Half-awake, Harley and I threw our stuff together at 4:30AM to make an early break for it while the police were hopefully fast asleep. He came up to the room with a bummed look on his face and said, “we’re not going anywhere”. In the parking lot they had almost completely blocked us in. There was no way this was going to happen, so we moved flower pots and managed to make a gap just big enough to squeeze ourselves out of. It was starting to feel like the universe was against me getting to northern Pakistan. At 5AM we got on the motorway and opened the bikes up racing as quick as we could towards our goal.
The morning was a success as we made it to Murree and then found ourselves flying on the hilly road over to Abottabad. It sure was empty, and we found out why when we came around the corner to a massive landslide. The universe had struck again and thrown in another challenge to us. There was no way we were turning back. Just when we were feeling desperate, a big piece of machinery came laboring up the hill towards us.
Five minutes later, after attaching the bucket, it went to work. After awhile another machine showed up on the other side and began working towards us. The slide was on the edge of a cliff that went straight down hundreds of meters and they were tossing off giant boulders and huge trees. It was wild watching the boulders explode down below like bombs sending projectiles whizzing through the valley. The giant logs would tumble and slide until they made solid contact with a chunk of rock and then splinter into a million pieces. A big crowd formed to wait for the road to open and most them gathered around us. A lot of friendly people eager to take pictures with us. In two hours they managed to clear a path through the slide and we were on our way. Nothing was stopping us now.
Eventually we came out at Abottabad. Somewhere around here me and Harley got separated and he continued up the KKH and I cut off northeast towards Naran. Both ways reconnect at Chilas. I could see on the map that it was a way shorter route and had heard that Naran was a tourist spot, which hopefully meant less security trying to keep me out. It was a gorgeous road following a steep river valley.
I passed right through Naran and it’s streets filled with Pakistani tourists. The second half of the route passed up over Babusar pass, which was a rocky muddy mess.
Small cars and motorcycles spun their tires and slid backwards. It was a bit chaotic, but luckily I could slip by it all. The road down over the pass was switch back after switch back winding back down to the valley floor. It rejoins the Karakoram Highway five km past Chilas, and this was the only police checkpoint to catch me. A big gate blocked the road and they directed me over to a big shack with young guys dressed in traditional salwar kameez. These were apparently the police. After the usual questioning and finding out where I was headed, they sent me on my way with a piece of advice, “go directly to Shangrila Hotel, stay for the night, and leave first thing in the morning”. People mention Chilas a lot and warn about the dangers of it. A few large massacres have happened on Shia muslims coming south. The buses were stopped, identification checked, and Shias shot dead on the spot. There’s some pretty gruesome stories. All the violence has been contained to local issues and tourists have never been targeted until 2013 when the massacre happened at Nanga Parbat base-camp. Ten mountaineers and their Pakistani guide were killed at their camp by a group dressed in police uniforms. There are many theories as to who was behind the attack, but one thing is for sure, it ruined tourism. It completely scared people away from traveling to the area. Before the September 11th world trade center attack in 2001, international tourism was a large part of northern Pakistan, but afterwards it dried up. Before the Nanga Parpat base-camp attack tourism was making a recovery and more and more people from overseas were coming to trek and enjoy the amazing Karakoram Mountains, but the incident killed it once again. Supposedly a few people from Chilas were arrested in connection with it, but I haven’t really heard anything else about it.
In Chilas I met a group of Pakistani guys touring around the north on motorcycles with two Germans who started in Germany and were heading to SE Asia. I joined them and they gave me a bed in one of their rooms. Late that night Harley showed up. I was glad to have taken my route. Apparently he had to deal with a lot more police checkpoints and they tried to turn him back multiple times. Each time they insisted it was too dangerous for him, but eventually gave in to his pleading and instructed him to drive as fast as he could and stop for no one. One of the Pakistani guys had told the police that a foreigner would be coming to join us and Harley got quite the freak out when he showed up to the gate and was told, “you’re two Pakistani friends are waiting for you”. Not having any Pakistani friends, he was pretty scared someone was after him. The hotel was right on the mighty Indus River. I had rode along it all the way back in Indian Kashmir in the Ladakh Valley.
In the morning we joined our new friends to head out towards Rama Lake and Deosai National Park. Leaving Chilas and heading north, it was a feeling of success. We had made it to the northern area and Islamabad was far behind us. Colorfully decorated trucks are all over.
The drivers take a lot of pride in every inch covered with paintings, wood carvings, bells, and all sorts of decorations. You can feel the police presence, but not trying to stop you from doing anything, just around to protect you. They have some serious artillery built into their little trucks. Besides the usual assault rifles, this one had a big machine gun with a string of hundreds of bullets filling a big ammo can next to it.
The entire highway is being rebuilt by the Chinese and it’s getting close to finished. Any areas where road construction is going on is guarded by the Gilgit-Baltistan Police. From Chilas, you follow along the Indus River and it’s rugged rocky landscape.
The route cuts southeast off of the Karakoram Highway at a small intersection where local villagers sell grapes.
From here a crazy road takes you along bouldery cliffs. Nothing but jagged rock and a river far below. An exciting ride in. Every once in a while a lush green chunk shows up where a small village sits. Coming as no surprise when you see the wild roads and terrible driving, vehicles often go for a ride off the cliffs.
In the village of Astore, a rough road leads up to Rama Lake. The majority of it isn’t too bad, but the final push is pretty rough going up the steep muddy trail.
Theres trout in the lake and the locals come up to try their luck. Riding down from the lake gives views out over the surrounding area. It was pretty slow going getting out because of the guys riding the little Honda 125’s.
We didn’t end up leaving Astore until about an hour from dark. The plan was to camp at Deosai National Park, but there was no way that was happening since I could see on the map it was three hours away. I learned that day that riding with Pakistanis means taking lots of long breaks and lounging around like there’s fifty hours in a day. Then when someone decides it’s time to go, all of a sudden it’s a mad rush and you have to go as fast as possible. We made it half way to the park and ended up finding a little shack on the side of the road with an area to camp, and even were able to cook up a big meal for us.
The next morning, Harley and I rode into the Deosai National Park. Everyone in Pakistan talks about it being the most beautiful place, but we found ourselves in the middle of a rain storm surrounded by thick clouds.
The road deteriorated quickly and turned to a muddy slop on top of sharp jagged rocks. The lake is probably an amazing spot, but in our circumstance there wasn’t much enjoying.
Our plan was to keep going to Skardu and then take the road from there back towards Gilgit. On some gnarly rocks I laid the bike down and ended up talking to some guys in a jeep. They were from Skardu and said that the 60 km there would take us at least three hours and then the road out to Gilgit would take at least double that. The road conditions were apparently terrible and it was way faster to back track to the Karakoram Highway and go up to Gilgit. I should have seen this coming. Every time I told someone we were heading to Gilgit they replied with, “you’re going the wrong way”. I figured it was a bit longer, but not that the roads would be garbage. We turned back and headed out of the park.
As we went, the clouds broke and we slowly lost elevation and gained warmth. The road follows a gorgeous river with tropical blue water. It looks like it’s flowing straight from an Indonesian island.
Just in case I wasn’t sick of getting hit quite enough, I encountered another jackass. There was a traffic jam on the narrow street through a small village and it was a mess. I was parked on the side as guy was backing up to clear the way. All he had to do was keep his wheel straight, but when he came by me he cranked the wheel and dove his front end right into me. My leg got mashed between the bike and car and it knocked my bike into the patio of a small store. Nobody even acknowledged it and I had to beg to get someone to help me lift it up.
Once back to the Karakoram Highway it was smooth sailing. The Chinese have turned it into a breeze. One last peak of Nanga Parbat, four or five police checkpoints to write your info in there logbook, and we were delivered into Gilgit. The gateway to the Hunza Valley. With the sun going down we were forced to find a place in Gilgit for the night. The tough adventure north had finally paid off. We were on the doorstep to one of the most beautiful regions in the world. I proved the embassy wrong who had tried their best to tell me it was impossible. At the beginning of my trip I never imagined I would ride the Karakoram Highway to where the Himalayan, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush ranges met in northern Pakistan.