Over the Khunjerab Pass and Into Pakistan
Trip Start May 14, 2009
34Trip End Jun 15, 2009
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Where I stayed
We finally bade our Tashkorgan friends farewell and yet again entered into another microcosm of foreign transport.
Our mini bus to Sost was strapped high above its roof with an amazing amount of baggage and an even more amazing amount of large sacks of all sorts of vegetables. Some of the vegetables were actually rotting but still stacked on the bus in their decaying bags
The journey was interesting - and somewhat comical - not only because of the stark and fascinating scenery but also because of the somewhat interesting passengers. A large Uighur woman had befriended us at the bus stop. She was obviously well known to the bus station staff and unlike us, she was invited to share their heated room inside the bus station. She had at least ten enormous suitcases and was travelling the huge distance from Kashgar to Islamabad. "Did she have family in Islamabad?" we asked. No, this was business she told us. This heavily veiled woman wielded impressive power during this trip, berating anyone for smoking and demanding toilet stops that we were all very grateful for. We were impressed.
At one stop I decided to join her. After all who knew when the next toilet stop may be? I followed her down the only road - yes, very the famous Karakoram Highway - only to find that their was no place here for privacy. And in the middle of one of the world's most famous thoroughfares, she casually lifted up her long flowing black dress and with an enormous gush irrigated most of the highway. I laughed at this absurd scene. Here was this heavily veiled and garbed woman showing absolutely no shyness in baring an enormous bare bottom and unashamedly pissing in front of a massive line up of trucks (blocked by our stationary bus) onto the highway
We continued on our bus trip through the bleakest and most and desolate country you could imagine. Snow began to fall and the road conditions looked icy and onerous. The Chinese passenger directly behind me choked, hurled and spat amazing gollies of mucous over our shoulders for the entire trip. I glared at him but it made no difference. Alan glared at me and that didn't help either.
In seats in front of us a charming Polish backpacking couple Beata and Tomek kept us entertained with their trekking adventures. Their stay in a derelict hotel in Tashkorgan sounded horrendous and they were concerned that they did not have visas for Pakistan. Apparently the rules had changed and it was now possible to gain visas upon entry to Pakistan at the check post of Sost. Beata had been sick and they looked both tired and understandably worried.
Although it was bitterly cold and snowing, it was a fascinating journey as we travelled over the Khunjerab Pass, the road then winding around and through merciless scree sloping mountains along a gravel based river, intersected by huge alluvial fans and frequent crumbling rockslides until we reached the border town of Sost
As mentioned, the KKH on the Pakistan side is more of a track than a road. Road wash damage and huge dam sized potholes result in frequent changes of course rather than the road being repaired. Driving on this road is nothing short of a lottery. There is absolutely no way to prevent rockslides from falling onto the narrow carriageway of the Pakistan Karakoram Highway. The sides of the road are so high that it is impossible to look from the bus up to the top of the adjoining mountain - or in fact to look down to the gorge below. Our bus frequently weaved its way through massive boulders along the snaking road until we reached the check post of Sost.
We arrived at Sost and was relieved to see the welcoming smiling face of our Pakistani guide Jabbar and our delightful driver Rehmat. To our surprise we had no difficulties in going through Customs or Immigration. Beata and Tomek however were asked to remain at the Customs Desk to organise their visas while the bus went on to Immigration - with their luggage. How these two were going to trek with such an amount of heavy gear was beyond us. Worried that they might lose the lot, we stayed with their luggage while our kind guide Jabbar went back to their rescue.
They eventually arrived with Jabbar looking exhausted and worried. We were pleased that we could offer them a lift and somehow we all climbed into Rehmat's little jeep with all our gear and beetled off to Passu, our first night's stay in Pakistan.
The village of Passu was breathtaking. A more dramatic and beautiful setting would be impossible to describe. At a height of 2,770 m the village of Passu is nestled just below the majestic Cathedral Ridge of razor sharp mountain peaks. Magnificent white and black moraine covered glaciers almost reach the road.
Late that afternoon Alan and I wandered along the road outside out hotel. "Was this cratered track really the mighty Karakoram Highway?" we asked ourselves. It sure was. The sun was setting and the Cathedrals were looking eerily stunning. A group of local men introduced themselves to us. "Ahh, you must have SUCH BRAVE hearts" said one. "Look, there are Taliban everywhere...." he said wielding his arms around himself and roaring with laughter. We gathered he was being sort of funny and we laughed too. But for two Australian new comers to Pakistan, we were still not really sure...
Beata and Tomek decided to stay with us at our hotel. What none of us realised that there was no electricity - for us - at all. And it was cold. Thankfully, we had a wonderful meal before the power went off. Little did we realise that this was to be the situation for the next three days.