Chapter 7 – ‘Das ist Kein Urlab; das ist Abenteur!’

Iran – Pakistan

Esfahan was our next stop and proved to be the highlight of Iran. We were expecting a much more religiously strict city but were pleasantly surprised with what we experienced.

Womens headscarves were worn half way down the backs of their heads and the younger generation wore their Hejab’s (designed to hide the female form) figure huggingly tight and barely long enough to cover their bums.

We stayed in the Amir Kabir Hostel where we met Stephen; an Englishman who had spent 5 years teaching English in Japan and was now cycling home. He’d been on the road for 14 months and was planning to make it back to Manchester for his mates wedding in another 5 months. Barking mad these cyclists.

pict0028-emam-mosque-4The city had plenty to see but unfortunately a lot of it was being renovated. Since the end of the 8 year war with Iraq a lot of the money that had been spent on weapons has been channelled into restoration projects.

We spent three days here visiting Mosques, Khomeini Square, the bridges and tea shops.

Between Esfahan and Shiraz we witnessed three overturned articulated lorries; all caused by tyre blow-outs. The rules for driving a truck in Iran appear to be overload it as much as possible, fit bald tyres, remove the speed limiter and drive it as fast as it will go until the tyres go pop!

We had to go to Shiraz to pay the visa agency for Danny’s visa. He’d had a problem with his Paypal account at home and so I tried to pay it but encountered a problem with mine. The visa agency agreed to let us pay it cash when we passed through. As we were checking into our hotel a car pulled up and an Iranian man appeared with a thick brummie accent. Mori had returned to Shiraz from Birmingham just three months earlier after 17 years in the UK. He picked us up later that evening and showed us around the city. Not only were the parks full with picnicking friends and families but every bit of grass was also full. This included roundabouts, central reservations and grass verges. Despite this we didn’t take to Shiraz and moved on earlier than planned.

Our next destination was due to be Yazd but we weren’t sure how long it would take us to get to the Shandur Pass in Pakistan for the Polo match and so decided to skip Yazd and gain a bit of time. Instead we headed for Bam. After getting up at 0500 to avoid the worst of the heat we stopped in Sirjan to pick up some breakfast. As usual we were mobbed as soon as we stopped but in this heat we were in no mood for it. Iranian’s look with their hands not their eyes and having had both my front indicators snapped off by people ‘looking’ back in Zanjan. We grabbed bread, yoghurt water and OJ and headed out of town. With no shade for miles around we pulled off the road and sat underneath it in a flood bridge.

We knew that Bam had been hit by an earthquake 3 years ago but had no idea just how bad it really was. As we approached the town so we passed more and more flattened buildings. Despite having GPS coordinates for Akbars guest house we drove past it twice. It had been flattened in the earthquake and was operating from some temporary buildings. That evening we visited the Old Citadel. This too had been destroyed but a large scale reconstruction project was underway although it is several years away from resembling its original form. Walking through the town was a shock. It looked to us as though the quake had struck three months ago, not three years. Semi-collapsed buildings still stood; ready to fall at any moment, businesses were run out of 40ft containers and the dust from endless piles of rubble filled the air. Roads were dug up for new pipelines to be laid but judging by the amount of litter in the trenches and the well worn paths over the piles of spoil nothing had been done for some time. We got the feeling Bam had been forgotten about by the rest of Iran. We both hoped to never witness anything like this again.

Back at the guest house Akbar explained that 34,000 people had died. He had lost three guests when his guest house collapsed. He also said, surprisingly, that real progress had been made in the past three years.

Genc of Genc Motos (where we’d bought our tyres in Istanbul) had stayed here when he rode to Nepal a few years ago and had asked us to enquire as to whether or not Akbar had survived. Akbar remembered Genc and so we gave him Gencs e-mail.

To the border

The next big town east of Bam was Zahedan. All across Iran we had been warned about this area and the road east to Pakistan. We were told everything from ‘you’ll have to report to the police station’ to ‘you’ll have to sleep at the police station’ and from ‘you’ll have to have a police escort’ to ‘the police will pick you up on the road and escort you whether you like it or not’. As it was, the worst part of the journey was the cross wind on the desert section between Bam and Zahhedan. It was a struggle to keep the bikes going in a straight line. Leant over at what seemed like an impossible angle on a straight road our left legs and right arms ached from forcing the bikes to run straight. Oncoming trucks would blow our chin pieces into our chests before blowing us off the road onto the hard shoulder. The worst however were the occasional moments when the wind let up and our counter steering would steer us violently into the oncoming traffic!

With fuel at 4.8p per litre we wanted to fill up before the border. We turned off the main road into Zahedan but the queue for fuel went around the block and so we headed for the border in the hope that we could get fuel at Mirjaveh. A few miles out of town we were stopped at a police checkpoint but after showing our passports and having a quick chat about the bikes we were on our way – no mention of an escort.

At Mirjaveh we headed into town and were soon stopped by the police. After explaining we were looking for fuel we followed then to a fuel station where the fun began. After queuing at the regular pumps we were told to go to a different pump accessed via a locked gate. This led to a compound in which a locked brick building housed a single pump with a long hose. We said we wanted then filled up but all they could say was ‘how many litres?’  ‘I don’t know. I want it full’, this conversation went round and round for so long the police buggered off and left us to it. It took three goes to fill the bikes. First we’d hand over x amount of rials and receive x litres of fuel. Then we repeated the process twice more explaining from scratch each time what we’d already explained. Surely we weren’t the first to arrive at the border and say ‘fill it up’?

Then we went to the bank. I looked after the bikes whilst Danny went in. They claimed not to deal in foreign currency and sent us to another bank across town who also claimed not to deal in foreign currency and sent us back to the first bank.

PAKISTAN

Originally we had planned to arrive at the border first thing in the morning to allow enough time for all the formalities. However, the border doesn’t open until 1000, Pakistan is 1.5hrs ahead of Iran and it takes a minimum of three hours to pass through a border. This would take us up to approx 1430; not enough time to ride the 650Km to Quetta. Instead we crossed late afternoon and stayed in Taftan. The ‘air cooler’ (yeah…right!) in our room packed up leaving us dripping in sweat (it was 37°C in the room!). When our alarm clocks went off at 0400 it was still pitch black (we’d forgotten about the 1.5hr time difference) so we re-set them for 0500 but before returning to bed we each filled the large bucket in the bathroom with cold water (those of you who have travelled in Asia will know what I mean) and poured it over our heads in an attempt to cool down.

pict0053-taftan-quetta-roadWe loaded up and left before 0600; it seemed odd to be riding on the left again. Although it was light the sun hadn’t yet appeared, the temperature was cool and the road empty. Riding due east the sun appeared directly in our faces and instantly made silhouettes of everything. The first I saw of the police checkpoint was the rapidly approaching speed hump. Braking as hard as I could from 50mph I got within 20yds of it before spotting the rope across the road. I ploughed through it expecting to get ripped off the bike but luckily I ripped the rope from its fixings. Stopping just past the checkpoint I walked back to find one calm and one very angry copper making handcuff gestures. After explaining not being able to see the rope in the sunshine and suggesting they hung a cloth of some sort on it to make it visible we filled in the tourist book and were soon on our way. The road as far as Dalbandin was good and empty but deteriorated soon after. It became very narrow with soft sad to either side meaning that the trucks we came across could not move over. Their maximum speed (rarely achieved) appeared to be 25mph meaning we had to find a way round them.

We came up behind one such truck and Danny said “It’s quite firm out here on the right” as I rode off the tarmac and onto the sand to overtake the truck so it turned to deep sand and I ploughed the front and crashed into a sand dune trapping my foot under the bike – welcome to Pakistan. Miles of nothing was followed by sand dunes and then miles of nothing. We encountered several more police checkpoints along the way one of which had a motorcycle chain strung across the road! Lucky for me I didn’t choose that one to career through. Stopping for a cold coke we soon had 14 people appear from nowhere, pull up a garden chair each and sit around us in a semi-circle watching us drink. We felt like lecturers who’d forgotten our notes.

Eventually after 398 miles, we arrived in Quetta. Despite being a long day we had thoroughly enjoyed the ride. We had GPS coordinates for the Al-Naeem guest house and on arrival unloaded the bikes before driving/pushing them up five steps into the hotel for safe keeping.

Here we were introduced to the guy who runs the local PTDC (Pakistan Tourist Development Corporation) Tourist Office. He told us we would not be allowed to ride from Quetta to Peshawar as the road ran through Tribal areas that the government have no control over. If we attempted it we would be turned back by the police. Instead we would have to take a huge (800 mile) detour south via Sukkur and Multan. He gave us maps and explained the route.

Quetta – Sukkur

It was only 241 miles to Sukkur but the ride seemed to go on for ever. Riding through one of the towns I felt my clutch cable ‘clicking’. I could see it was breaking and decided to change it before it did. Once out of town we found some shade and having fixed a spare cable to the original it only took 20mins to change. Hotel Mehran that we were aiming for was full but we managed to get into another 50yds down the road where again we parked the bikes inside the hotel. We caught a Tuk-Tuk across town to change some money. En-route we saw a camel asleep in the street, Oxen tied up and eating hay in the street and some shops had goats wandering around in them.

Police Escort

We got up at 0500 to avoid the heat and were ready to leave by 0600. A policeman appeared and said he’d show us the way out of town. We followed him in his Toyota pick-up with three more armed police in the back across town to the river. Here he pulled over and another emerged. We followed him to the edge of town where another change over took place. Once out of town and onto the dual carriageway we indicated our need for fuel. Once we’d refuelled we said we knew our way and there was no need for an escort. They spoke no English and continued to lead the way. Frustration started to set in and at the next two changeovers we pulled over the new escort and tried to communicate with them but again nobody spoke English. At the next changeover we refused to continue any further until they got somebody who spoke English to explain to us the need for the escort. We awaited the arrival of an English speaking officer who said that Sindh province was dangerous and that the escort would continue to the border with Punjab province 50 miles away. We told him that we suffer in the heat of the day and that was why we had got up so early. Following his escort at 25-30mph on the dual carriageway would mean we would have to ride all day to reach Multan. We said that once on the road we would ride at the speed limit and it was up to his escort to keep up. As it was some did and some didn’t.

dsc01411-pepsi-stop-1As it turned out the escort didn’t end at Punjab province but continued all the way to Multan 275 miles away. It took 22 pick-ups and over 80 policemen to escort us. Far from protecting us from danger they generated it. No14 wouldn’t slow down through the towns and came shockingly close to rolling the pick-up over when he swerved to avoid a cyclist that emerged in front of him. No18 ran a bus and a cyclist off the road with his dangerous overtaking; did he really think we were going to follow him. We stopped for a drink at the roadside. The guy at the counter served up two bottles of pepsi and as I went to stretch my arms out I found I couldn’t. The crowd had piled in behind me to the extent I couldn’t open my arms. I had to push them backwards in order to get enough space to take my jacket off. Just what were the police protecting us from?

They didn’t even leave when we arrived at the hotel but followed us in to watch us check-in and asked how long we would stay. ‘Two or three days’ we told them. The bikes were parked inside the hotel and once they’d left and the security guards had changed shift we turned the bikes around and loaded them up ready for an early start to try and give them the slip.

Today we turned over 10,000 miles since leaving home.

The Longest Day

We rode away at 0530. With nobody on reception we had a fair chance of getting out of town without being grassed up. Rather than risk getting lost in the city centre we back tracked for 12 miles to where we had seen signs for Lahore by-passing town. Once we had 50miles under our belts we were confident we’d given then the slip. FANTASTICO! Yesterday had been the worst day of the trip.

After 180 miles we stopped in a petrol station to fill up. There seemed to be smaller crowds in petrol stations and so we got something to eat. The attendants quickly brought out a picnic table and two chair for us to sit at followed by an AK-47! After finishing our food and taking a few photos we continued on our way.

At Lahore we decided to try our luck on the motorway. Motorcycles are banned on the motorway in Pakistan but the lure of a safe and empty road was too much for us. We rode up the slip road and straight through the toll booth (no barriers) and had 10 miles of smooth, safe, empty road before we were flagged down by a copper stood in the middle lane. We played dumb, apologised and explained it was much safer for us to ride here. Apparently we could have applied for a permit but this would take weeks to process. We had to turn around and ride the wrong way down the hard shoulder to the previous exit and pass through another town to rejoin the GT road to Peshawar. All of which was of course safer than letting us continue.

At 380 miles we took another break in a petrol station. A young Pakistani guy pulled in, had a chat in good English, wished us well on our journey, picked up our tab and left!

We rolled into Peshawar at 1800, 12.5 hours after leaving Multan. At 510 miles it had been our longest single day of the trip and was the last in a run of six consecutive days riding in which we covered 2176 miles from Shiraz in Iran. The following day we discovered from the newspaper that we’d also ridden through our hottest day of the trip 48°C!

The pollution in Peshawar was so bad we had to pull over as Danny couldn’t see his eyes were stinging so badly. We found a hotel on the edge of town with secure (multi storey like) parking and checked in.

The accident rate en-route had been incredible. Off the top of my head I can remember seeing an overturned tractor in the middle of a small town with the front axle ripped off it and a bus (which had obviously hit it) ploughed into a building at the side of the road, two lorries overturned in fields, a head on between a car and a security lorry in a contra flow (lorry on wrong side of road), one lorry and one tractor overturned because the rear axles of their trailers had fallen off and a truck with one front wheel and arch missing behind which was a minibus sliced in half lengthways. Another driver who’d decided overtaking in a contra flow was a good idea.

Peshawar

p6250228-michelin-t66-peshawarWe spent three nights in Peshawar. I went to the Post Office to collect my spares from Touratech (to fix my fuel leak) only to find it wouldn’t arrive for another 10 days. We fitted the new tyres we’d carried from Istanbul using the sidestands as bead breakers and a soap solution as lubrication. We also fitted 1-tooth smaller front sprockets to help on the mountain passes and I repaired the indicators that had been snapped off in Iran. On Saturday afternoon we turned the TV on just as the 250 GP from Assen set off on their warm-up lap. Nice one. That meant Moto GP would follow (Gutted for Edwards – I don’t reckon he’ll ever win a GP now). On Sunday we watched WSB from Misano (Great save by Toseland in race 2), England vs Ecuador and the Canadian F1 GP. It was a great weekend and allowed us to recover before heading to the mountains. We did go into town one evening but the pollution forced us back. Within 30 mins our eyes were streaming and so sore we couldn’t see properly – unbelievable!

Lowari Pass

pict0056-adam-chitral-policeLeaving Peshawar must have blown a fuse as all my instruments went out. The road to Chitral was undergoing a lot of widening and resurfacing work and so became much rougher much sooner than we’d expected. The combination of the more off-road biased tyres, 1-tooth smaller sprockets and not having the extra weight of the  tyres hanging on the backs of the bikes made a tremendous difference to the way they handled and it was a joy to ascend to the Lowari Pass at 2900m and experience our first cool breeze in six weeks. The road improvements continued on the decent and what a beautiful one it was. The road zig-zagged down the valley side through a pine forest until it reached the river which it followed to the Chitral Valley several more hours away.

Chitral

The Mountain Inn wanted too much money and directed us to the Chinnar Inn. This would prove to be instrumental in the direction of our trip over the next six weeks.

We registered with the Superintendent of Police where we discovered we could extend our visas by visiting the Deputy Commissioners Office at the far end of town. After doing so we called into the information office to enquire about trekking locally. As we planned to visit the Kalash Valley of Rumbur the following day we were given the name of a man to visit and told that a trek across Chitral Goi National Park would make a good three day trek.

Balanguru – Kalash Valley

The approach to the Kalash Valleys is via jeep track from Ayun, south of Chitral. It follows the river through a lushly irrigated valley to a police checkpoint where the road splits. A right turn takes the rough jeep track along the river of the Rumbur Valley. At some places it becomes quite narrow as it pict0131-kalash-valley-roadclings to the cliffside before entering the village of Balanguru. After asking around we found Sanliurfas’ house and parked our bikes in his yard. He showed us to his accommodation block – 6 rooms built around a garden. This is where Michael Palin spent three nights during the filming of ‘Himalaya’.

We spoke to Sanliurfa about our proposed trek and made arrangements to leave at 0700.

Owen, an Englishman we’d met whilst attempting to access the internet the previous day appeared and was staying in the room next door. We ate together and washed it down with a bottle of homemade Kalash wine.

The Trek

We spent the first day walking uphill through the trees staring at our feet. After five hours we emerged onto the high pastures. Not pastures as we think of them but less steep and slightly wider than lower down. We drank tea with the shepherds at the first hut we came to before walking for another 45 mins to reach the hut we would stay at. On arrival we were invited into the hut but after just a matter of seconds we were forced out by the sheer number of flies. Outside we drank more tea and had a snack of chapattis and goats cheese before setting up camp. The weather was fine and so Danny decided to sleep under his mosquito net whilst I slept in the tent. We washed some clothes in the river but the water was so cold you could only hold your hands in it for a few seconds before they became so cold they hurt. Neither of us had ever experienced water this cold. As the evening came so the temperature dropped and the goats returned. We were soon wearing beanies and light fleeces. A quick check on the temperature revealed it was 25°C! At home we’d be sat in the garden in a pair of shorts supping a beer!

We’d never heard of ‘homing’ goats but soon the valley was full with several hundred of them. There were four shepherds in the valley and as the goats approached so they separated and walked to their own pens. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Soon there were around 200 goats stood outside the pen where we were staying and when the shepherds were ready for them to come in they just walked out, whistled and all the goats stood up and walked into the pen – amazing!

We’d thought the dogs were there to help round them up but actually they were there to warn of approaching bears, wolves and snow leopards – great! Every time a dog barked during the night we would wake up and wonder what was out there. Suddenly we felt rather vulnerable. Especially after being told they’d lost three goats to a snow leopard the previous day.

pict0092-trek-camp-1The second day was not only very hard but incredibly dangerous. We constantly crossed scree slopes which would collapse under our feet; often there was nothing below. At one point after throwing our packs and jumping across a raging stream the trail climbed steeply and quickly ran out of safe foot holds. Scratching new footholds and hanging onto any foliage we could find we slowly made progress. The river was no longer visible as the mountainside was too steep to see it and the consequences of falling were certain death. We were both genuinely frightened for the first time either of us could remember. It wasn’t really a trail but a goat track and during one particularly rocky section we even witnessed one of them fall over!

Our guide kept saying “very hard trek” and later explained that only two people from his village knew the route. Apparently we were the first to attempt it in two years; the last turned back at this point after a huge row with their guide! – No shit! The fear did however take our minds off the physical exertion of the trek. We were carrying a tent, roll mats, sleeping bags, waterproofs, fleeces, stove, fuel, food and water. It was 36 degrees during the day and we were trekking at between 1500-3800m.

At the second night stop we pitched the tent in the yard of the cattle herders’ accommodation, this time sharing the tent as we suspected rain. Once again dinner was a bowl of rice washed down with green tea.

pict0098-trek-day-2_2We awoke at 0545 and were glad of the pot of jam we’d carried as we couldn’t face anymore goat’s cheese. We covered the first few miles in the shade of the valley but all too soon emerged into the sun. We reached a stream where our guide told us this would be the last water for some time and so we filled our bottles. Shortly afterwards we started to question the dividing line between trekking and mountaineering. We were climbing straight up a couloir. We took it in turns to walk as the loose rock would tumble down onto the person below. Progress was slow but eventually we made it to the pass at 3800m.

The decent into the next valley was long and exposed leaving us with aching knees and short of water. From the valley floor it was a steady climb through a pine forest which offered some shade but nevertheless we soon ran out of water completely. After another 1.5 hours we reached the Rangers station where we filled our water bottles. From here it was to be another hours’ walk to the PTDC hotel where we would camp for the night. Having started to dehydrate, we quickly drank our water only to find the hotel closed down on our arrival. We were gutted; no water meant we couldn’t stay. We had no choice but to push on to Chitral another three hours away (we’d already walked for 8). En-route we came across a radio transmitter and we managed to get water from the guys inside but ran out again by the outskirts of town. We filled our bottles from a tap and carried on towards town before flagging down a passing jeep and getting a ride for the last 2 miles. We rolled into town at 1800, 11 hours after setting off. We were knackered, properly knackered and dehydrated. It was too late to find a jeep back to the Rumbur Valley and so we took a room back at the Chinnar Inn.

We ate Chappli kebabs at a restaurant we’d frequented previously but when we went to bed my guts were churning. I awoke at midnight expecting the ‘Grand Slam’ and managed to get to sit the toilet and face the bathroom bucket just in time to throw up Chappli kebabs – nice!  I returned to bed but spent the night in and out of the bathroom.

pict0115-danny-couloirThe following morning our guide started negotiations with jeep drivers to get us back to Balanguru. The price started at R3800 (35 quid) which we refused. We’d heard there was a regular jeep at around 3pm which would cost around R200 each. After several trips to and from the jeep park our guide finally came up with a price of R600 for the three of us which we accepted.

It took the jeep 2.5hrs to reach Balanguru and we returned to the room where we’d left all or kit. The freezing cold water pumped straight from the river to the shower didn’t go down too well and I spent the rest of the day in bed.

Garam Chashma – Hot Springs

Riding along the jeep track out of the Rumbur Valley we spotted a British number plate coming towards us. Tim ‘n’ Tracey (TNT) along  with Koy the dog had driven from Birmingham across the Central Asia and Afganistan to Pakistan. We would meet them again in Chitral. We stopped in Chitral to try and get some chain lube (we’d run out of Scottoil shortly after Peshawar). Whilst at the roadside two German lads – Nils and Paul – arrived on Yamaha XT600s. They’d travelled through Eastern Europe to Turkey before following a similar route as us and were here for the polo on the Shandur Pass.

After a chat we set off along the road to Garam Chashma. It was a pleasant ride on tarmac through a gorge alongside the river. A few miles before Goram the tarmac finished and we continued on a jeep track to the edge of town where we found the only real hotel in town and the sole reason for coming – the Injigaan.

Hot Springs flow from the ground through a pool in the hotel garden. It wasn’t quite what we had in mind when hot springs were mentioned but it would be the first hot water we’d seen for a week. The pool was so hot we had to use the ladder to lower ourselves in but once in it was great. Especially after three days of trekking. In fact there was NO cold water. Not only was the shower too hot to use but the toilet cistern was filled with hot water. When I washed my clothes from the trek the water was hot enough to stretch the elastic in my socks!

Garam Chashma is a real one horse town and bottled water took some finding. We ate in the only ‘restaurant’ in town and I spent the whole night in the toilet with Diahorrea – delightful.

Back in Chitral…

We returned to Chitral and the Chinnar Inn the following day. As we rode in, so an English couple who’d come to the hotel for lunch spotted our number plates and we all had lunch together. Or rather I watched everyone have lunch together.

Vinny and Gill live in Islamabad where Gill works for the British High Commission and Vinny is an Occupational Therapist. They were on a three week holiday touring Northern Pakistan with their hired driver Joel. They too were heading for the Polo on the Shandur Pass.

When they left we went out to find chain lube and bumped into Tim and followed him back to his hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening drinking tea and chatting. Tim said they would be camping on the Shandur Pass and offered to take some provisions for us.

Shandur Pass Festival

We left town at 1200 for the ride up to the Shandur Pass. At Buni the tarmac finished and a rough jeep track started. The worst parts for us were the soft sandy sections where we seemingly had no control over the steering. We caught up stopped a few times to take photos and caught up with TNT just before Mastuj police checkpoint where we drank Pepsi. At Sor Laspur the real climb up to the pass started and recent improvements made this section of the road much smoother than that which we had just travelled. Once on the pass we met up with Nils and Paul and awaited TNT. Once they arrived we set up camp together. Tim erected two tents, one of which we used as a mess tent from which he and Tracey produced some cracking grub. We spent four nights on the Shandur Pass. It was a beautiful setting but probably the dustiest place we’d ever seen. It got into everything – it will take a monsoon to return our tents to their original colour. During our time there Vinny and Gill arrived and pitched their tent, we watched several games of polo and got stared at a lot by ‘locals’. Pakistani’s are World Staring Champions. Apparently the most inane chores are fascinating. Groups of them would gather around and squat down a mere 10’away to stare at us whilst we cooked, ate and washed-up etc. It was bizarre. We didn’t mind being stared at when we were in our riding gear as we knew we were different but sitting around the campsite it was different. We soon discovered that staring back would eventually embarrass them into leaving but it was time consuming and so we resorted to ‘shooing’ them away. Eventually we roped off our camping area. Tim inexplicably found a laser pen amongst products for sale in the bazaar. One night as we stood around our campfire we had immense fun with it at the expense of the ‘starers’. The three that stick in my mind were one guy who kept trying to kick the red dot away, another who would shine his torch on it only for Danny to turn the laser off when he did (this puzzled him greatly) and my personal favourite was a guy who stepped over our rope. We ‘shooed’ him away but he kept coming so Danny shone the laser on him. He leapt in the air in a blind panic, turned and ran down the hill as fast as he could tripping over the rope in the process. I’m sure he thought he was about to be shot.

p7090240-shandur-camp-2On the final day President Musharef arrived to watch the polo. At the end of the day he started dancing with his chief of staff, the grandstand collapsed, spectators spilled onto the pitch and the trigger happy police fired off tear gas. 500 yds away on the campsite we dunked whatever we could find in the washing-up bowl and covered our faces. Even at that distance we felt the effect. Stinging, watering eyes and sore throats.

Paul had been ill for a while but seemed to have one good day followed by one bad. Walking past their tent on the final day Nils was kicking Paul in his sleeping bag and shouting ‘Zis is not a holiday; Zis is an adventure’. It was funny as you like and became a standard saying used by everybody. We even learnt it in German ‘Das ist kein Urlaub, das ist ein Abenteuer!’

Decent to Gilgit

pict0148-shandur-descent-dannyThe first hour of the decent was on a jeep track. These are good fun to ride but you tend not to see a lot of the scenery around you as you’re constantly looking at the track ahead.  The tarmac started at Phandur giving us a chance to take in the outstanding scenery surrounding us. The valley was completely different to what we’d seen so far in Pakistan. Not only was it well irrigated but it was clean. There were litter bins in the villages and people used them. We stopped at Kalti lake for a snack and before long TNT caught us up. We’d hoped to camp here but could find nowhere suitable and so we continued on until, at Galuch, we spotted an army radio mast with suitable grounds. After speaking to the guard we pitched our tents, washed in the river and ate. Later that evening the guard joined us. Whilst we were chatting a local guy arrived in his Suzuki Carry (Bedforrd Rascal). He downed a large glass (half pint) of homemade schnapps he’d brought with him then smoked a huge spliff before getting back in his van (with no rear lights) and driving his kids home. The guard then wanted a lift 4 miles down the road to buy Pepsi but we told him the guy who’d just left was the reason we never drove at night.

Oasis

We rolled into Gilgit at lunchtime and headed for the Medina guest house. The covered eating/social area was typical of the backpackers joint you’d expect to find anywhere in Thailand. Set in a well kept garden of roses we had secure parking, hot water, good food and great company. We walked in to find Ze Germans tucking into lunch and recognised a few Aussies from the Shandur Pass. We spent three nights here doing our laundry and revelling in our first hot water for a week. During the day we walk to the eating area for breakfast, talk bollocks all day (mostly with Aussies Craig & Simon) and return to our room around midnight. TNT were staying on the outskirts of town and came to visit, unable to resist the excellent grub.

Karakoram Highway

pict0160-kkh-dannyAfter 15 years of thinking about it I finally rode onto the Karakoram Highway. We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic as we headed north and stopped several times to take photos. It had rained a few times over the past few days causing a lot of landslides. Apparently Karakoram stands for ‘Crumbling rock’. This made a lot of sense as the road seemed to be covered in debris at every turn. It wasn’t just the amount of debris that surprised us but the size of the rocks – some were bigger than cars! We had planned to ride to Sust (the border town) and then return to Passu for the night but the low cloud spoilt the view of the mountains and Danny wasn’t feeling well so we decided to ride directly to Passu. As we passed through so we spotted Vinny and Gills jeep in a hotel car park and joined them.

Chapusan Valley

They should have been in Kashgar, China by now but a landslide 50m long and 6m deep north of Sust had closed the KKH. The following day Danny stayed in bed whilst I joined Vinny and Gill for a trip to the rarely visited Chapusan Valley. The hotel manager was from the valley and offered to act as a guide having not been home for three months. It was a one hour drive north to Sust before picking up the jeep road west. 1.5 hours into the jeep road we got a double puncture. Luckily for us 15mins later a jeep passed by heading for Sust (this would be the only jeep we would see for the rest of the day). The hotel manager took one of the flat tyres and returned to Sust whilst the rest of us changed the other. Three hours later he returned in another jeep with a repaired tyre. Joel (Vinny and Gills driver) took their jeep back to Sust to get the spare tyre repaired whilst we continued our journey in the local jeep. The quoted one hour ride turned out to be 2.5hrs but we didn’t mind as the upper reaches of the valley were beautiful. Traditional lunch with the hotel manager’s family consisted of flour, water and salt mixed into a paste with melted goats butter poured over it and scooped up with chapattis. With the whole extended family of 15 people looking on as we ate we couldn’t refuse. We didn’t leave until 1800 and our fears of driving the jeep track in the dark were soon confirmed. Luckily we had a decent driver and he got us back to Sust in 2.5 hrs. We met Joel and returned to Passu.

Passu – Karimabad

The following morning we visited one of the suspension bridges regularly photographed in promotional material for the Hunza Valley.

We had planned to ride down to Karimabad after this but it was my turn to be ill again and I spent the rest of the day in bed. The antibiotics Vinny and Gill had given Danny seemed to have worked really quickly and so fed up with not fully ridding myself of the bug I’d picked up on the last day of our trek I also tucked into a course. The following morning we discovered TNT had arrived and were staying in the next room. We ate breakfast together before heading off. Us to Karimabad and them to Gilgit.

With blue skies we had a great ride down to Karimabad and were able to see all the peaks we’d missed on the way up. These included the 7788m Rakaposhi. We spent two nights in Karimabad visiting the Baltit Fort and eating the best muesli/fruit breakfast in the Hunza Café.

Karimabad – Skardu

It was a 200 mile ride from Karimabad to Skardu. Danny wasn’t feeling to good and it was very tempting to stop at Gilgit and return to the Medina. However, the riding was good and we soon found ourselves at the junction between the KKH and the Skardu road.

p7190227-road-to-skarduShortly after the road became quite narrow and spectacular as it clung to the side of the gorge above the river. Debris in the road, blind corners, missing tarmac and trucks to pass made for slow going but it was a great ride. Eventually the gorge opened out into the wide Skardu Valley. After crossing a bridge and registering at the police checkpoint we passed Kachura Lake and the airbase with the slogan ‘If we don’t come back it’s because we’ve sacrificed our today for your tomorrow’. It fitted in well with the army slogan we’d seen at Dir which read ‘You cherish life more than we fear death’. Nauseating.

At the Sadpara International hotel we ate some of the best food we had in Pakistan in an enormous dining room all to ourselves – no hot water though!

Deosai Plains

The jeep track was quite rough and steep passing Sadpara Lake and we were concerned this would be the case all the way to the plateau. Luckily it wasn’t and despite a few rough bits we had a good ride up to Deosai Top at 4200m.

pict0013-deosai-plains-1After paying our R240 National Park entry fee we set off across the plain. It had snowed here last week and as it melted so the jeeps cut ruts in the dirt track. The skies were heavy which reduced the views from potentially stunning to merely fantastic. It also made us decide not to camp up here but to wait until we got back onto tarmac as the going would become very hard if it rained. After approx 45 mins we reached the famous rope bridge. In real life it looked much smaller than in the photos which led us to believe this was a smaller version and we would encounter the real one later. We wouldn’t.

We rode on and encountered a large river to ford. Approx 80yds across and up to 18in deep it posed a reasonable obstacle. We decided to attempt to ride across but expecting the worst removed our panniers and my tankbag before riding in. I made it about 20yds before falling off. The bottom was full of large slippery stones making it very hard to control the bike. Had my legs been long enough to ‘paddle’ the bike I may have got further. Danny jumped in and between us we managed to drive/push my bike across before returning for his. We got a passing jeep to carry our boxes across and after emptying our boots we were on our way.

pict0024-adam-deosai-river-1We rejoined the tarmac at the park exit. It was a beautifully smooth, narrow, windy road that ran along the righthand side of a turquoise river in a narrow valley. It reminded me of a section of road you ride in the Welsh 2-day enduro. Beautiful.

From high up on the road we spotted a great place to camp down below. We found the jeep trail and wound our way down to flat ground. As we dismounted so Tim appeared from the bushes. “Alright chaps… Kettle’s on!” Unbelievable. TNT were camped 50yds away in the bushes and so we joined them and managed to squeeze in our two tents. An hour later Koy started barking and Vinny and Gill appeared brandishing a melon, pop and a tin of spam. They’d seen something glinting in the trees and spotted TNT’s jeep. After a cup of tea they phoned the British High Commission Travel Advice office to check on the Babusar Pass for us. We all planned to tackle it in a few days time but were concerned about armed Chisali gunmen robbing travellers. We were happy to get the green light.

Later that night Tim cooked ‘chippy chips’ and deep fried spam. I never thought spam fritters would taste like a delicacy but they did.

Shock in Chilas

The following morning we went our separate ways again and Danny and I rode to the Karakoram Inn in Chilas. As we entered the car park our initial joy at seeing ‘Ze Germans’ bikes soon turned to shock as we realised Pauls bike was smashed to bits. Suspecting a road accident we tracked them down in their room where we discovered Paul had been lucky to escape with a broken ankle.

pict0059-paul-schmitThe story goes that they were riding along the jeep track to Fairy Meadows (the campsite below Nanga Parbat) when Paul clipped his r/h pannier on a Cliffside rock. This threw his handlebars to the left and in doing so he twisted the throttle and rode off the edge of the cliff. He managed to jump off just as it went over the edge and ‘only’ fell 10m. His bike fell approx 150m. A group of locals recovered the bike, took them to the hotel and got Paul to the local hospital.

They were trying to arrange transport for the bike to Islamabad so they could visit customs and find out what they needed to do regarding their Carnet implications. Travelling on a very tight budget they were still unsure what this meant to their journey.

Danny and I had a good look over the bike. In Europe it would have been a writ off. No question. All the racks, panniers, plastics, lights and clocks were missing. The handlebars were snapped off, footrests collapsed, levers bent, wiring severed and the sub-frame was crushed. This was just what we could see. Nothing however was irreparable and after a quick chat with Paul regarding his feeling about carrying on Danny and I set to work on getting it back on the road. After hotwiring it we made sure the engine would run before proceeding. Bit at a time we gave Nils instructions as to what needed making and repairing and he would ride around the town searching out people to do the work. Whilst he was gone we discovered the front wheel buckled, forks twisted and the headstock pushed back. TNT arrived and took the front wheel to get it rebuilt. Over the next two days we had handlebar clamps machined, footrests welded, wheel spindles straightened and filled a whole in the engine casing. We ripped off everything unnecessary, soldered the wiring back together, rebuilt the steering head assembly and straightened everything we could. A test ride proved it went and stopped in a straight line Success. It would get them to Rawlpindi/Islamabad where they should be able to order some new parts and get the forks straightened. After all, as the locals kept telling us – “Pindi no problem!”             Vinny and Gill arrived for lunch and after checking Pauls X-ray decided he should accompany them to Islamabad and visit a specialist they knew and left that afternoon.

In the meantime Nils would ride Pauls bike to Islamabad (12hrs) and the return by bus to collect his own.

Babusar Pass

We all got up early and were ready to leave by 0700. Nils left for Islamabad and the rest of us set off to tackle the Babusar Pass. The plan was to cross the pass then head south through Naran and into the Kaghan valley before riding on to Islamabad via Murree.

dscn1314-adam-danny-ak47It took us 5 hours to cover the 35 miles to the pass. Starting in Chilas at 1000m it was a 3300m climb on a jeep track to the top. The track was undergoing improvements which meant negotiating a lot of dug-up sections as well as the VERY rough track. It was by far the toughest track we had encountered and the bikes were taking a pounding. We both fell off more than five times on our ascent giving our panniers a good beating on the rocky ground. Longer legs would have prevented a lot of these crashes but they’re the one thing we haven’t got! TNT caught us up and we stopped for a break and a cup of tea. During this time a group of local men arrived one of whom was brandishing an AK-47 which we managed to borrow for a few photos.

Eventually we reached the pass and the stunning views it provided. Time for another brew and soak up the views. The bikes had just illuminated there temperature lights; not bad considering they’d spent 5hrs in 1st & 2nd gears climbing 3300m.

Three jeeps loaded with goods arrived and a dozen or so men got out; most of them brandishing AK-47’s. We became a little uneasy until I recognised one form earlier on.

dsc01497-babusar-ascentThey soon left and after finishing our tea we set off on the descent. From the top it looked like a good trail – how wrong we were. It was very rocky and therefore only possible for us to ride in one wheel track or the other. Mountainside was preferable but the track was very narrow and after clipping my pannier a few times and remembering what had happened to Paul I switched to the Cliffside. Being so close to the edge left little room for error. In some places the trail had slid down the mountainside into the river 3-400m below leaving just a wheels’ width remaining. In other sections it was so rocky the bikes would ground out snatching the handlebars in unpredictable directions. The only way to proceed was to control our speed with the brakes on the smooth(er) sections and then gas them over the rough bits to give them better ground clearance. After rounding a tight bend over a particularly loose and rocky section I had to pull over to get my heart rate under control. The consequences of a fall didn’t bare thinking about and my heart felt like it was about to leap out through my chest. Danny stopped just short of the tricky section and after just a few seconds said ‘you’re gonna have to move on dude, It’s proper pooper sitting here’. We managed to find our first safe place to stop 100yds around the next corner. On an enduro bike this would have been scary fun but with an all up weight of 300Kg and limited ground clearance things were different. In all my years of motorcycling I have never been so scared on a motorcycle – period.

We were about halfway to the pasture and although the track was just as rough the consequences of a fall were far less. In the pasture we negotiated a few ruts and stream crossings before encountering a rather tricky bridge. A rocky and steep 90deg approach onto a log surfaced span led to a rocky exit. Just as I got to the span so my bike stalled and wouldn’t re-start. I’d been having battery problems for several days but now I was also having tick-over problems.

dscn1338-bridge-stallDanny parked his bike and between us we got it across. Further down the valley we met six Pakistani motorcyclists coming the other way. They told us two bridges ahead of us were down and there was no way we could get through. The water was more than waist deep and they had paid eight local guys to carry their bikes across by putting bamboo poles through the wheels. OK for a 80kg local bike but not possible for ours let alone TNTs jeep. The only option was the one we all dreaded – returning the way we came.

We set off back across the tricky bridge, across the pasture and commenced our ascent of the Babusar Pass. We had to stop for an oncoming jeep which in turn stopped and out stepped the local doctor. He seen us earlier in the day and asked why we were returning. After explaining our reasons he asked us not to go that way as it was so dangerous. He told us he’d had two dead bodies and another seriously injured in his hospital from a jeep crash on the pass the previous week (we’d seen the wreckage on our way up). Instead he gave us directions to a new jeep track to Chilas from Gittidas (the village we’d just passed through). “Velly comfortable road. Maybe two hours if you hurry. Better if you take three.”

Back across the tricky bridge we went and found the alternative jeep track behind the village. The relatively smooth track was interrupted by some very rocky sections. Soon we came to a fork in the track with the r/h fork roped off. The l/h fork led down to a river but didn’t appear to re-emerge the other side. We had to look 300yds up stream to see what we thought was the way out. We rode into the river which soon became 12in deep but luckily there weren’t any obstacles in the water and we rode out onto the track. We were travelling much faster than TNT and so we would stop and wait until they came into sight before continuing. In a particularly difficult sections Danny caught one of his panniers on a rock and fell off smashing the sidestand switch. When TNT arrived Tim and Danny held the bike up whilst I connected the wires together (the engine won’t run unless they are). It wasn’t long before we reached the pass; the descent from which was even more rocky than we’d previously encountered. The bikes constantly ground out and bounced us in all directions. Given a choice there was no way we’d have chosen to ride these bikes over terrain like this. Some of the hairpins were so tight it took TNT three shunts to negotiate them.

During a particularly long rocky section where momentum was the only way we would make it through a donkey herder appeared in the middle of the track. I made it through without incident but a ‘stupid ass’ walked out in front of Danny and was flattened by one of his panniers!

We had to hop over a drainage ditch to get around a parked jeep. Danny grounded out hooking a rock with his crashbars throwing him over the handlebars. Initially staying on he veered violently to the left eventually falling off coming to a stop with his front wheel hanging off the mountainside. A reminder of the fact we were riding these bikes on terrain beyond what they were designed for. We slowed the pace down; partly due to Danny’s incident and partly because the bikes felt like they were falling to pieces.

pict0144-gittidas-roadWe passed through a few villages where we spotted kids picking up stones ready to throw at us. I’d aim straight at them, pointing at them and as I got close I’d switch a finger for a fist. Nobody threw any stones. We found a quiet spot and stopped to wait for TNT. Checking the bikes over, we both found sheared bolts on our rack/subframe mounts. We had what we needed to fix them but had we done so it would have been dark by the time we’d finished meaning a night in a rather unfriendly village. TNT arrived and bailed us out. We offloaded our boxes into their jeep and carried on – gently. The rear suspension units had been built to carry a load and when that load was removed they bounced us all over the place. We came to a junction of tracks and in the failing light managed to take the wrong one. It was very rocky and ran along a sheer cliff that dropped 50m into the river below. After turning round we found the right way out. Danny fell again negotiating a steep uphill hairpin, bending a bar end and causing the throttle to stick. We got the throttle to work but by this time it was dark. Another 45mins saw us reach a junction we recognised. From here it was an easy ride onto Chilas and soon we were back at the Karakoram Inn. Thirteen hours after we left we returned. We’d ridden for 12 hours and had covered 79miles. It wasn’t long before we were all in bed. It was the hardest days motorcycling either of us could remember for a long time.

Chilas – Islamabad

Daylight brought the full extent of damage to the bikes. Danny’s was the worst off with just one bolt left holding on the rear subframe/rack,  l/h mirror snapped off, r/h handguard snapped off, both panniers damaged – the l/h one you could get your fist inside without taking the lid off!

After fixing both bikes we had a good breakfast and set off towards Islamabad. We weren’t really sure how far we’d get as it was 1130 before we left. We’d bee told it would take 5 hrs to get to Besham but we made it in 3h40. The first part of the road was empty and we could ride quite fast. Back on tarmac and with everything bolted together properly the bikes felt great. As we moved south so we passed through a huge canyon where it became quite windy. In 150 miles it was incredible how much the scenery changed. Based on our time to Besham we decided to press on to Abbotsabad. As we got nearer so the roads became more and more congested. After weeks in the mountains this was unwelcome company and it reminded us of the three days we spent crossing southern Pakistan.

We arrived just before dark and stayed in the Ramlina where we finally got round to cooking the pasta, sauce and tinned mushrooms we’d carried since Montenegro! Yes, you read that right – Montenegro.

The following morning we found our bikes boxed-in in the hotel car park and had to threaten to knock R100 off the bill for every half hour we waited for the cars to be moved. We’d still be there now otherwise.

Back in Quetta the guy from the PTDC Tourist office had told us the road from Abbotsabad through Murree to Islamabad was the most beautiful in Pakistan. Had it not been so cloudy we may have been able to offer an opinion. We got an insight as we ascended into the clouds. It was very green and mountainous and it reminded me of the mountains of Thailand as we climbed up to 2500m through a lush forest. With good visibility I’ve no doubt it would have been a beautiful journey but soon we could see only 30yds or so ahead. TNT caught us up so we let them passed and followed them down the mountain to Vinny and Gills in Islamabad.

Home from Home

We arrived to a reception lunch of bacon butties and tea. After a guide tour of the apartment Danny and Tim went shopping for supplies at the British Embassy and returned with cases of beer and chocolate muffins. That evening we ate sausage casserole washed down with lager and topped of with Haagen Daas. We learnt that Pauls ankle is fractured in three places and he will be laid up for six weeks.

The following day we visited the Indian Embassy to apply for our visas and in the evening visited the British High Commission Club where we played pool, drank Peroni and ate the most exquisite steaks for 3quid a pop. You’d think it would all be down hill from here but the following evening Tim cooked roast beef and yorkshire puddings with all the trimmings!

dscn1358-vinny-gills-dinnerWe’ve been here for 10 days now during which time we’ve had all four panniers repaired at a panel beaters, Danny’s had a new handlebar end insert made at a local engineering shop, Tim and I drove to Peshawar to collect my parcel from Touratech (to fix my fuel leak), I’ve bought a new battery to replace my super dooper GB£80 Hawker battery that’s packed up (It’s not the right one but it should do the job), we’ve serviced both bikes, updated the journal and Fast Bikes and now we’ve run out of excuses to stay.

We’ve mixed emotions about moving on. We’ve made good friends in Vinny & Gill, TNT and ‘Ze Germans’ and it will be sad to split up. On the other hand being here is just like being at home and we’re getting itchy feet. It’s time to move on and let our adventure continue. After all…

‘Das ist kein Urlaub, das ist ein Abenteuer!’


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Emily
10 years ago

Hi Adam,

Was just looking at your US ride report as my husband and I are heading there next on our RTW and ended up getting drawn into reading your Pakistan diary – we have great memories of the KKH too! Sounds like you had some big challenges but at least you emerged unscathed unlike your poor German friend!

Great photos of the US, by the way. We’re generally sticking to the Pacific coast but your pics of Montana etc had us reconsidering…

All the best,

Emily

Kevin Beretta
7 months ago

Great to re-read this again. Planning a visit to Pak early next year. Looking at what time to go. This time I’ll include Chitral, Skardu in the trip. I’ll drop you a line one of these days too.
Cheers,
Kevin

PS: Some of the pic links in this page are broken