Baluchistan & NWFP

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"...The road is getting worse the further we get from the border. The driver looks like the hunchback in The Name of the Rose. There is something wrong with his eyes. He leans forward to see better. I'm sure he can't see further than a few meters ahead of the car. It gets dark short after the first prayer stop. We make two longer stops during the night. This used to be a dangerous road. A few western travelers have been kidnapped and/or robbed here not many years back. It's supposed to be better now, but a couple on bicycles got shot at on the Iranian side of the border last year. It's very dusty and the temperature stays around 35-40 C until we start to climb to higher altitude in the morning. We reach Quetta a couple of hours after the breakfast stop at six..." (from May 30 below)

"...A minute later I see a boy with a sling shot a rock at Jörgen. He gets hit and jump off to chase the kid. I take up the chase on my bike. The boy keeps running on the road so I catch up with him very soon. I grab him and make sure he gets the message. He's scared. I tell two men to take care of the matter. They must have seen the whole thing. They slap the kid, but I want them to break the sling shot. They do. Then they invite us to their home for tea!..." (from May 20 below)

Pakistan has got the most spectacular mountain scenery. It also boasts deserts with camels and forts, the fertile Indus valley, hospitable peoples and tribal feuds. A paradise for adventurous travelers.

 

May 20-28 - A Hot and Dusty Desert

(Quetta, Pakistan 8148 km)
As soon as we get past the Iranian immigration we start getting hassled by bus ticket salesmen and black market money changers. We try not to listen to them. There is no rush. We still have to wait for the Pakistani side of the border to open. There are maybe fifteen people ahead of us. When the border opens, we get pushed ahead of the long line of waiting people. The boss in the office is friendly and helpful, but we have to fill in form C. We have to hold on to this piece of paper and register in any major town we visit (at least that's what the rule book says).

We change money and buy a ticket for a small mini bus to Quetta. It's a rough 650 km road through the desert. It's supposed to take twelve hours. I talk to a funny man from Kabul. While we wait for the bus to leave. The driver wants to fill the bus up before we go. We agree to pay extra if they leave now.

The road is getting worse the further we get from the border. The driver looks like the hunchback in The Name of the Rose. There is something wrong with his eyes. He leans forward to see better. I'm sure he can't see further than a few meters ahead of the car. It gets dark short after the first prayer stop. We make two longer stops during the night. This used to be a dangerous road. A few western travelers have been kidnapped and/or robbed here not many years back. It's supposed to be better now, but a couple on bicycles got shot at on the Iranian side of the border last year. It's very dusty and the temperature stays around 35-40 C until we start to climb to higher altitude in the morning. We reach Quetta a couple of hours after the breakfast stop at six.

This is a very colorful regional center. The streets are filled with Afghanis, Pathans, Pashtuns, Baluchis, Punjabis, and a few Iranians. We meet a lot of interesting people during the week we stay. We also experience the different bacteria, and a nasty parasite. I get giardia as soon as I get to Quetta.

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May 29 - Police Hospitality

(Kach 8221 km)
We start the day by cycling north-east toward Afghanistan and the Kojak pass. We're supposed to turn north but miss the crossroads. We hitch back after a lunch break. We see a lot of nomad tents, camels, and people with colorful dresses. In the late afternoon we reach the turn off for Kach and the hill resort of Ziarat. There is a police check post here. The armed men are friendly and speak some English. The tell us it's a long way to go up to Kach proper. They invite us to stay with them. The sun is going down so we think it would be a good idea. The police feed us and let us sleep in their quarters.

 

May 30 - Sling shot

(Ziarat 8293 km)
It's a long climb to the Ziarat Valley. The first stop is Kach, then we stop again when I get a flat tire. A man and his son invites us for tea when they see us. We keep going after half an hour. It's a steep climb on dirt road to a low pass. The road is under construction here. After the pass we ride into a green valley and stop for lunch in the first larger village. It's nice and cool up here. We're above 2000 meters now.

A group of kids throw a few rocks at us from a cricket ground as we pass. We stop to talk to them, but give up.

A minute later I see a boy with a sling shot a rock at Jörgen. He gets hit and jump off to chase the kid. I take up the chase on my bike. The boy keeps running on the road so I catch up with him very soon. I grab him and make sure he gets the message. He's scared. I tell two men to take care of the matter. They must have seen the whole thing. They slap the kid, but I want them to break the sling shot. They do. Then they invite us to their home for tea! I tell them I'm not in the mood and keep going.

Ziarat is right near the end of the valley. We check in to the first hotel along the main road. I get back the giardia parasite during the night.

 

May 31 - Giardia Again

(Ziarat)
We stay in Ziarat. There are some mountain trails around, but I'm too tired. We talk to the cartographers camp instead.

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June 1 - Racing with Trucks

(Loralai 8391 km)
We cycle through a thousand year old cedar forest up to a low pass at the end of the Ziarat Valley. It's gravel on the other side, but still green and pretty. A few kids throw some rocks, but the adults are very friendly as usual.

In the afternoon we have to climb up to a small pass. There are quite a few trucks ahead of us on the way up. We're overtaking them one by one. They don't go more than six or seven kilometers an hour uphill! We do ten. I wave and do a victory sign where I rest on top of the pass. The drivers are all smiles. We overtake them again on the way down. They go on low gear at 10-20 km/h. The road is full of pot holes the size of bath tubs.

Loralai is rough and exotic. I don't see many things that suggests that this is 1999. It's like time travel. The Star Wars scene from Tatoine comes to my mind.

 

June 2 - Rough Ride

(Night bus to Rawalpindi)
We have a long and painful journey up to Rawalpindi. It takes around twenty four hours and is very bumpy most of the way. We change buses in Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan. It's very hot but i regret not cycling this stretch. Especially coming down from the Baluchistan Plateau must be great on a bike.

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June 3-8 - Hot

(Rawalpindi 8396 km)
I enjoy staying in Rawalpindi for a while. There is a lot of stuff to do and see. We stay in a guest house famous with travelers (Rawalpindi Popular Inn). The temperature slows me down a lot. It's close to 45 C (110 F). I also get that nasty giardia parasite again.

 

June 9-12 - Hotter

(Peshawar 8400 km)
I catch the minibus to Peshawar. I want to cycle from there to Chitral. It's a long winding road over two passes. The second involves a 2000 meter climb in one day. In the Internet cafe in Peshawar I get new ideas. A guy from Sweden with whom I only have spoken to on the phone (and e-mailed) is coming to Pakistan to start cycling toward Tibet. Janne and a friend is going to cross western Tibet. It would be a wilderness adventure. I think about my options. Should I go back to Pindi to meet Jan or should I forget about Tibet for now.

The temperature is 49 C (120 F).

 

June 13-21 - Tibet or Not Tibet

(Rawalpindi 8405 km)
I go back to Rawalpindi. I meet Jan in Islamabad. We also meet Dirk, a cyclist who is going to cycle in Pakistan, near the Afghan border (where I was planning to go). This makes it hard to decide. Should I go to Tibet or Chitral?

 

June 22-24 - The Smugglers Bazaar

(Peshawar 8410 km)
I go back to Peshawar (Tibet will still be there next year). One of the popular things to see here is the smugglers bazaar. We go with a local guide. There are two totally different areas in this market area. One is beyond the control of the government, in the tribal areas just outside the city limits on the way to Afghanistan. You may not be entirely safe here (therefore we bring a guide), and you can buy pirate copies of Kalashnikows and almost any other gun. The other bulk merchandise here is hashish. The stuff is even produced (from Afghan cannabis pollen) right on the street by old men.

The other part is more politically correct Electronics, garments, perfume, toiletries, you name it. It's dirt cheap and comes tax free through Afghanistan.

We also make a visit to a family in the vast and semi permanent refugee camp near the bazaar.

 

June 25 - Malakand Pass

(Dir 8416 km)
I catch a minibus over the low malakand pass to Dir. The heat is still too much for me to cycle in. I can't wait to get to higher altitude. I find a good little pension right on the main road. Dir is men only. I don't see any women, but I meet one westerner when I go to eat in a fancier hotel up the road. I go to bed early.

 

June 26 - The 50 Switchbacks

(Drosh 8487 km)
I get up around eight, and start cycling at nine after a good breakfast. The road is steep right from the beginning. There are switchbacks on the way up, but the Lowari Pass is more known for it's fifty switchbacks on the other side, and for the steep climb from 1200 m (4000 ft) to 3118 m (10390 ft).

The road surface gets rougher as I climb higher. The last patches of asphalt are just a few kilometers out of Dir. There are some small villages along the way. Kid sometimes run along a shout hello. I take a break every half an hour to drink water. It's still hot at this altitude. In the last village i get attacked by kids. These are not shouting hello. They are throwing rocks. It's very difficult to cycle up this steep dirt road without trying to dodge stones flying down the mountain. There is nothing you can do but continue up to the village. The kids disappear as soon as I get off the bike. I run after them to find a few surprised women in a courtyard. I try to explain the situation with my arms. I'm very upset. The women look worried and sneak away into the mud and wood houses. Two men come out to me instead. They understand my sign language and start throwing stones at the kids! Is this how they teach their kids?!

The men invites me for tea. I thank them but keep cycling up to a small road side restaurant. It's like a little wooden shed where someone is cooking and dahl and serving tea. It's the last house before the pass. I can see the last few switchbacks, a snow field and the police check post right on the pass. An hour later I'm there. I feel the altitude. It's been a long hard climb. I relax there on the top with the two police officers on duty. They offer me cigarettes and smile, but they don't say much.

It's very steep on the other side. As I look over the edge I see about thirty switchbacks right there. The road is rougher than on the way up. I can go no more than 15 km/h, sometimes less. My hands get tired from pulling the brakes. I and my bike bump and skid slowly down the mountain side. The road (or jeep track) drops 500 meters in just 2,5 kilometers. There is a second check post after the steepest part.

The road is blocked after the checkpoint. There has been a landslide. Some of the vehicles that passed me before are now lined up, waiting for a bulldozer to clear the road from boulders and gravel. It takes another twenty minutes.

After another twenty switchbacks I get down in the Chitral valley. The road is paved most of the time down here. I stop for a short break at the Chitral Scout's Headquarters and continue on to Drosh by sunset. This is where I have to register and get a permit for the Kalash valleys. It has to wait till tomorrow.

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June 27 - Kalash

(Guru 8511 km)
I ask around for the police station in the morning. It's easy to find, but the policeman I talk to make me disappointed. He says I have to go to Chitral town to get my permit. I thank the man and keep going. Maybe I'll be able to get in without a permit.

It's thirty kilometers to the turn off for the Kalash valleys. Chitral town is straight ahead. I cross the roaring Chitral river on a narrow bridge, and follow the dirt road north for two kilometers. In the first small village I have to turn west onto a rough jeep track. It gets steep right away. I have to get off and push the bike in the steepest parts. I'm in Birir valley, but I don't see any people and houses yet. The road is getting rougher and steeper, and the nature is getting more spectacular. There are water channels on the steep sides of the valley. I see snow clad mountains to the east across the Chitral valley. I get to Guru, the only village in Birir, by 2 p.m. I find the Kalash guest before I get to the police check point.

I'm very surprised to see David from France come out of one of the rooms in the guest house. I met this guy in Iran. He's also a cyclist, but has left the bike in Rawalpindi. He and Toby, a guy from Germany, are the only westerners in the valley. They will trek to Bomburet valley the next day.

I make up a permit number with David's help and he takes me down to the police. He doesn't think it will be a problem. There are two men in the little courtyard at the police station. They're smoking hash when we come in. The one with the uniform welcomes me to Guru and shows me where to write down my name and permit number in a ledger. A third man, the chief of police in Kalash, comes in without knocking. The joint is hidden. The boss smells the hash and says something in Urdu to the others. He must have said something like "-so you're smoking? Can I have some?". The local policeman looks embarrassed, smiles, and hands over the joint. It goes without saying that David and I also get offered illegal drugs, al well as sweet milk tea.

We thank the men and goes back to the guest house for a Kalash dinner. I decide to leave the bike here and go trekking with David and Toby the next morning. According to the guidebook it's a steep trail to a 3000 m pass, and down to Krakal in Bomburet valley. They recommend a guide. Bomburet is the most populated and most visited of the three Kalash valleys.

 

June 28 - The Climb

(Krakal)
The mother in "our" kalash family is making walnut bread for breakfast. It's lovely. We bring some on the trek. We go without a guide. Toby and David might go further than Bomburet and carries sleeping bags, stove and tent. I bring a sleeping bag and clothes for a few days.

The guidebook was right. It's very steep. The trail is difficult to follow. Most of the time we're climbing over large boulders and loose rocks. After about one hours hard work we see nothing like a trail or even a footprint. We must have missed a turn off somewhere. We decide to continue up toward the pass. It gets steeper again and we have to use arms and legs on the rock face. We run out of water and snacks after a few more hours. I keep going wrong and end up back-tracking when I reach a sheer drop or a rock face with no grips. David helps me out at one point when I get stuck. We're all very exhausted when we reach the pass in the afternoon. We've already been away nine hours. The normal trail should take 4 or 5. I'm too tired to really enjoy the scenery. Tirich Mir (7690 m/ 25230 ft) is dominating the view to the north.

We start walking down the Bomburet trail after a rest. I find a little spring half the way down and start drinking without thinking about the contamination risk. I'm too thirsty. Toby cooks some soup further down in the valley. We reach the Lahore Motel and Camping around sunset. The five hour hike became a twelve hour climb.

 

June 29 - Kalash Wine and Dance Festival

(Brun)
We move to a Kalash run guest house further down the valley. We hope to experience the famous Kalash dance festival held in the summer. I relax in the shade from a mulberry tree most of the day.

We buy some wine that tastes more like liqueur and watch the dancing in the evening. It's an amazing experience. The drum beats and singing is similar to nothing I've heard before.

 

June 30 - Lahore Motel and Camping

(Krakal)
We go back to Krakal, and Lahore Motel and Camping. The place is just a couple of bungalows and a beautiful garden with mulberry trees right by the cold and clear mountain river. There is an open veranda where meals are served, and plenty of places to sit and chat in the garden. I eat mulberries and talk to the two other guests most of the day. A German cyclist comes by in the afternoon. He's cycling the same way as I. We decide to meet in Chitral town in a few days.

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July 1 - The Walk

(Guru)
Dave and Toby starts their trek north toward the third and last Kalash valley. I start walking back to Guru and my bike. I take the road this time. It turns out to be a boring alternative. It's a good twenty kilometer walk. I get to the Kalash guest house in Guru by sunset.

 

July 2 - After the Fire

(Chitral 8551 km)
A French photographer has arrived in Guru. He's just checking the place out for some work later in the year. I leave for Chitral in the early afternoon. It's easy to get down to the river. The rest of the way it's paved but hilly. I meet Hans from Germany in Chitral as planned.

 

July 3 - Preparations

(Chitral)
I clean the bike and prepare for a long ride away from civilization. It will take around eight to nine days to get to Gilgit from here, via the Shandur Pass. There are villages along the way, and sometimes even accommodation, but not much to buy. The road is supposed to be ok for only one day of cycling.

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July 4 - The Last Asphalt

(Buni 8632 km, 2200 m)
I and Hans cycle to Buni. The road is good, and paved most of the way. We stop for lunch in a nice little road side restaurant along the way. We see two of the 7000 meter mountains along the Afghan border. We stop at the basic Buni Zum Hotel in Buni. I go for a walk in the afternoon. On the way through the fields I meet a couple from Belgium. The teach here in the school. We decide to go trekking tomorrow.

 

July 5 - Trekking

(Buni)
We eat breakfast in a little teahouse next to the hotel (it's not more than a shed). Jurgen and Wendy come and meet us as planned. We start walking up a lower mountain they've been to before. The weather i perfect. We fill our bottles in a spring half way up the mountain. An hour and a half later we're at the top (maybe 3100 m). To the East we se Buni Zum (6252 m/20840 ft) and it's western ridges and glaciers. A new water channel for irrigation is being built just a couple of kilometers east. To the west we see Tirich Mir (7690 m/25230 ft), Istoro-nal (7388 m/24240 ft), Noshaq (7485 m/24950 ft), and Sharagrar (7349 m/24500 m). Coming down to Buni is easy. We get invited to eat dinner with Jurgen and Wendy in the evening.

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July 6 - Rough Road and Mulberries

(Mastuj 8668 km, 2400 m)
We take the smaller of the two roads to Mastuj. The one on the eastern side of the Mastuj (Chitral) river. It's a rough dirt track where good jeeps may be able to get through. Most people are walking up here. It's a lot of ups and downs, but the road goes through lovely villages with loads of mulberry trees where we an stop and eat along the way. I get a high fever in the evening.

July 7-8 - Fever

(Mastuj)
I stay in bed for two days. I don't have much appetite or any energy to move around.

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July 9 - No Power

(Brok 6894 km)
I feel better but not perfect. I decide to try cycling to Brok after breakfast. I have to rest every five hundred meters. It's very steep and rocky the first part. A few times I almost faint, and have to sit down by the road. We meet two cyclist with only small backpacks. They are just cycling from Gilgit to Chitral.

We check in at Shandur Hotel & Restaurant ( see photo ) in the afternoon.

July 10 - The Great Challenge

(Shandur Pass 8715 km, 3720 m)
I still feel weak. It's hard to cycle. The first part isn't too steep, but the jeep track is sometimes covered with loose rocks. That's ok for jeeps, but with a bike it's very difficult. I doubt that I will reach the pass today. I have to stop to rest every five minutes. I'm starting to feel the altitude. The speed is down to three to four kilometers per hour. Hans is probably already at the pass by now.

At two p.m. i reach the pass. It's a long stretched out area at 3720 m altitude. The highest point marks the border between Chitral, and Gilgit districts. The place is green with fresh grass. There is a lake in the middle. There is a shepherds camp for on the slopes to the north. There are mountains all around the pass. Some of them are snow clad but not extremely high. It's all very pretty. I made it.

I catch up with Hans and we find a place to camp near the lake. I go for a swim in the lake just before the sun disappears in clouds. It gets cold straight away. I have to use my down jacket in the evening.

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July 11 - Recovery

(Shandur Pass)
We stay on the pass one day. It's cold and windy. A light drizzle comes and goes during the day.

July 12 - A Rough Decent

(Phander 8758 km)
I feel sad about leaving such a beautiful place. We cycle the rough road down to Phander. The scenery is beautiful all the way. After half of the way we come to the first farming villages. We reach Phander in the evening. We've com down a lot, but the road isn't all down hill at all. It climbs up to ridges comes right back to the river and climbs again. It's rare to go faster than fifteen kilometers per hour even where it's downhill. The road is to rough and rocky. The rims on Hans bike is starting to break. He tries to fix it with pieces of aluminum plates.

July 13 - One Pen!

(Dahimal 8800 km)
We get down to apricot country. Kids come out to the road to offer us some fruits, sell a bag full, beg for "one pen", or just to say hello. We camp by the river near the village Dahimal.

July 14 - Police

(Gakuch 8861 km)
We get interrupted twice today. First we have to stop for an hour while road workers are clearing a landslide. In Gupis we have to visit the police station for registration. The policemen are friendly and tell us to sit down and finish a large bowl of apricots.

The road is still very rough and hilly. Hans' wheels are almost falling apart by now. He has to stop a few times to straighten them up with a pair of pliers and a rock.

We stop in Gakuch. There is asphalt here. I hope it will last the remaining 70 kilometers to Gilgit.

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July 15 - I Love Asphalt

(Gilgit 8934 km)
The asphalt disappears after one kilometer. It's back to the same old bumpy, dusty, and rocky dirt road. I'm really fed up with it when we reach Gilgit in the afternoon. The last six kilometers into town is paved. We're back in the civilization.

July 15-19 A Well Needed Rest

(Gilgit)
I enjoy being back in Gilgit after five years. It's nice have good restaurants around the corner, ice cream parlors down the road, and a good guest house courtyard, to chill out in with other travelers. There are a few cyclists here. The Karakorum Highway to China is a popular route. I have symptoms of giardia again. The parasite makes me loose weight fast. I can't cycle much more if I don't get better.

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July 20-24 - Trekking

(Karimabad)
Hunza. an old kingdom now part of Gilgit District, Northern Areas. I go to Karimabad by minibus. The mountain scenery here is amazing. Across the deep river valley you can see at least three mountains over 7000 meters. Rakaposhi (7892 m/26306 ft) is the highest and most spectacular with it's steep ridges and hanging glaciers. Diran (7230 m/24100 ft) is right across the river. Disteghil Sar (7884 m/26280 ft) is visible further east toward Tibet.

I go for a few day walks in the valley and up to Ultar Meadows (3250 m/10830 ft).

[click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

July 25-26 - Loss of Appetite

(Gilgit)
I feel ok until the last day in Karimabad. There is something wrong with me but I don't know what. When I return to Gilgit I lose my appetite more and more every day.

July 27 - Nanga Parbat

(Talechi 9000 km)
I cycle to Talechi with Hans. This is one of the best places to see Nanga Parbat (8125 m/26660 ft), the ninth highest mountain in the world. Nanga Parbat is also the westernmost mountain in the Himalayas. Three of the greatest mountain ranges meet right here. The Himalayas, The Karakorums, and The Hindu Kush.

July 28 - Sauna Cycling

(Chilas 9071 km)
We get up around five thirty. We cycle down to the first bridge across the Indus. We eat breakfast, or rather, Hans eats breakfast. I have no appetite. I get down a few cookies and some milk tea. It's already hot at seven in the morning. It gets hotter by the minute. The plan is to get to Chilas and then start a steep climb up to Babusar pass (4200 m) the next day. If I can't eat, there is no way I get to the pass. Just cycling here in the hot Indus river valley is starting to feel like torture, rather than fun. I hardly eat any lunch. In the afternoon the temperature is around 45 C/110 F. The hot asphalt and the burning sun makes it worse. I need gloves not to burn my hands on the handle bars. Every five to ten kilometers I stop to rest and drink some water. I make it to Chilas an hour after Hans. I go straight to bed.

July 29 - The Decision

(Besham)
I have to make the decision today. I still don't have any energy or appetite. I will have to go by bus down to Rawalpindi and get medication and good food. Hans leaves for Babusar pass without me. I end up riding in a minibus to Besham.

July 30 - August 14 - Getting Better

(Rawalpindi 9077 km)
I try to eat as much as possible. The appetite slowly returns. After two lazy weeks in Rawalpindi I'm ready to travel but not by bike. I need to get stronger, and the heat is still too much. I go to Lahore by bus.

August 15-17 - Mc Donald's

(Lahore 9085 km)
I'm so happy to have appetite again. In Lahore I can have all the western luxuries I want. I've been dreaming about a few things. I start with a proper Cappuccino at the four star Pearl Continental Hotel. From there we walk toward one of the three McDonald's restaurants. I enjoy the air-com, the music, and the tv more than the food. A swiss guy come up to us in there. He works in Lahore and hasn't seen any westerners for a long time. We decide to go for dinner together. He takes us to Pizza Land (a good copy of pizza hut).

August 18 - Easy Cycling to India

(Wagah border crossing 9113 km)
I sleep till late but get going around noon. It's flat and not so much traffic. I cycle along a canal a long time. After 30 kilometers I reach the border. A man sells guidebooks on the Pakistani side. I spend my last rupees and go through the gate.

The pakistani customs officer nicks my pen. I think they try stealing something else but nothing is missing. I get my stamp and continue to India..

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