The best and the worst of our route so far came up this day. The worst? Once more, the heat, made worse due to the lack of towns or shadows for a long while. The best? Once again… the place (ok, and the people as well).
The day started just as previous one has finished: up and down amongst towns and, sometimes, trees. The road went uphill more than what we’d had liked (basically because it had gone down previously, crap!), but the stunning views compensated for that. Honest, it’s impressive, all those huge mountains so close to you with vertical drops and wild rivers everywhere. Woa!
There’re lots of towns around here as well, specially after you take the northern side of the river (and cycle uphill for a while). The truth is our initial plan was to sleep in Aliabad previous night, but we didn’t make it there. To be honest, I’m happy we didn’t, because it’s not the nicest town on earth. The views are still nice and it has lots of shops and facilities (internet!! Which we couldn’t use anyway because they had no electricity…), but there are nicer towns along the KKH. The best one, on my opinion, Murtaza Abad. Also, expect lots of boys/girls in the area, since those subjects seem much more relaxed around here.
The problem comes after Aliabad. Expect some 20 something, almost 30 kilometers of no shadow and no shop/town/anything. And that includes 2 uphills that can end up being quite hard if got caught by the midday sun (like we did). We had to stop on a ultra-small shop that serves chinese workers building up the road in this area, just because we couldn’t cycle anymore (45 hot and dry degrees by 11.30).
Just before you reach the Attabd lake, there’s a very short and very hard climb too. Careful with this one! But at least after that you’re in the marvellous Attabd lake. I’ll write about this in a second, but first, to finish off possible problems for this route: keep in mind that in order to pass the lake you need a boat, and that means negociating the boat, and it takes about an hour or hour and a half to cross the lake. So my recommendation: start this part of the route (the one after Aliabad) early in the morning. If necessary, seems like sleeping at Karimabad can be a good option (I can’t tell since we didn’t go there).
Now, going back to the lake: it’s very nice, and taking the boat is even nicer. The colour of the waters, the mountains, everything is great. Some Chinese workers (or more appropriately, some Chinese engineers and lots of Pakistani workers) are building a road to avoid the boats. Lots of (long and complicated) tunnels and some bridges are involved. If you like engineering and/or construction, it’s just spectacular. They’re expecting to finish it by 2015. Mmm, I’m not very sure on that…
As a tourist, I’d rather keep the boat system. It’s just so nice!!
They tried to charge us Rs 4200 per person, bikes included, when we arrived. We didn’t even try to bargain because that was way out of reach for us. Somebody mentioned a passangers boat should cost Rs 700 per person, and we ended up paying Rs 1000 (10 usd) per person, bikes included. No need to bargain, people just offer you boats. Careful with waiting for too long and getting dark, since you still need to cycle a little bit when you reach the other side!!
The boat leaves you some 3-4 kms from the very small city of Gulmit. The road here was completely broken (and, as we discovered next morning, it was going to be like that for some kilometers), and the town had no electricity at all, which was funny. Still, we stayed in a very nice hotel with very nice people (the very last one along the KKH in Gulmit). We even had dinner there!
People told us to stay in Passu rather than here, just because it was nicer. Now that I know, I’m happy we stayed here. Passu may be closer to some spectacular glaciers, true, but we liked this little town better. Also, glaciers and lakes are nearby so… (that’s a hint more useful for hikers than bikers, but I had to mention it!)