19.09.2006 - 07.10.2006
The lone guard at the top of Kunjerab is here is just for looks, as all the formalities are taken care of many km further down in the valley.
The Pakistan side was even more dramatic than the Chinese side of the Torugart pass described earlier, here they have carved the road straight out of the side of the mountain. The mountains for their part, continually try to reclaim their territory. An unbelievable feat of engineering, and that more than a couple of hundred kilometers long. Incredible, you could practically touch the other side of the valley as you are riding down. Lucky for us the road went down, down, down, if we had to come up this way, our bikes would have had a much harder time than on the Chinese side, which climbs very gradually, on table top flat roads.
On the Pakistani side, we were constantly passing Chinese work crews, which we were to find out later that they are here to help Pakistan build a new two lane (or was it four lane) KKH. How they plan on doing that I don't know, but it will be interesting to see. Last year the KKH was blocked in more than 100 places, and this year it was blocked for more than a month due to heavy rains. So they really have their work cut out for them.
The immigration and customs in Sost were deserted when we got there. We did manage to find the immigration guy having some tee with his colleagues, and he opened his office entered our data in a big book, stamped our passports and sent us on our way. Down the road 30 meters was the customs office, also deserted, with the exception of two officers(?) in a small office. They were very welcoming and friendly, and were constantly chatting with us. Cecilia ended up entering the data of the Carnets in their book herself, as the elderly gentlemen didn't see very well. And when everything was ready, they went off to get the custom's officer (who where these guys?), an in 5 minutes he pulls up and greets us with friendly questions and offers of tee, before putting his name and stamp on the carnets and bidding us a hearty welcome to Pakistan!
For the overview, check out Formalities: Pakistan
After clearing immigration and customs in Sost, we proceeded to Passu where we had a good tip about camping at a place called Glacier Breeze Restaurant and Camp. It turned out to be better than even the most enthusiastic recommendations. We spent the next few days stuffing ourselves and getting a serious pampering from the staff. When we left the bill totaled 78.- Sfr for camping, dinner, breakfast, snacks, etc. over 4 days!! This included some of the best food we have had in a long time, highly recommended. (The co-ordinates are N36 27.632 E74 53.526)
While here we ran into a group of Germans taking part in a guided overland tour from Germany. They were heading up the Karakoram to the summit, and then back toward Islamabad where they had been previously. The convoy included 4 all terrain trucks and 3 motorcycles, a very strange sight on the roads of Pakistan. We then headed to Karimabad where we spent a day checking out the Balti fort at the top of town, and some of the amazing water channels that have been cut into the side of the mountain. These are used to harness the water coming down from the mountain, and channel it to towns miles away from the source. We also "discovered" the Hunza Cafe, and the Walnut cake (something which the Germans had told us about back in Passu, and is mentioned in the guidebooks), which is excellent. It should be, it is a Swiss recipe, namely a slightly thicker version of the Engadiner nüsstorte!! This is not just idle boasting, the proprietor told us so. As part of a local help project, a Swiss development agency taught him how to make the cake, and run a small bookstore, and most important how to make a decent cappuccino! Now that is real development help!!
From Karimabad we continued on the KKH and ran into our German friends at the Panorama hotel in Chilas. The following morning, Uwe and his africa twin decided to tag along with us to Bescham, the next stop along the KKH. We enjoyed wonderful weather, and the road continued to throw vistas at us, which just left us breathless. Every town we passed seemed more chaotic than the next, and the amount of colorful trucks we passed continued to increase. In Bescham we settled in at the Rana Inn, which filled up with these huge trucks later in the afternoon. The local population seemed to find it also very fascinating, as they camped outside and kept an eye on the happenings, now who was in a cage?
The following morning, we let the trucks and everyone leave while we had a leisurely breakfast and got on the road. More and more traffic, more and more towns, always larger than the previous, greeted us as we made our way toward Islamabad. Then 20 km north of Manshera in the hills with some great curvy roads, albeit, very slippery and lots of truck traffic. Cecilia's bike slid out from under her when trying to avoid a truck which was in the wrong lane around a corner, and ended up broad siding the truck. Luckily they were both going very slow and she didn't get hurt. The bike was another story. The front forks were bent, and bike was un-rideable Again, as luck would have it, we had just passed the German trucks, and one had a trailer, so when they caught up with us a few minutes later, they offered to take the bike on the truck to Islamabad, which we gladly accepted. I bid farewell to the truck driver, no harm done, there was no point in getting into an argument, or getting the police. These guys have no money and there would have been a lot of hassle involved. We packed everything on the truck and Cecilia rode in one of the trucks and we continued. The rest of the ride was memorable only for the heavy traffic, lack of road rules, and the fact that my clutch cable snapped two kilometers from the campground. After ruining one spare cable, I managed to get the second one to fit, and made it to the campground just after the trucks overtook us again.We set up and basically went to bed, it had been a pretty bad day all around, but in the end only the bike had gotten hurt and we were all thankful for that.
The following morning we decided to go an apply for our Indian visas first as this would take some time to process, during which I could get to work on the bike. So that is what we did. The procedure in Islamabad is pretty convoluted, but we managed. Basically, you have to go to the Coliseum and take a shuttle bus to the diplomatic compound, as they don't let you in any other way. All security measures are done before boarding the bus, no electronic gadgets, mobiles etc., all in all a pretty thorough check. We applied for our visas and then went to the bank to see about getting money. But by now it was near noon, and the ATM was empty, they advised us to come later or in the morning. We then headed back to the camping.
The following three days were spent taking the bike apart, and getting the parts fixed as well as I could manage locally. I found a machine shop who was able to bend the forks back and in the end they were pretty straight again. Also a number of additional parts had to be straightened. When I finally got everything done, and started to re-assemble the machine it turned out that the upper fork bridge was also damaged, so another day was wasted getting this fixed and installed again. By Sunday everything had been done and the bike was running again. A test ride showed that the handlebar was still a bit bent, but usable. The following day then we did another longer test ride and Cecilia declared that we could continue to Goa this way.
A couple of more day were spent getting the tent sewed, unfortunately a total waste of time. The zippers were sewed in the wrong way, we didn't have the right zippers all the way around, and they "lost" the elastic bands which are used to attach the inner tent to the outer shell. Rather than waste another two or three day clearing this up I decided to get it done in India when we would have more time.
We finally took of in the direction of Lahore. Rather than go through Rawalpindi, we went around and found a nice road which was fairly quick, and we made good progress. Lahore, turned out to be really bad. Bad traffic, bad air, just plain bad. Not to mentioned that it was a really hot day. We found the "In" place to stay in Lahore, the Regale Internet Inn (N31 33.618 E74 19.138). Unfortunately they were pretty busy, but the owners son, offered a room in their house on the outskirts of town. Something which was much more appealing to us, as they had a nice garage to put the bikes in. We then headed through town following his scooter, to the house. It turned out to be perfect. Early the next morning we headed to the border at Wagah.
The ride through Lahore in the morning was tolerable, but still ranks up there with Cairo on a bad day, so not something I relish doing again soon. We made it out, and the border wasn't far, although some roadwork, made the trip pretty harrowing in places, sand, mud are no friends of mine.
The border was pretty straight forward, and efficient. The only note is that
the officers compete to change your Pakistani rupees to Indian rupees. Despite
the signs posted that you should only change money at the bank (there is on
right in front of the immigration office). The rate they offer is not the best
but is acceptable, and it is quick. No idea what it would look like in the bank.
By the way across the border there is also a bank, so it would be no problem
one way or the other. Of course if you change all your money, and the officers
didn't get a chance to earn something on it, they might take you aside to ask
how much money you are carrying. Just say that you only carry credit cards,
and little cash. They can get a bit uncomfortable but if you stand your ground,
in the end they end up apologizing for doing their job too efficiently!
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