Pakistani truck.
Day 17: 38 km.  There is a bus from Tashkorgan in China to Sost in Pakistan, over the Khujerab pass at 4693 m. The Chinese don't allow cyclist to cycle past Tashkorgan and they put up a number of check points to assure nobody tries it. It may be possible to arrange a cycling trip with an escort, but that surely wouldn't be cheap. I was told that, on the contrary, many cyclists cycle to the top from the Pakistan side, starting in Sost, and then return.
I woke up early not to be late for the bus to Pakistan. There is confusion about what time to consider: Beijing time or Xinjiang time; they are 2 hours apart. To be on the safe side I chose the earlier one. So, I was two hours early, but everything was unrolling very slowly, it was 3 hours after the timetable departure time that the bus actually started to move. There are two buses a day, at 10:30 and 16:00 (I think) and the cost is 224 Yuan plus 10 EURO for the bike. The bus was tightly packed, everybody occupied at least two seats, one for her/him and one for her/his luggage. Yet I was the only one to pay addition for my bike, which was put - oh, what an irony - on the roof. And as my bike was the last to board the bus, I got the worst seat. Isn't this an unjust world? I can easily envisage a raged cyclist becoming a mass backpacker-murderer.
We got to Sost at 15:00 local time. Or maybe at 16:00. The confusion with the timing continued in Pakistan. They shifted the time for one hour last October and now they refer to 'new' and 'old' time. Not surprisingly, old time is preferred by the folk, even if it's the new time that is official time. I am on vacation, so one hour more or less is of no importance to me.
In the Hunza Valley.
The bike survived the rocky drive perfectly. As soon as I got it from the roof, I continued the journey down the Karakorum Highway. Yes, the famous KKH. I barely managed to make 5 km when a car pulled at my side, filming me as I rode. I happened to be a big attraction for the family in the car, and they showed their appreciation with a blessing and gifts of food and drinks.
Pasu is a small village at the widening of the Hunza river valley. I stopped at a modest looking dwelling with the sign 'Batura Inn'. I had only 180 Rupees, which I got as a change from the Khunjerab National Park fee that I paid with Yuans. That was enough however for one night in the room no.7 and the dinner that I shared with three Czech trekkers. The dinner: soup, rice, potato sauce, pumpkin sauce and tea was, by the way, the best dinner so far, and in retrospect, the best one of the whole trip.

Passu catherdrals.
Day 18: 154 km. This Pasu is a fantastic place. I slept so well, there was no mosquito in sight (or in hearing). In the morning I took off for Gilgit with anticipation that this was going to be the best day so far. It must be so: downhill on good road, following the Hunza river downstream, with fantastic views on surrounding snow caped peaks above and roaring river below.
The first disappointment was the road. It was too bumpy, I could get no satisfaction going downhill. Then there's this downhill assumption - there was so little of it. The road is constantly waving up and down around the valley bottom. I had the impression there were more ups then downs. The wind was blowing upstream, meaning into my face. The heat was hard to bear, temperature was 36 degrees C and more. The family from yesterday came across again and saved my life with a gift of 1.5 liter of water. The Rakaposhi was in the clouds. I thought I would get a better look at it later, from another point, but there were very few points to have a glimpse at it. There is no doubt that scenery is fantastic along this road. It is only a question if the bicycle is the optimal way to appreciate it. I came to Gilgit late in the day, really disappointed, not only with today's part of the road, but started to doubt about the whole KKH. At least I got a room in a nice friendly guesthouse cattering for westerners. I took a shower and dinner and thought that was the best event of today.

Beginning of the Skardu road. 
Day 19: 101 km. Ah well, that day came, after all. The 'overwhelming' day. It didn't look like it from the beginning. I had a late start from Gilgit, I was waiting until 11:00 for the money changer to open his shop. Money business is really curious in Pakistan: the banks don't change money at all, and there are just a few, 1 or 2, money changers in bigger towns. After Gilgit, I don't think there is another money changer before Abottabad.

Dramatic setting.

I cycled the first 30 km down the KKH in headwind that was constantly blowing each day from noon to 5 pm. I tried to be as resigned as possible. After 37 km there is turn-off to the left for Skardu. Until yesterday I was quite certain I wouldn't take this detour, but now I was not so sure. I took half hour break, smoked 4 cigarettes, and turned left.
As soon as I left the Gilgit river valley the wind turned and was now in my back. The road was now leading along the Indus river upstream, and it seemed that my predictions about the wind always blowing upstream were correct. I had a fantastic rest of the day. I wasn't complaining about the road going predominantly uphill. The surface was excellent, even better then on most of the KKH, and the presence of wild roaring river was energizing. I entered into a cycling frenzy. With the bursts of adrenalin I spent half the time out of the saddle, frequently playing games with the trucks, overtaking them uphill and downhill, letting them overtake me only when I took photographs or just stand there amazed with the sight.

Drying apricots.
Day 20: 101 km. Today was a 'soft drinks' day. I must have had 4 and half liters of them. It was a hot day and I found myself racing from one shady tree to another. On one of these occasions when I was sitting under a big plane tree two boys came along and just kept on hanging there looking in my direction and whispering in conspiracy. After a while I got up and continued on the bike. 10 km later I stopped to take a photo, but when I reached for camera, it wasn't there. Oh, no, no!! I must have left it at the rest place! I turned and raced back, making the fastest 10 km of the tour. As I expected, the camera was gone. I rode another couple of km to the village hoping that I might see the boys, in vain. I returned to the big plane tree, sat at the same place, lit a cigarette and started thinking what to do. After ten minutes I heard voices, a little girl came and then one of the boys.
'My camera!', I said severely.
'Yes', said the boy.
'Bring it here!'
'Yes', he said, run away and two minutes later came back with the camera.
Relieved, I pedaled on. I planned to be in Skardu at the end of the day, but this unexpected return made me camp 20 km before the town. It was a nice camp though, amongst big boulders hiding me from the road.

Day 21: 37 km. It was a short ride today, which doesn't mean it was easy. In the morning when I came to Skardu I had a sudden urge to stop and check in at a hotel. It would be the shortest day ever. I however, postponed the break after the demanding climb to Sadpara. It's a village 400 m above Skardu in the direction of Deosai NP. I checked into a hotel with nice view of Sadpara lake.

The climb to Deosai plains.
Day 22: 44 km. The climb to Deosai plains waited for me today. This was the only part of my itinerary of which I had no information and which was a bit "original". A gardener from neighboring hotel advised me to start early, at 5:00, to avoid the heat. I was happy to start at 8:00. The first 6 km to the village of Sadpara are still paved and flattish, and then a long 25 km climb starts. It is a great climb with fine views down the valley towards Skardu, although the road is in places so bad that you have to push. I think it was the only 'true' climb after Kaburabot pass, 1800 km ago. My 25 mm slick back tyre was skidding on a couple of steep sections with loose gravel. It is the tyre with cuts in the thread on two places now. I was patching it with pieces of duct tape every 50 km, for over 1000 km now and it's holding good, even on a surface like this. It is just a proof that anything will work, no matter how unorthodox it seems.
Somewhere in the middle of the climb I noticed I had blood in urine! In the last day or two I felt frequent needs to urinate, but I couldn't produce more then a couple of drops. And now, I was pissing blood! A similar thing happened to me on Australian tour during the ride on gravel Gibb River road. But there was no blood then and the whole thing stopped after a couple of days. I wondered what was wrong. If it were something wrong with the kidneys, it would certainly show in a day or two with some big changes like swollen limbs, fever or something. It's more likely infected bladder or maybe prostate, caused by the pressure of a saddle. In any case it was serious and meant another hard blow in this tour, which just can't pass into the positive stage.
The top of the pass is around 4000 m. There is an office to collect 4$ for the Deosai NP. 'Where are the bears?', I asked and got the answer that they are on the other side of the mountain, individually controlled and kept away from the tourist path. A group of Pakistani tourists invited me for a lunch, fried rice and onion salad, and after that they took photograps of me with each of them in a row. I felt like a movie star.
I moved on through wavy Deosai plains on the road with less stones but still unridable in a couple of places. After a while I descended to the river with suspension bridge, the ranger station and tourist camp. I got a big applause as I was coming down to the camp, I was already accustomed to my reputation of a champion. I stopped for a lunch here, even considered to spend the night in a tent, but when I heard the price (1000 Rupees), I just moved on and few kilometers further put up my small tent for free.

Deosai plains.
Day 23: 34 km. The tourists in jeeps warned me yesterday that there is a big ford ahead with the water deep 1 to 1.5 m. It seems that riding in a jeep has a side effect of completely loosing one's ability of objective assessment. When I came to the river in question the water barely reached to the ankles.
After the ford I got caught in the rain storm. In a few minutes I was wet and cold. The danger of hypothermia seemed quite real, so, when I saw road workers' tent below the road I retreated into it without invitation. The workers didn't make a question of it, they made me tea and put a blanket over my shoulders. When the rain stopped they continued with their work (they were digging a ditch for telephone cable) and I continued with my ride. It wasn't long till I came to Sheosar Lake, which marks the end of Deosai plains. Soon after that the gravel ends, the road is now narrow and paved and it starts to drop down to the village of Chilim. Just before Chilim another storm caught me and I again retreated under a roof of one house under construction. I waited 2 hours there before proceeding to Chilim where I took a basic room in 'Deosai Tourerest Cotage'. It was an early end of the day and it was now third day of miserable mileage, but I couldn't help it, I don't like riding in rain.

Curiosity from both sides.
Day 24: 119 km. For a start there is an amazing 40 km downhill on excellent road following green Astore river. The highlight of the trip. Just after military barracks, in less then 200 meters, the river miraculously turns to gray. Before Astore town there is an unexpected 200 m climb with fine view from the top. And then it's 45 km to the junction with KKH, along a dramatic river valley.
The Astore road meets the KKH at the lookout on Nanga Parbat. It's also a region renown for high summer temperatures: my thermometer shows 41 degrees C. I ride down the KKH in the direction of Chilas and the first 20 km are fast, with good wind. After crossing to the other side of the river the road turns into patches of asphalt interspaced with unpaved parts damaged by landslides. It's slow progress now and I start to loose hope of reaching Chilas today.
Alpine feel along the Astore river.
I am running short on water and when I see a spring I empty my water bottle and start to pour in the spring water. I can't believe it! It's a hot spring! I wasted a whole bottle for water which must have 50 degrees! With less than one liter of water I carry on, now against the headwind. And finally, I get a puncture on rear tyre. 500 m away from the road I find reasonably good place to camp. The wind is now quite strong, but it doesn't bring refreshment - it is hot wind as if blowing from the oven. I am thirsty and wonder what should I do: drink the whole bottle of water now and quench the thirst or drink in small gulps so that the water lasts to the morning. I opt for the first option, I guess it says something about my personality. I spread the tent on the ground and lay on it. I will sleep just like that, it would be unbearably hot if I slept inside.

Back to the KKH and Indus.
Day 25: 63 km. That was some night! During the night I put up the tent and brought it down again. It's a miracle that I didn't loose anything in the dark.
In the morning I found a thorn (goat head) in the tyre. So the reason was not in the cut thread. I therefore decided non to change the tyre with the spare one. The valve of the tube was broken and I couldn't inflate it, so I threw it away. 100 grams less to carry. 10 km after the start I got another puncture, this time on front. There was also a thorn, most likely picked up at the same time as the one from yesterday. I wanted to put in the new tube, but found 5 holes in it! I carried spare tubes taped to bicycle's head tube and one of them was punctured while fretting against the handlebar bag. What an idiotic mistake! I am now left without spare tubes. Still, 200 grams less to carry.
I came to Chilas around noon, so it seemed there was time to reach Dasu today. My enthusiasm however was deflated by strong headwind and 10 km later I turned back. I checked into a hotel in Chilas and kept myself busy with washing the clothes.

Monotony in the world's best cycling destination.
Day 26: 122 km. It was a hard day today. The weather was ideal though - a bit of drizzle in the morning, then overcast day without wind. But somehow I was slow as a snail. It seems that my motivation tube for this tour had a slow leak right from the beginning and was now almost completely flat.
I searched for the cheap hotel in Dasu and got a hole of a room for 150 Rupees. I rode through Kohistan today. The kids were more aggressive than usual and they even threw a few stones after me, but obviously not aiming to hit me.

Picking wood from the river.
Day 27: rest day. My god, what a night! The fan didn't work. The mosquitoes ate me alive. That's the price of a cheap room. In the morning I spent an hour in a toilet, vomiting yesterday's dinner and having attacks of diarrhea. I felt too weak to walk or cycle. Leaning against the bike I walked over to another hotel, checked in, fell on the bed and spent the most of the day in it.

Day 28: 74 km. I lost weight terribly. I look like a skeleton. The problem is that you can't get proper food in Pakistan. Even the sight of their hole-in-the-wall restaurants makes my stomach turn.
Teacher and farmer.
In the morning the hotel owner takes me for a breakfast. Tea and miserable paratha made yesterday in a restaurant into which you enter through the corridor stinking of human feces. I lost too much weight and must eat, so I force myself to it.
The ride starts promising. The road climbs high above Indus and stays there almost all the way to Besham. Half way I stop in a hotel in Pattani and have a big plate of rice and 3 drinks. It weighs me down considerably. The rest of the day I spent grinding, panting and resting in the shade.

Day 29: 126 km. It was an interesting day. I started in high pace for 40 km of flat or downhill road, until the bridge across Indus. The road then followed smaller river upstream. I thought I missed the turn, but the road signs indicated it was the road #35 - the KKH. It all smelt of another climb. And so it was. The road chose the highest hill to cross: the top of this climb was at 1700 m, which is, by the way, 200 m higher then Gilgit. It was a nice climb though, this district had a mundane feel about it ("Pakistani Switzerland", I named it), and since the road was recently paved it was the first downhill that I enjoyed for a long time. The last 20 km before Manshera the traffic becomes very busy. I guess the peace that I was used to on KKH is over.

Highway no. 5.
Day 30: 124 km. At the end of the day I was completely exhausted. Starvation, diarrhea, heat, traffic and unexpectedly bad road on the highway #5, it all took its toll. I should take a day just for eating. But it is not possible in Pakistan. I have to get out of this country, and quick. I lost all the appetite. I can't swallow even a biscuit. I have to mix it with water to take it down.
In the middle of the day I took refuge in the grove at the edge of the rice field. A couple of Pakistanis stopped their political debate, turned over to me and asked:
"What is the reason for your trip to Pakistan?"
"A mistake", I replied.

Lucky them.
Day 31: 151 km. I waited until 9:00 when bursts of diarrhea finished. While waiting, I replaced the back tyre with a 20 mm spare one. The old one could probably make it through the tour despite the now increasing number of cuts in the thread, but if it tore the tube would explode and that would be bad, bad as I have no spare tubes left. On the other hand, the miraculous circle of weight reduction appeared again: now that I threw away two tubes, I am about to leave behind another 400g of the tyre.
Right from the start I took off in wrong direction and ended on a motorway #2, which is closed for cyclists. Police stopped me and turned me back. At noon I came back to the starting point in Islamabad - called "Zero point" by irony - making pointless 41 km. I don't remember much of the rest of the day. If I must describe it, I'd say: heat, dirt and exhaust fumes.

Day 32: 108 km. I rolled into Gujranwalla today. It's practically all I have to say about this day. I am loosing will to express myself (like Molloy).

Day 33: 77 km. I was at the edge yesterday. I wanted to call a doctor. Today was better, although cycling was far from enjoyable. Today I discovered a heavenly refuge: CNG filling stations. They are extremely clean (because trucks don't drive on gas), have air-conditioned stores where the prices are the same as in street stalls, and extremely friendly staff, who will turn on the fan for you, invite you into cooled office, offer you juice and even give you medical advice. I came into Lahore today. I was too tired to take my bike upstairs to my room - a hotel boy had to help me with it.


Annika said...

Wow - I am sooo imressed! Thinking about taking a similar route. I am in Georgia in the moment and I think though we don't go that super fast we won't make it to the Mountains before it snows. But maybe next spring..? When do you think there is "season" (no water destroyed the street, no snow and ice all around) for the Southwestchinese and Pakistani Mountains?

iik said...

Hi Annika,

The official closure date for Pak-China border (Khunjerab pass) is 31st December and opening date is 1st of May every year.
This is the highest point on the road (around 4700m), so if it is open, the rest of the road should be no problem.

Good luck, Igor