KKH & Taklamakan

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"...A man keeps following me on his bike. He want's to take me to his house if I understand him right. He's pushy and I don't trust him at all. I hear him say the word for money in Uighur - 'pul' - and get more suspicious. He gets aggressive when we reach the next village. He tries to make me turn off on a small dirt track. When I keep going he starts to chase me. I go faster to get rid of him. When I slow down again in the desert, he's gone. Two minutes later I hear him coming down the road again at high speed. He's shouting.." (from September 17 below)

Northern Pakistan has got some spectacular mountain scenery, so has Western China (Xinjiang Province). People and cultures are very diverse. There are also deserts with camels, plateaus with yaks, and cities with yuppies on the long route to Tibet, Laos and Thailand.

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August 3-4 2000 - Ganja Taxi

(Rawalpindi km)
We got to Karachi just after midnight (on time). The flight was ok. reasonable food, good beer, and sweet stewardesses (which was a surprise). Only one taxi driver comes up to us outside the airport (we have the bikes with us). He suggests that we ride around with him in his car and smokes some hash. it's 2,30 a.m.! We stay at the airport instead.

At seven in the morning we catch a flight to Islamabad. The alternative is a 28 hour train journey. We cycle the eight kilometers to Rawalpindi Popular Inn later in the morning. I get some sleep for the first time since Sweden.

August 5-7 - Shopping for Prescription Sunglasses

Yes I find what I'm looking for. An extra pair of glasses. I buy two pairs since the price is so good. Hot and humid again. We're almost ready to start cycling. We relax one more day at Rawalpindi Popular Inn.

August 8 - On the Road Again

We start cycling early in the morning, before the heat builds up. In Islamabad we get lost for half an hour, and then start the long climb up to the hill station of Murree (2100 m). It's hot until we get above 1500 meters. We stop for a swim i a small river along the way.

Murree is full of Punjabi tourists. We manage to get a dungeon of a room for two US dollars. We eat in a pakistani fast food place at night.

August 9 - Rain in the Galis

The weather is bad. A rain shower hits us on the way out of Murree. We hide at a fruit sellers stall along the dirt road toward Aybia. After an hour of cycling the road get better. A lot better. It's a brand new asphalt road of excellent quality. There are a lot of ups and down. the highest gali (pass or ridge) is Changla Gali at 2763 m. The weather clears up as we start the long decent down to Abbottabad at 1000 m. We check in at a no name restaurant/hotel without bathroom. We have a shower a "hamam", a shower in a barer shop, and do some slow internet in the internet cafe along the Karakoram Highway (KKH).

August 10 - KKH for Half a Day

Easy cycling to Manshera and on to Balakot on a smaller road in the afternoon. It's a bit hilly and includes a 1500 m pass. My front rack (lowrider) breaks just before Balakot. I fix it temporarily in a blacksmiths workshop. After a meal in a roadside restaurant, something strange happens. Big bulldozers pull into town and starts tearing down the fronts of all buildings on both sides of the street. They leave the backs of the buildings intact. That's where our room is. It's strange to see this chaos, and all the people in the street watching it. Some are laughing. Some look scared. None of them seems upset or sad.

August 11 - Bike and Stomach Problems

The road starts to climb up along the rough Khundar River. We eat lunch in Kawai and continue on to Khagan in the afternoon. The road is getting rougher by the kilometer. My other lowrider cracks here. I get it fixed as the other one. We splash out at the fanciest hotel in the village. I get sick at night. Maybe due to bad hygiene in the Kawai restaurant.

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August 12 - Punjabi Tourists

The road deteriorates even more after Khagan. Sometimes the road is covered with a feet deep layer of mud or water. We get to Naran, the most popular tourist place in the valley. A lot of Punjabi tourists (95% men) walk up and down the main road. Many want to talk to us. Mostly to show their friends how good their english is or how cool they are. I feel ill and have a fever. I go to bed early after half a dinner.

August 13 - Falling Ice

The road is now just a jeep track, but less muddy. We meet a cyclist from Ireland just after Naran. He calls himself Bicycle Baba. He joins us on the way up the more and more beautiful valley. It's still some pine trees up here, but we're close to the tree line. We camp near Battakundi on a steep ridge overlooking the valley on both sides. We hear the ice fall off a nearby glacier at night.

August 14 - Rocks the Size of Oranges

The nature is more barren from here on. The road is rougher and steeper. It turns into a rocky 'goat track' after a short tea break in the afternoon. We camp at Besal, just outside the seasonal tent restaurant. There is a mix of people here. Kohistanis come across the Babusar Pass in the short summer. There are also some Afghani refugees.

The Kohistanis are playing a game with rocks the size of oranges. They through them at small piles of rocks about 15 meters away. It all makes sense. Kohistani kids are infamous for throwing rocks at foreigners. Kohistanis in general are known for being a lot less inviting to outsiders than other Pakistanis.

I feel the altitude at night. I'm breading faster and it's a bit difficult to sleep. We're now at 3400 meters.

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August 15 - Threats or Warnings?

(Babusar Pass 4200 m.)
We swim in the beautiful Lulusar lake after just half an hour of cycling. The views are breathtaking. It's a bit like the mountains in northern Scandinavia. We're now in for a long hard climb to the Babusar pass (4200 m). The last village is a dangerous place according to the guidebooks. They don't recommend camping in this area, and they warn about even approaching the village without a reputable guide. We stick together and have no problems except some pen begging kids. The Babusar is reached after another two to three hours tough cycling on the lowest gears (we're sometimes even forced to push the bikes).

One man and a kid lives up here. They are selling expensive food and accommodation to travelers. He gives us the following choice - sleep in my overpriced tent or get robbed by the dacoits! Is it a warning or a threat? We pay a dollar each for the "insurance". I have no trouble with the altitude until the morning.

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August 16 - A 3000 Meter Drop

The headache hits me at six in the morning. The steep and rocky jeep track doesn't help to cure the pain. It's a very painful 1000 drop to Babusar village, where we stop for lunch. The men look like their reputation (hostile and violent), but they are not. This is Chilasi territory. A proud people in Indus Kohistan. We struggle down the remaining 40 kilometers to Chilas in the afternoon. There are even uphill. It's getting hotter and less steep and rocky by the minute. It's 40 degrees C in Chilas (1100 m).

August 17 - A Great Bunch of Afghanis & Kohistanis

Half a day of waiting for a bus to Gilgit. The lads at the road side restaurant turn out to be a great bunch. Most of them are from Afghanistan The KKH is not seeing a lot of traffic up here, but it's a bit too hot to ride a bike in comfort. (When I cycled here in 1999 it was even hotter.)

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August 18-20 - Ice cream and Polo Games

Rest and recreation. I also manage to find a new front rack that i modify at a welders shop.

August 21-22 - Vertical Beauty

We're cycling the 105 kilometers up the beautiful Hunza valley to Karimabad and have another day of rest. The mountains around here are amazing. Maybe the most scenic mountains I have ever seen. The steepness and the contrasts between high and low altitude ads to the beauty.

I have the symptoms of giardia (a parasite). The local doctor sell me some tablets that are supposed to help.

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August 23 - Upper Hunza to Gojal

An easy and beautiful ride to Passu in Upper Hunza. We walk up to Passu Glacier in the afternoon.

August 24 - Border Atmosphere

A very easy and smooth climb to Sust at 2600 meters. This is where the pakistani immigration and customs office is. The actual border is on top of the Khunjerab Pass.

August 25 - Khunjerab National Park

We have cleared immigration and customs by nine thirty, and start the long, but gradual climb to the Khunjerab pass (4650 meters), where the actual border is. We camp in the garden of the last check post, Koksal (4100 m). The altitude is easier to handle this time.

August 26 - The Khunjerab Pass

(Taxkurgan/ Tashkurgan)
I reach the pass at eight, after a not to hard climb. I see vultures and marmots on the way up. It's a clear day and the views are great. The the two pakistani border guards offer me salty milk tea. At ten we decide to head straight to Taxkurgan, 125 kilometers from the pass. We get a strong head wind but reach the town just in time to go through immigration and customs. We're exhausted when we check into Ice Mountain Hotel on the mail street. A beer and tadjik dinner tastes excellent. It feels good to be in China.

August 27 - A Day in Tashkurgan

(Taxkurgan/ Tashkurgan)
We rest and have a look around town.


August 28 - Muztagata

(Camp at Subash)
Cycling over the Subash plateau (4100 meters) is a bit boring. The road rarely bends, but the views of the Pamirs on the left and the Muztagh Ata on the right are great. We meet Corax and two more cyclist in the afternoon. We camp together right in front of a cloud free Muztagh Ata (7500 meters). Behind us we have the disputed border of Tajikistan.

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August 29 - Karakul Lake & Gheez Canyon

(Camp near Gheez)
Another easy day with breathtaking views. We pass Kongur (7700 meters) and drop down into the Gheez canyon in the afternoon.

August 30 - The Last Day on KKH

(Kashgar/ Kashi)
Flat desert road into Kashgar at 1350 meters. We've completed the first stage of the trip, The "Modified Karakoram Highway", after 1050 kilometers of cycling and a lot of ups and downs.

August 31 - September 8 - Preparing for the Desert

(Kashgar/ Kashi)
Resting and preparing for the for thousand kilometers to Dali in Yunnan province. My bottom bracket needs replacement (I'm waiting for one to be sent from Sweden), the rest of the bike needs cleaning and maintenance, Internet, laundry and, sleeping also takes time. We'll be ready to go any day now.

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September 9 - It Doesn't Rain in the Desert

(The Taklamakan Desert)
There are heavy repairs being done on the road east out of Kashgar. The traffic is slow and the road is rocky and dusty. It takes a long time to get out into the countryside. The road goes through an irrigated oasis for most of the afternoon. We get in to the Taklamakan desert a couple of hours before sunset. There is no water here. According to a guidebook, the rainfall here is 0 millimeters per year. We decide to sleep under the stars in a dry river bed near the Silk Road. Unfortunately, Mr. Murphy is with us this night. A strong wind is building up and cover us in dust. Big clouds build up later in the night, and there is a heavy thunderstorm getting closer. We get some rain and more wind and dust around three in the morning.

September 10 - The Corn Field

(Desert oasis Camp)
The camp is in a nasty mess in the morning. My sleeping bag, bags, bike, and face is covered with fine desert sand. The rain water has dried off. The weather is better again. We make it through a small oasis in the morning and get into a bigger one in the afternoon. There are some nice Uighur restaurants in a village in the second oasis. We eat the standard Laghman noodle dish and drink some peach drinks before we continue to look for a spot to camp. We want to stay clear of curious people and bull dust. These requirements leave us few options. We end up camping in a corn field this night.

September 11 - Tibet or Not Tibet

(Desert camp)
We reach the road fork for Tibet in the afternoon. It's tempting to make a right and start climbing into the high mountains again. That would take longer and would ruin our plan of getting over the higher passes in the east before the snow covers them. We resist the mountains and continue east through the desert toward Hotan as planned. Just before we get out of the oasis, there is a police check post. They don't give us any problems, but we get distracted and forget to fill our water containers. We realize the mistake to late and have to ration the last drops. I feel dehydrated in the evening when we camp on the sand.

September 12 - Grapes & Watermelon

(Desert camp)
I'm extremely thirsty when I wake up in the morning. We rush toward the next oasis as soon as the sun heats up the air a little bit. It's wonderful to get to the little village market an hour later. I drink liters of peach drink and fill my stomach with the Laghman noodles. Grapes, watermelon and fresh bread will be the snacks for today and many other days in the desert. We camp on a dry river bed in the middle of nowhere in the late afternoon.


September 13 - Hotan

(Hotan/ Hotien)
When we're racing in toward Hotan Murphy's law hits us again. We're doing 30 kilometers per hour behind a tractor. Stefan hits a tiny, but high pile of sand with his front wheel. The front racks (low riders) can't take the impact and get caught in the spokes. The low riders are completely destroyed and five spokes are cut off. The bike makes a pitch pole and throws Stefan off. His chin hits the asphalt first. It looks bad. He gets up, but the cut looks deep. He ends up having three stitches in a small clinic in Hotan the same night. The bike needs a lot of repairs.

September 14-16 - The Market

(Hotan/ Hotien)
Resting, eating, and shopping in Hotan. Stefan gets the bike fixed. The lowriders are replaced with a normal rack with some modifications. I check out the local market in town. It's a lot smaller than the famous Kashgar market, but also more interesting. There are no tourists to be seen.

September 17 - Solo

(Desert camp)
I loose Stefan on the way out of Hotan. He's behind at first but when I stop to eat I'm not sure if he has passed or not. I end up doing 160 kilometers before I camp. I want to make sure I know if Stefan is behind or in front of me. At sunset I don't see any good camping spots, so I continue in the dark. I man keeps following me on his bike. He want's to take me to his house if I understand him right. He's pushy and I don't trust him at all. I hear him say the word for money in Uighur (pul), and get more suspicious. He gets aggressive when we reach the next village. He tries to make me turn off on a small dirt track. When I keep going he starts to chase me. I go faster to get rid of him. When I slow down again in the desert, he's gone. Two minutes later I hear him coming down the road again at high speed. He's shouting STOP! STOP! with an aggressive voice. I speed up again to get rid of him for good. After two hours of cycling in the dark I put up my tent in the dry fields near the road.

September 18 - Just Another Day in the Desert

(Camp behind sand dunes)
I ride another 115 kilometers and camp behind some sand dunes at sunset. There is no sign of Stefan.

September 19 - Population: 1.

There is a tail wind for a change. I ride 45 kilometers before a late breakfast in Niya (Minfeng). The people at the restaurant says the road is bad from now on (well, that's what I think they say anyway). I hope it's not just a track in the fine sand. That could be a nightmare. The road is fine for another 20 kilometers. After a road fork there is no more asphalt. The surface of the dirt road is very bad but still better than the pure desert sand, in which it's impossible to cycle. There is a thick layer of large pebbles in the middle of the road. On the side there is just sand. The only option is to try to cycle on a mix of pebbles and sand. The speed drops to 10-15 km/h, not including all the times i get stuck in pebbles or sand. The thirty kilometers to Yawatonguslangar will take a long time. There is no water here so I need to reach the town today. After forty kilometers of desert I start to doubt the map. After fifty kilometers I'm exhausted. There is a muddy river here and a couple of houses. They look deserted but it gives me hope. The town must be behind the next sand dune. There is no town there either, just desert and a dust cloud. The cloud turns out to contain a bus. The first vehicle i've met since Niya. I stop it and ask for Yawatonguslangar. They give me water and point at the deserted houses. -That's Yawatonguslangar! I turn back and find out that there is one person living in this place. I wonder why they bother to put it on a map of China. The man lets me camp outside his house. I cook noodles and drink muddy water before I go to sleep.


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