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

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

  1. Zingara

    Zingara n00b

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    Wow, fantastic photos, great story and what an adventure! It's my dream to visit and ride in Pakistan one day. Thanks for all the fantastic info so far.
    #41
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  2. Gestalt

    Gestalt Been here awhile

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    Next installment please, I am enjoying this chain very much indeed.
    #42
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  3. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    OK, so shopping day it is.


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    With the help of my new friend Waqqir and a friend of his, I head for THE place to buy a bike in Lahore, McLeod road. There's a block where dozens a small shops sell motorcycles, new or second-hand. Unfortunately, there are only a few are Suzuki 150s. But hundreds of Honda cg 125s. There are bikes for everybody, prices start at 150$ for a 70cc with high mileage. For reference, here are the prices in Pakistan, new:

    Pak Hero PH 70: 280$
    Honda CD 70: 500$
    Honda CG 125: 850$
    Suzuki GS 150: 1100$
    Benelli TNT 150: 2200$

    You do find some import bikes second-hand, but they're really expensive and it would be a pain the sell back. The Suzuki has got a large tank (12 l) and electric start (and a kick start !), so that's pretty decent. The Suzuki GS 150SE has got a front disc brake and alloy wheels. I'd appreciate a front disc brake but alloy wheels may be too fragile, so it's a no-go. Anyway there aren't any to buy second-hand. My friend is riding a souped-up Honda: a 125 frame with a 200cc engine, which gives a nice kick. So locals there get creative when it gets to bike modding.

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    You don't see any large-displacement bikes at all in Pakistan. At least not until you get into a rally racing, but I'll talk about that later, hang on !

    We narrow it down to one specific bike with low mileage and in decent shape. But the seller it pretty greedy and although I delegated the haggling to my friend, the haggling is difficult. He's asking a little more than 500$, which I can pay but it seems a little high according to my Lahore friends. So they connect to the local eBay for cars, olx.com. There are a few bikes here for sale. I select a few that are in my price range, and my friend is willing to help me check it out. So now comes the difficult part: calling people who hardly speak English and make an appointment to see the bike.

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    In the next couple days I will make several visits to sellers, hopping on the back of reckless bike drivers and struggling to find the places. The thing is, Eid is coming soon and for this celebration you're supposed to sacrifice an animal and share the meat with poor people and relatives. So people often sell something to pay for a sheep or a cow (you see lots of cows and sheep dressed up in the middle off the city waiting to be slaughtered). Unfortunately, both sellers have an issue with the paperwork: one had put it in the washer and breaks down in pieces, the other one is registered in a different province, and my friend tell me it would be more difficult to sell it when I'm back (I don't think it is true as I had numerous offers during my trip in other provinces).

    I do little tourism in the mean time, I sometimes go out with other guests of the hotel. Thursday night in Lahore its Sufi dancing day. It's a pretty wild experience: a large crowd of people gather around the shrine of a Sufi poet, under enormous clouds of weed smoke. Outside the shrine a couple "dancers" spin with the rhythm of drumming, all very stoned. We go sit around the shrine, where people pass us lots of joints; but we're packed, there's no air and the temperature is unbearable. I must be over 40 degrees C in the middle of the night !



    We search a bit to find the place. Sufism is a branch of islam that is considered deviant by the hardliners muslims, so there's some security making sure no extremist show up and lake a fuss. The police is inexistant, there is a tolerance for drugs for this kind of religious ceremony. There's some danger indeed, because I just read that this shrine has just been bombed in Lahore (see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/08/pakistan-dead-blast-near-major-sufi-shrine-lahore).

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    So eventually I come back to the bike market and start to talk with the seller. In these countries, haggling is part for the course and you're expected to discuss the price. Usually I have fun doing this as it's a nice way to interact with locals. But in this case the seller is an asshole and isn't just playing the game, maybe because I'm a foreigner ? he's just mean-spirited. Well, I'm stubborn as well so I hang on and finally manage to shave a few thousand rupees off and the seller promisses to buy it back for 50$ less. As everybody's know, a car/bike-seller word is worth just as much as camel piss, but we'll see when I come back. After all, I had made this deal with the famous Lali Singh is Delhi before, and he was true to his word.

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    So I'm off to find an ATM to get 67000 rupees. The first one refuses my mastercard, as does the 2nd the 3rd, the 4th... damn, I start to sweat. What's going on ? I'm running out of options so I go change the US dollars that I had taken with me (I always travel with cash, just in case..). The rate isn't that great but that's to be expected. I go back to the seller, we sign the papers but I ask that they keep the book to the orignal owner's name. I don't want to do the official change of ownership (could take a few days, especially with Eid coming up), I'd rather let the next owner do it. Off I am with my new bike yeah baby YEAH!

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    I've got all official papers but registered to the previous owner. And no insurance. But as the end of the day, after almost 2 months nobody ever asked any paper for the bike, although I've had to show my passport many times. So I was right about that.

    I got a tip for a good mechanic and immediately stopped there to get a complete servicing. I wanted an oil change of course, but also a new chain and sprocket, and what not. Malik the owner is great guy, he's got even some Western bikes laying around (mostly broken) and he helped me source all the spare parts I needed. I also changed the tires who were shot, I even found some semi-knobby ones. I had brought a USB charger from home so I fitted that too. I also bought an open-face helmet that was surprisingly comfortable, although I'm not sure about the robustness... I've been lucky to not try it out.

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    Some prices to give you an idea:

    2 tires: 70$
    chain + sprocket: 16$
    oil + filter: 5$
    work: 5$
    helmet: 20$

    I carried a minimum amount of tools and spare parts. I bought some here in the bazaar, but I had also brought tire irons, a patch kit and a quality hand pump, things that I wasn't sure I could find easily here. I ended up not using them but I was happy I had them anyway. Apart from that, I had also brought a tent and sleeping bag and rain gear. I didn't bring any riding clothes (yeah, you know, ATGATT), I was going very low key, so trousers and t-shirt would do it. OTOH I always wore a helmet, which, in some parts of the country, was an odd thing. But that's a minimum. (e.g., in Islamabad 100% of the bikers wear a helmet; it is strictly enforced by the local police. In Lahore it's maybe 50% and in the Northern areas virtually 0%).

    So after a pretty tiring day running around the city I was all set to leave the next day. I was rushing it a little bit because I had decided I wanted to be in the Kalash valley for the festival that was coming up. I'm usually split over going to festivals because often it feels a bit like a tourist trap. As I'll explain later on, it was indeed a bad idea as there were too many tourists - in a pretty remote corner of a largely untouristy country. But hey, I'll never learn.
    #43
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  4. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    [​IMG]

    No time for breakfast this morning, I've decided to leave Lahore at dawn - before Dawn actually, around 5AM to beat the traffic, which can be horrendous.

    It's actually a pretty nice ride when the roads are free of traffic.. the only thing is, I have hard time adjusting my driving to the local conditions. In not that much the driving left that bothers me - I've ridden several months in India, Nepal, Kenya, South Africa, etc.. so after a few minutes it already feels almost natural. No, the problem is with the shift lever. It's on the left-hand side, and you have 1-up and 2-3-4-5 down. Getting used to the left foot shifting is OK, but the shift up and down.. gee, I've been fighting with my brain muscles for weeks, but I never really did it automatically. The worse it coming to a stop and automatically shifting all the way down to find 1st. You don't even think about it. Sometimes there's a false neutral somewhere there so you don't even notice. Then when you want to start you struggling to find any power at all...

    I leave Lahore and get to the GTR - the Grand Trunk Road that the British built, linking Peshawar to Delhi. It's a 4 lane highway with a lot of traffic of all kind. There's a pretty convenient motorway between Lahore and Peshawar, but unfortunately it's forbidden to 2-wheelers. Here people ride at 50 km/h on small bikes, so it's not really safe to let them mix with cars doing 120. Fine, I'll deal with it.

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    Since I landed in Lahore, in the middle of the summer monsoon, the weather has been very hot but unexpectedly dry. No rain at all for 4 days. But now, as I finally leave on my bike, there's this mighty downpour that brings tons of water on the street. Visibility is reduced to nothing and the road is flooded. So I pull over at a roadside café and get myself a breakfast, hoping the rain will stop. It doesn't stop but is less severe, so I put my rain gear on and get back on the road. Actually, the waterproof were unnecessary: it's so hot that eventually I did like the locals do: you get wet and put up with it. I wear light synthetic trekking trousers and a t-shirt, so as soon as the rain stops it takes only 10 minutes to dry up in the hot air.



    Lahore - Islamabad is only 300 km but it takes me like 6 hours all together. It seems you never really leave town, there's construction and houses everywhere. That's Punjab, it's pretty densely populated: 110 million people in half the size as California, where there are only 40 million inhabitants. It would boring except for the concentration needed to anticipate the dangerous moves of the crazy drivers (and also to shift in the right direction...). During a chai-break I try to chat with this old guy with a rifle who is guarding the petrol station. Guns are everywhere here..

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    I've added an unplanned stop in Islamabad as I've just remembered that I need to change my flight ticket. The thing is, my return flight stops in Paris before Barcelona, and I'd much prefer getting out in Paris, but on the PIA website there's no way to book this kind of flight. So I'm heading to PIA main office in Islamabad. Easy ti find thanks to Google Maps.

    Islamabad is an artificial city, built from scratch to be the new capital after partition. It used to be Karachi but it is to far away from the rest of the country. Lahore would be the logical choice but it's only a few km away from the arch nemesis, India, so too vulnerable. The result is large, empty streets and soulless blocks. Not my thing. But the PIA office is quick and efficient and they have no trouble changing my ticket for a small fee. After a quick bite of semi-western fast food (not my thing either), I head toward Taxila, a famous archaeological site not far from the capital.

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    Arriving there I get my first break down. Actually, it's more subtle: the engine cuts off for a second then starts again. I suspect a faulty kill switches so I move it back and forth when it happens and the ending restarts. It becomes more and more frequent until it just stops all together. Fortunately I'm not far from a small town (you never far from anything here... I find a small workshop where I could find some tools to test the electrics. In fact, and this will become recurrent during all the trip, they drop everything and start to look at my bike. We take the spark plus to test the ignition, and there's a problem here all right. But it's not the kill switch, it's the ignition cable that runs under the tank and end in a connector that's loose. They fix it with a pair of pliers and let me go without accepting any money ! they don't speak much English, but enough to say "welcome to Pakistan". Great guys ! I leave to find a hotel, but after 400 meters it stops again. So I head back (downhill, fortunately) and the sam guys help me again, with a better "temporary fix". This one will hold until the end.

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    It's getting late, so I look for a hotel. Taxila is a major tourist attraction but I guess most tourists stay in Islamabad which is less then 1h away, so there aren't that many hotels around. There is just the PTDC hotel right in front of the museum. Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation is a government agency that is running several hotels in key touristic areas. They're usually pretty clean and mid- to high-end, but their price sheet is also much higher than usual, and fixed. I start to bargain but I hit a wall as the prices are government-fixed. It seems they have no leeway, but after a lot of talking, and since the hotel is empty, I manage to bring the price down almost to domestic pricing. Yes, they also run a dual pricing scheme, the foreigner pay twice as much or more... At last, 12 hours after I left, I'm under the shower. I try to scrub myself pretty thoroughly, but I've picked up so much dirt from the fumes of the traffic that I still stain the clothes when I dry myself...

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    The next morning I head for the museum - darn, it's closed for a holiday ! OK, never mind, I'll get there later in the trip. The next morning I take a wrong turn that brings me to the motorway entry. Hell, I managed to slip through when I was riding in India, where motorways have the same restrictions - but no luck here. I'm flagged down by security which turn me away. No problem, I return to the GTR and make slow but steady progress away from the modern and open-minded Islamabad through the most conservative parts of Pakistan, until Chitral. Don't worry, things will get more interesting from now on !
    #44
  5. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    Hi Laurent, thanks for another very interesting update. I know Pakistan only through what makes the news and obviously that is just a very limited view of reality. So following along on your travels is sort of like a “back stage pass”.

    So your Suzy has a reversed shift pattern, like on track bikes. One of my bikes is a ‘69 Guzzi, it has that one down pattern but on the right side of the bike, like most European bikes back then But it has a heal-toe shift pedal. Somehow it feels that pedal makes it easier for me to adapt.
    #45
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  6. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Ok, I didn't know track bikes do it like that. I though it was because of the Brits, you know, they do everything the wrong way... :hmmmmm
    Yeah, I got used to shift with the heel, but that got even more interesting once I lost the clutch.. stay tuned.
    #46
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  7. Gestalt

    Gestalt Been here awhile

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    Funny remark about the Brits, a nation that’s been around forever against let’s say the US with it immigrants having landed a relatively short time ago, another funny thing if you ever get around to reading it is why there are right and left hand drivers, its a French conquest and toady thing, read it is interesting. What’s also interesting are the facts around right and left hand driving, and the statistics (Hand to eye coordination) check it out for yourself and then see who got it wrong. No really if you dont know check it out it is a good read.
    #47
  8. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Cool it man. I was kidding about the Brits.

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    What I know is that it's all Napoleon's fault. Before that, people used to cross each other (on horse) on the left, because then if you draw your sword (with your right hand) you're in good position to fight your enemy. Things have changed a bit since then... but the US are the only colony that doesn't follow the British rule (now I'll get flak from Americans for calling it a colony) :hide
    #48
  9. Fuzzy74

    Fuzzy74 Been here awhile

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    No. Flack from Canadians for treating them as extension of U. S. :jjen
    #49
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  10. Kyron

    Kyron Oncler Inds

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    Great read with awesome pictures!!! MORE :beer
    #50
  11. 2old2Bbold

    2old2Bbold was 2bold2getold

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    The original inhabitants (I'm 1/4 Chickasaw) should have kicked them all out when they first landed.... when the had a chance. :nod :thumb
    #51
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  12. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Naaah.. Canada is just an extension of Quebec, except they speak the wrong language... :gun1
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  13. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Face Plant

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    Stunning photographs, you're both a talented writer and gifted photog. I'm in.
    #53
  14. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Here's a short video of the Lahore - Islamabad leg, so that you have an idea of what it's like to ride there.



    Some roundabouts are huge. Here they put an old Mirage fighter, to show how mighty the Air Force is.

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    An you need big balls to strap on those rides..

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    Here's a recap of today's itinerary, courtesy of Google:

    taxila-chitral.jpeg

    What's interesting is the alternative that Google's naively offering: a little detour through Pakistan... actually it kind of makes sense. Before the creation of Pakistan, that was the main road to Chitral. It's fairly flat and there's only a shallow pass to cross. OTOH, the current access road crosses a high pass, Lowari, that until recently was one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Nowadays there's a tunnel so it's not that bad but it still runs across pretty mountainous terrain. Lowari pass is between Dir and Mirkhani on the above map.

    Until Nowshera it's pretty uneventful. Sortly before Peshawar, in Nowshera, I had to take the road north to Mardan. Here I stopped and had a sugarcane juice.. hmmm, not the smartest thing to do unless you've got brown paints, but I had faith in my iron stomach.

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    Well, it went down without disturbing my bowels, so I was right about that. Look, it's 40 degrees C and I eat petrol and diesel fume all day long so I need to hydrate !

    After Mardan, just before the road gets in the first mountains, I hit the first checkpoint. Until here I haven't been able to find out with certainty if I would be allowed to get to Chitral without an NOC. A Non-Object Certificate is an official permit from the authorities that allow foreigners to enter dangerous or restricted zones. Until recently, foreigner needed an NOC to visit Chitral and I had none. I was struggling for a while trying to make my way through a mad traffic congestion so I missed the signing. The checkpoints splits the traffic into different lanes, cars, buses and motorbikes; I took the car lane and was stopped by the armed guard. Here it is, sorry again about the bad framing, my GoPro skills are pretty bad:



    So I went to the office and explained that I was just a tourist trying to reach Chitral. They seemed pretty annoyed by the situation (very unusual I bet) and had to call in somebody. He asked me if I had an NOC. I replied I had none. But instead of turning me around, he just write my details in a big book and wished me "bon voyage". Nice !

    I get my first dose of mountain roads... well, the 150cc isn't so much fun, I can tell you. But it gets the job done and soon I'm deep into Pashtun territory. Before leaving I had the impression they wouldn't be very friendly but it was quite the contrary: very friendly and helpful people. I'm not sure how a woman would fare, but I always felt comfortable. Still, I didn't want to push my luck since I knew there would be several more checkpoints on the way. So I stopped in a little town and went to the bazaar to buy myself a shalwar kameez, the local dress: a very long shirt over pajama trousers. I befriend a local guy who spoke good English and showed me where to go, explaining to the seller what I wanted.

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    For less than 10$ I looked just like the local guy. Indeed, 99% of the guys in this area wore shalwar kameez and 100%of the women wore the burqah (the kind that covers the opening for the eyes with a grid, the worst kind). This is how Pashtuns have been dressing for centuries so I guess that's OK, but when I see it in Europe it's a big no-no for me. But women over there have a pretty hard time.

    I also have a quick bite of dal (lentils) and chapatis (flat bread), a staple of Pakistan and India. Excellent, as always !

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    So I now blend much more with the local population, except maybe for the helmet which is still pretty rare. But the fact is, I slipped through many checkpoints on pay way to Lower without being stopped, so it worked !

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    The traffic is still intense, in a car it would have taken me double the time. But it's hard work filtering through the 2-lane road, in particular inside the little towns. Eventually I reach Dir in the middle of the afternoon. Dir has a bad reputation but I didn't stop and, to my relief, wasn't stopped by the ever present military. Obviously, security is pretty tight in this area. After Dir, the traffic clads out considerably.

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    But the landscape is really nice. It would make for a great holiday destination if it were more secure.

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    The Lower pass road starts here. It's getting pretty steep now and the trucks struggle in first gear.


    The road soon turn into nothing, basically. Here is the first test of the offload abilities of my little pony: it does gets through about anything, but it's pretty darn uncomfortable ! the thing is, it's almost impossible to ride standing on the pegs, so it's the back that must take all the jolts from the potholes in the road.

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    Sorry about the lousy quality of the photos, they're out of my iPhone. Of note also is the predominant operator here is different. My SIM is no good from now on, I'll have to get a new one, but this is not a concern for now.



    I finally reach a checkpoint where the closed gate forces me to stop. They write down my details in a big book and ask again for an NOC. I play dumb and they try to tell me something about the road being closed. But I ignore them and sign off. But soon I hit a
    long line vehicles that are stopped and waiting. I get in front to what is the entrance of the tunnel. It turns out that although the tunnel has two lanes, it is unidirectional and the traffic flows alternatively (every hour ?) in one direction or another. Now all these people waiting and the police gather around me and start to talk to me. It's difficult to make out what's going on. The uniformed guards don't know what to do, except to tell me to park here. The other travelers tell me I can't get through but why they can't tell me. There's a plainclothes guy who seems to be the head of the security here. Finally he explains me that the tunnel is forbidden to motorcycles and that I'd have to put mine in a truck if I want to cross.

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    It's now getting late in the afternoon and I'm pretty tired. I tell them that I can take the pass instead but they don't get it, they keep telling me it's impossible. Eventually I get it: since the tunnel is open, the pass road is unmaintained and therefore probably unrideable.
    But I keep talking and telling them how beautiful Pakistan is and how nice everybody is, etc... after much waiting, as the road was a about to open, the big guy tells me that they would make an exception for me and that I would be able to ride through after all. I would wait until all cars have passed and I would ride between them and the trucks. Ah, and mind the speed limit: 50 km/h... I'm pretty relieved to be able to ride it and a t the same time I don't want to piss them. But the black top in the tunnel is perfect and it is slightly downhill. So I let go of the throttle and pass the van in front of me.

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    All this waiting means that the sun is setting as I reach the exit. The guards there have been warned of my presence and I'm quickly waved through the last checkpoint. But the road quickly turns into shit, again. Huge potholes and big rocks all over the place. Soon I have ti navigate this in pitch dark, my front light is pathetically weak and I'm exhausted after a very long day of hard driving. I stop at a roadside shack and ask if I can crash in their little house, or pitch my tent somewhere. No luck, but with the security situation I understand that they don't want to get involved with a stranger. So I keep going.

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    After 20 km or so that seemingly endless road, I reach the bottom of the valley and the paved road !

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    The road is now good until Chitral but no way I'm riding it in the dark. So I stop in the first town (Drosh) and ask for a hotel. There is one, and they even have a room so I take it and bring all my bags inside. The bike can stay on the road like the others, they say, it'll be safe. Ok, that's the advantage of riding a low-key bike !

    I take a well-deserved cold shower (kind od cold, as it's so hot that the cold water is lukewarm) and get down to get some food. But as I cross the reception, there are a couple guys here, one uniformed and one plainclothes, who stop me and introduce themselves as the local police. The leader asks to see my passport. He wants to know what I want. I tell him I'm going to a restaurant. But he'll have none of that, it tells me in no uncertain terms that I better sit here and have a tea while the boy gets some food for me ! I don't want to pick a fight and they probably have a good reason for not letting a foreigner wander in the night in a place where no tourist maybe has ever stopped, close to the Afghan border.. So be it. I have chai and some snack and I hit the bed. I'm asleep in about 30 seconds. What a day !
    #54
  15. Chat Lunatique

    Chat Lunatique aka El Gato Loco

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    Biggest friggin dal I've ever seen. Sure that's not chickpeas (channa)?
    [​IMG]
    #55
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  16. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    :clapYup ! out of dozens of pics of dal I chose the one that wasn't. Somebody's paying attention ! :dukegirl
    #56
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  17. Chat Lunatique

    Chat Lunatique aka El Gato Loco

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    Yeah, luving your RR. Spent the last 3 years riding south asia and being vegetarian......I know my local chow
    #57
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  18. jimmex

    jimmex Guero con moto Supporter

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    Wow! Amazing experience.
    #58
  19. elron

    elron Still Standing Supporter

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    :super
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  20. Johnnydarock

    Johnnydarock Been here awhile

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    Great report. Thanks for taking us along.
    #60
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