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Pedal Pushing in Pakistan: Karakoram Highway 2000 - By John McHale

The Hunza Valley in the northern mountains of Pakistan is, to my mind, the highlight of the journey along the Karakoram Highway commencing in Xinjiang in the far west of China. During my first visit to this region I was unable to complete the crossing from China into Pakistan due to the theft of my passport in Kashgar. This second trip took place two years later, and represents the successful completion of my earlier goal. My lingering curiosity about what lay in the mountains beyond the border pass was rewarded with an unforgettable travel experience, and a new appreciation of the beauty of Pakistan's mountains, and the Pakistani people. (Full Story Text)

 
Karimabad, Hunza Valley - Karimabad is clearly the most touristed towns within the Hunza Valley, and is largely made famous by the historic Baltit Fort and lesser known Altit Fort. This was an obvious choice for one of my resting points. It was on the highway approaching this town that I came across a female cycle tourist who, coincidentally, turned out to be an old girlfriend of mine from ten years ago. She guessed before I did, but only after twenty minutes of casual conversation.
Mountain Village, Hunza Valley - One of the many villages clinging to the crumbling valley walls opposite the Karakoram Highway but, at least to some extent, separated and protected by the river from the impact of tourists and traffic.
Young locals (near Challat) - Two junior members of the local community: one of whom has striking western-type features.
Mountains below Sust - A typical mountain scene below Sust. Autumn is the best time to visit these mountains. Although very cold at night, every day featured clear blue sky.
Baltit Fort, Karimabad - One of the most famous features of the Hunza Valley is Baltit Fort. This centuries old structure was the stronghold of the Hunza Kingdom, and was the scene of many historic battles with the rival kingdom on the other side of the valley. Although it has undergone several alterations during it's long history, the fort was recently faithfully restored by the Agar Khan Foundation, and is just one example of the valuable work done by this organisation. During the time I was there the Agar Khan himself was scheduled to visit. In Pakistan, the Agar Khan has status akin to the Messiah, and the entire township were celebrating in anticipation of his arrival.
Karakoram Highway - Upper Hunza - At the top of the valley the Highway remains level with the Hunza River, and together with the fabulous weather, makes for a dramatic mountain scene. During the flight out of Gilgit I enjoyed a cockpit view of these mountains, while chatting with the pilots about the current cricket match between NZ and Pakistan.
Valley Bridge, Hunza Valley - The variety of terrain along the Karakoram Highway is illustrated here in an area just south of Aliabad. This relatively barren landscape is still strikingly dramatic.
Village Terraces, Hunza Valley - A picturesque village below Rakaposhi on the Highway between Yashvanden and Ghulmet.
River Crossing, Lower Hunza - This rickety bridge is clearly the only connection across the river between village and Highway. This crossing seems to be an everyday act of faith by these people, and is every bit as perilous as it looks. Given the number of cracked and broken timbers, there is no way I would have considered doing this myself.
Mountain Girl, Hunza Valley - The women living in the mountains are much more relaxed than their city dwelling counterparts. Their faces are generally uncovered, and in the case of young girls, are willing to have their photograph taken.
Rawalpindi Locals - In spite of the hostile traffic in Rawalpindi, there is an unmistakable sense of friendliness amongst the locals.
Late night campsite, Indus Valley - After an eternity of riding in pitch blackness within a narrow gorge in the Indus Valley, I finally stumbled on this area opposite a village in which to spend the night. With the sound of the Indus river roaring below I spent a reasonably comfortable night, and woke to the site of an awesome mountain face towering above me.
Skardu, Indus Valley - An early morning view looking up the Indus valley in Skardu, with a mosque in the foreground.
Lahore (Old Town) - The alleys within the Old town area provide much needed relief from the dusty chaos of traffic and poverty in the crowded streets of Lahore. Although still a bit nightmarish, these were the only areas that seemed conducive to taking photos within the city.
Flight to Skardu - The flight from Rawalpindi to Skardu was a fantastic introduction to the Karakoram Mountains. I spent the whole time poised in my window seat taking photos. It also makes sense if you are limited for time. As well as allowing you to include the Indus Valley in your trip, it is a far more reliable flight than the one into Gilgit.

All Pakistan Photos and Text © John McHale 2000, 2003. Full text here.