All posts for the month September, 2015

Getting ready for our 300km trip today, breakfast for Karen, Martin and myself was served at 07:00am – Pakistani omelettes and paratha for Martin & I, cornflakes and toast for Karen, and Pakistani milk tea all round. Our bikes were already packed and loaded, and by 08:00am we had refuelled at the Gilgit Shell servo station and had started on the 120km stretch south towards the checkpoint just out of Chilas.

There was little traffic on the road and the riding was magical. Once again we were treated to new views of the scenery by virtue of travelling in the opposite direction of our previous ride – now we’re heading south back down the KKH.

The weather was fantastic for riding with clear blue skies and a pleasant temperature. We stopped at a scenic lookout point – the intersection of the Himalayas, the Karakorams, and the Hindu Kush mountain ranges, and snapped a few quick holiday photos.

A bit further down the road we stopped at the police checkpoint in Jaglot, and looking south we could see the peak of Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world, reaching up to 8,126m. When Karen and I passed through Jaglot on our way up north the peak had been shrouded in cloud, so we were fortunate to see it this morning.

Arriving at the police checkpoint just a few km out of Chilas we presented our passports, filled out the log book, and then slipped under the raised boom gate and started riding towards Babuser Pass and Naran, our preferred overnight destination. We had heard that foreigners were not permitted to travel south on this road but we all wanted to ride it as it is shorter and more scenic than the alternative route that runs through Chilas down to Besham.

Martin jumped to the front on his DR650 and was obviously enjoying the ride through the valley as he was picking up speed all the time. It wasn’t too long before we reached the series of switchbacks that climb up from the valley floor to Babuser Pass (4,173m). We had a spirited ride up to the top – the road surface was great and encouraged an attacking approach. Hairpin bends were indicated by the line of little rocks that had been left in the middle of the road, carefully separating the two lanes through the arc of the turn.

Stopping at the top of the pass we completed the passport formalities at the police checkpoint, whilst Karen posed for photos with a baby and a young child. With the bikes relocated closer to a food hut we sat outside on plastic chairs arranged around a low table made from slate rock pieces and ate curried egg and fried vegetable fritter things.

On our previous ride across this pass it had snowed at the top, so the warm weather and sunny skies were a welcome alternative.

The southern descent was unsealed as the road had been ripped up, and Martin bolted away on his DR650 whilst Karen and I took things a little slower. The descent had longer straights and fewer switchbacks, but it still proved demanding with lots of bumps and loose material to negotiate.

Once we’d dropped down to the valley floor the sealed road started again – with intermittent unsealed sections thrown in here and there just to keep us on our toes (literally) – and we pressed on towards Naran.

I was expecting a bit of a challenge at one bridge crossing that was coming up, as I recalled that the approach had been down a steep rocky slope with water flowing down it, and now coming from the north we would be encountering this narrow section of track from the other side. The rocky track had been carved into the earth and was only wide enough for one vehicle, with earthen banks rising up either side.

Martin crossed the bridge ahead of me, exited the bridge and then climbed up the rocky slope, and I followed behind him. As Martin’s bike exited at the top of the track a car started to descend, and with little room for me to move the car hit us on our right hand pannier. The bike jumped around under the impact but I was just focussed on riding out of the situation and ignored the wildly swinging rear-end.I’ve been told more than once by riding mates not to worry about what the back-end is doing – just focus on keeping the front pointing where you want to go, and so with that in mind we gassed it up the rest of the rocky slope and back onto the road without further incident.

A short while later I flagged Martin to pull over so I could check for any damage and have a quick breather. The pannier has scratches across it where we were clipped but nothing structural, so I was pleased with that. Karen was looking pretty pleased with herself as she had kept her cool throughout this little incident – and her faith in hard panniers has once again paid off.

After a drink and a round of photos with some Pakistani guys that stopped for a quick chat we pushed on, enjoying the valley scenery and the twisty road. A while later we came to a police checkpoint, and whilst Martin and I did the passport thing, Karen started chatting with four young Pakistani men that were on their way to go hiking in the mountains and they had stopped to chat with us as they have seen photos of our bike on TV here in Pakistan – word is spreading that we’re in Pakistan and we love it here as the people are so friendly and peaceful.

We arrived in Naran about 2:30pm and went to the PTDC Motel there but they wouldn’t allow us to put up our tents and we didn’t want to pay their exorbitant rate for rooms, so we remounted and headed 80km south towards Balakot, where Martin’s smartphone was telling him another PTDC Motel was located.

As the day grew longer we started to encounter more and more goats, sheep, donkeys, cows and water buffalo on the road, being led home by their herders. Karen was starting to feel a bit nauseous and I was feeling a bit tired – once or twice the traction control kicked in on the bike when we were going through water crossings – it was getting harder and harder to stand up for these obstacles as my knees were sore from hours of riding and the frequent standing, but the traction control compensated perfectly for my lack of form.

We arrived in Balakot and Martin pulled over to fire up the OsMand map software on his smartphone, but rather than take us to the PTDC Motel it took us back across the bridge and then along a narrow and sometimes rocky goat track for a while, before we pulled the pin – ignored the GPS – and made our way back to town via a more suitable road.

After a bit more exploration we spotted the motel on the main street and we were all very happy to have arrived at our destination, none more so than Karen as her nausea was getting quite bad.

Bikes unloaded and covered, cold showers completed (usual for Pakistan we’ve discovered), and dinner eaten – it’s now time to finish my blog for the day and start getting ready for tomorrow. Balakot to Islamabad via Murree will be the first segment of the day, and if we’re feeling good then we’ll push on down the N5 from Islamabad to Gujranwala. Watch this space !!!

Jandrot (Gupis) to Gilgit

(110km total, approx)

After a wonderful night’s sleep at the PTDC Motel in Jandrot and a very pleasant breakfast (Pakistani omelette, paratha and coffee) it was time to pack the bike and head back to Gilgit, along with Martin on his DR650.

The riding was magnificent – we both enjoyed the ride even more than yesterday – probably as a result of not suffering through the chaos of Gilgit traffic beforehand, and being fresher and more alert.

We again stopped at the police checkpoints along the way – most waved us straight through but at one checkpoint we were invited into their small tent for a cup of sweet Pakistani tea – a delightful treat and a refreshing drink. A round of selfies ensued – all good fun.

Martin fired up his GPS and we tried to locate the Lost Horizons Guesthouse where we hoped to catch up with Taylor and Nat. We were using instructions in my electronic Lonely Planets guide and we got close to the guesthouse – or at least close to where the guesthouse used to be – but then Martin went searching on foot and determined that the guesthouse had moved, and a kind man offered to show us the way to the new location which was a godsend as there was no way we would of found it otherwise.

Upon arriving we found out that Taylor and Nat had departed Gilgit yesterday, so we are about 24 hours behind them. Later in the afternoon we checked our emails and we’d received an email from Nat saying that they had joined Moin’s tour group and had ridden to Skardu, and that they are having a fantastic time now that they have been allowed entry into Pakistan! With luck we’ll catch up with them either in Lahore or perhaps Amritsar.

The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up on blogs and emails and photos – a pleasant way to relax and unwind. Tomorrow we’ll head south towards Chilas, and hopefully be permitted to go back over the Barbuser Pass to Naran, otherwise it’s the KKH south from Chilas to Dasu or Besham.

Moin had advised against taking our R1200GSA two-up to Astore and Rama Lake via Skardu as the road was unsealed for a lot of the way and the last few km from Astore to Rama Lake is very steep and rocky, and instead suggested that we could take the Shandur-Gilgit Road west from Gilgit as far as Phander, as this road follows the scenic Gilgit River, at times level with the water, at times high up on the edge of cliffs overlooking the river far below.

We had an early breakfast at the Hunza View Hotel and said good bye to the U.S. riders on Moin’s tour, and his crew. Martin – the UK rider on the DR650’we had met in Passu a few days earlier – opted to come and see Phander with us, so our two bikes rolled out of the hotel about 08:45am.

The ride south from Hunza to Gilgit was very enjoyable – often riding the same road in the reverse direction reveals new sights to enjoy, and this southbound leg of the KKH didn’t disappoint. It was only about 110km from Hunza to Gilgit, but we took our time and enjoyed the scenery as we headed south.

Arriving at the outskirts of Gilgit we both refuelled, and then we stopped again in town so we could get some drinks and snacks. After a short break we headed off, aiming to pick up the Shandur-Gilgit Road that runs along the river, but it was difficult to determine where the main road went amidst all of the confusion of the morning markets, and it wasn’t too long before we stopped and Martin fired up his free map software to plot a route out of town.

The western edge of Gilgit gave way to small plots of corn and other crops, and children walking home from school, smartly dressed in their school uniforms. Moin had said that Phander – our intended destination for that evening – was four hours ride from Gilgit, and we made reasonable time over the single lane road, bouncing over the rocky, unsealed sections and peering over the cliff edges to look down at the river far below.

We had a couple of short stops early into the ride – one stop at a small shop so we could get something to drink, and a lot of local men and boys took great interest in us as we shared the lemonade, and then a short while later we stopped under the shade of some trees and a family of young, inquisitive children popped out from behind a tall gate and stared at us, so Karen made friends with them. They were quite shy and called their father, so we introduced ourselves to him, even though he spoke no English.

We encountered four or so police checkpoints along the way, alighting from our bikes and completing our passport and visa details in the record book. In one book I noticed the column heading “Purpose of Wizzet”.

The road twisted and turned alongside the river, occasionally running through avenues of trees. Karen observed that the scenery was quite similar to what we’d seen last year in Canada up in the Rockies – the wide river churning over the submerged rocks and creating islands of boulders midstream, with tall trees lining the river banks. In some places we saw narrow suspension bridges crossing the river and leading to small villages on the northern bank.

Arriving in Gupis the red warning light on the dashboard lit up, and the tyre pressure sensors indicated a flat rear tyre. I pulled off into a service station and reinflated the tyre with our electric pump, with Karen chasing off a group of boys that were crowding around me and the bike as I worked on it, but we had barely ridden a few hundred metres before the tyre was flat again.

We doubled back to a “tyre shop” but upon inspection it turned out to be a tailor’s shop, so a young man helped me find someone who explained that there was a tyre repair shop just across the bridge ahead. We crawled up to the shop – a little shack with a compressor and air hose and not much else, and Karen got straight to work – arranging with the men there to fix the tyre.

In the blink of an eye almost we had the wheel off the bike and the guys had spotted the puncture. Whilst they were repairing it with a plug we were being hassled by an officious police officer who had tracked us down and wanted to see our passports. He started demanding that we go to the local police station to report in, and I told him we’d go there once the bike was sorted out. He then wanted to take our passports but Karen insisted that wasn’t going to happen, so he finally left us, with instructions to attend the police station.

It didn’t take ten minutes for the tyre to be repaired and the wheel reinstalled on the bike. Karen asked the cost – 70PKR which she thought was too little so paid 400PKR, much to the owners dismay, as he tried to return the money but she refused.  After a big round of “thank-you’s” we followed the owner of the tyre repair shop on his little 125 back to the police station. It’s worth noting that there was no checkpoint or road barrier in this little village and hence no indication that we needed to stop and report in, but we followed the tyre guy off the main road and down a steep track to the police compound.

We didn’t see the arrogant and rude policeman again, but instead met a dozen or so very polite and courteous policemen inside the compound. Karen waited in the outer compound with the motorbikes whilst Martin and I completed the passport entries, and as Karen waited she smooth-talked to the officer-in-charge, so shortly afterwards we were invited into his office to enjoy a cold cup of fanta and a chat with one of the policemen there, who was very keen to hear about our travels, and to chat about his family and his work. He was particularly impressed with the crisp salute that Martin had given the policemen a short while earlier, as they only received nine months training and hadn’t mastered a proper salute in that time.

After our drinks we said our farewells – many of the police were now preoccupied with the arrival of some less salubrious guests in the back of two police wagons – and rode off, thankfully with the tyre retaining pressure.

Signs indicated that Phander was another 55km or so down the road and the sun was starting to drop behind the high valley peaks, so I was pleased when Martin stopped at the PTDC Motel in Jandrot (just west of Gupis) and suggested we call it a day. At the rate we were travelling we wouldn’t have made Phander in daylight and riding these roads at night would have been foolhardy, and in addition we were all tired from our long day.

The Jandrot PTDC Motel was like a European hunting lodge, with high wooden ceilings, and our rooms were basic but functional, and the showers were hot. We unpacked, showered, and then enjoyed a delicious dinner of dodo soup, chicken jalfrezi, chicken biryani and chappatis. We were all exhausted and were in bed by about 08:30pm – it had been a long day, and though Phander had proven to be a bridge too far, we had all enjoyed our adventurous day.


Hunza Projects

Our new friend, Dr Suleman Lalani, from Texas (USA) is the chairman of a NFP (AKFUSA.ORG and AKDN.ORG). They are working in over 20 countries and in Hunza they work with the Aga Khan Foundation and he organised for us to go and see some of the projects in action.

We we collected by the local and regional Managers, from the Hunza View Hotel and taken by 4 wheel drive to a prestigious girls school, Aga Khan Secondary School in Hunza. Here the female Principal (an alumni of the school) took us on a tour of the library, a biology classroom, yr 9 computer lab and a general yr 9 class. She then took us to the hostel where some of the girls board and we saw their dormitories and were treated to a delicious morning tea in dinning room. Vince and I were sitting next to her for morning tea and we got to ask her some questions about the changes in Pakistan and the girls education in general. The school’s focus is on Science, particularly pre medicine and engineering studies. Each year they have around 700 applicants and they select the top 45. The school currently has around 175 students from yr 8 – 12. The grounds and views were stunning and all the students we met were bright and cheerful. These girls will go on to become Doctors and Engineers. Scholarships are available so that money is not an issue for those who are accepted.

Next we were driven to the Kado 1 Training Centre where local women learn to cut and polish local gems and set them in silver. They learn a full range of jewellery design including rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets and necklaces. I saw some gorgeous aquamarines (my birthstone) but as I had not brought my purse that was the end of that. Any item that is sold gives 60% to the artisan (for labour) and 40% goes to the foundation to cover costs. The centre has developed a reputation and people are keen to be trained there. They also make custom orders for weddings etc.

We then went by car, along to CIQAM, which is a woodworking centre, where less educated women are able to learn practical woodwork skills. They build furniture through to using up the leftovers to make letters, spoons and smaller items for sale. We also so some construction work that the women had been involved in as part of the restoration of the historic old town settlement of Altit, which won a UNESCO World Heritage award in 2007 by the Aga Khan Cultural Services – Pakistan. We were given a tour through the settlement, which was absolutely fascinating and we met many beautiful, happy children and colourful women along the way.

We had a walking tour of the Altit Fort, which was very special….extremely cool inside….with very small and low doorways (a strategic move to make enemies have to enter one by one in a crouching position). The views were amazing, including the view over the settlement roofs that we had just walked through. We were treated to a lovely lunch in the cafe thanks to the generosity of our hosts.

We then got back in the cars and off to Baltit Fort. We could only go part way and we had to walk up a very steep hill….which just about killed me……I am so unfit! The view was lovely, and going down was so much easier. The group went on to Eagles Nest, but Vince and I went back to our hotel because I had an URGENT tummy problem…..time for the Gastro Stop!

Khunerjab Pass is 4,733m above sea level, and the goal for today was to ride from Passu to Khunerjab Pass and then return to Hunza. Khunerjab Pass is the border crossing between Pakistan and China, and hence is the northernmost point on the KKH a rider in Pakistan can travel without entering China.

Our day started with farewells to most of the overland travellers who had joined us at the Ambassador Hotel in Passu – with the exception of Martin and Kenny who wanted to ride back to the border crossing as the scenery was so impressive – the rest of the group were heading south.

Packing the bike was easy as we’d left our spare tyres and dry bags back in Hunza, and so after a pleasant breakfast we were ready to get going. The road was a dream to ride on – though you needed to watch out for the occasional rockfalls that had left rubble over the road, and patches of road that had been ripped up and replaced with large chunky gravel.

The scenery was breathtaking, and the further north we travelled the more stunning it became. Rising above the valley walls we could see snow covered mountains, and the sky was a bright blue with just a few wispy clouds.

Just out of Sost at one of the few police checkpoints we encountered today we were led to an outdoor enclosure – inside was Lolly – a three year old snow leopard that had been rescued from the nearby river when he was only six months old. Karen had a good chat with Saeed, the young man who cared for Lolly, and made a small donation to Lolly’s upkeep.

At first the road followed alongside the riverbed but eventually it started to climb through a series of switchbacks. The little Hondas struggled with the lack of oxygen as we climbed up, but the fuel-injected BMW leapt to the front of the pack and powered up the climb. We could see the dip between the mountain peaks that announced the top of the pass, and the ground around us was covered in a light dusting of snow.

Arriving at the Pakistani border checkpoint we met five or six policemen – all very friendly and keen to hear about our impressions of Pakistan, keen also to share the biscuits I passed around for morning tea. Karen slipped into the police compound for some photos in the snow that had accumulated there whilst we waited for the other riders to arrive.

When Moin arrived he was able to arrange with a policeman to allow us to ride along the few hundred metres of no-man’s land, right up to the Chinese side of the border, and so as a group we took four motorbikes and ourselves across this strip of land and then assembled for a group photo (so do check out the photo gallery below!).

After returning to the Pakistan border post and thanking the policemen we headed back down from the pass, and the scenic beauty was even better when viewed from this direction. A few minutes later we caught up with Martin on his DR650 – he’d just run out of fuel – and so we gave him our spare fuel, and then the support jeep arrived so we got more fuel from them for Martin’s bike. This was the start of a recurring theme for the afternoon as the little Honda’s with their nine litre fuel tanks also ran out of fuel, and we had to draw fuel off Martin’s bike to refuel the Hondas. With a 30 litre fuel tank on the BMW and a range of around 450km – 500km when ridden reasonably (350km – 400km under fast riding, 650km – 700km under slow riding), our 1200 was the only bike to not run out of fuel today.

With Martin not far behind we were the first to arrive at the disembarkation point of yesterday’s boat trip and whilst waiting for the others I aired down our tyres a bit as the rocky climb up the southern end of the lake was going to be a challenge, but when Moin and Sonny arrived they went and chatted with the security guards guarding the unopened tunnel, and negotiated our passage through the tunnel. Waiting for our last rider gave me a chance to reinflate my tyres, and then as a group we had a slow and cautious ride through the four new tunnels and across the interconnecting bridges, avoiding workers and equipment strewn across the tunnel floors.

Once we’d cleared the tunnels we had a leisurely ride south, arriving back in Hunza after clocking up 280km for the day.

Martin, Karen and I arranged an evening meal in our Hunza View Hotel whilst the rest of the group went to the cafe for pancakes, and we had a great chat about riding up on the rooftop whilst we waited for dinner to be cooked – and as that took about 90 minutes we had a lot of time to chat!

The scenery we have enjoyed today has been truly magnificent – the photos capture quite well the views we saw as we rode up to the pass and then back down again, but what they don’t capture is the sense of achievement we experienced in getting to the top of the KKH. Today’s ride is a dream-come-true for me, and I’m so pleased that we changed our travel plans for Pakistan and came up here. A big thanks to everyone who encouraged us to explore this part of Pakistan – it’s a beautiful part of this wonderful country.

Today started off with a fantastic treat – we finally managed to meet up with Emiel and Claire, the two Aussie 4×4 travellers we met in Shiraz about a month ago. Emiel and Claire entered Pakistan a week before Karen and I did and we have been trying to catch up with them and hear about their Pakistan exploits for a while now.

By total coincidence we received an email from Claire last night saying that they were in Karimabad, and we were able to get a message to them that we were in the same town. I was caught by total surprise however when I saw Emiel on the stairs inside our hotel – they had tracked us down and come over for breakfast – what a treat !!!

Karimabad wakes up late so Emiel whipped up a round of coffees out of the back of their Landcruiser, and then we dropped into a small restaurant overlooking the valley for breakfast. It was fantastic to hear about their travels – Claire has been emailing regularly and providing us with suggestions and recommendations, and it’s been great having an advance party scout ahead for us! I did thank Emiel – if not for their determination to drive the KKH I’m not sure if Karen would have been so keen to venture into Pakistan’s north, and we all agreed that Pakistan has been the jewel in the crown.

All too quickly it was time to say farewell – Emiel and Claire were heading down south, and Karen and I were heading north towards the Khunjerab Pass with Moin Khan’s group of US riders. With a little luck we’ll meet them again in India, or Nepal, or Myanmar.

Our group had a short ride today – about 50km from Karimabad to Passu, not including the boat ride we needed to take to cross the lake caused by the massive landslide that occurred here a few years ago. The landslide blocked the valley and created a natural dam, and the trapped river water rose and swamped a number of villages in the valley and formed a huge lake, obliterating the highway below. A system of tunnels and bridges is being constructed to rejoin the highway but hasn’t been opened as yet, so the only way to travel over this obstacle is via boat.

I’d told Karen about our need to cross the lake via boat and in her minds’ eye she had visualised a roll-on roll-off ferry similar to those we had used in Scotland and Ireland, so when she saw the tiny wooden boats she was somewhat taken aback.

Our convoy of seven Honda 150cc motorbikes, Moin’s 1962 Jeep, and our BMW skittered down the rocky track to the waters edge, where the boat crew were adjusting planks that ran between boat and shore, so we could load the vehicles. The small motorbikes went aboard first and one by one were manhandled into the hull space of the open boat. The jeep went next, Moin skilfully climbing the ramp, the boat rocking from side to side as the jeep’s weight transferred onto the boat.

Our BMW was last to be loaded. I’d unloaded the panniers and top box and placed them inside the jeep, and the only spot on the boat available for the bike was the covered bow area. I brought the bike up to the ramp and then dismounted before Moin and his crew carefully pushed the bike up the plank and onto the deck, where it was tied down. Karen had her heart in her mouth during the whole exercise.

Once the vehicles were loaded all the passengers came onboard, before the twin propellor craft left the shore and slowly puttered along the blue lake. The sides of the valley rose up steeply around us, and we could see the new bridges and tunnels that are being carved along the southern length of this huge lake.

A number of the guys – Karen included – had a go at steering the boat, sitting at the helm behind the windshield which was a reclaimed windscreen from a tuk-tuk. The boat trip took about 45 minutes or so, curving around the valley contours before approaching the shoreline near the northern end of the highway.

Offloading the jeep and motorbikes seemed to go quicker than the loading process – a ramp enabled us to keep the planks horizontal and the vehicles came off easier. Karen was very relieved to have her animal back on dry land!

Moin explained that our overnight destination – Passu – wasn’t too far up the road and that he planned to take people up a short unsealed track to see a nearby lake on the way to Passu, but upon having a crack at the first few sections of the steep and rocky goat track I decided that I wasn’t that interested in seeing the lake after all, and carefully returned to the sealed road. With our tyres pumped up to road pressures we weren’t getting any traction at all on the rocky track, and I wasn’t willing to risk throwing the bike away.

Karen and I waited with the jeep crew and ate fresh apples plucked straight from the orchard across the road, and once Moin and his riders rejoined us we pushed onto Passu, rolling to a halt at the Passu Ambassador Hotel. This single storey structure sits in a beautiful valley with gorgeous views, but it was only completed shortly before 9/11 and the owner has struggled to keep the hotel going since the collapse of tourism here in Pakistan.

Shortly after we arrived at the Ambassador a team of seven overland travellers who had crossed China and entered Pakistan via the Khunjerab Pass rode past and were flagged down, returning to the hotel where they joined us for an evening of story-telling and camaraderie. They should of been a team of nine riders as Taylor and Nat (the two Australians we had met in Germany at the Sippersfeld HU Meeting in May just before they started their two-up ride back to Australia) should have been with them – but a series of unfortunate events had resulted in them trying to enter Pakistan one day after their Pak visa had expired, and they had been detained at the border.

On hearing their plight, Moin and some others had jumped straight into the jeep and drove north for a couple of hours to try and arrange their release, but they returned empty-handed later in the evening. Tomorrow we hope that a tour guide from Gilgit will be able to come up and arrange for their visa issue to be resolved and entry to Pakistan approved, as the alternative is deportation.

Dinner this evening was a delicious selection of local foods, including a tasty yak dish. Emiel and Claire had tried yak on their adventure but had found the meat quite fatty, but our yak was very lean and tender, and I’d happily eat it again.


We reluctantly left the comfort and luxury of Serena Hotel (Euro 165), Gilgit after a delicious breakfast. We stopped for fuel before leaving town and turning back onto the KKH headed North.

The mountain scenery was magnificent and the police checkpoints along the way were all very friendly. We passed through many small villages, some with stalls selling fresh produce….and in one case I saw a cow being butchered by the side of the road…..with all its fur still on!

We saw were the continental plates (Indian and Eurasian) collided, the Indian plate continues to move north pushing the Eurasian plate at a rate of 5 cm per year, raising the mountains by around 7 mm annually. We passed through the Central Karakuam National Park, which was just stunning! We saw the remnants of the old silk road (Kinu-Kutto) which started as a foot path, into a pony track and later one jeep width road (1958-60). In the 70’s the construction of the KKH saw the Old Silk Road fall into disuse, but it still has the best views of the Rakaposhi Mountain.

Along the way we stopped at a look out to admire the view and met Moin Khan and his helper, Sonny. These two Pakastani riders run motorcycle tours (….particularly for Americans as Moin had studied in the states. They had four Americans with them, Liza, Elmar, Esthan and Suleman. They invited us to tag along with them as they headed North up to the border …..and we accepted. Pakistani hospitality at it’s best! We stayed at the Hunza View Hotel (free of charge), owned by Moin’s close friend, Mammud, and were made most welcome. We were invited to join the group for a delicious dinner and rest up for the adventure tomorrow when we will travel to Passu across the lake by boat (as the new tunnel in to open to the public yet). We will spend the night there before moving North to the border with China…..very exciting!

Chilas to Gilgit and the start of the KKH

It’s Father’s Day in Australia today so we started our day with a quick phone call to our dad’s back home, before we packed the bike and squeezed it out of the congested carpark of the North View Hotel about 08:15am, and stopping just down the road to refuel.

6th September is known as ‘Defence Day’ here in Pakistan, remembering Pakistan’s martyrs who have died defending the country from attack, dating back to 1965. 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war, and we have seen many banners adorning the entrance to villages, and many programs on TV celebrating the success of the Pakistan military services.

A few km down the road from Chilas we stopped near the police checkpoint at the junction of the N35 and the N15 – the latter being the road we’d travelled up yesterday from Naran, and I let a few psi out of the front tyre.

The N35 north follows the Indus River, mountains rising high either side. The road itself was reasonable if not outstanding, and we just cruised along in second gear to better absorb the bumps and corrugations in the road. The river below was running quite fast and in many places we could see beaches of clean white sand that had been built up.

In a few spots the road surface had been ripped up or had been overtaken by sand, and so we had a few little off-road adventures along the way. At one point a new bridge was being installed by a Chinese construction team and the old bridge – which was still in use – had a road surface of metal plates, and in one place the plate had a big hole in it – which had then been plugged with some rocks. The metal plates were very slippery and it was a bit chaotic crossing the bridge and then negotiating some rough terrain on the far side as cars jockeyed for position and raced a truck for first place on the next stretch of narrow roadworks.

About 50km north of Chilas we came to the start of the rebuilt Karakoram Highway (KKH), and the road transformed into a two-lane highway. China has contributed financial and technical resources into the rebuilding of this highway, and whilst it may no longer be the hardcore adventure route of years gone by it’s still a magnificent ride through some of the most stunning mountain ranges in the world. Ever since I started reading about adventure riding six years ago (all thanks to Ken, my brother, and the copy of ‘Long Way Down’ he bought for me) I’ve been hearing about the KKH – one of the holy grails of adventure riding, and considered to be an engineering Eighth Wonder Of The World.

The road passes through the junction of the three mightiest mountain ranges in the world – the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindukush and the confluence of the Gilgit and Indus Rivers. For a period the KKH was considered unsafe to travel on, but recent security improvements in Pakistan have seen the road re-opened to foreign travellers, and many riders use the KKH as a gateway between Pakistan and China. The road has its origins dating back to the Silk Road trade.

Road signs showed that the road was designed for 40kmh, but we enjoyed cruising along at a quicker pace, only once running the risk of being catapulted into a high retaining wall after hitting some ripples in a curve, but the big bike just hunkered down and ate up the bumps with barely a wriggle.

The road was magical, cutting along the embankments high above the river below, with the majestic mountains in the distance. The ride was over way too quickly and we did consider pushing on to our next planned overnight stop – Karimabad – but we’ve had some poor nights’ sleeping with constant noise and interruptions, and so the plan today was to have a short ride and rest in the afternoon, ready for the next couple of days.

We tootled into Gilgit and whilst looking for signs to the PTDC Motel I spotted a sign for the Gilgit Serena Hotel – perhaps more upmarket than the PTDC – but after a few nights in some fairly shonky places we were both ready for something a bit more relaxing and refreshing. Hot water and functional air conditioning is an absolute treat here in northern Pakistan, and we were both happy to check into the Serena and spend the afternoon unwinding and walking through the beautifully maintained gardens.

It’s about 5:00pm now and it’s drizzling outside – the forecast I saw this afternoon suggests that rain is to be expected over the next few days, so we’ll need to sort out our wet weather gear this evening, ready for tomorrow. I don’t think we’ve seen a drop of rain for months – not since Bulgaria from memory – so this will make for a pleasant change.

Happy Father’s Day everyone !!!

Naran to Chilas

Our rough schedule had included two nights in Naran but after another noisy evening – this time brought on by the two Pakistani raves going off in the grounds of the PTDC Motel Naran, we had a bit of a sleep in followed by a simple breakfast and then packed the bike ready to move on.

Iqbal had suggested that we could cover the 234km from Naran to Gilgit in a day, but yesterday’s ride was about 8 hours long (not including rest stops), and the riding is getting more challenging, so we aimed instead for Chilas, about 110km north of Naran.

As soon as we were back on the road the terrain and landscape changed quite dramatically – the road following the contours of the river, and the mountains rising up high on either side of the valley. Traffic was light – private cars and small coaches the main protagonists. The road was surprisingly good but our average speed was still quite slow – every curve hid an obstacle around it, and there was no time to relax. Waterfalls started to flow across the road surface in many of the bends, quite strongly in places.

Just south of Babusar Pass we pulled over to stretch our legs for a few minutes, and to our complete surprise six adventure bikes appeared from the north, coming to a halt alongside us so we could have a chat. Eric from Seattle was on a BMW identical to ours, the German couple had two well-equipped DR650’s, Mike – the 19 year old Tasmanian on his way to setting a record for being the youngest rider to circumnavigate the world was on an XT660 (I think), and his dad Art was on an old school Triumph, and an English rider.

This group of riders had started from different origins and at different times – Mike and Art have been riding for three years now – but had all met up to share a tour guide through China, entering Pakistan via the Khunjab Pass.

We had a great chat, surrounded by many Pakistani tourists who had pulled over for the chance to snap a few selfies, before they headed south and we continued north.

The road dipped down to the river and we crossed a small rickety bridge before climbing up the steep, unpaved track on the far side. We had a series of switchbacks to negotiate, and we could see the huts and flags on the skyline that heralded the top of the pass, and just before we arrived it started to snow, the temperature dropping to 3 degrees C.

Karen managed to grab a quick photo of the bike beneath the ‘Babusar Pass’ sign before we were ushered to the side by some policemen, keen for us to complete some passport formalities. We took the opportunity to pull out my spare gloves for Karen and also the external panels for her riding jacket as she was freezing in the cold and the snowfall was intensifying.

We were inundated with requests for photos but we were busy trying to get organised, so after a few quick photos with a young couple who had patiently waited whilst we sorted out our gear we were back on the bike and heading down the northern side of the pass. The traffic on this side was extremely light – I was left wondering if Babusar Pass is a destination in itself for many Pakistani’s, as few of them were venturing any further.

The road was wet and slippery on the descent, and the landscape became even more rugged and mountainous. There were still villages on this side of the pass, very basic structures that seemed almost built into the side of the mountains. We dropped down to the valley floor and carefully negotiated some rough ground around the construction site for a new bridge. The old rickety bridge was still in use but the approach was more befitting a motocross track.

A bit further on a young man held out an apple as we rode past, so we turned around and returned for the first food we’d had since leaving Naran 4.5 hours previously. The man spoke no English but quickly proffered up another apple, and Karen and I sat on the bike and munched down the juicy apples, chatting with an elderly gentleman who had joined the small group around us. Two soldiers, one standing in the gun turret of an army vehicle watched on, quite amused I think.

The apples had a replenishing affect on the both of us, and we both settled into the last 50km or so, slowly crawling past herds of goats that blocked our path at times. As we rejoined N35 we stopped at the police checkpoint for some quick passport formalities, and then turned left (west) towards Chilas – about 10km down the road.

The first hotel we stopped at upon entering Chilas – the Pakistan Hotel – had no rooms, but we weren’t that phased as they had no security for the bike either. The next hotel – the North View – was quite basic, but they were also cheap and could accommodate both us and our bike. We unloaded, got changed, and then had a wild ride in a freelance taxi to another part of Chilas so we could get some rupee out of an ATM. It took three different ATM’s before we were successful, and it was a bit tense at times as the ATM’s were located in a tribal area of Chilas not usually visited by Westerners, but we completed our mission successfully and the biggest danger we faced was an MVA at the hands of Chilas’ #1 wanna-be rally driver.

Back at our hotel – one floor up and on the street front so we can enjoy all the sounds, it’s time to catch up with photos and videos and blogs. We have no power and the sun is setting behind a blanket of clouds, hopefully we’ll get some power tonight and be able to recharge some gear.

Whilst it was a short ride today it was still long enough in terms of time and distance, and the big bike proved itself time and again to be fantastic at carrying the two of us and all our gear over some pretty crappy roads. I’m pleased we fitted the new tyres in Islamabad a couple of days ago – you can’t beat a set of new Continental TKC80’s !!!

I have to say this was not one of my best days………after a very disrupted nights sleep in our single beds….thanks to housekeeping waking us up to deliver water we didn’t order…..we had a bit of breakfast and packed the bike trying to be on the road for the long day ahead by 8.00am. I have not slept properly for the past two nights thanks to invasive hotel staff, and the combination of being sleep deprived and unable to have a proper shower (due to the disgusting state of our hotel bathroom and lack of hot water or pressure – despite paying Euro 80) had left me very cranky and uncomfortable. So much so, that after about a half hour of putting up with the hotel staff all taking photos (without even asking) around our bike as we tried to get packed….I ended up snarling at two of them who tried to push between Vince and I to get to our bike seat for more photos. Not the best start to the day….but it sent them on their way and let us get on with our packing. I do appreciate we are a novelty and everyone loves the ANIMAL….and mostly I do tolerate it with good grace…..but sometimes I wish they would all just leave us alone and give us some space to get on with things.

Vince’s prep in navigating our way out of busy Islamabad paid off and we soon found ourselves fuelled up and headed North for Murree. Moving up into the mountains was lovely as the temperature dropped and the greenery surrounded us…..magical and more tranquil. As we weaved our way up the windy roads we still had to contend with a multitude of crazy traffic, animals, landslides and rockfalls… which Vince negotiated expertly…..but it did slow us down to an average of about 25km per hour…….very slow going. As we passed through small villages we were slowed even further by even more traffic and people. Still mostly men and boys….but the odd colourful woman could also be seen…….albeit hidden behind her veil. We were very excited to see wild monkeys for the first time.

Without an escort we could stop as we pleased and, although we wanted to press on as we knew we had a long day ahead to get to Naran (270km or so), we did stop for a cool drink around 10.30am, a toilet/coffee break and lunch in Abbottsabad around 1.00pm. We continued on our journey, enjoying the change of scenery and welcome cooler weather…..but it was a long, grueling day in terms of physical toll on both Vince and myself. By the time we arrived at Naran around 5.30 pm, our butts no longer belonged to us and our knees were in agony. We pulled up at the PTDC Motel, recommended by our friend Iqbal and tried to check in.

The double room (Euro 50) offered was right near a music festival, so we were shown to an alternative Cabana (Euro70) a bit further away…..but still noisy. There was no hot water or water pressure … I had to remain dirty again and to top it off my “tummy trouble” is back……could it get any worse….but wait… yes it could! As we walked back from viewing the Cabana to the reception I saw someone on the ANIMAL… holding her upright like he was going to ride off…..I yelled out… but he ignored me so I started running…..yes guys….I CAN RUN….. I was furious and told him to get off my bike….he continued to ignore me like I didn’t exist… as his mate took photos on his phone! I had to really control my urge to grab the phone and smash it to pieces….the ordacity of them was just outrageous! Eventually he got off….no remorse or apology….his only explanation was “We like your bike” with a big stupid grin on his face……I yelled at him… telling him that I didn’t care if he liked it or not….it was private property and he had no right to sit on it or touch it. I asked how he would feel if I sat in his car or came to his house and just came in and sat down without permission…..he said nothing and just kept smiling. I wanted so badly to slap that stupid look right off his arrogant face! I told him to get away from me and my bike before I called the police. By then Vince had arrived with the hotel manager…..Vince told him to stay way from his bike or he would knock his $%#@ block off! The Manager also said something to him in Pakastani…..but the guy just kept smiling and walked off checking his ill gotten photos…….NOT HAPPY JAN – SO RUDE! UNBELIEVABLE!

NOTE: The following morning, whilst having breakfast, we met some of the Communications Company Executives who brought 90 people here for the team building music festival. They saw what happened with our bike yesterday and they wanted to let us know how angry they all were about the behaviour of one of their staff…..they are making enquiries and said they will sack him when they find him, as that is not the Pakastani way. I told them that I would be happy with just having him delete his ill gotten photos from his phone so the behaviour goes unrewarded. They are both from Islamabad and have offered to host us if we pass through on the way back….very kind. It was very reassuring that Pakastani people condemn this kind of behaviour just like we do……guess there are “tools” the world over….I wonder if I can teach the ANIMAL to bite!