I can proudly announce that I have now travelled the entire length of The Karakoram Highway or the KKH. And it doesn´t matter if it one claims that the northern point is in Kashgar, China, or at the Kunjerab pass. Me and Tomas have traveled the whole way. It feels great. And it was legend – wait for it – dary! The second part of the KKH was very different from the first; a couple of long travel days, police eskort, a visit to our travel agent in the infamous city of Abbottabad and, for the majority of time, not a woman in sight.
The Swedish foreign office put out a travel warning for Pakistan and the KKH literally as we were on it. The exact words used was (my translation): “All travels along the badly maintained Karakoram Highway that connects Gilgit-Baltistan with the rest of the country should be carefully considered”. I´ll give them that the travel day from Gilgit to Besham (in Kohistan, very close to the Swat Valley) was an adventure; for about four of the eight hours we spent in the car that day we travelled on a really bad dirt road with absolutely no fences or protection between us and the river 50 – 100 metres below us. But we had a good driver so it was never really a problem. We did however get a personal police eskort for the last four hours. Thru the town of Besham we actually had a police armed with a automatic rifle in our backseat. There´s a situation I never thought I´d experience.
While agreeing with our Foreign office analysis of the overall situation, I strongly have to disagree with them about their description of the highway. The KKH is in really good condition, apart from that particular stretch I just described. Most of it has been paved recently and last year a long stretch of the highway opened after landslides and the big flooding of 2009 and major landslides in 2010. With the Foreign office definition of bad “badly maintained” even most roads in the north of Sweden would be considered hazardous to travel on.
Our last day down the KKH, we had a really early start from Besham. About four hours later we reached the infamous Abbottabad, where Usama Bin Laden was killed five years ago. We had a coffee and lunch with our travel agent, and we also changed driver. In the afternoon we reached the end of the KKH. This is in Hassanabdal, just west of Islamabad, where the N-35 (which is the official Pakistan name for the KKH) meets Grand Trunk Road or the N-5. It doesn´t look much, but I´ll remember that junction for years to come.
The two days of traveling from Gilgit to Abbottabad lacked one thing. Women. We went thru villages and not so small towns along the way where we didn’t see one single woman. Not one. It was an eerie feeling and very, very strange to experience half the population missing from the everyday life in the streets in one particular part of the country.
Our last days in Pakistan we stayed in Rawalpindi and Lahore with excursions to Islamabad, to the Wagah border and experienced sufidancing. The cities were relatively empty and much was closed due to Eid al-Adha, the muslim “Festival of Sacrifice” that lasted three days. I for one love cities but I have to say that the traffic the last evening in Lahore when people started to come home from their celebrations was probably the worst I´ve ever experienced. It was more mayhem than chaos. I still like it, I do. But this was way more chaotic than Teheran, which many people describe as one of the worst congested cities.
On the very last day we headed out the Wagah border to watch – experience – the ceremony there. The day after we walked across at that very same place. The day after that, I saw the ceremony from the Indian side. But more about that next time.