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 !!!