Sunday, September 3, 2006

Barkhun Checkpost

We knew that we wouldn't be permitted to cycle from Tashkurgan to the Pakistani border at the Kunjerab pass & would need to take a bus. We also knew that there was only 1 bus a day. However we didn't know when this bus left. So first thing in the morning we went over to the bus station to find that the bus was loading up to leave in 15 minutes. We thought we were told that we would need to clear Customs before going on the bus. We rushed over to find Customs, they were shut & wouldn't open for 2 hours. It turned out that the whole bus needed to do the same & even though it left the bus station at 8am it didn't finish passing through Customs & Immigration until nearly midday, time enough for us to get breakfast. When we arrived at the bus station we met a group of Swiss cyclists who had arranged permits to cycle to the pass at a cost of 60USD per person.

Though the bus went unto Sost & Gilgit our plan was to take it only so far as the border at the top of the 4700m Kunjerab pass & cycle down. We were repeatedly told that this wouldn't be possible by a series of Chinese officials. This was a serious disappointment & even more so when we met a Pakistani driver who was prepared to take us from the Customs & Immigration post to the top of the pass for less than the price of the bus ticket that we'd paid for, but couldn't get refunded. All worked out well in the end. Repetition of the message paid dividends & just before we left we were told that getting off at the pass was ok.

The way up to the pass was spectacular. It became cloudy & the mountain tops were invisible. The green valley in which Tashkurgan sat became narrower as we went up. The mountain sides that could be seen were dry gray with skree slides. We passed the occasional settlement of mud & stone dwellings. We were still in the Tajik area & the women wore bright headdresses. Unfortunately I didn't get a window seat so couldn't take any photos until the pass. It started to snow lightly on the way up & looked awfully cold.

At the top we got off the bus & after a few photos headed down. The good quality road stopped right at the border. However the way was completely down & the occasional pothole & rough surface wasn't a problem. We were later told that the Chinese & Pakistani Armies would be rebuilding the road in 2007. Though it was very cold descending, it was a delight doing so. The mountains were very steep beside the road & we continuously marveled at them.

Even so we got quite cold & when we saw a house, we stopped & asked to be able to come inside to warm up. We'd stopped at a checkpost of the Kunjerab Security Force, a part of the Pakistani Army that kept an eye on the Karakorum Highway. They were very friendly, taking us inside & made us tea. We chatted with the soldiers until we'd warmed up.

A short while later the sky cleared up & the view got even better. It was getting onto camping time when we arrived at the next checkpost. I asked a soldier there about camping, either by the checkpost or further down. He told us that they had a spare building in which we could stay & then invited us to dinner.

Dinner was delicious, chapatis & stew cooked over a wood fire, they didn't have electricity. Though alcohol was not legal in Pakistan we all had a drank from a supply which they obtained from Chinese truck drivers. After dinner one of them started beating on an empty jerry can & the 3 of them sang & danced. What a great evening we had. How could one not love a country of such wonderful scenery with such great hospitality?

I cycled 42 km in 2 hours & 41 minutes
Total so far 10592 km in 159 days

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