Mar 21

North on the KKH

by in Pakistan

Well, you know what they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men….”

Whoever thinks riding the FN around the globe might be a challenge hasn’t traveled the Karakoram Highway on a bus for 30 + hours! It had been suggested the northern parts of Pakistan were very scenic and worth visiting, but I decided doing it on the FN wasn’t really feasible given gas might be hard to come by and I didn’t feel I had anything to prove riding that far off my planned route.

There weren’t a great deal of options anyway as it turned out. Because it is still the end of winter, flights were not going in due to the weather so it looked as though a bus trip from Lahore to Islamabad, then a further two buses from there were my best bet. The first bus trip was 4 hours in a pretty nice coach to Islamabad, but they went downhill from then on.  The next bone-breaking journey lasted 28 hours to Gilgit then a final 3 hours to Hunza or was that the other way round? I’m too dazed to remember.

Buses and cars drove in convoy accompanied by a military escort at stages where it was considered dangerous.  A flat tyre and lots of stops for passport & identity checks made for an interesting ride. On one rest stop passengers offloaded to buy citrus trees to take back to their villages and with 18 people crammed into a 13 seater plus luggage and purchases it became a tad crammed.

By the time we reached Gilgit I was more tired and sore than I ever remember being in my life. Even in my old speedway racing & 24 hour endurance riding days I’m sure I didn’t feel this knackered. After a night’s sleep I was marginally ready to tackle the final section and thankfully this time the road was in better condition than the KKH, but I still felt pretty crap by the end.

Being dropped off in the dark beside the road in a power blackout isn’t the most favourable of conditions and all I could do was go door to door asking where the accommodation was. About 100 metres before the address I had, I was invited to stay – to hell with pushing on, I just accepted.

In Hunza I had to make a decision about where I went to from there. It seemed there wasn’t a direct route to Skidu as I’d hoped and any thoughts of renting a bike to do some sightseeing didn’t come to fruition.  It was -1 degree with snow still on the ground. Blossoms were just beginning to bud but it would be another month before the area was green again. As different as the area was compared to what I’d seen further south, it didn’t warrant a longer stay and several hours spent walking across the valley were pretty much it without a bike.

I’d been lucky so far, but unfortunately now came down with a bad dose of the trots and a night spent running to the bathroom was far from pleasant. Thankfully I had medication to fix the problem, but I spent another day recovering before I could get back on a bus to Gilgit. With not much to do it did give me time to contemplate over the past week and a couple of funny incidents came to mind, – in the taxi I took in Islamabad the steering wheel could do half a turn in either direction before it moved the wheel, making for some interesting driving!

Food is generally different and less spicy than Indian meals and most of what I had was tasty. But in Gilgit I was invited to try the local Pizza, which I was told was “very bad. I presume they meant to say “not bad”, as it turned out to be pretty good and more like a pastie than a pizza, but there you go.

Another flat tyre wasn’t surprising given the sharp rocks that bite into tyres. Passengers and drivers alike are resigned to the frequent stops and the inconvenience.

Raja at the Tie Net Café, Gilgit was again a great help with hooking my iphone up to skype & helping me get more familiar with the internet. I might know my way around a bike, but I do need help when it comes to these technical gadgets. Raja and his Dad treated me exceptionally well & I’m extremely grateful for their kindness. They run a fantastic internet café and it’s worth anyone who is venturing up this way to stop in and enjoy the hospitality.

My plan now was to get a flight from Gilgit back to Islamabad, but I’ve got the distinct impression that planes don’t fly into the region regularly until the summer months, despite what I’ve been hearing.  At seven am I was back on a bus, not eager for the long journey again, but the ride soon came to a grinding halt when the road became impassable due to a huge rock slide.The Karakoram highway is not a place I feel particularly comfortable on and I’ve done a few hairy rides in my time. The overhanging rocks that threaten to fall at any minute and huge gaps in rock face appear ominous when you’re beneath them in a mini bus. Still, I could have been on an Italian cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean…

So I’m stuck in Gilgit til the road is cleared or a plane gets in. Amongst those looking for a way out is a guy wanting to reach Islamabad as he has a plane ticket to Italy. Guess he has more worries than me as chances are he isn’t going to make the flight. But the weather has cleared, it’s sunny and who knows what tomorrow will bring – fingers crossed!


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15 Responses to “North on the KKH”

  1. From MEHMET AVAR:

    Merhaba Ron,
    In addition to my previous comment, I would like to add:
    1-April 25 is the Anzac Day in Gallipoli and official ceremonies will be held in the WW.I battle field arenas.
    As usual many visitors,soldiers,government authorities from Australia and New Zealand (Anzac)will be here for ceremonies and the sacrament of the dawn.
    We will be there and planning to be there with you if you will be able to be in ?stanbul until 24. th of April.
    here is the link for photos of last years years ceremonies:

    Best Wishes

    Posted on March 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Merhaba Mehmet,
      Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to Turkey by April 25th as I’m guessing it will take about 6 weeks to get from here, (Multan) to Tehran and a few more weeks to Istanbul. Thanks for the Facebook link – some great photos. These days many more young people are making the trip to Gallipoli from NZ & Aust to honour the diggers. I imagine these are very moving ceremonies.
      Thanks again for your thoughtfulness.

      Regards, Ron

      Posted on March 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm #
  2. From MEHMET AVAR:

    Dear Ron,
    No legal facebook in ?ran.So please note my Email and details.
    90-212-5471401 istanbul

    1-You can buy your visa for 3 months at any bordergate.
    20 $ OR 15 Euro

    2-You can buy your road insurance at the bordergate.
    About 7 euros for 3 months.(minimum)tell the officer that it is for a bike not car.

    3-If you need a health care, just use free dials,112 or 184 or 4444728.English spoken.I am also team member for
    A-UMKE. national medical rescue team
    B-TRAC. Turkish radio amateurs society ?stanbul.

    4-Other free important dial numbers,
    155 Police help.
    154 traffic police
    154 military traffic police (outside cities.)
    They are all friendly guys and the team closest to you will be near you within minutes.

    When you enter Turkey in Do?ubeyaz?t,you will find a parcel in Hotel Ararat which includes maps and catalogs for Turkey.
    Hotel Ararat
    Mr.Erkan Sedef
    Belediye Cd. 16
    Do?u Beyaz?t

    My rescue team was there last year.So ?f you meet police escort Mr.Mustafa in Dalbandin, give him best wishes from Burak and ismail and turkish bikers..You will have to follow many Different Police Escorts.

    Be aware of wild dogs on roads in east anatolia.Bus or train travel with your bike available if you need.

    Please dont hesitate to call me wherever and whenever you need support in Turkey.

    Wish you all the best,safe and happy trips.
    mehmet zeki avar

    Posted on March 29, 2012 at 8:53 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Mehmet
      Thanks for all the great info, including contacts & phone numbers and for arranging a parcel to be left at Hotel Ararat for me. You’re a star!
      I’ll certainly be sure to follow your suggestions. I’m looking forward to Turkey having heard it’s a great place to visit & it sounds like you have a strong M/C club going there. Still a long way to go but I’ll be in touch as I get closer. No doubt some interesting times ahead in the next few weeks.
      Thanks for your good wishes,
      Caio, Ron

      Posted on March 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm #
  3. From Thomas:

    Hi Ron,

    good to read tt you are on the road again heading towards Iran. Seems the tires are lasting. Good. Any idea when you will cross the border and reach Tehran ? Good Luck – Thomas

    Posted on March 29, 2012 at 8:22 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Thomas

      Yes the tyres are good so far, only had problems with the tubes but have some on their way from Lahore. Not sure when I’ll cross into Iran as I understand I have to do an extra 400kms I hadn’t counted on because the more direct route to Quetta is off limits to foreigners. I’m guessing 2-3 weeks depending on how slow it is with escorts. Then it will be another 3 weeks I’m guessing to Tehran. Lynne arrives in Tehran on 18th May after spending 12 days in Pakistan so hoping we can time it right to meet each other there. Thanks for checking in Thomas – I appreciate it.

      Cheers, Ron

      Posted on March 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm #
  4. From Andre de Koning:

    Hi Ron,

    Been following it and it looks all pretty adventurous. After India we also a few cold days in Istanbul (snowing, end of Feb, but this month in Crete is better:spring now and lovely, although it started of cold (6 C on March 1st and later gale force winds of 11). They all complained, like in India, of the coldest winter ever (since Minoan times, 2000-3000 BC when records were kept in hieroglyphics).
    Got your visa yet to cross Iran (I’ll check on your messages before)
    best of luck,

    Andre (and regards from Barbara too)

    Posted on March 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Andre & Barbara
      Great to hear from you! Seems so long ago we were in Jodhpur sipping coffee on the verandah. Shame about the weather you’ve been experiencing. I imagine by the time Lynne & I reach Turkey it will be getting pretty warm. Yes, got my Iranian visa – pretty excited to get that as I’ve heard people from other parts of the world haven’t been so lucky. I’m really looking forward to experiencing the country as i imagine it will have much to offer.

      Enjoy the blog & let’s hope we meet up again in the not too distant future.
      Cheers, Ron

      Posted on March 28, 2012 at 7:59 am #
  5. From Charlie101:

    My sister made that blody horrible bus trip in -89 and was stuck in Gilgit for three weeks because of torrential rains and rock falls! With flooded rivers and gigantic slope slides roads where cut at several sections. Phones where cut and because of the heavy rains there was food shortage in town, very few planes coming or leaving and on the airport there was fist fights amongst the hoards of forigners that wanted out. I was isolated in Islamabad chewing my fingernails worrying sick for her. I hope it will go better for you. Really good idea to dress local! It will give another kind of acceptance and spare both, but especially Lynne a whole lot of oogling, touching and comments. Burka wasn’t neccessary for foreign wimen when we where there as we are not muslims.

    Posted on March 24, 2012 at 11:37 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Charlie
      I agree, the bus trip is pretty horrific. The way those rocks hang out is fairly daunting especially after you’ve experienced a couple of land slides. I can imagine how nervous you were waiting for your sister to arrive in islamabad. Given the number of visitors up this way now trekking and para gliding the local people are reasonably used to visitors especially in Gilgit. I never had any problems with acceptance of dress etc. Lynne has had a couple of salwar kameez made to fit in a little easier when she returns to Pakistan, but I saw many women in jeans and western style dress outside the villages so that aspect should be fine. She says she wouldn’t mind a bit oogling and touching, but that’s unlikely to happen at her age! LOL
      I’m now on my way south to the border with Iran, so quite excited about that. Keep following the blog & thanks for your comments.

      Cheers, Ron

      Posted on March 28, 2012 at 7:38 am #
  6. From Paula:

    So glad you’re back on the road. It’s never dull, is it.
    Bet Effie has been missing you terribly.

    Posted on March 23, 2012 at 1:01 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Paula
      The trip on the KKH was all by bus. Despite all the wonderful experiences of the past couple of weeks, it’s been too long since I was on the bike and I’m enjoying being back on the road. I’m now on my way south to Iran with a good road so far and I’m settling into my usual routine. Looking forward to Lynne joining me in a few weeks time.

      Caio, Ron

      Posted on March 28, 2012 at 7:07 am #
  7. From Paul Louis Venne:

    Wow. Hunza, bastion of longevity! Did you see dried apricots? Thanks and good luck to you, Paul Los Angeles

    Posted on March 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Paul Louis

      Yes, did get to enjoy the dried apricots. There are around 20 varieties of them. Very tasty! When the peaches are in season there’s 20 varieties of them also. The blossoms are just coming out on all the fruit trees. Another month & I imagine it looks pretty spectacular to the visitors who flock there.
      Thanks for your good wishes – I’ll be back on the bike early next week and heading south.

      Caio, Ron

      Posted on March 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm #
  8. From Thomas:

    “…Still, I could have been on an Italian cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean…” LOL

    A good one Ron… ;-))


    Posted on March 21, 2012 at 9:19 am #

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