Crossed the Badawi Pass on motorbikes!
Got a call in first week of June this year from Mr Ahmad Fawad inviting to join him to ride to the Swat Summer Festival 2013 starting from 21 june 2013 along with another freind Mr Tayyab Bhatti. I readily accepted the proposal and thus we left for Swat on 20 June 2013 on the following rides:
Myself sikandar pasha on suzuki vstrom DL650 (fast approaching sixty)
Mr Ahmad Fawad (banker) on Honda XL / XR250 (in his late thirties)
Mr Mohammad Tayyab (advocate) Honda XR 400 ( in his late thirties)
Before departure from Lahore, I had no idea that I would be attempting the Badawi or Do Teer Pass which connects Kalam with Dir or even knew the various names given to this Pass. I left Lahore for Taxila at 5 am on 20 June to avoid the heat and night driving and reached the Wah Palace Hotel by 11 am. Fawad, our team leader had made the bookings at this hotel for us earlier. Fawad and Tayyab joined me at around 1.30 am*that night. The hotel was comfortable as it had air conditioned rooms and they ran the generator during load shedding. Seven bikers from Islamabad and Pindi were suppose to join us for Swat, but they all chickened out at the last minute, mostly due to the recent bombings in Mardan and the general security situation in KPK. Fawad was very upset with the Pindi bikers as he had coordinated with the Pak Army's Commanding officer at Kalam for hosting atleast 10 bikers for the Mohadand Lake rally.
We left taxila at 6 am next morning and covered the 140 kms stretch to Dargai by 10 am where there were long ques of vehicles going through a military check point. It took us an hour to get through the security check. The army guys were very suspicious of our body armors and other safety gear and went through it one by one.
We made it to Mingora by 12.30*pm and were hosted a lavish lunch by colleauges of Fawad at the Bank of Punjab. It was a very refereshing break for us in that oppresive heat. When we were ready to leave for Kalam at 3 pm, the bank staff cautioned us that it would take us 4 to 5 hours to accomplish the 100 kms run to Kalam. The minute we got out of mingora, we found the road to kalam flooded with vehicles. It looked like everyone from Mingora was heading for the Swat festival. There were miles long ques again and we slowly made our way through by over-taking hundreds of qued up vehicles.*The road till Madyan was partially metal with frequent broken patches destroyed by floods or rains.
The road beyond Madyan had totally dissapeared and turned into a dirt track with loose rocks of all sizes, pot holes, pits and tyre ruts as deep as knee apart from mud baths. Our speed dropped considerably and we were traveling in first or second gear most of the time. Passed through atleast 20 military and para military check posts where there were long lines of vehicles waiting to go through the security check. The bumper to bumper traffic raised clouds of dust and by the time we reached Kalam, our riding outfits had picked kilos of dust. It was like 11 pm when we parked our bikes outside a restaraunt in the jam-packed and bustling Kalam bazar for a much deserving dinner. Tayyab's first question upon entering the restaurant was, "Do we have to go back on the same track again"? For sure none of us was willing to do this 100 kilometers of wreched and bone grinding, teeth rattling stretch again.*
I had incidently gone through the thread of mr suhaib kiani titled " across the Do Teer pass" on pakwheels / IJC website, who had travelled from Kalam to Dir on a 4x4 CJ-7 / wrangler jeep via the Do Teer Pass or Badawi pass in 2010. I was under the impression that if Mr kiani has got through on a 4x4,it shouldnt be a big deal on our adventure/ trail bikes. Moreover, earlier in 1973 during my youth days,I had ventured as far as Gabral and Chotta Jaba on a Yamaha trailbike and fading memories gave me an idea what to expect from that track. However 40 years later, it was going to be a different experience with whatever little strength I was left with. Anyhow I tabled this Do Teer Pass (as Mr Kiani likes to call it) / Badawi Pass (as listed in wikipedia) possibility which was readily seconded by Fawad. He had done some homework on this track before leaving Lahore and was very eager to see the enchanting Kumrat valley falling on this route. By the time we finished our dinner, we all had made up our minds to take the Kalam-utror-Dir track on our way back.*
The Pak Army had made our stay arrangements at a private guest house just adjacent to the Ushu grounds falling on the Utror Road, a little outside the town of kalam where the Swat festival was taking place. We checked in at 1 am at the Malik Guest house, taken over by the Pakistan Army for hosting festival participants. This had been a very long day for us and we hit the beds immediately.
The next couple of days were spent attending the festival, a ride to mohadand lake, and a mesmerizing ride on the grassy pastuers of virgin forests of ushu. The highlights of the concluding day of the festival were Sultan Golden jumping over 15 cars afer a brake of 12 years and a dirt bike rider from sukkur jumping over 10 or so cars. While the biker on an old suzuki RM 250 safely cleared his jump, Sultan Golden landed on the roof of the fifteenth vehicle and crashed into the wooden landing ramp. But he walked out safely from his Toyota RAV jump jeep. The large crowds cheered for him and he was given a cheque of Rs 5 lakhs by the chief guest, the Crops Commander of Peshawar on the spot for this entertaining and spectacular display of courage and skill. We three also received a shield each and certificates for participation in the Mohadand jeep and bike rally from the Crops Commander. He really appreciated our effort to ride all the way to Kalam to attend the festival. The three day Swat Summer Festival was a tremendous effort by Pakistan Army to promote tourism and economic oppourtunities in the Swat valley.
In the meanwhile, we*got to hear the tragic news of the killings at Nanga parbat base camp and were told that KKH has been temporarily closed to all local and foreign tourists for the subsequent search operation.
We were enthusiasticaly looking forward to take the Kalam- Dir route and had interviewed several local taxi drivers who all said after looking at our bikes that we will go flying on these machines reaching Dir in just 5 to 6 hours. However, none of them had ventured on this track this year or even last year as they had no customer wanting to go on that route. Only one driver casually mentioned that we will find some glaciers on our way and we shoud be able to negotiate them by walking across along with our bikes.*
We also came accross a map distributed by Pak army / Tourism Department to the festival visitors which showed the Kalam-Dir track as a walking / hiking track and not a jeepable track. I voiced my concerns on my observation but Fawad was quick to brush it down commenting that the Pak Army is using this map since 20 years and they havent bothered to up-date this particular route to a jeepable one on this map. I also proposed to ride upto Utror a day before we undertake the kalam-dir route to investigate the Utror taxi drivers about the current route conditions, but again Tayyab and Fawad told me not to worry so much as they would be besides me all the way to help me with my 200 kg bike!.
As a little note on this route, Utror is the last settlement on the Swat side whereas Thal is the first sizeable settlement on the Dir side of the track. Altitudes and Distances of major towns / villages are as follows:
Kalam (2000 meters or 6560 feet) to Utror bazaar (2300 meters or 7544 feet) distance 16 kms.
Utror bazaar to Badawi Pass Top / Do Teer pass / (3525 meters or 11562 feet above sea level) distance 15 kms.
Badawi Top / Do Teer Pass to Thal (2000 meters or 6880 feet) distance 21 kms. Google maps spell Thal as Tall while it is pronounced as Thal by the locals.
A Forest department resthouse (2800 meters or 9200 feet) lies just 10 kms short of Thal on the utor- dir track at Jahaz Banda.
Thal to Dir (1400 meters or 4600 feet) distance 80 kms.
Total distance between Kalam and Dir 130 kms.
Dir - Lahore distance 672 kms via GT Road.
Total round trip Lahore-kalam-Dir-Lahore was 1523 kms.
Do not be mis-lead by the kilometers mentioned above. They are very decieving for us people living on the plains of punjab! Traveling time is more vital than distances when planning expeditions on such terrains.*
We completed the 52 kms track from Kalam to Thal in 9 hours.
The journey from Kalam to Utror was adventurous as gushing white waters of river utror and gabral just lay a couple of feet away from the track and I had to put in a lot of effort to keep the bike's front wheel from going into the white waters. The track was full of all sizes of shingles, rocks and boulders and negotiating through them required a lot of energy on the heavy 650 while tayyab and fawad were really flying on their lighter, fit for terrain machines. We stopped at the Utror bazaar for a much needed breakfast and talked to the locals about life in general and the route ahead in particular. Again they breifly sized our bikes and us and declared that we should have no problems to get to our destination.
We left Utror at around 8 am*and after having traveled 3 to 4 kms or so on a flat track, found the track getting narrower and the river getting obnoxiously closer to us. Finally the track was reduced to just 3 feet width and Fawad and Tayyab signalled me to watchout!. The track had fallen victim to the raging river and we had to pass through a fenced private lawn of a house to avoid going into the river. The owner of the house happened to be standing there and I asked him in amazement if we were on the right path to Thal. He confirmed that this is the correct route. I asked him how do the jeeps cross this section? He said no vehicle has crossed beyond this point this year as the track is now unfit for 4x4s!. A jeep attempting to cross the Badawi pass earlier in October 2012 went missing. They found the ill-fated jeep and some of its occupants two weeks later hung in a tree in a deep khad. Afer that incidence, no one had used the track. Moreover, the track has not been cleared of obstacles and glaciers but he was sure that a motorbike can get across. I was dumbfounded at this new piece of information, but decided to catch up with Fawad and Tayyab whom I could no longer see. I comforted myself with the thought that accidents happen even in Lahore killing people. So one bad incident shouldnt stop us from this venture.
It didnt take me long to be with them as they waited for me at the start of a steep ascend. They were taking directions from a couple of locals who remarked that its a 3 to 4 kms of climb to the Badawi top followed by a straight ascend to Thal. It sounded very simple to us and thus off we went. At a glance, the ascend was pretty steep and horrifying and I began to question the soundness of our plan for the first time!*
Fawad and Tayyab led the way and I followed their wheel marks. The climb was certainly a first gear one and soon the sharp u-turns one after the other, broke the momentum of our machines. Getting my bike moving again after taking those sharp turns was becoming trickier as the rear wheel had begun to spin freely because the track was covered with very small fine ball shape gravel. The bridgestone trailwing dual sports tyres on my V-strom were not getting a grip for traction and I was soon struggling with my bike. Tayyab and Fawad had the right aggressive knobby tires on their trail bikes and they were doing fine as far as traction was concerned. It didnt take me long to tire out from continously pushing the bike with my legs to help get into motion and at the same time trying to stabilize it to avoid crashing down. I think we took our first pitstop only after being 10 minutes into the ascend. I reduced the tyre pressure considerably in the hope of getting some traction. While we were chatting about this thrilling ride, we all were hoping in our hearts that the track doesnt get worse than what it was like so far. We were soon to find out that it was a wishful thinking!
I was soon stuck in a deep mud rut and the rear tyre of the v-strom started to sink into the mud. The swingarms of my vstrom were now no longer visible. Fawad collected some branches and wooden shingles and layed them under the rear wheel to get traction while Tayyab pushed the bike from behind and after several clutch slips and a lot of muscIe power I was out of the mud-bath in 5 minutes or so. In the process, poor Tayyab received a good spray of mud from the spinning wheel while he was trying to push out my bike. Not far from that point, we had to stop again because a thick tree had fallen across the track blocking it completely. Tayyab managed to get across by shreding off some branches and then slipping his XR400 under the tree and then came back to help me get the v-strom through as well.*
Going further up I took a couple of slow motion falls on some very tricky u-turns. Fawad and Tayyab on both occassions came running to pick-up my bike while abandoning their own machines. While I was recovering from my falls under a shaded tree, Fawad continued with the ascend and after climbing 400 meters or so parked his bike and descended back on foot to get me going. A pale faced Fawad for the first time declared " I think we have made a wrong decision in taking this track". I just kept quite as it was now too late to comment, but I was now certain that we had taken a bite too big for us to swallow!.
Fawad then proposed that he will drive the v-strom while I should sit behind him. I was not sure about this idea as managing the v-strom in solo mode on this uneven ascending surface was a challenge itself. With a passenger at the back, the driving dynamics of the v-strom become like a horse without lagaams! It wasnt a good idea at all in my mind, but I did not want to challenge his riding skills by turning him down. So I sat behind him while he got the machine into motion. Hardly had we gone 30 meters when the v-strom stumbled over some big rocks and after fish-tailing a litlle, crashed into the track bringing us down. We quickly struggled to wrestle ourselves free from under the bulky machine and wondered what now!.*
Fawad was quite embarassed by the fall and immediately started to check the damage done to the v-strom, while I gasped for air after helping Fawad lift the machine upright. I told him not to worry about scratches or dents. The most important thing is that all three of us must get to Dir in one piece without broken bones or limbs! This cooled him down a bit to rationally think out the next move.
I proposed that he should drive the v-strom to the point where he had parked his bike and I will follow on foot. So off he went and I started the walk without knowing how far I had to go walking, thinking what the hell am I doing here with this elephant machine, and why dont I have a lighter 250 instead! Within 2 minutes into the walk, I got breathless and began panting like a dog. The high altitude coupled with 40 years of smoking was now taking its toll on me and continuing further got impossible. By now I had got absolutely disgruntled and lost interest in this expedition. There was not a single soul to be seen besides we three idiots and I began to seriously question our sanity. I would walk for hardly 15 meters and then take rest for 5 minutes to catch breath. My throat went dry every 2 minutes and the only water bottle that I was carrying was already down to half.*
While seated on a boulder, my morale level went down to zero and my thoughts wandered off to the Taliban activity in this area a few years back and I looked around to see if I am being watched or followed by any of their remnants left behind to ambush people like myself. This track had been the main escape route of the Swat Talibans to Dir when the army started its operation against them in the Kalam valley in 2009. As the story goes, 6000 to 8000 Taliban moved on this track to escape the army's onslaught along with some 300 or so 4x4 vehicles . The CIA observed their movements through spy sattelites*and passed on the exact coordinates to The Pakistan Army. The PAF Jets and army gunship helicopters bombed the track at strategic points creating huge ditches on the track thus blocking motorized movement. Once the large convoy of 4x4s got strandard, the escaping talibans rolled down many of their vehicles into the deep ravines to prevent them from getting into the hands of Pakistan Army. The surviving talibans continued their escape to Dir on foot. As such, this track saw a lot of death and destruction during the military operation in 2009. However, the Utror and Thal residents made their living for quite some time by salvaging parts from the rolled down vehicles and other taliban equipment. All of above is claimed in a book authored by Ali Soufayan, an ex FBI / CIA operative stationed in Afghanistan / Pakistan during that period.
Probably after 30 minutes of agonizing walk, I managed to join Fawad and Tayyab. The first thing they asked for was water and I tossed the half empty bottle to them warning them to just wet their mouths with a sip each as we are running low on this now very precious commodity while the journey was nowhere near its end. They gave me some very disgruntled looks in absolute disbelief on my water rationing. Last night I had repeatedly told them to buy a couple of water bottles for themselves for the journey and they said they will survive on the refreshing chashma waters on the way! There was no chashma around for them except my half finished bottle!
From here onwards, Fawad continued to ride the v-strom while I rode his XL250. We were gaining altitude by every meter and the height began to show effects on the little XL250 under me.The engine began to stall and loose power completely. It ran fine on idle but refused to pick up rpm when the throttle was twisted. The engine was running rich and needed more air. I suggested Fawad to either remove its air-filter so that the engine can get free airflow or fiddle with the air-mixture screw to find a sweet spot. He didnt want to do either as both were cumbersome and he probably didnt want to mess up with the mixture settings in this wilderness where no technical help was available. To get to the airfilter, the battery compartment first needed to be removed while you needed a special tool to rotate the air-mixture screw which Fawad was not carrying along. Tayyab had faced the same dilemna earlier in Kalam and had to clean the air filter to get it going smoothly.
Now I was in the lead position but as soon as I would slow down to negotiate a u-bend, the engine would stall getting me strandard at almost every ascending turn. I had to wait 30-40 seconds for the engine to recover before it would pick-up rpm and get me going. Beleive me, it wasnt a good feeling at all on those steep climbing U-bends as I had to hold the front brake tight from preventing the bike to roll back to the edge of the track and fall down in to some deep khad like the jeep last year. However, there were only two options available to me. Ride my unmanageable heavy v-strom or continue with the stalling XL! I obviously chose the lighter XL!
A little while later, as we all three sat down to analyse the situation we were in, I heard a roar of a familar engine. It was definetly a honda cg 125 sound and a few minutes later we saw a 125 coming up our way being pushed by a man running behind it. The two stopped by at my signal and after they had caught up with their breaths we went through introductions. The pair was from Utror and had seen us passing through the village. They decided to join us as one of them had some buisness in Thal and the other one was accompanying him to push him through the ascend. They were Rehman brothers. I thought that this pair is a God sent help and I immediately requested them to stay with us for the rest of the journey to Thal as we were unfamiliar with the track and their local knowledge would be a great help for us. They readily agreed.*
We moved once again after freshening up a bit. Shortly after, Fawad also had a couple of crashes on the vstrom. I led the track although now with even greater difficulty as the engine of the XL250 was gasping and panting for air like myself. The XL's engine now sounded like its saying " mein nai jana - mein nai jana" and it came to a halt probably every 30 meters. The engine would then take a minute or more to recover from its stall, while I had to press in the front brake lever tightly to prevent it from rolling back. On one occasion, the bike start to slide back despite the brake, on the fine gravel and I had to make a 90 degree sharp reverse turn to stop the bike from sliding further back. I did take a fall while attempting to perform this unsightly and awkward manouver.
While I took a forced stop on one of the nasty turns waiting for the engine to pickup speed, I had a full view of the track below and saw Fawad running into a foot deep fine powdered dust section raising a big cloud of dust. Then Fawad vanished into that dust cloud and I couldnt see him coming out. When the dust settled somewhat, I saw Fawad lying on his back with the v-strom on top of him. The Rehman brothers closely following him came running to rescue him from beneath the bulky bike. Tayyab also joined them shortly to help Fawad out of the misery. I was glad to see Fawad standing up on his legs. Later I learnt that his back landed on some nasty big rocks but the body armor saved his bones and ribs.
From there onwards Tayyab rode the v-strom while Fawad rode the XR400 as a relief. I eventually reached an area having a somewhat flatter terrain, parked the bike and just lay flat on the grassy plateau to recover from my ordeal. We had nearly made it to the top. Some 5 minutes later, a shattered and traumatized Fawad joined me. His eyes were popping out and his face was white as if he had just seen death. He was still under the trauma of being burried alive under the V-strom. He quitely sat besides me and I offered him the diminishing stock of water. He took one sip and capped the bottle and lay flat besides me. There were no dialouges exchanged. We just gazed at each others faces quitely in disbelief of what we were going through. Soon an exhausted Tayyab arrived followed by the angelic Rehman brothers. Tayyab remarked "hun ki karna hai"? But none of us answered the bewildered chap!*
Having recollected somewhat, we questioned the Rehman brothers, how far more to the top? He said "almost there". Tayyab questioned "hun te rasta sidha hi hoya ga na"?? Rehman looked at him very meaningfully and just smiled! Tayyab then remarked "pher te pasha sahib apna motorcycle ape hi chalan ge!!?? I just smiled back at him without any commitment. This showed how everyone now dreaded driving the bulky 650.
Again like a good team leader, Fawad rode the 650 while I led the way on his XL250. Now we were traveling on a relatively flatter terrain and from one point could see the track going almost flat for a kilometer or so. This was perhaps the first Mountain Top. There was no tree in sight but the rolling hills were all covered with fresh green grass. In a short while we reached another Top and stopped for some photos. The entire surroundings were lush green and very serene. There were forests of green fir and pine trees a little below the track. We sat there mesmerized admiring the depth of the beauty. We were begining to relax now as the climb had come to an end and a feeling of acomplishment engulfed us. We had smiles on our faces after a long time. We didnt know what lay in waiting for us further ahead!
When we started off again, the descent had now begun. While I was just begining to enjoy the ride for the first time since we started the climb,I took a sharp bend and suddenly found a gushing water-crossing without warning. I had no time to stop or slow down and continued to cross it in the same momentum. Hardly half-way through, the front wheel hit a big boulder and I was thrown over into the water. Before I could gather myself, Tayyab had jumped into the water and holding my hand said *" I have got you! Dont worry- you are fine". He walked me through the chill gushing white waters to the dry track and helped me sit on a big boulder to dry out and recover. By the time he went back, Fawad and the Rehman brothers had recovered the XL250 from the thigh deep gushing waters. I then walked back to the water crossing to quench my thirst and refill our only water bottle. The rest carefully helped each other with the water-crossing which infact was the Panjkora river at its very infancy stage. We now were to travel right upto Dir along this river which would grow in size as it traveled further down. The little plunge had freshened me a bit and I was soon in high spirits. Fawad started the XL for me and off we went.
A little further down, we came to a dead halt. A big sloping glacier bolcked the track completely. It was about 100 feet across but the worst part was that it was at an angle of 45 degrees and it was absolutely virgin. It had no foot prints or tyre marks as it had not been crossed this season by anyone yet. The glacier started some 50 meters above the track, crossed the track, and then went deep down into the ravine some 300 meters below. Are we going to even attempt crossing it was a big question in my mind and everyone elses mind as well. I sat by the edge of the glacier thinking that this expedition is turning uglier by the moment. Tayyab finally broke the silence with "hun ki karna hai"??
Fawad being the group leader took the first step onto the glacier. That was certainly a risky thing to do. Had the glacier been flat we could have crossed it while singing "Muni Badnam hui". But this lay at a 45 degree gradient and a little slip of foot would be an absolute disaster. Seeing Fawad on the move, the Rehman brothers also followed him and crossed the entire glacier on foot. The ever restless Tayyab also went across to show he was equally brave. Then they flattened a one foot wide path on the glacier by continously thumping and beating their feet on it. A little later I also joined the thumping but nearly slipped if ever helping tayyab hadnt been around. It took them about 20 minutes to flatten out a path for the bikes while I leveled out the nicotine requirements in my bloodstream, sitting at the edge of the glacier. Wasnt that mean of me to sit and smoke while the others worked their *** off???
When it was time to begin the crossing, Fawad and the Rehman brothers looked at the sky and raised their hands to pray to God for helping us to get accross. I pulled out two toeing ropes from my ruck-sack and tossed them over to tayyab. As we were tightening the ropes around the XR400, a group of 4 or 5 men walked right upto us from nowhere. Our prayers had been answered. These men got hold of the ropes and I think 7 or 8 men altogether held each bike tightly and walked it accross the glacier while chanting Allahahowakbar. I did not have the guts to watch the v-strom do the glacier crossing as I was pretty sure that it will slip out of their hold due to its bulk and volume. I had earlier taken off all the luggage on it to help reduce its weight and ease out the crossing. But these were surely God sent helping hands and they got the v-strom accross in one smooth go.
Once safely accross, we thanked those men who were bakarwals and exchanged greetings with them and set off. I then realized that the XL250 had lost its rear brakes. I would press the paddle as far as it would go but hardly any noticeable stopping effect. This was probably due to the drum brakes getting over heated. So I used the engine torque and the front brake to keep it from running astray. After some 15 minutes of descending, the problem of engine stalling had vanished and the 250 responded well to the throttle. These little trail hondas have an amazing suspension with almost 8 inches of shock travel on the front and rear wheels soaking most of the bumps and jerks of the track. So the down ride was pretty manageable accept that I had to be on my guard all the time to not let this thing run away out of control. We came across another glacier but luckily it had melted leaving a 2 feet wide wet track at the edge of the ditch. We cautiously crossed this patch and continued with the descent facing several smaller water-crossings apart from the non-stop bumps and ditches and occasional fallen trees.
Some two hours of slow descent brought us in front of the first building structure after leaving Utror.I brought the bike to a halt and lay flat on the track to stretch out. Soon I was joined by the rest. The Rehman brothers walked towards this newly built or recently painted Forest Department Resthouse, probably at Jahaz Banda, to offer prayers and ordered the chowkidar for some tea. None of us had the energy to walk to the resthouse some 25 meters off the track. We all lay on the grassy track to recuperate. Some 15 minutes later tea was brought in a thermos right where we all lay. A short while later we worked our way towards Thal reaching there by 3 pm and were greeted by the entire village. Our bikes and our riding outfits were a source of great amusement for them and they were not sure whether we really belonged to this planet or were we aliens!
After lengthy explainations of the purpose of our ride, we were shown to a hotel where we took off our riding gear and had a well deserving lunch and an hour long nap. The 80 kms road / dirt track from Thal to Dir was a half broken metal *** dirt road with never ending pits and bumps shaking us down completely. But it felt like a highway compared to the Utror- Thal ride. We finished off this section in five hours and checked in at the first hotel in Dir which had rooms available.
We left Dir at 6 am next morning and reached Malakand top by 10.30 am. The day was now getting hot and we rushed to Mardan non-stop from there. By the time, I touched Mardan city, the sun had got blistering hot and I had made up my mind to take a break here till the sun was down. I searched for a suitable airconditioned hotel on the main road but found none. So we were forced to continue further. We crossed Nowshera around 1 pm and found a manji hotel on the GT Road where we stopped to get some respite from the burning sun and take a bite as well. During lunch, I told Fawad and Tayyab that I intend to stop at Wah Palace hotel for the night and I would start for Lahore at 4 am next morning. However, Fawad and Tayyab wanted to continue staright to Lahore as they had to join their offices the following morning.
Before starting off I soaked my self completely wet under a tap and then hit the road. My clock showed 2 pm exactly when we started off. There was hardly any traffic on the GT road at this hour due to the extensive heat. Finding the road empty I twisted the throttle and within moments I was cruising at 160 km/hr. I have never before unleashed such madness, not even on the motorway. The blistering sun had definetly taken its toll on my rationale thinking capability. The v-strom was now doing what it does best. I couldnt see Fawad or Tayyab in my rear view mirrors any longer. I had estimated that if I maintain my speed above 120 km/hr, I should be in Taxila in 42 minutes. The count-down in my mind had begun and I pressed on to cover those 85 kilometers to the Wah palace hotel. I was pretty close to my estimatation as I entered the gates of the hotel exaclty at 2.40 pm. I started to get rid of my riding gear as soon as I switched off the bike and by the time I was shown into an empty room I was ready to get into the shower! The hotel waiters later collected my belongings including my helmet, boots, body armor, knee pads, tee-shirt etc from the porch and hallway of the hotel which I had kicked- off me while marching towards the room. I*had a soothing shower, a jug of shakanjabeen and some sandwiches and then lay flat on the bed in the now chilled room. A little later, I heard a knock at the door and saw Fawad and Tayyab standing in the hallway. They had arrived some 35 minutes after my landing!I ordered another jug of shakanjabeen for them after which they lay down and went off to sleep without saying much. The had been hit by the heat for too long and very badly.
They got up at 7 pm and decided to continue to Lahore. However, Fawad wanted Tayyab to stay back and accompany me to Lahore in the morning just to make sure that the old man gets home safely. But I assured them that I would be fine alone. So off they went after saying good byes. However, Tayyab returned to the hotel half an hour later. His headlamps wernt working and thus could not continue with Fawad. Fawad made it to Lahore safely by 2*am that night.*
We hit the bed soon after, got up at 3.30 am next morning and were on the road by*4 am. We whisked through pindi while the city was still sleeping and took our first stop after crossing the city of Jhelum and then another stop after crossing Gujranwala. Finally entered Lahore around 10.30*am and said good bye to each other before taking our home routes.
Once I re-gained strength, I went through the google maps for a detail analysis of the Utror- Dir track and also searched for the official mame of this pass. Got the following data / information:
The Wikipedia lists this pass as BADAWI Pass describing it as the pass that connects Dir with Kohistan. Mr Suhaib Kiani in his thread mentions it as "Do Teer Pass" or "Badwai pass" instead. The Do Teer probably comes from the two adjacent mountains that you need to cross. The locals sometimes refer to it as BADGOI pass also. Badgoi being an area near the top of the two mountains where the Bakarwals have made a few temporary huts for themselves.*
The steep ascend to the Badawi Top starts 4 kms ahead of Utror bazaar. The first six kilometers of climb takes you from 2300 meters (7500 feet) at the foot of the mountain to 3200 meters (10,500 feet). The next 4 kilometers carry you to an altitude of 3525 meters (11,562 feet). The total climb is a 11 kilometers stretch taking you 4062 feet higher from the foot of the mountain.*
The google earth shows the ascend in the first couple of kilometers as 29 percent. This means that every 100 feet of travel takes you 29 feet higher. So this is a very steep climb by all standards. Comparitively, the maximum ascent at kalar kahar is 7 percent. However the descend is not that steep as the track to Thal from the Badawi top gradually brings you down by 4682 feet in 21 kilometers from 11562 feet to 6880 feet.
Is the track doable in a 4x4 machine in its present form? The answer is a big No in my mind atleast. Not unless the track is repaired and brought into operational mode. I am not here challangeing anyones driving skills or under-rating anyones highly modified, million dollar 4x4. The reason for this no is that there are two main bottlenecks where the tracks width was merely reduced to 2.5 feet or at the most 3 feet. At one point the river had swallowed the track which was just 3.5 kilometers beyond Utror bazaar, just before the steep ascend took off. At another point, nearly half way in the ascend, the track had collapsed creating a deep wide ditch, and just leaving a 2.5 feet wide slopy passage on the mountain side. I was very nervous crossing this section and was pretty sure that a 4x4 of any size, from an SJ410 to a Unimog ( with Bee-mog and Dee-mog in my mind) will not be able to get across the ditch. Even if one is carrying specially built 20 feet long skid plates with him, it would be a nerve wrecking crossing for the best skilled drivers. Thirdly the glacier in its current form will be a big challege to cross on a 4x4 unless a team with large lungs first spades out a flat path for the 4x4 to finish of that 45 degrees slope on it. I assume that when Mr Kiani ventured on this Pass in 2010, it had recently been repaired by the locals and Pak army after it underwent the bombings in 2009. The photos that he posted in his thread dayed 2010 showed a well surfaced pretty smooth dirt track, whereas we found it extremely detiorated, having a very uneven rocky surface covered with fine gravel besides all kinds of blockades one after the other.*
However, for the challenge seeking members of Islamabad Jeep Club, MJC or 4x4 Engaged, working their way up from Dir side towards the Badawi Top and then driving back to Thal is a saner and do-able proposition right now unless the locals have now started to work on the track to get it operational. However, be prepared to deal with the two glaciers just before the top!.*
The track is doable on bikes with proper knobby tires and some good off road skills, but not on bikes of v-strom's weight and volume. The vstrom, although is classified as an adventure touring bike, it is mostly meant for long highway hauls or some light off- roading like the European forest tracks. Its 220 kgs weight plus luggage render it unfit for this particular track. A lightweight 250 to 400 cc pure track /dirt bike with a rider having good off-road experience would be an ultimate combination for this terrain. The more common honda 125 would need an extra man (preferably a local with large lungs) to push it up for most of the 11 kilometers ascend. If you plan to ride solo on a 125, carry a bag of clutch plates with you armed with the know- how to change them while on the track! A saner proposition would be to ride the 125 from Dir side and then descend into the Kalam valley.*
As for the security situation, Kalam was turned into a military garrison/ fortress during the festival. It was being literally run and controlled by the army. Beyond Kalam, we did not encounter a single check-post or police presence right uptill Thal. However, the route from Dir to Malakand had several check-points where every vehicle is expected to stop voluntarily for identification. They do not signal you to stop. And if you do not stop by, they inform the next check post where you eventually get into trouble! I learnt this the hardway.
This area is blessed with natural beauty in its absolute raw form and remains unexplored by travelers. The rugged approach to the area makes it inaccesible for many. My love for nature took me there and I am so glad and proud that I have been able to see what very few have seen. I have a strong sense of accomplishment as well. However, I alone at this age would never have been able to get across without the help of selfless freinds like Fawad and Tayyab. But as I have done it, you all must do it!
Some photos taken by Fawad and Tayyab will follow once I learn how to post them.
Thanks for bearing with me.