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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Apr 19, 2019.
Beyond awesome! Proper adventure, superbly photographed and described
Thanks for all the comments!
Here's a short video of the ride down from Uthool village. It doesn't show, but that was really steep !
All right, so after a good night sleep, I leave for the pass. Actually, I didn't, I took the wrong turn and continued out of town directly up the Yarkhun valley.
This valley is wide and broad and leads to Broghil pass, one of the easiest way to get into the Pamir. Nowadays, though, it ends up in Afghanistan's Wakhan corridor, and the border is closed. In fact, there's only a mule track used by smugglers, but it used to be a very famous way to get from Central Asia to South Asia.
Of course, that doesn't look like it at all. After a check on the GPS, I turn around and find the right road, a much worse track that gets me up another and into Lapsur valley.
That's a beautiful ride, the early morning air is not too hot and there's not much traffic. Anywhere else, this place would be chock full of RVs and mountains bikers and campgrounds. Here I'm pretty much on my own..
Eventually, I reach the base of Shandur pass. There's a checkpoint here, but the guy's cool. Not much traffic here, it's very quiet. He put my name in the book and off I go.
The switchbacks are pretty nice, and the big rocks on the road keep you alert. It's getting chilly so I don a sweater (until now I've been riding in t-shirt, I've given up the pajamas aka shalwar kameez). The yaks are grazing around here. The views on the valley and the village are amazing.
Who wouldn't want to ride here ?
Shandur pass (3700 m) or Shandur Top as they call it here (Top is a local word meaning something like pass) is a high plateau with a small lake.
There's also an army base here. But more importantly, this is where takes place every summer the highest polo game int he world. Yeah, that's right, they comme all the way to 3700 m for a game of polo. It's an old tradition, opposing the best teams of Chitral and Gilgit. For some reason, polo is huge in these mountains. You can see polo fields everywhere from Chitral to Skardu.
The game has become so famous that they built seats and benches for the people who come to see it. It usually takes place at the end of July so I'm too late. That's actually a festival over several days and the place would be packed with cars and tents.
Polo is a very ancient game, maybe the oldest of all. It comes from Persia and then spread to the mountains of South Asia and to India. That's where the British picked it up and modernized the rules. Polo as played here is a long shot (pun intended) from the high society sport played bu the royalties. They called it here "no limit polo" and it's brutal and ruthless. There are very few rules (you can't shoot down your opponent's horse, e.g.) and only the best ponies survive. Indeed, many horses have died during a game here dure to the altitude.
There's a checkpoint and a tea stall for the few travelers driving the route. The descent is short, I arrive in a broad valley that will bring me all the way to Gilgit, 230 km away. This area between Shandur and Gilgit is known as Ghizer and famous for being beautiful.
The first village marks the border between Khyber Pakhtunkwa province and Gilgit-Baltistan province. Here, I need to register and I'm given a "permit" that states where I've entered and how long I can stay (I ask for 1 month). I must pose for a photo while holding the paper... I guess they haven't found anything better to verify that the cops are doing their job!
The landscape gets greener and prettier as the road climbs down. Before long the pavement starts and the villages are getting bigger. The road follows the river, which is getting bigger.
At some point, near Phander village, the river takes over most of the valley, they call it Phander Lake. It's famous all over Pakistan for its beauty. It's true, it's a beautiful place. Imagine those guys living in Karachi or Lahore in excruciating
heat, noise and pollution arriving here: that must feel like paradise. For me, paradise would be a petrol station as I'm running dangerously low. I ask around and they show me to a guy who opens his little shop for me. He's more than willing to sell me a few liters of petrol for a nice mark-up. Of course, nobody thought of telling me that there was a proper petrol station about 50 km down the valley..
No need to rush it, I look for a place to stay. there's PTDC motel situated in a fantastic spot overlooking the lake. But their prices are a bit over the top, and I'd like to camp. Yeah I brought my camping gear because I love to camp. So I enquire if I can pitch my tent near the lake and they answer: why not ? there's a little path following the lake. Nice place.
But if you push a little more toward the end of the lake, where no cars can go and...
Pure magic. Best camping sport I've ever had.
There are some Pakistanis having a picnic nearby, and who were afraid to drown their SUV fording the river. As usual, we swap WhatsApps and make tons of selfies.
The dudes aren't staying here, they're headed to Chitral. I guess they'll have to drive well into the night to make it. Fortunately I have the place all to myself for the night and I go to bed as soon as the sun sets.
A real life oasis amongst the rugged surroundings. I am surprised its not used/occupied by the looks of it? Guessing it gets wet in a rain storm. Great stuff!
They've planted a row of trees to block the entrance to cars, so I guess it had been used as a picnic area. Kids from the village came to fish here while I was pitching my tent. But I guess in spring time the area is flooded by the melting snow up in the mountains. It could happen after a very large storm too, I guess, so it's not particularly safe.
By the way, a fey days later in Gilgit in the guesthouse I met a couple who were touring Pakistan on public transport. They wanted to hike down Ghizer so they got off the bus right at the checkpoint after Shandur pass. But the police didn't like it and they told them it was unsafe, that they should stay on the bus. When they insisted to walk, they sent a police car to follow them and watch their every move. They were eager to find a nice spot to camp but the cops would have none of it and forced them to go to a hotel. So they were pretty pissed when I told them I found a great camping spot and that nobody ever bothered me...
Great pics and write up.
Thanks, but Pakistan is not on my list of destinations. With all of Europe and Switzerland and especially the U.S. and Canada and mostly safer South America, and even Russia, why roll the dice in truly crazy lands? And I wouldn't ride in Saudi Arabia either, to name but one other country.
Well, first of all, this was a great post and great pics--thank you! My point is I'm not ready to ride in countries where I might get my head cut off if I'm caught with a beer in my backpack. Maybe I'm wrong about Pakistan, but I'm not comfy with the culture there or in Arab nations to Pakistan's west.
Well, first of all, I agree that this RR is amazing.
Then to your thoughts.
Neither Iran, Pakistan or Afghanistan is Arabic countries.
Among the countries I worked in is Iran and Syria, obviously before the war in Syria.
In both this countries I have walked alone in big cities, eaten in local restaurants, talking to local people, using local transportation. I can assure you that I had more threats, seen more violence, been more worried about having my property stolen in Paris, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Helsinki, Gothenburg, Munchen etc. etc.
I was contacted from an old customer a few months ago, asked to go to Syria again when/if things calm down there. I said I would be very happy to go back there.
Both in Syria back in 2004, and in Iran in -96 there was no problem to get alcohol. In Iran as a “christian”, there where special shops where you could by alcohol, and the local shop where I bought vegetables also sold home made gin under the table.
The only rule was that you could not drink or be drunk in public.
In Syria some hotels in Damascus and Aleppo had normal bars.
I worked in many countries and cultures, and the one thing I learned is that people are people. It’s about the same number of assholes in every group.
Maybe I wasn't clear, but alcohol is NOT prohibited in Pakistan, unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc. It's just extremely difficult to buy some, because it's illegal for muslims to drink alcohol. In fact, there's a brewery in Murree producing beer and whisky and maybe other alcohols. If you want to buy it, you must go to a designated shop in (I guess) large cities like Islamabad and Lahore and if you can prove you're not muslim, you can buy it. Foreigners can just show their passport and that's good to go. Of course the black market is flourishing. When I was in Islamabad in 2010, the camping owner asked us to go and buy a bottle of whisky for him because he had a big party coming. So there's nothing wrong with drinking a beer, but of course you shouldn't do it in public places in very conservative areas.
Imagine trying to buy horse meat in the US. In Switzerland it's quite common and you can find it everywhere. But if you're in the US, then you'll have a real hard time finding any. Why? because it's a taboo for most Americans. So you respect that and you don't do it.
There was a story about India before partition, when both communities (Hindus and Muslims) were trying to piss each other off. So on Fridays Hindus would have a beer in front of the Mosque (although many don't drink), while the Muslims would walk their cows through the hindu neighborhood on the way to the butcher. You all know how it ended...
But hey, security isn't the main topic here, it's about the beautiful landscapes and the crazy mountain roads.
Adventure IS about going out of the comfort zone!! Seems like you are on the wrong forum which has Adventure in its name.
And, those are very ignorant and dangerous generalizations and outright stupid statements ('getting my head cut-off') and a dismissal of different peoples and cultures.
Well said, and again thanks for your post. I know Pakistan is not ethnically Arabic, but it seems unusually dangerous to me. But you survived and adventured there. Adventure is never risk-free. It's not the people I worry about, it's their rulers. North Korea is an extreme explanation I know, but they sent home a brain-dead guy not long ago, courtesy of their imprisoning.
I was enjoying this thread. Sad to see ignorance and political opinion invade it.
Asianrider, thanks for sharing your trip.
Thank you for sharing your trip in so much detail, an absolute joy to read! Would love to go there myself in the future.
It's stunning to see in the pictures how water sparks the oasis like valleys in what seems to be a moon landscape otherwise!
Enjoy the rest of your trip and keep us posted!
At this point .. to the contrary, IMO. This is a unique report inasmuch as few have traveled here (ala an RR). It is great that the topic is broached here and dispelled by those with experience in this area. It hasn't gotten out of hand and the "doubter" has been fairly reserved and cautious in expressing his fears, though his first remark was a bit 'curt'. Some of the folks upset with neckbracebob's concerns are being much more abrasive, again IMO. I don't share neckbracebob's views, but as Asianrider is doing so well in his responses the misconceptions are being knowledgeably dispelled . If the issue continues and deteriorates (as often & unfortunately threads on this forum are prone to)... then another story. The report itself is an education for many of us reading this.
Well said. RRs like this one and so many others remind us that the world is not the horrific, terrifying place so many of us assume it to be, as it comes to us filtered through "the news". Read enough of these and eventually you wind up thinking nearly all human beings normally don't suck.
Opinions are like ass holes we all have one, that said, great chain, amazing country, hopefully one day it will open to the world in a more open and in truth safer manner as it would be a dream to ride and enjoy, right now however there is enough of the world left to cover. Looking forward to more from you my friend this is a truly inspiring chain.
O last thing "Seems like you are on the wrong forum which has Adventure in its name" quoted by someone, pretty stupid statement, Adventure means different things to different people, it takes all, sorts to make the world go around.
Enjoying this chain, more please.
Nice post. Here's a man that has it figured out. Thank you, Elron.
See Bob, Bob has an opinion. It's not all accepting. We are all accepting. Except when Bob is not all accepting. Let's beat up, Bob.
Here's a video of the arrival to the camping spot.