The main goal of this trip is heading down the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan. Extending the overland travel by starting in Bishkek seemed like a natural choice. For the Karakoram Highway we decided to get a car, complete with driver and guide, in order to get access to as much as possible even if it would cost us a bit more than doing this on our own. We solved this by contacting Untamed Borders, a travel agency specializing in tailor made trips like this.
First a short history lesson about the Karakoram Highway, also known as the KKH . It all started back in the 1960s as a joint project between Pakistan and China, basically due to their joint hostility towards India. The KKH was meant to be a military road, strictly off limits to foreigners. However, in the spring of 1986 Pakistan announced that they would open the road for everyone. The British historian William Dalrymple jumped on the opportunity and went up the KKH that same year, an adventure of which he wrote about in the book In Xanadu. A quest. We went the other way, coming from Kashgar in China and heading south to the end of the KKH just outside Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Day 1: Tashkurgan (China) to Sost (Pakistan)
The KKH starts on the border between China and Pakistan, at the Kunjerab Pass to be more precise. We passed there in a public bus from the Chinese city Tashkurgan on a Tuesday after having dealt with Chinese customs and a long process of loading the bus. (In short: too many people wanted to bring too many things and some things got left behind.) The bus ride was as smooth as can be – a couple of check points on the way to the Pakistan city of Sost, where we officially entered Pakistan. We also had to pay an “entry fee” to the national park we passed thru, a fee that set us back eight US Dollars.
Day 2: Sost to Gulmit
We started the day by back tracking to Kunjerab pass, where we just passed by the day before. We wanted to take pictures and to enjoy the absolutely stunning scenery on the Pakistani side of the border. It took a half to go up by car, get the pictures we wanted and come back to Sost. But when we yesterday had a pretty cloudy day, the weather was much better today. Also, we had to pay our entry fee to the national park again. But it was worth it – the policemen at the checkpoint recognized us and smiled when they said “Ah, you´re back again. Welcome.”
For the second time this day we left Sost behind us and found ourselves in Passu a few hours later, still in awe of the scenery. In and around Passu and Gulmit (where we ended up spending the night) we got the opportunity to see the Hanging Bridge, not for the faint hearted. According to our guide it is about 500 meters across. As you can see from the picture, it is pretty easy to miss one of the wooden planks.
Day 3: Gulmit to Karimabad (Hunza Valley)
When the sun rose again the next morning we continued south and after stopping at Attabad Lake and a few check points we reached Hunza Valley and the city of Karimabad.
Day 4 and 5: Hunza Valley and around
The travel agency advised us to spend a few days in and around the Valley. Since I am not a big supporter of using clichés, I´ll just say that it was a piece of great advice.
During our days in Hunza Valley, the pros and cons of arranging a trip with a travel agency got very clear. Our guide and driver were the best; we´ve seen most of what the place has to offer and we couldn´t be happier with them. If we wanted to stop for pictures or water they made it happen. Without exception. But when going on a schedule it´s harder to find time to walk around, to get lost, to meet people. Just to leave the hotel can sometime become quite an undertaking. The car and the people in it become somewhat of a bubble, looking out with a sort of ´a tourist gaze´ rather than being confronted with everyday Pakistan life on public buses and restaurants.
So far so good. Part II, bringing us from Hunza to the end of the KKH and also a few practical tips if you´re interested in going, is coming up in a few days.
PS. Although this blog mainly is in English, I have also registered to a Swedish web site, a hub for travel blogs, at www.svenskaresebloggar.se. It is good to keep on eye on other fellow travelers and exchange ideas or destinations once in a while. For those of you keeping a travel blog, I urge you to do the same.