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 !!!