Hunza water and about the stars, about food and about a fort. They're good stories. I was taken by this puddle left behind by the wave of conquering Greeks. Whether these are really the descendents of Alexander is unknown, it's likely just a myth. But the Greeks did come through here and they did leave more than just children. I learned this later. Flight schedules forced me to leave Hunza early. I returned to the mess of 'Pindi and spent an afternoon kicking around Taxila, a neighboring town. Here Alexander had camped, centuries before the birth of Christ. Afterward Bactrian Greeks made Taxila a local capital--only mounds and a few stone ruins remain. That, and their art...in the museum exist a number of fantastic sculptures of Buddha but done by Greeks, with classic Greek faces and curly hair and clothes....

In dusty, screaming Rawalpindi, the quiet green of Hunza seemed mystical, a dream, unreal. Staring at these Greek Buddhas made me think how unique, how special that place is. It is a true fusion of civilizations. And here, down in Punjab, was what Hunza had lacked: the stone monuments. Hunza had no European towers or fortress walls or columns or quays, nothing like Penang or Shanghai. It had the blood and some residue of culture. Below, outside of modern Pakistan's capital, existed the stones, separated from their human siblings by the mountains and the desert. The Greek Buddhas are true fusions of art, of East meets West. They mark an intermarriage of civilizations that would never be attained in modern colonial Asia; of a romance never captured by Western expatriates wandering through last century's echoing halls, legacies of recent empires which expired after no more than two hundred years--the blink of an eye.