Friday, 26 July 2013

This Blog is all about one man's decision to bike his way Up North from Peshawar, Pakistan to Khunjerab Pass at Pak-China border, and all the twists and turns resulting from it. Its travelogue of a man on a bike with a back pack and the bumps and falls on the roads and in the valleys, passes, streams and rivers up north. Its also a tale of bygone past of some of these places which had historical significance. But most of all its about a solitary sole in travell meeting people, making new friends every day about a brief escape from the daily chores and responsibilities what can be termed safely as a BREATH OF FRESH AIR in my life............

It all started on a routine day admist daily chores, Over a cup of tea my boss looked with an eagle eye towards all the youngsters sitting and said "You people should go out and travel. I am ready to give extra vaccations to anyone who comes up with an adventurous plan." Then as an afterthought he said " GO .. Go to Shandur, damn it". A quick glance at the youngsters gave me a feeling that none of these are planning.. i did quick querries after the sitting, Shandur festival was planned in the first week of July. It was already last week of June. It made me think, Can i be graded in the category of youngsters? But the thought never left me.. My inner self somehow never slept on this and constantly urged me to GO for it.... I thought lets do it crazy as i had dreamt earlier, seeing others biking around, So i went to my boss with a request for 15 days off so i can bike my way from Peshawar to China border at Khunjrab Pass. to give you an idea of the route

Though the idea was like very crazy to him but as he had commited so i got the vaccations... Now came the hard part.
I HAD NO BIKE ;) My actual boss (WIFE) didn t have the slightest idea so far of this plan and to convince her seem like climbing a Mount Everest in itself. But when God gives he gives in plenty. Got the permission and am forever thankfull to my better half for it. bought a RAVI PIAGGIO 125 CC bike after a lot of searching of bike market.. Packed my rucksack, kept things to minimal as i had to carry it myself, did bookings enroute, searched friends enroute and i was all set


Quick look of the map told me i had to make plenty of stops before Shandur to arrive there afresh. As i had not biked a long route before so i was a bit apprehensive of my capability of doing so. Rough plan i made was as under:
Peshawar-Mardan-Bat Khela-Timmergarah, Chitral, Mastuj, Phander, Gilgit
after Gilgit i would rethink the stops enroute to Khunjrab as i had seen Gilgit-Khunjarab road earlier so i was really not pushed about it. But Chitral and surroundings were a new phenomena to me

I didn't sleep soundly the night prior to the trip, i guess more in excitement than anything else.......


I had planned to leave early in the morning to avoid the congested traffic of the day in Peshawar city but one can't just change can one??? Alarm after alarm reminded me that I need to get up but I stayed in the bed with my usual laziness ... it was almost 10 when I say audios to my wife and started my Bike. The sun was shining and I felt good.. Part of me was feeling free.. No office, no pending tasks ... Superb.. In this spirit I got on the GT road leading out of Peshawar and towards Nowshehra.. It all started nicely and may be it always does . The moment I was out of city it dawned upon me that may be I am over dressed. I was feeling the sun  and the smoke and dust raised by the heavy trucks of which GT road had in abundance made me feel the heat. The temperature was well over 30. I was wearing a hoodie as someone had advised me that if one doesn't wear that the arms will get the sun burn . but my body was yearning for the hoodie to be removed. By the time I reached Nowshehra I could not take it any more. It was so sunny and a specially hot day in the surroundings I bet. It took me some time to cross the bridge over river Kabul after Nowshehra leading to Mardan, where I had booked a room, owing to very heavy traffic. Now hardships have a phenomenon: they seldom come alone :) My butt started hurting by this time and I thought a little stop over would help. Also I was feeling a lot of thrust, needed some water immediately otherwise I thought I would dehydrate..
After crossing Nowshehra

So I stopped at a road side shop which seemed to be full of refrigerators and cold drinks.. Had a water bottle then another and then started putting it on my head to cool myself off. I guess I must have been a sight to all the on lookers. the loaded bike, the back pack and the thirsty fellow in jeans and hoodie on a hot day. I came to senses when some one put his hand on my shoulder and asked " brother this Piaggio ( Bike ) yours?" I looked up and found the face a little familiar.. After affirming that the bike indeed belonged to me I offered the man to a drink which he happily accepted. It turned out he was a biker too and was going to China border though he had much larger plans.. He was Moin Khan and was also on Piaggio and whats more he had a couple of friends with him.. OMG... He is a legend to me I said. I had closely followed his epic ride from San Fransisco to Lahore back in 2011. Learning about my plans he offered me to join them and I was happy to have found some company. I told him that I am stopping at Mardan tonight where I have booked the room. At this Moin said that if I join them I got to leave this habit of pre planning and safe heavens of beds at night. They tend to bike with out the immediate stop in mind and camp or find a place when its about night.. so no bookings if I got to join. I loved the idea simply. so it was a done deal. Meanwhile the other two bikers had arrived and it turned out they were Michael and Kyle, Moin's friends from California. I who had started alone now was in company of three others ... It reminded me of The Three Musketeers of Alexander Dumas. Now we were four musketeers in modern times with our bikes. I lost the solitary status on travel but gained three companions who had lot more experience than me. Than the greediness that I will not have to carry mu back pack as these guys had a support vehicle and it could rest in that really clinched the deal other than the fact that I almost idolized what Moin had done so far..... 
                                     Stop Over After Nowshehra: Joined the group over a drink

After a quick round of cold water we started our bikes and onwards they roared towards Mardan. I was the last one in the set of four as I thought seeing these experienced bikers I will learn to ride better and it did help. On reaching Mardan the traffic disrupted our perfect symphony and I lost site of those ahead of me. till I saw Moin along with Michael standing on road side and signaling me to pull off the road. Getting off the bike his face had all the story.. Kyle was not there he had somehow got separated from the group. We all made our guesses , he might have turned another road mistakenly. Now what was to be done. Panic set in.  Moin immediately called the cell phone that Kyle had with him, but no one answered. My heart started to race, and no matter how calm and composed I tried to stay... fear was taking over me.  Moin told the group to stay and wait for a sign of him while he doubled back to search.  After a while he was back and without any results. As Moin was the experienced hand amongst us he assumed the command naturally and made a plan. I was to bike towards Nowshehra and search for Kyle and Michael and he would go the other way. We were to do 15-20 kilometers and meet back at the same point. Off we went. I kept looking right left and raced towards Nowshehra but no sign of Kyle. After a while my cell phone started vibrating, it was Moin. He had found Kyle, thanks God and was calling me back. I reached back and everyone was there waiting for me. Before we had a chance to get mad at him, Kyle told us about what had happened. He had been going straight, when a car overtook him a little roughly, and he ended up locking the front wheel and crashed. A bump and bruise, but other than that, he didn't suffer from any serious injuries. He continued to tell us that when he had crashed, a mob got together and surrounded him, picked up his bike up for him, made him get back on and then started to chant "GO, GO, GO, GOOOOO!" about the cell phone ..... hahahaha that was in the Back pack and on silent .. We all laughed over it and decided to head north again. Much of the time was lost in this episode and it was decided to look for some place for the night. As luck would have it Moin's father called out of blue and told him that we could stay at his friends place ahead of Mardan at a place called Sirdheri. We asked around and started off looking for the place.
Sun was on its way down when we finally arrived at the Mansion that was to be our shelter for the night. Legendary and famous Pathan hospitality was on the cards. Beds were made ready and we entered into an Air conditioned room . By God I have never loved AC so much in my life. Dinner was sumptuous and then there were mangoes.. With the body aching in all parts after the dinner and tea I hit the bed thinking about the next day and the craziness it had in store for us.

 Michael having first of the Mangoes


Thinking back on the day I could not believe my luck finding these wonderful guys enroute. They were nice company and more importantly I was looking forward to learning a few things about biking from them. Thinking about all this, somewhere sleep over took me. .......

DAY TWO - Into the Valley and Rains

We had planned to leave early in the morning as the distance between SirDheri and Chitral was huge. Though looking at the map I thought its undoable in the light hours but what the heck . I had joined them and respected their biking and terrain knowledge.. More than anything else I was now completely at ease with this idea of not knowing where to stay :)
As usual we got a little late than the planned time.. It was morning prayers when I woke up and a sumptuous breakfast was ready and waiting for us . We filled our bellies had tea and warmed up our bikes. The morning weather with a tinch of breeze was simply awesome and promised a great day of biking.
                                          open air Breakfast
                                          Kyle's Bike needed extra persuation
                                          Michael's gave no issues
                                          Early morning Sun battling the clouds
Ready to Rumble Finally  
                                      The initial track was lovely, dissolute of traffic: luved it

The Bikes were smooth in the start up. Kyle's gave a little issue as it had took a lil damage from last days fall. It was decided to kick start this one and find some mechanic and get it made. Finally we were all set, humbled by the hospitality of our host; everyone thanked everybody and Goodbyes were waved and off we went . Out of Sirdheri we got on to Mardan bypass and I had the time of my life a double road and completely desolate of traffic .. Soon bikes were into 5th gears and we were in the region of 80/90 Km/hr. The morning mist, the mustard fields beside the road, all the greenery, the pace and the humming of the engines was a perfect combination for start of any day I thought. After about 45 minutes Kyle had us all stop.
                                         Moin checking Kyle's Ride
                                         Michael the cow poser

                                         Kyle's Bike getting the treatment
                                                      Michael & Moin Corn hunting

 His bike was producing some noises which made him apprehensive. On a close look up it turned out that both chain guard and handle bars need to be straightened, surely, effects of last days fall. Moin was again the guy with brains about bikes. By the time he was over with the postmortem of Kyle's Bike, Michael had spotted a cow herd by the road side and was having a photo shoot. When we reached the first mechanic it was already sunny and the morning routine and buzz was on. The mechanic started his work on the bike and we started searching the market with hungry eyes and thirsty lips... Moin got us some corn baked in salt and cold water and we devoured all this in seconds. considering we just had a sumptuous breakfast I thought biking takes its toll on the body and must have burned calories in process. It took about an hour for the bike to get ready and on we went. Keeping in mind the long day ahead we stopped to get the tanks of bikes top up. Michael spotted a truck with all its traditional fancy gimmicks and camera shots were the order of the day.
                                                       The Fancy Truck
                                          The fill up at Petrol Pump
                                          God, I have seen them loaded but this............


 The next milestone on the way was legendry British Post Dargai. This historic post guards the route into two different valleys Swat and Dir. Even know the military importance of Dargai has not diminished. Now a days it is the home to Dir Scouts. There is the first big check post enroute also. Here everyone who is entering the valleys is checked and documented. The moment we reached there my entry took a little time. Kyle and Michael had to do extensive entries so I crossed the check post and took my time in observing the Dargai fort from a distance. though more than a century had elapsed since Churchill or Col Kelly was here but the structure still commanded the terrain. I could feel the tribes men storming the Dargai heights and the epic battles that would have been.
As soon as others were free and allowed to proceed the tack took our breath away. The winding roads, the river flowing beside at some depth took biking to another level. I had so far biked on Punjab roads but not at such places. Although the sun was out in all its magnanimity and the traffic was huffing and puffing its fumes n smoke on us but none of these could spoil the majestic sight of four musketeers on these looping and whining roads.

Soon Moin had us all stop to change the oil in the bikes. And I was thinking thanks God I am with these guys otherwise I had no idea or plans to change the bike oil based on simple calculations. As it turned out Moin had planned this trip in detail and had all the accessories and lubricants in the support truck. Water was sought after at this stop as no shop was in sight. But all this wanting was done away with by the gesture of the mechanic who refused to take money saying " you are guests in our place how can I take money!!".. Awesome hospitality, smiles lit up in an instant, a day's fatigue forgotten and on we went towards Timmergara which is the district headquarters of Dir and a sprawling town by the standards of Dir valley.

                                         The Oil Changing Stop
 In my initial plans this was my second stay but now we were headed to Chitral. After this place otherwise we had no option to stop before Chitral. after this place the traffic thinned out and the roads were ever more twisting and turning. Thumbs up were exchanged whenever we crossed each other and the moods were definitely on an upper level.

 About an hour into this ride it slowly started raining and we enjoyed the scenery and the weather but after sometime it threatened to turn into a hail storm. Looking hither and tither for shelter we found shelter in a little known place Chukiatan.. Had a lovely meal at this place in thunderous rain. The clouds blackened the sky and we chatted, played cards and enjoyed the weather. All of the sudden there was a huge blast, thinking the worse I thought as any sane Pakistani would have thought it to be a terrorist attack or some suicidal. Thankfully, it was an earthquake. The momentary tension was passed over. The place was out of the world with lightening and thunder surrounded by towering mountains littered with tall forests it was a scene set in romanticism. The dinner was great and my body required rest so I hit the bed and off I went thinking about the next day and its travels.. But the sheer feel of the bed, the mere chance of straightening one's back after a day's biking is unmatchable.. I wondered what lay ahead for me !! as I was told that roads will turn into tracks and todays rain must have messed up the tracks. But we were to cross Lowari Pass to get into the lovely vale of Chitral. I couldn't help but thinking that I have treaded the path followed by Winston Churchill with Malakand Field Force just over a century ago epitomized in his Story of Malakand Field Force . Somewhere down the line thinking about the those battles and times I dozed off :)


Well folks as i couldn't write more of it for some time as the daily chores sucked me in more and more as i came back but partly the evergreen laziness in me is the reason too. Soi thought lets share the pics atleast and show you guys that beautiful part of world and wonderful people that inhabit it. Pardon me for the delay 

will add more in due time to share the experience