As I went higher and higher up the mountain I came to a realization I had to stop and take out my heavy jacket since the wind was getting colder and colder by the minute.
While I had stopped to take out my jacket and put it on a white corolla passed me with its rear bumper tied to the roof. It had 4, maybe 5 passengers but I wasn't sure why they had tied the bumper to the roof. Perhaps it dropped off or someone hit them from behind.
In any case, they passed me and I took a few minutes break from the rough shoulder aching, back aching, helmet shaking ride.
Actually, I really had to Peeeee !!!! LOL
Ok, so after I was done with my Deed and rested up I mounted the bike again and was back on the road, that is if you can call that a road. It was Nasty ....
After a while I felt as if I had reached the top since there was no road heading up and only heading down now. At the top there was a bit of a crowd next to a make shift Army Check Post which they had blocked the road with a rope. That area suddenly was paved and a smooth ride.
When I reached there everyone coming and going in both directions had to check in with their NIC, license plat number, where they were coming from and what was their destination and for how long.
Now there were jeeps and cars and trucks parked on the other side where the drivers and passengers alike had gotten off in order to check in as well as a few on my side including bikes who were trying to register with the Army Officers.
I then lined up and got my turn. The question was where I was headed and I said Gilgit. The man from the other side who had just returned from Gilgit said its just too hot there and I would recommend you go to Skardu instead.
I asked how the weather was in Skardu and he said it was very cold and nice but in Gilgit its just too hot.
I then asked what the road condition was on the other side of the mountain because on this side it is painfully uncomfortable due to unpaved road. He said its mostly paved on that side with some small patches of road that are still under construction. However, another jeep driver said NO. He said the road is just as horrible on this side going down the mountain and he said "why do you want to go to Gilgit? There is nothing there, its too hot so just turn back around and enjoy your stay in Naran where its comfortable and cool".
I wasn't about to put my last few hours of drive to waste and decided against turning around, so I pulled out the map from the bike and began to look at where Skardu was and the distance as well. One of the army officer was helping guide me on the map and another asked if I would like some tea. I refused and kept looking into the map. Of course, everyone has to put their two cents into the conversation so people came and offered their positive opinion on Skardu.
So it was now decided that I was going to Skardu and the officer asked me if he can change my destination from Gilgit to Skardu on their entry journal and I said YES, Skardu it is.
He then asked how many days do I plan to stay there, I said just one night and I will be back by tomorrow. Another person getting his entry done now heard our conversation and said to me that I was not going to go to Skardu tonight. I asked why not? He said because it takes two days to get there. WHAT ?????
But on the map it showed that Skardu was only 260 kms from Chillas and Chillas was just down the mountain, so I figured I could get there by nightfall, enjoy the morning there and then head back in the afternoon to reach Naran by nightfall tomorrow.
Both, that man and the army officers told me that it was impossible for me to return by tomorrow night since it will still take me two days to reach Skardu from there and two days to get back.
Now I asked that man where else can I go. So considering my time restriction and looking into the map he suggested why don't go to Astor instead? I never heard of it and asked him to show me on the map.
We found Astor, I asked what it was like and the temperature, he said its really nice and you can reach there by evening and enjoy the places there and be back for tomorrow night back in Naran.
The army officers concurred and said, please you must have chai with us. At that time the only thing I could think of was getting somewhere so I refused the chai offer and asked them to enter Astor where I would be heading to for one day.
I then mounted my bike and to my surprise the beautifully paved road ended just around the next bend in the mountain. I was furious since it was once again a painful and bouncy mountain ride with sharp turns going zig zag around the mountain where I could see the road winding back and forth below me.
This went on for a while until I began feeling hot and I stopped to take off my jacket and put it back in my backpack.
When I reached the main road, and it was a beautiful paved road at the bottom of the mountain I realized that Chillas was to my left while I had to go towards Gilgit to the right. I then asked a local if there were any petrol pumps ahead towards Gilgit in which direction I was traveling and he said yes, just 10 to 15 mins drive you will find a petrol pump.
So I carried on that road and found that it was becoming hotter and hotter. I decided to take off my shirt and had a T-Shirt below. Drank some water now perhaps for the very first time I think. But as I drove the few miles it got unbelievably hot and soon realized why one driver told me not to go to Gilgit. But I wondered if it would all change when I reach Astor.
Soon I reached a Shell petrol pump which was big and kind of new looking and filled up to the top. I asked if there was a place I could get a nice cup of chai and take a break because the pump was in the sun with a bit of shade on one side. The person pointed across the road and said there is a hotel you can eat at. I looked across and all I could see were some trees. I asked where the hotel was, he said if you look in between the trees there is a small door, that's where the hotel is.
I asked if I could park my bike here under the shade because across the street it was mostly unshaded and on the road since the tree line was behind a small creek which my bike could not cross over. He said certainly and it would be perfectly safe.
I walked across the road in the blistering heat wondering what kind of a hotel this would be and when I came across I walked down a small stair case in the treeline and went through a wooden door to find a beautiful cool shaded garden with a pool of water on one side and as I walked further inside across the lush green grass under the cool tree shade there were some charpais to the left where a few men were sitting and chatting.
I went to sit down there and a small fountain of water was running so I decided to wash up and it was extremely cold water.
The waiter came over and I asked for chai, he asked if I would like to eat anything before chai. I asked what they had and then decided on chicken karahi. I asked for a Nestle bottle and he just laughed saying the water from their spring is better than Nestle and FREE. I asked him to bring a glass so I can sample it and to my surprise it was just awesome, sweet cold water that somehow tasted wonderful.
After I had lunch I ordered chai and the other man came to ask where I had come from and where I was headed. It turned out that he was the owner of the restaurant and he used to be a truck driver who drove all over Pakistan and knew a lot about Karachi and where I lived. It was an interesting conversation, he said he was driving this route some 7 years back and decided on setting up a restaurant here and has been here ever since.
After Chai I asked how much farther is Astor from there he said about 4 hours. I looked at the time and realized it was already 4:30 pm. He said if I leave right away I could make there by night fall since sunset would be around 6:30 pm after which my speed would be reduced due to less visibility.
I asked him for direction once again, he said just go straight on this road (KK Highway) and don't turn anywhere. Once you see 2 Talvar, just like the 3 Talvar chowk in Karachi, as soon as you see 2 Talvar just turn right there and it will lead you right into Astor. I asked how visible it was and what if I missed it, he just laughed and said the road is straight with nothing on it and the 2 talvar is a large monument with nothing around it so there is absolutely NO WAY that you could miss it.
So I got back to the pump and the pump attendant offered me some cold water in a glass. Although I already had plenty of cold water I had no need for more but since he had brought it for me I thought it rude to refuse so I thanked him and drank down as much as I could and then thanked him again with a smile and went on my way.
I went through some beautiful roads and bridges, small towns and eventually passed the location of where you have to board the jeeps to get to Fairy Meadows. Then there was a Bridge I had to cross but first check in with the Army officers on this side of the bridge, same routine of where I came from, where I was heading and for how long.
As soon as I crossed over the bridge the KK highway was a different world altogether, it was smooth as silk and a brand new road had been constructed with beautiful carpeting. It was quite a pleasure to drive on at good speeds winding around mountains.
I finally came to the obvious 2 Talvar I was told about, it had clear sign for Astor on it since the road cut off to the right and it was the only direction you could on on. Gilgit was another 49 kms had I stayed on the road, but I had to turn off the Kk highway and onto this new road on the right heading to Astor. The distance marker said 54 kms to Astor.
So I turned on that route and drove through a valley that went down, crossed a long bridge over a river and on the other side had to climb a bit on the mountain and then came the dry rock cut out mountains with some of the most remote areas I had ever seen. My worst fear was the darkness that was coming since I didn't want to be stuck here in the dark.
This view of cut out mountains and roads sometimes paved and other times covered with dust and sand while winding sharply through these mountains. At one time I was on one side of the small river running beneath me in the valley and then a small bridge would take me across the other side and I would carry on around the mountains adjacent to the river in that valley.
After a little while i came acorss a small police check post, but this time they wanted to also see my bike documents. I asked why, he said that they have to check on both directions that vehicle you are taking in one direction is yours and that you bring back the same vehicle since some do get stolen. I asked what about the hotels, he said they will look after your bike for you overnight and its safe.
I carried on and by 6:30 I was already in Astor, mush earlier than what that restaurant owner had told me.
I found a nice hotel next to the only police station in Astor. Astor was a simple dry town in the mountain which I didn't see much a view anywhere but figured there must be something here or the man would not have recommended it. But it was most certainly cold there.