The Goodwill Expedition – Day 6-7 in Rama

We were soaking the sights , smells and views of Rama and chilling. The days are warm but not uncomfortable. If it is bright and sunny, care must be taken to avoid sunburns as the UV index is very high at these altitudes. The kitchen crew continued to feed us hot meals and we explored the area either solo or in small groups. We did drive down to the town of Astore where our cell phones worked. It was kind of amusing to find group members occupying high ground trying to get the strongest signal while making a call. Our club President Romano who did not accompany us on the trip was our focal point and we passed on all updates to him who posted them on our facebook page.

We were carrying fishing gear and most of us were keen to catch the famous trout found in the northern areas of Pakistan. We trekked to lake Rama and arrived in about 2 hours. it is a steep climb and I didn’t have much energy left to cast anything so finding a flat rock, large enuff to accomodate at 6 ft 1 of me I decided to take a nap. The others wasted time by trying to lure the fish with all kinds of fancy tackle and even some scented bait. ..At least I got to take a nap and when I woke up some nice pictures.
Some group members had their own plans to visit the town of Astore. They drove the macho syncro but on the way back the van was making horrible sounds. All indications were that something bad had happened. The van limped back to Rama somehow and the tech team got to work taking the transmission apart  only to find the crown wheel badly damaged. An urgent run to the point where our cell phones worked was made and message relayed to Islamabad to send a replacement. Finding parts for air cooled VW’s is difficult. Finding parts for a Syncro…next to impossible. However our contact promised to send something by the next commercial coach and it was to arrive the next morning. The part arrived the next day but as expected was wrong. It was the pinion wheel for a vanagon while we were looking for one from a 4X4. Khalid – our ace mechanic decided that it was not going to be sane to wait for another part and worked his magic assembling the transmission back and disconnecting power to the rear wheels. our Syncro was going to be front wheel drive vehicle for the rest of the trip!

The Goodwill Expedition – in Rama, Day 5

For the first time since we set off on this expedition we slept till late. We probably could have slept longer had it not been the uncomfortable rise in temperature inside  our tents as the sun rose. We got out to appreciate the scenery as we had selected the camping spot almost at random. Towering mountains, tall pine, ceder, fir, juniper and oak trees, a noisy stream and proximity to good toilets made it a good choice. The kitchen crew had set up their wares and were preparing some good hot breakfast. ‘Parathas’ or fried bread with loads of eggs washed down with a hot cup of sugary tea prepared us for our days activity. For some the days activity was to crawl back into their tents for a snooze, the rest however chose to explore the area. Hammocks were strung, The plan was for a lazy day to recharge our batteries but some of the group members were ready for action so they left for the beautiful Lake Rama. The best way to get to the lake that is nestled in high mountains is to walk it. It is a steady climb that takes you to an altitude of about 11,000 ft. The view when you get to Lake Rama is absolutely breathtaking. The 2 hour trek from where we were camped is breathtaking too for those who smoked and those who had desk jobs and used the internal combustion engine to their advantage even when going to the water cooler. However if you are lucky you can hitch a ride part of the way on back of a tractor trolley that the locals use to bring granite for construction of their houses and firewood for their heating use.

Ansari – one of our group members decided to venture out on his own. He had covered more than three quarters of the way when the heavens opened. He returned just as we were beginning to panic and getting ready to send a rescue party. Such is the weather at this altitude. It can be bright and sunny one moment then clouds would come to dump a good few millimeters of rain drenching everything and it would be clear once again. We saw some very nice rainbows but sadly did not find the pot of gold.
A short distance from where we were camped a group of young Airforce officers were camped too. Ansari challenged them to a game of football on behalf of the rest of us!!! now please keep in mind that while none of us had any medical issues, we still were not as fit as the just-out-of-the-military-academy lads. Determined to uphold our honour and the name of the good Volkswagens (we did not want them mentioning in their stories that the VW group chickened out after challenging) At 11,000 ft the air is quite depleted of oxygen and any kind of exercise gets you struggling to catch your breath…and we are talking playing a game of football!!! We figured that since they were too agile for us we’d offer rock solid defense and frustrate them. After huffing and puffing for about 40 minutes we allowed them to score a couple of goals so we could all go to our respective camps where our cooking team had prepared some goodies to accompany the evening tea! We may be hours away from a city but we had our means…
Mufti meanwhile had arranged for two donkey loads of firewood to be brought in by a local in preperation for the campfire. Night falls rather quickly when you are surrounded by mountains more than 14,000 ft in height…and with it comes the sharp drop in temperature. We were camped in a valley and the north /south wind ensured that the circle around the fire was a tight one despite the smoke that stung our eyes. there is something about the smell of wood from coniferous trees burning. It adds to the charm of the campfire. The only thing missing were the marshmellows or some corn. We tried baking some potatoes wrapped in aluminium foil but we were a tad late in removing them so they burnt on the outside. The core was still very…baked potato like.
We did not know that two of our group members Ansari and Bijrani were very talented singers and their songs, next to the crackling fire warmed our hearts. In the cities with all the light pollution we hardly got to see any stars. At higher altitudes, on a clear night, you get to see an amazing number of stars, galaxies, milkyways and constellations .  Dinner was chicken curry with potatoes and bread…Yummy!

The Goodwill Expedition – Day 4

Driving on the KKH to Hunza we saw some spectacular high mountain scenery.  The exalting scenery en route does not prepare one enough for the majesty and serenity that is the Hunza Valley.   The Hunza Valley is a high altitude, fertile valley that supports agriculture. Hunzakuts (peopel of Hunza) have been known to live well past their 100th birthday fit, full of vitality and virtually free from disease. Regardless of what the reality may be it is common to meet someone over 80 or 90 years of age working in the fields or climbing down the side of a mountain in flip flops. It is not uncommon for 90 year old Hunza men to father children. Hunza women of 80 or more look no older than their counterpart of 40 from a city – and not only any woman, but one who is in excellent shape.


Karimabad, Hunza is one of my favourite places on earth. Can you honestly name one place where you wake up surrounded by 7 peaks, all over 6000 m. (19,800 ft.) in height? To put things further in perspective let me tell you that the tallest mountain in Europe is about 5000 m. (16,500 ft) while there are 108 peaks over 7000 m and 30 peaks more than 7500 m. (24,750 ft.) in Pakistan. (Out of the total 14 mountains more than 8000 m. (26,400 ft) in the world 5 are in the Northern Areas of Pakistan)

There is a lot to see and do in Hunza but we had lost a day in Gilgit due to an unscheduled stop to rest and repair the cars. The plan was to make it to Shindur for the polo finals. One of my favourite food items in Hunza is the walnut cake sold at Cafe ‘d Hunza. I could not leave Hunza without buying some. The owner found us waiting outside his cafe when he turned up. He had with him 7 walnut cakes that were still warm from the oven. We bought all. The cakes were rationed and consumed over several evening teas later. We took pictures and packed up to head back for Gilgit where we had left one of our group members. Mujahid had decided to stay back in Gilgit awaiting delivery of a pair of front struts for his super as his front tyres were rubbing against the fenders. The plan was to meet him and continue towards Shindur. Shindur would have been the first place where we planned to spend more than two nights on the entire expedition. We stopped on our way at the Rakaposhi view point which has an ideal setting to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the 7800 m (25,740 ft.) mountain. there is a nice outdoor restaurant where you can have food while listening to the roar of water that is the snow melt from the Rakaposhi.  The kitchen still employs wood stoves and ours was a large group so it took them more than an hour to bring our food. Meanwhile a TV crew turned up and interviewed us..we were going to have our 15 minutes of fame!!! When the TV reporter asked us about our plans and we told them we are heading towards Shindur he exploded the bombshell on our heads…the road is closed due to a glacial lake burst and a landslide! The first reports according to him was that the road won’t be reopened before a week, at the very least!

Harvesting buck wheat the old-fashioned way

We left the Rakaposhi view point for Gilgit and met up with the group member we had left behind. He had meanwhile received the struts for his super and had them installed. We shared the news with him, made a few phone calls and confirmed the news about the land slide and the approximate date of road re-opening. We did not want to risk traveling towards the landslide and risk being stranded. The best option was to alter our plans and head for Rama which would bring us closer to another amazing destination of Deosai.
The stretch of KKH we had to drive on was the same we had experienced just a couple of days back. Groaning and grumbling our faithful VW’s carried on. We got off the KKH at Astore near Chilas and headed back up towards Rama. Rama is a heavily wooded valley with some breathtaking views and an equally beautiful Rama lake. The plan was to camp there and chill. It took us about 4 hours of driving on a thin tape of a road that was stuck to the side of the road. The last couple of hours driving was in total darkness with light rain to make the drive a wee bit more treacherous. We lost our way a few times but being ‘proper’ males and living up to our reputation we did not ask for directions. In any case the villagers go to sleep quite early in that part of the world and the dogs that greeted us by their growls and snarls spoke no city language so we had to rely on our ‘instincts’ . We reached our campsite sometime after 9 pm and barely had enuff energy to set up camp on the rain soaked ground right next a fast flowing stream. Hats off to our chef who hurriedly set up the kitchen and busied himself preparing some rice with chicken. It was freezing cold so after we had set up the tents we got a fire going with all the bits we could collect in the nearby woods. We had dinner sitting around the campfire and headed straight to our tents. The rice and chicken tasted  simply out of this world!

The Goodwill Expedition – Karimabad Hunza, end of Day 3

We must have slept for hours. It was the drivers that got up first to check on their rides. I inspected my car and found nothing wrong except a missing tail pipe and a few small dents and dings on the rear fender. Billo rides low…not too low but barely stock height. That was great when cruising along North American roads but the track we travelled on in the past few days was pure torture. I found the carpet mats in the car a bit soggy so I removed them all and lay flat to dry in the searing Gilgit heat. They were dry in no time. I brushed loose dirt off and placed them under the hood. For the rest of the trip I’ll be driving without any mats.

Our hotel

Taking advantage of the hot sun and gentle breeze, drying out Billo’s interior

the drain plate on Grey matter’s engine that almost got ripped off after a hit / scrape against a rock

Ali Zafar’s Vanagon who had just returned after doing ..this (see next picture)


Everything wasn’t hunky-dory for the other drivers. Mujeeb’s Grey matter had hit or scraped the engine bottom on a rock and the drain plate was all but pulled off the crank case. No wonder she was leaking that much oil. luckily we had a complete spare engine so we just took the drain plate off it and replaced the badly damaged one on the car. I pulled the tail pipe off the spare engine and replaced the one that had gone AWOL. After the replacement Billo began to sound more like her old self. I pumped some fresh grease in the front suspension and it made a heck of a difference. water oozed out from the sides of the front beam as I pumped grease. I guess wading thru those streams could not have been without any effect.
Maqsoods was the only car that required repair work at a workshop. The super ‘limped’ bravely to the facility where the broken sway bar was removed, welded and re-installed under the supervision of the rally mechanic. The wonderful gentleman at the workshop refused to accept payment saying that we were guests in Gilgit and he was happy to be of service. While we waited for the work to be done we enjoyed the fresh local cherries.
Two of the cars had shattered headlamps but the bulbs were still functional so decided to leave them be. We were briefly joined by another club member who was traveling alone in his Vanagon. We quickly compared notes and stories and got ready to leave for Karimabad Hunza.
Gilgit is the capital city of the Gilgit – Baltistan area (also known as the Northern Areas.) It has its own airport that can only accommodate small aircraft. I have flown out of this airport and it was one when your heart jumps to your throat. No sooner than the nose wheel of your aircraft clears the runway you are flying in the valley with high mountains on both sides. You hate to think what would happen if the aircraft lost power in those critical moments. The landing is no different. The pilot maneuvers the aircraft through a small corridor  and the short runway at his disposal ends directly in the main market of downtown Gilgit. There is also a 5 star hotel but we were on a budget and short of time so a visit this once was out.
There are plenty of good fuel stations in Gilgit so we tanked up on our way out. However the same cannot be said about the roads leading out. They were as torturous as the roads into the city. You see the city of Gilgit is about 10 km off the KKH. While the KKH itself is in shambles, the road connecting Gilgit to the KKH is worse. They have carved a detour that takes us down to the raging Gilgit river, across a steel bridge and then back up to rejoin the KKH. Gilgit receives very little rain (about 5-10 inches annually) so it was quite hot and dusty. The combination is super irritating as the dust sticks to the moist skin and it feels like your shirt has a sandpaper collar.  Once we reached the KKH it wasn’t all that bad. Infact we had the best run of the trip as the road we drove on was brand new. We pressed the pedals to the metal to cover the distance before it got dark. The routine of one car taking lead to take pictures of other cars as they drove past was followed but we did brake to take group pictures and to fill up our water bottles with fresh and ice cold spring water. From here on we were drinking water that was as pure as it gets..real mineral water and in abundance. The black topped road soon came to an end and the under construction road surface was left to tackle in failing light. Fortunately the road surface was mostly at a stage just prior to black topping so not too painful for the cars, drivers or passengers.

Refueling on our way out of Gilgit

pure torture..

the moonscape before we got back on the KKH

more of the same





We arrived in Karimabad with is a dreamy little town of Distt Hunza (More on Hunza later) and checked into our hotel. The hotel kitchen had closed down for the day but I had arranged for dinner at a very exclusive place called the Hidden Paradise. The restaurant has a large menu (more than 80) of exquisite local dishes that are prepared to order. One of my personal favourites is the ‘Hunza Pizza” called the ‘Chapshuro’ in the local Shina language. Had it been during the day we’d have enjoyed along with the excellent food some breathtaking views of the valley too but everyone was too hungry to miss those and rushed back to their rooms and crash for the night.

The Goodwill Expedition – Day 2 contd….

In theory the drive down from the summit should have been easy. However the steep incline combined with hairpin turns and the loose rocks make it every bit as treacherous as the climb up to the top. We were getting into a whole different world as far as temperatures were concerned. From near zero temperatures at the top we gradually approached mid to high 30’s in a matter of a few kilometers. the road surface kept deteriorating and my worries that we would face the worst section of the road (it was actually a very close contest to award this dubious title as the track already was the bone jarring, nut loosening kind) We stopped along the way to wash off the dust and buy some cold drinks, some tea for those who preferred and to buy some snacks. The area we were passing thru is a semi lawless area and carrying guns is a norm. It is therefore difficult to choose how to react if you see a bunch of guys armed with AK 47’s. I wanted to get out of this area as soon as possible but I did not want to raise any un necessary alarm either. We rejoined the KKH  with the shadows lengthening and barely enuff time to make it past Raikot Bridge which is also the turning for the Fairy Meadows – the base camp for those visiting the 26,600 ft Nanga Parbat. As we had no intention of calling on the fairies this once we carried on.

The road surface became a total nightmare after just a couple of kilometers and our average speed dropped to less than 20 km an hour. The deepening darkness added to the risk of a judgement error and an accident. Now an accident on this section is not a fender bender  or a scraped bumper..the road is just a thin strip with a high mountain on one side and a steep drop of another few hundred feet on the other. The river Indus flows majestically alongside ready to accept any errant drivers and transporting them effortlessly  downcountry. The only problem is the rocks that are located in the river and anything that accepts the ride is likely to be smashed to bits before it gets too far. None of the group members were ready for just such a free ride so we drove in a close group, taking advantage of the lead car drivers (yours truly) judgement. I have driven up and down the KKH tens of times but never take it lightly. I do always try to avoid driving after dark but at times it is not possible.
We were gone just a few kilometers when I noticed that the two of the cars had fallen behind. The bad roads had claimed their first victim and we had our first mechanical breakdown of the expedition. Maqsoods super had snapped a sway bar end that was essential to keep the McPherson struts upright!.   It was pitch dark by then so we turned around aiming our headlights at the stranded super as Our Chief mechanic – a veteran VW repair expert with more than 40 years experience, assessed the damage. The sway bar had snapped off at the point it has a threaded end so there was no way to attach it without welding the piece back. (even then the reliability of the repair would have been seriously questionable)  The area we were in is known for its large scorpions that can be seen scurrying on the road with their sting raised. While Khalid inspected the car the rest of the group kept an eye on the scorpions lest one of them wanted to get too close to offer help.
We assessed the situation and decided that leaving the car behind was not an option. The only thing we could do at that point is too difficult to explain here  but lets just say we used some luggage tie downs to hold the strut straight and everything as close to its normal position as possible. From there on the speed dropped to about 10 km an hour with frequent stops to check and re-tighten the tie down as no matter how well we ratcheted them tight they would loosen due to the road conditions.
We made it to Gilgit sometime in the wee hours of the morning and as it was not our scheduled stop we did not have any hotel reservations. Desperate for a shower and a clean bed to crash in we drove around town till we found a suitable place. Everyone must have fallen asleep within seconds of their heads touching the pillows.

The Goodwill Expedition – Day 2

Along the way we passed the dreamy garrison town of Abbottabad… Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of Abbottabad? It is the place where the alleged perpetrator of 9/11 Mr. OBL was hiding all this time. We have unconfirmed reports that Osama used a VW for his trips around town. We couldn’t of course confirm these rumours as the man in question is swimming with the sharks about 1700 km away in the Arabian sea.

We stopped in Balakot for refuling and it brought back memories of my visits to this place in October 2005 after the deadly earthquake that claimed lives of more than 85,000 people , about 35,000 of which were school children. The whole town has been rebuilt even though it sits smack on the fault line and future earthquakes have been predicted. I did notice that most of the newly constructed structures were more ‘earthquake friendly’ than before.

Balakot – a day after the October 2005 earthquake



Fuel stop at Balakot as it looks now

The next major town is Naran which is a popular tourist attraction. It took us better part of an hour to get across the town due to traffic snarls and pure rush. We had planned to reach our campsite before dark but as we were all men in the group and we don’t ask for directions we missed the campsite turning and drove on for about 5 km only to realize and return. (reminds me of a joke I read somewhere..Q. Why does it take a few million sperms to fertilize one egg?  A. because they won’t stop to ask for directions.)

We came across numerous waterfalls, big and small, along the way.

One of the many stops along the way to take pictures.


More Naran

One of the many snow clad peaks visible from Naran – a sign of what more to expect

road carved out of a glacier as we approach Naran

Our campsite was a helipad right next to the noisy Kunhar river. I was secretly hoping there would be no helicopter landings that night wondering if we would hear one approaching over the sound of the water crashing against the rocks in the river. It was a night with full moon and the beauty of the area was surreal. Our cooking team got to work immediately as others pitched tents in a semi circle. The toilet tent was located at a short distance to save the others from the sounds and smells but there was heavy traffic to and from it till everyone had wolfed a hearty meal of rice and chicken prepared by Chef Jehangir and team.

Our campsite with everyone settled in.

Our campsite at Jalkhad

I climbed a hill in the morning to get this shot

emergency repairs on the brake reservoir

getting closer to the snow capped mountains…another view from my vantage point.

The temperatures plummeted to near freezing during the night and the proximity to the river did not make things any cozier. Tucked in our sleeping bags we slept like logs ( some might use the term ‘babies’ instead but whoever originally coined that phrase probably didn’t have babies or he would have known better) till the first light. The cooking team was hard at work preparing a hot breakfast. I’ve learnt it in my previous travels that the rough conditions of travel seem slightly less rough on a full stomach. It was also important as the next proper meal would be served at our destination.

Breaking camp ..getting ready for the day ahead

we were not the only ones who were hard at work

We broke camp, buried our organic garbage and packed our recyclable litter to dispose off properly at the next major town and steamed off. Washing up in the frigid waters of River Kunhar was another experience. I tell you, there is nothing better than an ice cold dip to…wake you up.
The group members had their cameras out and were clicking away merrily. They had to be herded to their cars as we wanted to cross the glacial streams as early as possible. (for reasons I mentioned in my first post) Digital cameras have made such a huge difference in our photographic habits. i remember carrying three or four rolls of films for an entire trip. Now I have a 32 GB memory card in my Canon and even then I carry an external hard drive to download the pictures each night before going to bed.
The brake fluid reservoir in my 1960 beetle had developed a small crack and brake fluid was seeping. It had already ruined the paint in a small patch behind the spare wheel but the team mechanic Khalid decided to tackle it. Armed with nothing more than a flat head screwdriver and an old plastic bag, he used the campfire to heat and apply the molten plastic to the seam and smoothed it out! I had meant to replace the brake reservoir when we got back but the repair has worked so well that I have not bothered. (maybe when I get round to repainting the damaged paint)
We rolled out of the campsite a little later than planned but made good progress. The agreed protocol was for everyone to drive together but exception was made for one car as we took turns to speed ahead till we found a good vantage point for the best photos. We crossed three glacial streams and even in the early hours the flow was quite intimidating. i’d hate to imagine what it would be like later in the day.

Maqsood Bijrani – an airline pilot by profession in his 1302 super beetle

Stopping to fill our coolers with ice cold water.

Mujahid Zafar’s, a businessman in his1302 super

same car different view

This track was actually quite comfortable compared to what lay ahead

This the torturous bit…sharp rocks and uneven surfaces a sharp incline thrown in for added adrenalin rush

Farhan Tariq – an I.T. student in his 1302 super crossing the glacial stream

Rehan Afzal, who owns a catering and hospitality business chain in his Vanagon Syncro. The set of horns you see are genuine male Yak ‘accessories’ from a previous expedition

A game of cricket being played by local lads..Elev. approx. 11,000 ft.

the serious climbing begins

It was just us and the 4 x 4′s with their diesel engines. Our humble air cooled motors shined that day.

Billo leads the pack

Our recyclable litter in a bag, tied to the bumper till we could dispose off it responsibly

more fast flowing streams crossed

same situation different VW

Billo’s turn

Maqsoods motor boat

The tech team in their 1971 baywindow bus, loaded with a few tons of supplies

Rehans Syncro thunders on

Lalusar lake greeted us after about two hours. It is the basic source of water for the Kunhar river and quite picturesque. The water was quite a distance from the road so we just took some pictures and carried on. We had already climbed to an altitude of more than 11,000 ft. from here on we were going to climb +2,500 ft in a matter of about 10 km or so.

at Lalusar lake with Billo- my 1960 beetle and son. (Abdullah)

Lalusar lake

Another view of the Lalusar Lake

Do you think it is getting boring? same old water crossings, same old steep grades?..Are we there yet? Trust me, there wasn’t a dull moment as we maneuvered our cars past obstacles. It was literally a choice between going over  a sharp rock that could damage the tyre or the big round boulder that might leave a gash in the underbelly of our cars, deciding the position of each wheel in a split second so as not to break the momentum as we climbed rapidly. At that moment the drivers brains were like on-board computers fed information thru the eyes, analyzing the data in a split second and then directing the vehicle over the best possible (and least damaging) spot.

an obstacle course, a mine field? I doubt if Volkswagen tested their vehicles in these conditions before they were put in service..well we did it for them several decades later.

The next 10 or so km were pure torture. We climbed an insane grade dodging rocks and ruts maintaining the momentum. The co-drivers were always on the ready to jump out grab a rock and wedge it behind the rear wheel in case the engine ever stalled and the car started to roll backwards. We had good working parking brakes but the incline was such that we did not wish to take any chances. Every so often we would hear the gut wrenching thud and crunch as, despite all our efforts a rock would make contact with the lower most parts of the cars. Going thru one glacial stream I lost one of the tail pipes. Emerging at the other end I noticed the change in sound, stopped to inspect but the tail pipe was washed away by then and it was no point trying to look for it. Mujeeb’s ‘Grey matter’ took a bad hit on the crank case that almost ripped off the drain plate. two of the cars lost a headlight glass each after receiving direct hits from flying stones. (the rocks that pop out from under the wheels of the car in front or the vehicle passing going up or downhill) I was so glad Billo’s headlights were protected by simple but sturdy headlight protectors fabricated, especially as I had the $200 LED inserts loaned to me by a friend just for the trip. Despite all these minor setbacks we kept on going. The scenery was changing rapidly and for once we found that the mountain tops around us were not too high. Then the realization hit us. We were at the top!. The altimeter on the Garmin GPS read 13,721 ft.  We stopped to admire the scenery take pictures and share high fives…we had just reached the highest point in the Kaghan valley and done what has probably never been done by a Volkswagen in similar circumstances. The best thing is that all our cars were intact and had made it to the top without a hiccup. We had a plan if any of the cars broke down or found the steep climb too much to handle. The Syncro 4 x 4 would have towed the weaker link and we suspected it would be Mujeeb Mufti’s Grey Matter with its 1200 cc engine packed with everything but the kitchen sink and 3 occupants including the driver. Surprisingly Grey matter made it without any difficulty. She was ‘bleeding’ but still going strong. The wind was strong and the wind chill necessitated reaching in for the light jackets. We lined up the cars for a god group shot and while everyone wanted to spend more time here I managed to herd everyone into their cars and got going…We had a long way to go.

Maqsood’s headlight glass..busted

Farhan’s too..both cars lost these on the left side.

Billo with her headlight protectors

Mujeeb Mufti – a Systems Analyst in his 1968 1200 cc ‘Grey Matter’

You know her well by now

Maqsoods plunge

The tech team transport enjoying the splash

Another good shot captured by Mujeeb

yet another

Mujahid’s Super

View from the top. The location of the polo ground is marked by the arrow 

some local kids posing in front of Billo. I know of no other car that gives a better smile per mile average.

like i said

group picture of our rides

with the expedition participants

The Goodwill Expedition – Day 1

5 beetles, a bay window bus and a Vanagon Syncro left Islamabad on an apic journey through 1600 KM of Glaciers,Rocks,slush, mud, water crossings and unforgiving nature and the three mightiest mountain ranges – the Himalaya, the Karakorum and Hindukush, across glaciers and to heights of +14,000 ft …

The idea was to start early in the morning to beat the heat in the first three or 4 hours of driving till we reached the town of Balakot on our way to our first campsite in Jalkhad. The meeting place was the parking lot of iconic Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. We did assemble in the parking lot but the last minute shifting of camping gear from cars to the VW bus delayed us by about an hour. Luckily the day turned out to be an overcast one so it wasn’t too bad.

We made good progress and stopped only to buy ice to fill our coolers.

In Pakistan, the months of May to September are generally very hot. The mercury touches the 120*F mark several times but mostly stays between 112* and 116* in the plains. We were heading to higher altitude where the temperatures are much cooler.  There is a big flow of tourists wishing to escape the heat in the plains and as the road leading to our destination was not a very wide one I had briefed the group members to pack in a lot of patience.

The other factor that I made everyone aware of was the road condition. There are two ways to get to Hunza – our first destination. The main artery is the Karakoram highway popularly referred to as the KKH. The KKH is the highest international paved road in the world, a feat of engineering and human resilience and also called the 9th wonder of the world. The KKH connects Pakistan to China and is the main trading route between the two countries.

The river Indus flows almost all the way alongside the KKH. The under construction Basha Dam on the river Indus, when completed, would store massive quantities of water for irrigation as well as produce electricity. The site of the dam is smack in the middle of the KKH.  When the dam starts storing water, a big chunk of the KKH would eventually be under water. In anticipation, the government of Pakistan has stopped doing any maintenance work on the highway and it is currently a nightmare to travel on.

The other alternative is to drive up to Babusar Pass (and eventually Babusar top Alt. 13, 700 ft) and climb down to Chilas (a small town in Distt. Diamir) and rejoin the KKH. This road – if one chooses to call it that, is unpaved for the most part and although it has been widened in anticipation of it being developed as an alternate to the KKH, is still a challenge to travel on. There are steep climbs and glaciers that one has to deal with in addition to a number of fast flowing glacier melt  streams. There are no bridges and the only way to get across is to drive through. The best option is to cross these streams before noon as the water flow increases with the rise in temperature during the day. It would be almost impossible to cross these streams for our humble VW beetles if we got delayed for any reason.

The plan was to start from Islamabad early in the morning and get to our campsite in Jalkhad to set up camp for the night. Jalkhad is about 2 hours drive from the top of the pass so we could cross the streams in low flow.

Ok  so i have given you most of the dry talk on the plan and hopefully have got your full attention too. We’ll take a break here and share some pictures so you don’t go off to watch the weather channel instead.

our first stop ata roadside truck stop. (somewhere between the towns of Haripur and Havelian, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province formerly Northwest Frontier Province N.W.F.P.)
first sign of what the track would be like ahead