Special report: how to fix a flat tire in semi-rural Pakistan

in Bike problems, KKH, Pakistan by on July 28th, 2010

About 1,500km in, we experienced our first flat tire in the village of Gulmet Nagar, about 45km north of Besham.  Luckily, the tire shop was only 2 mins away.

The AT without its back wheel

The local tire repairman removing the inner tube while a crowd looks on

The tiny nail which caused a huge problem

The machine which he used to patch the inner tube, must have been about 50 years old

We had a much smaller problem than these guys with the truck tire!

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Special Report: how to fix a broken bike rack in semi-rural Pakistan

in Bike problems, KKH, Pakistan by on July 28th, 2010

One piece of advice for other motorcycling travelers: make sure that you have a good system of panniers or at least a good system for securing luggage to the bike.  We had faced problems with the bike rack on the Enfield in India especially due to the bumpiness of the roads.  And we are having some problems now too, but we are better at spotting and fixing any breaks after our previous experience.

So here we give you some tips for how to get a broken bike rack fixed in rural areas (in this case Besham in Pakistan):

1)   Try to get new screws to secure the broken parts together.

2)   If there is no drill in the WHOLE village (as is the case in Besham), try to get the broken parts welded together.

3)   Always make sure you have enough fuel for the welding machine (which will probably be about 50 years old); if you run out, it will take about an hour to find enough fuel in the whole village (as is the case in Besham again).

Workman with 50-year-old welding machine, which amazingly enough, still worked!

4)    After you get it fixed, just in case, still secure your panniers and luggage with as many rubber straps as possible.

Being "kiasu" with lots of extra rubber straps to secure the pannier

5)    Lastly and most importantly, do not forget to take photos of the process and with the local worksmen to show friends and family back home.

MJo with the workman and the rest of the village

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KKH: Day 4 (Passu-Sust-Tashkorgan)

in China, KKH, Pakistan by on July 27th, 2010

Another big day for us as we had to cross the Pakistan-China border today.

At Sust, we ran into the other 2 bikers who would be making the crossing with us today.  All the petrol stations were dry with no petrol trucks able to get through due to the “lake” at Attabad.  But of course, there was one guy in the village who managed to get hold of petrol and was selling it diluted and at inflated prices. MJo was concerned as to the low octane of the fuel but as this was the only option he was happy to pour it in the tank.

Pouring petrol from jerry cans

Our petrol seller goes behind and measures out the petrol by hand

As with the border crossing at Wagha, Pakistani immigration and customs were a breeze.   The road from Sost got more challenging, a lot of roadworks along the way.

You can see how bad the roads got

We still managed to maintain an average speed of 40km/h and made it to the top of the Khunjerah Pass in 2 hours. This border is the world highest border crossing apparently. When we got there, we enjoyed a leisurely picnic lunch with great views – MJo really knows how to take a girl out on a date! At the top, we also met some Chinese tourists who had driven all the way to the border just to take a look over to Pakistan and take lots of pictures, with no intention of actually crossing the border??!!

We made it to China!

From the Chinese side of the border, we got a Chinese military and truck convoy escort all the way to Tashkorgan, ostensibly to make sure we didn’t over-speed or get lost.

Our truck escort driving ahead of us on the way to Tashkorgan

We finally got to Tashkorgan around 7pm (Beijing time which is imposed upon the entire country regardless of actual sunlight hours).

You may be wondering what happened to the other two bikers (Achim and Saki) that were meant to be doing the crossing with us?  How come no pictures of them or with them?  Well it turns out that we were uber-lucky.  A landslide came down on one section of the road, stopping them in their tracks, before a second avalanche of rocks started coming down “like diarrhea” for the next 3-4 hours, killing any hope of them making it across.  We were only 5-10min ahead of this avalanche.

Check out this video of the avalanche

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Video: How to get an Africa Twin across a lake?

in KKH, Pakistan, Video by on July 26th, 2010

Check out a video of how we got the AT and us across the newly-formed lake along the KKH

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KKH: Day 3 (Gilgit-Passu)

in KKH, Pakistan by on July 26th, 2010

After a relaxing evening in “5-star comfort”, we woke up to a beautiful view of the mountains from our window.  We enjoyed a leisurely buffet breakfast, yes a proper buffet breakfast.  Creature comforts are important every now and then.

Properly rested and fed, we set off.  About 45km later, we stopped for water.  The locals started pointing at our bike and gesticulating.  Turns out we had a flat.  Luckily the tire repair shop was only 2 mins walking distance away.  We were in and out within 45 mins – all our experience with repairs was clearly improving our speed.

The highlight of our ride today was getting our motorbike across the lake which has submerged a 35km stretch of the KKH since January when a landslide formed a natural dam for the Hunza River.  Since then, the water has accumulated into a lake, about 35km long and 100m deep.  Two villages are completely submerged with one more partially submerged.  What is for sure is that the section of the KKH under water is probably totally destroyed and will need to be rebuilt when the water subsides.  As to when that happens, nobody knows.

There were two other motorcycles who did the same crossing in May.  But back then, there were no boats and they had to get a ride from Pakistani military helicopters.

We got to the start of the lake not far after Karimabad where many labourers were loading sacks of relief goods onto a boat docked at the bottom of a precariously steep slope.  After negotiating to pay about 12k rupees for loading, passage and unloading, we loaded the bike onto the boat and sat back to enjoy the 2-hour ride to Husseini (15km before Passu).  We will let the pictures do the talking here, it was one of the craziest scenes we had seen…

The boat that would take our bike, docked at the bottom of a precariously steep slope

It took about 10 men to carry the bike down the steep slope and onto the boat

We couldn't see the bike after all the loading was done, it was buried under sacks and sacks of relief goods

Without an in-flight entertainment system on this "luxury cruise", Sabby reads the Lonely Planet instead

MJo ever so used to his 180-degree flat beds in airplanes clearly thinks this is just as good... and takes a power nap

Scenic views from our "luxury cruise"

Unloading the bike at Husseini

It was a full moon that night as we rode the 15km from Husseini to Passu

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KKH: Day 2 (Besham-Chilas-Gilgit)

in KKH, Pakistan by on July 26th, 2010

Today was a beautiful day for riding.  We were blessed with amazing weather, beautiful scenery and relatively good roads.

You can see the landscape getting more rugged as we climb higher

View of Nanga Parbat, the second highest mountain in Pakistan (after K-2)

So much so that even after 6 hours of riding from Besham to Chilas where we’d planned to spend the night, MJo felt like he had barely started riding.  In his words, “I am training for the Dakar, so in my head, I think I still have another 9 hours to go!”  So we decided to push on to Gilgit where we treated ourselves to a little 5-star luxury in the form of the Serena Hotel, or rather in Sabby-speak, the Aman of Gilgit!

View from our hotel room at dusk

A funny story from today: our fearless leader, so used to commanding his army of one (i.e. Sabby), started addressing the bellboys helping to load the luggage in the mornings, as “baby” as well!

A more serious story from today: we were intrigued by the many signs for the Aga Khan Development Network around the area so we did a little research.  Firstly, the Aga Khan is the spiritual leader for the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam and many of the people who live in the Hunza Valley and the Central Asian countries we will be visiting, are Ismailis. The AKDN is one of the largest private development networks in the world, which toils towards social, economic, and cultural development in Asia and Africa. Its development projects are wide-ranging from the Serena Hotel where we stayed to microfinance projects to humanitarian assistance. In particular, the AKDN is probably the largest NGO active in Afghanistan, having channelled more than US$700m to various development projects in the country since 2001.

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KKH: Day 1 (Islamabad-Besham)

in KKH, Pakistan by on July 25th, 2010

This next leg of our journey will be on the Karakoram Highway (“KKH”), some 1,200km of road through the highest concentration of soaring peaks and long glaciers in the world, connecting South Asia to West and Central Asia.

This highway is a marvel of engineering by a collaborative effort between China and Pakistan.  Construction began in 1966, through terrain that until then had barely allowed a donkey track.  It would be 20 years before it was fully open.  However, maintenance is a huge and endless job even today.  The mountains continuously try to reclaim the road, assisted by earthquakes, encroaching glaciers and the Karakoram’s typical crumbling slopes.

We got off to a late start after having to run some errands around Islamabad e.g. get broken bike rack joint welded, change money etc.  So we eventually left the city around half twelve in the sweltering heat (NB to selves: make earlier starts in future).  We found our way out easily, kudos to the urban planners who designed Islamabad in the 1960s with great vision and organization.

About 50 km on, we got onto the start of the KKH.  The roads for the first 200km were great, wide and paved.   We drove through some beautiful lush emerald valleys with many crops such as corn, rice, tomatoes being cultivated.  We saw the fruits of these labours being sold along the way at the numerous bazaars.  There were also some “chicken hotels” – multi-storeyed chicken farms which we mistook for hotels from a distance.

We finally reached our resting spot for the evening at Besham just before the sun set.  We picked our hotel on the basis of Lonely Planet’s recommendation that it “had the most reliable air-con in Besham”.  And to be fair, it probably was the best hotel in Besham, not that it means much.  There does not seem to be as much tourist traffic along this way, unlike the Manali-Leh route.  As a result, there is not as much choice in terms of tourist facilities.

Sabby's fan club, or at least her gawkers

There also did not seem to be any women out on the streets.  And if they were out, they were always pretty covered up.  In India, it was MJo and the AT that were attracting all the onlookers.  In Pakistan, it seems to be Sabby and her uncovered head and arms that attract all the stares.

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Welcome to – Pakistan

in Pakistan by on July 24th, 2010

Our day started on the Indian side of the Wagha border.  This border, often called the “Berlin Wall of Asia’ is the only Indo-Pakistan border open to foreigners.  Vehicles from either countries, with the exception of the Delhi-Lahore bus, are not allowed to cross the border.  Everyone has to walk the 100m across and porters carry all the luggage across too.  The border does not receive much traffic a day, sometimes not a single a person all day.

Sabby hanging out with the porters on the Indian side of the border

We took about an hour to get through the Indian side, with all the paperwork etc.   With our remaining rupees, we also managed to get four cans of beer to sustain us through the next couple of days (NB to selves: rationing required – only one can a night).

Then on to the Pakistani side…we were greeted with a warm welcome from a group of men in the traditional Pakistani outfit of light colored loose-fitting top and trousers resembling pajamas.  Anyway, guess what, the power was out so we had to wait to get through immigration.  In the meantime, they were regaling us with tales of their four wives and showing us the latest music videos on their phones.  Then we worked out that not all of these men were actually immigration officials, one guy was the money-changer, another the minibus driver etc; basically they all just hang out shooting the breeze at the border.

One of the immigration guys taking a nap – this one in particular had four wives, of which three had already passed away and 12 children. Understandably the official is tired but at least he sleeps in very close proximity to his work station

[One of the guys taking a nap – this one in particular had four wives, of which three had already passed away and 12 children. Understandably the official is tired but at least he sleeps in very close proximity to his work station]

Yet in spite of our wait, the whole immigration and customs process was a breeze – it took all of 15 mins!

With all that done, we zipped away in 45C heat towards Islamabad via Lahore.  It didn’t take us long to find the motorway (370km from Lahore to Islamabad).  After just 5mins, we suddenly realized what was missing – no random cows or people walking along/across the road, no constant honking and no potholes.  MJo got so excited, he put the AT (our “Africa Twin”) into fifth gear.  For the first time in weeks, we were doing an average of 110km/h.  With the speed, the heat also became bearable as the wind blew through our visors.

We had been advised by one of the immigration guys earlier that motorcycles were not permitted on motorways in Pakistan. However, when MJo saw the spanking new “Singapore quality” looking highway, he said, “They have to shoot us off that highway for us not to drive on it, we are getting on it”. And so we did. A feeling of Easy Rider instilled in us, well at least till we got flagged down by a police car. We stopped, smiled and used all our charm, flashed the carnet as some “official” proof of permission, told him all about how wonderful we were finding Pakistan and prayed that they would let us continue. True and behold, after 3 mins he came back and said, “you have big bike, you can continue”. We were relieved and happy as it was still a long drive to Islamabad.

At 120km/h we made good progress and rode into Islamabad as the sun was setting. It was a beautiful sunset and made more beautiful by the fact we had a great ride over the day.  It’s finally feeling like we’re on the road!

[Our internet connection here isn’t so great, so apologies for the lack of photos accompanying this post.  But do check out our photos page for more photos from our trip so far.]

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