Tag Archives: Dr. Mansur Ahmad

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.

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.

Day 8: Islamabad to Besham

Islamabad, Haripur Havelian (official starting point of Karakoram Highway), Salhas pas, Abbottabad (1853), Bandi, Mansera (trading center, Asoka’s Rock Edicts), Batgram, Thakot, , Besham (site of Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hien’s crossing of Indus in 413 ad. )

Distance: Odometer: 128084, 1st July 2000

Route: To reach the beginning of the KKH, one has to travel west from Islamabad on the Peshawar bound Grand Trunk Road. Having passed through the Margalla Pass, it is possible to turn north at Taxila 31 kilometers through Wah to Haripur (34 kilometers).

A further 20 kilometers on is Havelian, the terminus for the narrow gauge railway from Taxila, and the official starting point of the Karakoram highway. Beyond the town the road crosses the Dor River, and then rapidly climbs through denuded hills before dropping down into Abbottabad. North of Abbottabad the road travels through the gentle hills of Hazara. The road passes through emerald green rice paddies, fields of corn, fruit trees, and pines. After Batagram the land begins to change. The road twists downward into a drier canyon en route to its rendezvous with the mighty Indus.

The Kohistan section of the journey along the KKH begins as you cross the Thakot Bridge. Having crossed the Indus, the highway passes through the village of Dandai (1 kilometer), before continuing to Besham, another 22 kilometers ahead.

Travelogue:

Saturday morning, it was time to leave for Besham. The guesthouse was buzzing with activity like a beehive, everyone getting ready and packing their belongings. The driveway was littered with all sorts of camping gear and supplies as the vehicles were quickly loaded up. The tarps we had bought from the Pindi army surplus market yesterday came in handy as it had been drizzling off and on. Everybody’s luggage racks were covered to keep things dry. We were now seven vehicles as Najeeb and Kabir had joined us too. Najeeb was in his 5-door Pajero turbowagon that had been through a major overhaul especially for this trip, and Kabir in the red Khyber, which would prove seemingly invincible, following the 4×4s nearly everywhere.

The first stop was the petrol pump at the Jinnah Supermarket. As the vehicles were refueled, the women descended upon the store for snacks and supplies. The attendant was baffled by the amount of people that had suddenly invaded his store; he had probably never had this many customers at one time. There were far too many people in the store and the poor attendant was unable to keep up. The mad rush and the confusion caused Biba’s bill to get muddled up and the manager had to sort it out item by item, much to his annoyance.

We were finally ready to leave Islamabad at 12:30 in the afternoon. The Prado’s odometer crossed the 2000 km mark as we headed out on the main road towards Abbottabad. We had come a long way without any major problems. I hoped this good fortune would keep up with us throughout the trip.

The GT road to Peshawar is a single track with on coming traffic being mostly trucks. Just past the memorial of a British officer on top of the hill, the road turns towards the heavy mechanical complex of Taxilla. We took this turn to Haripur and then on to Havelian. The road is a single track, and winds its way through some very picturesque countryside replete with hills and fields of wheat. In the absence of construction and diversions along the way, we did well to reach Abbotabad by 4:30 PM.

The drive out of Abbottabad to Mansehra is through lovely green fields of tobacco and all sorts of vegetables. The road starts to climb towards Mansehra through pine forests, that particular smell of pine lending a pleasant fragrance to the air. We made a pit stop at an old derelict mine, which seemed to have been closed for many years. There was an old Dodge truck in the compound, which had run itself to the ground. The markings on it suggested that it had been used during the road construction period. While there, we bought some roasted corn on the cob, which the locals sell on the stalls by the roadside. It was a delicious treat seasoned with salt, chili pepper, and lemon.

The climb up the mountains was a relaxing and entertaining drive. The forested scenery in the mountains here was a far cry from what we had been seeing in the deserts of Balochistan and the plains of Punjab. We were excited that the ‘adventure’ had finally begun. Our popping ears let us know we were ascending quite rapidly, the 4×4s pulling up the inclines effortlessly. We were enjoying the cool wind in our hair, when a madman in a Suzuki Hi-roof descended upon us out of nowhere. This fellow was driving like he had lost his way in the Indy 500. We had to jump on the brakes to avoid crushing him as he darted in and out of our convoy, getting dangerously close to oncoming traffic. Although we would have liked to deal with him in our own special way, he was gone as quickly as he had arrived.

Next we drove through the Thakot area. The terrain here is quite treacherous, known for frequent landslides. Moreover, the road was in very poor condition, its surface uneven and broken, increasing the difficulty level.

We had underestimated the time needed to reach Besham, especially given the poor road conditions in certain areas. I dread driving on these roads at night, and as darkness fell, we had to be extra careful, watching out for gaping potholes and washed out sections of the road, which were all too common. A slight lapse in concentration could land us at the bottom of the gorge in pile of twisted metal. Some of us had never driven here before and took longer than usual. We finally reached Besham at about 10 PM and were soon out for the night. The weather was unusually pleasant and cool as it is normally very hot here during July. We hadn’t been rained on yet either, but we weren’t complaining. The weather can make or break a journey in these areas.

Day 7: Islamabad – Margala Hills

Shopping and repairs in Rawalpindi, trek up to the top of Margala Hills.

30th June 2000

Travelogue:

Taimur and the boys went to Pindi early in the morning as their vehicles were in need of minor repairs. The suspension on Khalid’s white Willy’s M38 needed attention, the broken luggage rack on Salman’s CJ-7 had to be re-welded and reinforced, and Taimur’s airconditioning system needed a recharge.

While Taimur and the boys were busy in Pindi, we got off to a lazy start with a late breakfast. Kabir had arrived yesterday from Lahore with his family to join us for the rest of the journey north. He would accompany me and Hamid to Pindi to look for plastic tarps for the roof racks in case of rain. We found colored sheets of plastic from the army surplus stores parallel to the railway crossing.

We also stopped by the old fishing shop in Pindi, where we had bought fresh water fishing gear many times before. The Phunder Valley, where we would go later in our journey, is supposedly full of trout. This time I was prepared to go all the way and intended on breaking all previous records in trout fishing. I bought a new fishing rod and some new spinners, and also rang Nichlolas in Karachi to bring the fishing rods that we had forgotten at home. Nicholas, Salman and Yaseen had been absent on this trip so far and they would be flying to Islamabad to join us. Work and school commitments had prevented them from being able to accompany us through Balochistan.

Afterwards, we drove to the auto parts market looking for some diesel additive so that we could be prepared for sub-standard fuel in Gilgit. Walking through the market I came across Rizwan’s friend, Arif, who was in Pindi for some work. We enjoyed a good ten-minute chat. However, the diesel fuel additive still eluded us for several hours until we finally managed to locate ten bottles. We would share them with the rest of the group. Our trip to Pindi was topped off with a hearty lunch at the famous Murgh Choola House of Pindi where Kabir ordered the irresistible murgh (chicken).

Upon arriving back at the guesthouse in Islamabad, the boys and I set off for a trek up the Margalla Hills. We had planned the trek with Shahid as an exercise to condition us for the high altitude climbing and walking we would be doing. Shahid is an old school friend of mine who settled in Islamabad. We drove to the base of the climb at about 5:30pm and started the gentle climb up the hill. The track is wide enough for a few people to pass through. Many people walk up the hill and we met with all age groups. Halfway up the hill Sikander had the brilliant idea of taking a difficult detour. This was an almost vertical climb up crumbly patches of rock and mud that were still mushy from the recent rains. It was strenuous exercise and we were all breathless and drenched in sweat in no time. Another few meters uphill and we were panting our lungs out. Sikander was being called all the names under the sun for bringing us this way. By the time we reached the top, our exhausted legs could hardly hold us up. My thighs were quivering as they pulled me up the remaining last few meters to the top. If the Margalla trek felt strenuous, what were we to expect at Fairy Meadows? In contrast, the walk downhill was very pleasant. We took the more traveled path this time and enjoyed the scenic beauty of the Margalla Hills. The sun had just set and the sudden fall in temperature was a welcome treat.

The Karakoram Highway

The lands route most of the way from Rawalpindi to Gilgit follows the Karakoram Highway up the deep Indus river gorge. The best way to go by road to Gilgit is by following the Grand Trunk road west over the Margalla Pass, a place that the noted British historian Sir Olaf Caroe considered demarcating the boundary between the South Asian subcontinent and Central Asia. Then you pass the turnoff to Taxila, past the monument on the hilltop at the edge of the pass. Taxilla boasts extensive series of archaeological sites from successive civilizations dating from 600 B.C to 600 A.D. that stood at the cultural crossroads of China, India, Central Asia, and the West. The road then curves south of Wah, a town favored by the Moghuls, who built elegant gardens and pavilions here in the sixteenth century, now home of the National Ordinance Factory. Three miles north of Hassan Abdal you enter the Hazara region of the North-West Frontier Province and continue past the bustling town of Haripur to Havelian, the railhead and official beginning of the Karakoram Highway. The KKH cuts through the town of Abbottabad, and a road branches east to the hilltown of Murree and the Galis. It carries on past Abbottabad through the gentle hills in Hazara region, a tranquil but very conservative area, laced with emerald green rice paddies, fields of corn, fruit trees, and pines the countryside is truly spectacular. After the town of Batagram, the land begins to change the road twists downward towards a drier canyon en route to its rendezvous with the mighty Indus river.

At Thakot (2,515 feet in elevation and 123 miles from ‘Pindi), the KKH leaves Hazara and enters the Swat District, crossing to the right bank of the Indus over the first of the more than ninety graceful suspension bridges built by the Chinese and Pakistani engineers that lie between here and the northern border. The bustling town of Besham Qila is a short distance ahead.

Pattan is Kohistan’s administrative center and was the hardest-hit village when an earthquake struck Kohistan in 1974, killing thousands of people. Here the Indus flows through a V-shaped gorge with scattered trees and small homes that cling to the steep, brown slopes as if camouflaged. The rocky hills are particularly steep in this part of the gorge, and in the 1960s road workers had to lower themselves down on ropes to drill and set the first charges of dynamite. Five hundred Pakistanis and Chinese lost their lives building the KKH, and more were killed in this stretch than anywhere else. Over fifteen thousand Pakistanis and ten thousand Chinese worked on the KKH, they used 8,000 tons of dynamite, removing 30 million cubic yards of earth and rocks to complete the road. The KKH was officially opened for traffic in 1978, but the last Chinese engineers stayed on till late 1979, and up to 1981 foreigners needed permits to travel on the road. Landslides are a regular phenomenon on the KKH and you may find yourself temporarily marooned between two landslides at any time, particularly during the rainy season.

Above Pattan the road crosses to the left bank of the river, and a little farther on, just before the river trends easterly, the Kandia Valley joins the Indus. There are three passes between 15,000 and 17,000 feet in elevation that lead from Kandia into the upper Swat Valley.

As the town of Sazin approaches the blind turns and stomach-turning precipices diminish and the valley widens, scattered grey sandy beaches appear below on the riverbank. Almost directly across the river to the north of Sazin is the mouth of the Tangir valley. Tangir and the neighboring valley of Darel blends into the Indus 6 miles to the east and are well known for their lush terrain.

East of Sazin the KKH leaves the North-West Frontier Province and enters the administrative region called the Northern Areas. You are in Baltistan now. The principal town in this west-to-east part of the Indus valley is Chilas, an inhospitable and sun-bleached place. At Chilas (about 3,900 feet in elevation and 280 miles from Rawalpindi) the road descending from the Babusar Pass and the Kaghan valley to joins the KKH. The most interesting sites in the Chilas vicinity are various rocks where ancient petroglyphs can be seen. Over the past four millennia, Kushan, Buddhist, and Hindu conquerors, merchants, missionaries, and pilgrims carved symbols and inscriptions into various large boulders glazed dark brown by oxidation of their iron content. At these sites you can see the likenesses of horses, serpents, ibex, stupas, and fugures of Buddha.

East of Chilas this dry gorge becomes even deeper, because high above and out of sight to the south rises Nanga Parbat (26,650 feet), the western most peak in the great Himalaya Range, a mountain so gargantuan that it immolates more as a range than a single massif.

In this area north of Nanga Parbat is the second deepest gorge on earth, as measured from the peak to the base of the valley. (The Arun Valley, in eastern Nepal, from the summit of Makalu to the Arun River, is the greatest vertical drop.) While driving up this oven like gorge in summer, it seems utterly incongruous to know that nearly 4 miles vertically above are shimmering snowfields. At Raikot village, the Raikot valley joins the Indus. From the village a road angles up a steep ridge and leads up the valley as far as the Shangri La hotel. A long day’s walk above the road ahead takes you to the pastures called Fairy Meadows, below the Raikot Glacier. Just upriver from Raikot, the KKH crosses to the north (right) bank of the Indus.

The Indus valley gently bends to the north, and as you move further away from the Nanga Parbat the range comes into view as miles of snow above the valley. The large Astor river empties into the East side of the Indus in the lower portion of this area. The sun-bleached town of Bunji lies north of the Astor river on the east bank of the mighty Indus. Bunji is the headquarters of the Northern Light Infantry. The KKH crosses a clear stream on a suspension bridge, then passes through the town of Jaglot, where the road from Bunji and the Astor valley crosses the Indus to join the main KKH.

The Gilgit River joins the Indus from the west just up ahead of jaglot. Here in a parched wasteland is a brief stretch of road from where one can view the two mighty rivers as they meet to form a hugh bulk of water as it gushes down the slopes. In summer the waters from the Gilgit river is grayish black, while the Indus is light brown in hue. The KKH follows first the Gilgit river, then the Hunza valley to the border with Sinkiang, China, at the Khunjerab Pass. A mile up the Gilgit valley, the road to Baltistan diverges northeast from the KKH, crossing the Gilgit river on its way up the Indus. It is uncanny to think that just 10 miles away up the Indus gorge the river bends to the southeast and continues from there in the same direction for some 500 miles to its source north of the sacred Mt. Kailas in western Tibet.

The town of Gilgit is 4900 feet in elevation and 365 miles from Rawalpindi. It is a place travelers must pass through and pause at on the way to or from their excursions in Hunza, or between Chitral and Baltistan, but it is not a destination in itself, particularly in the hot midsummer months. In the past, the town was alternately fought over, plundered, and ignored.

Near Gilgit is a Buddha carved into a stone face, a remnant of the era over seven hundred years ago when Buddhism held sway across much of what is now the North-West Frontier Province, the Northern Areas, and Afghanistan.

Ghizar valley is the westernmost extension of the Gilgit river and provides the road link between Gilgit and Chitral. Ghizar was ruled alternately by the Khushwaqt clan of Mastuj and its own raja in the town of Gupis near the mouth of the valley, 68 miles west of Gilgit.

Leaving Gilgit, your vehicle skirts the airport runway on the East End of town, then passes the suburb called Jutial and crosses a few dry alluvial fans. Joining the KKH, the road turns north, crossing the Gilgit River on a large suspension bridge and passing through the large oasis of Dainyor, a town where many Hunzakuts live. Beyond Dainyor the road curls in and out of several nalas, entering the lowest reaches of the Hunza Valley, here a dry, rocky, and uninspiring V-shaped gorge.

North of Rahimabad your vehicle barrels along at the base of the rock ridges that are the western most edge of Rakaposhi. Across the river lies Nomal at the base of the Naltar Valley, and north of Nomal on the West Side of the gorge you can still see some fragments of the original road clinging to a series of impossibly steep precipices and cliffs.

A forty five-minute drive from Gilgit, the valley opens up and the Hunza River bends to the east, now north of the Rakaposhi. To the north across the valley you can see the irrigated fields of Chalt at 6560 feet, a town that was formerly part of the state of Nagar.

As the KKH continues up valley beyond Chalt, it remains in Nagar as long as the road lies on the south bank of the Hunza river. Just beyond Chalt on the northern side of the Hunza river is the former boundary of Hunza State. The Jeep bridge at Sikandarabad (“Alexander’s Town”) gives access to the northern side of the river at the Bar valley, and soon another bridge leads off the KKH to the village of Maiun. The KKH crosses several streams that tumble down the flanks of Rakaposhi. The road enters Hunza proper as it crosses to the north side of the river and passes through the village of Hini. The 25,550 foot Rakaposhi, the “Crown Jewel of Hunza,” towering over the Pisan Glacier is visible on a clear day. This is, as close to the peak as the vehicle bound viewer will ever get. Rakaposhi, like Tirich Mir and Nanga Parbat, is believed to be the home of fairies who may play tricks on humans when people get too close to their snowbound homes. The peak is also called Dumani, a Shina name meaning “Two Princesses.”

Just beyond Ganesh village below Kareemabad, the KKH crosses the Hunza river on a large bridge within walking distance from the bridge right on the roadside is Haldikish (“Place of the Rams”), also known as the Sacred Rock of Hunza. This large rock has many carvings from different eras and in varying scripts. From here up valley for some distance the Hunza river flows in an arid, V-shaped gorge that is sparsely populated. In a few miles the riverbed curves to the north, and as you proceed along this deep gutter, the main peaks of the Karakoram tower above out of sight, for here the river is cutting between the highest summits of the range. Now you are entering the region called Gujal, the largest area within the Hunza valley.

At shishkot the KKH crosses to the west side of the river and soon reaches Gulmit (about 8,000 feet). Gulmit, within a lushly irrigated acreage of orchards and fields, was once the summer residence of the Mir.

Near Gulmit the valley widens dramatically. The KKH crosses the raucous streams of the Gulmit and Ghulkin glaciers, and then passes the town of Sesoni. In this stretch of the valley you begin to see Tupopdan, a multipinnacled ridge culminating in a 20,000-foot peak. Tupopdan is a giant pincushion of sheer, knifelike spires, a sui generis mountain rising straight up from the plain and dominating this section of the valley. The Wakhi village of Pasu (8,500 feet elevation, 102 miles from gilgit is next on the KKH.)

North of Gujal’s Batura Glacier, the KKH and the Hunza river enter a narrow gorge and squeeze by the western flanks of Tupopdan. The road continues through the narrow gorge, crosses the river to the east bank village of Gallapan, and reaches Murkhun. The high, now unused trail up to Karun Pir Pass and the Shimshal gorge climbs up the north side of the Karun Pir ridge from the wide nala behind Murkhun. Up valley 3 miles from Murkhun is the village of Gircha with a large spring of pure water. From Murkhun to Sust the valley widens, and you have an increasingly grand view of the northern slopes of the main Karakoram Range.

The village of Sust (9100 feet elevation and 125 miles from Gilgit) used to be a tranquil Wakhi village but has now become Gujal’s unlikely boomtown. The Khunjerab pass (or Khunjerab “Top” as it is usually referred to locally), on the border between Pakistan and China, has been crossed on the road by construction workers, officials and goods trucks since 1973. But on May 1, 1986, the Khunjerab was opened to foreigners and Pakistanis for travel between Hunza and Kashgar in Sinkiang Province.

A few miles north of Sost, the brown Kilik (or Misgar) Nala and the gray Khunjerab Nala join to form the Hunza river, each stream vying with the other to donate a more brackish contribution in summer when the glaciers up their respective valleys are melting. The second of the nalas forming the Hunza river is the larger Khunjerab, a Wakhi word meaning “the Red (or Bloody) valley.” Here the KKH follows the river along the bottom of a narrow, utterly inhospitable canyon of slate and shale. Soon the road turns north into the smaller of two narrow gorges. This is still the Khunjerab Nala, and the valley to the east is the Ghujerab. At the junction of the two valleys you enter the Khunjerab National Park, a preserve of over 800 square miles that was first proposed by the eminent wildlife biologist George B. Schaller in 1973 and established in 1975 at the bleak outpost called Dih (or Dhi).

At Kara Jilga (“Black Stream”) the road again turns north into the smaller of two streams and begins a series of switchbacks. Now you are truly between the rolling Khunjerab and Ghujerab uplands used by the Wakhi to graze vast numbers of sheep, goats, cattle, and yaks that they drive up-valley each year. Formerly the Mir reserved vast tracts in these upper meadows for his own animals. These 13,000 to 16,000 foot grasslands packed with marmot burrows resemble the Pamirs over the pass to the north far more than they do the Karakoram. The Khunjerab pass is at 15,400 feet.

Day 6: Islamabad

Shopping: Covered Market, Jinnah Supermarket, Aabpara, Blue Area.

Restaurants: Pappasallis, Kabul Tikka, Hot Spot, and Bakery.

29th June 2000

Travelogue:

I woke up at about 8:00 in the morning, and drove to the petrol pump where I had the Prado serviced on my last trip. I got there quite early as the serice boys hadn’t even arrived yet. I had to wait a little while but they were soon there and work was underway. They washed the exterior and undercarriage, vacuumed the interior, and changed the oil. Taimur and boys also arrived soon, there vehicles undergoing a similar routine. Each vehicle was cleaned inside out and it looked new by the time the boys were finished with it. Imad was not happy with the CJ-7’s braking and the rear brakes were readjusted at the mechanic’s shop next door.

Islamabad was overcast and cool and a light drizzle began as I drove off to pick the girls up for their shopping trip. It had rained yesterday in the afternoon till 6:00 in the evening just before we drove into the city. We were told that the weather had been hot the past few weeks before the rain. Maybe this was a good omen for the weather ahead. The good weather allowed the women to comfortably explore the Islamabad shopping centers, picking up supplies and souveniers. I bought some movie CD’s and went window-shopping with Susan and Patricia. Dinner was at the local Tikka shop.

Our stay at the Shalimar guesthouse, or the ‘Cockroach Motel’ as it was termed later, would be very eventful. Everyone complained of the poor service and the dirty linen, etc. The constant traffic of dubious looking characters through the place did little to ease our concerns.

Day 5: DIKhan to Islamabad

DI Khan, Darya Khan, Dullewala, Chashma barrage, Mianwali, Musa Khel, Akwal, Talagang, Chakwal, Islamabad.

Distance: 380km, 28th June 2000

Route:

Head northeast out of Dera Ismail Khan towards the Chashma Barrage, crossing the Indus at Chashma, and turn left on the main Indus Highway towards Mianwali (144 kilometers). Continuing to the east, the road to Mianwali gradually approaches the extremities of the Salt Range. The picturesque Nambal Lake is closeby, situated right at the foot of the Range. One gets a good view down onto the lake as the road starts to descend. Large numbers of migrating birds can be found here. The road then crosses wide plains of cultivated fields before entering the Talagang mud ravines to reach the city of Talagang (43 kilometers). After about eight kilometers the road forms a junction at the Islamabad – Lahore motorway. The motorway then winds it way through the hills of Kallar Kahar to reach Islamabad.

Travelogue:

Dera Ismail Khan is north 31degrees 49.463 and east 070 degrees 55.668. Our overnight stay at the Midway Hotel was very pleasant. The rooms were Rs. 680 a night, which is very reasonable considering that they were air-conditioned and other comforts were provided free of cost, such as an extra mattress. They had arranged our breakfast in their dinning room, which was air-conditioned too. The total bill of the hotel was Rs.6800 for all twenty of us including dinner, breakfast, and the room rent. This hotel is highly recommended for travelers passing through DI Khan.

The hotel is almost on the riverbank itself, with the mighty Indus just across the road. The bank is paved with burnt bricks and measures about 20 feet in width. Everything around here is big, but even the massive trees lining the bank are dwarfed by the sea of muddy water that is the Indus. The river is several kilometers wide here, with the opposing bank hardly visible on the horizon. However, the water flows deceptively fast. Such is its force, that the old barrage that had stood there through the Second World War and countless floods was swept away the year before in some of the worst flooding the river has seen. The massive stone structure, built by the British well before partition, was a truly imposing sight. It was sad to find out that a piece of the history and attraction of DI Khan had been lost forever.

The bad roads we had encountered in the last few days claimed the luggage rack on the CJ-7. The constant shaking and shuddering over the rough roads, and sometimes lack thereof, caused the tubing to tear at the mounting bolts. For now, Imad would tie it up with durarope, but a more permanent solution would have to be sought in Islamabad. This minor setback delayed our departure slightly but we off from the hotel by 1.11 PM.

As we made our way to the Shell petrol pump in the suburbs of DI Khan, the temperature outside was already up to 50 degrees Celsius. The unbearable heat and humidity, typical of the plains of Punjab, made it impossible to venture out into the sun even for a minute at a time. Even the tar on the road was mushy from the intense heat. We filled the Prado up with 41 liters of diesel, worth Rs 568, and waited for the rest of the group in the orchard of date trees adjacent to the pump. However, the refueling stop at the petrol pump would take much longer than we expected. Most of us had come down with a stomach bug and a major queue forming at the loo at the petrol pump, with Khalid and Susan fighting it out.

Getting out of DI Khan was easy. Even though Islamabad is 380 km from here, we had no trouble finding our way. The roads here are very well posted with signs and directions to major destinations in the area. They are also properly paved, with the center islands painted yellow and black. Huge old trees, mostly poplar, line the road sides. There are recent plantations of these trees too.

We would travel towards the Chashma barrage first. The single road that leads here is a smooth avenue. The old trees lining both sides of the road formed a canopy with occassional shafts of sunlight shining through, dancing on the windshield as we drove through. The canopy shaded us from the blazing sun overhead, providing welcome relief from the brutal heat of the plains.

The vegetation all around here is very picturesque. Palm trees, poplar trees, and many other varieties of green shrubs can be found here in abundance. The large plantations of poplar trees look like a forest in the distance. Rice paddy fields on either side of the road lend the scenery different hues of green. An irrigation canal joins the road from the right side and carries along for miles. There are also sugarcane fields scattered all over the countryside.

We would reach Chashma barrage late in the afternoon. Taimur’s jeep would claim the second casualty of the trip – a swallow attempting an unsuccessful low flying pass over the road. Chashma was a breathtaking sight; ‘massive’ would be an understatement. The humongous stone and steel structure is one of several barrages dotting the length of the Indus river, designed to tame and regulate the flow of floodwaters during the monsoon season. The barrage stretches for miles across the river, its gates holding back a wall of water. About 20 km from the barrage is the Indus Highway. The roads here were under construction, reduced to little more than a muddy 4×4 track in places. We finally reached the highway itself, a luxurious dual carriageway well marked for traffic from both directions. We would now proceed to Mianwali and then towards Talagang.

Mianwali is about 13 km from the point where the Chashma Barrage road joins the Indus Highway. We reached Mianwali at 4:50 PM and were soon on our way to Islamabad. The airconditioning on Taimur’s jeep had packed up for some reason and Patricia, poor thing, was red from the 42 degree heat, so we took a reststop about 60 km from the M2 motorway to have some tea. The countryside here is very picturesque with small hills and ravines that have been cut by water currents over the millennia. Small bushes, shrubs and trees are scattered all over. The road is narrow but smooth as it makes its way through these aberrations in the terrain all the way upto Talagang.

We reached Talagang at 6:45pm. The weather had cooled down considerably though Pat still looked very red. Just short of the M2 motorway we made another pit stop and checked the air in the tires. The pump where we stopped had a very interesting water supply unit. It was an old hand pump connected to an electric motor for pumping out water from a tube well. About 10 km short of Chakwal is the turning towards the M2 motorway. We drove onto the motorway at 7:55 PM; it was 109 km to Islamabad from here. The drive on the motorway was uneventful and we reached the exit toll plaza at Islamabad around 9 PM. So far we had traveled approximately 1765 km from Karachi. The coordinates here were north 33 degrees 36.724 and east 072, and the temperature outside a comfortable 27 degrees.

We rolled into Islamabad at 9:45pm. The weather here was pleasant, the cool air fresh with the smell of foliage from the evening rain. We drove straight to the Kabul restaurant where we were going to have dinner, and from there to the Shalimar Guest house at 11:13pm. We had done 1791km so far. Islamabad would be our home for the next couple of days as we gathered the rest of the group and prepared ourselves for the adventurous part of the journey that was about to begin.

Day 4: Loralai to DIKhan

27th June 2000: Loralia, Mekhtar, Kingri, Rakhni, Khar,Fort Munro, Sakhi Sawar, Dera Ghazi Khan, Dera Ismail Khan.

Distance: 402 Km, Odometer: 127000

Route: East of Loralai the old single lane road is in poor condition for much of the way. The road passes through green and fertile countryside with fruit orchards and wheat fields. It climbs gently through some low hills to Mekhtar (79 kilometers), a small village with teashops and basic food. The road then climbs steeply, passing the tiny village of Kingri (139 kilometers), before descending steadily to Rakhni (184 kilometers) After a left turn at the T-junction in the bazaar, the road again climbs, this time steeply into the mountains of the Suleman range, crossing the border into Punjab. The climb is similar to the Nathiagali climb from Abbotabad, replete with hairpin turns and switchbacks. It arrives at the village of Khar (200 kilometers), where a track leads south to the nearby hill station of Fort Munro. The main road continues east from the turning for Fort Munro, descending steadily through spectacular mountain scenery onto the Indus Plain, to arrive at Dera Ghazi Khan, 282 kilometers from Loralai and 534 kilometers from Quetta. There are a total of 3 river fordings along this last stretch. These can be tricky to negotiate after rains, particularly at Sakhi Sarwar, site of a famous shrine of a Sufi saint. The road then cuts through a ridge of low hills and crosses the wide and stony Daman plains, which stretch for around 120 kilometers north to south between DI Khan and DG Khan, sandwiched between the Suleman mountains to the west and the Indus River to the east.

Travelogue:

We left Loralai early in the morning as it was going to be the longest drive of the trip. It was a task getting everyone ready at a decent time. Usually rigging the vehicles back up take the longest time but this time most of the packing had already been done the night before. The first order of business leaving Loralai would be refueling. The petrol pump was just down the road from the guesthouse, as you turn left on the main road. We filled up with diesel here, with the Prado taking 27 liters. The misty early morning smell in the air greeted me as I stepped out to check the digits on the pump. As the rest of the group refueled, Khalid mentioned he had been having trouble with the handling of his white M38 Willy’s. It felt loose and wobbly at highway speeds, thus making it difficult for him to keep pace with the rest of the group. These concerns would be addressed in Islamabad, along with all the other vehicles going in for routine inspections and oil changes. The rest of the 4×4s had performed well so far.

We reached Kingri at 8:55 am, almost 1026 km from Karachi. It was warm and sunny but still very pleasant. While driving through the hilly area before Rakhni, I saw a flock of Saysee, a subspecies of Chakor, suddenly fly to my left and land on the rocky surface of the hill. I wanted to videotape them so we combed the area like we do while hunting, but the birds were very well camouflaged and difficult to detect, literally taking off from under our feet making that chirpy sound that is so characteristic of them.

Just short of Rakhni I saw a motorcycle approaching in the distance, little did I realize who the rider would be. It was an old classic Triumph motorbike in immaculate condition, with its chrome shimmering in the sun. The side saddle bags bulging with luggage. The Englishman riding the bike was travelling to Iran. Adventurous and brave is what I thought of him.

We reached the Rakhni borderpost at 10:57am. The outside temperature was now 39 degrees and rising – extremely hot. Rakhni is a border town between Balochistan and Punjab. One can see the signs of both the provinces in the shops. There are fertile green fields of cotton on both sides of the road. We could also see tubewells with diesel engine pumps pumping out water to the fields. Just outside of Rakhni there are petrol pumps on both sides of the road. PSO (Pakistan State Oil) owns most of the branches out here in the countryside. From Rakhni onwards the flatland gives way to the hills and the climb starts towards Fort Munro. The road is in good shape and the climb is at a comfortable gradient, save for some sharp bends and switchbacks as it crisscrosses through the mountains. We had to stop for a while over here for Hamid and the boys to catch up with us.

Further up, the climb becomes quite steep with Lowari Top like bends in Chitral as it climbs up to about 1600 metres. The road then approaches a crossing, the right fork leading towards Fort Munro, while the left fork goes on to Dera Ghazi Khan. The descent is just as spectacular as the ascent on the other side. The deep gorge comes into view as the road winds its way down the hill like a line scribbled with a pencil. The terrain soon changes from rugged mountains to a semi-desert before it becomes green with fields of cotton and other plantations on both sides of the road. We stopped at a PSO petrol pump about 30km before Dera Ghazi Khan, with the outside temperature hovering at 48 degrees. The unbearably hot and humid air of the Indus plains enveloped us like a suffocating blanket. We could feel the heat in our lungs as the refueling continued rather impatiently. Everybody was eager to get back on the road and in the wind again.

We reached Dera Ghazi Khan at about 3 PM and looked for a good restaurant from the guidebook. The weather was still unbelievably hot and stifling in the city. We darted around through the streets, keeping an eye for shaded places to park. Otherwise, the heat would turn our vehicles into ovens on wheels. We finally ate at a local hotel, our lunch consisting of biryani and chicken. The food was great and the bill came to Rs 1926 for the 20 of us. Not a bad deal by any means.

Heading out of DG Khan towards DI Khan, the mileage on the odometer read 127,274, and the temperature on the thermometer at about 45 degrees. We topped up our tanks with diesel, the Prado taking 47.11 liters worth Rs 650. We were finally out of Dera Ghazi Khan at 3:46pm heading towards Ghazi Ghat bridge, which we would cross on our way to the Indus Highway.

The Ghazi Ghat Bridge is about 10-15 km out of DG Khan on the Multan road. Somehow we landed up on the road going towards Laiya instead. Feeling that we were not headed in the right direction, we stopped to ask for directions from a family that was walking towards us from the opposite direction. The locals were very intrigued by us as we tried to communicate, first in Urdu and then in Punjabi, but could not make any headway. They greeted us with a strange dialect that none of us understood. Here we were in Pakistan trying desperately to get directions from our own folk yet we felt like stangers in our own land.

It turned out that we had missed our turning towards Peshawar after the Ghazi Ghat Bridge and strayed on down the road towards Laiya before realizing our mistake. We needed to be on the Indus Highway but instead found ourselves running on a road parallel to it. We then had to turn back and drive about 40 km towards the Indus Highway. This portion of the road was very poorly posted, making it all the more difficult to find our way.

Once on the Indus highway, it was another 93 km to DI Khan and about 8 PM on the clock. Taking advantage of the now smooth highway, the kids watched Stars Wars on the VCD player. However, our joy was shortlived, as the smooth road gave way to a rough bone jarring track where the highway was still under construction. For the next 20 km, the vehicles shuddered and groaned as the track made its way in the dimming light through muddy patches and diversions around gaping pits big enough to swallow a truck. Behind us, the boys in the CJ7 and the white Willy’s M38 played a game of jeep tag, trying to outrun each other with the leader popping the clutch causing the rear wheels to break traction and send gobs of mud flying at the chase vehicle. We stopped and took a well deserved 15-minute break after the bad stretch was over to stretch our legs while the kids had a wee stop.

We reached Dera Ismail Khan at 9.30 pm and hired a rickshaw to guide us to the hotel. The hotel manager was waiting for us eagerly. He had kept rooms for us even though he had been pressed by other guests to let them out. The rooms were clean and the air conditioning was working fine. We ordered dinner for the lot of us and after a quick meal, literally crashed for the night exhausted from the day long drive.

Day 3: Quetta to Loralai

26th June 2000: Quetta, Kuch Lak, Dil Sora, Khanozai,Loralai

Distance: 252 Km, Odometer: 126784

Route: Head northwest out of Quetta on the Chaman road, past the turning for the airport. The road crosses the Chaman railway line and passes through the Balleli checkpost. After another 25 km to Kuch Lak, turn right in the main bazaar (straight on for Chaman) and continue on a good two lane road to the junction known as Ziarat Mor for 52 kilometers towards Khanozai. The road is single lane and passes through orchards of apples, plums, and pomegranates, to reach Khanozai. Turn right at Khanozai towards Loralai. The road is extremely rough and graveled for a while before connecting the main road to Loralai. The road winds through the table topped mountains catching the edge of the Juniper forests of Ziarat before entering the barren plateau. The road from Qila Saifullah joins it from the left about 45km short of Loralia. It is then a steady, gradual descent past patches of cultivation to Loralia, 252 km from Quetta.

Travelogue:

It was noon at Lourdes hotel when we left for Loralai. There was a change of plan last night; we will now be driving to Loralai, instead of Zhob, and then to Dera Ghazi khan, and from there onwards to Dera Ismail khan.

Delayed by a bad cutout on the white jeep’s alternator, we finally left Quetta at 1:13 PM. With the electrical contacts readjusted, we could get back on the road. I also had the ‘Cruiser’s radiator flushed and refilled with six cans of coolant. The 4×4 still heats up on long inclines. Also had 44.15 liters of diesel filled up, worth Rs 600 total.

We traveled from Quetta to Khanozai and then took a right turn towards Loralai. The rough unpaved road, or rather lack thereof, caused our radiators to boil over after only 10 minutes of driving. Green coolant was oozing out of the overflow pipe as the steam pushed its way out of the radiator furiously boiling the coolant in the overflow reservior. All the vehicles were parked in a line along the track with their bonnets open to let the engines cool down, when an old Hilux drove up with three pathan men sitting in the front and three females sitting in the cargo bay. I asked them about the condition if the road and they replied there were only five more minutes of the dirt track left until the paved section of the road.

794km from Karachi, we came across a spectacular sight – an old juniper tree approximately eight to ten thousand years old on the right side of the road. We stopped to photograph this extraordinary life form. The distance to Loralai from this unique site is approximately 100 km.

After driving for another hour we stopped at an apple orchard for lunch, 40 km short of Loralai. A ‘karez’ from across the hills supplies water for the orchards. The people are very friendly here. Even though they do not speak or understand our language, they respond with so much love and hospitality it is hard to believe that they can be barbaric or vicious as the media portray them to be. All throughout our journey everyone everywhere welcomed us with open arms.

The road came to a junction as we drove towards our destination for the day. We turned right here; the left fork in the road continues towards Qila Saifullah. This junction is about 45km from Loralai and the condition of the road is good. We reached Loralai at about 6.30pm, a total of 894km from Karachi. The weather here was nice, with the temperature at 22 degrees and very little humidity. We began unpacking our vehicles as the glowing fiery red sun melted into the hazy air just above the horizon.

The newly constructed guesthouse at Loralai is to the left of the main road. While the weather outside was lovely, the rooms allocated to us were quite a different story. The doors and windows had been closed for a while, and the lack of ventilation had left them stuffy and smelling musty. Our efforts to let fresh air in were fruitless as we tried to open the windows and found that only a few were in working order. The whole building was poorly ventilated and the trapped heat would make it hard for us to sleep later.

The Commissioner of Loralai had invited us to his residence. After dinner was over, the men, accompanied by some of the boys, made their way into town in a small convoy. The Commissioner’s residence is an English building. A relic of the British Raj, it boasts sprawling green lawns and massive trees. The trees seemed to be hundreds of years old and must have surely been planted by the Englishmen who lived there since the late 19th century or thereabouts. The Commissioner’s driver also pleasantly informed us that the condition of the road to Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan was very good and the newly constructed Indus highway was almost complete. This meant that our journey to Dera Ismail Khan would be less tiring than what we had initially expected.

The night at Loralai left a strange mark on all of us. The guesthouse had a very eerie, almost haunted, vibe to it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the building had also trapped heat from the sun during the day, making the rooms unbearably hot. As Anika tossed and turned in bed, I remembered from the good old days when my father would tell us that if one laid down covered with wet sheets, the air from the fan passing through the sheets would provide a cooling effect. This was a welcome blessing and Anika slept soundly the rest of the night.

Day 2: Khuzdar to Quetta

25th June 2000: Khuzdar, Surab, Kalat, Mastung (Ruins of fort). Tiri, Lak pass, Quetta. Distance: 327 km Odometer: 126,488

Route: The main route north continues across wide plains with mountains rising up on either side. The rugged and barren landscape is interspersed by small settlements and patches of cultivated land traversing a wide plateau to reach the crossroads at Surab.

At Surab 70 kilometers from Kalat a road branches off to the west leading to Panjgur (320 kilometers) and on to Turbat (598 kilometers), a long, arduous journey on rough gravel tracks. The main town of Surab is a short distance down this road. There is a check post at the junction, some teashops and also a petrol station. From Surab the road climbs to a low pass and then descends through hills to a wide plateau, the main road continues north over a wide open plain, it crosses a low pass before arriving at the town of Kalat, 163 kilometers from Khuzdar.

Past Kalat the road travels through the Kad Khucha section of Mastung division. Orchards of apples, apricots, pomegranates and almonds surround the scattered settlement of Manguchar in Kalat division. The RCD Highway continues straight and passing through orchards and fields arrives at the small settlement of Mastung.

Heading north out of Mastung, the road climbs gradually over the wide plains and the Lak Pass comes into view to the left. At the bottom of the pass, the road to Taftan and the Iranian border forks off to the left. The road climbs steeply in hairpin bends to cross the pass and descends sharply to enter the Quetta plains. The Hazerganji National Park, 13 kilometers from Quetta, is to the left here. The road carries on straight to enter the Quetta suburbs.

Travelogue:

By the time we had finished a good sumptuous breakfast, it was 11:30am and we were ready to leave the Bolan Mining guesthouse at Khuzdar. Imad took the CJ-7 to the mechanic early in the morning and had fuel system bled. Our earlier diagnosis had been correct – it had pulled in mass amounts of air.

The second day’s journey was about to commence. We found the Levvies escort, which had missed us yesterday, waiting for us at the guesthouse. We filled up at the Khuzdar Aziz petrol pump; it has become a routine now to visit this particular pump for filling up fuel whenever we are in Khuzdar. It was hot and dry outside, about forty degrees, while inside the ‘Cruiser it was a more bearable thirty with the air-conditioning running at full capacity, keeping us cool. The hills towards the right side of the road appeared hazy in the hot, dusty air. The shimmering heat haze coming off the landscape gave the admiring viewer a false impression of the hills quivering in the distance.

From Khuzdar to Surab there are barren mountains in the distance on both sides of the road, with little hillocks sprawled in between. Out in the dry thirty six degree air, one can also see numerous dust twisters. Also known as dust devils, these occur when hot air currents twist up towards the sky due to the difference in temperature, sucking dust from the surface. Dust devils can be several hundred feet tall and look like mini-tornadoes from a distance.

The highway up to Surab is excellent, flat and smooth tarmac. Sharp bends in the road here break the monotony as it climbs at a gradient of about ten to fifteen degrees for miles on end. The long uphill stretches in the unforgiving heat took their toll on our loaded up vehicles, causing our engines to heat up every now and then. Streams and irrigation ditches along the way provided ideal places to stop and cool down by pouring water on the radiator. An added bonus of this method is that the fan pulls water dripping off the radiator and sprays a fine mist on the engine block, further dissipating heat.

Our next stop occurred at Surab. A faulty radiator cap and lack of an overflow reservior on the white jeep kept causing boilovers and overheating. This time the radiator was almost bone dry with the needle on the temperature gauge stuck in the red zone. With Taimur and Hamid lagging behind, the extra time spent fetching bottle after bottle of water to refill the radiator and cool the engine down allowed them to catch up. They arrived as the boys finished refilling the water bottles, and we were back on the road once again.

We reached Kalat at 2:26pm, with the outside temperature at thirty-eight degrees. The road from here onwards was still under repair. Although the tarmac was still holding, it had now been reduced to a bumpy single track with too many diversions. Next we stopped at the plum and apple orchards in Mastung where we had stopped the year before on the trip to Quetta. The plums were ripe but the apples were still green. This was a nice place for some tea and roti kebab sandwiches. Susan stepped in a heap of cow dung while walking through the orchard. It was of the finest vintage, fresh and very wet. The stink, however, was quite another matter. She had to wash her feet and slippers before I could let her in the vehicle.

Susan wanted to drive for a while, and what an eventful drive it was. Ten kilometers down the road, past a few small villages, she was already going like a flash. She had adjusted well to the handling of the ‘Cruiser, which was fully loaded with luggage and clothes to last us five weeks and therefore handled differently than when unloaded as in city driving.

The intercity trucks and buses coming from Quetta are absolutely reckless. When approaching one from the opposite direction, one has to be prepared to drop the left side wheels off the road in order to cross them. The shoulders of the roads are in poor condition, peppered with huge potholes and tire slashing edges. Susan was managing very well though. About thirty kilometers short of the Lak Pass, we came upon an errant goat. I could sense that it was going to run across the road. Susan sensed it too and she slowed the Landcruiser down. The goat, however, ran across the road, then turned around and tried to run back the other way. The shepherd, meanwhile, had approached the right edge of the road. On seeing the goat trying to come back to him, he picked up a few stones and hurled them at the goat to scare it off to safety. By now the goat was double minded and it had no chance of turning back again as the Landcruiser bore down on it. Susan couldn’t slow down significantly as there was an impatient bus bearing down on our tail. There was hardly a bump as the 2600 Kg Landcruiser ran over the poor goat. I could see in the sideview mirror that it had been crushed, not even a flinch as it lay sprawled on the road. A little while later, the bus that was following us came up behind us flashing his headlights to get our attention. We let it drive alongside, and the driver yelled, “the goat!” He had picked up the carcass and wanted to give it to us. I yelled back , “you keep it, we are going on to Quetta!”

Just short of the Lak Pass I took over the helm of the ‘Cruiser. It climbed well as we negotiated the bends in second gear without any difficulty. I was confident that it would do well up in the mountains of the North where it would be put to the test. Taimur was filming us as we made the ascent. Meanwhile, the boys, as usual, made a quick getaway as we made our descent on the other side of the Pass.

With the mileage now showing 126784 km on the odometer, we finally reached Quetta at 6:10pm. Taimur stopped and obtained directions for our next stop and final destination for the day, the Lourdes Hotel.

The Lourdes hotel is apparently more than one hundred years old. The rooms have high ceilings typical of old buildings. Thankfully, the climate control is modern with airconditioning. The hotel boasts a picturesque garden. We ordered tea here and enjoyed the surroundings. It is a lovely place with green velvety grass and old pine trees that tower towards the stars all around, their lovely smell adding that special fragrance to the dry air.

We checked into room number 18, Hamid in room number 20 and Taimur in room number 21. The boys are on the other side of the hotel. Although the hotel does not allow guests to wash their clothes, it did not deter Susan from her favorite past time and the room and bathroom were both soon littered with wet clothes.

Dinner was at 9:30PM at the famous Chinese restaurant. However, the food turned out to be a complete disaster – the prawns were off, the rice was half cooked and the Pepsi was warm.

The evening discussions, which were mostly concerned with the route, were rather intense as half the party wanted to go via Zohb, while Hamid’s friend advised us that the Loralai route would be better. It was decided to attempt the Loralai route as it is supposed to be more picturesque and safer.

Day 1: Karachi to Khuzdar

24th June 2000: Karachi, Hub, Uthal, Bela, Sunaro (chrome mines), Khuzdar. (Largest settlement on the RCD Highway). Distance: 410 km, Odometer: 12610

Route: The route passes through the industrialized landscape of the SITE area, before leaving Karachi’s sprawling suburbs. Traveling north on the RCD highway the road crosses the Hub River, which marks the border between Sindh and Baluchistan. There is a checkpost at Thana Mocha here. The road then enters the Town of Hub and carries on straight through towards the Somiani beach and the town of Winder.

The road passes within a couple of kilometers of Siranda Lake. Further on, there is a fork in the road; turning west here leads to a dam on the lake. At the small village of Winder there is a bazaar with teashops and simple restaurants. Further on down the road lies the town of Uthal, 115 kilometers from Karachi.

North from Uthal the RCD Highway passes through terrain that alternates between wide expanses of plateau surrounded by mountains, and the rough, barren hills of the Pab Range. The road then carries on through the scattered settlement of Wad, followed soon after by Urnach, where there are a few basic restaurants, teashops and a petrol pump. At Sunaro, set in an open plain, there are extensive chrome mines. The next settlement is Kohan, consisting only of a few houses and a check post. From here the road follows the course of the Porali River, with scattered villages and isolated clumps of date palms along its banks, before eventually emerging onto the Khuzdar plain.

Travelogue:

We sat at the dinning room table with the maps sprawled everywhere charting out the route we would take, it had to be different from the last time. The planning would take us six months to get the fine details right, such as the route, the various modifications to the vehicles and how they would be carried out, booking the hotels and arrangements for the accommodation at the rest houses, informing local officials about our arrival, etc etc.

The final preparations for the trip – packing, last minute shopping, fine-tuning of the 4×4s – all completed the night before, we were all set to move to Hamid’s house early in the morning. We were to assemble at his residence before embarking on the drive across Pakistan. This trip promised to be an exciting expedition.

We reached Hamid’s house at about 10:00 AM. Taimur was late in arriving – a leaking valve stem, which broke as he stepped on it whilst climbing down from the roof rack, had to replaced. The coordinates at Hamid’s house were north 24 49.008, east 067 03545 on the GPS unit.

Final departure time: 11:15 AM Karachi, The Landcruiser’s odometer reading: 12610 km.With an average of four persons per vehicle, our five 4×4s would start the journey at the Omar residence in Karachi and meet up with the rest of the contingent in Islamabad for the rest of the trip. The 4×4s were in the order of, Hamid Omar and his Ford Bronco, the white M38 Willy’s jeep piloted by Khalid Omar, Taimur Mirza and his own version of the Jeep Wrangler, totally self-designed and built at the factory, Imad and his brothers Yaseen and Salman in the latter’s CJ7, and my family and myself in the Landcruiser Prado. The Prado is equipped with all the gadgets and gizmos that you can think of. The latest Garmin III GPS unit, a VCD and CD player and a TV, temperature gauge for outside and inside readings, an altimeter, and adjustable shocks, which will be of help in dampening jounce on the rough terrain. Our vehicles were fully loaded with all sorts of equipment apart from the occupants’ luggage and suitably modified to endure the trying journey that lay ahead.

On the way out of the city, we had the vehicles weighed at the weighstation at the fork on the Shershah road heading towards Hub. The Landcruiser weighed in as the heaviest of the group at 3500kg. The next stop was at the Shell petrol pump on the Hub road. Tire pressures were checked and fuel was topped up. Myra video taped the proceedings as Sabiha rested her elbow on the Bronco’s fender and inhaled a deep puff of roasted Marlboro tobacco smoke, paused for a second and then, in great anticipation of exciting things to come, exhaled the smoke into the morning air.

We crossed the toll plaza into Hub at 12:30 PM. The cool seabreeze blowing from the south brought clouds – a welcome break from the oppressive heat. The clouds grew darker and occassional showers rained down upon us to provide instant relief from the summer heat. These showers would sorely be missed later in the afternoon at Uthal, where we stopped for tea.

By the time we rolled into Winder, at 1:25pm, the rain and clouds had gone and it was getting hot and sunny again with a gusty wind still blowing from the seafront towards the countryside. The visibility towards Kanrach was very poor and dusty; it looked like a dust storm was brewing up on the northern side of the road towards the hills. Taimur was in the lead, followed by myself then Imad, Khalid, and as usual, Hamid trailing behind in the rear. We looked for our police escort along the way but couldn’t find any sign of them. We would report to the levvies post on the way and maybe they could radio them to let them know that we had crossed the town of Hub.

As we approached Uthal, the freshly repaved highway announced its presence with a much improved ride. A note of acknowledgement to the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) here as they have done a tremendous job of repaving the road leading into Uthal and onwards. The roads are much wider now and the curbs vastly improved.

In Uthal, the Department of Wildlife Office would be the venue for our afternoon tea break. At about 2:10 PM in the sweltering heat of the afternoon, the vehicles pulled off the road one by one and lined up at the compound. KFC chicken, parathas, and sandwiches were the fare for the afternoon, finished off with tea. The news at the office was that DFO Iqbal had been transferred to Khuzdar.

Our next stop was the Coastguards checkpost on the outskirts of Uthal. All vehicles passing through this checkpost are checked for smuggling. As the Coastguards proceeded to check our vehicle documents, Taimur had a word with the officer in charge to expedite the process, and we were finally off again after a delay of a few minutes.

It would soon be time to fill up with diesel for the remaining drive to Khuzdar, so we stopped at the Bela petrol pump. This is our usual refueling point returning from camping trips into Balochistan. The Landcruiser took 36 litres in all. Fuel consumption for the driving conditions was quite satisfactory at 12 km per litre.

Outside Bela the terrain changes from a flat plateau to rough barren hills, through which the road cascades as it climbs and descends. The weather was pleasant, cool and overcast, and the drive was very picturesque. There are Pish bushes all around, which resemble ferns, with scattered trees on both sides of the road. It felt as if the road had been carved out through the many small valleys that surrounded us.

We were still about 100 km from Khuzdar when the first sign of vehicular trouble popped up. The brake pedal on Taimur’s jeep had gone lax. Being equipped with an automatic transmission, the jeep doesn’t have the braking effect of the engine like the rest of the manual transmission vehicles. Taimur would need every bit of the jeep’s remaining braking power on the steep climbs and descents of these hills.

At about 5:47pm and 70 km from Khuzdar, we stopped at a tube well pumping out clean and refreshingly cool water. The boys wasted no time in jumping into the holding tank, while the rest of us washed and freshened up. All empty bottles were filled up too. These would prove to be invaluable on long uphill stretches that taxed our engines to the max in the oppressive heat.

The brake drum on the left rear side of Taimur’s jeep was smoking when we made our next pit stop. A metallic grinding noise indicated something was definitely wrong with the brake, so we decided to disassemble it. The return spring on the brake shoe had come loose and the adjustment lever was rubbing on the drum making the metallic noise. The lever and the spring were fixed back into position and the brake started to function normally again. However, our troubles for the day were not over yet. It was about 7.30 PM by the time we were on the road again after fixing the brake. Only a few kilometers down the road, and Imad’s, jeep started to lose powerl. Air bubbles in the fuel line were making it impossible for the engine to stay running, and quite soon the vehicle refused to run at all. Despite our collective efforts, the bubbles persisted. The jeep would now need to be towed the next 50 km to Khuzdar. Khalid graciously obliged and we were underway again. The little white jeep showed off its superior power-to-weight ratio as it towed the heavy equipment and luggage laden CJ-7 up the hills at highway speeds without a problem. We finally reached Khuzdar at 9.30 pm, the staff of the Bolan Mining rest house l waiting for us. The jeeps were unpacked and an absolutely delicious dinner was served. The day came to a relaxing end as we sat on the terrace for a review of the day’s events and later played cricket with Sheheryar till late at night.

Foreword

Traveling by road has always brought out the best in me. The hum of the engine, the rumbling noise of the tires, and the passing scenery have a calming effect on my being. Ever since I was young, traveling by car to far off places was the ultimate in adventure. We have been on numerous trips, some for a short duration of a week others for longer. Some offroading adventures others by road upcountry. This present trip had been meticulously planned with some like-minded friends. The driving experience across the country up to the Chinese border on the Khunjerab pass would take us through the wilderness of Balochistan and the lush green Punjab plains. Our bunch has extensive experience in traveling by road, so this long distance of approximately 3000 Km one way would be fun. It is said that the more knowledge you have of the area you are going to visit, the more you will enjoy the trip. So I picked up travel guides and articles, books and all the material I could lay my hands on to prepare myself for this adventure. The more I read about the history, culture and countryside, the more I found myself in awe of this land of mine. How ignorant are we that we do not realize how much this land has to offer, in terms of history, adventure, sightseeing, and above all, happiness?

Continue reading Foreword

Preparations

We at the 4×4 Offroaders Club of Karachi are an eclectic collection of friends and their families who love the outdoors and, of course, four wheeling. The Omars take the honour of having the most 4×4s. Hamid Omar, the head of the family, is a genuine inventor. His imaginative mind works best under stress, especially when the electronics of his Jeep Cherokee play up, and for some reason they only play up in the bush. He has been an avid outdoor enthusiast since his teens, whether tackling the Indus by boat or driving and camping up in the northern areas. Sabiha Omar, his wife, is always game for the trips, organizing the luggage and the gear. Having the T-shirts and caps printed and designing the luggage for the future expeditions, she has brought that exciting look to the club. Their three children Mahera, Khalid and Abid are all born outdoor kids, Mahera has a flair for the video camera, while Khalid prefers driving and tinkering around with his Jeep. Abid is always there for the really classy shots with his still camera. Altogether they own a Jeep Cherokee, a Ford Bronco II, a modified and many times rebuilt M38, and a Kia Grand Sportage. Hamid’s younger brother, Ahmad Omar, who owns a CJ-7, is also known for filling up his jeep with so much food related stuff that one could last out in the bush for weeks.

Continue reading Preparations

Karachi to Khuzdar

I had the CJ-7 prepared for the trip. We had modified the suspension to handle the weight of the luggage on the trail – there were two shocks on each side in the rear to handle the extra load and dampen the movement as the vehicle plied the gravel roads. Stabilizing arms also braced the rear differential to check the kick from the sudden thrust of power when engaged in 4×4. The arms prevent the rear springs from distorting under power and keep the pinion end of the differential pointed in the right direction. Finally, the GPS was installed on the dash to monitor the route. The other Jeeps with us were Dr Rehman Baig’s recently refurbished M38, and Salman’s newly acquired M170 field ambulance (military version of the long wheelbase CJ-6) with plenty of space for luggage and tents. Taimur was in his heavily modified CJ-7, while Hamid brought his Cherokee. Khalid and Abid followed in the white M38 and Bronco respectively, while Ahmad drove his CJ-7.

Continue reading Karachi to Khuzdar

Khuzdar to Kharan

We got up early in the morning for breakfast which was laid out at nine. The boys were very enthusiastic and helped pack up all the Jeeps, there was so much gear in every vehicle that it’s difficult to imagine how it all fits in there. One by one the jeeps moved out of the BNR rest house and gathered at the petrol pump on the main highway where all the buses stop enroute to Quetta. The spare jerry cans were also filled up as for the next few days only Irani diesel would be available which is inferior in quality and not good for the engine. For this reason we had to carry diesel additive which counters any deficit in the quality and keeps the injectors clean.

Continue reading Khuzdar to Kharan