Sept 29 – Gilgit
We had breakfast and left Karimibad in cool clear weather, as we have had every day so far, knock on wood. From our hotel it was a 2.5 km switchback down to near the river bottom and on through Aliabad, where it was warmer already and a different, less friendly tone to the people. We hit road work shortly and for the first 30 km we had road work for half the time. Once across the river, into Nagyr communities, the road became metalled the whole way but where we were able to get responses to our hellos in Hunza territory, in Nagry we got either silence or what seemed to be derogatory comments. We did have a nice coke stop to view Rakaposhi for the last time We had a lunch at a roadside restaurant after having passed through a desolate canyon and a fair headwind. The restaurant was quite busy and graphic, with its hanging carcases.
As we approached a large town across the river from Gilgit, our destination, Rich commented that there was Gilgit, and now we would need to find a way over there. I should have picked up on that because when I stopped a few minutes later and looked for him he was not there. I asked someone if this was the road to Gilgit as it seemed to be going past. He said it was. A few minutes later the pavement stopped, where a bridge had collapsed. But a rough road headed down to the river and cut back towards Gilgit. There was a temporary bridge, which I crossed and then stopped to wait for Rich. After 45 minutes I headed back up the rough road and back through town, watching for him in case he had bike trouble. No luck. I talked to the Police and then stopped in at a hospital. I had asked at the bridge if there were any other bridges that could get him to Gilgit and got a negative. I should have asked again in town. I rode back down and across the bridge and up the worst road i have encountered yet. I came into Gilgit from the south. Tried a Youth Hostel and then as I was continuing on into town, there was Rich.
He had stopped in town and been given another and better way into Gilgit. Waited for me to come back, rode down to the rough temporary road, and then returned and gone into Gilgit on the recommended road. We had some words about you should and I did. Travelling like this is tough and in spite of all we have done together we still conflict at times.
Gigit is quite large in comparison to other places along the way, but not very attractive. We will spend two nights here, at a very attractive Medina 2 to get our bearings and make plans for down the road.
Sept 30 – Gilgit
We walked out into the street, found an ATM where we got some more money, had a look at the Sunni and Shiite Mosques, watched boys playing pickup cricket on the Polo grounds and visited a British cemetary. This about does it for tourist Gilgit.
There is lots of street activity and so the people watching is endless. We watched boys playing pickup cricket in the polo grounds with a Sharia Mosque in the back ground. I had a nice visit in a lumber yard, drawn in by yet another large band saw. These might be a hundred years old and the owner was so proud of his that I took his picture and another of his three sons. Later in the day I had them printed and took him copies. I often am faced with the need to do this, so today I made the effort to find a print shop. He was very pleased and it made my day.
We also visited a guide Rich used last year and he gave us some good and confirming information on the way ahead. And so, tomorrow we will get on a bus and ride a few hundred kms to Besham to bypass the worst of the road work, which we have had plenty of. From there it should be farily straight forward riding all the way into India.
Oct 1 – Besham
Our bus was scheduled to load at 7:30, and so we left the Medina at 6:30 and rode through town as the sun was rising. We got to the depot and 7:00, had a reasonable breakfast and began loading about 8:00. The attendant let me crawl up on the roof and supervise the placement of our bikes on top of the bags.
We cleared the first police checkpoint on the edge of town at 9:00, and began bouncing down the horrendous road at that point. To Raikot Bridge, about 50 km, was supposed to have some fresh metal surface, it had about 10. Between there and Chilas the road seemed better than we had been lead to believe. From there on there was some bad sections and some not so bad sections. The real issue however, were the police checks. Before we got to Besham we had been through seven, where we had to go out and fill in our particulars. Twice we had to wait for a line of buses to gather, the first wait was an hour. We stood around under a nice shade tree as the buses gathered. We ate apples, talked a bit, and finally talked with a well spoken Ismaili from Hunza. He told us we were waiting for a cavalcade to form so that we could go through the next area under police escort. Sure enough, after close to an hour off we went. At some point we were let carry on without escort for a while, only to be stopped for another armed cavalcade.
The Indus River had joined the Hunza close to Raikot Bridge and we would follow the river all the way to Besham, in a canyon that got deeper and tighter as dropped down its length. At times we were many hundreds of meters above the river only to plunge all the way back down and climb again. Looking down from the window of the bus we could often see no road, only the drop to the river. As the darkness began to fall we were very high up the canyon wall and we could see the lights of vehicles winding around ahead and sometime behind as the road snaked in and out of the ravines. At one point we could see across a 300 m gap to a point it would take us 4-5 km to get to. This is a very dramatic drive.
We dropped down into the valley floor to Besham at about 7:30 pm, totally dark. We got our bikes and bags off of the roof, assembled them and headed off under headlight. Within 100 m we were stopped by a police car, with the usual armed men, but this time also with the police chief who wanted to know where we were from, where we had come from and where we were going, the usual stuff. When he heard we needed a hotel he had his driver follow behind us light the way to a hotel. He preceded us in and talked with the attendants and then left us to eat and go to bed.
This had been a tough day on me, and we both felt dirtier than if we had been cycling all day in the dust.
Oct 2 – Manshera
Besham is at about 670 m, the road to Mansehra, 122 km away, reaches 1680 m and we would start by dropping to 600 m. So it was to be a tough day. We were up early and out the door about 7:30, and there was our police chief waiting for us. He followed us for 10 km, as we enjoyed the freedom of being back on our bike, well at least partial freedom given the police escort. But they turned back and we were on our own in a wonderful valley on a cool morning. Even though we knew we were going to face a brutal climb we were enjoying ourselves.
We stopped for a cold drink shortly before I expected to begin the climb. Just around the corner from our drink stop, we were stopped for a police check on each side of Thankot Bridge. We thought this a bit redundant but the second one was stopping us to wait for a police escort. We were some pissed, as we would need every minute to have a chance of getting up the climb today. We sat in the shade of a tree for about 45 minutes waiting and talking with someone who might have been really checking us out.
Finally a police van arrived and we began getting ready to start riding, wondering how patient they would be going behind us a 6-7 kph hour after hour. But they had other ideas and had us load up our bikes and off we went up and up, for 3-400 m of our climb and 11 km. They then stopped and said it was level and that we could ride. It wasn’t level, but we could do about 11-12 kph, so it was not steep. We managed about 8 or 9 km at this pace before another van met us and our escort turned around. We had entered a new police district and we were loaded in their vehicle for the 800 m climb over 16 km to the top of pass at Sharkul. Rich had the biggest smile on face that I have seen in days. We had no chance of getting to Mansehra without this help, but now we would have a significant downhill for most of the way.
At the pass we had to sign in with the new police district and were given to believe we should wait, but were then told to go ahead. We dropped a few kms and then went into a hill station type hotel/restaurant and had a great meal. While eating some police came in and smiled. I imagine when we had not come down the road they would have got worried. After lunch we came out of the restaurant to a waiting police van which began following us again. Twice more on the way to Mansehra we were passed off to another district. One escort was two men on a motor bike. We had an escort all the way to our first hotel of choice, which was full and then the second which they found for us. Along the way today, in congested markets they would put on their siren to help us get through.
At our hotel they hung around, and when we went out to see if we could find a beer they walked with us to the store where we bought fruit juice. A guard follows us everywhere and is stationed outside of our room. When we leave in the morning we know know they will be with us.
We cycled 90 of the 122 km, but of the 1500 m gained during the ride, we probably were responsible for only about 500 of them. We still had a good workout.
Oct 3 – Nathiangali
We left our hotel with our police escort at about 8:30 and got stuck right into the Mansehra traffic, made worse by a 4 km climb right out of the gate. The road is two lanes with a rough shoulder that often disappears. In these situations we would usually not use the rough shoulder but in heavy traffic it is the wiser choice to get out of the heavy traffic when you can. The rolling hills also means that there are numerous tight turns up and down. The whole 25 km to Abbottabad is built up with activity along the road. At a few places we ran through street market conditions which means the traffic is stopped from the vehicles dropping people and goods off. When this happened we could sometimes skirt in between lanes and our police escort would again sound his siren, which didn’t seem to do much good.
With about 10 km to go to Abbottabad we stopped for a minute and the police jumped out of their vehicle and suggested we go for tea. We drove on a bit and they then took us into a nice hotel where we had cold drinks and took pictures. At this point we also decided that we would try for a mini-van to take us the 30 km and 1300 m up into the Hill town area, specifiably to Nathiangali. One of the police suggested he knew where we would catch a bus and that they would help us find it.
We carried on into the centre of town and on out. We saw a big bunch of buses and minis but they waved us on. A few kms later, we were obviously leaving town and Rich stopped me and said he thought something was wrong. The police got out of the van and we then noticed they were not the same ones. We had been passed on by the Mansehra to the Abbotabad police and they had no notion we were doing anything other than passing through town. We rode back the 2 km to the mini bus station and they negotiated a ride for us. We tried a small van, which we would take ourselves but it was too small. We ended up with a bigger van and our bikes and bags on the roof. The police negotiated a 400 rupee fare (~$4) for four seats for us. Probably a very good price. In these little vans our legs are up around our chests and so the extra room is essential.
It was a lovely 1 1/2 hr ride up the steep steep road. Nathiangali is a favourite summer retreat for those in Islamabad to get away from the heat, and at this time of year it is nice and cool. We had lunch, found a place, washed some clothes, went for a walk and just enjoyed ourselves.
We cycled about 30 kms today and officially left the KKH, near its end point. What with the buses we were forced to take, and those we chose to take we rode about half of the 1300 km KKH, and it looks like we will be taking more transport in the days ahead as we struggle with the riding routine that suits us on this trip.
Oct 4 – Muree
Rich got going bright and early today and so we were on the road at 7:00, but without breakfast. It was lovely and almost cold as we skimmed along the side of the hills, dropping a bit and then climbing again. Each new ridge had a small cluster of stores. We had a nice 3 egg and chapati breakfast at one of the little roadside places. We were concerned that we were not gaining any altitude, in these ups and downs, as the highest point was supposed to be 400 m higher. Finally after one particularly steep climb we reached a high point and signed in with our first police checkpoint of the day. We were told this was the highest point and so the highest point, mentioned in our guide must be off on a side road.
We got to Muree after a wonderful long drop followed by some moderate climbing. What we saw was not very attractive and then we were told that tourist Muree was still higher. It took us another hour to find our way into the Hill town proper, although it is much changed since the British Raj days. We found a hotel after some looking around, and it is alright, but not our idea of a hill town retreat type of place. We are on the edge of a busy market town selling all sorts of tourist kitsch, with hotels and restaurants everywhere. Oh well this will go down as one of those places that are a “been there…done that” place, but not much more.
We rode 40 km along the ridges of the hill country.
Oct 5 – Rawalpindi
We had breakfast brought to our room and then headed out towards the big town. Islamabad, the capital was built on the edge of Rawalpindi and so now it is a big town with the new and modern city the capital and Rawalpindi the old traditional town.
Our road out was a fast switch-backing road taking us down very fast and then onto a four lane divided road for another 45 km that was almost deserted. In all we dropped 1800 m, hardly peddling, but breaking hard, particularly just out of Muree. Naturally as we entered the city traffic things changed, but it was still not bad all the way to the part of Rawalpindi where we would look for a hotel for a couple of days.
The day’s ride was 68 km.
This marks the end of the KKH leg of the trip and we will now do some city visiting, beginning with Islamabad/Rawalpindi, before hitting India.