Pakistan, Day 1

29 06 2011

About 3 hours into Pakistan, I was ready to turn around and go home. I haven’t had such a disappointing entry into a country.

I had climbed out of China the last few days, with the Belgians I met in Kashgar. They finally decided to avoid any visa / monsoon hassles and stay in China and so we split at lake Karakol (which was a bit of a disappointment after 2 days cycling uphill). I know I wasn’t much company for them – day one I had some digestive problems, and day two I had had altitude problems. At around 3000m – I’m getting worse at this.

The high pass in China is only 4072m. I survived that, without even a headache, and rode hard to get into Tashkurgan in the mistaken belief that I might learn something there. I didn’t, but I did spend the last of my Chinese Yuan on an expensive (for my standards) hotel – and arrived too late to buy something to eat.

What I failed to learn, until the next morning, is the Chinese Police wont let you cycle out of China. You must take the bus. I had been expecting this, so everything went well (except I didn’t have any Chinese currency left to pay for the bus). I had also been led to believe that I could get out of the bus as soon as we hit Pakistan. The Chinese Immigration people agreed, and even helped me by asking the bus driver to let me out as soon as we’d left China (since I couldn’t talk to the driver myself).

KKH on the China side is a little dull, so driving along it didn’t stress me out too much (although I would have liked the challenge of going to almost 5000m again). What did get me stressed was just across the border the Pakistani police wouldn’t let me off the bus as I’d planned. Despite my pleading, and then begging. And the road goes from tarmac to horrendous dirt track literally on the border, so not only was I sealed in the bus, but it was bumpy as hell. Then the bus broke down (which I had to help jerry rig a fix). Then the scenery got amazing, and I was flying past in a bus. And the scenery got better, and I couldn’t even take a decent photo, we were bouncing around so much. The final insult was a check point where they demanded we pay a park entry fee. I might have lost my cool for a while there. I was seriously entertaining the idea of just bussing straight to Islamabad to get the hell out of this country.

Then we arrived in Sost. I was still fuming at the waste of coming all this way to just see the road from a bus. Immigration turned out to be fairly simple – I got a visa on arrival as I’d hoped. And it was cheaper then I’d expected. Although the Immigration guy must have caught wind of my bad mood, because he did offer to deport me. More than once. Perhaps it was something I said. But then the police / customs / immigration people allowed me to ride back up the ‘highway’ to the pass. And the Chinese bus driver offered to even take me back there and drop me off (tomorrow). And I found some good, cheap bread (a rarity in China). Suddenly I was riding around in the mountains, and everything was right with the world.

Could I be so superficial, that just forcing me to sit on a bus could turn my mood south? And it can all be repaired by letting me ride my overloaded bike up a dirt track? What is wrong here?

The people I met on the road are super friendly. Many of the Taliban-bearded, dark looking evil Pakistanis (which we could all recognise thanks to the propaganda we get fed in the West) broke into some of the biggest smiles I’ve seen when I rode past and gave them a grin.

Maybe I’ll give this place a second chance. Hopefully I get to the pass tomorrow – otherwise the immigration people might start to worry about where I’ve got to.


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