Riding High on the KKH….
We said goodbye to Ben who was still waiting for his bike to arrive at customs.
We and Arran decided that instead of hanging around Islamabad we would set off up the Karakorum Highway at a leisurely pace.
We left Islamabad and traveled towards Nathagali, which would take a more scenic route up into the pine tree covered mountains at a height of some 2800metres.
The road was in pretty good shape as it curved around the hillsides until we came to our turn off towards Nathagali.
Just had to watch out a few times where the road had collapsed..
It then became a narrow busy road with busy little towns with local buses choking up the main street letting passengers hop on and off, with the bus drivers either blind to the traffic jam behind them or they don’t care.
We stopped for refreshments at a checkpoint at where we had to sign in and show our passports.
Close by there was a stall that sold the biggest range of colorful umbrellas we have ever seen.
The guards were really friendly and happily posed for photos with us, not sure why they decided i needed a shawl…
They insisted i wear their shawl…
The road was somewhat scenic with lots of vendors selling local honey, scarves and (more) umbrellas from the side of the road.
Local honey for sale…
Arriving at the town of Nathagali in the early afternoon, and now needed a place for the night, we asked at the first big hotel we saw but it was way to expensive, so we tried a place at the top of the hill, but that was full, but his brother had a cabin we could use cheap and clean-ish…. silk sleeping bags to come out again!
We got out the stove and made a cuppa plus a few biscuits and upon kicking back and relaxing a huge monkey ran in and snatched the biscuits from the table and ran up a tree where he merrily munched on them in front of us…. lol.
The next morning we had discovered that our host had really gone over the top making our bikes secure for the night, with padlock and chains and a huge tarpaulin over the top…was this a safe area?
Did he not want people to know he had westerners staying at his place?
The following day saw us riding through Abbotbad, which is the town where Taliban leader Binladin was apparently shot…
We were a bit nervous at first, but it seemed like any other town with people going about their normal daily chores,it was a large Pakistan army garrison, it was also the start of the Karakorum Highway.
After ‘signing in’ again at the police checkpoint we picked up our first armed police escort that rode with us to next town where after signing in at the checkpoint again we were given new escorts to take us to the next town and so on….
This is a pattern that continued half the way up the KKH, all the armed escorts were very friendly and it didn’t seem that we really need them…
Although Chris did take an eager view of watching the surrounding hills, to see if there were any rifles aimed at us.
The road was exceedingly potholed and rutted and it was like that all the way to our next town for the night, which was Besham.
We got a lot of stares when we pulled up and were quickly ushered into the hotel and we got to park the bikes inside the foyer.
When we said that we needed to out to get supplies, they told us that this was not a safe area and would escort us to the shops…
We had an unusual Roast chicken dinner cooked for us by the hotel-it was nothing like roast chicken really but tasted great anyway.
It was a hot night and the air-con in the room didn’t work so we went up onto the roof courtyard to cool off.
The next morning we were told not to leave the hotels courtyard until the armed escort arrived.
This town did have an edgy feel to it and we were glad to be on our way with our armed escorts.
We were told that this small section of the KKH, that the locals have misconstrued ideas about westerners…
The scenery was getting better as we headed further up the KKH, we could now see snow capped mountains … and they were the ones that we would have to pass over…
Upon stopping for a quick break a van pulled up beside us and an elderly guy got out of his car, greeted us all with a welcoming handshake, and said how pleased he was to see western travellers, and before he drove off he gave us a bucket full of apricot’s, cucumbers, a note book and some stickers….
Lots more checkpoints along the way some police were buying us Pepsi’s while we filled in the check point forms… they were interested in our trip, looking at our family photos, they asked us to tell ‘our’ people that Pakistan is a good place with good people, please visit…its only a small percentage of people that are bad!
On the way through one town we were all parched and desperately needed a drink, the town had a very strange feel about it, there were also lots of people with allsorts of abnormities here, we drew a crowd extremely quickly, I remember thinking that this was probably not he best place to have stopped, the police guards that were with us were a bit on edge, and started pulling some of the towns people away from us…
With that we high tailed it of town and had our drinks at the next police checkpoint on the outskirts of town…
Later that day we goggled about the town with all the abnormities, and the most logical answer was lack of Iodine in the ground so sequentially not getting into the vegetables or water supply!
Stopping for lunch we were near a small Police station where they beckoned us in and sit in their shady courtyard where they gave us icy cold water, fruit and some spicy potatoes they had just cooked, you’ve got to love the hospitality these Pakistanis give.
Upon reaching the town of Chilas we made the mistake of going off the KKH and into town hoping to find a place to stay… it nothing but a dusty market town with amazing scenery for a backdrop, so quickly back on the highway we came across a few tourist hotels, the first one we looked at was the best pick albeit a bit expensive but the location was superb under the mountains next to the river, and secure parking for the bikes.
The stars are so bright out here, just perfect, while having dinner some travelling Pakistani girls came up to us and struck up conversations, asking us basically the same as what we had earlier that day…
What were our thoughts on Pakistan?Please come back and to visit…and tell people back home that Pakistan has good people living here and they far out number the bad ones…
Up early the next morning after a cup of tea and some biscuits we left the town of Chilias..
We had a leisurely ride to Gilgit our destination for the day.
The scenery just kept getting better, every corner there would be a new vista of mountains…this is a jaw-dropping ride.
The rides around our local hills in Brisbane are beautiful, but it will never be quite as exciting as this, this place has raised the bar to a spectacular level.
Not too far from Chilias we came to a place called Tatapani, which means hot springs, it also a landslide area and road crews are constantly clearing the roads.
we parked up and walked up the hill to where the hot springs were.
We could smell a hint of sulphur and soon found the source, a small trickle of hot water was bubbling out from the bottom of some rocks (no swim for us today we would only be able to put one foot in each…lol)
The hot water was then channeled to a small concrete bathing house, where in the winter the locals would have a steaming hot bath.
Some young lads having a go at running a small hotel and cafe on the other side of the road, we decided to stop for a cuppa, they really were the friendliest guys, and made a great cup of chai.
Upon arriving at Gilgit.
We eventually found the hotel we had heard about, but it was bit of a dive and we thought we could do better so we rode back into town and parked up.
As we parked we were approached by a guy asking if he could help, chatting to him I soon realized that I had heard about this guy (Qayum) helping other over landers and before we knew it we were off to his house up above the town…
Not before stocking up on some groceries to take with us.
When we arrived at the house he opened the gates, we went inside to a Mediterranean oasis…
Beautiful gardens surrounded a swimming pool (which unfortunately wasn’t full) the garden was full of all sorts of fruit trees, all ripe for the picking, we were told that we could eat as much of the fruit as we wanted.
His house had guest quarters with the run of a half decent kitchen.
This would do very nicely for few days, seeing as we were now a bit head of schedule on our visa dates to enter China, we could relax here for a while.
As Arran had offered to cook dinner for that night and he promptly set about roasting the chicken that he ‘choose’ while it was still alive…
Arran didn’t do the deed, the butcher did…
By about 10.30pm dinner was served! I don’t know what happened, but that was a tough old bird and we were all disappointed…but it was a great effort by Arran.
I also got to spend my fifty birthday in Gilgit eating Tiramasui ice cream with fresh cherries picked from the garden.
The next morning we took a ride out to a local famous Buddha carving on a cliff face, the ride was great, going up along side a raging stream of icy cold glacier water, the scenery was stunning as usual.
We had friendly hellos from some local young boys and some girls on a picnic.
I struck up a hand signal conversation with a typical stereotype man of a Taliban perception …
The carving of the Buddha wasn’t that big but was in an impressive rock area….
As we were all getting hot we decided that a paddle in the stream was a good idea.
I have never felt water so cold, we couldn’t keep our feet in the water for very long, it felt like we were getting brain freeze but on our feet….
Then the guy I was talking to earlier came up to me with a serious face and said to me, ‘American’ and when I replied ‘Australian’ he gave the biggest smile and then shook my hand vigorously…
So he may have been thinking he had been communicating with the ‘enemy’ and had to find out…
We had a great time at Queyadam’s place having many conversations with him and his son on the troubles of the world and the Pakistani way of life.
Our next destination is the town of Karamabad…