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 !!!