Camping with Cheetahs

 
We set off up the Karakoram highway on my birthday. 

The day started well, with Adam supplying a beautiful chocolate birthday cake, with my name piped on the top. 

(He had left it in the hotel kitchen’s fridge for the night with the staff’s permission, and when he brought it in, we discovered with much mirth that the hotel manager had actually eaten a large chunk out of it.  It was hilarious.  I tried to picture an English Travel Lodge manager taking a large bite out of a guest’s birthday cake, before it had even been presented.  It didn’t work.)

 

 
Anyway, the cake was a great start, and we set off up the hill.  The road rose 2500m in 80kms.  Not surprisingly, it was very steep.  Equally unsurprisingly, it got a lot cooler, quickly.  I was very pleased by this, as was entirely fed up with sweltering. 
 

At this juncture I might explain something.  My bike jacket is black.  My helmet is also black.  Possibly this was not a good plan, critics might point out, giving that mostly during our trip we would be in very hot climes.  I say you try working out what to take from England, in the rain, in November.  

My helmet also has the additional dubious benefit of a small and localized greenhouse effect.  The front face of it is entirely transparent.  It is excellent for looking out of.  It would also be excellent for growing tomatoes in.  It’s not so good for someone with very fair skin who burns easily.  Still, there you go, we live and learn…

Back to the increasing coolness of the lower Karakoram foothills…

I saw my first eagle of the trip.  It spiraled at the same height as us, then dropped through nothingness to the fields below. 

 

The road switchbacked all over the place.  The place was full of excited holiday-makers in Jeeps, racing up and down the tiny roads.

 

 
The German was doing 80kph on the curves.  We let him go ahead and enjoy the ride.

The potholes started.  There were errant buffaloes, mad-eyed, on the road.  Small children hit them with sticks, to little effect. 

 

We found the German looking perturbed by the side of the road.  He had come off on a bend.  The bike sustained fairly bad pannier damage, and he had scratched his hip.  He patched himself up, and we all proceeded with more caution.
 
We reached Murree around lunchtime.  Murree is a hill-station from the Raj times.  Having previous experience of Raj-era hill stations nowadays, I was ready to be underwhelmed.  It exactly matched my expectations…

We rode straight through and on to Nathiagali.  It sounded perfect in the book, a smaller village, perched high in the hills, quiet and peaceful. 

 

The scenery was stunning, but the traffic remained atrocious, and we had to wait for snarled-up streets to clear themselves before we could move the bikes. 

Arriving into Nathiagali, it was my turn to be disappointed- it was heaving. 

There was no room to park up to even look for a hotel.  It was a Mini-Shimla and worse.   It was packed with middle class Lahoris in their holiday wear.  The shops sold bad western tops that no self-respecting Brit girl would ever wear, let alone a Muslim.  Everyone was eating icecream, despite a distinct lack of heat.

It was holiday chaos.  There was an abundance of US-style BBQ joints.

We stopped outside town to work out what to do, and were instantly surrounded by 4 well-wishing jeep-loads of Lahorites, all wanting to discuss us, examine us, and photograph us, but apparently preferably without actually speaking to us.

We headed up a hill, unsure of where we were going, but keen to arrive there. 

After some odd faffing, we ended up down tiny back alleys, following a man galloping on a white horse, deep in conversation on his Nokia.  

The day was becoming surreal again.  Oh good.  I was getting good at those.

We stopped for a moment, and found ourselves surrounded.  Five Pakistani cowboys on horseback stood staring at us. 

It was a very silly moment. I was in Pakistan, up a mountain, on a motorbike, surrounded by cowboys, on my 28th birthday. 

There were no hotels anywhere near our price bracket.  We found a place to camp.  It was a damp gazebo, halfway up a very steep hill behind a posh hotel.

To be fair, I wasn’t best pleased with the way things were turning out, it being my birthday.  I had hoped for, oh I don’t know, maybe a bed…

 

 
We ate Pringles and chocolate for dinner and listened to music.  Adam made a little campfire. 

At about ten a group of men came out of the pitchblack.  They had mattresses on their heads.  They announced they were looking for cheetahs, and by the way did we know this was a ‘cheetah zone’.  (I sniggered at the possible roadsigns this gave rise to.)

It was a National Park.  There were 45 cheetahs in the local area, one of whom was known to be a man-eater. 

We were in slightly hysterical moods, and pretended not to know what a cheetah was.  Weren’t they those little creatures about 6” long that ate small insects?

Then we went to bed, mocking the cheetahs. 

Though I did happen to notice the German create a lethal-looking but highly inaccurate cheetah-repellant weapon involving a Leatherman and a piece of string before he went to bed.

And we quietly arranged to make loud scary noises if we heard anything, on the grounds that cheetahs probably don’t know a lot about tents, and wouldn’t like it if one started squawking at them…

1 comment:

  1. What a trip you are doing! I admire your courage!

    ReplyDelete

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