2014/06/30 & 2014/07/01
Can’t really separate these two days, so I’ll write them as one ok? (as if there’s something you could do if you’re not ok with it…)
Couple of things regarding leaving Pakistan into China by bike:
1. You are not allowed to do so (2014/07). You cannot leave walking neither.
2. You must leave on a vehicle (car or bus). The cost is more or less fixed and of Rs 3300 per person (you must deal the cost of the bike, but it will be around Rs 1000).
3. Add some 8 USD/Rs 800 per person (they accept dollars but not euros) to pay at the natural park entry. Even if you’re only driving through, you must pay this. If you’re a local, the cost is Rs 40 🙂
4. The car leaves from Sost. You might be able to arrange some pick up somewhere near the top tough, if you use a private driver/agency. It depends, mainly, on the English abilities of the driver (it’s hard to make yourself understood). Still, it’s not easy at all. It’s harder (I don’t want to say impossible but…) with NATCO (official transport company).
5. The car leaves you in Tashkurgan, China. This, also, can be arranged if you use a private driver, but don’t expect any help on the issue. Chinese customs are in that city, so you’re not “legally” in the country until you go through that point.
6. They put the stamp on your passport in Sost, the one saying you’re leaving the country. You must leave the country that very same day (which means that if you’re planning on somebody picking you up near the top, make sure you make it there on the same day!). In order to obtain this stamp you need a bus ticket. Also, don’expect to obtain this stamp anytime before 10 (the open at 9am and they’re very slow).
7. Is there any no legal way of doing this? Maybe. But I wouldn’t risk it. That’d involve going through the pass at night, when MAYBE the last security post (the one called Zero Point) will be empty and so will be the border. Pakistani side looks nicer than Chinese one. Still, seeing the fence that separates both countries, you might still risk being shot…
What did we do? We decided to cycle all the way up to Khunjerab anyway. If “something” happened there and somehow we were allowed to go through, great (maybe the police at the top thought otherwise compared to those ones in Sost, or maybe they didn’t care, or whatever). If not, turn around and grab a bus at Sost. Anyway, we wanted to cycle as much KKH as possible. I’m not going to write a mistery here: we didn’t manage to make it through and we had to turn around.
First 35 km from Sost to the Khunjerab national park entry are strange. I didn’t like them at all going up, and I found them very beautiful going downhill. Still, it’s very easy to go up, so much you very often don’t notice you’re going up. Also, it’s not that hot here (but it’s still hot).
CAUTION: ROCKS FALLING. You’ll see rocks everywhere along the road, very often almost closing it down (but actually never closing it down). We had some rocks falling on the downhill, and it was scary as hell. They fell from the other side of the river, not the one we were cycling through, but still they jumped over the river; they were huge, and they fell some 20 meters in front of us. You can see them falling easily because they fall from far away, but you can’t run away once they’re close to you.
There’s a rest house run by police in Dhee, at the park entry. It’s not the nicest place on earth… You’re not supposed to camp inside the park, but seems like nobody cares at all. We camped and had no problem at all. We thought that maybe somebody was going to tell us something because we spent a night in the park, and nobody cared…
By the way, you’re supposed to pay entry fee when entering the park and also when leaving if you leave on a different day, but this last one is very easy to skip, specially if you leave in the afternoon. Nobody really cares…
From Dhee onwards the road turns up little by little, but it doesn’t get harder until you reach the second military check point (they don’t pay you any attention here, just pretend it’s not there). The some ramps get hard.
We camped right before the 3rd checkpoint. Not a bad place. The hill gets hard the second you pass this 3rd checpoint; by then you’re some 12 km from the top, and it the road does not stop being hard from there onwards. These last 12 km are the hardest ones, since there’s almost no rest, the altitude starts to pay off (you’re above 4000m), the weather starts to get cold (but the sun still kills you) and, well, you’re tired by then!
One of the highlights of the day was the lack of traffic. We had almost none during the day, and we saw no car between 17.15 and 8.00 next morning. Brilliant! Still, I wonder why they built this road if almost nobody uses it. It may be because of the lake in Gulmit or the glacier that has broken the road partially that there’s not that much traffic, but still…
Scenary-wise, last 7 kms are the best. By far. Snowed peaks around you, rivers flowing under ice, and specially animals: birds were great but that million golden marmots were GREAT!! What a beautiful animal! Their referee-whistle-like voice will help you all the way to the top.
The view from the top is also great. Don’t expect anything spectacular but do expect something very beautiful. And the thing with the Chinese and Pakistani soldiers makes it somehow exotic (it was funny to see the Chinese officer teasing Pakistani soldiers with his electric gun!). The only one thing that didn’t fit: the fence separating both countries. Are they not supposed to be friends, as they claim everywhere? Politics and militaries…
One last thing: if you need to turn around (just like we had to), the downhill is great. I appreciated the whole place much more than going uphill. So if you ask me the answer is yes, go up there even if you have to turn around!! @gutxes