In theory the drive down from the summit should have been easy. However the steep incline combined with hairpin turns and the loose rocks make it every bit as treacherous as the climb up to the top. We were getting into a whole different world as far as temperatures were concerned. From near zero temperatures at the top we gradually approached mid to high 30’s in a matter of a few kilometers. the road surface kept deteriorating and my worries that we would face the worst section of the road (it was actually a very close contest to award this dubious title as the track already was the bone jarring, nut loosening kind) We stopped along the way to wash off the dust and buy some cold drinks, some tea for those who preferred and to buy some snacks. The area we were passing thru is a semi lawless area and carrying guns is a norm. It is therefore difficult to choose how to react if you see a bunch of guys armed with AK 47’s. I wanted to get out of this area as soon as possible but I did not want to raise any un necessary alarm either. We rejoined the KKH  with the shadows lengthening and barely enuff time to make it past Raikot Bridge which is also the turning for the Fairy Meadows – the base camp for those visiting the 26,600 ft Nanga Parbat. As we had no intention of calling on the fairies this once we carried on.

With my son – Abdullah, just before we left the Babusar top

I knew I was forgetting something as we packed….snow boards!

Harvesting snow! No kidding. These smart entrepreneurs harvest snow from where it is available all year round and for free and transport it downhill to sell where it is used to keep things cool

People of Babusar..we come in peace!!! Do you think any sane person would challenge them to a snowball fight. These guys were seriously armed! (check out their ammu filled trolley)

climbing down from Babusar

mud caused by melting snow and ruts caused by erosion

Landslides due to logging and over grazing. The temperature begins to rise as we climb down

As soon as the track became dry it got very dusty

There is an amazing transformation in the landscape as soon as we arrive near a stream. The barren land blooms into a lush oasis with the most amazing fruit trees and flowers. The bridges across the streams were very basic – a few logs arranged across the divide with some random pieces of wood hammered in for stability..guard rails are for sissies.

The house at the top must have amazing views 

The friendly locals allowed us to pose with their AK 47’s

snacks, cold drinks (chilled by placing them in the running water) and tea

postcard

Kids get so excited when they see a beetle

We found a stretch of black topped road road just as we neared the KKH and made full use of it trying to gain some time by speeding.

Alas! all good things come to an end..so did the good black topped stretch of road. Now back to putting the VW engineering and the hard work of Khalid prepping up the cars for the rally to test

We made it to the KKH. The best joke was when we were asked by a group of truck drivers who couldn’t believe our humble VW’s had climbed the Babusar summit. We explained that VW’s are strong little cars but that was not very convincing for them who had probably never seen a VW up close and personal. Exasperated, I told them that we carry a spare engine in the boot that we switch on to help on steep inclines. They actually bought it! 

The river you see is the longest river in Pakistan – Indus

The road surface became a total nightmare after just a couple of kilometers and our average speed dropped to less than 20 km an hour. The deepening darkness added to the risk of a judgement error and an accident. Now an accident on this section is not a fender bender  or a scraped bumper..the road is just a thin strip with a high mountain on one side and a steep drop of another few hundred feet on the other. The river Indus flows majestically alongside ready to accept any errant drivers and transporting them effortlessly  downcountry. The only problem is the rocks that are located in the river and anything that accepts the ride is likely to be smashed to bits before it gets too far. None of the group members were ready for just such a free ride so we drove in a close group, taking advantage of the lead car drivers (yours truly) judgement. I have driven up and down the KKH tens of times but never take it lightly. I do always try to avoid driving after dark but at times it is not possible.

We were gone just a few kilometers when I noticed that the two of the cars had fallen behind. The bad roads had claimed their first victim and we had our first mechanical breakdown of the expedition. Maqsoods super had snapped a sway bar end that was essential to keep the McPherson struts upright!.   It was pitch dark by then so we turned around aiming our headlights at the stranded super as Our Chief mechanic – a veteran VW repair expert with more than 40 years experience, assessed the damage. The sway bar had snapped off at the point it has a threaded end so there was no way to attach it without welding the piece back. (even then the reliability of the repair would have been seriously questionable)  The area we were in is known for its large scorpions that can be seen scurrying on the road with their sting raised. While Khalid inspected the car the rest of the group kept an eye on the scorpions lest one of them wanted to get too close to offer help.

Assessing the damage

We assessed the situation and decided that leaving the car behind was not an option. The only thing we could do at that point is too difficult to explain here  but lets just say we used some luggage tie downs to hold the strut straight and everything as close to its normal position as possible. From there on the speed dropped to about 10 km an hour with frequent stops to check and re-tighten the tie down as no matter how well we ratcheted them tight they would loosen due to the road conditions.
We made it to Gilgit sometime in the wee hours of the morning and as it was not our scheduled stop we did not have any hotel reservations. Desperate for a shower and a clean bed to crash in we drove around town till we found a suitable place. Everyone must have fallen asleep within seconds of their heads touching the pillows.

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