Pasu to Karimabad, Pakistan

Distance: 22 miles
Time on bikes: 1.5 hours

Today we have another challenge – the Attabad Lake. It’s only about five miles from Pasu and it doesn’t take too long to get there. We’d been making a few enquiries about what the deal was for arranging the boats to cross the lake, which was created in January when a massive landslide blocked a river to create a lake which is now 16 miles long and 150 metres deep at the head of the dam.

We manage to sort two boats to transport the bikes and agree a price of 10,000 rupees for each boat, which is about £80. Getting the bikes onto the boats wasn’t too bad as there was a wall we could use with the assistance of a ramp to get the bikes level with the boat, and then lower them in with the help of a few guys. We deal with the heavy bikes first, so Donato, Stefano and Fabian go in the first boat.

Our bikes go in the second boat along with James’ and Emily’s and we get them all in with no problems and the cruise along the lake is quite pleasant once we get going. Along the way we see parts of the highway which eerily come out of the water before descending back down into the depths of the recently formed lake. We also see semi submerged villages which are completely cut off from supplies and now rely on deliveries by the boats.

It’s not long before we approach the end of the lake and see what caused the blockage – the entire side of a mountain has come away and blocked the valley. We also see where the boats are docking and it looks like it’s going to be a real challenge getting the bikes off the boats. There’s no level ground to dock next to and the surface is totally unstable. To begin with however this isn’t a problem as the guys who are there ready to help unload the bikes are wanting payment.

There’s a bit of a stalemate as we argue that we’ve paid for passage across the lake and the money we’ve paid to the boat owner should cover the cost of getting the bikes off the boat. Of course this isn’t accepted and the labourers won’t accept anything less than 1,000 rupees per bike, which is equivalent of a few days work for these guys just for doing five minutes of labour. We’re not against paying them for their services, but a few individuals try to take advantage of eight foreign tourists being their meal ticket for the next month.

The debate goes on for about twenty minutes, halted only slightly when a couple of explosives are set off by the army as they attempt to release water from the dam to help lower the level of the lake. We all literally fill our pants, as to begin with we’re not sure whether the mountain around us is about to collapse or what. It seems like we’re in a stalemate position with our bikes stuck on the boats and we’re unable to agree a price to get them off. James goes off to discuss the matter with an Army officer to see if this can bring a resolve to the problem.

This seems to so the trick and the local works commissioner assists with brokering a deal for a fair price to paid for the labour to unload the bikes and we agree 3,000 rupees.

As soon as the price is agreed, the unloading commences. We use a couple of wooden boards from the floor of the boat to act as planks to get the bikes to the shore and Carl goes first. With the assistance of a rope and brute force, the bike is soon off the boat and on the ground. The rest of the bikes follow, and the last ones are the big brutes of Stefano’s and Donato’s which need considerable effort to lift them out of the boat.

That was stage one. The next stage is to get the bikes up the hill which is incredibly steep. We spend the next 3 hours moving about half a mile as we encounter a few issues such as having to negotiate the hill, though six inch deep dust which is like cement powder and gets us absolutely covered. Fabian’s battery dies at the foot of the hill and having tried the spare battery he was carrying, we need to enlist the help of a Pakistan Army Land Rover to give him a jump start.

At the top of the hill, Stefano drops his bike on a corner, but because of the gradient the bike has a long way to fall and goes almost upside down as it buries itself into the dust. Hopes that the bike would be undamaged are soon quashed when we raise the bike to find that the BMW pannier rails have snapped in two places. Carl has to make a nifty arrangement out of straps to create a temporary arrangement to keep the pannier in place until we can get to an aluminium welder.

We also need to walk Fabian’s bike down one hill as he took a wrong turning and the gradient is too steep to ride down safely. Of course, this was realised after Carl offered to ride James’s bike down and found that the bike wouldn’t stop with both the front and rear wheels locked. Still, it made it to the bottom on its wheels after bouncing over the rocks and pools of dust, so it could be regarded as a successful passage.

We’re all absolutely covered in fine dust when we get to the other side of the land mass which forms the dam at the end of the lake. We’re completely exhausted and just hope that the 20 mile ride to Karimabad where we intend to spend the evening isn’t too bad.

It turns out to be a lovely ride and we’re all a bit both jubilant and knackered as we’ve now got past the second major hurdle on the Karakoram Highway. For a hotel, James has suggested we stay in a hotel called the Eagles Nest which is located above Karimabad and has superb views of the Hunza valley and the Rakaposhi Mountain, which at 7,788 m is one of the highest in the World.

We ask a couple of people in town where the road to the hotel is and what it’s like. We soon get pointed in the right direction and get assured that it’s a good road. James and Emily ride ahead and we spread out as the road is narrow and windy. There are a few bad sections, but we reach a point where absolute carnage occurs. As Carl arrives at a very steep section with a corner which is made up of uneven mud, he sees Emily’s bike up ahead on it’s side, Fabian’s bike keeled over and Béné stuck in the middle. It’s difficult to park the bike to help because of the gradient and shortly after getting sorted and running up to help Emily we see Stefano’s bike keel over on it’s side stand because the road is so steep. It feels like a warzone as the bikes are literally dropping like flies.

After what we’ve been through today this is the last thing we need and it doesn’t take long before Donato is turning his Harley around and heading back down into the village to book into another hotel. We get the bikes upright and the road is better around the corner. It still takes a mammoth effort to get Fabian going again, and not before the bike falls over again the other way as a van comes through.

We’re promised by a few locals that this is the worst section and is only bad because they recently had four days of continuous rain which has caused lots of mud to flow onto the road causing all the problems. Sure enough, around the corner we’re back on tarmac and the road is generally ok aside from some erosion and another bumpy bit of road covered in mud. We arrive at one corner and see Fabian’s bike on it’s side again and need to stop to help get him going. He’s had a problem with the fuel mixture on the bike for a while now and apparently the bike cut out mid bend. Due to the gradient however, and the dusty surface on the road, the only way of stopping the bike from going backwards was to lay in on it’s side. A sensible option considering the massive drops off the side of the road.

We eventually reach the hotel and it’s all been worth it. The views across the valley and of the huge Rakaposhi mountain are just spectacular. The hotel is empty and we manage to sort rooms for 600 rupees each after the hotel asked what we we’re willing to pay. We get dinner ordered and head to our rooms for a shower. We’re absolutely filthy and covered with dust, so just go in fully dressed and the water is black coming off us.

We reconvene for dinner and this turns out to be just absolutely fantastic. Pakistan has many things that has reminded us of home, but the food was like the best Indian meal we’d ever had back in England. We ended up ordering far too much food as the dishes were much larger than we expected. We were starving however, so managed to make a pretty good effort of getting through pretty much most of it.

After dinner we’re all absolutely exhausted and collapse in our rooms.

Jour 140 – Dimanche 5 Septembre 2010. De pasu a Karimabad, Pakistan

Distance: 32 km – Temps a moto: 1.5 hours

Le lac n’est qu’a 8km de Pasu, donc après le petit déjeuner, des que nous sommes près nous partons vers la partie haute du lac. Nous arrivons a negocier le prix de 10 000 rupees pour chaque bateau, et nous mettons les 3 motos les plus lourdes sur le premier bateau et les 4 autres sur le deuxieme, ce qui nous reviens a 25 euros chacun. Il semble assez facile de mettreles motos dans les bateaux, ca nous semblait un peu difficile, mais les locaux doivent faire ca souvent et le font sans problème.

Une fois sur les bateaux, c’est un peu comme une croisiere, le lac est d’un bleu superbe et les montagnes splendides, mais il est impossible d’oublier que la formation du lac a noye la route qui premettait d’approvisionner les villages de la vallée au nord et que de nombreux villages sont maintenant sous l’eau ou isoles au bord du lac. Nous voyons des portions de la route que nous aurions du prendre et discutons avec des locaux sur le bateau. Ils sont très calmes par rapport a la situation et font ce qu’ils peuvent pour survivre sans se pleindre.

Après une heure et demie sur le bateau nous aprecevons le barrage cause par l’effondrement de terrain, et nous voyons aussi l’endroit ou nous seront debarques. L’arrivee est sur une pente raide et il sera surement plus difficile de sortir les motos des bateaux que de les y mettre : se sont des debris de roche instable et ca nous semble impossible. Mais avant même de penser a ca, quand nous arrivons au bout du lac, les gens qui nous ont aide a monter les motos sur le bateau, que nous pensions avoir déjà paye avec le prix du bateau, nous demandent un payment aussi important que le prix du bateau…sachant que nous les avons déjà paye bien plus que le prix des locaux nous ne sommes pas très contents, mais nous acceptons de payer un peu plus comme nous sommes un peu coinces et ne pourrions pas sortir les motos du bateau sans eux.

Pendant les discutions nous entendons une premiere explosion qui nous inquiete un peu, mais un des soldats qui sont sur le bord du barrage nous dit que ce sont des explosions controlees par l’armee qui essaye d’ameliorer la situation.

Nous commencons ensuite a decharger les bateaux, le passage n’est pas facile, mais ca passe. La difficulte suivante est de passer le barrage qui est un gros tas de pierres cause par l’eboulement. La montée est raide et il y a une poussiere incroyable : plus de 10 cm de profond d’une poussiere qui ressemble a du ciment. Nous sommes a 4 a pousser la Harley, et elle passe l’endroit le plus raide. Les autres motos passent aussi, mais Carl monte la mienne comme je ne me sens pas de faire un sentier aussi raide, et James monte celle d’Emily.

Nous passons les 3 heures a suivre a passer le ‘tas de cailloux’. La moto de Fabian calle et refuse de redemarrer, nous avancons très doucement dans la poussiere, et Stefano tombe et casse la fixation d’une de ses sacoches. Carl arrive a fixer la saccoche en place avec des sangles et nous sortons enfin de ce monde de poussiere et sommes bien contents, ca n’était vraiment pas une partie agréable. Nous sommes tous gris de poussiere et n’avons qu’une envie c’est une bonne douche !

Nous ne sommes qu’a 30km de Karimabad, et James a repere un hôtel sympa dans le guide touristique : le nid de l’aigle. Il est perche dans la montagne est donne une vue superbe sur la vallée de Hunza et un sommet enneige qui culmine a 7788 metres. La route pour y arriver est bien plus dure que ce que nous pensions et dans une des montees sur une route qui ressemble plus a une rivière qu’autre chose, Emily fait tomber sa moto, et Fabian et Stefano aussi. Donato et Roberta decident de rester dans un hôtel au bas du village, mais le reste du groupe decide de continuer a monter. Des locauxz nous disent que la route a etee endommagee par des pluies il y a 15 jours et que les reparations sont en cours, mais ils nous disent que le reste de la route est bonne.

La route est raide, mais les vues sont splendides et nous arrivons a l’hôtel juste a temps pour profiter du coucher de soleil. L’hôtel est très bien, il y a même de l’eau chaude ! Avec Carl nous allons dans la douche tout habilles, nous sommes tellement poussiereux que nous n’avons qu’une envie : tout laver ! Une fois depoussieres nous sommes tous agreablement surpris par le repas du soir : c’est un festin, nous avons commande bien trop de nourriture, mais c’est tellement bon que nous mangeons presque tout : du riz au poulet, des epinards aux pommes de terres, des lentilles….tout avec des épices …hummmm ! Un regal, la table est restee silencieuse un bon moment !