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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Apr 19, 2019.
beautiful photos, educational slant.
me like, looking forward to more.
Damn !!!!! What a video !!!! I like it :)
This is incredible. Looking forward to more updates.
Looking forward to this very much indeed. You seem like a man that gets things done and enjoys his adventures, a rare individual indeed. I wish you all the very best on this adventure, may God (Regardless od denomination) be with you my friend. This promises to be some story.
Awesome photos and video! Looking forward to seeing more!
Interesting,... very interesting!
I drove my Land Rover east to west across Pakistan in 1975. Nice as pie. Glad to see it's still a great place to visit.
Before we jump right in, a bit of background.
Pakistan is a new country and Pakistanis belong to a multitude of different ethic groups: Punjabi, Sindhis, Pashtos, Kashmiris, Balochs and some very small, very different groups: Kalash, Baltis, Burusho, Wakhi, ... This diversity is also what maked Pakistan so interesting ! They all speak Urdu, the national, but infortunately English is less widespread. As in India, well-educated people living in big cities speak fluent English but in the countryside, outside the tourist trail English is rarely understood, let alone spoken. But like everywhere in the world, there's suprisingly little you need to speak to get around in a foreign country. For me, the most important thing is that when I'll have to deal with security checkpoints or any paperwork, I'll be able to do it on English.
The main roads in the mountains is the KKH, the Karakoram Highway. This road crosses the mountains and gives access to China from the plains - and more importantly economically, provides a route from western China to the sea to ship their goods that's shorter than the Pacific coast Chinese ports. For overlanders that's also the easiest route to get from central Asia (Kyrgyzstan) to India. The road through Afghanistan is out of question and the alternative through Tibet and Nepal is longer and more difficult. It also gives access to Gilgit anf Hunza, the main touristy areas of Pakistan. Before partition, the main access road to Gilgit went through Srinagar and Kashmir. Since then the LoC (line of control, the actual border) splits right through it, so Gilgit was only reachable through the convoluted and risky road through Chitral and several high passes. So the Chinese funded and provided enginners for the construction of an all-weather road through incredibly difficult ground, vertical cliffs and deeps canyons that were deemed unpassable by mules in the 19th century. It's been open to tourists since 1979. In 2006 when I first visited most of its upper part was a narrow dirt track that was in constant state of repair. Since then it has been widened and entirely paved, so unfortunately it has lost some of its fun. It's also now much easier for Pakistani tourists to travel their in their own cars.
In 2010 a landslide cut off the valley and created a new lake that submerged some 20 km of the road. For some time, you could only cross the lake on wooden boats, making it even more adventurous.. mostly it went fine, as for those guys, but there was a certain degree of risk involved:
..but the Chinese worked around the clock to dig new tunnels that bypass the lake and since 2015 it's again open to normal traffic, with a beautiful view on the lake between two tunnels.
I have to say that the KKH is not the most interesting road in Pakistan, it's often rather boring although some vistas in the upper part are awesome (more on that later of course). As a side note, the lower part of the highway makes its way through infriendly territory riddled by islamic extremism, so foreigners sometimes are forced to take an escort for this part (it was not the case when I was there).
Unlike the Manali - Leh road that you may be more familiar with, there are no high passes to cross on the KKH except for the Khunjerab (4693 m) that marks the border between China and Pakistan. In comparison, there are 3 passes higher than 4800 m between Manali and Leh (4890, 5059 and 5238 m). On the other hand, on the KKH you get to see many 7000 and one 8000m-high peak, much higher mountains than what you can see in Ladakh. The other access road, the Chitral - Gilgit road through Shandur pass (3700 m) is more dificult and much wilder, so that's something I want to check out. Lastly, I'd like to explore the old access road through Astore and Skardu that are now a dead end because of the ongoing Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan. As you can see, Tajikistan is also pretty close to Pakistan and there used to be some well-used roads through the Hindu Kush but those are all closed now since they cross Afghanistan (and because of that, they are not more than mule tracks nowadays, used only for smuggling contraband between Afghansitan's Wakhan corridor and Pakistan). So all these side valley roads are dead-end but I will try some anyway. Lastly, I'd like to get as close as possible to K2, that mythical killer mountain. While you can drive all the way to Everest basecamp, you still need a week-long trek to get anywhere near it in very difficult terrain. Unfortunately I don't have the physical condition to do it, not mentioning the price of the trek itself, so I don't think I'll get to see it.
*** Rant start ***
Something strange happened recently: a swarm of bloggers, self-described "travel influencers" have arrived in Pakistan and are IGing the hell out of what a fantastic and beautiful country Pakistan is. They even post photo-ops in Balochistan, a place nobody should ever go to unescorted. Think Rosie Gabrielle, a Canadian girl riding a bike, or Eva Zu Beck or Alex and Sebastiaan or Cynthia Ritchie, etc. WTF ? Well, these guys - many gals in fact - are sponsored to do what they do, so they will tell anything that please their sponsor. They've been invited by the Tourism board of Pakistan, sponsored by Samsung, etc. Who in their right mind would pose in the most dangerous part of Pakistan - Balochistan - and tell everybody how nice it is ? Only those who are being offered a full-time escort for their trip.
Good for them, but one thing for sure, they aren't telling the full picture. Many travelers have been encumbered with escort border-to-border. Women have been harassed by security officers, people detained for stepping in the wrong place, etc. Remember that not long ago (shortly after I left), the trial of a Christian woman (wrongly) accused of blasphemy enede up with the country locked up by violent riots until the government promissed to keep the woman under custody, even though she'd been proved not guilty of anything. So there's still a long way to go. Especially for the local women who don't benefit from the special treatment enjoyed by the foreign women (see https://images.dawn.com/news/1181264).
Fortunately, Gilgit-Baltistan is quite different from the rest of the country, much more open-minded and hostile to the ultra-religious bigots who still have a right of say for the country as a whole. And that's where most tourists are headed, so that's a good thing. As for me, I want to stray a little from this sanctuary and explore places that are much more backward and "conservative", such as Swat and Chitral. But I'm male and traveling low-key, that'll help a lot.
Enough of the preliminaries, in the next installment we'll talk motorcycling !
Impressive photography as well as an engaging narrative. Can’t wait to see what’s next. I’m a sucker for the Central Asia ride reports and will be enthusiastically following along.
True Adventure, my friend!
Looking forward to following. In.
Lovely! And my question is — harking back to the post about visas — I'm an American living in Goa, India. I'd love to be able to visit Pakistan (I've been to most bordering countries, and hate to miss this one) but have no idea if I can even get a visa; if I'd be harassed for Pakistan being in my passport when I return to the US (hopefully in 2021); or if I'd have a problem getting back into India. (With the problems between the two countries.) Any thoughts or ideas where I should check? (The internet doesn't seem hopeful.)
Thanks, and looking forward to seeing more pics.
How about the US consulate…they should be able to answer that. And doesn’t the Pakistan foreign office offer any info about which nations can apply for a visa and what their procedure is?
Omfg... I was an educator in Afghanistan in 2005. I’ve been wanting to get back to this region for many years.
Outstanding info & photos. What camera are you using?
Ever since riding into the Nubra valley up to the Pakistan border, I have been interested in a Pakistan trip.
Started planning but unrest at the time made me re-think and shelve the idea. I love adventure but wanted to keep my head attached.
Your report is taking the idea off the shelf. Look forward to riding along . . .
I don't think it would pose any problem. Having both an Indian and a Pakistani visa at the same time in your passport is not going to be a problem, neither for the Pakistanis nor for the Indians (indeed there is a well-used border between both countries, so..). Whether this would matter for the US immigration I wouldn't know, those guys are pretty crazy anyway ;-)
If you're an Indian resident you're going to have to get your visa from the Pakistani embassy in Delhi, which is probably a bad experience.. unless the new e-visa will include US citizens...?
Yeah, I should talk about the equipment as well. I carry a 5D markIV with a couple lenses, as well as an iPhone 6s for quick shots when I can't get the dSLR out of the bag. So most of the "action" photos will come out of the iPhone, which is actually pretty good quality.
OK, so I'm landing in Lahore on the 15th of August after a pretty uneventful flight (it's pretty interesting when you board in Barcelona and you're almost the only European on board...!). I grab my bag and head for the exit. Unsurprisingly, a dozen hawkers jump on me, attempting to lure me into their pseudo-taxis. I start to haggle, because that's half of the fun of coming into such a country. But at least they show me the nearest ATM, which accepts my card without any fuss - this will give me the false impression that money will not be a problem.. I then find the officiel taxi stand which gives me a taxi for half the price of the touts - that's how it works. I direct him to the same hotel I went to 10 years ago - hopefully it will still be open. It's easy, it's next to the KFC and my driver loves KFC...
Lahore is a large city, the second in Pakistan but historically the most important; nowadays it has a population of 11 millions and it is a mess - exactly the kind of mess that I like. The streets are pretty empty that morning, because the day before was Independence Day and, as I've been told, the night had been wild! Fun fact: Pakistan and India have 2 different Independence Days: 14 August for Pak, 15 August for India. How is it possible, after all they're both the result of the partition of British India. The British decide it would happen on 14 August 1947, but the Indian astrologers found this day to be very inauspicious, so they asked for the partition to happen officially at midnight; therefore the first independent day would be the 15 August for Indians, a very auspicious day !
(above, our 1984 Yamaha 600XTs in 2006)
I find the "Regale Internet Inn" just as I'd found it 10 years ago: basic, more or less clean, very cheap and very stuffy. August is bang in the middle of monsoon, so the atmosphere is very hot and humid. Lots of free space at that period, so I have a dorm for myself. First thing first, I need something to eat. I'm a street food junkie so I head for the nearest corner and get myself my first dal with fresh chapatis:
Normally you would wait a few days before you try the street food, but where would be the adventure, right ? Just perfect. But let's not forget I'm here to buy a bike. That shouldn't be too hard, bikes are everywhere here:
The small 70cc are ubiquitous, they're dirt cheap and for the city it's perfect:
Some are more colorful:
The other best-seller is the Honda 125: still reasonably cheap but more powerful:
What I'm after though is Pakistan's big bike: The Suzuki 150GS! because of the heavy taxes imposed on import bikes, there are very few large displacement motorcycles in Pakistan (same in India). The affordable ones are made locally, usually through a joint-venture between a Japanese and a local company, or some Chinese knock-off. So Hondas and Suzukis do not have the same quality as what we can buy in Europe, but the price ain't the same either ! So the most powerful locally-made bike is the 150. The few extra hp's should come handy when I head for higher altitudes.
Some background here: I'd been hesitating between renting or buying a bike. The easiest option is to rent from an agency, e.g. Karakoram Bikers, the most famous one. They provide excellent service but, of course, it comes at a cost: 15$/day, negotiable down to 10$/day for a long-term rental. It seems pretty low (but remember, it's a 150cc). For 2 weeks there's no contest. But for 2 months, as I intent to stay, we're talking around 600$. I made some research before leaving: that's about the price of a used Suzuki 150GS. So for me it's a no-brainer. For the price of the rental, I could buy a bike and ditch it afterwards. So any money I make by reselling it is bonus, and I can probably resell it close to the same price as I bought it. Plus I don't need to take extra care of a rental because I left a deposit. A drawback of owning is the time spent shopping, the paperwork, etc. But I know those places (I'd already bought a bike in India a few years ago), I'm confident I can ride it without putting it under my name. I'll be proved right about it.
I did my homework before leaving. I posted a message on Pakwheels.com, asking for advice on how to purchase a bike. I've had amazing answers, all very kind and helpful. A nice guy called Waqar offered to help me shop around for a bike in Lahore, so when I arrived I started by contacting him and set up a meeting the next day. In the mean time I went across town to buy a SIM card for my phone. For a lot of reason, not the least to keep in touch with met new friend away from any WiFi, I need a SIM card; of course SIMs can be bought on every corner, but as a foreigner I need to go to the telco's head office to register the SIM to my name. There are many operators in Pakistan, all of which are operational in big cities so I picked one pretty much at random. As I will find out later, not any single one covers all parts of the country. But for now I'm all set.
As soon as I've topped up my SIM card, I connect to Uber and the local copy, careem. Now, taxis and rickshaws are not really expensive here, so even though Uber is a tad less expensive, that's not the main reason I'll use it. The problem with taking a taxi/rickshaw here is that it's often difficult to give an address to the driver that he understands. Some don't speak English but most do, but even then it's difficult to give an exact address. Not so with the online apps: you pinpoint your destination on a map and you let the driver figure it out ! as a bonus, there's no endless haggling because the price is made by the app ! so it's incredibly convenient. There's even a local twist: there are Uber..moto taxis! yeah, the cheapest rate is filled by small 70cc bikes. In the chaotic traffic of Lahore it's also much faster, but of course, safety isn't a main concern...
But from the next installment on, I'll ride my own bike (at last).