During the day I joined Akram and Sharnaz to visit extended family, then in the evening one of the guys I met during the visit took me into town with his friends, showing me the grand Faisal Mosque and taking me on a thrill ride up the Margalla Hills, from where you can look out all over Islamabad.
Over the last couple of days, things have become clearer as to the risks involved in travelling through Pakistan and what these risks mean for my journey. Presently, it is not possible to cycle the Karakoram Highway independently. The main reason for this is that local authorities (police) will definitely not let you travel through Kohistan on your own. This is fair enough, as the area is rife with bandits that make even locals wary of passing through. While Kohistan is the main problem, it has become apparent that the police take their ‘duty’ so seriously that they actually don’t let you travel between Mansehra and Gilgit on your own. Two ‘teams’ of cyclists have ridden the Karakoram Highway in the last couple of weeks (a couple and a solo guy) and both teams were escorted by police between these two towns. This is a distance of 355km (following the KKH) or 454km (via Naran), which is 56% and 49% of the Pakistan side of the Karakoram Highway, respectively. Apparently the police escorts were “mostly nice” about it.
What does this mean for my journey? It all comes down to whether I want to extend my visa or not. If I don’t extend my visa, I won’t have enough time to complete the ride. If I do extend my visa and embark on the ride, I will face the annoying prospect of dealing with escorts for half the journey. The clincher is that I really don’t want to extend my visa as doing so would reduce the likelihood that I reach the UK by the end of the year, which is currently an important goal. The question, then, is how do I want to spend the rest of my time in Pakistan? The answer is clear but disappointing. The most rewarding thing to do would be to spend as much time as possible exploring the safe and beautiful Gigit-Baltistan area independently. Catching a bus to Gilgit would maximise my time here and allow me to avoid dealing with escorts. While this sounds like the most sensible option, I am struggling to come to terms with the fact that it would create gap in my cycling route. Such gaps are the bane of many a cycle tourer’s existence.
|Accommodation||Home of a lovely family|
|Distance ridden today||0km|
|Total distance ridden||18,798km|