Guns, weed but no booze: Pakistan on a GS (150..)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Apr 19, 2019.

  1. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    The next morning, I go for a ride with my host. There's a famous shrine that's situated at the very end of the road up the valley. This is a border area so my guide will help me get through the police checkpoint without a permit.

    The shrine is called Baba Ghundi Zirayat. "Zirayat" in Arabic means "to visit" but it used to mean "pilgrimage". A zirayat is therefore the site of a famous shrine. In Iran or Afghanistan you can hear "Mazar", that's the same thing. This one is dedicated to Baba Ghundi, a Sufi saint who's much revered by the local Ismaili Wakhis, but also to other muslims (Ismail being a pretty "low key" sect of Islam).

    My guide ride pillion so we don't have to hire a car. The road is pretty easy so that's fine.

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    There's a gate just after the village, but that's only to keep the cattle out (or in ?), not a police checkpoint.

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    The road then hugs a glacier (the rocky mounds you see are the gravel covering the glacier), the ride is just picture-perfect. After maybe 1h we reach the end of the valley (as far as the road is concerned).

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    From there, a famous pass leads to the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan and on to Tajikistan's Wakhan valley, both populated with Wakhis. It seems that locals can move across the countries more or less freely as long as it's just for trading cattle and basic goods but for foreigners or any other Pakistani for that matter, it is strictly forbidden to cross. So the Pakistani border guards have set up shop here in this small village and require a permit to get through (yes, there are trekking routes that link to another Pakistani valley).

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    So my guide asks me to stay before the gate and he walks there to discuss the matter with his friends (he knows everybody, of course) while I wait.

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    This isn't the saint's tomb, it's just a local's.

    He comes back to tell me I can come to the checkpoint but unfortunately I can't cross and visit the shrine. Damn ! But after some discussion with the officer, he finally gives me the authorization for a 5 minutes visit. It's just a role-playing game I guess, to show off his authority.

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    No picture taking is allowed in there, but anyway it's not so impressive - unless you're a believer, I reckon.

    The place is really beautiful, so we pull a table and some chairs and get some tea from a shack, while my guide talks with the local families (there are a handful of families living here). The place is pretty quiet, it's not packed like the other shrines in the heavily populated crowds. There are just a few Pakistani tourists there.

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    Imagine if the region was peaceful and allowed cross-border trekking... it would be just as packed as in Ladakh or Nepal !

    Then it's time to get back, on the same road, so I'll just add a few pics.

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    I used my pillion to get some footage of the ride.



    Not so interesting but hey, I had the selfing stick so I had to try it. Back at the guesthouse we spend some time with the kids, taking pictures and chatting.

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    The owner asks me if I'd like to hear some local music. Hell yeah, why not ? so he calls some friends and after dinner the band arrives and starts to sing. They're eager to show their culture and I'm very lucky for this.

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    I had some sound of this but the hell if I can find it. Maybe later.
  2. everready

    everready Stuck in Ohio....Ugh!!!

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    Great pictures. How anyone can live there just boggles my mind. What do they eat? Everything is so dead there.
  3. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Yeah, it's quite surprising at first. But you have to go back a few pages when I show my trek to the high pastures. High up the grass grows much better, so they bring their cattle there during summer time. So they have milk and butter. Then they sell off a few animals to pay for flour, lentils, vegetables and of course they kill some sheep to eat them too.
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  4. Red liner

    Red liner Adventurer

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    still waiting on for the rest of the log matey. The read so far has just been :eek2

    am in!
  5. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Here we go, KTM has announced the 390 adv. Unfortunately a bit on the heavy side, for its displacement, but it would make a pretty decent overlanding bike.
    What we haven't seen in Milan, though, and which could be more interesting, is the 250 adv, using the same body but simplified electronics (presumably). This will be reserved for the Indian market, so for those headed to Ladakh that would be an awesome setup! (the 390 is built in India, but as you can imagine there's no chance of it being imported to Pakistan).
    At about 30 hp it will be 5 hp more powerful and 30 kg lighter than the Himalayan ! (and 1000$ more expensive...)
  6. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    After our nice ride to Baba Ghundi, the weather changes and gets pretty cold. The next morning the moutain tops are snowed in, but fortunately the valley bottom is clear of snow.

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    Good thing I went to Khunjerab a couple of days ago because today wouldn' be so nice.

    So I gear up and make my way back to the main road.

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    And I trace my steps back down the KKH. Passing the Passu cones I get a very different panorama than a few days back.

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    It's different, still pretty darn impressive. But the weather is shite, it starts to rain so I decide to stop over in a hotel before heading to the next valley - I'm in no rush and there's no point spoiling a great ride with cold and rain. Apparently tomorrow's weather will be sunny.

    I head for the Gulmit Continental, hoping to find some company, and indeed I do meet some overlanders.

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    The bikers are a couple Poles riding him an 800gs and here a CRF250L, coming from Mongolia. I ask her about the bike, and she says it's OK for her, being much lighter than the GS. But a bit under-powered, especially here on a good road and in high altitude. If you look at the numbers, it's just a little bit lighter than a KTM 690 but has 1/3 the power...!

    The guy has the same plan as me, driving up the Shimshal valley, which is slowly gaining a reputation as a "death road" of such. But his wife is pretty happy about the tar and isn't keen on "scary" roads. I guess the high seat is negating the advantage of the lightness. But he's waiting for a riding buddy they met on the road and he'll start late so I'll be on my own.

    True to the weather forecast the next day is sunny, so I leave at dawn. I had no breakfast so I push a few km up the KKH to the famous apricot cake restaurant. But on my way stand the Passu cones, so here they are again, in all their sunny glory (I just can't get enough of it).

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    Some Pakistanis tourists are there as well for the mandatory photos and we chat a bit and, of course, make selfies and headshots of me with my camera.

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    But this is distracting me from today's first mission, breakfast with a view:

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    It sure beats the omelette in the hotel's bland restaurant. Prperly fed I'm ready to tackle the dreaded Shimshal valley road. Shimshali (wakhi people like in other side valleys here) were isolated until the begining of the 2000s when a road was very painfully built, actually carved into the cliff above the river. Before then they had to walk over a pass to reach the rest of the country. The Shimshali raise Yaks, which they bring to high pastures during the summer. Getting to these high pastures is one of the grat trek you can do in Pakistan, and I'd been contemplating doing this for a while. But I'm not auite ready for a demanding, multi-days trek (plus you need a permit and a guide, as the pastures are close to the Chinese border).

    The road starts great with a very picturesque bridge over the Hunza river.

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    Then there's a police checkpoint where I give my details. The guard asks for a permit, and as I don't have one I'm reminded that I cannot leave the valley without one.

    But after a couple km I've got my first glimpse of the had work needed to maintain this road.

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    The night rain have brought down rocks from the steep face that block the road. No big deal for such a great enduro bike... so I just climb over it, but the van following me has to stop and clear up the road by hand!

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    So that means the valley is accessible with a van, but only barely.

    The road follows the river bed and enters a narrow canyon.

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    There' the occasional stream that flows over the road but no big deal, other than wet feet. It then crosses a bigger tributary..

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    .. and then climbs into the face to the really impressive part.

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    The road is barely wide enough for a car, so plenty of space for a bike. I instinctly favour the moutain-side track of the double-track but sometimes the river side is better so I switch over and rider a meter or so from the cliff. Don't sneeze or you're pluging into the river! Note that riding close to the cliff would be dabgerous with a fully loaded GS because if you happened to hit the side panniers on some of the protruding rocks you could be catapulted in the direction of the river...

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    But it's all great fun for us adv riders. Fortunately, I saw only one other car on the road, it came from behind while I was stopped for pictures. I had barely enough space for let it pass, and I'd rather not having to pass one crazy Pakistani driver coming downstream!

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    Finally the valley broadens and the road comes down level with the river. Just one rocky fording and I reach the first shimshali village.

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    I check into one of the few guethouses of the last village. I'm pretty much alone as this is the tail-end of the trekking season. The late afternoon light is great so I leave with the camera on foot and take a few pictures of people tending their fields.

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    Tomorrow I'll go for a walk as far as I'm allowed up the valley to check out the glaciers (I'm a glacier fan).
  7. elron

    elron Still Standing Supporter

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    Can't tell you how much I appreciate seeing scenes and places that few have, if ever, shown before on these kind of forums. I very much enjoy your writing style as well. Again thanks for being willing to post up here on AdvRider. Good RR's like yours are getting fewer on this forum. Not sure why ... changing times? changing forum rules? too many want to get paid or rewarded?, more switching to other media such as Instagram?, which are easier to post to & have larger followings but are insufficient in story/travel logging, IMO. Just know I for one do appreciate your posting RR here.:clap:super
  8. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Thanks for that, I appreciate. I've put quite a bit of time in writing that, so that's nice to hear. I also enjoy reading good write-ups here, so it's nice to share as well. It's true that social networks are preferred by many people because of their ubiquitousness. With FB you reach fellow riders as well as mom and pop in one go. And Instagram is great for those who don't like to write. But what's missing is the narration, the possibility to read one adventure from start to end. FB posts are mixed in with so much crap that there's no sense of continuity. Same for Insta.
    I do post on FB (https://www.facebook.com/overlandaventure/) although mostly because of my other business, writing guidebooks. But I certainly do not enjoy writing on social networks as much as I do here !
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  9. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    So the next morning I head off with 2 teenagers as guides (not strictly necessary but it helps them out with a job). We walk up the bottom of the valley for about 2 hours in huge pebble fields.

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    When I'm on foot I can't help but imagine what it would be like on a bike. I see faint double-tracks used by tractors, but the football-size boulder field would make it very enduro-like. But I'm happy to be exercising a bit.

    Reaching the foot of a glacier, we climb a scree slope until a small overhang to get a better view of it. It's around 4000m and I'm breathing heavily, but the views are spectacular.

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    Like everywhere, selfies are de rigueur. The guys all have smartphones of course even though there's no cell reception here. But they study down south so they're totally FB- and insta-connected.

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    Then we just come back to the hotel, where I meet one biker on F800GS with German plates. He thinks I'm Pakistani and starts to talk to me in Urdu. It turns out he's Pakistani living in Germany, where he took off for a RTW trip. He's the guy the polish biker ganged up with. They've just arrived from Gulmit and ordering food. Being Pakistani is not a recipe for avoiding scams because he's charges 20€ for 2 plates of chicken.. I guess he's happy to be treated as a rich German :dirtdog
    Even though it's already late in the afternoon, they need to get back the same day, so I guess they'll be riding in the dark :confused

    I wish them a safe ride and enjoy the rest of the afternoon watching the village life.

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  10. 2old2Bbold

    2old2Bbold was 2bold2getold

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    WOW, just outstanding !!!
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  11. Ironchef

    Ironchef Warren

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    So many wow photos in this post, again thanks so much.
    Can I confirm what month these photos were taken at? The weather looks superb.
    I am going next year and was thinking early September.
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  12. Cafeguzzi

    Cafeguzzi Adventurer

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    your photography is stunning! and so is your narration.
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  13. DCrider

    DCrider Live from THE Hill

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    Wow Asianrider you just keep bringing amazing stuff, like others have said your work on this RR is much appreciated!
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  14. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Thanks. I was there between mid-August and end of September. Great time to be there. It's still too hot (and rainy) in the plains but perfect in altitude. Later on during October the trees take beautiful colors and the landscapes in Hunza and Skardu are beautiful, but by then the high passes may be already snowed in and camping in altitude becomes difficult.
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  15. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    When I arrive back at the guesthouse I see some (push-)bikers have arrived. They're part of a tour organized by a agency that will bring them from Pakistan to China with all baggage carried by minivan from one stage to the next one. Pretty slick. The only down side is that they're forbidden from cycling through Khunjerab pass. They have to board a bus down in Sost and exit on Chinese side at Tashkhorgan, where the customs take place. Stupid chinese bureaucracy, but it's still way easier and cheaper with a bicycle than a motorbike.

    The next morning I decide to head back down KKH and explore another valley. So I trace my way back, under a gorgeous blue sky and splendid sun.

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    The nice thing is, there's almost no traffic here. So I take my time and enjoy the scenery (not-so-impressive ride-by following).



    A little further down there's the only kinda difficult river to cross. It's just bad enough to prevent normal cars from getting through (not sure about that...) and to get bikers feet wet. Some guys were actually working to rebuild a proper crossings. As I was watching them a group of 4x4 passed me. These would be the only vehicles I saw in Shimshal.



    I then reach the gorges, and it didn't get old.

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    As I come down and the sun gets higher the temperature gets high enough to ride in t-shirt. Yeah, you know, ATGATT but not really all the time when it's such a splendid day, easy ride and no one in sight !



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    Toward the bottom of the valley I pass a little house with smoke coming out of it. I stop to have a look and I meet two guys living there. They offer me tea and one of them speaks some English so we chat a bit. They're Simshali and they're sent here to work on the road. It turns out the Shimshal community is enrolling all its members on a round-robin basis to work on road maintenance. They spend 3 weeks road building and then another group replaces them. Pretty great organization, they don't depend on dubious help from the central government and take their fate in their own hands ! (I guess material and machinery is paid for by the government but there was little of it anyway).

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    Only a few km left and I reach the bridge across the river. The view from the other side isn't too bad, uh ?

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    Could be worse.

    I ride down (again) the smooth KKH back top, for another nice photo spot. It works pretty nice in b/w too (note the suspended bridge I've talked about in the bottom right).

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    An a product of shot of the new KTM introduce at EICMA 2019... not !

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    The I glide down (the 150 is much better downhill than uphill..), riding again across the tunnel of Attabad lake.

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    Arriving in Hunza I decide not to go to Karimabad, much too crowded for my taste, and but head instead across the river for Nagar. Nagar was a princely state often fighting with their neighbor Hunza, until the British invaded them both by bringing troops and a field gun on small hanging spurs that were believed to be impassable by heavily armed troops. The Brits wanted to gain control over the region before the Russians did (actually, the Russians were never close to even trying to invade India), so in 1891 they beat the troops of both states and installed their governor, while the mir (prince) was left in place. In 1947 at independence, both states were incorporated into Pakistan and the mirs lots their power.

    On the way up, I come across the crazy Spanish fellow riding a DIY double-decker bicycle RTW.

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    I like those crazy dudes. Like this Japanese guy I met in the Pamir who's riding a tandem bike RTW.. alone! Check him out here.

    It was getting dark, so I left him trying to climb the steep road (imagine riding uphill on such a beast..!) until Hopar and found a nice guesthouse with a view on the mountains. Actually I had to look for the owner as it was almost empty. Excellent.

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    You can see my hotel in the foreground, but what you don't see is that the road ends just beyond it, blocked by the end of a huge glacier. They set up little cafés with chairs and tables do it's a great place for a sun-downer (tea...). But with the light quickly fading out, I'll have to come back tomorrow to get proper photos.

    And that'll be another day full of surprises...
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  16. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    upload_2019-11-17_23-7-53.jpeg

    Another amazing update with wonderful photos!

    just singling out this one, it is as if you were hovering over the abyss when you took it. Almost feels like I am falling down even by just looking at it. Great shot!
  17. Shaggie

    Shaggie Unseen University Supporter

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    @Asianrider

    Words fail me

    The ones that don’t are : phenomenal and thank you!!!!

    Seriously spectacular

    Best wishes from NZ

    Shane
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  18. Red liner

    Red liner Adventurer

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    Bloody mad. Can’t wait for the next instalment.
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  19. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Yeah, that sort of road makes your day. Now look at these walls, they're not concrete, they're old-style walls made of rocks, beautifully made. One can still see some of those in Europe on old roads but the newer ones are made by pouring concrete; Unfortunately there aren't many people left in our modern countries who still know the craft.
  20. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    :beer thanks mate, NZ is on my bucket list, you guys have some amazing vistas as well !
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