*WARNING* – Graphic content
The KKH village butchers
The temperature dropped as we left Pasu and passed on the KKH into a tiny village, whose only source of income seemed to be coming directly off the Karakoram highway. Entire skinned goats hung off nasty looking meat hooks. Skins, heads and hooves were thrown in lazy piles just below the butcher’s cleaving table. Well worth a look we thought.
Upon closer inspection, rolled stomachs tied with intestines sat casually stacked on one butcher’s table. Below it, piles of goat skins splayed out like a hairy yin and yang mat. The bloke next door was cleaving chops off half a goat with a broad cleaver. The blackened blade looked like something out of American Horror Story.
Across the road, huge bony bottomed buffalo stared at us while munching away on a large pile of hay. I wondered if their days were numbered. Seemed like a bit of a job to have to hack away at these monsters, which led me to a imagining what it’s like being a butcher in these parts. Must have some long knives – and some short fingers.
Esan Ali of Nagar on the KKH
A little further up the KKH, I yelled out to Matt “AY! Let’s go have a bo peep at that sawmill over there” and he nodded in agreement. Chucking a U-ey we parked and dismounted off our noble steeds. Armed with our cameras, we wandered freely around the mill leaving boot prints on the sawdust covered ground. Logs lay stacked in rough piles, some large, some small, and a chicken clucked from inside a small timber shed.
A wizened old gent wandered out between a set of timber sheds, carrying a small part of a trunk in a wrinkled set of hands. Nodding at two youths nearby, both young boys walked over to the saw, and with a small click, got the belt blades churning. The sound made my spine tingle. The old man dumped the hacked trunk down on the cutting table and with a flick of his head, he summoned one of the youths over.
Warily wincing, the young lad assisted in cutting the trunk into smaller pieces for firewood. The wizened old gent shot us a small grin and a twinkle of the eyes as he finished cutting the last piece of timber. As the saw slowly ground to a halt, we shook hands with the local and introduced ourselves. As is common in these parts Esan Ali, our old new friend, invited us for tea. “Sounds good mate”
On the way to Esan Ali’s tailoring workshop, the same wincing youth was weighing up a live chicken for a customer who had appeared out of thin air. Next minute the chicken was hauled off to the cutting block – or the blood stained edge of the karakoram highway in this case. We watched as the bloke diced open the chicken’s neck, letting the blood spray onto the dark tarmac, directly in front of a mewing orange cat. So that’s how it’s done eh?
Sipping on a hot milky cup of tea, and through some pretty shaky urdu-english, we got to know Esan Ali a little better. The bloke was a tailor, and worked inside his modest tailors shop, alongside the family run sawmill. He told Matty and I about his sons and about the culture of Nagar, both religion and trees alike, while we shared our stories of the road. Moments like this, as someone else put it “are the bread and butter of trips like this”.
“Follow me, home is close”
“Sweet as man”
Matt and I trailed after Rahim’s CD 125 through the small yet busy market strip of Danyore, on the KKH. A few lefts, camouflaged speedbumps and rights later, we rolled underneath the family’s apricot tree and switched the ignitions off. Time for a break.
Awaiting us inside was Naeem, Rahim’s brother and a dish of dried apricots and almonds, which was tucked into without wasting any time. After unloading all our gear off the bikes, Rahim summoned us into the living room with the amazing sawdust furnace in the centre. His mother was prepared to fatten us up, so we sat down to plates of popcorn chicken, chicken nuggets and a hulking plate of that vanilla cake that is now a dietary staple.
The next day, Rahim, Matty and I hopped on the bikes and rode back up the KKH to Naltar Valley. I made it out about halfway up the road before my stomach protested, (apparently this heinous affliction is due to gorging on dried apricots). Through the remainder of my shortlived ride, my stomach rumbled and strange noises emanated from my nether regions – every bump was a gamble!
Finding the road covered in ice and snow, I left it to Matty and Rahim and returned “home” – I was feeling pretty grim and didn’t feel like sharing the hearty celebration of a reverse omelette with vanilla bits in the snow with everybody. Matt and Rahim didn’t get much further, and so, decided to walk all the way up to Naltar instead.
That evening the boys brought back reports of their findings – air force run ski slopes, where Matty managed to get a free run down the slopes, which was due to the kindness of air force engineer.
Naltar Valley – episode 2
Convincing myself that I was totally ok, Matty and I went up to Naltar on the KKH a second time. Deciding to hitch a ride from the first outpost, we spent the first hour and a half with the local police in their tent, and waited for a jeep that never came. So, taking the initiative, we rode as far up as possible on Matty’s 150, only to find a few extra feet of snow than the day before, more ice and lots of mist. Time for a leisurely two hour walk!
Two pairs of wet feet later, we stopped by a local’s house in Naltar and drank numerous cups of tea, dunking the sourdough styled local bread in the hot sugary goodness. Heading up the last leg of the mountain through a few feet of snow in our very ‘non-waterproof’ boots, we made it to the ski slopes, where the sun had finally woken up. Wow, the views were absolute killer, well worth the freezing hike up.
Even though we had come all the way up, the day was already late, having lost time on a non existent hitch. So instead of skiing, we took off wet boots and wet socks, wrapped feet in down jackets and enjoyed the view while eating a late lunch. Dagger like mountains failed to reprimand a darkening sky as white clouds floated dreamily around the razor-like tops.
Before long the sun had dropped and the night enveloped us. Matty and I ended up walking back down through Naltar in the moonlight. The sky cleared, giving us nothing but a beautiful blanket of stars – and alot of “woah… almost fell on me arse” moments. We sniggered like schoolboys all the way down the snow crusted road, as we lamented the integrity of our shitty boots, and considered the odds of a snow leopard encounter.
The moonlight reflected off the snow giving us more then enough light to get to the bike safely – which we then had to drag down the mountain because the road had evolved into a new style of ice rink. Still it was relatively easy with both of us working together, and before long, we were on the way back down the KKH to Rahim’s, more then 12 hours after we had left.
After a very relaxing few days spent with Rahim and his family (including an entire roast goat and a visit to the “Whitehouse”) it was about time we left and got some more riding done.
Where in the hell is Matty?
Riding to Chilas didn’t provide us with much drama. The road was mostly ours to hoon along on, excluding some exceptionally large sprays of rock over the KKH. Red Massey Ferguson tractors disappeared in the distance as we whizzed on past the outrageous toots of roaring, cancer smoke blowing jingle trucks. I passed Matty who seemed to be sidetracked taking photos of some goats for his instagram, and cruised along the sunny road edges near Chilas.
Twiddling my thumbs at the GB checkpost thirty kilometres outside Chilas, I wondered loudly to myself “Where in the hell is Matty?”. Surely he still wasn’t playing with the goats. Maybe he’d found a donkey to ride. Actually, a cup of tea somewhere definitely seemed more likely. I knew I may have been a bit excited on the squirt through but I’d slowed up to let him catch me. Something was wrong, it never took this long for him to catch up.
Just as I began turning the bike around to go back towards Chilas, a glance in my mirror pictured Matty running up the road behind me.
“Got a flat twenty kays back…”
“As long as you’re ok mate, need a tube? I’ve got the spares handy.”
“Nah bro, there’s a garagey place nearby, just got a bloke fitting a new tube now”
So off down the road we wandered to check out the damage. “Bloody hell mate, that’s rooted!” was my intricate analogy of the remainder of the tube. Torn to absolute pieces, it looked like there’d been a knife fight inside the tyre. Freddy Krueger couldn’t have done a better job.
Night ridin’ the KKH
Neither of us expected what was coming after exiting the so called ‘red zone’ between Chilas and Dasu. We escaped the potholed glory of the old KKH into Dasu, just as light was fading. For some reason, beyond either of us, the escapades began. I can only put it down to the tiredness catching up with us, and the tedious riding between potholes.
“Hey, HEY! STOP… STOP” shouted a policeman after us at a checkpoint. We’d surpassed the idea of stopping, kept on the throttle, and with a twist of the wrist Matty and I flew through the checkpoint instead.
“Ahahahahahahaaaa” I laughed under my helmet. I knew Matty was doing the same. As the afternoon had begun disappear that day, we had agreed to stop as little as humanly possible, which also meant flogging it through every police checkpoint that had left their boom gate up. Yes I know, completely childish behaviour. Let’s be rational, it’s me.
We gained momentum as we began the last sixty kilometres towards Becham, our very average lights our only guide. A few minutes after riding through the checkpoint, the road appeared to stretch out before, lights from a truck blaring as it came from the opposite direction. “Hang on, where’s the road gone?
Dutchies brain recounting here –
Well, there goes the sun. At least we’re now in Dasu and it’s all smooth sailing from here. Is that a donkey in the middle of the road? Yeap, that’s a donkey in the middle of the road. Couldn’t care less could you mate?
Ah here we go, police checkpoint coming up. They’re waving me down. Is there a boom gate?… Nah, can’t see one. Well get out of the way fellas, I’m coming through. “Hey, HEY! STOP, STOP!”. Sorry folks, been riding the KKH all day, not stopping.
Jesus, I can’t see a friggin’ thing. Looks like a nice straight bit of road here, lovely. Feel like I’m playing a game of friday night footy with those lights blaring off the escort truck. Time to take the lead from Matty, looks like he can’t see a thing either, I’ve got more light then he does… beaut those yellow lines are back, and so is the steel grating, much easier to see now.
It’s gonna be a bit difficult to take over this bloke, he’s a monster! I’ll just follow for now. Oh, wait there we go right indicators flashing, time to overtake, sweeeeEEEET WOAH! BEEEEEEP BEEEEEEP!
Where did that car from? That was close… Where’d Matty go… Where are you mate, I can’t see your headlight anymore…
Matty isn’t dead
Oh thank the gods of the road, I thought Matty was a gonner then…. We’ll have a laugh about that later. Why did that boofhead in the truck tell us to overtake? Probably should’ve taken a look myself to be honest. My bad! Obviously had a great view of the road and all with a move like that. Bananas.
Oh, it’s a jingle truck this time. Sweet road is all clear ahead, time to overtake. Thanks for moving over buddy, oH SHITTTT! Come on rear brakes get me out of this one… man where the hell did that wall come from. That was sneaky. Where’s Matt?
Matty still isn’t dead
Ah there he is doing the same thing as me. Come on mate get those rear brakes working, turn sharp! Well, you almost hit the wall. Sheesh, could either of us be any more stupid? Blind as a pair of daft bats. Bahahaha, ahahahaha almost went headfirst over the side of the cliff face. That would have been dramatic.
Looks like this bloke wants us to pull over too, but that boom gate looks pretty wide open to me. Don’t stop us now fellas, we’re on fire! “HEY, HEY, STOP!!!” Ahahaha see ya later alligator… ah I know we should really be stopping, but this is just way too much fun now.
Oh a jingle ute. Don’t flash your highbeams at me you fruitloop, you’re blinding me!!!…
I’m not dead
Well that could’ve been bad. A huge, ominous rock just lying there on the road, having a good relax. Blokes trying to blind me… Don’t mind me, I’m just a rock waiting to destroy those who try to pass. Dude this isn’t lord of the rings, you are not Gandalf, and I shall pass, thanks….
Oh, is that a sign for Becham? Yes, yes it is. Yeah baby!…
Within a few minutes, we pulled into the Continental. A good laugh ensued as Matty and I laughed loudly at each other through our helmets.. “What a ride” he said as we fist bumped. What a ride indeed.
Something I think totally worth mentioning is the fact that although I was carrying around spare tubes and a repair kit in case of a flat, it never occurred to me to actually refill the slot of patches I’d run out of. I don’t know why I never thought to, I just never did. Mental, I know. So when Matty copped another flat forty kilometres outside Becham, it really couldn’t have happened in a better place.
Forty kilometres after departing Becham that morning, Matty’s tire began looking a little 90 degrees. We turned around and asked at three different motorcycle looking places for a fix for a flat tire. Finally we found a bloke, who sort appeared out of thin air. A bit like Jesus I suppose. Not wanting to throw in another new tube on a hire bike, we opted for the more economical patch option.
Taking a glance at the tire, within minutes, the bloke had the tube hanging out while he did the usual bubble hunt. While the saviour was weaving his magic, the crowd, as always, grew larger and we suddenly became the centrepiece of the thirty strong crowd surrounding us.
The gentleman found the hole, stuck it with a matchstick, blew the tube up again to check and upon success, started the repair work. Cutting a centre strip from the old tube, it was stuck around the inside of the rim, to help prevent pinching on the inside. With a few last stitches in the makeshift protective strip, he inserted it, along with the tube and within minutes we were good to go.
Matty tried chasing him all around the shop to pay for the repair work, but this bloke just refused any kind of payment. Pretty heroic fella, that bloke we call the saviour. Pakistan, you’ve done it again!
A mild case of KKH road rage
Leaving Mansehra at a lazy 12pm, the ride back “home” was as action packed as it was on the way up two weeks ago. ‘Here we go again’ I thought.
Abbotabad is notorious for the mess of traffic that runs through its city on the KKH. Give an inch and lose a mile. Matty was able jet off and squirt through the gaps, while I played a game of charades with mini trucks weighed down with people.
The continual sound of horns was like listening to an orchestra of broken violins. Smoke, the breath of life, was busy finding it’s way through every gap in my helmet, while I was trying vainly to hold my breath for as long as possible.
By the time we had gotten to Haripur, the last vestige of the traffic horrors between Islamabad and Mansehra, tempers were fraying. Where I was slightly more accustomed to people trying to kill me on the road, Matty found it a touch more frustrating. A boot in a side door of van here, an illicit digit waving about from a free hand there, carried on through Haripur.
Boys will be boys
At the edge of town, the entry bridge turned into a fight for the bridge between one side of traffic and the other (due to road resurfacing). Our side won, but came in the shape of a rather angry, impatient dude who sat on his horn for the entirety of the fiasco, pushing past me and then Matty without a care for our wellbeing.
Not standing for being pushed around any longer, Matty gave the bloke a telling hand mimic in his rear view mirror, as well as intricate exposure to the length of his middle digit. The angry man continued his rampage by chasing after Matty, who zipped away between the traffic. “Well this could be bad” I wondered out loud.
Pulling back in front of our crazed driver, I began to block his advances on Matty, thinking he might calm down a bit if I got in between them and created some space. This of course, only served to infuriate our friend in the car a little more.
A clean break of the traffic appeared, exactly at the wrong time and the bloke managed to tear around me and chase after Matty again, almost running him over in the process. As both of them jammed on the brakes, I rode next to the drivers side door as they both pulled to a stop and blocked the exit. I’ve never seen someone so angry that they had trouble opening a car door, I couldn’t help but laugh.
With a glance to his right he saw me blocking his exit, realised he couldn’t get out of the car, started shouting indescribable things through the window, while Matty disappeared again. He followed on for a little longer before overtaking us both and zoomed ahead.
Signalling Matty to pull over, I thought a nice relaxing, smoke free break was in order.
“Hahahahaha, that dude was so unhappy! All ok man?”
“Hahaha, yeah all ok mate”
“Alright, let’s just chill for a bit and let him get ahead. I thought he was going to run you over man, best to give him some room now”
“Yeah sweet man, he was being a knob though”
“Not disagreeing, but let’s not die today.”
For the first part of the KKH visit the link.
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