Day 9: Besham- Chilas.

Besham, Pattan (fertile bowl, devastated in 1974 by massive earthquake, Dasu, Sazin, Chilas (police checkpost, rock art, City of Nanga Parbat 26,660ft in the Himalayas).

Distance: Odometer: 128344, 2nd July 2000

Route: The road passes through the town of Besham and almost 15 kilometers north of Besham, the Dubair river joins the Indus. The KKH crosses this tributary at Dubair. Travelling north of Dubair, the KKH continues through Jill (3 kilometers), before the valley opens out into a wide fertile bowl as the Chowa Dara River joins the Indus shortly before Pattan (14 kilometers). This stretch of the highway is geologically fascinating; the contact point between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, the latter here exposing layers usually buried 30 meters below the earth’s surface.

Beyond the Pattan bowl, the canyon narrows once more, with the KKH perched on a narrow ledge some 300 meters above the river. A further 8 kilometers north of Pattan, the Kayal river joins the Indus, and the KKH temporarily detours several kilometers up the Kayal Valley until a bridging point on the rivers is reached. There is a small chai shop here 9 kilometers north of the mouth of the Kayal valley the KKH crosses the narrow, creaking Keru Bridge; a temporary girder structure that appears to have become permanent.

The highway then drops down nearer to the Indus, although there are still some impressive rock overhangs on the near side. On the East Side of the KKH, the deep blue jalkot Nala joined the Indus. The KKH then runs into Komila (63 kilometers from Besham, 30 kilometers from Pattan). Just 1 kilometer to the north of Dasu the KKH passes over a temporary girder bridge. It creaks as vehicles cross it. 11 kilometers north of Dasu the KKH crosses the iron girder Barseen bridge.

After a further 8 kilometers, the Indus is joined from the west by the Kandiar river.The Indus valley turns sharply to the east, with plenty of spectacular overhangs on the near side of the KKH, before the canyon walls gradually step back and the river widens and slows. Some 29 kilometers from the Kandia valley bridge (and 47 kilometers from Dasu), a new Chinese-built bridge provides access to the Tangir valley. It is at this point that Kohistan gives way to Diamar district as the NorthWest Frontier Privince meets the Northern Areas of Pakistan.

Travelogue:

The sunshines bright as we finished our breakfast and prepared to leave for Riakot bridge and then to Tato and finally Fairy meadows which is our destination for today. The time was 10.10am all the 4×4’s were ready and we would be rolling in a short while. The first stop was the petrol pump at the Besham bazar, 57 liters of diesel to top up, I also checked the air pressure of the tires before leaving. The drive from Besham through to Pattan is a gentle uphill climb and the road is broad and easy to drive on. The river runs on the right side of the road, which flows in torrents far below. As we climb up, the road crosses over to the other side of the river and the terrain starts to change from the green Himalayas to the barren burnt Karakurums. We were now well into the KKH and one is suddenly aware of the vast expance of the area, and the grandeur of the mountains. Everything looks big and massive, it is here that one can sense the minute nature of man on this earth.

We drove through some very dry and treacherous terrain. The KKH is really a miracle of engineering as it cut through these mountains made of solid rock. Reached Chilas at 4:00pm in the afternoon and drove to the Shangrila hotel. I was undecided as to whether we should go any further or make a stop here. Riakot Bridge is still an hour’s drive away, and it is two hours to Tato by the local jeeps. Then the actual tough part, the walk upto Fairy meadows. This meant a six-hour journey still lay ahead of us. I am not sure whether the rest of the party would be up to it. While waiting for Hamid to arrive we came to the conclusion that we should stop here at Shangrila, Chilas rather than attempt to drive on to Riakot Bridge. The rest of the gang was of the same opinion so we decided to call it a day. The boys however want to carry on to Riakot but Sabiha and Hamid are of the opinion that they should stay with us.

After refreshing ourselves we drove up to Chilas town at around five in the evening, looking for a decent place to eat. The only restaurant in Chilas is a tatty old inn right at the end of town. We have ordered chicken karahi and rice for 8.30pm. The market had only one stationary shop that also sells sports goods bought a bat and ball for cricket.

The cricket match on the drive of the Shangrila hotel was a great success with half the town watching from the road. Tea was served with fried chips on the lawn and we had a great time. 8.30pm we drove up to the inn to find that almost the whole town was there to greet us, it was a task to seat ourselves. The 4×4’s had to be strategically parked so that they would block the view from outside as the people from the other side of the road were gazing inside the roadside inn. We had the chicken karahi that was prepared with lots of herbs and spices. After green tea and settling the bill we made a quick exit. The night at Shangrila was pleasant and we all slept well.

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