Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ Category

A bridge too far?

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

(Emily) It was a restless night for some – poor Bene, who suffers physically when anxious, had been throwing up until the early hours and was now just keen to get the bridge over with so she could relax again. However, as we ate our breakfast of parathi (fried chapatti) and omelettes, Roberta came in to tell us that Stefano was not at all well and would not be able to leave today. He had a high temperature and a fever – basically in no state to be tackling ‘operation bridge’. We all took it in our stride, concerned for Stefano and very much resigned to the fact that delays, whether human or geographical, were bound to plague us for the duration of the KKH. James, Carl and Fabian went down to the bridge to let the guys know that we wouldn’t be able to cross until the next day at the earliest and of course, it also gave them to chance to check the progress of the ‘improvements’. Fabian’s ‘We’re all going to die!’ was slightly tongue-in-cheek but I don’t think he was overly encouraged by the reinforcements!! (That said, he hadn’t seen it the previous day!) The boys had taken a few photos and, although the men were still working on it, it looked like they had managed to widen the passage slightly and construct a more consistent surface over which to take our precious cargo. There was talk that the zip-wire, running parallel up above the footbridge, might be incorporated to help secure the bikes via a rope while they were transported across but we needed to get the bikes down there to see it all in situ.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Sost but we made the most of our unexpected extra day to write diary, do some bike maintenance (especially Carl and Bene – they’re very dedicated and put us to shame!) and I even cut James’ hair. Several of us got local sim cards for our phones via one of the guys working at the guesthouse. He subsequently became known as ‘the weasel’ as he was always trying to get money out of us for one thing or another. For example, he charged me 650 rupees for my sim card, which I thought was reasonable as it included some credit, but I later found out that Stefano (who had gone down to town with him the previous day) had only paid 350 rupees for exactly the same card. Several times I asked him why mine had been more expensive and he tried to fob me off saying that it was a special number, or a different shop that charged more. In the end, I made sure I spoke to him about it in front of Roomi, the owner, and told him I didn’t like getting messed around. He was still evasive but after dinner came over and gave me the 300 rupees I was owed (no apology though…) The outrageous thing was that he then told the group there was a mistake on the bill (we’d already paid as we’d thought we were leaving that day) and how much was the discrepancy? You guessed it; 300 rupees!! A shame that he was blotting what was so far a fantastic impression of the Pakistani people we had met.

(James) Crossing a raging river with a collapsed bridge wasn’t the only dilemma facing us that evening as we sat in the dark (the floods and near continuous landslides mean that electricity is a rare thing). A knock-on effect of the various disasters in Pakistan means that supply lines for almost all products have long since been compromised, and although we had all ensured that we were carrying food for 2-3 days and that we could filter water from wherever we might find it, it was our fuel range that was a concern. Our last fill up had been back in Tash Kurgan where we had filled our tanks, jerry cans and anything else we could find to the brim and, despite being as economical as possible, the fact was that we’d already covered 225km on poor roads, over a very high mountain pass. Our problem now was that we were at least 500km from the next town where petrol might be available.  Our total range, including additional capacity, was about 500km on reasonable roads (which we wouldn’t have), assuming we’d have reasonable quality fuel (which we didn’t have – 76 Ron at best, and judging by the dirt collecting in the filter we were using it was dirty as well as low grade!). The predicted poor road surface would mean we’d hardly be riding efficiently (plenty of first gear only roads) meaning we’d run out at least 300km short of salvation despite our bike’s ability to run on absolute rubbish – in fuel starved Uzbekistan we’d used black market petrol supposedly mixed with vegetable oil and soft drinks (Coke seems to be the preferred option; something to think about next time you want a drink – should you really be drinking something that cleans coins and keeps an engine running?!) To say Sost was low on petrol would be an understatement; they hadn’t had petrol since the disaster struck back in January. Not good!

We had one hope: we had seen 4 petrol tankers parked up at the customs post back in Tash Kurgan with ‘China Aid’ written across the front, and we were hearing rumblings about a possible relief convoy approaching which had 4 petrol tankers in it. The question then was; how do we, a group of ‘la-di-da’ tourists, get hold of said petrol when local competition for it would be so fierce? Not without help was the answer, so Carl and I went for a quiet word with the owner, Roomi, who we’d noticed seemed to be part of a fairly influential family in the town. Perhaps he could help? Our ‘chancing’ it paid off when he said that not only did he know the Assistant District Commissioner for the region, but he was currently in the area to co-ordinate the relief effort. We spied an opening and immediately pressed for a chance to meet him – if he was co-ordinating the relief effort, then surely it was only fair to surmise that he’d be the decision maker when it came to managing distribution of supplies?!.. Sure enough, later that evening, we were called across the road where we joined a dozen other people hoping to gain an audience, some in the hope winning distribution contracts, but most, we guessed, like us simply hoping to gain priority access. Just as the rain began to fall (never a good sign as rain guarantees landslides), we were ushered into a small room to be greeted by a slight, surprisingly anonymous-looking man who seemed to have several more influential men and elders hanging on his every word. Appearances, as they say, can be deceptive. Whilst physically he may have been unassuming, he certainly had presence, something we quickly discovered during 10 minutes of small talk over a customary round of chai. He was considered in everything he said ,  and spoke succinctly, quickly and honestly, identifying  the real world problems facing both the community and himself, problems I recognised from my own time here during a previous disaster (usefully this fact gave us plenty of material for small talk).  It’s fair to say we all liked him immediately and felt sure that, in this district at least, the people had the right man looking after them.

When finally we brought the conversation round to our fuel situation he was quick to assure us that the fuel was ready for distribution, and that yes we could have some. We asked if our getting priority for fuel would potentially cause resentment for those locals who’d been waiting so long but were reminded that in a year when natural disasters had combined with existing political/security problems, tourism had all but disappeared taking with it a vital source of income for the local economy (we were the first guests at our guest house in over 2 months), so our presence here in the first place more than compensated. He added that if we were to get stuck here without fuel, we would simply become 7 more people requiring aid! We would be allowed whatever fuel we needed as soon as a decision had been made on how to price the fuel (it had been donated but giving it out free would cause all sorts of new problems with people taking it to sell on the black market). Before leaving he gave me his business card and asked us to get in touch if we had any other problems. Finally it looked like we were on our way!

We awoke the following morning to a bright clear morning and the welcome news that Stefano was much better – an excellent start, and after breakfast Carl, Fabian and myself went down to the local petrol station (still closed but very heavily guarded) armed with two 30 litre jerry cans and the business card of our new all important ally. Within 30 minutes we were done and on our way back to divide the contents between  the group, and an hour later we were fully loaded up, riding the short but rocky 15km down to the bridge where we hoped to find a bridge capable of getting us safely across the river. We arrived to find a much more chaotic scene than on our initial recces of the bridge as the first aid truck had arrived and several different groups of men were there arguing over which crew of labourers were to be engaged to carry the sacks across, and who ‘owned’ the bridge. Our small crew were caught up in this too, and having seen this kind of thing before I stepped in and tried to remind them that the broken bridge was government owned (waving the District Commissioners business card around seemed to have the desired effect) and that the new and improved foot bridge, since we’d paid for the materials and the labour was, in fact ours. That being the case we were allowing whoever wanted to use it to use it without charge. That at least seemed (eventually) to solve the problem of bridge access, the question of who’s labour crew got the work was not our concern and frankly was not something any of us wanted to get involved in.

Our new bridge was a definitely improvement and although we had no doubts that Carl, Bene’s and our bikes, once stripped of their luggage, would be light enough to  get across (the bikes simply falling in to the raging river less than a metre below was far more worrying as anything going in was never coming out), real question marks remained over the larger heavier bikes, and in particular Stefano’s big BMW (over 250kg) and  Donato’s Harley Davidson (over 350kg!) We started by stripping all of the luggage and panniers off the bikes and carried them across along with the large sacks of aid being effortlessly carried by those wiry locals who’d managed to get work and once done prepped the smallest bikes for the first crossing. If the bridge was going to give way, we decided, it would be due a heavier bike, so it made sense to get as many across as possible first.

Carl volunteered his to go first and, having tied ropes to back of it, and having given each other a look that said ‘if this goes wrong, we lose the bike and the trip is over!’,  eight of us slowly lowered his bike down the dusty 60 degree slope towards the start of the bridge. The steepness of the slope and the dirt meant we all, at one point or another, slipped and fell as we descended but we got it down and then re-arranged for the bridge crossing, leaving this to the locals who not only were unburdened by  the fear of dropping their pride and joy but also seemed to cross the bridge so effortlessly carrying heavy loads despite it bouncing and swinging around. Slowly but surely, Carl’s bike edged across until finally its wheels landed on the collapsed but solid section of the main bridge. We’d kept a close eye on how much the bridge had flexed during the first crossing and although alarming, we felt that for the four 180kg bikes the bridge was up to the task. Bene’s bike was next followed by Em’s and then mine. So far so good. Fabian’s was next (weighing in at 220kg) and despite greater flexing made it across. Now it was crunch time and the two lardiest bikes were lined up. First was Stefano’s BMW which, at 250kg, was not only heavy but tall (it’s much harder to control a tall bike when it loses its balance). Extra people were added on to the rope as we began to lower it, and again we watched as it agonisingly slowly was edged across the narrow flexing bridge -  just three were involved at this point as we couldn’t risk anymore weight on the bridge,  with one person at the front holding the handlebars whilst walking backwards, one pushing from behind and one managing somehow to stand alongside (how I don’t know as there simply didn’t appear to be enough room to even  put your foot down on such a narrow walkway). Stefano was left to stand and watch, looking slightly grey, just as the rest of us had done. Finally it was the turn of the Harley, heaviest by 100kg. Again, numbers was the key when lowering the bike but once at the bridge, all were pulled away. The Harley was so wide that nobody was going to able to stand to the side to control balance – somebody would have to sit on the saddle for balance whilst two controlled at the front and rear. In true ‘Hog’ owner style, Donato muttered something along the lines of ‘nobody touches my hog’ (but with a heavy Italian accent) and plonked himself on board. Fearing loss of balance or loss of structural integrity I reminded him that if he felt it was going, to make sure he knew where the grab rail was to save himself, and although he grunted in nervous acknowledgement I got the distinct feeling that he fully intended to go down with his ‘ship’!

Over the din of the raging river, you couldn’t hear anything but I’m sure that had we been able to, the creaking and groaning of our little bridge would have been all too audible, as the bridge flexed to a point where I was sure it would buckle. The newly installed ‘planks’ bents skywards at the edges, but somehow the bridge held and we pulled a very relieved and slightly shell shocked looking Donato up the steep but comparatively secure  collapsed section. Our big challenge for the day had been overcome in little more than three hours, surely there could be no more drama, could there?

With all bikes present and accounted for on the other side we joined Emily, Bene and Fabian who  between them had been in charge of capturing the drama and kit security and, having very subtly paid our crew, began to reload the bikes.  By now, additional truckloads of labourers had arrived at the bridge and a furious row had broken out less than 5 metres from our bikes as rival crews squabbled over who would work and who would not.  There was lots of shouting and plenty of pushing and shoving as the crowd which now numbered in excess of 100 people, became more wound up, and despite its proximity  to us (my bike had somehow managed to get parked nearest to the melee!) we smiled warily to each other. As is so often the case though, things continued to escalate and as insults began to get traded, so tempers flared, and before long punches were being thrown at 2 or 3 points in the crowd. Even then, we were in no real danger as the argument was not with us and several people from different groups came to reassure us that we were safe, even so with our kit still strewn across this potential battlefield we were speeding up our packing. As the closest, I had the best view of mayhem so kept everyone informed and smiled calmly but already I knew that this was only going to end one way and before too long the vast majority of the crowd were fighting and as worker’s tents collapsed and tables broke, so the mob moved closer to the bikes, forcing us to push people away who’s fights collided with my bike. Everyone was now packing furiously, only stopping when I started seeing people, already bloodied, rejoining the action armed with rocks and metal bars, which quickly began being thrown and swung at close quarters. W donned our helmets for protection and took cover along with a few locals as more tents started collapsing, until it became clear that one side had won this round. We looked up to see 30 or so people running up the road with a rock throwing mob in hot pursuit and thing calmed down as quickly as they’d started. A few hot heads wanted to head off after the losers but most were straight back trying to get work.

 All packed up we prepared to head off, all too aware that we were riding towards the losing group, who for all we knew were around the bend readying a counterattack. It was agreed that one of us should ride 100m ahead of the group, just in case, to ensure safe passage, and as the only one with any experience in this part of the world I was the obvious choice. Riding around the corner, however, I was greeted by a far sadder sight. The losing group were in fact our bridge crew, locals from the next village who, despite having bravely held their own had been heavily outnumbered and were on the receiving end of some pretty harsh treatment from the other group, all it seemed, who had been bussed in from larger towns further to the south. Stopping to see if they were ok, I was told that a couple of them were in bad shape and sitting in a car further up the road. We pulled in by the car and Fabian, Stefano and I got out our first aid kits and began to try and treat their injuries, all head injuries caused by rocks and metal bars to the head. We cleaned the wounds and applied sutures as best we could, but one of them in particular would be needing more medical attention than we could provide so having patched them up we despatched them to the hospital. I should have known that they wouldn’t go straight away and, true enough a few km later we came upon them at the side of the road in what turned out to be their village. We tried to gently chastise them, but when you’re being plied with chai and apples and apricots fresh from the tree it’s hard to order them to a hospital.

 Eventually we were on our way once again. Em was a little concerned as the roads were really bad, she wasn’t helped by the fact that our intercom battery had died (no power in Sost) so I couldn’t talk her through what was coming as I normally do.  As for the roads in question:  think of an ever changing mixed of gravel, dust, thick sand (the worst!), roads strewn with stones and rocks, some of which are loose, some fixed, and almost all of which is continually corrugated and rises and dips constantly, then add sections of road have simply collapsed into the river far below, been covered by countless small landslides (and a few big ones) and add water crossings – the result of streams and rivers redirected by said land falls, and you have an idea of what riding here is like – oh, and the KKH means 900km of this! Fortunately it was only (a slow)30km more to our destination in Passu where we hoped to spend the night and consider the next day’s challenge – crossing the dammed ‘lake’. Despite all that had happened that day, and with the obvious distraction of the increasingly spectacular surroundings, Em made it to Passu like a pro (I can’t say without any problems as for anyone riding on the KKH, every km is a series of near misses and close shaves) and climbed off the bike with the rest of us, dusty, shattered and relieved, and yet utterly beaming, high on the days experiences. We booked into the only guesthouse available (most have closed), run by a local farmer who cooked us a delicious meal which we devoured whilst we reflected on the days slightly surreal events. Already Pakistan was more than living up to our expectations!

We’re going to need a bigger bridge!

Friday, September 17th, 2010

(Emily) We all slept incredibly well on our first night in Sost, though due to exhaustion rather than comfort! The combination of rodent roommates and dank, concrete bathrooms led to general consensus that perhaps something better could be found (James and I weren’t too fussed but then we didn’t have mice…) so Roberta, Fabian and Carl & Bene strolled in to ‘town’ to check out other options. They returned an hour later with the news that we actually had the best place – ah! Although there are a disproportionate amount of hotels and guesthouses for the small size of Sost (capitalising on the fact it’s the border post), the majority were actually closed since virtually no tourists are venturing into northern Pakistan this year. Plus, the one half-decent place down by customs had been commandeered by Chinese contactors who were either here to repair roads or part of the relief effort. In fact, as we’d left China and crossed via the Khunjerab Pass, we’d been aware of a steady stream of aid relief trucks travelling in the same direction; apparently 140 lorries had been consigned from China as not enough supplies were able to come up from the south due to the landslide lake. However, because the KKH in Pakistan is so narrow, steep and prone to destruction, the trucks had been backed up in Tash Korgan rather than risk having to park up in and around Sost. We took it as a positive sign that the consignments were now making their way through, especially as the convoy included four petrol tankers; it was a serious worry that no fuel would be available until Gilgit which was beyond our mileage potential, even with the jerry cans we’d filled up in China.

It was a beautiful morning and, now able to see it in the light of day, we found that our guesthouse had quite the location: perched on an escarpment at the southern edge of town, overlooking the narrow river valley and with spectacular views of the surrounding craggy snow topped mountains. This more than made up for the crappy rooms and we were glad not to be in the dirty, dusty high street. Late morning, we all piled into a mini-van taxi, eager but anxious to see the damaged bridge for ourselves and set about orchestrating our first logistical challenge. Fabian decided to stay back at the hotel – a ‘what I don’t know (see) won’t hurt me’ attitude which I very much sympathised with (a few weeks back we’d met a group of Germans who had made it across by being transported in a cage on a zip-wire and I had declined a look at their video footage knowing it would give me nightmares of what was to come!) The collapsed bridge was a bumpy fifteen kilometres further on from Sost. I nervously inspected every inch of the road, knowing this would have to been done on the bikes soon enough whereas Carl and Stefano had no such qualms, choosing to travel on the roof of the van, local style! When we arrived, we rushed over to see what was what: the recent flooding had caused the concrete bridge which spanned the river, about forty metres wide at this point, to collapse at the near side forming what was now a sturdy concrete ramp up to the other side. We were heartened to see that the gap between the bank on our side and where the collapsed bridge emerged from the water was only about five metres and, even better, there was now in place a hastily constructed footbridge (the trunks of a couple of small trees with some flimsy wood from crates nailed on) over which locals were happily scampering carrying heavy loads. Carl, who is from the James Littlewood school of positive thinking, reckoned we could get the bikes across ‘no probs’ but it was clear to the less-delusional in the group that it would be bye-bye bike if we were to try such folly, not least because the track down to the footbridge was steeper than forty-five degrees and uneven dirt. By now several curious locals had approached and were quick to tell us ‘of course we can get the bikes across the bridge’ or conversely ‘use the zip wire, it’s much safer’; in both instances, they assured us that they had already got many bikes across. However, they were talking about 125cc bikes and smaller, and when we explained that the group included a 350kg+ Harley, we detected the flicker of doubt in their eyes!

In the end, the boys negotiated with a group of local workers (Bene and I hung back in our headscarves, respectful of the ‘menfolk’) who agreed to strengthen and widen the bridge to our requirements and arranged for them to be there in the morning to help manoeuvre the bikes across (we would have legs like jelly so it made sense to leave it to the experts!) The price of the whole operation took quite some haggling – at first they wanted 30,000 rupees (€300) and eventually it was worn down to 10,000 which, although probably still a complete rip-off, wasn’t too bad shared between the eight of us and let’s face it, we didn’t have much choice if we wanted to continue our trip! Deal done, we chatted a bit more with the locals (still not quite used to the fact that many people speak good English after struggling linguistically in the ‘stans and China) and discovered that the Chinese had already set about building a new bridge but this, and all their equipment including two huge cement mixers, had been swept away by a second bout of flooding: if we looked carefully, we could see one of the construction trucks beached further down the river. It was hard for us to get our heads round living with such impermanence and fragility; they are plagued with one disaster after another but just get on with it, incredible.

We went back to relay the news to Fabian (well, first we had a bit of fun and pretended that it would take a month before the river was crossable…) then spent the afternoon swapping photos and writing our diaries, all the while a quiet knot of anticipation growing in our stomachs. Half the time, we laughed at ourselves and our western concerns; the Pakistanis deal with this sort of stuff all the time and besides, didn’t you see how they practically skipped across the bridge, perfectly at home? It would be a doddle for them to get our bikes across. But at the same time, it was hard to ignore the potential of at least one of the bikes crashing down into the river never to be seen again…

Pakistan: the real adventure begins…

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

(Emily) The road down from the Khunjerab Pass into Pakistan looked a bit hairy from the top; not only had the tarmac stopped abruptly at the border but the incline was fairly steep and had its fair share of hairpins…. gulp! We tentatively began the descent (Carl, on the other hand, coasted down in neutral to save petrol – he managed 8 miles in the end!!), negotiating trucks and Chinese work crews along the way. The great thing was that for the first time in many months, our intercom was working both ways; it couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time and I was so relieved. The Pakistanis that we passed gave big, warm smiles and it was lovely to feel welcome after the somewhat po-faced Chinese. We’d only gone a couple of kilometres when we came upon our first (of soooo many) obstacle: a fresh landslide blocking the road. We set about inspecting the rock pile for a potential way through but there were some pretty large boulders that could not be moved by human hand. We were just starting to clear a path around the edge (and far too close to the sheer drop for my liking) when a massive digger came to the rescue; landslides were clearly a regular occurrence round these parts and they were well set up for it! In no time at all, the rubble was cleared and we were on our way again… round a few more corners and this time into a stretch where another digger was clearing rocks from above us. A man was there to wave us through when the coast was clear but I swear Carl was missed by inches when a load came down. All of a sudden we felt a little vulnerable here in this wild landscape where nature was warring against man and seemingly winning – after five days in relatively ordered China with our guide never too far away, this felt like we were now venturing into the unknown!

Our target was the town of Sost which, despite being the location of the customs post, was actually 80km from the border. This peculiarity meant that although we were technically in Pakistan, we hadn’t yet been officially stamped in; a fact that was gnawing at the stomachs of Donato and Stefano who, having found it impossible to get a Pakistan visa in Bishkek, were banking on being issued one on arrival (the possibility of being denied entry and having to return to China was not an appealing one…) The road continued to be a tarmac free zone but was do-able, though I hated the bits with loose rocks and shingle (especially when it was combined with a steep incline with a stream running down it at one point!!) Once again, the goggles were a god-send as the dust was constant – I kept my visor up for better visibility so had a very grubby face by the end of the day, much to James’ amusement! Just as I was getting into my stride, we turned a corner to find Donato across the other side of a stretch of water motioning for us to slow down; he’d made it across but it was pretty deep. With water crossings, it’s not just the depth or speed of the water flow that makes it difficult, but the river bed itself which tends to be either soft mud or strewn with large rocks. This one seems to have the latter. Stefano, who has a tendency to just go for it, just went for it… unfortunately Roberta (riding pillion with Stefano on his GS1150 rather than the Harley for the moment) chose to wrong moment to shift position and, easily put off balance on the loose rocks, the bike went down in the water. Once again, we were glad to have the combined strength of several people to manage the pick up! James took a more considered approach and made it through, by which time Carl had picked out another part of the river that, although wider, seemed more shallow and ploughed through no problem, followed by Fabian and Bene. My confidence wasn’t up to river crossing by this stage so James came back for my bike – what would I do without him?!

The slow speed forced on us by the road condition gave us the chance to gawp at the scenery; steep and craggy with sheer rock faces either side of us as we traversed deep valley gorges. Running alongside us was the river, chalky and ferocious, that was unrepentantly sweeping up anything in its path – a constant reminder to look where you were going and stick to the road!  When we stopped to enter a section of national park at about half past five, we were told that Sost was now only 35km away. However, our slow progress (less than 20mph average Carl has worked out) meant that very soon dusk was setting in – oh joy, how I love riding on unpredictable dirt roads next to a steep rocky bank and a fierce river in the near dark!!! We slowed down even further to compensate for the poor visibility but unfortunately a patch of deep, loose gravel came out of nowhere and Donato, leading at this point, went over. No harm done (and again, many people needed to get the 350kg of bike back up!) but I felt a bit skittish after that. Thank goodness when, a few minutes later, we began to see signs of civilisation in the distance, though only a few lights were in evidence which seemed odd for a town. As we approached, all was explained: 1) the ‘town’ of Sost was nothing more than a dusty street bazaar and 2) they was currently a power shortage so only a couple of generators were providing the lucky few with light. We turned into the ‘car park’ of the customs post and all dug around in various bags for our headtorches – the border wasn’t closed as we’d predicted (being 7pm in the evening), it was just shrouded in darkness! The officials were absolutely lovely and ushered us in to sit round a table while they checked visas and carnets. For Stefano and Donato, their long period of anxiety was over and they were issued a visa in a matter for minutes for only $24 – a quarter of the price and a fraction of the hassle we’d had in London. A big relief!

It was pitch black by the time the paperwork had been concluded. While waiting a local guy, Roomi, had approached us with an offer of accommodation which we snapped up – in the dark with no lights it would be difficult to find somewhere ourselves. By now, the battery had gone on our intercom system (not ideal when riding in the dark on dusty, rock strewn roads) but I was fortified by the fact Roomi said it was only five minutes away. And I almost made it… as we turned into the steep lane that led to the hotel, I saw that there was a deep trench to negotiate. ‘What would James tell me?’ I thought to myself, knowing the answer: ‘Give it some beans!’ Unfortunately, I opened the throttle a bit too soon, as I entered the dip, and what I didn’t see what was the sharp dirt step before the slope resumed – having hit that with the power engaged, the front wheel went over but the back wheel gained traction and then bucked on the step, picking the bike of the ground and me out of my seat by the accounts of those behind!! So close, and yet so far… I dusted myself off and, having plenty of people around to get the bike up, finished the last twenty metres. ‘The Khunjerab Guesthouse’ turned out to be somewhat basic but I think that was the case everywhere, and we were too tired to care. They fixed us up some rice, sag aloo and lentils which we ate by candlelight and we probed Roomi for information on the state of the road ahead. There was a collapsed bridge 15km away which was to be our first major challenge – plans were made to go by taxi the next morning and suss out possible ways to cross. Then there was the huge lake further on, just past Passu, which had been caused back in January when a landslide damned the river. This did not appear to pose such a big problem as by now they had an established boat service from one end to the other; it just remained to be seen whether bikes as large as ours could be transported and how much it would cost. Everyone was optimistic, despite having met a Spanish biker on the way down the pass who was a bit of a naysayer: he was travelling from the south but had felt forced by the landslide lake to leave his bike and come to the China border on foot before returning. He’d taken one look at Stefano’s and Donato’s bikes and said ‘That won’t make it; that won’t make it’. There’s a lot to be said for our group mentality though and we all provided each other with strength of mind. We went to bed with high hopes and, after a few minutes of high jinx with some rodent visitors in Carl and Bene’s room, fell into an exhausted yet satisfied sleep: I’d survived, nay even enjoyed, my first day in Pakistan…

KKH done and dusted!!!

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Hi everyone. Just a very quick note to say we have arrived safely, if a little battered and dusty, in Islamabad having had a incredibly challenging, but enormously enjoyable, 15 days battling the Karakoram Highway! We’ve checked in to a nice guesthouse in a very calm part of the city and are about to go out for a ‘last supper’ with the team before we all start going our separate ways… sad times. We’ll probably be here for a week as we need to sort out our Indian visas so will be contactable and we’ll be sure to update you on the last two weeks – it’s been eventful!

Thanks for all the lovely messages and comments re the China posts/photos. There are some crackers to come in the Pakistan section! Lots of love to all xxx