Monday, October 5, 2015

Entering Pakistan

The Pakistan side of things, altogether more relaxed
What's the first thing which springs to mind when somebody asks you about Pakistan? Chances are it'll be Taliban, bombs and other nasty business. People who know a little bit more about the region might talk about long standing conflicts and the need for military escorts. Bearing this in mind we wouldn't have been surprised to find grim and nasty people there. The Pakistan we found is very different then what's portrayed in the news though. For starters we found them extremely friendly people, even at customs and immigration. Add to that landscapes like we had never seen before and an unbelievable enthusiasm for our trip and we were in for a treat!

The road from the Kunjerab pass into Pakistan, which is a whopping 4,700 mtr high, is definitely one of the best we have ever been on. One of those places where we just kept taking photos. It's unbelievably stunning and not at all what I had expected to find in Pakistan. The road was beautiful, not just the scenery but also the road surface itself. We were lucky too, with an abundance in snowfall to complement the picture.

Being this high into the mountains, at the highest international border crossing, and being surrounded by snow made it so much more real. Riding this road in the middle of summer would be great too of course but being here end August / early September in cold conditions added that extra dimension. Having just been through the Chinese border process, with its nasty officials and their appalling behaviour towards visitors, the Pakistani officials couldn't have been more different. We were treated as fellow human beings again! Their friendly and helpful attitude was very welcome indeed.

It was also an easy border crossing. Passports were being checked when we had just left China, to see if we all had a visa for Pakistan, and that was it. The actual Immigration and Customs are in Sost, where the first ATM and petrol can be found too. Again the officials were very friendly, even asking what we as foreigners, would like to see changed in the procedure!?!? The only thing we could think of was a sign just after the border that we had to ride on the left hand side! The procedure was easy, all we had to do is fill in a medical declaration, show our visa and we were in. Then the Carnet de Passage had to be checked and stamped in the next building... and that was it! Welcome to Pakistan!

The strange thing is that we had all talked about riding on the left hand side of the road that morning, yet when we had crossed the border, we all kept just riding on the right hand side of the road. Maybe it was the happy feeling of being free from the Chinese, or just the total amazement of the landscape we had found ourselves in. Whatever it was, the poor Pakistan minivan driver coming from the other side must have had a heart attack when he saw the first bike coming around the corner on the wrong side of the road.... which was Eric's big BMW 1200GSA, followed by three Suzuki's around the next corner and finally us two around the next corner again.

Sost also is the place to fill up with fuel, as I was to find out later when the promised fuel stop further on at Passu didn't exist anymore. We did get cash out of the ATM in Sost though. For some reason our European Maestro bank card, which has supposedly world coverage, didn't work. The Australian visa card did. When's the last time you took 45,000 out of an ATM machine? As the value of the Pakistan Rupee isn't that high we did :-) It worked out at roughly 450 dollars.

Another beautiful ride followed where we were all taking quite a few photos. One of the group had been given a contact name for a good and cheap hotel in Passu, we found 3 but not the one we were after. As the last one we stopped at offered a room for just 12 dollars for two persons and a curry meal for just 18 dollars for the whole group, we decided to stay. The rooms were very simple and basic, we hadn't expected anything else, but it suited us just fine. We don't need TV or tiles in the bathroom and flushing the toilet with a bucket is fine too. The curry we were given was very good!

Despite China being beautiful and us both being glad we had been there, there was also very much a feeling of freedom and happiness now that we had entered Pakistan. China is an amazing country, no doubt about it, and one we would have loved to spend a lot more time in. But at the same time the vile behaviour of the Chinese civil servants, their unpleasant and at times downright appalling attitude was something we were glad to be rid of. Just across the border into Pakistan we found happy people, friendly faces, enthusiasm and like I said earlier: freedom.

Having a very good Pakistan curry together we talked about the beautiful day we just had, and made plans to stay around the area a bit longer to explore a couple of routes to a nearby valley and glacier. First thing we had to do though was get some fuel... and as we were about to find out, we should have had the tanks filled up at Sost...! More on which in the next post.