Posted by Krista
Sorry for the delay in posting blogs – I’m gonna post our last couple of months over the next couple of days. Hope you enjoy xxx
Nanga Parbat, literally meaning, “Naked Mountain”, is named thus because it’s 8,126 metre faces are so steep that, in some places, no snow can stick. Its other name is “Killer Mountain” as it is one of the most dangerous peaks to climb.
Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world. It is also the most westerly peak of the mighty Himalayan range. Since Kashgar, reaching this mountain is our new destination, now that Lhasa is off the cards (see Change of Heart blog).
But to reach it, we must continue for a few more days along the rocky, precarious track that is the Karakorum Highway. A few more days… against headwinds of dust… and rubble from ceaseless roadworks… in 50 degree heat…
We left Karimabad at the perfect hour of 5.30am. The air was crisp, and though it was still dark outside, the snowy peaks of Rakaposhi and Diran defined the separation of rock and sky. Few people were out and about at that time – and Dan and I smiled in delight.
And as we descended in an easy freewheel down to Aliabad, we watched the sunlight strike the mountains. The orange glow crept further and further into the deep valley cut by the fierce Hunza river until finally, it caught up with us. We stopped for a roadside chai, wiped our brows and caught our breath. The Himalayas seemed so near, yet so far, and I longed to reach them.
As the days went by, the heat grew in intensity and when we reached Chalt, the mercury topped a whopping 53 degrees. We decided to adopt a new regime of getting up at 4 each morning so we could finish riding by midday.
We’d already been using our friend Bryan’s trick of placing a sock over our drink bottle to keep our drinking water cool – a method that worked a treat! We’d also begun to wet our caps and stick our heads into the glacial melt in roadside irrigation channels or waterfalls, to stop our brains from boiling inside of our skulls.
Gilgit was the first major town since Kashgar, three weeks before. It was in Gilgit that we rested, had local clothes – the shalwar khameese – sewn up…
…and met up with our Pakistani friends Kashif, Arooba, Mira and Mahnoor that had befriended us at the border at Sust.
But Gilgit was full of confusion and mayhem. A petrol shortage had struck. Lines of cars, trucks and Suzuki taxis queued outside the rundown petrol stations, along with angry men holding empty containers of all shapes and sizes. Stiff military soldiers, wearing rockets, guns and batons patrolled the streets and the tension in the air was palpable.
Life in Pakistan had been fairly peaceful up until that point, but things were about to get nasty…
One day, as Dan and I were walking back to our guesthouse, we saw a huge plume of thick, black smoke rising into the air. It was blowing right into the largest Shi’a mosque in town. Curiosity overwhelmed me. As we got closer, we could see a crowd of men standing around a fire made from burning tyres. Many seemed excited, some looked intense and serious. Scared shopkeepers began pulling their shutters down and disappearing. More tyres were being thrown into the inferno.
Dan tugged at my arm. “Let’s get out of here”, he said. But the usual route to our guesthouse was blocked as armed police had begun to shut down the city. So hurriedly, we bypassed the marketplace and ran another way, through the fast-emptying back streets. Once inside the guesthouse, we heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire.
The guesthouse owner warned us that, for our safety, we should stay hidden in our rooms. He told us that a Sunni mullah had been assassinated in Karachi, and the Sunni’s were retaliating against the Shi’a everywhere.
The gunfire went on all afternoon. We were lucky that there was no curfew placed on Gilgit, as we’d heard of travellers becoming stuck for weeks at a time. Kashif had told us that 3 years ago, the whole city had been closed down for 2 months and nobody had been allowed to enter or exit.
We cycled out of Gilgit quickly the next day and reached the turnoff to Skardu. Unable to find a decent place to stay that night, we camped on a slim patch of grass on the side of the road. People had begun to feel less friendly, less helpful and less happy than I had experienced them to be when I cycled here in 1998.
Above is an archive photo of me cycling through Pakistan back in 1998.
Early the next day, as the Indus River joined us from its source in Tibet, we caught our first glimpse of Nanga Parbat – we had finally arrived at the westernmost peak of the Himalayas! The beautiful mountain rose majestically into the sky, seeming to defy the laws of gravity.
After almost 9000 kilometres and 8 months of pedalling, we’d reached the Himalayas! The joy of the open road, of adventure, of freedom, filled my heart.
But this happiness was short-lived. Just as we cycled away, a car pulled up, a man jumped out and called us frantically over to Dan. “What are you people doing?” he cried. “You are in too much danger! There are Taliban on this road! They will kill you and your wife!”
We were cycling one valley over from the Swat Valley – the place where the Pakistani military, aided by Americans, had recently swooped, scattering the Taliban and killing their leader. There had been some suicide bomb attacks in nearby Besham recently, which the Taliban claimed they had perpetrated.
We had been worried about the danger of terrorists ever since we’d entered Pakistan, and so had always been sensitive about which parts of Pakistan we would choose to travel. We’d also done heaps of research on our route and been speaking with checkpoint police the whole way down from Sust who had assured us that we were in no danger.
Our route would take us another two days along the Karakoram Highway. At Chilas we were going to turn off, and cycle an alternative route via the Kaghan Valley, so missing the dangerous section. It meant, however, that we would have to instead cross the infamous Babarsar Pass at over 4000 metres.
The motorist made us promise to contact him as soon as we reached Islamabad.