In Pakistan's Karakoram […] more than sixty of the world's tallest mountains lord their severe alpine beauty over a witnessless high-altitude wilderness. Other than snow leopard and ibex, so few living creatures have passed through this parent icescape that the presence of the world's second-highest mountain, K2, was little more than a rumor to the outside world until the turn of the twentieth century. (1.1)
The first paragraph of the book isn't about Greg Mortenson—it's about Pakistan, letting us know that this severe, yet beautiful, land is going to be a character all to itself.
The peaks were painted in garish, sugary colors—all pinks and violets and baby blues—and the sky, just before sunrise, was windless and clear. (2.3)
This quote is a sharp contrast to the last one. While the first paragraph of the book is all ice and danger, this quote makes the mountains seem like Candy Land or a Mario Kart track.
The panorama of colossi blinded him. Gasherbrum, Broad Peak, Mitre Peak, Muztagh Tower—these ice-sheathed giants, naked in the embrace of unfiltered sunlight, burned like bonfires. (2.10)
Hikers get distracted by these named peaks as though they're trophies. It's easy for the small villages, like Korphe, to get ignored amid all this majesty.
Mortenson smelled the village of Korphe a mile before he approached it. The scent of juniper woodsmoke and unwashed humanity as overwhelming after the sterility of altitude. (2.40)
Mortenson isn't one to talk about "unwashed humanity," seeing as how he hasn't bathed in weeks, but it's interesting that Korphe has a distinct smell. What does your town or city smell like? Also: Do you think where you live smells the same to you as it does to someone who's never been there before? It seems possible that the scents people identify can clue us into their perspectives on a place.
[Mortenson had] never heard of Korphe. He was positive it hadn't appeared on any map he'd ever studied of the Karakoram, and he'd studied dozens. (2.53)
As we said earlier, Mortenson has always been more focused on the mountains than the villages. The mountaineers are only interested in what can benefit them on their journey, so a little village like Korphe passes unnoticed.
Ali apologized that tea was not yet brewed and sent a boy running for three bottles of warm Thums Up brand orange soda while they waited. (6.60)
Not only is the landscape different in Pakistan, so are the customs and the soda. Normally tea is offered at a meeting, but in this case it's replaced with a foreign brand of soda. It's so foreign, that Mortenson even gets the flavor wrong. Thums Up is more like Coca-Cola.
Seeing white wild country again, and watching the Bedford struggling over this "highway" at fifteen miles an hour, [Mortenson] had a renewed appreciation for just how thoroughly these mountains and gorges cut Baltistan off from the world. (7.29)
Traveling through Pakistan is hard. The roads aren't like the Interstates in the U.S., they're more like the roads probably were when Model Ts were still on the road.
Though this lunar rockscape in the western Karakoram has to be one of the most forbidding on Earth, Mortenson felt he had come home. (7.49)
"Lunar rockscape" is a great way to describe these mountains. They're so impressive and strange it's hard to believe they even exist on Earth.
The busy street, lined with narrow stalls selling soccer balls, cheap Chinese sweaters, and neatly arranged pyramids of foreign treasure like Ovaltine and Tang, seemed overwhelmingly cosmopolitan after the deafening emptiness of the Indus Gorge. (8.3)
This is a great view of the teeming marketplace in Pakistan. It's not unlike street vendors in New York City, except in Pakistan, powdered drink products are exotic.
Afghanistan is the most heavily mined country on earth. With millions of tiny explosives buried by half a dozen different armies over decades, no one knows exactly where the patient devices lie in wait. (23.47)
Mortenson shifts his focus to Afghanistan late in the book and we want to address the different dangers there. Not only is it as rocky and remote as Pakistan, but Afghanistan has the exciting bonus feature of being riddled with explosives. Past conflicts continue to haunt the people there in very real ways.