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Karakoram Highway revisited by motorcycle

POSTED BY Yamin Vong ON 26 October 2018

Having supper about four months ago at Kak Jin’s Village Fishhead noodles at Weld Quay, Penang, we started chatting about the usual “man” things.

Joey aka TK Jong and Lim Kak Jin reminisced about their Mongolia bike adventure where Joey fell through an ice sheet yet managed to escape hypothermia.

Then they started talking about an upcoming ride in Pakistan’s North West Frontier along the Karakorum highway with views of K2, Nanga Parbat and some of the world’s seven highest peaks.

Sitting on the five-foot way and savouring the fish-head noodles and gently sipping the steaming soup, I could recognize some juicy words in all the Hokkien chatter.

It was a 10-day trip in October, the cost was RM8,800 including flight and 30 kg of luggage, 150cc Suzuki motorcycle rental, petrol, hotel, food, guides and support van. The trip was organized by the Alor Star riders, led by big bike owner, Lim Chun Wei.

Since Jin and Joey, a motorcycle mentor to many of the Penang motorcyclists, were going, and October was a free and easy month for me, I asked if I could join.

“Just pay the RM2,800 deposit for the ticket and settle up the rest before the trip,” Joey said.

What started out as a small group swelled to 26 by the time the ride started in Islamabad.

Besides most of the bikes being in the usual run-down condition of rental bikes, the trip’s itinerary was challenging for the tough young road warriors but too demanding for a 63-year senior like me.

The first day’s ride from Islamabad to Naran was 280km and the plan was to wake up at 5am, breakfast at 6am and butt on the bike at 7am to make it for dinner and check in at the Fir Crest Lodge in Naran before nightfall.

But as it turned out, we arrived at Islamabad at night, it was 16 degrees C and it was drizzling rain. We couldn’t collect the bikes as planned for the arrival night.

So, our first day’s rides started almost two hours late. Then at one very important junction just on the outskirts of Islamabad, Dato’ Wong was left behind due to a miscommunication — he thought that he had to wait for other riders at the junction but actually, he was the last man. The sweeper had missed him.

That cost us another hour or so, pleasantly spent at a café on a scenic hill, while waiting for him to be rescued by our Pakistani tour leader, Ali Anwar Khan and his team from Golden Peak Tours. The delays added up and we only had lunch at Balakot at 5pm.

We had another 81 km to our night stop at Naran, and it was a real night stop because those 81 km took more than three hours and we had to ride in the dark, over terrible roads, with flocks of sheep sharing the road. And all the while, we were riding on hill roads with deadly drops over the edges.

The second day was the same – riding for three hours in the dark to reach Gilgit, 234 km north of Naran via Abbottabad, the traffic jam capital of the Himalayas.

Again, the timing was out even though we woke at 5 am, breakfast at 6 am and saddled up at 7am. We made it to Chilas for lunch at 3pm, and by the time arrived at the PTDC hotel in Gilgit, it was dark night. Fortunately, the road trip was blessed by majestic scenery including a view of Nanga Parbat, said to be the world’s most lethal tall peak.

The programme was thrown out of schedule because sections of the Karakorum Highway were construction sites of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation. There was also a section that was a site for a flood rehabilitation and dam construction project by the China Railway 17th Bureau Group.

Let me tell you something about the food: I gained 1.7 kg. We had mutton khariya, fresh hot naans and chapattis. Egg custard and fresh fruits with egg custard for dessert almost every night. Stewed chicken and lentils daily. Chai (tea brewed with boiling fresh milk) several times a day.

Anyway, after the second day of riding almost 12 hours with three hours in the dangerous night, it appeared that the third day was going to be an even longer ride, with yet another bout of night riding.

The young road warriors were game, but Joey suggested that we take a break from night riding and hop on the support van, a 14-seater Toyota Hi Ace. Joey had already ridden that Gilgit Gulmit valley about four years ago. The unearthly early mornings was not his idea of a holiday and neither was it for me too.

Most importantly, we had no time to “smell the roses” as they say. The demands of a big group is that it’s not encouraged to spontaneously stop at the many interesting sights.

One of the advantages of a motorcycle holiday is that it allows the rider to engage with the native local culture, be it drinking chai and kebabs or buying the abundant persimmons, apples, peaches and other interesting foods in season.

Anyway, the short of it is that we’re  planning a motorcycle ride next autumn in Skardu valley, the Pakistani part of Jammu and Kashmir.

  1. Smaller group of 4-6 riders
  2. Fly to Gilgit or Skardu and start the ride from there instead of starting from Lahore or Islamabad.
  3. Leisurely start times of 9am or 10am.
  4. Plan to ride an average of five hours a day with plenty of stops “when you like” and daylight arrival time at destinations

I had a grand adventure in Pakistan and thanks go to the team:

 

  1. Lim Chun Wei, leader
  2. Ang Xin Han, deputy
  3. Steven Tan
  4. Hong, Penang tour leader
  5. Nick, Langkawi
  6. Mike Sak
  7. Lee Chee Ong
  8. Lim Kak Jin
  9. Wong Kin Heng
  10. Leong Kok Sen
  11. Chan Swee Teik
  12. TK Jong
  13. Khor Teik Leong
  14. Ong Hock Keong
  15. Michael Ong, KL
  16. Tan Tat Kin
  17. Cheong Yit Ming
  18. Lee Jia Hin
  19. Suaran Singh
  20. Chow Kok Fai
  21. Daniel Hiew
  22. Keith Scully
  23. Mohamed Razeef
  24. Tan Woei Chunn
  25. Chew Teik San
  26. Lee Yew Chong
  27. Low Poh Beng

 

Special mention:

Pakistan Tour Guide:

Ali Anwar Khan, our main man and owner of Golden Peak Tours. He’s knowledgeable, friendly, is a tough rider, and knows how to speak English for the Hokkiens to understand.  www.goldenpeaktours.com.pk

 

Our Toyota Hi-Ace driver, Ali Haider. He was careful with his vehicle and after descending the Korakorum Highway and the brake shoes were giving up, he steered the van to a safe spot and installed a fresh set in the field.

 

Our mechanic, Addeen, 18 years old, who had to fix the motorcycles in the field, and who had to ride my bike when I decided to take a break on the third day.