Greetings from India!
Story continues now from Skardu (Pakistan):
Planned route for Saturday was to ride to KKH via southern route (We arrived to Skardu via northern route).
Marco (from Italy) had ridden this route alone few days earlier and his comment was that this route is quite rough.
Got up at six and packed my bike. Ride started around 0830, because we were going to ride this road in a group.
Nine bikes started this trip, only Marco was missing from the group.
Slowly we got higher and higher and temperature dropped to a really comfortable level.
Normal routines at the police checkpoint, passport and visa information to their book of visitors. After this they said that we need to pay 750 rupie (roughly 8 euro) entrance fee to the national park. Wow, that was expensive fee!
Soon we reached 3000m and in no time also 3500m.
At 3800m Fern started to have problems with her small 400cc bike. It is not fuel injected, so high altitude started to have some effects. Also clutch started slipping so much that it was impossible for her to continue on these steep hills. She made correct decision and turned back to the northern route to the KKH.
Rest of us continued forward. Now we had only eight bikes left.
Soon we reached highest point (over 4200m) and rode in this altitude for quite a long time. Sun was shining so temperature was really nice even we were so high.
Road (actually more like a track) surface varied between good and rough gravel. At some points surface was repaired with big boulders.
Luckily for us these really rough (big boulders) sections were quite short, only few hundred meters long, but there were quite a few of them. Seems like rest of the road will be covered with these boulders, because there were workers laying these boulders to the road (road will be tougher once they finish these repairs).
At the beginning we were able to ride next to the rough sections, but at some point there was no chance to avoid them, so we were bouncing up and down on top of them.
Jeff and Si (yes, they were riding two-up as also Jose and Pilar) had quite a spectacular looking fall on a soft part. Luckily both escaped it without a scratch!
A bit later I tried to search track to avoid long stretch of boulders. Ground looked a bit soft so I had to turn back and try to find a bit dryer section.
Closer to the road I saw a sections which looked promising. I faced a shallow water, but for me it looked like there were some stones under the water.
So I opened the throttle and gathered some speed to get over the wet section.
I did not notice grass under the water which was extremely slippery. Bike started sliding and I tried to get some balance with my feet. No chance, my boot slipped and SPLASH, this time I chrashed to the left side 🙂
Luckily it was quite soft and muddy section, so no damage to the bike.
You realize how thin the air is in over 4000m when you try to lift up your bike… Soon I had helping hands to get my bike back up.
After catching my breath it was time to continue. Got few meters and then my bike got stuck to a soft section. Bike was screaming and spitting mud high up in the air while I was pushing it forward. I did not notice that few people were helping me by pushing my bike forward…
One of the helpers (local guy) got totally soaked with mud (I was so ashamed, so ashamed), Pilar also got her part of the mud bath…
Finally everyone got through. After hard work everyone started to be quite hungry, so it was time to check what kind of lunch hotel had prepared for us (we purchased lunch boxes in the morning). This time we had rice and chicken.
After the luch I was riding behind Jose and followed him to the lower track. At the beginning it looked like an excellent option until I realized that I should have turned back to the main track when there was a possibility. After I missed this possibility it was already impossible to turn back because track was so narrow (one side had steep hill and other side long drop down), so I continued forward.
I fully trust Jose´s ability to read terrain because he has attended Dakar rally two times and both times he has finished rally!
I followed this track for few hundred meters until I was facing steep and rocky uphill. I thought that this heavy bike will not get up that hill, but if John had ridden it, then I need to give a go. Did not want to go too fast, because there was big drop on a left side.
John was helping me to get bike back to the road and once up I asked if I was last one. John replied that we were first ones! I do not know at which point I had passed all others…
Lucas was next one, he tried to get up, but dropped bike, luckily to the right side. We helped him to get bike back up and pushed it to the top. After this we helped rest of the bikes back to the road.
Wow! It was a hard work!
I was fully enjoying this day. I think my smile was wider than my head ☺ Even our progress was slow and helping others was quite tough, this really felt like a decent adventure!
Slowly but surely road started leading us lower and lower towards valley in front. At this point gravel road ended and pavement started, oh! How smooth it felt again 🙂
After first few hairpins I noticed that rear brake does not work. Inspection revealed that rear brake lever had bended. I remembered that at some point I felt big stone hitting my boot, so I think at this point also lever bended.
After fixing the brake lever we continued to the next police checkpoint. Normal routines, but this time we had to wait around 30 minutes before we were allowed to continue.
Riding motorcycles will make even older guys to behave like kids 😉 We crossed one stream and decided that I take photos of other guys riding through the water faster and faster. Locals were standing nearby wondering what the heck these adults are doing here 🙂
In one of the villages we stopped to buy some food. Inside of the store one of the locals started asking our papers. We were wondering who is this guy who asks our passports. After asking he showed his police ID, so again we marked down our passport and visa information.
John and I left before others to search possible camping location. John studied his map and saw lake up in the mountains. We agreed that John will wait others while I go and check if there is possibility to do camping.
Locals gave me directions towards the lake, but all instructions just seemed to take me to a long detour.
After 10 minute of riding I thought that I will go back and tell the others that riding will take at least another 10 minutes.
Couple boys stopped me and told that lake is not so far anymore. They also said that my friends are using other route to come up.
They pointed the direction and I saw several bikes coming up from the valley.
I crossed couple small streams and then put up my tent.
For dinner we ate leftovers from our lunch.
Jeff and I made campfire later in that evening. Everyone were in a good mood. Day was tough, but well worth it.
Later in that evening I also heard that everyone else except John, Uli and Annaleen had dropped their bikes. No-one had hurt themselves and bikes were also ok. Cool!
Woke up couple of times during the night because my stiff neck made a bit hard to sleep.
At seven I woke up and noticed that few others were already up.
Jeff was working with the campfire. This time he had help from his fuel canister. WUH and there was fire ☺
Had some tea, bread and cookies for breakfast.
While we were enjoying our breakfast, two locals approached us. One of them was police (did not wear uniform) and he wanted to check name list which we filled on previous evening in the village. His list had only seven names and there was ten of us in the camp.
I have no idea how they found us or if there was someone looking at us from the forest, but somehow they knew exactly were to go and how many people were in the camp.
Slowly I started packing my camp. I noticed that pinetrees had dropped some sticky stuff (do not know the English word) on top of my tent. I do not know how and when I can clean it…
I also checked tire pressures, front had 1bar and rear 1.75bar! No wonder that front wheel started to feel soft in the previous day. I guess hitting big stones all day had caused some air to leak from somewhere. I did not find any holes from the tires.
Plan for the morning was to ride to the lake and admire majestic
Nanga Parbat peak, which rises to a whopping 8126m.
We reached the lake after a 6km ride. Ride was quite fast, John was fastest.
Scenery was really nice. It was special for me because this the was first time in my life when I see over 8000m high peak. (Nanga Parbat is ninth highest peak in the world).
Nothing special happened during the rest of the day´s ride to Chilas. We had to pass several police checkpoints. In each of them we had to show passports…
One thing what was different to the previous days was amount of guns. Guns everywhere, mostly AK-47. Also saw several jeeps with roof mounted big guns.
Stopped for a lunch in a small hotel next to the intersection where you can drive to
Fairy Medowsiin). Restaurant owner said that landslides had blocked this road, so part of the group had to do some replanning.
We reached Chilas quite early. Room price in Shangrila-hotel was 2000 rupees.
Have to be honest and say that this Shangrila-hotel did not have anything common with big hotel chain in eastern China…
I rode to the Chilas center while searhing ATM. Found two, first was out of service and second did not accept Visa. I was starting to run out of money at this point. Good thing when riding in a group is that someone always have some extra money, so we were able to pay our rooms and dinner.
I noticed that there was only men and boys in the town center. Overall feeling in the town was quite dark. This really felt like a “Mens world”…
Every time I stopped somewhere in the town bike was immediately surrounded by people. This time they just kept on looking, no-one said or asked anything… Strange, because everytime people want to know the price and top speed.
For dinner I had worst chicken sandwich in my life… No taste at all and chicken had maybe walked by my sandwich, thus the name…
In any case I got something solid to my stomach even wet paper would have been more tasteful.
Surprisingly we got some warm water later that evening, so everyone were able to wash away past two days ride sweat.
Got up before six in the morning to pack my stuff.
Plan was to ride immediately after the breakfast and head towards Islamabad by using a shortcut. Several locals had recommended this shortcut to avoid boring part of the south Karakoram.
Uli and Annaleen were fastest to start, John and I second.
John and I returned few kilometers towards north and then followed map in our GPSs.
Road was really narrow, one lane track and in the beginning it followed suburbs of Chilas.
After Chilas road continued as a narrow track. We stopped to ask some directions from locals and they waved us to go back. Problem was that GPS showed only this road, so we thought that locals must be wrong 🙂
Soon, sky started dropping some water, so we stopped to put on waterproof layers. I put on waterproof layer only to my jacket, because it looked like the rain would soon stop.
Road started climbing higher to the mountains. I was surprised how many houses there were next to the road. I tried to wave my hand to all kids I saw. Most of them waved back to me with a wide smile on their faces. Couple of them tried to hit me with a stone (these kids did not smile), but luckily they missed me.
Speed was really slow. In few occasions I was able to use second gear, but otherwise it was always only first gear.
Some point we stopped and John asked if we should turn back. We agreed to continue ten kilometers and then decide what to do.
Road kept on climbing higher and higher. Slowly all the houses were left behind and only noise at the mountains came from two foreign bikes climbing up to the mountains.
We knew that pass would be in around 4200m, so there was many hairpins waiting for us.
Track turned even rougher than earlier, but still we continued forward. Wet and muddy track surface did not make things any easier for us.
After one steep hairpin I planned my route a bit too long and slowed down a bit too much. I got stuck behind one big stone. Rear tire was spinning while I tried to keep bike upwards with my feet. Muddy stones were too slippery so I lost my grip and dropped the bike. John helped me to get my bike back up again. Nothing broke from the bike, few new dents and couple new scars were only price I had to pay from this fall.
Drizzle started once we reached the clouds. Slowly, but surely I noticed that family jewels started to get wet. Darn! I had forgotten to put waterproof layer on top of my pants!
Air got cooler the higher we climbed. I decided that I need to change my wet under- and top pants or otherwise I would be suffering from a fever on the next day. First shepherd house was booked, but luckily second one was empty. Now I was able to change dry clothes!
Track was still leading us higher to the mountains. I noticed few times that I was thinking something else than actual ride, so I started telling myself to focus and keep on looking next good track around the hazards.
While I was crossing one stream, I wasn´t fully concentrated what I was doing, so front tire slipped to the side and this time I fell to the left side… S**t, what a stupid mistake! Bike up and forward.
We kept on climbing higher and suddenly I noticed that rain turned in to a sleet and then to a snow!
We were in the middle of snowstorm when we reached the top at 4230m! Luckily there was no snow on the ground yet even slopes started to turn white.
Before we reached bigger road, we still needed to cross one narrow river. I always walk through wider streams or rivers before crossing them. This way I can get rough idea where to ride, how deep it is, how strong the current is and if there are any big stones that I need to avoid.
John decided to use faster approach and tried to cross this river without getting wet feet.
Stones were really slippery so there was only one possible outcome… This time it was John´s time to drop the bike… Luckily water wasn´t deep at that point so engine did not get any water inside. Bike up and to the shore.
No damages and now it was my turn.
I left my tankbag to the shore, so that camera would stay dry incase I would drop my bike.
I took it really slowly and easily, got to the other side without problems. Now I just needed to cross river still couple of times because tankbag was on the other side.
Finally we reached this bigger road, but for our surprise it was basically just a pool of mud at the moment!
John was totally wet so we decided to ride back to the Chilas (by using this bigger “road”), stay one more night in the hotel and then in the next morning start riding towards Islamabad via Karakoram Highway.
It did not make any sense to continue this “mud road” towards south, because we had no clue in what shape it would be further south. If road would be similar kilometer after kilometer, then we would be forced to camp high up in the mountains, possibly in snowstorm. Also John´s wet clothes would not get any dryer in this weather.
Road started to climb to the other pass. We were again over 4000m high and snow changed to a snow again. This time there was already few inches of snow in the ground!
We stopped at the top and started laughing and wondering what the heck we are doing here 🙂
Two guys high up in the middle of nowhere Pakistani mountains and in the middle of snowstorm. If we would have an accident or any other problems, it would take a loooong time to get any help to the mountains!
Carefully we crossed this pass to the other side. Slowly snow turned to sleet and then back to water.
Road looked more like a stream. It was full of deep grooves that running water had eaten in to it.
I had this one feeling all the time running in my head “This road can collapse at any moment”! This helped me to focus and ride down as fast as it was safely possible.
We reached police check point high up in the mountains. I guess our arrival to the checkpoint was one of the highlights during their day. Policemen were really nice.
We filled our information to their notebook inside a tent and there they offered us hot tea (which tasted absolutely wonderful!) and let us to warm up next to the fire.
We stayed there around thirty minutes, took few photos and then continued our ride towards Chilas.
Slowly more and more houses appeared again along the road and we started to wave our hands to the people.
Road was quite interesting, partly there was really good pavement and at some points river had flushed whole road away.
What was more amazing was that locals used normal passenger cars over here! I have no idea how they were able to drive here because I thought that you would need 4WD car to drive there.
Finally we reach KKH and five kilometers later Chilas.
We got room for same price as in previous night.
We spent 9 hours for 120km ride. Day was tough, weather did not co-operate, but still we enjoyed this super day!
Woke up again before six and got going around seven. Our target was to ride to Islamabad and meet other guys there.
KKH was in good shape, so we were able to enjoy curvy parts of this road.
Scenery was still dry and mountains raised high next to the road.
We saw few traces of landslides, but luckily road had been cleaned already.
At one point we had to stop for longer time to wait while people tried to get one truck moving. This truck was ridiculously over loaded and then it had gotten stuck to one landslide.
Bikes were immediately surrounded by people. There was always someone who spoke English and was able to translate normal questions and our answers… “Where are you coming from? Where are you going? How fast your bike goes? How much it costs? How do you like Pakistan?” etc.
Finally we were able to continue, but only few kilometers. We stopped at police checkpoint and this time they did not allow us to continue until police escort would arrive to give protection to us.
This continued rest of the day. We had to follow six different police escorts. Sometime they were guiding us with 125cc motorcycle and sometimes with jeeps. Common thing was that there was always someone with a gun.
During the day we saw again several times jeeps with big guns…
At one point we reached really nice curvy part of the uphill road, so we decided to pass small bike which was protecting us.
It was really frustrating to follow him, because speed was around 30km/h. We enjoyd this road at our own speed and stopped again when we reached next police checkpoint.
Look of the mountains changed during the day. It was still high and steep, but this time it was also green. At the same time also weather got warmer.
At some point in the afternoon we realized that it would be impossible to reach Islamabad during the same day. These police escorts had slowed us down too much.
Roughly 100km before Islamabad, around Mansehran, we saw nice looking hotel up in a hill.
John rode there to check the price. At the same time I saw difference in the faces of polices who were escorting us.
They did not want us to stay in this hotel, they wanted us to continue 30km more to a next town.
It was already dark and we did not want to continue any further because it was too dangerous. Roads were not in good shape, locals drove without lights, there was animals on the road etc…
Our escorts started calling to their supervisors and also had lot of things to discuss with each others.
Someone told me that one reason why they do not want us to stay in this hotel is because hotel owner has questionable history. Guy said that this hotel owner has been involved in some kidnappings in his history…
John came back and said that he got price down to acceptable level. They had one room free with double bed, but it would not be a problem to get extra mattress.
He forgot to check if we could pay with credit card or with dollars because we started to ran out of local currency.
Soon John was back and told that hotel accepts dollars.
After a long discussion police accepted our suggestion and we were allowed to go to the hotel.
When we carried our bags to the room police checked all drawers, checked bed under the bedsheets and closed curtains!
We were told that armed guard will also stay in the hotel. I also notice mean looking gun on the reception desk…
It looked like these guns were part of the every day life of these people, but they made me feel a bit uncomfortable…
Soon a group of policemen walked in to our room. After several handshakes they told us that five armed guards would protect us in this hotel!!! Two of them would wear uniforms and three would be undercover… OMG! John and I started to wonder if we had required a bit too much when we demanded to stay in this hotel…
Dinner was served to our room and at that point we started wondering if we are “prisoners” in this room…
Only cold water came from the shower. Did not help even we asked them couple of times to turn hot water on.
Slept really well even there was loads of guns outside of our room…
As agreed in the previous evening, we were at police checkpoint at eight in the morning waiting for our escort.
Islamabad was only 100km away, so we would reach it in reasonable time.
After 30 minutes of waiting our escorts appeared and we were able to continue our journey.
Day was similar as previous day, escort after escort we slowly but surely got closer to the Islamabad.
Some of the escorts were driving really slowly and this got me a bit frustrated.
In one of the villages someone did not like this slow pace, so this idiot decided to push me away. He used his car bumper to push my side pannier! Luckily I had enough speed so that I did not fall. I used wide variety of international handsigns to express my opinion of his driving. If car would have been any closer, I would have shown him my riding boot…
Finally we received welcome message from police, “no more escort is needed”! Excellent!
I am not sure if there was a “real” need for these escorts, or was it just a service for tourists… We did not face a single hostile people anywhere.
Previous evening we received email from other guys in the group, in the email they told us where they are staying in Islamabad.
Took a while to find this hotel, but finally we found it.
Hotel looked really clean and nice, but the room which I was sharing with John was quite a dump… Room had a smell of damp cellar and it looked like there had been a water damage. Unfortunately this was only vacant room, so we did not have any other options.
Later John and I searched ATM, filled fuel tanks (I put 34l of fuel to my tank) and had late lunch in south-African fast food restaurant.
Before heading back to the hotel, we checked city view-point up in the mountains.
I was quite surprised that the capital of Pakistan had only few highrise buildings.
First time in my life I visited McDonalds. First time in a sense that to get in I had to wait that guards would open massive barrier and then I still needed to walk through metal detector 🙂
While I was chewing tasteless Big Mac –meal, TV showed live coverage of Islamabad riots. Riots were ongoing in the embassy area, which was only around 5 minutes away from our hotel!
Our plan was to go to the movies later that evening to see new Batman, but locals instructed us not to go due to unsafe situation.
They told us another theatre which should be safer, but could not get there because roads had been blocked already…
Later that evening I also learned that big riots had been planned for Friday. Due to this all fuelstations would be closed, phone network would be down and roads have already been blocked. So, I did not have any other option than stay one more night in Islamabad.
Jeff and Si rode to Lahore during the day. Message was that they saw several riots during the day, but luckily got safely to the hotel!
Luckily hotel had inner yard where our bikes were out of sight.
Never know what people could do during this kind of riots. At least usage of any kind of sense is out of the question.
Whole day TV broadcasted video of these riots. Inside hotel it felt just like any other day. No noise, nothing.
Got up again at six to pack my stuff. My plan was to leave the hotel latest at eight in the morning.
Jose and Pilar had also planned to ride to Amritsar during the day, so we decided to ride together.
While waiting them to get ready, I checked tire pressure. Pressure was down again… Do not know where the leakage is.
GPS showed 330km ride to Amritsar.
In Islamabad we saw only few signs of previous day riots. Some flower pots were broken, but that was all, no burned cars or other broken stuff.
Outside of Islamabad Jose needed to stop for a fuel.
I sat down to the shade and immediately someone came to have a chat with me.
Normal questions were asked “Where I am coming from?” etc.
After this guy started talking that “No-one should not make jokes and videos about Muhammed. We do not make fun about Jesus, because he is a holy person”.
I have to agree with this guy, no-one should make jokes about the things that other people hold holy.
Every person has a right to select their own religion and believe to the things they hold dear.
This kind of jokes and videos will offend a lot of people and it will cause restless.
This also puts a lot of travellers to a risk (and there are many travellers everywhere).
We had a nice discussion of these things and to my surprise he wanted to have friendly hug when I was ready to leave 🙂
Roads were surprisingly empty, but I got greeted so many times from the passing cars. People are extremely nice here, even the news give totally different picture. Well, bad news always sell better than good ones 🙁
For a lunch we stopped at the roadside Subway.
Closer to the Lahore we got, more heaver the traffic got. Still, I was expecting much more traffic.
We did not need to go through Lahore to reach the border, but used detour.
Border we reached around 15:30.
At the border guards greeted us and told that we were late. “How come late?” we asked. They told us that the border closes every day at 15:30 and opens again in the morning at 09:30.
We did not have any other option than turn back.
There is one hotel at the border, but it is a real s**t hole.
We did not want to ride back to Lahore, so we decided to stay one night in this “hotel”. We got small discount from the room price, but not much. Double room was 1500 rupees and single room 1200 rupees.
Toilet did not work, but on the other hand, there was not any toilet paper either. Paints were hanging from the walls and it looked like ceiling was leaking water.
Ceiling fan did not work, neither did AC.
Beds were looking so bad that I decided to sleep inside my mummyliner.
Power outages were happening all the time, but this was quite normal in Pakistan.
After a cold shower we walked to the border to see flag ceremony.
This flag ceremony was quite a show. Border guards had dressed up nicely and walked fast back and forth. Every now and then they were shaking their fists towards India 🙂
I guess there was similar kind of show ongoing at the Indian side 🙂
Couple guys were waving Pakistan flags furiously back and forth at the same time when guy from the loudspeaker tried to make crowd to sign and shout.
This felt like being in a rock concert 🙂
Show lasted roughly thirty minutes and after this we returned back to the “hotel”. On our way back people wanted to have their photo taken next to us 🙂
For dinner we had excellent noodles in Jose´s and Pilar´s room (cooked our own dinner).
I noticed that I had a pet in my room (not every hotel provide room pets!). Mouse was running around the room, but it was too fast for me when I tried to guide it through the door… I do not know where it found so good place to hide that I did not see it anymore later that evening (maybe it was hiding in my riding shoe?).
Decided to have breakfast in the “hotel”. Omelet, couple breads and a tea.
Later I found also another pet from my room. There was roughly 15cm long lizard greeting me from the wall 🙂
Just before 09:30 we were again at the border.
Run in to a trouble in customs, because Sost customs had not stamped bikes in to our passports (immigration stamp was there).
Custom officers called someone else to join this process. While we were waiting him to arrive, we got our immigration done.
Guy arrived and he started working with the problem. They took photocopy of the passport and Sost stamp. He said that they have to send these copies to Sost, so that process goes correctly.
Luckily we did not need to wait postman to run to Sost to get the stamps 🙂
After couple of hours things were cleared out, we got cups of tea and then we were ready to continue to the border of India.
Thoughts about Pakistan:
Story continues in next post…