Category Archives: Travels

Day 29: Islamabad

22 July 2000

Travelogue:

It would be a lazy day today as we would all rest and recuperate from the tiring drives that we had endured. The boys woke up late in the morning and ordered breakfast from the guesthouse, bread with butter and jam. We had breakfast in the room. The washing arrived in bundles that had been sent to the dhobi the day before, Amjad’s wife had kindly arranged the “dhobi” for us. The excess baggage such as the tent and warm clothes, fishing rods etc, which were not needed for the rest of the trip were packed in neat cardboard boxes and Hamid had his office boys deliver the boxes to the TCS who would ship it to Karachi. This would lighten the load on the vehicle. I sent two boxes of fishing and camping equipment by TCS to Karachi.

We drove to the shopping centers in the late afternoon and bought pearls as presents for the folks at home. Anika wanted to go to the “Hot shots” shopping mall in the evening. The shops cater for the kids with good quality fashion wear such as jeans and T-shirts, they also sell nick knacks for the kids and Anika enjoyed the shops.

That night’s food was at Pappasalies restaurant the delicacy of Islamabad. The vehicle was packed before I went to bed that night so that I would not need to do much in the morning. We would be driving to Sialkot tomorrow to visit Taimur’s relatives and to see the Hilbro surgical factory. The drive on the Motorway would be quite different from the long grueling drives in the mountains.

Day 28: Islamabad

21 July 2000

Travelogue:

I had already planned that I would have the 4×4 serviced early in the morning as it was in real need of having the gunk of the past few weeks washed off and the joints greased. The Caltex pump next to the rest house had already been informed that a few would be coming in the morning and that they should not over book for that day. I was the first to drive in, the service boys were ready and waiting. It took them a good two hours to wash the gunk off the vehicle. I polished the interior and the engine, all of us are rather finicky when it comes to our vehicles and this constructive competition is very healthy for their up keep as they are maintained at their best. Taimur was next to arrive, then Imad, Khalid and Abid came in last. Hamid walked in late. The vehicles were serviced by three-o clock in the afternoon and looked clean and fresh. The women wanted to go shopping in the afternoon. Our first stop was the Jinnah super and the next Super market both the shopping centers have antique shops, which the women love. Taimur and Sheheryar sat on the footpath as they watched a football match being played by the locals in the park, while sipping hot coffee from the bakery. It was a lot of fun as we cheered the goals. Dinner was planned for the evening and we drove up to the local barbecue restaurant, the weather suddenly changed as we parked our vehicles. The musty smell of rain was in the air yet there were no cloud visible. We ordered our food and were enjoying the barbecued chicken and parathas, just as we finished the heavens broke loose and it poured down with thunder. There was a commotion in the restaurant and everyone ran for cover. Most of the barbecue restaurants serve food out in the garden and with unpredictable weather like this the party is disrupted. While driving back to the rest house the rain stopped. For us Karachiets rain was a pleasant change.

Day 27: Besham to Islamabad

Beesham, Shiwi, Thakot, Batagram, Mansera, Abbotabad, Nathia gali, Muree, Islamabad.

20th July 2000

Travelogue:

In our late night discussion it was decided that we would drive up to Nathia Gali and then on to Islamabad which is our destination for today. The 4×4’s were all ready and packed by ten in the morning. It was bright and sunny, and our first stop was the petrol pump past the PTDC turning on the KKH. By the time we were on the road heading towards Thakot it was eleven in the morning. The road from Besham on the way back travels on the right of the river and just before Thakot it crosses over to the left by the large suspension bridge. The terrain is flat valley as you leave Besham and there are few bends on the road so one can drive quite fast. The road then climbs up and the hairpin bends and sharp corners start to appear again, the terrain also changes, and the green Himalayan fauna is a pleasant change. The famous monument marking the distances between the cities both of Pakistan and China is also situated here. The road past Thakot is through a landslide area, we have been very lucky so far as we have had no landslides this trip. Last time we drove through this place a diesel tanker had been trapped in the rubble of the slide and we had to drive over it to get to the other side. There had been a traffic jam on both sides of the landslide for miles.

The terrain changes as you leave the Besham area from the barren Karakorams to the green Himalayas the two mountain ranges gradually blend with each other to change the scenery from rugged rocks to green vegetation. The smell of pine trees suddenly appears and is very refreshing. We stopped before Mansera for tea at a local restaurant and to let Hamid catch up with us. The boys ordered chicken karahi. The food was unexpectedly good and served quickly. The boys are very fond of chicken karahi and they polished it off in no time.

While driving through one of the many small towns on the KKH, Taimur had a little mishap on the road. He was honking as he drove through the bazaar when suddenly out of nowhere a girl ran onto the road and hit the side of the jeep, she fell besides the vehicle dazed on the road. He thought of the worst, luckily she escaped any injury but was in a state of shock. One of the shopkeepers had seen what had happened, he advised Taimur to drive away, as he was worried that the locals would cause trouble by making it into a big incident and demand money. Hamid had a similar experience, with an old fellow who kept on crossing the road even though he knew that a vehicle was approaching and would hit him if it did not brake, that did not deter the old local who was obviously unaware of his surroundings. It is dangerous driving through these small towns, as on many an occasion people just walk onto the roads. One is constantly on the lookout that any moment anyone may jump across in front of the vehicle with disastrous consequences. I honk continuously while driving through these terror towns.

We reached Mansera at three in the afternoon. The drive from Mansera to Abottabad is very picturesque along some exquisite pine forests. The road is also in very good condition and the distances don’t seem much. We reached Abottabad at about three forty and waited again for Hamid to catch up. He drives at a leisurely pace and is constantly lagging behind.

Abbottabad to Nathia Gali is a drive worth the detour. The road to Nathia Gali turns left from the main road before the overhead bridge and carries along the cantonment area till it starts to climb towards the Nathia Gali hill resort. The road has been recently opened for traffic and is a duel carriage all the way, with center islands and side railings. These modern safety measures seem odd after having driven through some of the most treacherous terrain’s and road conditions this country has to offer. These modern safety measures are the need of the day with increasing number of fast cars however I prefer to drive on the old tracks at a slow leisurely pace anytime. I remember driving on the same road in 1993 when it was a broken single road and oncoming traffic could barely squeeze past. The same road is now transformed into a duel carriage and the surface is so good that you hardly feel a bump as one takes the sharp bends all the way up to Nathia Gali. The climb is a 4×4 low range effort and the vehicle with the entire load takes it in second gear. The weather began to change as we climbed the mountain and it was overcast and drizzling, the mist engulfed the area as we approached the hill resort. The clouds come in through the windows as they are at level with the vehicle and the road, it is an enthralling experience.

The drive to the Greens hotel is along a narrow lane, which climbs at quite a steep gradient, the hotel is situated at the end of the road, and in fact the road ends in the car park. We reached the hotel at five thirty in the evening, the temperature outside is twenty degrees and very pleasant. There is this strange wet feeling in the air with the moisture of the clouds in the atmosphere. The water rich clouds form a mist around us. We sat on the terrace outside and ordered tea and sandwiches. The view of the tall trees and the clouds as they mingle with each other in front of us, was quite an experience.

We started our drive down towards Islamabad as the sun was setting. The view of the sunset up in the mountains is breathtaking as the dark silhouette of the hills and the trees blend with the orange hue of the horizon. I had to take stills of this moment and the results were beautiful. The drive on to Murree is dangerous, as it was now dark and the road was slippery because of being wet with the rain. I breathed a sigh of relief as the lights of Murree came into view, the road improves after Murree with traffic and lights on the road improving the visibility.

We reached the Islamabad guest house by nine thirty that night, with the mileage at 1330324 and the temperature thirty degrees. We have been on the road almost 4500 km so far.

Day 26: Gilgit to Besham

Gilgit, Jaglot, Talechi, Jalipur, Gonar Farm. Chilas, Thor,, Dudisbal, Sazin, Kotgala, Dasu, Pattan, Chaka, Besham.

19th July 2000

Travelogue:

Gilgit to Besham is a long drive, the road is in very good condition and one can cover a great deal of distance in good time. We left Gilgit at one in the afternoon, which was very late. Trying to get everyone to move is a big effort, someone or the other is in the process of getting ready. The drive to Besham will be tough, as it will most certainly get dark, I hate driving in the dark on these mountain roads. The last time we were here, driving at night was disastrous, Rizwan had toppled the Potohar near Gilgit in the flash flood that had washed away the road. Hopefully there will be no such disasters on this trip. We had to spend the night drenched and all cuddled up in a coaster. The jeep had been too cramped for us to sleep in.

We all filled the fuel tanks from the PSO pump at the main market in Gilgit, and bought the last minute munchies from the bakery. By the time we were on the road towards Chilas it was one thirty in the afternoon. The outside temperature was 46 degrees, which is hot. The drive from Gilgit to Chilas is through the barren mountain waste of the Karakoram range. The baked rocks that make up the mountain range heat up in the direct rays of the sun and act like an oven as the sun shines on their surface. The temperature of the valley increases by the minutes as the day progresses. Chilas is therefore extremely hot in the summer. There is hardly any greenery on the way except along the side of the nallahs that rush down along the side valleys to meet the main river. We reached Chilas in good time, it was Amjad who was driving at a good speed dragging us along with him. The road is in very good condition and after driving on it for a while one tends to misjudge the speed of the vehicle as it takes the curves along the way. The speed of the vehicle is deceiving as one gets used to it after driving constantly for hours and the brakes should be in very good order before embarking on any trip in the mountains. While taking a sharp bend on one occasion I almost went head on into a truck that was coming down a slope, he had seen me but I hadn’t, it was Susan who shouted ’ Tony! ’ to alert me and I swerved just in time to avoid a head on collision.

Hamid was again lagging behind and it is getting dark by the minute. I had to stop to put the plastic sheet on the roof rack, as there was thunder and lightening up ahead. It started to drizzle as I pulled the cord to tighten the sheet. Driving in these conditions is difficult and tense, as there are rocks on the road as an aftermath of the earthquake a couple of days ago, one has to watch out for them as they suddenly come into view in the head light of the vehicle. It was totally dark now and the only light on the road was from the beams of the 4×4. The drive was tense, spooky and scary. Amjad had also raced away in front though he was still within radio distance. The mountains appeared like black shadows as the lightening breaks out in the distance. It was an awesome sight, The split second of lightening makes the mountains look like huge scary figures, as if on the move. The drizzle got heavy and then stopped, we passed Pattan by eight at night and reached the Besham PTDC by 9:30 P.m. Hamid and the boys reached the motel at eleven, they were all exhausted. It requires a lot of concentration to drive at night in these mountains and the strain tells on you after a while. We had already ordered food for them. It was laid out as soon as they were ready. It was past twelve when we retired for bed. The PTDC staff is very considerate at Besham, they were extraordinarily helpful.

Day 25: Gupis to Gilgit

18th July 2000

Travelogue:

The topic of the day was the earthquake, and how we had survived it. Hamid, Amjad and Susan sat underneath the shade of the old chinnar tree in the front lawn at breakfast and discussed the events of the night before, the rumbling noise and the tremors that had followed. The discussions were also geared at evaluating the damage that might have occurred to the network of roads in the mountains.

By the time we were ready to leave it was past twelve in the afternoon. The temperature in the shade was 36 degrees, it was hot, bright and sunny. Our first stop was Gakuch, we reached the town by 2’Oclock in the afternoon and drove straight to the police rest house. Hamid was again lagging behind and we had to stop for him to catch up before we could move on. Tea was served at the rest house and everyone used the bathroom facility to freshen up.

After rest and tea, we were refreshed and eager to get to Gilgit by evening. We left Gakuch at three in the afternoon and drove to Singal to the Aga Khan Hospital premises. The drive from Gakuch to Singal is very picturesque as the road travels though some very exquisite mountain terrain. I had promised the doctors that I would stop there and spend some time with them. We arrived at the hospital to find them waiting for us, they insisted on us having tea with them. The hospital is a lovely building set in the green orchards of Singal. It is a purpose built facility with operating theatres and wards and caters for the locals that come from near and far. We spent an hour with them there before moving on. The rest of the troupe had already left, and I needed to speed up to catch up with them.

I spotted Hamid up ahead parked in the middle of the road. He had apparently been involved in an accident. A motorbike had driven into the right rear of the Bronco. The rider had lost control of the bike as he tried to negotiate a speed breaker. He had jumped off in time and was not injured but was giving Hamid a tough time. As soon as the locals saw me drive up from behind and heard Taimur respond on the radio to Hamid’s frantic call the whole scenario changed. Suddenly all was hurriedly settled. The locals had never heard walky talkies before, they had probably imagined a whole army about to descend on them and were very eager for Hamid to forget the damage to the bike and leave. Well! the rear tail light of Hamid’s Bronco would need gluing, luckily there was no major damage. The rest of the drive was uneventful and we reached Gilgit in the evening at seven. After freshening up we drove to the town centre for dinner. Tomorrow we would head back towards Besham.

Day 24: Phander to Gupis

17th July 2000

Travelogue:

After great deliberations as to whether we should stay another day in Phander or head back it was finally decided that we would leave for Gupis the next morning. The NAPWD rest house had been vacated and Amjad and Hamid had moved into the new premises last night. Kabir and family had left for Gilgit yesterday. The condition of Taimur and Susan were the deciding factor and we thought that it would be best to head back in case they needed medical attention.

We had breakfast in the morning on the front chabutra of the hotel, eggs and cornflakes and orange juice. The 4×4’s were ready for departure by 11am. We rolled towards Gupis and marveled at the Phander valley, which looked magnificent, the river reflecting like molten silver in the sun as it flows through the valley. The fields in different shades of green, the rich and ready wheat fields give a contrasting mustard hue to the surroundings. The temperature according to the gauge of the cruiser was 21 degrees.

There are some places along the way where boulders have fallen down the mountain and have come to rest in the middle of the fields they are ominous sights. One imagines that they must have shattered while falling, these broken pieces of rock look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle lying close to each other. In recent years fields of grain have been cultivated around them. They tell stories of the turbulent past that must have existed centuries ago during the formation of these mountains.

We drove back to the wooden suspension bridge and took footage of the 4×4’s as they crossed over. The road is narrow and some areas are under repair, it is a gravel surface all the way to Gupis. While I was negotiating a bend and at the same time taking video footage of the road and the flowing river, a jeep came flying round a bend from upahead. It braked just in time to avoid a collision. We were now poised head to head with no place to pull up for the other to pass. The driver of the other jeep reversed a fair distance to an opening and let me through. There are many occasions on the way where vehicles come face to face with little or no space and one needs to back up to let the other vehicle pass. There are also unwritten rules of driving on these mountains, such as, the vehicle climbing up has the right of way, local drivers will always give way to the tourists and so on. We reached the NAPWD rest house of Gupis at about six-o clock in the evening. It had started to drizzle on the way and the weather was very pleasant. We unpacked and moved into the rooms. Hamid and the boys were lodged in the older block while Amjad and Patricia and Susan would be in the new block.

After dinner we all watched Omar Mukhtar on the video cd of the Landcruiser, it was drizzling and the weather was cool musty and pleasant. We had a great time as we all enjoyed the movie. It was midnight by the time we retired to bed.

I was awakened by a loud rumbling noise at about four in the morning. The whole place shuddered as a terrible earthquake hit the valley. The tremor lasted a few seconds before the second and the more powerful one. I was up and out in a flash, and found myself standing in the garden still recovering from the shock, I suddenly realized I was wearing only my skimpy nightwear. Susan had never experienced an earthquake before. She was stunned as the bedside lamp quivered and started to move on its own as the second tremor hit the valley, the girls had been rudely woken up by the shaking of the bed from the first tremor. Patricia screamed ‘earthquake! earthquake!’ as they ran out onto the terrace of the new building. We were lucky there had been no rock fall and the building had held the wrath of the earth. Amjad slept through it all and never woke up. The tremor had measured a daunting 6.5 on the rector scale, the epicenter had been near Kabul according to the newspaper. We had survived an earthquake up in the mountains; the actual gravity of the whole episode would sink in much later when driving on the KKH we would see boulders smashed up into little bits splattered throughout the valley. Luckily there had been no landslides on the road and there was no damage reported to the main road.

Day 23: Phunder to Shandur

Fishing trip to Teru. Anika’s Birthday.

16th July 2000

Route: The Jeep track continues through Teru (22 kilometers) at 3,065 meters, and Barsat (3,353 meters), the final settlement in the district, before entering a beautiful glen. The camping siteshere at Langar are superb, with fresh springs, a trout stocked river, and a lush green meadows set in a natural amphitheater of snow capped peaks.

Travelogue:

The packing for the fishing trip was done in the night so that we would not waste any time in the morning. We were ready by 6 am, Taimur was not feeling up to it and was unfit to accompany us, Sikander and myself, drove down to the school where the rest of the party had been lodged. Hamid and Amjad were all ready and we were waiting for the guide who was late in arriving. We finally head out towards Teru by 6.30am, all cramped in the Toyota Hilux. Shamu and Nabeel had also joined the merry band of fishermen. The drive out of Phander is along the river that runs to the right of the road. The condition of the road is not very good, it is narrow and rough. We drive through numerous small settlements and the valley broadens out after a while. The river divides into many tributaries, which join each other as they flow through the valley. The road then climbs to the right and climbs at a fair tangent. The river appears as a small stream down below amongst the green fields of the valley. The water shimmers in the sunlight making it look silvery. The road carries along the mountainside till it comes to a clearing and narrows down to a rough track.

Up ahead is a donkey fully loaded with dung waiting for us to pass so that he can carry his load in peace, but the road is not broad enough for both, the 4×4 and the donkey? The driver sensing that the donkey might try to run up the slope and slip pulled the vehicle up to the left as close to the edge as possible and stopped. The donkey barely managed to cross but the driver would not make a move, he was sure that the road had given way under the weight of the vehicle and that if he made a move the rocks holding the road would give way. He said that the road had sunk in towards the left front tire. We all got down to inspect except Amjad, Hamid was of the opinion that there is no problem and that if the driver just starts the vehicle and drives on there was nothing to worry about. The driver was still adamant that the road had given way under the weight of the vehicle. We all felt that driving on should be given a try as no loose rock had fallen as yet. As soon as the driver started the engine and the vehicle inched backwards the front left side of the road holding the vehicle gave way. The rocks supporting the road started to tumble down the mountainside, the vehicle dipped towards the left side and came to a rest when the differential hit the ground. ? Amjad was still sitting on the passenger side of the Hilux, I had to shout to get him out. Once outside he took a sigh of relief as the gravity of the situation sunk in. The front tire of the vehicle was hanging suspended in midair and the vehicle was resting on the left corner of the front differential. We now had the task of somehow getting the vehicle on the road. How were we going to pull it up on to the road? We would need tow ropes, a crow bar and a lot of manpower. The locals were very helpful, they brought ropes and thick branches of trees and themselves. The old Baba with the weather beaten face was the most intelligent, he advised us that any movement would make the road more unsafe as the supporting rocks would one by one loosen and fall so whatever our plan the vehicle should be pulled up in one or two goes. We tied the rope made of animal hair, as it looked the most sturdiest to the front bumper and lodged the crowbar under the differential. The idea was that one group would lift the vehicle with the crowbar acting on a fulcrum while the other dragged it to the right and onto the road. It took two goes with the youngsters lifting the vehicle and the mature pulling it on to the road. It was pure horse/ man power that we managed to bring out in ourselves which did the trick otherwise we would have had to abandon the fishing trip and would have had to walk back, but then we all are seasoned campaigners in adventures of such sorts and giving up is not in our books. As we drove on towards the fishing grounds Hamid swore that he would never drive close to the edge as he had done so many times before in fact he would risk scrapping the sides of the Bronco rather than coming close to the edge of the road.

We reached the fishing grounds by 9:30am, The Shandur pass is just ten km from here and one can see the snow on the mountains of the pass which is above 12000 ft. It is famous for the polo tournament that is held every year between the teams of Gilgit and Chitral. The plateau where we were fishing is also above 10000ft, it is a vast wasteland of grass and peat. The weather is chilly to say the least, even though it was bright and sunny, ideal weather for fishing. I picked up the fishing rod and secured the spinner. The biscuit packet and the toffees all packed in the green waterproof bag, which hooks on to the belt, I set off with the guide. It was Salman who got the first bite, and it was a good-sized trout too, I knew it would be a good day for us today. We all split up along the river. I followed the guide as he trekked through the stream, which ranged from being knee deep to waist deep in places. The water was cool and one could see the bed of the stream easily as the crystal clear water skipped over the pebbles. The guide kept on walking through the peat and grass towards the main river channel and kept on hooking trouts to my amazement. It was a while before I got the hang of casting in these waters. Once I was comfortable with the method it would soon pay dividends. Everyone was tired by four in the afternoon but I wouldn’t stop, we fished the whole day in the streams and by the evening when it was time to head back we had landed eighty eight trout amongst the four of us. A very good days fishing, the weather had held out for us and the surroundings landscape was also very picturesque. The sight of the mountains and the pass in the distance with the flat green planes, the gravel road and the many shallow flowing streams, which interlace with each other to make the bulk of the river, have made an ever lasting impression in my mind. We started to head back towards Phander and by sixthirty p.m. were at the hotel. Taimur and Susan were sitting on the front porch looking exhausted. The poor guys had had the runs and had been to the loo umpteen times, by the evening they were extremely drained out of energy, and collapsing.

Anika had celebrated her birthday in style, the cake was delicious and she belongs to the elite few who had celebrated birthdays above the height of 3000 meters.

Day 22: Gupis to Phunder

15th July 2000

Route: The jeep track heads west from Gupis, passing through the tiny settlements of Hamardas and jandrote, before arriving at the stunning Khalti Lake (10 kilometers).

Beyond Gupis, the river is referred to as the Ghizir river, and at Dahimal (13 kilometers beyond Khalti Lake) it is joined from the south by the emerald green Bathraiz river flowing from Swat Kohistan. The Bathraiz valley leads south towards the Tangir valley. This was one route that the early Buddhist pilgrims used on the journeys from China to Gandhara, Swat and other pilgrimage sites in South Asia, as well as the means of access for invading armies from Chitral and the Kingdoms to the north. 10 kilometers beyond the bridge over the Barthraix river, and on both sides of the Ghizir river, is the settlement of Thingai. As the jeep track continues west, look out for the numerous petroglyphs on the rocks just past the village of Pingul (six kilometers). The road then carries on through the picturesque Phander valley to cross the river to the right and climbs a hill to reach the Phander Lake. The NAPWD rest house is perched on the top of a hill on the bank of the lake.

Travelogue:

We were ready to leave for Phunder by late morning, the 4×4’s were loaded again. It has become routine now to load the luggage in a set fashion so that the vehicle is not top heavy and is balanced with a low center of gravity, the ritual also includes the plastic sheet cover in case of rain.

The drive from Gupis to Phunder is similar to the Nalter track with a bit more width of road to drive on. The incline at some places is very steep and tests the ability of the engine to pull the rig. The river flows to the right of the road at terrific speed. The PTDC hotel of Gupis, which is complete but not yet open, is situated on a high point, it is a sight to behold. The building is perched on a hilltop and is similar in construction to the PTDC hotel at Hunza. The view of the Gupis Valley to the rear from the top is exquisite, with tall green popular trees, some towering over fifty feet and more, and swaying in the breeze. The river flows through a narrow gorge to enter the Gupis valley where it spreads out into many branches bisecting the fields at many places and the many streams interlacing with each other as they shimmer in the sun to give it a unique look as it travels along the valley towards Gilgit. The mountains on either side of the valley tower up towards the sky and in some areas the clouds hug the sides of the mountains to cover the peaks.

The other side of the hilltop is the Khalty Lake towards Phunder, the expanse of lake stretches to about 12-15 km and is 1-2 km wide. The water is as calm as a satin sheet. We reached the lakeside by two-o-clock in the afternoon and spent half an hour by the lake. Shamu went in the water to check the temperature and was pleasantly surprised to find it almost at freezing point.

The road travels on the left side of the lake to a wooden bridge, where the emerald green Bathraiz river from Swat joins the Ghizir river. The road narrows at many places with only one way traffic possible. There are many places where streams flow from the mountainside across the road and collect as large water pools on the tracks of the road with running cool crystal clear water. I stopped along the way on many occasions next to these streams and poured water on the radiator to cool the engine temperature. The 4×4 has performed better than I had expected and I have had no problem in driving it through these mountain roads as they climb and descend with sharp curves. The surface of the track is pebbly and loose gravel edges facing the riverside are dangerous.

The road narrows as it climbs leaving the river to run down in the valley. The drop at times is over five hundred feet, which is quite frightening as there are no shoulders on the road. The road climbs at a precarious gradient and the gear of the vehicle needs to be engaged in low range 4×4 in order to pull the weight of the vehicle up. The speed of the rig at twenty/km/hr is just enough to pull the vehicle to neither stall nor heat up. I was tense as I negotiated the sharp bends on the road as well as maintain the vehicle speed as it climbed. There was a large rock protruding on the road on the left edge of the cliff, it was half embedded in the rubble and to my horror I felt it would come in the way if the left tires. I could not swerve to avoid it for fear of going over the edge on the right, I could not reduce the speed of the vehicle either as it would stall. The slope of the road was too steep for the brakes to hold the vehicle stationary, it would roll backwards and I would loose control. I had no other option but to try as much as possible to avoid the inevitable and keep the impact to a minimum. The left front tire hit the rock and the vehicle jumped as the coil springs damped the shock, the sound was a loud thud and I thought I had burst the tire. The vehicle tilted at a precarious angle and then straightened up as it lugged up to the top. The thought of having almost toppled the vehicle niggled me for the rest of the journey. I had been very lucky. Many jeeps have toppled over the edge of these roads to oblivion. In 1995 during our trip to Chitral we winched a jeep that had skidded down the edge, the driver and the helper had jumped in time and were only scratched, though the vehicle had been almost a write off, some are lucky.

The river flows to the right of the road for quite a distance but switches to the left as you enter the Phander valley. The view of the valley is breathtaking as it broadens out with green fields laced with popular trees. The road transverses to the right and then climbs up to the Phander Lake, which comes into view suddenly while turning a bend as you reach the top of the hill. Phunder ” WOW”, what beautiful, wilderness.

Some guests of an NWFP minister occupy the rest house so we have to find alternate accommodation, which is scarce in these parts of the woods. We managed to hire three rooms from the Chokidar of the rest house, he runs a guest house of his own which is very comfortable and situated on the left of the main rest house, he also serves food which is to our advantage. Taimur cooked delicious “Aloo ki Bughia” which takes forever to cook, as it simmers in this altitude of over 3000meters, water does not boil here easily. Hamid, Amjad, Kabir and family are staying at the school down near the main bazaar due to lack of accommodation in one place.

It has been decided that the fishing party will leave for Teru early in the morning. We have come so far with news of good trout fishing here that it would be unjust of us not to give it a try. Hamid keeps calling on the walky talky talking to Susan reminding her to wake me up early in the morning he is in his element tonight. ‘SUSAN’ he bellows in the dark night as we sat on the verandah of the inn. ‘Get Doc up early’ his voice echoes in the valley as the walky talky broadcasts his message with no interference, just the noise of him pressing the button on the set.

Day 21: Gilgit to Gupis

Gilgit, Kargah Buddah, Gahkuch, Japuky, Gich, Singal, Yangal, Gupis.

Odometer: 129395, 14th July 2000

Route: The road to Chitral leaves Gilgit to the west, passing the turn off to the Kargah Buddah. The jeep road passes along the south side of the Gilgit river. Some 27 kilometers from Gilgit is a rope suspension bridge leading to the villa of Bargo on the north side of the river. The road then passes through the small village of Shenote (4 kilometers) that marks the boundary between Gilgit and Punial District.

The road continues through Gulapur (4 kilometers) and the jeep track passes through the tiny settlement of Dalnati (3 kilometers), then through Goherabad (4 kilometers). Singal is 48 kilometers from Gilgit. The road then passes through the small village of Gilmiti (16 kilometers), where there is a PSO petrol pump. The track then climbs high above the river for several kilometers, drops down a little, and then climbs once more. Just beyond the sign reading ‘Gupis 22 kilometers, Yangal six kilometers’, there is a sharp bend in the road this is the point at which, in August 1995, a jeep plunged over the side killing the driver and three backpackers. It is a reminder of just how challenging this trip can be.

14 kilometers beyond the Ishkoman valley bridge are the green cultivated fields belonging to the village of Yangal, and beyond here are bridges across the river to the settlements of Sumal (three kilometers) and Moula Abad (two kilometers) respectively. A sizeable river joins the Gilgit river from the south just before the jeep road reaches Gupis.

Travelogue:

The mileage on the speedometer read 129395, and we topped up diesel both in the Jerry cans and the vehicle’s tank. There was news that diesel was only available at Gupis and not at Phander. So to be on the safe side we have a 20-liter jerry can of spare fuel in each vehicle. The 4×4’s were all rigged up and raring to go. Amjad had acquired a Toyota hilux from the Gilgit police, as an escort, the driver was a local and familiar with the terrain, so he was to be our guide too. Kabir had hired a long wheelbase jeep for this part of the journey. By the time we were all ready to leave it was again late in the afternoon, last minute shopping at the bakery for munchies has become a ritual and invariably it delays our departure by at least an hour if not more.

We finally set off towards Gupis driving through the Gilgit town center and then the residential area to emerge on the crossing where we take the left fork to Phander. The road is pebbly and rough though wide enough for trucks to travel on. The Gilgit river flows alongside the road to the right as it gushes down the slopes at tremendous speed roaring like a lion. We crossed a tanker carrying fuel just a few km out of Gilgit, Hamid was lagging behind so we made a stop for him to catch up, it started to drizzle as we waited. The road is in a much better condition than I had anticipated, and we made good ground to Gakuch where the police have laid out a lavish lunch for us. Amjad knows the DC of Gilgit and he has been kind enough to look after the group along the way. The lunch was a good spread, we were not expecting such ‘khater’. The mongrel puppy that the kids have adopted from the Gilgit PTDC is having a jolly good time too.

We set off again towards Gupis after lunch and stopped for tea a short distance from Singal as Hamid has again fallen behind the group. Taimur and the boys were playing by the riverside when they disturbed a nest of bees, the girls too at that time were down by the river. The bees were a mild bunch and only flew past a couple of times though that was enough to scare the kids and they ran up the bank to the tea stall. Anika who was wearing sandals slipped on the rocks and injured her left toe. I initially thought the cut was only superficial but the bleeding would not stop, on investigating the wound at close quarters it appeared quite deep and I decided that it would need stitches. Luckily I carry all sorts of medicines and surgical equipment with me on such trips which I have learned with experience over the years to collect. The tea table was suddenly converted into a mini theater table to the horror of the locals. The area was cleaned and after injecting local anesthesia around the site the wound was stitched with catgut and prolene. The wound was then draped and sealed with gauze and tape. Anika all throughout the procedure was very brave and only screamed once. In our family cuts and bruises are not given too much importance therefore the children dont make too much of a fuss.

Hamid had still not arrived when we set of towards Singal to meet the Aga Khan doctors, who will be waiting for me as we had earlier informed them that we might drive through Singal, and stop for a quick cup of tea. The Aga Khan hospital in Singal is a small concern compared to the hospital in Karachi where I work but the set up is similar. The surgeon and the anesthetist were trained at the Karachi campus and are known to me. They took me around the hospital and showed me the O.R. and the emergency room, the wards are also very clean and well managed. I promised to spend more time with them on the way back.

The road past Singal is broad and rough, the river flows to the right of it, as it roars down towards Gilgit. The scenery along the way is quite spectacular, the white frothy water of the river spreads across the middle of the valley and shimmers in the sun light, the trees and shrubs that line the banks give the valley a green hue. On both sides of the valley are steep vertical mountains rising up to meet the sky. These huge mountains are bare and tinge the scenery with their shades of brown. Some of the slopes are almost vertical as sheets of rock rise up to the blue sky. The clouds mingle with their peeks as they are trapped between the ridges high on the top. The road climbs and descends as it travels along the valley, streams that cross it from the left sometimes forming pools of mud on the road as the water scuttles down to join the river. We reached Gupis, which is a small town, be early evening.

The Rest house that we had booked is situated just as you enter Gupis. They were all waiting for us, as they had been informed in advance that friends of the DC were coming. The rest house is an old building and dates back to the times when the English were here playing “The Gilgit Game” here in the northern areas almost a hundred years ago. The rooms are more like barracks of the officers with a typical verandah and the wooden latticework “Jafrey” netting typical of that era and to keep the mosquitoes at bay. The new building is situated to the rear of the main barracks and is well furnished with modern attached bathrooms. The lawn of the rest house is lush green and Sun flowers in the flowerbeds are big and look lovely against the drop of the green lawn.

The Chinar tree in the front lawn of the old building is enormous, the girth of the tree trunk is so big that one cannot encircle it with both arms. It must be over a hundred years old, its presence gives the whole place a very calm serene feel. We unloaded the luggage from the 4×4’s and gave the “Massala” to the cook to prepare food. The locals had caught trout for us and it would be served for dinner. The boys put up a tent in the lawn and we played cricket till dinner was served. The trout was delicious and the other food was good. The cook was an old jolly fellow who was more than willing to entertain us with his specialties “Mumlett” being one of them, he was a full of energy and ever ready to please, we enjoyed his company and cooking. After dinner we sat in the drawing room of the new building overlooking the lawn with Taimur and Amjad were in their element as they narrated dramatic accounts of mishaps from our past trips, our laughter echoed in the valley till late at night.

Day 20: Gilgit – Kargah

Stock up for Phunder, Buddha rock carving at Kargah,

13th July 2000

Travelogue:

During our late night discussions we had decided that we would rest at Gilgit for a day before proceeding on to Phunder. Everyone was tired and Phander was uncharted territory for us, who knows what lay in store, and we all needed that extra level of energy just in case it was required.

The local newspaper was interested in an interview with the kids so they had their day planned. The elders wanted to visit the statue of Buddha at the Kargah nallah for a picnic. We set out towards the kargah, which was a short distance away. The road winds through the Gilgit bazaar and then carries on through the suburbs. It then suddenly cuts to the right and is more of a gravel track through the fields. The nallah is a few minutes drive and the left fork at the bridge takes you to the parking area. It is then a good ten minutes walk up to the statue. The Kargah nallah is a mid sized stream with fast flowing crystal clear water splashing against the rocks to froth up immolating soap suds. We parked the 4×4’s in the parking area next to the roadside. Carrying the packed lunch of sandwiches and tea we walked along the small path upstream to a clearing where the bank was flat and set out the picnic table. The statue of the Buddha is carved out on the mountain to the right of the stream, it stands etched out of the rock a good twenty feet tall and looks down at those who come to visit with calm serene eyes. The picnic was a great success with Shamu and Gull taking dives in the river to cool themselves, actually Gull slipped and what fun, wet herself to the bones in that freezing cold water, that’s the way to do it anyway.

We drove back to the town and took the river route to the PTDC motel. This route is quite picturesque with the river flowing next to the road. At the PTDC motel, the kids were back from the interview, all exited about the newspaper editor and the question and answer session. We played cricket on the back lawn of the PTDC, Fahad, Asad, Shamu, Abid, Khalid, Nick, Sikander, Yaseen, Sharheryar and myself, and it was great fun, the back lawn of the motel is ideal for cricket.

Dinner that night was late in the evening. After freshening up we walked to the hotel on the riverbank to order food. They had a table laid out for us on the balcony of the first floor. As soon as the food was served the moon appeared to the left amongst the clouds. I have never seen such an exquisite sight before, the light of the shining moon in the dark sky was like a painting in shades of silver and black, the distant shadow of the mountains gave it a spectacular aura, the delicate hue of the trees, and the dramatic sketches of the clouds amidst the moon were changing every minute as the clouds moved. The chill in the night gave it that spooky Halloween feeling.

As we walked back to the PTDC motel we reminisced about our past trips, and I think it was Amjad who laughed the most his deep throaty voice echoing in the valley.. That night I was glad I had brought the kids, this experience they were going through would stick in their minds forever. Tomorrow the four wheeling would start and the uncharted ground for us would begin, I was looking forward to the drive up to Gupis.

Day 19: Sust to Gilgit

Sust, Khaiber, Passu (2,543 meters), Karimabad Aliabad, Jaglotgah, Sankhar, Dainyor, Gilgit.

12th July 2000

Travelogue:

The feeling of having been to the Kunjerab top actually sunk in the next morning when waiting for tea at the front lounge of the PTDC entrance I meet an American who had accompanied a party of trekkers. Their party had gone to the Baturo glacier for a few days and this gentleman was responsible for organizing the trip. He was an interesting old man who was wearing a Chinese hat and supporting a French beard, an old veteran who had first come to the north of Pakistan as long ago as 1967. He loved the mountains and the people, he said, he had trekked all over the north of Pakistan and now arranged trips for foreigners.

The feeling of having been to the top for the second time was unique, it had been a totally different experience compared to the previous trip. Susan had had to drive us down as I had suffered from altitude sickness, this time I was well prepared and it paid dividends when that splitting headache did not appear that I had been dreading.

By eleven the party was ready to leave for Gilgit and we headed back on the KKH for Hunza, half of the journey was over, we were now on our return journey, heading back towards Karachi. The first stop was at Karimabad were we all had tea at the Caf� de Hunza. I had ordered the Murgh-e-zarren feathers and they were ready, the hat and the feathers really looked nice, I wore the hat all the way back to Gilgit. It was a bright and sunny day and the drive back was pleasant. The sight of the Baturo Glacier as it appears to the right and travels up the valley to the snow capped mountains, the crystal clear water gushing down the numerous streams that cross the road on the way and the water fall which splashes onto the road just after Gulmit are some of the enthralling sights that mesmerize you.

We drove into Gilgit by late evening, and after showers and freshening up we ordered food at the Tikka place in town. It was the same old restaurant in the middle of the bazaar we had visited earlier. The proprietor recognized us, and he had the table set out to our liking under the old tree in the yard. The food was as good as it had been the time before and everyone enjoyed the meal. We drove back to the hotel after ice-cream at the local shop and retired for the night.

Day 18: Sust to Kunjerab.

Sust,Koksil, Kunjerab National Park, Kunjerab Plateau.

Distance: 86km, 11th July 2000

Route: There is a check post at the north end of Sust. Those making a day trip to the Kunjerab Pass may have to register here, the KKH to China travels north, entering a narrow canyon about one kilometer above Sust. Here, the Chapsuran Valley joins the Hunza river from the west. A further four-kilometer north is a petrol station where most vehicles stop to fill up. A little further along the canyon, a jeep road leads off to the west along a side valley for 17 kilometers to Misgar (3,708 metres).

Above the junction of the Chapsuran and Killik valleys, the Hunza river is referred to as the Kunjerab river. The KKH follows this narrow gorge in a northeast direction, before turning north at the Kunjerab river’s confluence with the Ghujerab river. The bridge here marks the entrance to the Kunjerab National Park, the road here is still a very gentle incline.

Beyond Dih is a section of road that is particularly susceptible to landslides and flooding. Beyond the slide area the Barkhun Nala at Barkhun joins the Khunjerab river.The road climbs gently to the check post at Koksil, which also has some abandoned work camp buildings. Koksil to the Khunjerab Pass is 17 kilometers.

After Koksil, the KKH gains altitude rapidly, climbing through a series of twelve tight hairpin bends. Look out for golden marmots along this section of the road. Having climbed significantly, though the series of hairpin bends, the KKH reaches the Khunjerab Pass (86 kilometers from Sust). From the Khunjerab pass to Tashkurgan is a further 125 kilometers.

Travelogue:

We were all up early the next day and looking forward to the drive to the “Top”, when we were greeted with bad news that the road was still blocked and it would take a few hours before it was cleared later in the morning. We decided to drive up to the blocked portion of the road and wait it out there. I drove up to the slide area at twelve in the afternoon to find a few vehicles already waiting in que. There were four Italian couples who had recently retired and had driven all the way from Italy en-route to China. They were patiently waiting for the FWO bulldozer to clear the slide. It was great talking to them about their journey, may be one day we will follow in their footsteps. Mr. Butta was still going full throttle with the bulldozer and had reduced the slide to a couple of meters from almost a furlong since yesterday, he was all geared up and determined to open the road by two in the afternoon.

The public in our group was getting a bit frustrated and despondent after waiting for an hour and many futile attempts were made to convince me that we should head back to the hotel. I had decided that if the road was opened by three in the afternoon it would give us enough time to reach the top and get back, so I was waiting for Mr Butta and his team of hard working boys to deliver.

Dr.Bhutta and family were pushed for time, he had to get back to Gilgit the same day as he was delivering a lecture the next day and he could not afford any delays. He decided to cross the landslide with his family and risk the falling rocks, very courageous of them, but then you see the reward would be to set foot on the highest road crossing on earth. They managed to cross over by pulling each other across. We were all worried as to whether he had found transport on the other side for the rest of the journey to the top.

Shortly after one thirty Biba and Najeeb decided to head back to the PTDC motel. I had a difficult time keeping the rest of the group together. They were all getting fed up and anxious as the time ticked away and the will to drive on was fading. I was determined to keep them together and to drive up to the Top as soon as the road opened. I had been to the Top once before and had experienced the feeling of being on top of the world. I wanted my friends to experience the same feeling, it is quite extraordinary, as those who have been up there know.

While waiting for the slide to clear and watching the bulldozer at work pushing the rubble into the flowing river, huge clouds of dust would rise up as the loose earth was moved and dropped into the river. I sat with the Italian tourists and shared notes, they were adventurous people who had traveled the route from Quetta and Zhob and were heading into China. Sure enough by two in the afternoon Mr Butta had the road cleared and we were heading towards the Top, there was another slide up ahead but that would be cleared by the time we would get there.

The road travels along the river and at times is almost level with it, the roar of the water is deafening and it is difficult to hear anything else except the sound of the water gushing by. The road travels through some enchanting forests to open up into a barren wilderness which exist at heights above the snow line. The shrubs become grasslands and then the pebbly desert of the plateau. We met Dr Bhutta and family while they were traveling back in a van towards the landslide area where they had left their vehicle. The road winds up in gradual bends before the last vertical assault of about twenty-km, which is a hairpin climb to the top. At this height my Casio watch and the Landcruiser’s altimeter go blank, they can only read upto 4000m and we are now above 4500m.

The smell in the air of heather is rife as I rest after hectic attempts to take close-up photographs of the golden marmots of Khunjerab, and it is hard to breathe in without effort at this height, The sound of the marmots chirping in the distance catches ones attention. They are all over the place and I have a field time taking pictures of them. Then we head towards the pass. Just short of the pass there is snow on the sides of the road and the kids want to have a snow fight so we stop for a while and let them have fun. Snow in July is unique to us, we enjoy the cool freezing temperature of the ice. Najeeb and the boys have caught up with us, Biba has decided to stay behind. We reach the top and the weather is moderate it is neither overcast nor sunny. The snow has melted on the plateau and the only snow left is the glacier to the left. We walked up to the Chinese side of the border and took plenty of photographs. The Italians have also reached by now and are crossing over to the Chinese side, we exchange Email addresses and say good-bye. I gathered everyone together and made them stand next to the pillars that mark the border for the group photograph. The feeling on the top of the Kunjerab plateau is quite unique. It is as if you are standing on top of the world, the peeks around you are all at your level and only pointed Apices of the mountain are above you, here the peaks are at an average height of above 20000ft. As Dervla Murphy wrote:

’ Here the present is so simple and satisfying ? and so full of peace and beauty – that one is more than willing to pretend nothing else ever existed or ever can exist. Each day I seem to feel more deeply content and inwardly stronger, as though the uncomplicated joys of traveling through these mountains were a form of nourishment’.

After a short walk back to where the vehicles were parked, we started to head back towards Sust hoping that the road would be open and that there would be no more slides along the way. We reached the PTDC motel by seven in the evening. Dinner was late that night and we all went to bed content on having accomplished our goal. We have all been very lucky this time, no one suffered from altitude sickness.

Day 17: Sust

Attempted Crossing to Kunjerab.

10th July 2000

Travelogue:

The locals confirmed the news early in the morning that the road was closed due to a landslide about ten km down the KKH. I wanted to go and check the extent of the blockage myself as I’d seen landslides before while traveling to Skardu in 1993, the FWO are usually very quick and efficient in clearing the slides. The officer incharge that day was a Mr Butta who was adamant that if the rocks did not come tumbling down from the slope to the left and gave him a few hours of working time he would clear the slide for us. The Jawans were working all out to clear the mass of rubble off the road by shoveling it into the river using a massive bulldozer.

This bulldozer had been salvaged once before while working on clearing a slide, it had been caught in an avalanche and toppled over into the river, it had dents in the thick yellow metal sheets to prove it. The way the FWO jawans carry out their work is worthy of praise, to risk your life just to clear rubble of the road is not everyone’s cup of tea, yet they do it with so much professionalism that it is hard to believe. I hesitated while crossing over to the other side of the slide as small rocks tumbled down towards me, I finally crossed over by climbing up the mass of loose earth and rocks, keeping one eye on the movement of rocks on the mountain face. When they start to fall from the top they gain immense speed and momentum that is difficult to imagine unless you have experienced them whizzing past you. The rocks shower past you tumbling and hitting anything that comes in their way. Some are as huge as a car themselves and with the speed they come down anything in their way stands no chance of survival, yet these jawans work the whole year round to keep the KKH open for traffic. It is a feat in itself that the condition of the road has been maintained for the past twenty years and is open to traffic almost the whole year round. Mr Butta was confident that we would make it to the Khunjerab top tomorrow. We drove back to the PTDC to share this good news with the rest of the group and were in good spirits.

Dr Bhutta had joined us from Hunza in the late afternoon and had planned a trip to the tunnel of water, which the locals had dug to supply water to the fields. They had cut through the mountain using hand tools so that water is channeled though from one side of the mountain to the other. They are very proud of this feat. The drive up to the tunnel was a 4×4 test and while everyone used the traction to the full, Dr Bhutta drove the Landcruiser up without a hitch and without engaging the low range 4×4. skipping and slipping as the vehicles massive six cylinder engine pulled it up the muddy gravel track. We were greatly impressed by his driving skills. The tunnel brings water from the other side of the mountain and is a good half-km long through the mountain, it supplies fields of grain which are cultivated on the plateau above Sust.

That night the locals of Sust had a dance party. The local music of the flute and the drums in the night was flowing rhythmically. They entertained us with different tunes and local dances. It was quite an experience listening to the sound of the flute and drums through the night against the backdrop of the rugged mountains of the Karakurums, and the derveshi dances of the locals.

Tomorrow promises to be the day, which we have all been looking forward to. Driving across the country through the Baluchistan desert, the Punjab plains and the rugged mountains of both the Himalayas and the Karakurums to stand on the top of the world’s highest road crossing had been our aim. Driving up to the Kunjerab pass, which stands at almost 16600 ft. and the KKH which holds the record of being the highest road in the world has so far been a great experience.

Day 16: Hunza to Sust.

Hunza, Sacred Rock, Gulmit, Passu, Batura Glacier , Gircha, Sust.

9th July 2000

Route: Just beyond Ganesh, the KKH crosses onto the south side of the Hunza river, where there is a turning for the jeep track to Nagar. Just after the turning, to the left of the KKH, are the Sacred Rocks of Hunza. Beyond this is the Chinese built and run brick factory.

The KKH passes through the small settlement of Ayeenabad, and then continues on to Nazimabad. This is the boundary of central and Gojal Hunza. The KKH re-crosses the Hunza river and continues to the police check post 2 kilometers before Gulmit. Beyond Passu the KKH crosses the snout of the Batura Glacier, and ever-present threat to the road. A bridge crosses the Hunza river here, and a new jeep track proceeds a short distance to the difficult gorge of the Shimshal valley, beyond Jamalabad the KKH continues through the other ‘Abgerch’ village of Gircha before reaching Sust.

Travelogue:

The morning breakfast at the dinning lounge was a buffet laid out with cornflakes and fried eggs, porridge and omelets. The table was fully occupied with our whole troupe in session, they had set the table specially to accommodate us. After thew sumptous breakfast we drove up to the shopping center of Karimabad. Before departing towards Sust, last minute munchies shopping was carried out. A few km down the KKH the new bridge takes you across to the left bank of the river and the road follows the bank for a good distance.

The Sacred Rock of Hunza is situated on the left of the road towards the river side, it is a huge rock with carvings of Ibex and Markhors cut into the rock face. These inscriptions have endured the test of time and remind us of the days of yore. The road then travels on the left bank of the river for quite a distance, and short of Gulmit it crosses again to the right bank of the river. Just a few yards from the crossing is a spectacular waterfall which originates high up on the rock face to the left of the road and then crashes down along the solid cliff face before it hits the road, it then carries on to the river as a stream. Only parts of the waterfall are visible high up on the top of the hill. The fall disappears behind the rock face to emerge again a little bellow closer to the road. The last part of the fall where the water gets airborne before hitting the road is a good fifty yards. The chill in the air is from the dispersion of the water as aerosols evaporate in the atmosphere, it gives a cool freshness to the surroundings and is very pleasant.

Gulmit is a few km down the road from here and we stopped at the famous Silk Route Lodge on the main road. We had stayed here on the last trip to the Kunjerab with Rizwan and family. Tea was quickly served, though the souvenir shopping took quite a while. I bought an old bayonet as a souvenir from the shop across the road, it is an old English make and was probably used in the days of Col. Durand, and his fellow officers, during the Battle of Nilt in 1891 when two Victoria crosses were won here on the battlefield.

The road past Gulmit crosses through the Passu plateau and the great Batoro Glacier comes into view suddenly it is a big expanse of snow that extends up into the crevasses of the valley between the mountains. The local boys were playing cricket in an open field and being an avid cricketer, I had to have a go, so we played cricket with the locals to their amusement before driving on towards Sust.

Sust is a small border settlement which has taken the shape of a town. To one end is the PTDC guesthouse and on the other the shops. The manager made us very welcome. We had news that there was no diesel in town so we drove up to the PSO pump which is about five km beyond Sust to investigate, the dealer said that the pump was dry as he had not had any delivery for the past two weeks. We were out on the extreme corner of the country at the last petrol pump and without fuel. I had to twist the owners arm a bit because I had this inner feeling that he was not telling us the whole truth, a bit of hard talk and arm twisting resulted in him deciding that it was in his own interest to give us twenty liters each, this would take us to Kunjerab and back. We would then decide what to do next.

Dinner would be at the PTDC hotel. We went out on a stroll to the shops to find the boys playing pool on the open roadside caf� eating Yaq meat tikkas, which were very delicious, five rupees a seekh. That night we had a marathon dance party and everyone had a good laugh before bed. There was bad news late in the night that the KKH was closed due to a landslide about ten kilometers from Sust.

Day 15: Nagar

8th July 2000

Travelogue:

We had a relaxing morning in the luxury suites of the Hunza PTDC. The water here has a peculiar color to it. It looks grey and velvety as it flows like fine silk it gives the impression that millions of tiny specks of silver are mixed with the water. Breakfast was with an Iranian couple they are based in Islamabad at the consulate and are proceeding to China by road in their Honda Accord. The front tire of the Honda had burst on them while negotiating a turn when the driver hit a rock, he wanted advice on where to get a replacement.

Later in the day we drove up to Karimabad and took the right fork just before the main shopping center to Altit fort. The road is a Kutcha track, which winds from one side of the mountain to the other crossing over a wooden bridge over a waterfall, which is quite spectaqular. The fort is set on top of a hill with a vertical drop on the riverside so that access is limited to only one side. The drop of the hill towards the river, which flows in torrents down below, is more than a thousand feet. The fort is very old and in desperate need of repairs.

Our next stop was the Baltit fort which is located on the other side of the valley. It belonged to the other brother and has been recently renovated by the Aga Khan Trust. It looks quite majestic as it stands in the midst of the picturesque Hunza valley. On the way up to the fort I saw a VW beetle parked at a precarious angle on the slope of the road. After inquiring about its owner I was lead to this house where an army officer greeted me with a beaming smile, He was obviously very proud of his possession as are all VW owners, including myself. We were offered fresh cherries and drinks for refreshments.

The tour around the fort is highly recommended. We had a two-hour tour with our guide giving us information on the history of the area and its people, he spoke seven languages including Japanese. I took plenty of photographs and bought feathers of chakoors which I later stitched onto my felt hat. We walked down to the shops and to our surprise we discovered Caf� de Hunza a small caf� with a corner for books and cards. I also met Sher Ali who owns the traditional shawl-making house of Hunza. I have been looking for Murgh- e-Zareen feathers, which, one of the shopkeeper has promised to cure for me, I will collect it on our way back. Susan bought a rug of Iranian origin, hand made in wool, which she plans to use as a wall hanging. We drove back to the PTDC and had dinner. Later in the night we went out for a stroll down the road with Taimur and Patricia for an hour before bed.

Day 14: Gilgit to Hunza.

Gilgit, Dainyor, Sankhar, Jaglotgah, Aliabad, Karimabad (Hunza).

Distance: 101km, 7th July 2000.

Route: As the KKH leaves Gilgit district and enters Nagar. The KKH takes a sharp bend to the right following the course of the Hunza river. To the left, a jeep road drops down to the river and crosses on a new bridge to the village of Chalt, the Hunza river and the KKH make a 90 degree bend, there are marvelous views of Rakaposhi straight ahead. Although the KKH continues on the Nagar side of the valley, across the river the first Hunza village (khizerabad) can be seen. The KKH then passes through the small Nagar village of Jaferabad. Beyond jafarabad is the small settlement of Nilt (1425 metres).

The green, fertile lands on the Hunza side of the river belong to the small villages of Maiun and Khanabad. At Pisin on the KKH, a Jeep track branches right to Minapin 4kilomtres, a little beyond Pisin the road leaves Nagar and crosses the Hunza river by way of a Chinese built bridge onto the Hunza side of the river. It is 80 kilometers south to Gilgit from here, and 21 kilometers north to Aliabad.

The first village in Hunza on the KKH is Nasirabad (1,500 metres).The KKH then passes through Murtazabad, Beyond the vilage, a jeep road crosses a rope suspension bridge to Shayar, on the Nagar side. On the Hunza side of the river, there are magnificent views of the daunting Ultar Peak (7,388 metres). As the road enters the mouth of the Hasanabad valley, you pass from lower Hunza into central Hunza, the road to the left runs the 10 kilometers up to Karimabad.

The main KKH continues through Aliabad, which is 101 kilometers from Gilgit.

Travelogue:

The morning breakfast at the PTDC dinning room was cornflake omelets and fried eggs with orange juice. By the time we were ready to leave it was past eleven in the morning. I filled the diesel tank at the PSO petrol pump the vehicles took 60 liters. The local bakery is well stocked with snacks and pepsi so the kids were very happy. The road to Hunza is a back track on the KKH for about ten kilometers and then the left fork to the bridge, which crosses the Gilgit river and then heads on to Daniyor. The road travels on the left of the river through some of the most scenic mountain terrain I’ve ever driven through. 30 Km from Gilgit is the Monument to mark the soldiers who laid their lives while working to carve this road out of the mountains. It is a huge drill on the left side of the road above the graveyard of the martyred soldiers. The road is very broad and the surface is as smooth as silk, driving for an hour the mighty Rakaposhi suddenly comes into view on the right as it towers up into the sky. We stopped for tea on the roadside caf� and admired the majestic view of the mountain in front of us. Looking through binoculars one can see the huge mass of snow that stretches up for miles and the minute details on the surface such as the crevasses and cracks are easily visible through these modern prism binoculars. The surface of the snow on the mountain has that rugged rough look. I often admire the courage and determination of those who attempt to conquer such rugged slopes.

We reached Hunza by the evening and settled in at the PTDC luxury suites as the economy ones were full. We were upgraded to our surprise. The view from the hotel of the peeks that encircle the Hunza valley is breathtaking. The seven sisters are a sight to behold as they spike up into the sky. It is said that most of the peaks that soar up in the sky around this valley are above 20000ft. Many are still uncharted and unnamed. It was late in the evening when we had dinner in the dinning room of the hotel, this newly built dinning room is a fabulous piece of architecture made from wood and metal beams. The lush green lawn in front of the dinning hall was the venue for late night green tea. The view of the sky with millions of shinning stars and the dark silhouette of the mountains in the background were very enchanting. It has been deeply engraved in my memory. The shimmering stars still glow in the depths of my mind.

Day 13: Gilgit

Rest. Jeep Service and Repair, Shopping. Stocking up for Kunjerab,

6th July 2000

Travelogue:

The men were up early in the morning as the vehicles were in need of repairs, each one has something or the other to sort out. Taimur had already left by the time Hamid got ready. We left for the mechanics by 10 am. I remembered from the last trip when Rizwan’s Potohar needed repairs that there were many auto workshops on the main road leading to the main shopping center. The P.S.O. petrol pump is opposite the workshop, a small side street leads in from the main road to the mechanics. He took a good look at the broken cable and had it replaced in an hour to the cost of Rs. 300. Taimur had to have his right front end of the chassis welded as it had a crack, which was propagating and worrying him that it was increasing in size. The boys CJ had to have the rear rack welded as it was rattling again and would ultimately shear off if it was not properly secured this time. They were parked discreetly hidden amongst the rubble and grease of the mechanics garage. The rack had been repaired and it was being painted when we saw them. Imad was painting the rack black with the spray paint that he had rooted out from the spare part shop, the jeep, has to look good you see.

I was in search of a spare tire as the left rear tire was causing me some concern. The thread on the sidewall was showing signs of wear and the steel wires had punctured through. The tire shop on the way to the Serena hotel had new equipment and was my only chance. The landcruiser runs on 16-inch wheels, which are rare and tires to fit the rim size are therefore difficult to find. The spare tire shop had only one to offer and I did not have a choice, a Bridgestone Desert Dueler that was second hand but in good tread. I bought it for Rs 3500.

That evening we went to the Serena hotel to window shop and then later had dinner at the Chiken Karahi shop in the main city bazaar. The food was good and we all had our fill.

Day 12: Fairy Meadows to Gilgit

Fairy Meadows, Tato, Raikot bridge (Pick up the 4×4’s), Gonar Farm, Jalipur, Jaglot, Gilgit.

5th July 2000

Route: The gravel track from Tato to Raikot bridge takes a good two hours of fourwheeling.The KKH crosses the river at Raikot bridge. Several kilometers north of Jaglot is the confluence of the Indus and Gilgit rivers, here 38 kilometers from Gilgit, the KKH leaves the Indus and branches along the West Bank of the Gilgit river. The Skardu road crosses the Gilgit river here. A sign marks this place as a ‘unique spot’, at the confluence of 2 rivers and 3 mountain systems. A further 20 kilometers along the KKH is another ‘unique spot’; marked by a memorial raised by the NLI in 1997 to indicate the place where in 1852 the ‘Dards’ ambushed and annihilated the Sikh garrison of Bunji Fort.

The KKH continues through another police check post, before turning north shortly before the confluence of the Gilgit and Hunza rivers. The KKH crosses the river on a long suspension bridge, and proceeds north for Hunza and China, whilst the left fork enters Gilgit through its eastern suburb of jutial.

Travelogue:

The locals had arranged a polo match for us in the morning. The local teams were playing against each other for the fun of the sport. The horse riders are very skilled as they charge the ball at full gallop. We watched them in awe as they entertained us with their skills and horsemanship.

The walk back from Fairy Meadows to Tato did not seem as strenuous as the way up, though some of the folk still went back on horseback. We had breakfast at the camp dinning room and after the luggage had been distributed amongst the porters who would lug it back to Tato we started our walk back. Fairy Meadows is a big clearing that is surrounded by thick forest. It is perhaps amongst the most scenic and magical beauty spots of Pakistan. I have thoroughly enjoyed its beauty during my stay.. The walk back to Tato leads you through the fields and then down a steep zigzagging path from the top of the ridge, with the Riakot glacier in front. The path broadens as the glacier approaches and then takes a ‘U’ turn towards the Tato. The valley narrows before Tato as the path carries on to the rest area where we had lunch. The locals knew that we were returning back today and there were some patients waiting for me to see. The jeeps had arrived and our luggage was loaded on to them while we had lunch.

The drive to Riakot was exciting, you can see the KKH from the gravel track as you drive down it appears as a small black pencil line drawn on the edge of the mountain below with the muddy river flowing next to it. It is all down hill from Tato and it takes an hour and a half to the bridge. We packed all the gear back onto our vehicles and started the second leg of our journey to Gilgit. The weather was hot down near the base of the valley it was about 5.30 in the evening when we started to roll towards Gilgit. The traveling time to Gilgit from Riakot is about two hours. The KKH crosses to the left of the river here at Riakot, and as we crossed the bridge, Hamid came on the walky talky to inform us that his Bronco was not changing gears. We quickly assessed the damage to be a snapped cable, which shifts the gear levers. This could not be changed here, as we did not carry a spare cable. It was decided that Khalid would toe Hamid to Gilgit and we would have it repaired the next morning.

The KKH seems like a highway after the drive down from Tato. We had to cross a temporary bridge, you come across many on the KKH. There was a military FJ40 Toyota parked to the left on the road, the driver flagged me as I drove past him. I stopped to inquire, he explained that the battery of the vehicle had discharged and he was without lights. It was dark by now and the road had too many sharp bends on this stretch for him to negotiate without lights. He was asking for help. I had to drive behind him and show him the road with my beams while he drove up ahead. It was about forty-km to Gilgit from here and we drove in total darkness except for my front beams. It was a scary experience for me, I suppose the Army drivers are used to all sorts of conditions here. As the lights of Gilgit appeared in the distance I sighed a breath of relief. I was glad we had reached safely. All during this time my companions who were following behind me could not understand why I would not overtake the Army jeep, they were all hungry and cursing me for driving at such a slow pace.

We reached the PTDC Gilgit motel at 10.30 p.m. and ordered dinner. Everyone had been looking forward to this break in the journey. Rest. Was on everyone’s mind.