Raikot Bridge is 30kms from Chilas. The weather changed and it was a quick and pleasant ride. I expected that I will be free from Chilas but I got a policeman on a motorcycle to escort me. What’s more, one policeman escorted me and a motorcyclist who was not happy with the slow pace. At the next stop, we got two policemen and I agreed with mine that he will wait a moment and follow me with distance as it was very annoying to cycle with the companionship of a motorcyclist. When I reached Raikot Bridge I met the motorcyclist who had to wait until construction works will be done (aha, you complained that we are going slow and now anyway you have to wait :D). We talked for a moment and next I took a turn to Fairy Meadows. Only later I was informed that it is illegal and you can only take a jeep ride up. I was able to turn there because my policeman agreed to drive behind me and still did not arrive – I really did not plan it in this way. It again proved that ignorance is the best guide 😊
The ride was really tough. It would be possible to cycle there if my bike did not weight 45kg. I had to push it most of the time. Few times I was overtaken by jeeps and drivers warned me that I will not make it before the night. Pakistani tourists could not believe that I preferred pushing a bike instead of taking the ride 😉 The road was so narrow that I had to find a wider place each time to be overtaken by coming jeeps. It had the width of two ruts and not much more.
In the evening, I was maybe in halfway to Fairy Point, a base where the “road” ends. There was a village close to me so I decided if I would not find a wider place to pitch a tent I would turn there. Fortunately, I soon reached probably the widest part of this whole road where it makes few narrow turns. I found a piece of flat ground with grass among a few big rocks and behind a few smaller trees. The trees look for 3-4yo so I assumed it is safe to pitch a tent there (no landslides) 😉
Wild camping, Fairy Point and the meeting
I pitched my tent already in darkness and went to sleep. It was the most interesting – and a little terrifying – wild camping night to that date as I heard voices of multiple wild animals. Unfortunately, it lasted only for 2 hours, as I soon heard: “good evening, we are the police from Fairy Meadows.” I got out of the tent and the policeman explained that “government prohibits to cycle and camp here, we have to take you to the base up”. It was a really great night, good weather, zero wind and I tried to negotiate to go back to sleep and cycle up the next day but they prohibited that. In this way, I ended my trip to Fairy Meadows by a night jeep ride with the owner of Fairy Point and two policemen. At least it was for free 😉 In which country you can do something like this and not get fined? Pakistan is great!
When we arrived, they gave me food and offered a place to pitch a tent. The owner did not want to pay him for a jeep ride or food. In the morning, I re-packed to one pannier for a climb to Fairy Meadows.
Then, I met a Polish cyclist, Greg. For the last 3 days policemen had had informed me that one Polish and two Pakistani cyclists are ahead of me. Fairy Point was the place where we met – they had already visited Fairy Meadows and were waiting for a jeep to take them down. They were not allowed to cycle on the crazy road and even not allowed to walk down, only jeep ride. It was great to meet a compatriot and speak in Polish! Greg gave me camping freeze-dried food – thanks a lot again! Indian and Pakistani cuisine does not work well for me 😉 One Pakistani guy who was with him commented on my last night camping as very dangerous and next told me that it was definitely not possible to camp in Fairy Meadows as it was too cold. I hate when people tell me what I cannot do. They are always wrong (except policemen :D)
After the meeting, I agreed with the owner of Fairy Point that I will take a horse ride to Fairy. When I came to the horse, a horseman told me that I will have to take an additional person to carry my bag as I cannot ride with it. So I decided to walk, I did not want to pay more. When they saw me resigning, they changed their mind and agreed that I can carry my bag. Ehh, upsell is everywhere. Despite the fact that we agreed on a price already before the ride, the horseman tried to re-negotiate it during the whole ride – from 2000 rupees (~$18) to 3000 – because of a 5kg bag (I weighted 65kg). Not mentioning he wanted me to buy him food saying: “I am hungry”. Really? That was not in the contract… I had limited supplies, but I gave him two energy bars. One for the horse but I am sure this guy ate both. In general, after taking a guide in Lahore, it was the second bad experience of using tourist services in Pakistan.
Despite the snow, I decided to pitch my tent in Fairy Meadows. I picked a place next to Pakistani flag with a great view on Nanga Parbat. The owner offered me a very good price (few dollars for 2 nights). They also prepared food for me for a good price, but it took them ages to prepare it 😉
Meeting with locals
I talked with the owner of the place about Nanga, Maćkiewicz and other crazy people who tried to climb there. He said that for him it would not be a problem to climb the summit as he lived at a very high altitude all his life and would only need the proper equipment. However, he would never try as this is a lottery and probability of losing your life is super high no matter how good you are prepared. According to him, any attempts are made from the southern side. You would need at least four days of walking in the snow to get the real base camp. Fairy Meadows is from the northern side of the mountain (called Riakhot face) and no-one tries to combat the mountain from Fairy. Actually, the owner mentioned that there were 3 French guys who tried. They wanted to do it in Alpine style and they took low food supplies. Unfortunately, too low. In halfway, they run out of supplies. Trying to get down, an avalanche helped them :(. After being pushed into an ice gap, already freezing to death, one guy managed to call the French embassy and said that he would die in 3 minutes, but they should send a helicopter to save the other two.
We also talked about the terrorist attack from 2013. According to the owner, it was conducted by Pakistani political opposition. 11 people were killed, one escaped. The lucky one woke up and heard voices, got out of his tent and saw a terrorist walking into his tent. He hit him and ran away into the forest. After getting back in the morning, he saw all other climbers dead. No terrorist was arrested. The Base Camp lies in a valley and it would be very easy to catch terrorists (the valley is the only way out of the base), so basically no-one from Pakistani government wanted to punish them.
I also met a group of Pakistani boys on the camping site. They were very interested in what I think about Pakistani girls’ beauty. How could I judge the beauty of girls wearing burkas all time? (Actually, sometimes I saw more progressive girls and I can say they look good 😉).
To the summit
Next day, I took a walk in the direction of the mountain. The policeman prohibited me to get to the camp under the mountain as there was too much snow, but I could walk to Bayal Camp which is 2kms from the mountain face. I picked a path on the edge between a glacier and a valley. Having the view on Nanga in front and on Rakaposhi behind, I did not rush and took plenty of time to chill out.
At some point, I decided to abandon my path and walked down into the valley. After maybe 1km, there was too much snow to continue. I sat on a big rock and like a reptile, warmed myself in the sun with the great view on the mountain. Unfortunately, my cycling waterproof shoe covers did not work during the walk and slid off the shoe, so this was a good opportunity to dry off my socks and shoes. I really regretted I did not take my waterproof socks.
After a long photo session :D, I walked back to my tent. During the walk, I could see the real landslide. The noise was huge. The power of nature is limitless.
After getting back, I ordered food, which was ready in just 2 hours 😉 but very delicious (finally meat not veg) and with the delivery to my tent.
Next day, I said goodbye to the owner, the policeman and few other people working on the campsite. I walked down to the Fairy Point admiring again Nanga Parbat.
I took my bike from the policeman working in Fairy Point, re-packed and got over a small water stream to the road. The descent started. It was for sure the most tough descent on the whole trip. Most of the time I belayed myself with my left leg, loading all my weight on the right leg. I had two lines to pick: the right rut was clear of stones but very near to the abyss (I could see the river 300m down), the left rut was filled with falling rocks but was close to the stone wall so I felt more secured. The middle of the road was full of stones and more soft so not a good pick. I decided to stay on the left rut and only took the right one before left corners to flatten the angle.
Somewhere in the middle, I met few local guys probably going to school. There were also girls but they hid behind boys. I was lucky because they came just after I’d set my camera on tripod and we could make a really nice photo with Nanga behind us 😉 Later I took out few Pakistani snacks – this time girls got convinced and also came for snacks 😉
Later, I passed by a place where I pitched a tent during my descent. Below is a picture. Now I am sure it was the best place along the whole road to camp so I was really lucky that I got there before the darkness.
On the whole descent, I was passed at the beginning by one truck going up and later at the end by another one going down. They always stopped, asked me where I was from, and made photos. They were really happy to see a Polish guy in Pakistan.
After I got down, I stopped at the Raikot Bridge. One guy came to me, gave me snacks and drinks and said: Welcome to Pakistan! I admire that you travel the world by bike! Did I already mention that I love Pakistanis for their hospitality? 😉
Astor – Rama Lake
I cycled ca. 20kms on Karakorum Highway until I reached a crossroad. The table informed that here I can take a turn to Astor. I turned to get to Rama Lake near Astor offering the view on Nanga Parbat from the eastern side incl. the view on the highest peak, not visible from Fairy Meadows.
The road was still under construction rarely offering good surface. I was climbing most of the time and cycling was hard. I ran out of water quickly but there was no village or shop to buy water and the river was 50m below the road – not accessible to filter the water. When I stopped near a small shop, it turned out they had only cigarettes and some other stuff, but no water. Probably locals don’t buy bottled water. Finally, I cycled next to the small water stream and could filter two bottles. Anyway, cycling was really tough and, as in Fairy Meadows, I knew I would not be able to reach Astor the same day.
20kms ahead of the city there was a small restaurant. The owner, an old man, allowed me to stay there for the night. He even gave me food and tea and did not want money. I went to sleep, but, unfortunately, the history repeated and after maybe 2 hours the police woke me up and explained – as few days earlier – that the government prohibits foreigners to sleep here and I have to go with them to Astor. When you are waken up by 5 policemen with big guns you do not argue 😀 I packed myself, said goodbye to the very nice owner and got to the police car. We stopped at the entrance to the town for the control on another police check post. The policeman checking my passport started laughing because of a cyclist. After mentioning that I like to cycle, he, astounded, said that no way I enjoyed this road. Actually, here he was right 😉 The surprise of people seeing a foreigner using a bicycle to travel the world was nothing new for me. Less developed country = more surprised people to see a cycling tourist.
Finally, I was driven to the hostel. Policemen negotiated for me only 500 rupees for the night (a very good price given high standard). The owner had also a restaurant where he served me good food for low price.
I was the only foreigner in the whole town.
Astor – Rama Lake
The next day, policemen came to me to inform that I can take a taxi for 1500 rupees up to the village where I can hike near Rama Lake. Unfortunately, due to hard snow conditions I was not allowed to walk to the lake. One policeman accompanied me in a taxi.
I had a great chill-out time in the forest near Rama Lake. Despite the fact I could not see Nanga – there was way to much snow to get close to the lake – I appreciated there were 0 tourists there.
When I got back to taxi, the policeman made few photos with me 😊 He also added me on fb – and another time I did not receive an invitation ☹. There is a problem with fb in Pakistan. He also gave me few useful contacts in the country and made a point that I should call him when I would come back to Pakistan so he could guide me. He is of the same age, but has already a wife and 2 kids. He is very proud of his family. He said that in China people are very progressive, but in Pakistan traditional values (family in the centre) are the most important.
During the ride down we saw kids coming back from school – I have to admit that small girls in burkas look good 😉
Going back to KKH
Next day, I had to wake up very early as there were some explosions planned on Astor road and I did not want to get stucked on the road. My policeman road a motorbike ahead of me and stopped in villages to talk with people about me – because he wanted, not because he had to 😉
I tried to make few photos to local inhabitants – boys were happy to pose, girls ran away 😀
When I reached the restaurant where I tried to sleep 2 days earlier, I said goodbye to my policeman and the owner, and continued. While my descent from Fairy Meadows was the most dangerous I had till that day, the descent from Astor was the faster off-road one. This time I used the right (external) rut, as the abyss was not so deep (only 50 meters) and rarely dropped the speed below 40kms.
After 3 hours, I got back to the crossroad and was back on Karakorum Highway. From now on, I would stay on this road till its end in Kashgar, China.