Baltistan – the Gingerbread mans final chapter

The third, the shortest and final entry on roaming Baltistan with the Gingerbread man.

Skardu

Some much needed rest entailed the following day – after we had decided to leave early for Katapana Desert.

Rowan had managed to get his second flat tire, somehow piercing through tough Heidenau K60 rubber. Off he ran to the tire wallah, swearing a little more colourfully then me for a change, while I utilised the time to clean up the drive chain on Trumpet. Funny the amount of crud you can find on a front sprocket when you haven’t looked at it for months.

Our 9am departure finally grew wings at 3.30pm – it didn’t take much to put me to sleep after mucking about all morning with the bikes.

Katapana Desert

 

Capture of a capture at Katapana desert, Shigar.

A fair sandy desert, caressed by a colourful horizon and completely surrounded bythe teethlike snowcapped ranges of Baltistan. Bright rays of sunlight shot over the sharp teeth of mountains far ahead of us as we scoured the sandy tracks to nowhere.

Droolworthy landscape after landscape in Baltistan

Chasing them out into the desert (after a certain somebody got bogged on top of a sandy hill) it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by the now usual snowcapped mountans – with the exception that we were now in the middle of a faded yellow desert.

Goodnight Katapana – what a surreal landscape!

It didn’t take much for the night to quickly close in on us. However, before Katapana enveloped us completely in her growing shadows, the gingerbread man managed to find a neat trail up the side of a mountain – where we both enjoyed watching the last colours of the day fan out across a most remarkable Baltistan landscape.

Good morning flat stuff

For the second morning in a row, a rear tire deflated itself in protest – or just for laughs, who knows. Poor old Ro’ did the runner back to the same tire wallah, and I enjoyed the view of a rubberless yamaha XT660 over a few cups of tea of herbal tea.

Back on the move, we chased the asphalt to Khaplu, around 100km east of Skardu. A surprisingly strong heat pounded away at our backs as we contined. My side stand sunk a good inch into the road every time a picture worthy scene presented itself.

Welcome to the stellar blues of Shyok River!

Despite the heat, our flight over sandy flats atwixt powdery snowcaps was vehicle free. We had the road to ourselves, something that is quite common in the northern areas of Pakistan.

The aqua Shyok river flowed into smaller veins and under many a timber suspension bridge, which lead to tiny villages mounted on the other side of the cool water. I felt like jumping in the river just to cool off, but riding took precedence… like it always does.

Saling

 

A daal mash later, the suspension bridge to Saling beckoned us over the Shyok – right into the face of razor sharp mountains. The road switched from asphalt to a jeep cobbled road between a large goat herd and villagers who looked quite surprised to see two aliens dressed akin to something like transformers.

The gingerbread man soaks it up halfway over – Crossing into Saling

The trout farm we’d been seeking finally appeared on the dirt road out of the village. An agreement with the local land proprieter allowed us to camp out on the sandy river bed – surrounded by prickly thorns, which became the bane of our existence for a night. No amount of smoothing sand and swear words seemed to encourage the spiky bushes to let us be.

Our starry blanket on the riverbed near Saling

That said, the position of our tents were perfectly seated for an outrageous view of the huge starry mat hanging above us. As a dinner of peanut butter and jam on bread digested, our necks craned back to soak in the scenery . The razor sharp mountains surrounding us seemed to hold up the immense night sky, as shooting stars played polo with the occasional roaming satellite.

If there was a god, then we were in god’s land – Baltistan.

Before alarms screamed out of half charged phones, both Rowan and I were up, watching the sun peep warm rays over sharp peaks. By 6 am, engines were grumbling on a dry dirt route down the northern side of the Shyok, passing cherry blossom covered villages on the way to Kharkoo. If there was a god, then we were in was gods land.

And STRETCH 1, 2, 3… Saling, Baltistan

This little dirt road curved alongside the bright blue Shyok before blossoming into friendly waves and smiles from the local villagers. The most lush of green fields were marked out by neatly stacked low rock walls. Natural brick and stone houses sat perfectly flawed on a semi muddy track, brown watery flecks flying in all directions as we crossed through a deep water trench and uncountable “puddles”.

Waved on towards the Kharkoo suspension bridge, it was forty-five minutes of pure bliss. Too beatiful to justify using a camera, too perfectly untouched to justify a placed fingertip. A place that stays untouched forever one would hope.

A local gent on the Shyok on the way west.

 

Landslides

We’d burnt through Skardu, and smashed down a biryani in good time. With plenty of day left, and an early lunch, the S1 took us under its dirty wing for the remainding strip of road to the KKH.

Not long after, jingle trucks as far as the eye could see, lined the tiny snakelike road. Pulling to a halt, I hopped off to investigate – huge yellow dozers were trying to make their way by after clearing a landslide. It seemed the warm weather of the last few days had encouraged the ice melt, and resurfaced the road in sprinkles of rock and sloppy mud.

Queued up on the S1 on the way out.

Stuck in a mess of jingle trucks, mud and offsiders, it was time for a bit of head down and twist the wrist. Mud flecks splattered up onto my visor from my own, and the gingerbread mans tires. Soon enough we discovered the reason for the mess – a small vein of water had carved away a large section of silt and rock above us.

Water poured off the side of the mountain onto the road, turning everything a shitty brown colour in its midst. We finally looked like proper “adventure” riders now.

A green village off the S1 – long after escaping the landslide of course!

With the sun setting more aggressively then we’d imagined it would, we crossed the final bridge and onto the KKH – which felt like glue to our tires after the S1 from Khaplu. With the sun in full retreat, shining a last plot of gold on the Raikot face of Nanga Parbat, we found a perfect camping spot, nicely hidden off the highway, surrounded by green saplings.

Camping in our secret spot, with Nanga Parbat off in the distance.

 

Since then…

Since then… Rowan has ridden off through fifty degree Balochistan to Iran and Azerbaijan. I’m in my last weeks of exploring of Baltistan and Chitral. Never enough time for anything it seems.

India beckons with it’s “spiritual” finger, but there is still many unwritten stories from Khyber Pakhtunkwah and Gilgit – Baltistan to emerge out of my keyboard.

Stay tuned for next weeks entry on Kalash Valley.

If you want to follow what the gingerbread man (aka Rowan) is up to you can see it all here at

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The gingerbread man (Rowan) on Hosseini bridge, overlooking Passu cones.