In 2016, my friends and I decided to see the beautiful north on our bikes. And so, naturally, we turned to the Internet for tips. Sadly, I didn’t come across a credible article that was geared toward the Pakistani market. Our trip went great, but it took us a lot of time to get prep work done. We made a list of things and asked people who have been on adventure tours. I returned from a biking tour to Skardu, Deosai and Rama in the summer of 2017, and feel I’ve had enough experience to dole out tips. So, without further ado, here we go:
Chart out a path
The first order of business is to have a solid plan in place. What are the places you’re going to touch and which route are you going to take. Is there a shorter route to a place? Sure. But is it safe? How’s the road condition? Can we take one route to a place and another to exit it? Think entering Skardu from Gilgit and heading out of there via Deosai and Astore. These kinds of things have to be the priority. And how do you check that? Google Maps, of course. It gives you the distance, and the time it’ll take you to reach Point B from Point A. But beware, the estimated adventure travel time isn’t always right (more on that later).
A tour like this doesn’t come cheap. You have to invest in a lot of things even before you start your adventure. There’s bike maintenance to consider, including a better tire that can be used off-road as well. You need to have a bag for your luggage (preferably waterproof), a proper helmet and protective gloves at the least, clothes to protect you when it’s raining, a tire puncture kit and a foot pump, to name a few. Do you plan to stay in a hotel or set up your own camp? Well, now you need a camp, too. I would also suggest getting a bike carrier which is fixed on either side of a bike. Have a budget in mind with some wiggle room and plan accordingly.
In addition to monetary investment, you need to invest your time as well, like learning how to set up a camp and fixing a punctured tire.
Things to take
OK, now that you’ve selected a route and bought necessary things, you now have to decide what things to bring with you. Yes, I know, you’d like to pack five pairs of jeans, four hoodies and six shirts. I had those thoughts, too, but now I know that you can only fit so much. I did exactly this on my first-ever bike trip to Hunza and Khunjerab Pass. I had one bag sitting on the fuel tank and another alternating between shoulders and the passenger seat. It wasn’t easy.
Please take my advice: pack things you know you’re going to use in the trip. Anything else can stay at home. I learned it the hard way.
So, what exactly should you pack?
- Two jeans and three T-shirts — One each for your bike and the rest for when you reach your destination for the day. I did this on my most recent trip, and it saved me precious real estate in the bag. Plus, T-shirts don’t really take up any space and fold easily.
- Two hoodies/upper — One for the bike. You can also pack warm shirts and thermals. These things take up less space compared to a hoodie.
- Rain gear — Your rain gear involves a waterproof jacket and trousers, gloves, and something to cover your shoes. It is advisable to put these in a carrier, where they’re easily accessible, so when it’s raining, you can immediately wear it. Plus, putting them in a carrier will save some space in the bag.
In addition to these basic things, here are some other items that you should bring along.
– Medicines: First and foremost on your list should be medicines for stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and diarrhoea. Also, bring ORS. One of my friends got sick from eating something. We thought our tour was over but the right medicines plus ORS brought him to life and we continued to move forward.
– Cash: Don’t rely on the ATM machines in these areas, especially Naran. Big cities like Gilgit, Hunza and Sharkdu typically have multiple working ATMs. Still, each of you should keep at least Rs. 20,000 – some in the wallet and some stashed safely elsewhere.
– Torch and an extension cable: Get a good, reliable torch, please. The one I got was from Energizer, and three years later, it is still working like a charm. It is sturdy and has so far survived drops in water and from heights. You won’t always get light in these areas (the same could be said for all of Pakistan, but anyway …), and so a torch is your friend.
I said cable because the places you’re going to be staying in probably won’t have more than two charging docks. A cable will take care of all your and your friends’ charging needs at once. There will not be any waiting around.
The view from our hotel room in Hunza on the left, and Skardu city as seen from Kharpocho Fort
- Extra tubes for tires and engine oil: In my experience, if your tire is punctured, you’re likely to get another soon. It’s better to just change the tube and be on your merry way. Also, change your engine oil every 1,000 KMs, considering your bike just went on routes it is normally not on in the city.
- Personal hygiene items: Think towels, brush and toothpaste, shampoo sachets and soap, tissue rolls and wet tissues, body spray and anything else you deem fit.
- Miscellaneous items: Phone charger, power bank (keep it for when you really, really, REALLY need it), warm gloves and cap, sunblock (at least SPF 60), socks with extra pair plus something comfortable for feet when you reach your destination, coil to stave off mosquitoes, a rope (we’ve never had to use it yet, but we still keep it), a lighter or matchbox and a big plastic bag (easily available from a super mart) for waterproofing your bag if it isn’t already water resistant.
- Download an offline map: You’re not going to always get connectivity, so it is of paramount importance that you download maps, so you know if you’re headed in the right direction. Download the offline map of the places you’re going to visit from Google Maps (it is fairly easy, and you can look it up online how it’s done).
- Don’t always rely on Maps: This one time, we were near Gilgit and were headed to Skardu. It was around 5:00 p.m., the sunset was a couple of hours away, and Maps said we were two hours out of Skardu. We stopped to get our bikes refuelled and by chance, I asked a local about the distance. His answers? Eight hours because the road wasn’t good. I thanked him and moved on before stopping again to ask another local. He gave the same answer. We stayed the night in Gilgit and left the morning after. It took us seven hours. Maps may be very reliable in the city, but I wouldn’t bet on it in these areas.
- Don’t wait for an empty fuel tank to refuel: While there’s no shortage of petrol pumps in these areas, I’d advise that you refuel before leaving each day even if you think you have enough in the tank. You never know what the day has in store for you.
- Talk to the locals: We all know the most famous of places to visit up North, but maybe a local will tell you of a place that may not be visited a lot but is equally or more beautiful. Also, if you’re a foodie, ask them of a local delicacy and where can it be bought.
- Ignore your friend: Have a “bro” that’s making fun of you because you’re putting on sunblock? Ignore him. You can make fun of him when his skin has two different colours. Remind him he went against the sun. Also, please wear a full-sleeved shirt on the bike. The sun here is not your friend, as I’ve found out multiple times.
- Don’t litter: Have an extra shopping bag with you for this purpose only. It is up to us to preserve the beauty this region is known for.
And this is pretty much from me. I hope you have learned something new today and will keep these few handy tips and bits of advice in mind when planning your first motorbike trip.