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.