After two nights in Gilgit it finally was time to really get on the bike in order to explore the northern part of the Karakorum Highway (KKH).
Yet, I took it very easy and allowed myself three days for the approx. 200 km up to Sost, the last town before the Khunjerab pass, the border to China. Reduced overall fitness, missing appetite due to some little stomach issues (that I solved meanwhile by a daily intake of dry-yeast pills) and a more or less constant incline kept me from a faster pace but without regret. Although the days passed relatively unexciting and smooth, the scenery I was presented with every single day was just stunning and beautiful – words can hardly explain but this blog post will show. The nights I spent in a guesthouse under construction (in Nagar Valley), camping behind a primitive hotel in Gulmit (Hunza Valley) and finally I took up quarters in a very simple hotel in Sost, the last town before the border.
However, between Sost and the Khunjerab pass (approx. 4700 m) still lay 80 km and 2000 m. Distances, I didn’t feel like covering (and retracing) entirely by bike and I didn’t want to spent more than a day for that. Thus I left most of my stuff in Sost and cycled the next day towards the pass hoping for a lift on the way. I was lucky and soon found a place on a “speedy” pickup. But I judged to early and maybe 20 minutes later the pickup broke down without any chance for a quickfix as it seemed. Hence, I was forced back on the bike. Soon I found another little transporter that at least took me to the last check point and entry of the national park, 40 km before the pass. To make a longer story short, I finally joined a funny group of about 8 cousins from Karatchi, left my bike at the check point and went with them in a little bus up to the top and down again since time was already quite advanced and the scenery not that exciting anyway. And the entertaining company of the Karachi friends with their open curiosity and selfi-madness was way more fun than a lone ride. For them it was the first time being in those altitudes and seeing snow.
Finally, even before sunset I arrived back at the hotel and got “rewarded” with a extra-big portion of Chinese noodles. Although it has been a fun day my mood was at the end of the day a bit overshadowed by the streetworkers along the road: while I (and others) go up the pass just for fun they obviously work hard and dwell under considerable primitive conditions – a contradiction I am struggling with not for the first time … .
The next day I took a minibus to retrace my steps back to Gilgit, a 4 hours ride, for some time cramped with more people than the car is designed for and my bike on the roof.
It was a nice coincidence that I met on the bus ride again the retired mountain guide I had a chat with two days before on the road at Passu. Whereas guides for trekking, mountainierung etc. were in high demand, it dropped almost completely after 9/11. He also climbed with some supposedly famous German mountaineers and is now occupied with supporting and building a cricket field in Passu.
Another interessting encounter I had in Gilgit was Maqsood. Although he supposedly didn’t enjoy any schooling or education, he is a man of versatile interests, occupations and ideas. He is the head of a little tour operator company (mainly for Thais and Japanese), has a Thai wife and lives partly in Thailand, he started a little non-profit project for apricote kernel oil produced by women in hunza valley area and supported by a japanese woman, he gives important and basic support to disadvantaged kids in the valleys (e.g. also plans to organise a soccer tornament to bring together the kids from different villages), used to work for a ngo, is landowner, car-dealer and kind of a private bank (people confide him their money and he keeps track of it only in his head). He is a very caring, sensible and busy person. However, his restlessnes also keeps him from having own kids so far – a state that is eyed with suspicion in Pakistan where families with a double-digit number of kids seem to be the norm rather than an exception.
Furthermore I was very pleased having met Ali in Gilgit, too. I was put in contact with him by Kamran, the warmshowers-host in Islamabad. He works for the customs, writes at the same time on his Phd-thesis but is actually a language talent (he speaks about 7 languages). His research aims at identifying the benefical strategies for a country that is connected to a stonger country via a economic corridor. And the KKH is an essential part of exactly such an economic corridor between China and Pakistan. With the immense undertaking that is planed (CPEC), the KKH probably won’t stay the same in the upcoming years. That’s what I learned from Ali over an amazing lunch at the luxurious Serene Hotel in Gilgit, where he even would have accommodated me if he would have had the chance to, as he asured me in his warm, welcoming and giving manner.