5 beetles, a bay window bus and a Vanagon Syncro left Islamabad on an apic journey through 1600 KM of Glaciers,Rocks,slush, mud, water crossings and unforgiving nature and the three mightiest mountain ranges – the Himalaya, the Karakorum and Hindukush, across glaciers and to heights of +14,000 ft …
The idea was to start early in the morning to beat the heat in the first three or 4 hours of driving till we reached the town of Balakot on our way to our first campsite in Jalkhad. The meeting place was the parking lot of iconic Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. We did assemble in the parking lot but the last minute shifting of camping gear from cars to the VW bus delayed us by about an hour. Luckily the day turned out to be an overcast one so it wasn’t too bad.
We made good progress and stopped only to buy ice to fill our coolers.
In Pakistan, the months of May to September are generally very hot. The mercury touches the 120*F mark several times but mostly stays between 112* and 116* in the plains. We were heading to higher altitude where the temperatures are much cooler. There is a big flow of tourists wishing to escape the heat in the plains and as the road leading to our destination was not a very wide one I had briefed the group members to pack in a lot of patience.
The other factor that I made everyone aware of was the road condition. There are two ways to get to Hunza – our first destination. The main artery is the Karakoram highway popularly referred to as the KKH. The KKH is the highest international paved road in the world, a feat of engineering and human resilience and also called the 9th wonder of the world. The KKH connects Pakistan to China and is the main trading route between the two countries.
The river Indus flows almost all the way alongside the KKH. The under construction Basha Dam on the river Indus, when completed, would store massive quantities of water for irrigation as well as produce electricity. The site of the dam is smack in the middle of the KKH. When the dam starts storing water, a big chunk of the KKH would eventually be under water. In anticipation, the government of Pakistan has stopped doing any maintenance work on the highway and it is currently a nightmare to travel on.
The other alternative is to drive up to Babusar Pass (and eventually Babusar top Alt. 13, 700 ft) and climb down to Chilas (a small town in Distt. Diamir) and rejoin the KKH. This road – if one chooses to call it that, is unpaved for the most part and although it has been widened in anticipation of it being developed as an alternate to the KKH, is still a challenge to travel on. There are steep climbs and glaciers that one has to deal with in addition to a number of fast flowing glacier melt streams. There are no bridges and the only way to get across is to drive through. The best option is to cross these streams before noon as the water flow increases with the rise in temperature during the day. It would be almost impossible to cross these streams for our humble VW beetles if we got delayed for any reason.
The plan was to start from Islamabad early in the morning and get to our campsite in Jalkhad to set up camp for the night. Jalkhad is about 2 hours drive from the top of the pass so we could cross the streams in low flow.
Ok so i have given you most of the dry talk on the plan and hopefully have got your full attention too. We’ll take a break here and share some pictures so you don’t go off to watch the weather channel instead.