Part Do (2) of Mr. Seck’s adventure to the highest border crossing in the world along the Karakoram Highway.
Missed part 1? Don’t despair, just go here.
My thought that there seemed to be a parallel between this first PBC “Mega Tour” and the inaugural CMG Mad Bastard Rally was reinforced upon discovering the PBC group turnout in Passu.
Judging by the banter on pakwheels.com before the trip, I was expecting a minimum of 20-plus bikes to be parked outside their hotel. Much to my surprise, there were only three bikes, piloted by three Mad Bastards, err, Mega Tourers.
A very CMG-like turnout for a most excellent idea.
Indeed, there was a much larger group that managed to make the leisurely cruise up to the vacation areas of Naran and Kaghan north of Islamabad. But news of snow at the Babusar Pass seemed to have caused a severe thinning of the pack.
|Coalition of the willing, from L to R: Dr. Omar, Muhammad Tahir & Dr. Yaqub|
Only three braved the crossing of Babusar: Dr. Omar, an amicable physician from Lahore, who was the inspiration for the push north (BTW, he’s a ringer for Burl Ives; anyone old enough to remember him?), Muhammad Tahir, a government worker from Islamabad, and finally the maddest member of the group, Dr. Yaqub, a dentist who had made the trek all the way up from Karachi in the sweltering summer heat, on his new Suzuki GS150.
The bike line-up, then, amounted to two GS150s (the doctors’ choice) and two CG125s, Tahir’s and mine.
After a meet-and-greet, the gang started to load up as the plan was to make the run up to the Khunjrab Pass and back down to Passu all in one day! An overly ambitious endeavour, as we would soon discover.
The final challenge
The ride up to Sost was pleasant, as we were all used to riding on the crappy highway and managed the many diversions (see Chinese sign) with ease. In Sost, we stopped for brunch where Dr. Omar announced that due to a fall he had on the Babusar Pass, he felt it wise not to attempt the Khunjrab Pass with a bad leg.
A veteran of travelling in the north of Pakistan, he had made the trip many times before and was happy to let the uninitiated give it a go on their own. He’d do some shopping in the Sost’s Chinese market and gradually make his way back to Passu where, inshallah, we’d meet him later in the evening. Sounds like a plan.
With our bellies full of greasy parathas and Pakistani omelets, we were fueled and psyched for the trip’s ultimate goal!
Soon after leaving Sost, we realized that Dr. Omar had made the right decision. Not only did the grade steepen, the quality of the road worsened. This, coupled with my bike dying on any major climb and causing a 10–15 minute break as we waited for the thing to cool down and start again, made for slow progress.
Thankfully, my two riding partners were chilled about all the delays. I guess living in Pakistan, with all its challenges, must mellow one in the end. No one can really fight the amount of chaos that happens here, so one just adapts to it and accepts it as the norm.
Kind of like my time at CMG.
This acceptance was aided by the fact that wherever my bike died, there was a lovely view to photograph, and snacks and cigarettes could be had. All good really, except for the constant ticking of the clock.
Riding these awesome roads that have been blasted out of the sides of mountains, one has to marvel at the engineering feat that was accomplished here.
It took 20 years for Chinese and Pakistani work crews to complete the task of building the Karakoram Highway (KKH), and during that time almost a thousand workers lost their lives, mostly due to landslides.
The pounding that this highway takes, along with the harshness of the environment, mean that 23 years after its construction, a total overhaul is required, despite ongoing repair work.
This time however, it seems that there is a desire to make the Pass passable throughout the year by blasting a tunnel through the mountain. Intrigued by this endeavour, we made our first stop that was not dictated by my asthmatic steed at the entrance of the new work-in-progress tunnel to China.
After the obligatory pics, we continued on up the existing KKH.
The ride from here became even more challenging as the diverslons were more frequent and in many cases we were traversing temporary sections of road that were made up of the finest powdery sand you can imagine; some spots were axle deep! It was kind of like riding through a trail covered in water, just keep some momentum and hope for the best …
Allah must have been with us as we all made it through without any problems. I’m not exactly sure what happened after these sections, but as we began the final ascent to the Pass on a set of switchbacks, with a grade that should have issued the little Honda its deathblow, the bike miraculously started to increase in power!
I was even able to take the lead as my fellow riders’ bikes seemed to suffer from altitude sickness. The obvious answer for this change in character was that my bike may have been rejetted for these altitudes, or that the jets were so gummed up that it had the same effect. It was such a dramatic change in character it did not seem possible that this was the only answer.
As we crested the plateau that leads to the Chinese border, the CG strongly pulled to our final destination where we celebrated our achievement with more photos.
Standing at 15,000-plus feet for the first time was an experience. One has to be impressed by the fact that vehicles can actually function at this altitude. Especially when what should have been a five-minute walk to the new border station took more than twice the time due to multiple rest stops because of the thinness of the air.
Celebrations continued there in fine style with a pack of biscuits that we had brought with us. I don’t know what it is about amazing adventures; the taste of food, no matter what it is, is amplified to hyper-real proportions.
On that day, with a panorama of peaks covered in snow, with a foreground medley of earth tones, ice and snow that would have taken my breath away (if I had any left), it seemed like those cookies were the most amazing things I had eaten in my life!
All downhill from here?
Knowing that our goal was to get back to Passu before dark, we could only savour the moment for so long before getting back on the bikes. Of course, it was mostly downhill from here and with our spirits soaring we made great time winding back down the mountains, with me taking the lead on my now fire-breathing CG125!
All was going well until somewhere near the powder sections when I looked in the mirror and no longer saw my riding buddies. I pulled over to stop and wait, and took some pics of the now warming light of late afternoon that was playing on the variety of textures and colours on the mountains.
“Hmmh, this is a long wait …”
Many things went through my head as I backtracked to find out what had happened. Riding on the side of a mountain with no guardrails or safety margin at all can spell disaster at any turn; my concern heightened with every corner that I did not see the guys.
Finally, to my great relief, I found them with the front wheel off on Tahir’s bike. Thank God, it was just a flat!
Dr. Yaqub was performing the operation, assisted by Tahir. Yaqub was quite well-prepared for adventure touring, packing extra tubes, and a compact pump.
The only thing that was a bit of a concern was the fact that he was using two big screwdrivers to remount the tire. The whole procedure took time and the Chinese-made pump lost a nut, which made the reinflating operation a bit of an ordeal.
With the sun sinking quickly, we were glad to have Tahir’s bike functional again … for about 10 minutes, when he pulled over and pointed at the re-deflated front tire.
“Oy, that sun is getting quite low, and these headlights provide about two candle power,” I thought quietly to myself as we pumped the tire hoping for a miracle cure.
No luck. In another five minutes, it was near flat again and we were taking the front wheel off for the second time. I thought for sure the tube was pinched after using the screwdrivers to mount it (I would have certainly pinched it), but surprisingly it turned out to be a faulty tube, which split at the valve flap seam.
A second tube was mounted but by this time there was no hope of making it back to Passu before dark, so we opted for a hotel in Sost. I was totally exhausted after what ended up being a 13-hour day on a bike with a shagged suspension, on a shagged road. But we had made it to the top of the world and had lived to tell the tale!
The adventure had taken its toll on my aging body, though. I awoke at 6 a.m. the next morning in pain, popped an ibuprophen and tried to go back to sleep. When I finally managed to pry myself from the bed I admitted that my body, and likely the bike, could not handle any more abuse.
Mercifully, Dr. Yaqub let me ride his ultra plush (by comparison) Suzuki GS150 for the first part of the ride, and I realized that this would be the bike that I would buy and transform into the ultimate Pakistani adventure-touring machine!
I think the CG took umbrage with my appreciation for the Suzuki and performed brilliantly after I switched back onto it. A thought ran through my mind that all motorcycles, however modest, must have a soul born of passion. This bike’s soul had been reignited on that mountain, as had mine. This re-energized bike was now inspiring me again.
And with respect, I caned it for the rest of the trip back to Karimabad and she didn’t miss a beat!
Surprisingly, Mr. Seck eventually made it back to Multan, Pakistan, where he continues to teach at the Multan College of Arts. He now owns a Suzuki GS150 that he is slowly adapting into the ultimate Pakistani adventure touring machine, but he still thinks fondly of the moments spent on board the born-again CG 125.
Mr. Seck would like to thank:
The Pakistan Bikers’ Club for initiating this Mega Tour
idea, and Dr. Omar, Dr. Yaqub, and Mohammad Tahir, who
graciously allowed him to join in on their adventure.
For those interested in seeing more of the locations Mr.
Seck was traveling in, click here for a few additional pics (click on thumb for large with captions).