Pakistan on a motorbike, hunting the Khunjerab pass


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We left Gilgit after two days off, meeting some characters in the city, repairing the motorbike brakes (300 rupees), changing the gearbox (1400 rupees) and giving it an oil change (400 rupees every 1000 km).

During that first day back on the road we covered the approx 180 km that separate Gilgit from Sost in about 6 hours on the bike. The truth is, as someone that has never been in a bike for so long besides this trip,  it can be tiring but the landscape is so worth it that you hardly even feel the hours with your legs hunched. It took us longer than it should because every few km we stopped to take photos or drink something with the stunning view. The vastness of the mountains is simply overwhelming

In the middle of the road, we crossed the tunnels that allow access to Lake Attabad, a lake that did not exist until 2010, when an immense avalanche buried the area on January 4, 2010. The avalanche also displaced more than 6,000 people from their homes and destroyed completely the road to the border causing thousands of people to be completely isolated and in lack of food and resources for the local population.

For more than 5 years the road remained flooded until September 2015, when the current tunnels that make circulation possible were inaugurated, a set of 5 tunnels that cover 7 km of the current Karakoram (if you travel by motorcycle wear a coat, It’s cold inside!) During those 5 years the only way to cross was to get your vehicle on a small and colourful wooden boat crossing the lake.

Attabad Lake

After crossing the tunnels we decided to get off the bike in what seemed a small town next to the river, we wanted to enjoy the scenery and eat the samosas we were by then used to buy every morning for the road as was the only food we had during the day in these Ramadan Times. Suddenly a man approached us with a huge smile on his face. He introduced himself as Sarwar and told us his story, he and his family had lost everything that January 4 and it wasn’t until recently that they had managed to rebuild part of what they had in the past, now they own a small campsite next to the river.

We said goodbye to Sarwar after a nice talk with the same feeling as always, that desire to stay and meet everyone in this surprisingly friendly and hospitable country. Her last sentence “I lost everything, but I have my family, I am happy” is what he said just before I asked for this beautiful picture, one I’m very proud of and for sure one of the most beautiful memories fo this trip.

Although the whole stretch is easy and enjoyable being part of the Karakoram Highway we arrived in Sost well into the late afternoon (almost night) after taking selfies with half the country travelling through the area, stops and chats along the way. The good thing about the bike is the ease to find accommodation without worrying much about the price, if you don’t like it you have the freedom to go to another one. Sure it is possible to camp and although we travelled with the equipment, in the towns we never needed it. Working on the road is normal to miss a bed and a little electricity.

We found refuge without a problem on the road a few minutes away from Sost at the Holidays hotel for 1000 RP a night and once rested we got back on the bike to find something to eat. It was night and it was our first time driving in the dark, something we do not tend to do or advise, but at that time it seemed we were the only ones with the intention of moving around.

The search for food led us to the town, where we discovered is nothing more than the port of entry and exit for truckers to and from China. Dozens of trucks parked on either side of the road and enlivened the atmosphere. In a small hotel, they cooked a Chinese-style garlic chicken (or so we were told) for us and after the big meal we went back to the hotel to sleep with the intention of reaching the border and returning to Sost the next day on the next morning.

We woke up early the next day but we left Sost around 9 in the morning after refuelling, again the landscape did not disappoint, there are times when the immensity is overwhelming. The Khunjerab Pass awaited us, its more than 4,600 meters high making it the highest border in the world as well as the highest point of the Karakoram Highway. The pass was completed in 1982 with the help of the Chinese government (interested in reaching the ocean). The pass is closed from November to May due to its altitude and the high presence of snow in the area..

About 30 kilometres down the road we crossed the first car, a stranded car filled with a group of Islamabad boys on vacation. Their wheel had punctured and they had not managed to change it. That was not a great place to get stuck, usually, only the ones crossing the border do that road, the traffic and therefore the possibilities of receiving help were almost nil.

We stopped and chatted but continued on our way as we were not a big help, they did not have a crosshead to remove the wheel and we obviously did not carry one with us.

Our joy would not last long as just a few KM after we discovered that to get to the pass you have to cross a national park, that would not have been a problem if it had not been because of the ticket price for foreigners: 800 rupees per person, about 16 dollars for both for just for a few kilometres on the motorcycle. The entrance for locals is 80 rupees (one-tenth). We made the difficult decision to turn around the entrance of the park, just 42 kilometres from the border, our budget is quite limited and sometimes we need to decide if we give up on something. It’s fine, just the road is beautiful itself.

We returned with our heads down and were glad (and surprised too) to find the same boys waiting there with the stranded car. We decided to give it a chance so we used our tiny pump  (a manual pump of no more than 20 cm) and in between laughs and a lot of exercise we all started to try to lift the wheel in the hope that it would take them to the next gas station in Sost. After the wheel was somehow better they started their way. We never saw them again, so we assume they reached their destination safely.


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