Further Up the Karakoram Highway

The next day we headed for Gilgit.  

I was still unwell and weak, and had a horrible hysterical moment of lying collapsed in the dust by the side of the road, trying to force down 3 strawberry cakes just to have something in my stomach.   

I have never met a cake I didn’t like, but this was similar to being force-fed polystyrene wrapped in cotton wool.

The roads were really not roads now.  They were mostly rock-strewn dirt tracks wedged tightly against massive cliff-drops.  We bounced along and didn’t look down.  Me and God renewed our occasional acquaintance.

The Indus river churned impressively below us, looking like it wanted feeding.  


We found a restaurant with real food, and I was so pleased I ordered two of everything.  Sadly my stomach had shrunk.  I still ate until I physically could not stuff any more in, but it was less than I would normally have for a snack.

The German, prone to periods of rapid acceleration and impatience, tried to overtake a stationary truck by performing a nifty bit of off-roading.  It failed.  Luckily there were many hands to assist him.  (The truck moved off twenty seconds later anyway, and we sailed through...)


A bit later there was a crowd peering over the edge of the cliff.  We joined them, being voyeuristic tourists…  


Below us, an enormous articulated Chinese truck sat lodged at a ridiculous angle, practically stood on the cabin.  It looked like it had sat there for a while.  It had also taken quite a large portion of bridge with it…


We tried to remain unconcerned, and stumbled our way along to Gilgit.

The Karakoram Highway seemed remarkably unbuilt.  In fact, it seemed to be being built as we rode up it.  There were large numbers of Chinese workers in blue dungarees and big straw hats, measuring out bits of bridge.  

Someone said it had been an acceptable road until a year previously, when the Chinese government had ripped the whole length of it up, to somehow try to fix it all simultaneously.  Everyone we met wondered why they hadn’t done it bit by bit.  Presumably there was a good reason…

It certainly made for adventurous riding.  Not that we really got into the crazy bouncing and the sudden sand, but it felt like the sort of thing it was probably silly to be doing, and therefore good. 

On the last bit of road to Gilgit, the road-rippers had got really enthusiastic.  It was shredded.  Every 20 metres there was a diversion off the ‘road’, so the track would give way to sand, or rock and stream.  The main road would then have a giant hole ploughed out of it.  I was glad it wasn’t night-time.  

There was a mind-defying canyon to our right, with a vast forest below, and mountains above.  The villages had little streams, goats, small, happy children- the usual for Pakistan, it seemed. 

We stopped for drinks shortly before arriving into Gilgit, and were surrounded by smiling local lads. Everyone posed for photos.  


Gilgit was a grubby oasis of hospitality in a very barren world.  The backpacker’s hostel seemed like it should be in Berlin, or Amsterdam. I ate banana pancakes and recovered.  

At the hotel we met a German cyclist.  The two Germans discovered they were from the same town, and bonded.  

There were lots of backpackers in Gilgit, a surprising number given the media hype about Pakistan's dangers.  Everyone sat around and chatted.  It was a great atmosphere. 

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