Khunjrab Pass – Inshallah – aik

Mr. Seck is back in CMG with the first part (of two) about his ride to the highest border crossing in the world: the Khunjrab Pass.

kpi_eik_title_image.jpgWords & Photography: Richard Seck (unless otherwise indicated) Title Image: designed by Syed Mashad Ali Jafri (SMAJ)


Avid readers of CMG will note that the entertaining tales of one Mr. Seck that once graced the digital pages of this delightful web magazine have been non-existent for more than three years.

Perhaps you thought I was dead? I mean, I’ve been in Pakistan since leaving Canada and with all the negative press that this place generates you can be forgiven for the assumption.

The actual reason for my absence from the world of motorcycle publishing is that, well, I had no bike…

You see, having experienced the luxury of some the most extraordinary creations that the motorcycling world produces, while working at CMG, had spoiled me.

I was now living in a country where 70-150cc commuter motorcycles are the only bikes that are readily available. Try as I may, the thought of riding these local workhorses failed to enthuse me.


Life between motorcycles.
Photo: Syed
Mashad Ali Jafri

Fast forward to the spring of 2009.

Still bikeless, I stumbled onto a website called Housed on this site was a discussion board for motorcycles and three wheelers, and buried in this section were postings from various members of the Pakistan Bikers’ Club (PBC).

What caught my interest was their plan for the club’s first ‘Mega Tour’ to the spectacular mountains of the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan.

Since coming to Pakistan I’ve dreamt of riding the Karakoram Highway (KKH), which winds through this region to China, at the highest border crossing in the world, the Khunjrab Pass.


Hunza has been on the tourist map for a while.

Following the Mega Tour thread revealed that most everyone who was planning to go would be riding a local, small capacity bike; the whole thing was starting to sound a bit like a Pakistani version of the first CMG Mad Bastard Rally. And that was my inspiration to try and pick up whatever I could and give it a go!

Is that all you got?

Multan, Pakistan in July is the antithesis of Winnipeg in January. Where -75 degree wind chill will freeze exposed skin in seconds, direct exposure to the +50 degree scorching, summer sun in Multan will see one’s eyeballs beginning to poach in their head within seconds. Did I mention I have a job teaching in Multan?


Nazakat and his trusty CG125 on a not-so-trusty bridge!

The idea of riding in these conditions prompted a creative plan to avoid the slog north across the sweltering Indus Valley Plains. After all, the good stuff begins north of Islamabad, and the best stuff starts near the city of Gilgit and beyond.

So I wussed out and flew to Gilgit. I mean, I didn’t have a bike anyway, so why not just buy or rent one up there? Seemed sensible (not that I’m known for doing sensible things).

I arrived in Gilgit early in the second week of July where Dr. Omar, one of the PBC members, had hooked me up with a contact to help me find a bike.

After I had settled into my hotel room, an overly enthusiastic Nazakat, my contact, arrived and insisted on taking me on a short tour of the area on his CG125 Honda.

The little one-lunger happily chugged up the hills of the surrounding area as Nazakat indicated points interest along the way, like the spot where the spring flooding had washed away the bridge and a carload of tourists from the city had plummeted to their death in the fast-running, icy waters below. Nice…


Toyota vans can get through just about anything.

Convinced about the merits of the CG125, and having a clearer picture that the adventure ahead was not for the faint of heart, I green-lighted Nazakat to try and find me a suitable steed.

The following day, the net results of his efforts were three very sad looking Honda CG125s.

“Hmmmh, can I just buy a new one Nazakat?”

“Yes, but you’ll have to order it from Islamabad and it will take about a week to get here…”

On that note, I decided to carry on up the KKH to Karimabad, the next major destination en route to the Pass, with the hope that I’d find something suitable there.


A Toyota Coaster is a big van with a lot of seats jammed in it, creating a kind of bus. To make hauling people around from town to town affordable and still profitable, it is essential for the owners of these vans to cram as many people into them as possible.


Chinese road crews are rebuilding the Karakoram Highway one rock at a time.

Survival for my 6’ 2” European stature meant buying a whole row of seats so that I could wedge myself in — sideways — to maintain circulation to my legs for the duration of the trip to Karimabad.

Several things became quite clear on this journey; one was that the Karakoram Highway was fecked. Chinese road crews were digging up its entire length, from the Khunjrab Pass, downwards. This made for an extremely bumpy ride with many delays due to the construction.

The second point, which overrode any of the unpleasantries of the trip, was the recognition that the environment that I was traveling through was utterly stunning!


“Have I died and gone to heaven?” The view from my hotel room in Karimabad.

As luck would have it, I received a text en route to Karimabad: the Mega Tour group were experiencing delays. This gave me extra time to continue my elusive search for a bike, while exploring the breathtaking Hunza Valley, where Karimabad is nestled.

Alas, the process seemed equally fruitless as my Gilgit search, as no new bike shops existed and nothing was for sale, until I eventually spotted a small sign for a shop called Hidden Paradise Tours indicating they rented motorbikes.

The decision to take a chance on a recently crashed 13-year-old Honda CG125 was facilitated by Sher, a disarming guy at the shop who spoke several languages fluently, including Japanese.

The bike was his daily ride, when it wasn’t being rented, and he said he’d made the same trip that I was interested in many times on this very bike. We eventually struck a potential deal (CDN $12.75 per day, kinda’ pricy considering that my lovely hotel rooom was CDN $4.75 per night…) which included replacing the bald rear tire, straightening the bent bits and supplying me with a few spares.

Unable to shake the CMG curse


It was all smiles to begin with…

Before sealing the deal, a shake down run was in order. I posited that if the bike could make the challenging climb up to a place called Eagle’s Nest, it could probably manage just about anything the KKH could throw at it.

All seemed well to begin with, the CG chugged along fine, but as the grade increased and the bike got hotter, much clutch slipping and wringing of the throttle were necessary to keep momentum. Finally, about two-thirds of the way up, the little Honda that could, didn’t.

I pulled over and let it cool down and eventually it started again — Allah ka shukar! Knowing that this may be my only chance at making this trip of a lifetime, I tried to be a bit gentler with the throttle, but the poor thing was really straining.

Near the top, the grade began to level so I foolishly celebrated by rolling on the throttle on the home stretch. The roar of the motor was momentary, replaced with a shriek from the rear tire, as the poor thing seized solid.


Was the dream of riding these roads up to the Pass really over?

Defeated, I sat by the roadside contemplating something Costa had told me when I had earlier mentioned the idea of doing this trip on a local bike.

“You can’t tour on a 125” rang in my ears.

Life after death?

Having lunch by myself in an otherwise-empty luxury restaurant overlooking one of the most awe-inspiring valleys in the world produced some slightly mixed feelings in me.


Mr Seck was too depressed to take a pic of the Eagle’s Nest, so here’s a map of the KKH highway and the planned route.

The plus point was that, as I’m not a huge fan of tourist mobs, there were none to contend with. One can thank all those who insist on blowing themselves up in public places here in Pakistan for my quietude at the Eagle’s Nest Restaurant high above the Hunza Valley.

It was a bit surreal though to have a giant, fully equipped and staffed restaurant all to myself. Ultimately, I imagined myself feeling a bit like some sort of sad royalty, whose horse had just died…

In this solitude, I pondered the CMGness of my motorcycle adventure so far, while trying to prop myself up with a freshly squeezed apricot juice. My phone displayed a text message from Dr. Omar who was updating me that the PBC Mega Tour group were on their way up from Islamabad and should be there shortly.


Locals offer a transportation alternative.

Outside sat my recently deceased ride. Had I really come so far, only to have my dream grind to an abrupt halt — like an overheated, 13-year-old piston fusing itself to a seemingly dry barrel?

On the plus side, at least no towing or pushing of the bike was required as I could simply coast down the mountain back to town.

I hopped on and got it rolling; “hmmh, I wonder,” as I pulled the clutch in, clicked the key to the on position, notched the bike into second gear and attempted a bump start. To my great surprise, the piston released and the CG burbled back to life.

“Maybe it’s not over after all?”


Pakistani mechanic gets to work, sorting the bike for the journey.

The little Honda happily cruised all the way back to town, and seemed to run exactly the same as before, as if nothing had happened. Sher, not wanting to lose the lucrative rental deal, suggested we visit his mechanic and sort out what the problem was.

With nothing untoward found, I was reminded by the mechanic that this was an aging 125cc air-cooled engine, and one must be considerably gentler with it than the water and oil cooled “heavy bikes” that I was likely used to.

Despite my onerous test ride, he was convinced that, inshallah (God willing), the bike could make it to the Pass and back — if I didn’t thrash it.

Optionless, I gave Sher the go ahead to make the previously agreed upon repairs so that I could begin my journey, inshallah…


Fully loaded and ready for adventure. Not quite…


The next morning I loaded up the little Honda with a set of saddlebags gifted to me by my good Canadian friend, Ronn Moffatt and a Chase Harper tail bag from the CMG days (that’s where that went — ‘Arris).

The little CG125 was starting to look the business. Of course looks can be deceiving as, on the first mild hill I encountered upon departing from the hotel, the bike died once again. A series of wild kicks finally got it started but I was left wondering if this whole idea was just a bit too mad, even for me.

My confidence was further shaken within the first hour of my journey to Passu (my destination point for the day), when the bike died twice. I did start to notice a bit of a trend however — it consistently died whenever I got the least bit enthusiastic with the throttle…

Thankfully after it cooled down, it would always start and all would be well again. She seemed to be hammering home what the mechanic had told me: slow and steady and all would be well. So no more dramatic inside passes of giant, decorated Bedford trucks then!



The Cathedral Ridge bathed in the evening light is spectacular.

Gently then, I was able to negotiate the chaos of the KKH to arrive in Passu to experience the Cathedral Ridge bathed in golden evening light. Wah!

This first day on the CG was a real test of my desire to make the journey. It would have been a dream ride with the F800GS that BMW failed to grant me (thanks Norm). Instead it was a Mad Bastard adventure of the highest order!

Bike ‘n’ Hike

Early the next morning I picked up another text; due to a difficult trip through the Babusar Pass it would be at least another day before the PBC arrived in the area. This suited me fine as I wanted to experience the Passu Glacier and now the time was available.


Borith Lake.

With the bags dumped at the hotel I wound my way towards Borith Lake, an emerald green body of water nestled in the mountains at 8,500 ft. From here it was another 10-minute ride to the end of the road, and the beginning of a hiking trail leading to the Passu Glacier.

The trail was a slate-slabbed arrangement about three or four feet wide that simply hugged the side of the mountain — one missed step and you’re dead.

Braving the trail yielded a major highlight of the trip when the Passu Glacier was revealed in its full glory. Photos don’t do the experience justice, as it’s not just the sight of this massive awe-inspiring display of nature that leaves one mesmerized; it is the feel of the crisp, cold glacial breeze on your face, the smell of the Russian sage that is ever-present, and the overwhelming feeling of being connected with something so incredible.


Passu glacier was worth the hike.

Could the ride to the Khunjrab Pass top this? I’d soon find out.

Time to go to Part Do (pronounced Doh, like Homer Simpson…)!


  1. Richard, After reading and going through the visuals, I can’t explain how I feel. It actually involves both Pride of having been your student and also the feeling of sorrow that the journey of you being a guardian came to a halt so soon. I really wish to do this travel with you and the rest of the group.
    eline sağlık

  2. Good to hear from you, Richard. Some searches that I had done reported you alive and well, and teaching photography in Pakistan. Glad to hear they were right.

    Mad Bastard 2011: Up the Khyber!

  3. Hey Richard – I’m a Canadian from WPG. and I hope to be heading to Pakistan for 14 days of work in mid-Sept. . Afterwards I’d love to rent and/or purchase a bike to do the KKH. I was wondering if you could hook me up (or make some suggestions) with some contacts to make that happen.


  4. Hey JP, glad you enjoyed the article and great to hear for you! Greetings also to Sam; she is correct that I have lost some weight. There was really no plan for that, it just kind of melted away when I got here. As for Rob taking over CMGistan, he couldn’t do any worse than most of those who have tried already. 🙂

  5. Wow, great to hear from you, enjoy your photography and the stories! Sam says you look like you lost some weight! But, Rob for President of CMGistan? Surely, that has to be altitude sickness or something… Keep the stories coming!!!

  6. its great to know Richard that our community did something to support you for such a great effort. hope not only you but the whole world enjoy the beauties of Pakistan. regards
    founder: PBC

  7. Greetings all,
    I’m glad to hear that the article is being enjoyed on both sides of the world!
    Robin, are planning on sending Stagman out here? If so, tell him to stuff an extra dual sport bike in his crate, when he ships the KLR over… 🙂
    Cheers, Richard

  8. Great to see that big wide grin on that big round face again. The pics are riveting.
    Hopefully, you will be able to do some more enduro riding. Stagman has a KRL that needs a good run.


  9. Awesome. I’m reading a book right now called “Three Cups of Tea” that takes place in the smaller villages around Skardu – mainly Korphe. Now I have pictures of the area to compliment it as well as a great motorcycling adventure story to read. Looking forward to part Do.

  10. Excellent writeup Richard. Please inform us when you post the subsequent parts.
    Get ready for this year’s trip to Babusar-Fairy Meadows-Deosai-Phandar-Shandoor-Chitral-Kalash(Kafiristan) trip.
    Was a pleasure having you with us

  11. Hello Mr. Tate,
    I’m afraid the fund raising idea was as successful as all the bike sponsorship requests that I have sent to various manufacturers – as in highly unsuccessful. 🙂
    But as DD mentioned, I’ve learned savour the experiences of whatever this Pakistan adventure has thrown at me, and it has been an incredible ride, even without a motorcycle…
    Cheers, Mr. Seck

  12. You’re living something precious. Take every moment as a gift and savour it for the rest of it who don’t sun themselves under the same privilege. And keep writing about it.

  13. Ah yes, my ill-fated CMG Vintage racing attempts with that frightening ZX-7. If I remember correctly, only Rob had a good run on that thing. Everyone else was afraid of dieing, for a variety of reasons… And, yes, all is well out here, despite only knowing about twenty words in Urdu.

  14. Hi Richard,
    What I meant was … the last time we met, you were a CMG Vintage racing star (cough) and I rode your bike for one lousy practice run.
    Now look at you … a manly world traveler who no doubt speaks several languages and has an undeniably magnetic effect on the females of our species.
    I’m torn between jealously and relief that you are so far away. :grin

  15. Hmmhh, appealing job, but don’t Pakistani president’s have a high risk of premature death …

    Would seem to be more Seck-like than ‘Arris!

    I’ll stick to trying to be the new king of Sackville.


  16. Hey guys,

    Thanks for all the positive feedback. Glad you are enjoying this tale from the alternate universe known as Pakistan. And yes, there is no shortage of CMG-like characters out here. In fact, one could easily rename this place CMGistan. Hey maybe Rob can be the next President? Can’t get any worse out here, can it?…:)

    Cheers, Mr.Seck

  17. Welcome Back Mr Seck
    Your amazing talents and adventures have been “sorely” missed.
    A Seckless CMG is just a little more …. CMG !

    You certainly have come back with a blockbuster story though ..Amazing vistas as we have come to expect from your photo journalist’s iris.
    Plus the sharing of your comradship with a lost tribe of bikers.
    Im thinking all this talk of an alternative universe might just have something to it?
    Gawd …another ‘Arris and Larry !!!
    Hopefully your next chapter introduces us to your new riding pals and bikes.
    Great Stuff and Thanks again

  18. Hi Cathy,

    I was actually confused about LP’s comment. I’ve accumulated many stories out here, but few of them related to bikes. I have a bike now so more soon, inshallah…

    Trust all is well with you.

    Cheers, Mr. Seck

  19. Hey Richard – maddest bastard ever – it’s great to see a story from you. Looking forward to the next instalment, and hope you find more stories to send us.

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