We leave Naran first thing in the morning with our clothes still wet. We needed to start as soon as possible to cross the Babusar top since you have to do it before 1 PM or then it will be closed. We reached for the first time the 4000 meters with our bike and things started to get harder and harder. Once past Babusar, we could go back to the main road on the Karakoram highway and then things would go back to normal.
The landscape was just stunning. Comparisons are bad but for moments we imagined in Iceland or I don’t know, Canada. While we enjoyed the landscape we talked about our previous perceptions of what Pakistan would look like and for sure nothing in my head looked like this, I think is hard anyone can imagine anything so beautiful as this.
Every two minutes on the bike I had to signal Jesper to stop or lower the speed to take some pictures or just to enjoy the place. By then I was already pretty comfortable in the back reaching out to anything we needed, GPS, water, camera… whatever, I was born to be on top of that bike. Even with the cold, we were having fun like kids.
Little by little the snow was being more present, the green landscapes disappeared and a black cloud began to chase us along the way. It was pretty clear by then if we did not hurry up we would have to ride with the storm on our heads as there was nowhere to hide. We could not work out the bike and the gears on the steep curves and every 5 minutes we had to stop. Jesper still had no control of the whole thing and I don’t blame him. The clouds advanced and had to prepare and cover ourselves with the best clothes we had as finding shelter was impossible.
When we least expected it started to hail pretty hard and we had no other alternative than stoping the bike and start to laugh, we tried to enjoy the mess we were in as there was literally no other chance. Eventually, the hail stopped for a short moment so we decided to keep climbing, little by little, calmly and worried about the weather.
We crossed Babusar top at about 11 am and the road turned into an ordeal, the temperature was easily under zero and all our clothes were still soaked from the day before and the recent storm. Jesper’s legs were trembling while descending and we tried to do it as fast as possible to recover some temperature with the lost of height.
The down road was an interesting scenario as was full of vans with the trunks open and people collecting the ice from small glaciers transforming them in blocks. Then they would take the blocks to the cities where they will power a lot of fridges. As much as they were everywhere it never stopped being interesting and it was a good way to keep our minds busy from the cold. Finally, in less than 30 km of descent the temperature changed radically, we went from an icy and white landscape to a dusty, almost desert area and gained about 20 degrees. A few kilometres later we connected to the Karakoram and the road became easy and smooth.
Our intention was to stop at Rajkot bridge, the starting point for the jeeps to Fairy Meadows. However, the only hotel in the area wanted to charge us 5000 rupees for a night (about50 USD) so we decided to keep riding and try to reach Gilgit that same day even it was not on our plans. The road seemed more than fine, in fact, in perfect shape, so it was worth a try. Gilgit is a middle point for the north of the country as everything is on its way and it’s a great place to set up a base. To Gilgit, we would return not one, not two, but three times more in the future while discovering the rest of the country.
We found a guest house where we could spend the night for 1000 RP and we went out to enjoy the streets in the silence of the moment of Iftar, the eating time after the sun goes down. All stores pull their blinds down for about half-hour while everyone eats inside. If you are curious you can always sneak peek to see inside all vendors sharing dinner, as if something sacred was happening. Once fasting is done time to eat and no one can miss that moment, cities become a ghost for 30 minutes of indescribable calm.
We decided to rest in Gilgit a couple of nights before we continued our way to the north. We wanted to reach the border with China, the Khunjerab Pass and the highest border in the world at almost 4,700 meters.