Now in Attabad, we woke up early and started packing. We were served with a delightful breakfast by “Mr. Rasul Din” before leaving the camp. We reached at Attabad Lake in the span of one (1) hour. By this time, there was a huge landslide to cross before reaching Attabad Lake. We went up the huge boulders of the land slide to reach the lake. I dragged rather than push- ride up to reach the top of the boulder.
The first view of the lake was some sort of a feast of viewing as we were compelled to stop, view and remain perplexed for some time of its natural beauty to watch. We stopped at the top portion of Attabad Lake and enjoyed the satiating beauty and vastness of the Lake. All the cargo trucks unloaded at Attabad Lake. Cargoes, luggage are then loaded and transferred to the boats that are situated on the opposite side of the lake. This cargo process is repeated on the other side as the cargo transport heads towards Sost dry port.
The Attabad Lake was formed on January 4th, 2010. The lake was formed due to a massive landslide at Attabad village. The landslide killed twenty people and blocked the flow of the Hunza River for five months. The landslide caused irreparable loss to the area, submerged cultivated lands, eroded great portions of the Karakoram Highway, and squeezed the tourist inflow. The entire population of Domaki Tribe was displaced from their village (Shishkat).
Soon, it was our turn to be called by the boatman who is scheduled to ferry passengers. I still cannot remember the last time I was on a boat ride? But, as far as I could recall, it had already been a long time ago passed. This boat ride is was going to be a new adventure and experience in the Attabad Lake which is 21 meters in length and 100 meters in Depth. Soon we reach the Sost Dry Port. The atmosphere at the port was amazing as everyone was busy and noisy seemingly shouting at each other’s ears aloud.
The water of the lake was very cold but muddy at its bank. The fascinating journey started with a cold gale of the wind as if freezing and blowing the huge Rocky Mountains above of our heads. The color of the lake became greenish blue as we moved into the lake. At this instance, we feel totally enchanted as if we were at Astola Island. Astola Island is the island of Seven Hills (“Haft Talar”), Pakistan’s largest offshore Island whose highest point is 246 ft. (75 meters) above sea level.
The island consists of a large tilted plateau and a series of seven small hillocks with deep chasms and crevices which are several feet wide. There are several natural caves and coves on the island. The south face, wherein the island slopes off gradually as the north face is clifflike. The isolated location of the island had helped maintained several endemic forms of life like the endangered green turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, endemic reptiles, Sooty Gull Breeding Colony but soon ceased because of the presence of rodents/rats. The vegetation of Astola Island is sparse consisting only of shrubs (“Prosopis Juliflora”-the largest shrubs) and large bushes . There’s no fresh water and the vegetation depends on the occasional rainfall and soil moisture for survival. But, what is different in Astola is it being the home of coral reefs. Astola’s topography pales in comparison with Attabad that sooner we corrected ourselves with our daydreaming that we are instead in Gojal, Hunza. The enjoyable journey lasted for an hour then we reached Gulmit Village. The boat only stopped at one place at “Shiskat Village”.
We were determined to bike again 12:15 PM. But, the penetrating heat of the sun was right above our heads and soon we had to find some place for a rest and for passing 2-3 hours in Gulmit Village. The word Gulmit is formed with two words, Gul (Flower) and Mit (garden) and together it meant Flower Garden. After riding a couple of mins, we reached and stopped in a café at Gulmit Village. We had lunch in front of Passu Cones and/or Passu Cathedrals in “Stone Age Cafe”. We rested and had a midday afternoon nap in the garden of the café under the apricot trees.
We left Gulmit Village around 4 PM were headed towards Passu. After Gulmit Village, is the Village of Ghulkin. This village is situated beside the Ghulkin Glacier. The road normally is wet in this part as there are a lot of water sources coming from the glacier and they all fall on the road and then mix with Hunza River. The wet road patch is about 3 km. in distance. Soon after we were head on to the Ghulkin Village with the huge Ghulkin Glacier situated near to the road. The glacier's ice water mix with mud and stones in the process of its movement downstream in the mountain canals that in the end, it is difficult to ascertain at first sight that these indeed are the natural movement of water derivative and/or coming from the glaciers.
Ghulkin Glacier has two main huge tributaries ( Nalla’s). The water seems not portable as it doesn’t look crystal clean. But, for the locals, this is water they drink daily. We stopped near one of the Ghulkin Nalla/sources and had a cup of tea. The area of water from the Hunza River increases in size and area as it flows and traverses to Gulmit extending to Hussani Village and Passu.
At Hussani and Passu Villages the water flows smoothly and calmly. Hussani is a small but beautiful village. In here we could find one of the most notorious dangerous bridge. This bridge was damaged in one of the recent floods as the locals informed us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see or examine why this bridge was tagged as one of the dangerous bridges in the world.
There is a tremendous tedious ascent from Hussani towards Passu Village. From our bicycle trekking, this seems to be the longest ascent we are to be confronted after Attabad. The difficult road ascents forced us to stop after each 500 meter to 700-meter bike trek distance to be able to reach the top of the mountain roadway. AS we reached the top, we managed to have a hard long look at the Passu Glacier at the seemingly elevated pinnacle portion of the highway. From this point, the road starts to descend. We could not quantify in words our mixed emotions being traumatized by the ascending and descend of the road engineering as we are forced to flex our understanding and physical endurance to this type of mountain roads.
Upon reaching Passu Valley, a funny incident happened when we passed by one of the locals wandering along the road and we decided to stop and talk with him. The sudden stop of our bike brakes seems to frighten the old man as he motioned that our sudden stop had taken his breath away. We apologized for his distraction but our good intention was to engage him in a pleasant conversation. We gathered, that the old man was silently walking along the highway to his mind thanking the Chinese Engineers having done an outstanding job installing protectors and gutters on both sides of the road that suddenly we appeared within his midst distracting his mindset. Finally, the old man gains confidence with our friendship. We left him with a memorable smile painted on his face.
We reached Passu at 6:30 PM. Now we could feel the cold wind blowing coming from Passu glacier. We stopped at “Glacier Breeze Hotel” for the dinner. A typical Hunza dinner was extraordinarily delicious. In particular, it was an opportune time to be able to sample regional Hunzai Cuisine prepared from the fresh local produce. The enchanting moments of sunset in Passu, the cold breeze from Passu Glacier, the sunset drama over the Passu Cones and the compelling panoramic beauty view of Passu Village in its entirety are unforgettable encounters.
We meet a lot of interesting people in Passu. Some trekkers from Punjab, with whom we become familiar quickly. They were going to Shimshal Valley for trekking. “Mr. Zaffar” along with his friends was a friendly group which appreciated the efforts we were putting by riding a bicycle around Pakistan. “You have taken an initiative to do something different and you have done your best, and look you have gained huge experience of your life. Go on and make the rest possible. Good Luck”, Mr. Zaffar commented on what we’re doing on Karakoram Highway. A fascinating day came blissfully to an end. Attabad Lake is a sure miss and the Gulmit Village where we have captured and experienced unforgettable memories.
This would be the last day of our cycling tour. We had to be positive in our mindset to achieve this life achievement. Mr. Zaffar whom we met earlier at Passu and whose company were trekking Shimshal Valley had given us enough hope and courage that for sure we can achieve our goal in our cycling safari and it’s just within our reach today. Our breakfast was ready when we wake up and finished it before 9:15 AM. We had some group photos with Mr. Zaffar and his friends before we could actually set off for another long day bicycle ride.
As we negotiate our 10th Day of Bike Ride, the road condition, as usual, was fantastic and enjoyable. We saw a patch of the straight road now. After riding for an hour, we saw 57 kilometers (35 miles) long Batura Glacier being one of the largest and longest glaciers outside the Polar Regions. The lower portions can be described as a gray sea of rocks and gravelly moraine similar like other glaciers. It is hard to point out a glacier as it has become amalgamated with rocks, mud, and ice in the end of its water movements. A stream of water was also coming from this glacier which was forming a beautiful greenish color lake right on the edge of the road which is called Batura Glacier Lake that can be seen right after the Shimshal Link Road.
There was no major village along the road and our day stop was only Khyber which we reached around 1 PM. We stopped at “DJ Middle School at Khyber”.
Khyber was not a big village. Hence, there are neither hotels nor tea shops to be found. We had our day snacks under a tree and had our nap thereafter. Our feeling cannot be described in words cycling 4 hours non-stop. We could just imagine life to be just simple but we made it more complicated when we initiated our bike tour around Pakistan but in the end finally made it. We left Khyber around 4 PM with the thought that we still had some distance to cover. The road was isolated and lonely with no village and/or human around. After 50 minutes of a ride, we reached a beautiful village of “Ghlapan”. This village consists of 140 families. As we observe, all the available land was utilized properly and expertly. Water canals were seen in place and in order to distribute water in the different corners of the village. We stayed at Ghlapan for awhile then head to Markhun Village.
Markhun is another beautiful village seen along the way to Sost. Upon reaching Markhun, a group of kids run towards us and greeted us. They were all saying hello and Salam. These kids were all students and were coming back after tuition. They had their Religion Subject Test today and happily uttered they have done well. Their merriment passed through their faces.
We had group souvenir photos with them for their remembrance of us. After a fantastic time with the kids, we left for Sost. It is an hour ride from Markhun. We were in Sost at around 6 PM. Finally, we made it to the penultimate destination of our bicycle journey. We couldn’t believe it. But, ALLAH had worked it out and helped us right from the start to the end of our journey.
SOST was a last village before the Pakistan-China border where you could find all types of people from all over Pakistan. Sost is like Punjab being the meeting point of peoples from all walks of life. Sost have many hotels including PTDC (pls. complete abbreviations) model. All the hotels were available in very suitable economic rate with complete facilities. We planned to visit Khunjrab Pass tomorrow being another exciting journey.
In summary, we could say that our bicycle journey around Pakistan is no joking matter as it involves physical endurance and stamina, especially when encountering the Karakoram Highway. Perhaps it’s so easy to look on the map. But, paddling entails stringent physical exercise and determination. It also provides more leeway for observing the peculiarities of places and peoples’ traits that translate to memorable experiences and encounters.
Encountering a number of people along the way and knowing their feedbacks of our bicycle safari around Pakistan in a way is a magnanimous experience for us. As the one famous novel writer quoted, “You can enjoy the weather, scenery, fresh air in a better way when you travel on Cycle or Motorcycle”. “They also don’t have to worry about where the normal people stay, you are traveling and if you like the place, stop and camp there”. These were the very kind true words that motivated us. Honestly, we didn’t enjoy much in Gilgit and Karimabad seemingly being like a city where everyone was too busy. We have special nostalgic affection for the Villages of Jutal, Gulmit-Nagar, Passu, Ghlapan and Markhun where we were treated with special friendship and accommodation.