Freitag, 26. Mai 2017

KKH from Gilgit to Kashgar

The next day I cycled from Gilgit (1500 m) to Hunza valley (above 2100 m) which is always mentioned when people talk of travelling and KKH. About 30 km before I passed Rakaposhi viewpoint where one has a nice view on the ice walls of this 7800 m summit. Hunza valley is a wide valley with many villages. I stayed in the last village, Karimabad, before the valley gets narrow again. The villages are on a plane of sediment stones above the Hunza river. Short after the turn-off from KKH I took the first hotel as I didn't want to climb further up the hills on the side of the valley. The view from the terrasse and garden there over the valley and to the peaks between 5000 m and almost 8000 m (Rakaposhi) was impressive, but impaired by old furniture and rubbish laying around. Unfortunately the lack of cleanliness was very often in sharp contrast to the nice nature. Also in this hotel I preferred to use my own inner sleeping bag as the sheets didn't look very clean.
The next day I had booked a jeep and a driver plus guide for doing some sightseeing in Hunza and the neighbouring valleys. First we drove about 25 km to Hopar glacier. The viewpoint on ca. 2900m was above the stream of ice, which was mostly covered by stones and rubble. From there several trekking routes started into the mountains. As there are no huts or lodges in this part of the Himalaya these treks are usually done with some local guides and animals carrying food, water and supplies for the whole group.
In the afternoon we went to two kind of castles of local kings, each 900 resp. 800 years old and built from stone and mud (adobe) above the valley. Later in the afternoon we drove to eagles nest (2800 m), a viewpoint where 5 peaks above 6000 m are visible, but unfortunately during the afternoon clouds came up and most of the peaks were hidden.

The day after I continued along KKH to Sost, the last town in Pakistan before the border. Right after Karimabad there were several rocks with graffiti from ancient times, some more than 500 years old, which shows that this route was travelled since then and even longer by merchants, pilgrims and monks.
In 2010 between Hunza and Passu there was a landslide in the narrow valley blocking the river which then rose, created the so called Attabad lake and covered 22 km of KKH under water. The traffic was partly maintained by boats till in 2016 a series of 5 tunnels, built by the Chinese, was opened which bypasses the lake. The longest tunnel is 3.5 km and in between are short open stretches of ca 200m. Tunnel conditions are perfect but no light: smooth surface, no potholes, no water on surface or dripping from ceiling, high ceiling, low traffic and good air.
After Hunza the valley got more lonely, not that many dwellings and rather seldom a shop or restaurant whereas before these were abundant. 
In Sost (2800 m) I checked with the emmigration office and confirmed that there's no possibility to cross this border by bicycle but one has to take a bus. This is obviously part of a bilateral agreement between China and Pakistan. Due to the constraints of opening times of emmigration and border there is no option to combine cycling and border crossing in one day. You have to cycle up in a separate day, then come back to Sost and the next day do emmigration and catch the bus. It is not possible to catch the bus at the border.
This I knew already before but I learned that the border is closed on weekends (Saturday and Sunday). Today was Thursday. As I was planning to ride this pass already that long it was no option for me to skip this part. Hence on Friday morning I cycled up the lonely valley, only very occasionally a car passed me. The road from Sost climbs 2000 m on a distance of 84 km to Khunjerab pass (4700 m) and this very gradually with 2-3 % per km, which is perfect for heavy trucks. For a cyclist a steeper roads are far easier to climb than this steady increase. In combination with a light headwinds and the high altitude it took me 9 hours (7 hours riding time) to reach the pass on the good but poorly maintained road. In the upper, wider parts of the valley some yaks could be seen and some snow fields were still present. The big gate marking the pass was already closed for that day, but Pakistani border guards let me pass till the band and I took some photos.
Then I cycled quickly down for 35 km and reached one of the check posts at 3600 m where national park rangers and border police are stationed. The national park ranger let me camp next to there house and convinced the border police that I could stay for the night, as they wanted me to descend further. The final agreement was that I had to leave at 6 am. Doing so I reached Sost already at 8 am in the morning on Saturday, leaving me 2 long days in this nicely situated but very ugly border town without running water and electricity. All electricity is made by diesel generators. I stayed at PTDC hotel, for 36 $ per night. There they had electricity the whole day, but bathroom and floor was not clean. Over the weekend I had time to sleep, write postcards and diary and watch the English programme of Deutsche Welle.
Monday morning emigration in Sost opened 9:00 am and it took 2 hours to pass narcotics police, emigration and health check: A confirmation of a recent (less than a year) Polio vaccination in the yellow vaccination booklet is needed if you were in Pakistan for 30 days or longer. If missing you get an oral vaccination. The Pakistani government wants to avoid negative media reports on spreading Polio, a disease which was almost extinct but the war in Afghanistan and the uncertain situation in the Pakistani border regions prevented its complete extinction.
Finally the bicycle was bound on top of the luggage on the minibus which was completely occupied with ca 15 persons, one Chinese woman, me as German and the others all Pakistani, mainly from Gilgit-Baltistan province.
The Chinese government attributes one assaults in Xinjiang to Pakistani extremists and does extremely tedious controls at this border. For the Pakistani each electronic device (phone, computer, camera, iPad) is checked for hazardous material. For me it went relatively quick and they didn't want to see my devices, but I anyway had to wait for the bus to complete. Controls at border post took 3h, convoi of buses down to Tashkurgan 1:30h, controls in Tashkurgan 2h. It was already dark when I left the building in Tashkurgan.
 I made it to a hotel, ca. 2.5 km from the control post in the center of Tashkurgan but only had a 50 € bill but no Chinese money. The woman at the reception did not speak any English and had never seen such a bill before and I had to tell here that it is Euro. But then with the help of here smartphone she figured out what it was, came up with a decent exchange rate and I had the room key within 5 min of entering the hotel. I could push my bike directly into the room. The price was about 20$ but with working 
Wifi and clean sheets. Getting a room can be so easy. Unfortunately there are also other negative examples later in this blog.
The next day from Tashkurgan (3100 m) it is 70 km uphill to a pass (4100 m) but I was blown uphill by a strong tailwind. Due to the wind there was so much dust in the air that from the pass the heavily glaciered Mustagh Ata mountain was only faintly visible.
Then down or flat till Karakul lake against a headwind. (3300m high, ca 130km from Tashkurgan). I slept in one of the white yurts which is normally a restaurant at the Karakul lake viewpoint. I asked at the houses for a place to sleep and a old woman was quite business-minded and offered me food and a place in her yurt, one was even equipped with a solar panel, battery pack and TV set. I saw this at several yurts and guess this equipment is provided by the government.
The next day from the lake ca 160 km downhill till Kashgar (1300m), easily done one a partly new road over several bridges and a tunnel which construction was finished but not yet released for traffic. 

In Kashgar I slept in the Old town Youth Hostel where I already stayed in 2010 for 2 days, hence a connecting point to this previous trip. Again this pleasant hostel in the old town is a meeting point for travellers, many on bicycle, coming from south (Pakistan), from west (Kirgistan and Tajikistan), from the north rim and the south rim of Taklamakan.

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