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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by joshuwaa, May 9, 2017.
good to see you got it sorted, but yeah, bastards those VISA people are!
Day 117 to 135 – Sost to Islamabad – Pakistan
An odd start to the day getting accosted and checked over by a plain clothes official in the hotel dining room. We had to make some copies of our Visa pages in our passports before he was satisfied. Today it was just Me, Martin and Xenia Oki having left early in the morning. Karimabad was the goal, only a short ride but we had a few stops planned, lots of photos to take, and easing back in to riding was a good idea after 7 days of almost none.
The roads did not disappoint, incredible scenery all around, some of the tallest mountains in the world are in this region and it shows. We were already at 3,000m and the mountain ranges lining the road were towering over us. The Chinese have put a lot of effort into opening up and maintaining the roads here for trade, so it made for awesome riding. The people were surprising the whole way, always waving from their bikes, 3 grown men on one tiny bike waving away and grinning at us was not expected at all. I nearly fell off the bike laughing as one guy rode passed, dancing from the back of his friends bike.
We made our first stop of the day at Hussaini to see the suspension bridge, it’s incredible, at least 100m long spanning the gap over the fast flowing Hunza River. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t look like it was built by 5 drunk guys who found some wood and steel cable and decided to make a shortcut home. The wooden planks are evenly spaced at “1 Human” width apart and the handrail cable only secured enough to give it a good 2 meters slack. I went out heading for the other side very cautiously but the further out, the more it swayed, I realised even if I did keep my nerve enough to get all the way across, I had to come back again. We ventured far enough on to get some nice pictures then teetered back solid ground again. Mission accomplished.
Back up on the road we got a coffee from our new friend. He really was a friend too, he was so happy to meet people, he serves pretty much everyone coming to the bridge; little stones line his shop with messages written on, and stickers from travellers on his doors.
We got to Karimabad a few hours later after more amazing riding and views. We were aiming for a hotel we’d heard about in the hills above the town, Eagles Nest, though we didn’t realise quite how high it was. The tiny road leading up the hill twisted it’s way around villages for an age, very steep, slippery with gravel and some very sharp hairpins. The rooms were pretty expensive for our normal hotel budget so we grabbed a triple room to share the cost. Connecting back to the internet properly for the first time in over a week was nice, China blocks so much it made it impossible to work properly.
In the morning Martin and Xenia left and headed North to a valley they wanted to explore. I hung around until lunch time making the most of the calm and internet after China, then headed South toward Gilgit. Only a short ride on some more amazing roads, but ended up circling around in the rain for an hour searching for a hotel, not planning ahead wasn’t a great idea. The president was staying in a hotel in town which didn’t help things with police and security everywhere. I tried a bunch of hotels, put off most by the prices, much higher than I’d expected of Pakistan, some of the places the locals pointed me too weren’t even allowed to take foreigners. So I resigned myself to the cheapest I’d come across, still the most expensive I’d used for 3 months.
A little stroll around the town and try and get a SIM card, a very lengthy process in Pakistan, but the guy in the store waived all the formalities and got me one straight away. It meant he put his neck on the line, since if I do anything bad, it’s his name on the paperwork, but he was so happy to help a traveller and have a good chat. We spoke about how Pakistan is portrayed by western media and what my experience was like so far. A lot of people seem painfully aware of what most westerners think of their country, and they’re trying so hard to change it, bit by bit.
I packed up nice and early to get on the road, hoping to make it to Islamabad in 1 day, a long way but I was ready for a nice long ride on some great roads. It didn’t really work out that way though. A few locals had told me to take the shortcut road through Naran instead of the main Karokaram Highway, it was much shorter on the map, and should have less traffic since the trucks take the main road. A few hours later, freezing my ass and hands off on the top of a very high pass and soaking wet in the snow, I regretted listening to them. The pass should have been beautiful and quiet, instead it was foggy so I couldn’t see anything and lots of roadworks diverted me onto long slippery muddy stretches.
I made it to Naran a little pissed off and cold, at least I was dry by then, my gear did a good job of keeping the water on the outside. I found a decently cheap hotel, with a room full of flies and got unpacked to another surprise. My remaining half bottle of emergency whiskey I’d bought in Kyrgyzstan had spilled in my bag, now everything stunk of alcohol, in a country where alcohol is illegal for locals. I spent an hour cleaning everything and left it to dry while I went for some food. The town seemed to be a big destination for Pakistani holiday makers so it was packed with touristy shops, flashing lights and, thankfully, good food. They didn’t seem to quite have the power situation sorted though, one minute the hotel across the road would go dark, then when it came back up, the restaurant next door would go dark, rinse and repeat all evening.
The scenery changed a lot in the next days riding, it started to get very green and very hot, almost tropical trees around the road and covering the hills. I was making good progress toward Islamabad until I made a wrong turn and rode for 30 minutes down a road that was a dead end to me. It entered into part of the Kashmir region that is disputed between India and Pakistan and I would need a permit to enter. I was pretty hot and bothered so the border guard was really getting on my nerves, I was trying to understand why I couldn’t pass and he was being anything but helpful, shouting at one point, ignoring me another. I turned around and had a break to cool down, literally and mentally, chatting to a shop owner and some kids. I figured out a new route and set off on some small village roads, course correcting.
I spotted a little place for lunch on the road and pulled up to see what they had. I’m in the habit now of just walking into the kitchens and asking to see dishes, it’s much easier than trying to ask, the dishes vary so much under the same name. Does the Biryani have chillis in it or not, is the dal a spicy one or not, is the meat on the bone or not. This way, I can just go by what looks good, they’re usually happy to have the weird foreign biker wandering around anyway. I sat down to eat and a guy who just pulled up in a car asked if he could join me with his dad and little brother. We chatted a while about my trip and his life, he had been between jobs for a while and was driving his brother back from Cadet college for a family gathering. When we left he offered to pay for my meal, I refused about 5 times, as you should in this part of the world, to separate genuine offers from politeness but he insisted, so he paid the whole thing, I was honestly humbled, not a lot of money for me on this trip, but significant enough for him with no income.
Somewhere along the main Karakorum Highway I took a wrong turn again, my GPS did it’s derpy best and gave me a more direct route into Islamabad, through the villages and back roads. It turned out to be the right choice anyway. The road was tiny, one car wide in most places, winding through villages and farm land all the way through to Islamabad. I found out later it also let me avoid a bunch of armed escorts that you would usually have to follow on the main road, score!
Riding into Islamabad was beautiful, my accidental road brought me over the hills at the back of the city, so I was winding down the mountain looking out over the city at sunset. I did not expect however, that it would look like Milton Keynes, with more Mosques. It’s a purpose built city so all the roads are straight and wide, the grids and blocks well placed and thought out, and it’s a doddle to navigate. It’s also very modern, and western-isms are creeping in, just down the road from my hotel was a Hardee’s burger place and a Subway. This was not at all the city I was expecting.
I headed over to the Visa agency the next day to get my India Visa application started. It took a lot of running back and forth printing various things out, photocopying this and that and getting enough currency to pay the fees. Once that was in there was nothing else to do, my passport was tied up with them for anything between 5 and 15 days. I could potentially travel on a photocopy of my passport but it wasn’t certain whether it would be a problem or not. I decided to stick around until my passport was ready with the Visa, I needed a break and had plenty to do. My hotel wasn’t as cheap as I’d like but it had air conditioning and internet.
Left alone for too long
Ten days later I had my visa! I had to go for a little interview at the Indian High Commission, they asked about the trip and what I was doing in India. They also wanted to know why I needed “Multiple Entries” and I listed out my 6 entries I would need, they said they would see what they could do as it wasn’t normal at this office. What they could do was ignore me entirely and give me a “Double Entry” instead. Bugger. I spent the afternoon re-planning India to make it work with only two entries, since I’m flying to a few places in Asia in November and December, that will have to happen from Nepal now and a trip to Sri Lanka will be much more difficult.
I intended to do some riding back to the North of Pakistan once I had my visa to see some things I had passed by in my rush to get to Islamabad. Though a combination of small illness, laziness and the promise of very poor roads with armed escorts meant I didn’t leave Islamabad at all in sixteen days! I was sick of sitting still by the end of it though, I’d blogged, planned, watched TV, played games, read a book, eaten at all the local places and basically ruined a hotel room in that time. Time to move on toward India!
24/08/17 to 11/09/17
It's been a while. I've been very busy riding in the north of India, not much internet here either. I'm in Manali now, enjoying beer and good food and laughing at the very over the top hippies that take over this place.
I've been riding with Martin and Xenia for about 3 weeks now. We crossed the Wagha Border to India and stayed in Amrtisar a couple of days in Jugadus hostel, saw the golden temple and tried to get used to speaking to other people again. We hardly met any foreigners or travellers in Pakistan so arriving at a hostel and town full of back packers was very odd.
We set off on our little planned loop up through Jammu to Srinagar and had a day off on a very odd house boat. Then headed toward the more challenging roads on the way to Kargil, no real incidents, just enjoying the scenery getting more beautiful, the traffic less and the road dustier. From Kargil we went for a 2 day jaunt down Zanskar valley, only about half way, going further would have required carrying a lot of fuel unfortunately. We found a nice spot to camp and headed back to Kargil the next day. Very weird for me, I hate doubling back on myself, I'd rather take a longer route if I have to go back somewhere, just so it's different.
Kargil to Leh was some of the best roads I'd ridden, nice clean tarmac almost all day, up and down valleys and small easy passes. A few days off in Leh getting permits for the next set of valleys and stocking up for camping for 2 nights, not being sure what we'd find.
We climbed Khardung La pass supposedly the "highest road in the world", it is not, not even the highest one in Ladakh, it's 5300m but advertised at 5600m, dodgy. It is damn high though, and very very busy, even at the very end of season now. Not many people were going down the other side though so it got very quiet after that. Some very peaceful riding toward the cold desert near Hunder, we failed to camp though, all the flat ground was taken up with villages, we did find a dirt cheap hotel though so not too bad.
We also did a hand over of Bacon at the top of Khardung La, he's travelling with me now for a few months, it was an emotional parting. (For the unaware: http://advrider.com/index.php?threa...r-mascot-relay-bacons-journey.287919/page-116)
Next day we headed to Pangong Lake, some very rough roads to get there, not the typical tourist route going along the back of the mountains instead of coming from Leh. You need to be paying attention all the time though, the roads are just over 1 car wide so anything coming toward you is really coming toward you. A cold but very peaceful evening by the lake after a tough day. We made it back to Leh the following day on some more great roads, since it's the tourist route, and over the actual highest road in the region at ~5370m.
There was a death in the group though. I fucked up the straps holding the guitar and he flew off and dragged behind the bike for a few hundred meters. We held a funeral service and camp fire cremation 2 days later camping at Tso Miriri. He made it all the way from Uralsk, Kazahkstan to here, much further than I thought he ever would, a very well travelled guitar.
From Leh to Tso Miriri took us a very long day on mostly rough roads, a couple of very close crashes and my shitty Shinko front tyre, it has giant blocks but grips better and more consistently on tarmac than it does on loose stuff. No more incidents though and some trekking across sand and down a very unused path to find a nice secluded camp by the shore of the lake. A very very cold night followed, we think it dropped to about -10 and in my 3 season sleeping bag and ventilated tent I was freezing my ass off. Even my remaining whiskey didn't really help.
We took the back route back from Tso Miriri onto the Leh Manali highway, over some very rough roads, rougher than any on the Pamir on I think, a bit of a challenge but easier without a guitar bouncing around on the back
The Leh to Manali highway is a weird one. Some parts of fresh tarmac with very wide roads and open turns to get up to 70mph but then a huge pot hole appears, we think one car managed to puncture his engine on one, smoke was billowing everywhere. Then it suddenly changes into very rough tracks, even up and down mountains, it's like they just forgot to tarmac some parts. It was stunning views all day though, incredible places to ride through, when you could look up from the road anyway.
The Gota Loops were utterly stunning, over 30 sharp twisty turns descending about 600m, there was almost no traffic in the late afternoon so I had a blast flying down them. I'd happily go back just for those.
Another very cold night but we found a little hut hotel behind a restaurant in Sarchu, a town of roadside cafes basically. Us 3 in there warmed it up nicely and had a good nights sleep, though it was -7c when we woke up. The guy who ran the little place was a little eccentric and didn'tspeak English but he managed to get across that he wanted to join us on the bikes for 15km. We tentatively agreed and gave him a lift to what must have been his job at a bridge project, an odd start to the day. We made it to some fuel, after 350 miles, I carried an extra 6 litres with me and was surprised I made it without running out, I think some very economical riding helped, which consisted of just not braking anymore.
What followed was I think the top 3 best roads I've ever ridden on, all in one day. Nothing particularly special about them, just some perfect stretches of road with some amazing scenery, I couldn't capture them in photo or video, but I'm sure riders know what I mean. One was only short stretch down a valley toward an opening at the end that looked completely fake, like a backdrop for a movie. Another led through a long stream of villages, just very wide open road without much traffic, an hours riding passed by in no time on roads like that. Then the last was the best, coming down the Rhotang pass, one of the most stunning sights I've ever seen from the top, looking right down on the town with huge mountains further along and the road winding down the mountain underneath me. It seemed to go on forever, turn after turn, when you thought you were about at the bottom it would twist around the mountain and there be another series of corners. Awesome end to the day.
We've been in Manali a few days now and I'm staying a few more, there's internet and nice food, and the hotel is pretty cheap for what it is. Martin and Xenia head south from here and I think I'll be heading east to Nepal so we'll split after about 5 weeks together, hopefully we'll bump into each other in Australia next year.
Day 136 to 142 – Islamabad to Jammu -India!
Finally the day to leave Islamabad, it didn’t start very well though. I got packed up, gear on and bike loaded, then realised the battery was entirely flat. I suspect some kids turned on the heated grips the night before, they were very interested in the bike and tend to poke around it. Luckily Martin and Xenia were staying right across the road, and Martin has jump leads, so 15 minutes later I was back in action.
I headed off alone to Lahore, Martin and Xenia would catch me up the next day. A long and boring run to the city where the traffic turned to absolute hell. There might be 4 lanes painted on the road, but anything goes; if there’s a 10cm gap, somebody will be in it in seconds. You just have to get super aggressive and don’t let up at all. At one point the traffic stopped for a train crossing and the chaos leveled up to maximum. Everyone just kept pushing forward into every gap, going left around the traffic onto the dirt, if that was blocked they’d just go further left, despite the fact the road was only wide enough for 4 cars at the level crossing. If there was an inch forward to be made, you can be sure they’d fight tooth and nail to get there, even if it meant going 3 inches sideways. In 40 degree heat it was hell, slowly melting into a puddle of sweat and angry. I was utterly spent by the time I made it to the hostel.
I had Déjà vu of the hostel when I got there, it was a very weird feeling, I’d read about it in at least 4 blogs or books of other travellers since it’s the only real hostel in Lahore. It always seemed so far away and adventurous, now I was here I just wanted some water and to cool off, the trip very rarely feels adventurous in the moment.
Unfortunately, because it’s the only hostel in town and because it’s cheap, there’s not a lot to it. I had a horrendous night, melting in the heat and hardly sleeping so decided to move to a cheap hotel in the morning. There wasn’t even any other travellers there to chat to, it may be very cheap, but it comes at the cost of sleep, I’m no hardy traveller.
Lahore is a pretty crazy town, it felt much more like what I expected from a Pakistani city, wandering around and there’s a million things happening all the time. The traffic is insane, people just flying everywhere, animals sauntering through it all. Tiny streets crisscross everywhere with little dark stalls filled with everything you can imagine. Whole streets of metal workers, another street specialising in plastic chairs and nothing else, fabric streets and everything else. The best way to walk around is to just walk blindly, people tend to not want to crash and will just avoid you. It takes some getting used to, just wandering slowly across 8 manic lanes of traffic, but it works. This was more like what I was expecting Islamabad to be like, a crazy mess of people, not the purpose built city.
We headed off in the evening for the famous border ceremony between India and Pakistan. A 30 minute taxi ride to the border area and then a short walk from the car park. It felt something like entering Disney Land, lots of people walking up the fenced road with music playing toward what was essentially a stadium surrounding the border gates. The ceremony happens at every opening and closing of the border, with lots of gesturing, marching and kicking by the guards on each side. It all seems to be in good fun, you can see them occasionally cracking smiles at each other, the crowd of hundreds of people go absolutely nuts though, and the music is turned up to full to drown out the other side. We got very patriotic for Pakistan when the guy behind us bought flags for his family and gave us one too.
The next morning we headed to the border again, with the intention of crossing this time, not spectating. A simple process compared to most border we’d been too, lots of writing, guards copying our details in a million different large books. Then we were in India! A very weird feeling, it hasn’t quite sunk in that I’m riding on that spot on the map, the big triangle that always made me think of dirt and chaos and somewhere I’d never like visiting. Now I’m here I can’t wait to get started.
We tried a couple of places before finding a nice hostel that had parking for the bikes and a reasonable price. It was full of travellers, lots of them coming and going in the 3 days we spent there. It was very odd for us, we’d spent a long time with no other foreigners, let alone travellers. We met a few in Osh and Tajikistan, but they tended to be other overlanders, these guys were backpackers or holiday makers, or just plain hippies. It took a little while to remember how to even talk to people like that, without asking how their car or bike is doing, or what their route is.
We took a some time sight seeing in our few days off, visiting the Golden Temple one evening with some other guys from the hostel. A pretty incredible place, and surprisingly peaceful for a place utterly packed with people. A huge and very golden temple sits at the centre of the lake, where thousands of people constantly walk clockwise around the edge, some taking a dip in the holy water. The temple is also home to the worlds largest free kitchen, feeding anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people per day. It’s an incredible sight to behold, the constant stream of people going in and coming out show how efficient it is. It is almost entirely run by volunteers, preparing the food, dishing it out, cleaning up afterwards and keeping people coming and going smoothly.
On Day 142 we made the run from Amritsar to Jammu, fighting with the traffic and heat to get out of the city. The traffic is so chaotic Xenia ended up being knocked off her bike twice by tuk tuks squeezing into gaps and just pushing her over, not being able to touch the floor from her bike doesn’t help. We made it, sweaty and frustrated onto the highway and had a nice easy run the rest of the way. It took us a long time to find the hostel though, we knew we were in the right spot, there was a German 4×4 on the street but we couldn’t see any signs. We were about to leave for somewhere else when a woman came out and pointed us in the right direction. Up 3 flights of stairs was a little house, with a spare room to sleep in filled with kids toys. We looked at each other skeptically as she told us she had spare mattresses for sleeping and dinner wouldn’t be long. The skepticism vanished though when we asked for the price and she looked at us confused, “free, of course”. Turns out it wasn’t a hostel, just a family offering their home for overlanders. The tone completely changed after that, they were inviting us into their home and giving us dinner, for no more than being overlanders. We had an amazing night laughing with the German owners of the 4×4 and the couple and their daughter.
12/09/17 – 18/09/17
Cool to see another update! Some fantastic locations, Nicely written and photographed, Bacon! Rock n roll burning guitars... Got it all really