Day 7 - Thursday 10th October 2019 Day 8 - Friday 11th October 2019
Day 7 - Thursday 10th October 2019
Day 8 - Friday 11th October 2019
Gilgit to Mansehra (bus)
I pretty much made my mind up regarding travel to Chilas which would have been my next cycle ride of around 100km. Given the area is a little unstable and the Pakistan have a reciprocal agreement with Taliban in that the Taliban's are allowed to lawfully carry Kalashnikovs in the region I decided to by pass the area.
I ended up checking out around 0900 hours from Naveed Tourist Inn (Gilgit) and the owner and his staff Shah Gee did everything to ensure I'd catch the relevant transport. Although I missed the 1100 NATCO bus, I ended up on a Coaster Bus on the front seat with my bicycle and gear securely attached to the roof. One thing I realised about Pakistan is taking items is no problem at all. I had to wait until 1330 before the bus left - the anticipated journey was around 12 hours!!
I was not going to regret my decision as the journey to Mansehra (where the roads supposedly improve again) was fraught with challenges and poor road quality. I ended up having a front seat on the coach but ended up being a little uncomfortable. The main cities upon my travels would have been Chilas (Taliban influenced/controlled), Besham (poor road quality) and then Mansehra where things would improve again. This would be a total distance of around 350 km meaning I'd cut out a large chunk of th KKH by bicycle.
As I said, Allah SWT is watching over me and ended up making a great decision. Although I did not see any Kalashnikov carrying Talibans in the Chilas area (as only driving past on the KKH route) the roads were of poor quality. Some of the scenery remained stunning to say the least - but I'll remember the poor surface quality. Certainly not conducive for safe and consistent cycling. There would be large pot holes and large areas of unpaved road - I'd estimate around 30% of the road quality was poor.
I did see three cyclists heading towards Chilas and whilst I was admiring their abilities to continue cycling, clearly they didn't have the inside knowledge as I did. There was a couple cycling whom we whizzed past, and a solo tourist and the bus was going a bit too fast to snap any photos or shout words of encouragement. There was definately a change in road surface/structure.
We ended up stopping a few times for tea and dinner at local Pakistani equivalent of service stops on the main roads. At around 2000 hours I had some Chapatti and Sabzi (vegetable curry). Shortly after, around 2300 hours, the Coaster suffered a puncture. As it was so dark, others were using their phones for light and whipped out my head torch - locals were stunned such a device could emit a powerful light. It became the talk of the group - in fact, it elicited some polite enquiries and people started to talk to me. It was a little difficult as I was sat at the front but I usually make an effort and interact with the locals anyway, but they were interested in how I acquired the head lamp. Anyways, an hour later, we were up and running again but clearly behind schedule.
En route, although dark and I couldn't see much, we passed an area called The Forest surrounded by trees for what seemed like an eternity - maybe 50-75km? There was a Police Checkpoint upon entry but I couldn't really see or appreciate any of its beauty. It's the one thing I'd probably wish I'd get to see in daylight.
All the way I was thinking, how did I get so lucky with the planning......as clearly I'd already experienced the best scenery between Sost and Gilgit (both areas which I officially cycled). The roads thereafter were poor and appeared the mountains and terrain were getting further and further away from natural beauty and instead merging into small bustling towns. Other than The Forest area, there wasn't anything where I thought I wish I could have cycled through that!
I arrived at Mansehra at around 0430 hours, a full 15 hours after leaving Gilgit. It has to be the most gruelling and exhausting 15 hours of travel I have ever completed. I had someone sat next to me on the journey and it was difficult to free myself and have a stretch! It was painful. Having got to Mansehra local bus stop, I decided to find a hotel on the main road Abottabad Road. I loaded my bike, put my lights on and set off. I heard dogs howling and usually at night, the dogs in Pakistan come out to play! During the day time, they are usually more docile and wander around but something at night changes them. I've known this during my precious travels where dogs chase you in cars! So, needless to say I was apprehensive and I had about 4-5 km to make up to get to Abottabad Road. I got to about a KM into the journey when low and behold a pack of dogs, about 5 strong gather together and chased me. I was praying the whole time and just kept pedalling faster and luckily it was downhill. After 30 seconds of out pacing these dogs, I managed to break free but I was concerned they'd jump and attack me! About half a kilometre later, I figured the safest option was to get a local taxi. I found one on the side street and loaded my bike and gear and off we went. The taxi driver took me to the hotel I'd reviewed on Google so this was a bonus. Managed to get 2 nights for a grand total of 2000 PKR (in reality it should have been 2 nights at 2500 PKR each). Survived the night!
I'd prayed Fajr (AM prayers) and fell asleep about 0600 hrs. I was feeling heavy headed and had a headache and my dry cough was causing issues. I set my alarm for 1230 hours as I wanted to get my Jummah (Friday prayers) done. I woke up worse than I went to sleep. I got to the Mosque a stone's throw away and read Jummah which I was really happy with. Following this, I ended up back at the hotel and feeling poorly, I decided to replinish my energy levels with some proper food. I ordered a Chicken Boti and naan and rice and basically I had no appetite. So, I bought back most of what I couldn't eat and thought I'd have it later. Around 1530 I was cold and clammy and felt absolutely exhausted. Although it was still around 25-30 degrees outside, I felt cold and was shivering. I made use of my sleeping bag and within a short time I fell asleep.
I was not to wake up again until 0600 hours the following morning - 15 hours straight in bed. The worst thing was I felt like I needed more sleep! My health was really becoming an issue and I knew the following morning I had to check out or opt to stay an extra night. To be continued on Day 9 - Saturday 12th October 2019.
You'll find a video of the road surface and I got to stress, had I've cycled this route with a fully laden bike, it would have probably ruined my whole experience and tour of the KKH. I had high hopes it would be an almost perfect road surface from start to finish but in reality it wasn't. I think to have a proper first hand impartial experience, these things need to be factored into updates (as disappointing as it looks and sounds). I'm sincerely glad I made the move to catch the bus, but the exhaustion has almost broken me!