Gilgit (16-10-2000) till Islamabad (02-11-2000)
After returning in Gilgit from the cold Deosai plains with the freezing night together with the Danish couple Poul & Pia, I needed some time to relax. So I spend a few day in Gilgit doing all kind of small things but mainly doing nothing but relaxing.
I Did my laundry, removed the worst dirt of the bike, trimmed my head almost completely bold, and redid the lousy repaired tire puncture from Skardu. Now they melted rubber into the hole instead of just putting a sticker over the hole, which doesn't work for tubeless tires. When my tire was being redone, I hammered my suitcase straight as it was 'a bit out of shape' because of my frequent falls.
I met quite a few bikers during these days. First of all, a Dutch biker who already knew me because he had read my reports on the Internet. Also I met an Austrian biker Martin who I met before in Aqaba, Jordan, and an English couple Chris & Sarah who I met before in Esfahan, Iran. We had a great time seeing each other again so it was getting late that night.
On 20 October, it was time to move on. I wanted to go from Gilgit to Chitral. A ride mainly off-road and going over the Shandur pass. It was already getting late in the season so I was not sure if I could still cross that pass. But the pass was at 3740 meters and in the Deosai I had no problems below 3800 so I decided to give it a try.
My goal for the first day was Gupis but when I realized I couldn't make it before dark I was looking for a place to camp. Suddenly a small bike with 2 persons on it appeared next to me asking me questions in good English and finally they asked me to stay with them tonight. They were 2 teachers on a small local school. They were living next to the school and they guided me to their school. When we crossed the bridge they stopped, telling me that the next part was getting rough. "No problem" I said thinking about the Deosai. But we had to drive along a riverbed with big lose stones. This was really something different and quite hard, but... I managed without falling. The night was nice and we sat in the kitchen the whole night as it was the only room with heating and had diner there as well. They were all really nice to me and forced me to sleep in one of their beds while they were sleeping on the floor. The night was cold so I go myself an extra blanket and had no problems anymore.
The next morning we had breakfast in the kitchen were drank tea with... SALT. I haven't tried it and preferred to put sugar in my tea instead. When I left I had to go through the riverbed again and it was much easier as I knew now what to expect.
The road was unpaved mainly, but was not really difficult to drive on. The scenery was breathtaking as all the tree leafs were in there autumn colors. Together with all the surrounding mountains and the clear blue river, the scenery was stunning. The last part to the pass was getting more difficult as I had to cross through rivers and climb up steep hills with hairpins. Difficult but really challenging! I surprised myself in being capable to handle more situations with the motorbike as expected. The last test was the hardest. The track was going steep up and was covered with fist size stones. I thought I would never make it, but the alternative was to turn around and drive back for another 2 days. So the least I could do was give it a try. I knew I had to pass it in one go. As I stopped there was no way I could get there away again (except returning back down). I went up in first gear and kept open the throttle playing with the clutch and... I made it in one go! It was difficult but now I knew why BMW put such a small first gear on this bike.
The pass itself was not the best part. A big open place with a lake and some huts and tents. I had to register myself and drank a couple of teas. The wind was strong and cold. Not a nice place to pitch my tent and spend the night. So I continued going down and discovered the other side of the pass being completely different. Steep hills made the track go down with hairpins. It was not difficult though as long as you kept your speed very low. I had to cross a stream and wanted to stop to see what was the best way to cross it. So I hit the brakes but slipped down into the stream and I fell. My hands covered with cold water. I wanted to get the bike up again but because of the steep slope it was on I only managed to lift it up partly. So I was about to unload my luggage when a pickup appeared with 15 men in the back. Just what I needed! Strange though, while I had hardly seen a vehicle during the last two days. Getting up the bike was no problem anymore with all the help and there was no damage on it at all. The only thing damaged was my ego. Still I hadn't managed to cross a pass without falling. In the next village, Sor Laspur, was a basic hotel where I spend the night.
After a cold night again I went off for the last part to Chitral. This was really simple compared to the last couple of days as the roads got better (but still unpaved) and wider. So there was more time to enjoy the scenery and it was certainly worth it. The last part was paved and Chitral was reached without further incidents.
In my hotel in Chitral I met a Dutch/South African couple who bought a donkey that day and wanted to walk, the same route I just had taken, back to Gilgit, in 2 weeks. Because of the demanding days I was extremely tired and went to bed early.
The next morning the couple with the donkey had left early taking also a French girl with them who liked the idea and decided to join them. I got up later a drove a couple of km's back to meet them. They were not that far from Chitral as they already had to repack the donkey three times. The last time one of the locals helped them and so it was much better now. Also did the locals like the idea of tourists travelling with a donkey and everybody started to feed the donkey so it wasn't really motivated to walk. They really doubt if they were able to make it within 2 weeks.
After a goodbye I turned around heading towards the Kalash valleys. These valleys are special in many ways. First of all, these valleys runs from east to west instead, like most Pakistani valleys, from north to south. So the vegetation is completely different and much greener. Secondly these people are not Muslims and especially the women are dressed very colorful. The last and probably most important reason to me is that these valleys are not really easy accessible. This means steep and narrow unpaved roads, which I started to like more every day. The first valley was great. A long and winding narrow track and I parked the bike at the end of the valley and enjoyed the peaceful silence for a long time in the meanwhile watching women washing their cloths. The second valley (out of three) supposed to be the nicest one. It was also the most touristic one and therefor filled with hotels and shops for tourists. I didn't like it here at all and turned around.
The third valley was the smallest one but a nice one. I drove all the way into the valley and saw a hotel to spend the night. Officially the tourist season was already over and the hotel closed, but they hadn't removed everything yet and I could use a room but had to do my own cooking, which was no problem as I had everything with me. It was so peaceful here, children were playing cricket in the fields and even some adults joined them.
My next goal on the way back to Islamabad was the Swat valley. But first I had to cross the Lowarai pass. This was on the main road from Chitral and marked like that on the map. The pass itself was completely unpaved and was climbing steeply through hairpins. It was however not difficult to drive. On the top I stopped for a few cups of tea when 3 Germans, all on BMW-bikes, drove up from the opposite direction. They were on their way to Chitral but would go back the same road instead of driving on to Gilgit. They told me they would be in Goa (India) for Christmas so there was not too much time left in Pakistan for them anymore. It seemed that everybody I met was spending Christmas and New Year in Goa, so I was thinking about being there then as well and maybe meet some people again.
I was about to run out of fuel but at the petrol stations I stopped they only could offer me diesel. (This was also possible and much cheaper one guy said, but I refused his generous gesture). In Dir I was able to get petrol and they filled my tank up but spoiled quite some petrol. I was getting pissed so I paid him for one litre less, saying that he spoiled this litre and I was not going to pay for this. He got angry and I left quickly. But just before I had this argument, people told me I had a flat rear tire. I stopped at several tire repair shops but couldn't find one with the right equipment. But in Daroro I found a shop with the right equipment but they didn't want to repair my tire. Tubeless was no problem to them, but only for cars not for motorbikes. I told them there was no difference and convinced them to repair the tire. They were still not really convinced but as I had seen the procedure before I knew they did the job right. Of course there were a lot of people gathered around the shop by the time I put my tire back on the bike.
Because of the delay due to the puncture I wasn't able to reach Madyan in the Swat valley so I spend the night in a hotel along the road. The rooms were way to expensive Rs. 400, dropped down to Rs. 250 quickly, but this was still to high for me. When I kept on asking how much it was to pitch my tent in the garden the room rate dropped further to Rs. 100 (US$ 1.50) and I took the room. The next day it was a short trip to Madyan but finding the desired hotel was difficult. A Dutch couple I met in Esfahan (Iran) were very enthusiastic about a hotel because of its relaxed environment. When I asked around I found that this hotel was up the hill, only accessible by foot (steps). So I had to carry my luggage up and park the bike at a guarded parking. The hotel was relaxed indeed, very relaxed! My intentions were to write my English travel report but the first 2 days I only read magazines, even Dutch ones. They were old but I didn't care. They also had big shelves with books, which you could read. For days I only left the hotel for breakfast only and buying something for lunch on the way back up. Dinner was eaten in the hotel with all guests together and the wife of the hotels owner prepared the meal. After 2 unproductive days I had to force myself to write on the travel report for which I needed 2 more days. The 4th day I also made a small trip to Kalan further down into the valley. The road was bad but not worse than elsewhere in Pakistan. Following the valley with its stream was nice. In Kalan I returned quickly to be back in Madyan before dark.
On Monday 30 October 2000 I continued my trip for the ride back to Islamabad. I wanted to go to Besham over a mountain range but this road was much worse as expected. Theoretically it was paved but full with potholes and driving this part took me much more time as expected. Therefor I wasn't able to reach Islamabad in one day and had to spend the night in Abbottabad and stayed here in the same hotel as on the way up north. I knew they served no breakfast so I left early following the same road back to Murree. Now I could feel the difference in the weather, as it was very cold now so early in the morning. Even when the sun came out it didn't change much as I was driving into the shadow most of the time because of the surrounding mountains. In a small village I stopped for breakfast and a lot of tea to get warmed up again.
Between Murree and Islamabad I wanted to overtake a bus in a hairpin, saw I couldn't make it and hit the brakes. That was a wrong thing to do. Because this inside of the curve was covered with a lot of mud so I slipped away and scratched along a wall. No damage to the wall or myself, but the bike was damaged although still running well. After a brief check I decided to continue to the campground in Islamabad to see what the real damage was.
The campground was crowded with motorbikes: 6 German, 3 Danish and 1 Austrian bikes were already there. The Austrian bike belonged to Martin I already met in Gilgit but all the others were new to me.
Looking at the damage, I had a broken mirror and hand guard and several parts of my instrumentation panel were broken. Later Martin noticed me on the fact I had broken my rear frame, and this was really something serious. This was not caused by the accident but had been broken before because the crack was already rusted.
The next day I drove to the motor shop in Rawalpindi. They couldn't help me today. I had to come back tomorrow morning early.
The next morning they couldn't weld the frame while mounted because the plastic airbox was directly behind the crack and would certainly melt during welding. So they had to remove the whole rear frame which was a disaster to look at. Because everything is connected to the frame, everything had to be dismounted and I couldn't recognize my bike anymore: almost everything had been taken off. When they removed the frame some boy carried it to a local welder further down the street and they started to strip my bike even further as I also had a leaking seal on my front suspension. I couldn't really face this anymore. A big bowl with bolts, nuts etc. was standing under the bike and I really wondered how would they ever manage to put everything back together without one bolt left over. Remember that this shop had never stripped a BMW bike like this before! I was sure I had to take the bus back to the campground tonight. But when the repaired frame came back they started to mount the bike back together and slowly I started to recognize my bike back again. They also found an identical seal from a Honda bike so everything was put back together and when they were finished nothing was left in the bowl.
One problem remained. My rear frame was cracked on the right side, and when they removed the frame we discovered that on the left side all three bolts of the footrest were broken of from their fixing points in the gear box. This couldn't be welded because it was made of aluminum. There was only one place in town where they could weld this. When we got there I had to remove the tank (for explosion reasons) and they welded the parts back together. Although welding was not the right word, soldering was better because they used a fresh bar of aluminum to melt it on the parts. However you called it, the bottom-line was that everything was fixed again and the soldering could hardly be seen as the footrest was covering it.
At 7 pm. I was ready and went back to the campground... on my motorbike! It had cost me US$ 80 but I was really pleased everything worked out well.
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