October 19, 2009


9.16 - 10.21

I swear I cycled through a National Geographic magazine when I left Lahore and headed towards the Indian border, only some 30 km away. I cycled through a zoo of animals: water buffalo, cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, kids playing cricket in fields, shepherds guiding their herds to greener pastures, this was much different from the remote mountainous terrain of northern Pakistan, and it was blistering hot. I have no idea how these people worked outside while keeping the fast and not drinking water. I arrived at the Pakistan/India border (there's only one for foreigners) and entered the Pakistan immigration/customs. Everyone inside the building was asleep, wasting away the hours until they could eat again (at least I think that's why...maybe they were just lazy). I had to wake up an officer to stamp me out of Pakistan. I arrived at the India immigration and everyone was very much alive, albeit playing solitaire but upright and somewhat alert. These people weren't fasting, they were of a completely different religion, the Hindu religion. After all, this is the reason Pakistan was created, to provide religious sovereignty for these severely different religions.

Flashback: August 15, 1947. India obtains it's independence from the British. Pakistan and India are separated by drawing a line on a map, creating one country for Muslims and one for Hindus. Drawing the line turns out to be much harder than it sounds, some areas are completely mixed with Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. Jammu and Kashmir is one of these areas. The prince, a Hindi born man, was asked which area he wanted to belong to, Pakistan or Hindustan? He stalled giving a definite answer and shortly after, the Kashmir valley was invaded by an army of Pashtun troops from the newly formed gov't of Pakistan...they were going to take Kashmir for themselves. The prince panicked and called on the Indian army for help against the invaders (somewhat pledging allegiance to the Indian side). And just like that, only 2 months after India won it's independence from the British, they were at war with Pakistan, and essentially they've been going at it ever since. Pakistanie people don't like Indian people and the feelings are most definitely reciprocated. These two groups have a dark history of violence, accusations, hate crimes and murder against each other. The Kashmir valley was never the same, India fought the Pakistan insurgency and recovered 2/3 of the valley while Pakistan violently held onto their third. This is where the Line of Control (LOC) was established and the controversy has ensued ever since, neither side ever came to an agreement on anything. And this was the area in northern India which I was going to cycle through, an extremely popular route with cyclists, one of the highest roads in the world.

Snapping out of the flashback.....first things first, I drank a Sprite in public, not hiding it in a paper bag and sneaking sips, a first in nearly 2 weeks. I then stuck around and attended the famous border closing ceremony between Pakistan and India. It was like a football match, with people filling the stands and cheering/taunting the opposing side (Pakistan). It was a great introduction to India.

I then cycled the remaining 30 km to Amristar (in the dark), Amristar is the home of the Sikh's sacred Golden Temple, a marvelous sparkling bling bling temple that quarters any and everyone who comes to it in need for free. The fact that they housed so many people was simply amazing, people were sleeping all over the place! Foreign tourists get their own seperated room with beds with A/C, while the Indian people got the cold stone floor. Not only did they put everyone up for free, they also fed everyone for free! Granted the food was extremely basic, but keep in mind that India has the second largest population in the world, so you can only imagine the assembly line that is required to feed all these people for free. It was quıite the process.

I found Sikh people to be extremely hospitable and genuinely kind people, I met some Sikhs at the border ceremony earlier that day, after I informed them that I was going to cycle to Amristar (30 km) in the dark, they kindly offered to trail behind me in their motorbikes to fend off the crazy drivers and provide a little more substantial light than my headlamp could provide. We arrived in Amristar where they bought me my first Indian diner and showed me to the Golden Temple. After putting my things away and a quick vetement change, they showed me around the temple, explaining their religion and different parts of the temple. Before entering the main temple, you must remove your shoes and wash your feet in a communal water trough. I was in a conversation with one of the Sikh guys about the temple's promise to house anyone in need, when he stopped and said `see you are our guest and we are honored to have you here` then he swooped his hand down and grabbed a handful of water from the trough and took a sip of it! Keep in mind this is not only the rest of India's dirty feet water, this is also Kyle's dirty feet water, and anyone who has smelled the deathly odors that are emitted from my trench foot can attest for putting my feet stinch into a completely seperate category inside itself! And this guy just drank it! I told him he really didn't have to do that, the fact that this amazingly beautiful place puts me up and feeds me for free is enough proof that I am indeed an honored guest in this place.

I wanted to get through northern India before the snow fell....I had my fair share of snow cycling in China...but Nicole (who was there only a few weeks earlier) informed me that the snow had already beat me to the mountain tops and it was only a matter of time before the passes would be barricaded for the winter. So I needed to hurry up! I had met a Spanish cyclist, Alejandro, in Pakistan a few weeks earlier and when he showed up at the Golden Temple wondering where he would cycle to next, we decided to tackle the Himalayas of northern India together. Alex and I booked a bus to Manali and after 17 hours of roller coaster simulations on one of the slowest and oldest busses humanly possible (it would stop for anyone who needed a ride, 5 km or 500 km) we finally arrived in the Manali. Back in the mountains!

No time for the Israeli new years party; only a nepalese pizza, a few beers and we were off cycling again. Manali had loads of tourists; Indian tourists, foreign tourists and Israeli tourists or more like Israeli habitants. So we hit the road, straight out of Manali the climbing began and never really stopped. Right out of the gates, we climbed over 2000 vertical meters in less than 50 kilometers, by the way, that's brutal! This is where I realized Alex was a freakin machine on the bike! The kid knows how to ride a bike.

So sparing your eyes and mind from downright fatigue which results in skimming the words and dragging the scrollbar until the next picture appears (don't be ashamed, everyone does it), here is the abbreviated version, the cliffnotes from my cycle through northern India.

Alex and I cycled from Manali to Leh (10 days, 500 km) then Leh to Srinagar (6 days, 450 km), up and over some of the highest passes in the world (18,380 ft, 17,580 ft, 16,600 ft, 16,500 ft, etc). Cycling at this altitude is tough, it's almost as if you're body is only able to run at 50% output. You're huffing and puffing, trying to recieve as much oxygen as possible but it's never quite enough. Every 30 minutes or so, you have to stop and let your heart and lungs catch up with the rest of your body. Sleeping at this altitude isn't exactly fluffy clouds and sheed either, as you're constantly tossing and turning in discontent. Nonetheless, we cycled through a beautifully vast landscape that changed culturally from Indian Hindi (Manali) to Tibetan Buddhist (Leh) to Kashmiri Muslim (Srinagar). Cycling the road that runs just south of infamous Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan, at one point we were within 5 km from the Pakistan border.

Traveling through northern India was really interesting given the route that I'd already taken to get here. I'd experıenced the Tıbetan culture from the other sıde of Chına, and the Muslım culture from the Pakıstan sıde. Now all of these cultures met at the border of Indıa and as I traveled through Tibetan Ladakh and Muslım Kashmır, all of these prevıous experıences and memorıes were brought back to lıfe for a brıef moment. 'Juley!' from the Tıbetans, 'Salam Aleykom' from the Kashmiris. The changes were obvıous, one day we cycled past the last Tibetan vıllage and from there on out the people looked dıfferent, they dressed dıfferent, the houses were buılt dıfferently, the red and gold Gompas turned ınto green Mınarets, the spınnıng prayer wheels turned ınto scratchy alarm clocks (calls for prayer) at 5 am, and the peaceful protests for separatısm turned ınto vıolent explosıons that took peoples lıves. Here's an example of the cultural change from east (Tıbetan) to west (Kashmiri muslım)

When we finally arrived in Srinagar, a rather large city, I went to ask a traffic policeman directıons to the 'Dal Gate' area. He said, go this way, turn here, left, right, etc. I said thank you and just as I was pullıng away, he saıd, 'oh yeah, but don't go through Lal Chowk, there was a bomb earlıer today'. I guess that was a mınor detail....sure enough, a mılıtant separatıst had thrown a hand grenade ınto the market only a few hours before I arrived. Me and Srinagar started out on the wrong foot and never dıd seem to get along. The entire Kasmır valley had Indıan soldıers scattered about, on the sıde of hılls, standıng over Kasmırıs harvestıng wheat, surveyıng the land from Kashmırı's rooftops, it was obvıous the Indıan army was fully ıntent on keepıng a strong grıp on that controversıal area.

We met tons of cyclists along the way, with whom we joined forces and created the almighty party train of cyclists.

And that was pretty much the extent of my cyclıng ın India, save the ride to the Delhı airport. I was entertaınıng the ıdea of cyclıng through central and north eastern India and ınto Nepal but one week of 'rest' ın Delhi made me decide otherwise. I hadn't had a solıd poo ın nearly 7 days and the mayhem of vulture salesman in Delhi was too much for me after nearly 10 months in Asia. So I said my goodbyes to everyone I'd grown so close to (we were lıke famıly) and I bought a one way tıcket to Istanbul where I would contınue my trıp through the Mıddle East.

Here's some stats up to this point:

Total distance cycled: 8860 km (5,505 miles)
Total elevation gained: 110,114 m (361,266 ft)
Total time on bike: 558 hr

I think I've maxed out Blogger with pıctures, sorry ıf the format looks weird. And props to Alex for the nıce photos...I really need to get a better camera.

October 16, 2009

Pakistan, my love

8.16 - 9.15

The northern areas of Pakistan were absolutely lovely, everything was just so drastic and extreme. The road somehow adhered to the side of extremely steep mountains, it was best not to look down at certain points. Northern Pakistan actually reminded me of Alaska in that it was still very much geologically active. Just cycling the stretch from Sost to Gilgit, you knew that you were following the same path that a glacier had traveled while carving out the valley, only a few geological minutes before. Every now and then, you'd see this majestic white-caped monster in the distance, then the jaw would drop and the cycle would come to a stop.

From an engineering perspective, certain parts of the road were only temporarily held together, as the local and global slope stability were inevitably doomed for failure, the slopes were incredibly steep both above and below the road and as soon as the first decent rain fell, the road completely fell apart as did the friction between the scree and boulders that hung out above the road. I was lucky enough to experience both; local failures, where a part of the road would slide or the rocks above would block the road, and global failures where the entire road would wash away and have to be rebuilt. What a freakin nightmare to maintain, but then again, where else can you travel by road through such a amazing amphitheater of 7 and 8 thousand meter peaks? I never dared listen to music while cycling the KKH, my ear was always open for the slightest sound of a rock slide, which occurred more than once while cycling.

Building roads where they have no business being

The people that live in the northern areas of Pakistan are mostly Ismalis, just like the isolated Pamiri people of Tajikistan (I think Agha Khan has a thing for helping remote people...and making them praise him). The Ismalis of Pakistan are similar to those of Tajikistan in that they don't adhere to a strict and conservative way of life as the rest of the Muslim community does. The women can actually be seen(!) without head scarves, the men don't all wear the traditional dresses, there are no mosques blaring calls for prayer at 5 am, and most importantly they don't participate in the fast (Ramadan). Since I hadn't yet experienced the fast with the rest of the muslim community, I didn't fully appreciate this fact until I reached Islamabad. Another interesting fact about the people of northern Pakistan, they can't vote yet they're still governed by the laws from which they have no say, there is a big push for partial or full autonomy.

Hiding to take a drink of water
Ramadan was an interesting time to be in Pakistan

So Konup and I only cycled about 40 km each day, trying to take our sweet, sweet time, delaying the inevitable end of cycling on the KKH. We arrived in Hunza, the place the pajama boss asked me to take further motorized transportation, where we ended up spending 4 days in this beautiful place. The vibe was ever so pleasant, the views were spectacular, and this was our first internet since Kyrgyzstan (nearly 3 weeks ago). Rakaposhi, the 7,788 m (25,551 ft) giant was basically in our back yard.

Our back yard, Rakaposhi in white

After hearing tons of positive and safe reports from locals and fellow cyclists, I decided to continue cycling past Hunza until Gilgit, only about 100 km south. Everyone unanimously advised us against traveling further south from Gilgit, so this was where my wheels took their final turn on the KKH. Gilgit was my first real Pakistanie town, which was filled with hungry muslim men, counting down the hours until the sun would finally set, all in the same dresses. All the restaurants were closed save the one tourist guesthouse (Madina's guesthouse is awesome by the way). I really felt for the men who cooked our food, laboring all day surrounded by the delicious aromas of food, with their stomachs screaming for just a morsel.

Bloody visas! [as my 52 yr old German friend often bickered]. Visas are probably the most difficult, hectic and expensive aspect of traveling, especially when you're from America. Americans typically pay much more than the average traveler. I wanted to continue to Turkey via Iran, which is said to have absolutely beautiful landscapes and an extremely hospitable [yet highly misunderstood] culture. However after some brief research and a few emails, my hopes for crossing Iran were crushed. American's require a guide and a strict itinerary, which must be followed. I was quoted at 150 Euros per day for the guide service. So I decided that I would continue to India after Pakistan and cycle the northern India Himalayan loop that is quite popular with cyclist. But I needed an Indian visa first [ahhh the catch], which was said to take two weeks to obtain from Islamabad. First of all, bombs regularly rattle Islamabad, which is no place to spend two weeks dodging land mines secretly eating food from the quicke-mart, so the plan was to take a bus to Islamabad, apply for the Indian visa, return to Gilgit and cycle the Deosai plains, returning to Islamabad just in time to receive my visa, then I would have to race to the Pakistan tourist office and extend my visa on the same day (as my Pakistan visa would expire the day after I received my passport). Visas are a freakin logistical nightmare and most of the time I spend more money on the visa than I do for my entire duration of stay in the country. In addition to this madness, Central Asia countries require you to specify the start and end date of the visa, instead of the usual start the day I enter the country. Get with the program stan countries!
(Pakistan - $150 - 1 month)
(Tajikistan - $40 - 1 month)
(Kyrgyzstan - $70 - 1 month)
(China - $120 - double entry, 1 month each entry)
(India - $70 - 6 month)

My bus ride from Gilgit to Islamabad actually took somewhere around 17 crammed, sleepless hours. I sluggishly exited the bus, put on my slacks from China, then proceeded to the diplomatic enclave to apply for my Indian visa. Simply getting into the diplomatic area is a crazy process of paranoid bomb prevention, filled with pat downs, canine explosive sniffing and a war zone of armed guards pointing machine guns at you. I applied for my Indian visa and just as I was leaving the embassy, it started to lightly rain. I jumped on the bus back to Gilgit later that afternoon [this would be my encounter with both failures of the KKH]. I actually ran into two cycling friends in Islamabad, Dan and Krista (http://www.ridehimalaya.com) who jumped on a plane about the same time I jumped back on the bus back to Gilgit. They actually arrived back in Australia before I arrived back in Gilgit (seriously!) My 17 hour bus ride turned into a 33 hour nightmare, barricaded by rock slides and the road simply washing away.

This guy fell asleep on me

It took two days of stretching and relaxing to recover from that one. The rain continued and the road continued to wither away. I waited the rain out for 3 days and man...it was seriously coming down, constantly pouring for 3 days, creating one of the worst and unsafest conditions for the road. So I wisely decided not to continue cycling to the Deosai plains but instead wait a few extra days in Gilgit and return to the Indian embassy early in hopes that my visa would be ready.

The people! The people of Pakistan were possibly the friendliest I've encountered on this entire trip. People would stop you in the street, shake your hand, and ask if there was anything they could do for you. "You are a guest in my country, can I do anything for you?" It wasn't uncommon to have someone grab you by the hand, take you to a store, buy you a coke and a bag of chips, exchange a few kind words, then say goodbye. Everyone expressed a concern for an incorrect and menacing portrayal of the Muslim community as terrorists. The Taliban have received such international attention lately that almost everyone would express some sort of disapproval for the Taliban, saying things like 'they call themselves Muslims....these people are not Muslims!' There was a lot of animosity towards the Taliban and the media for bringing such a negative connotation to the Muslim community.

Guns! Guns were everywhere in Pakistan, I'm talking ubiquitous, everywhere. Walk into Pizza Hut and there's a guard with a sawed off shotgun to welcome you. Every ATM had an armed guard. The Chinese workers on the KKH all had armed guards watching over them. The second day in Pakistan, I saw a video from a cell phone of a Pakistanie guy shooting an anti-aircraft gun into the sky. Guns are just a part of everyday life in Pakistan. One day Konup and I were cycling through a tiny village and decided to stop for a soda, we sat on a bench sipping our sodas when two armed guards approached us and started to ask us how we were enjoying Pakistan, to which we replied...'no problem' [which eventually turned into our instinctive response to almost every question]. We asked if we could take pictures with these tough looking guys with such tough looking guns. They agreed and we posed beside them for a few shots, then out of nowhere, they handed the guns to us, gave us their hats and aviator glasses and took pictures of us.

One thing I realized in Pakistan was how fundamentally different Islam is from Christianity. Whereas most of our western churches only give us a rough guideline of how to live, where the ultimate decision is made within the person, Islam gives a distinct set of laws which must not be violated. In Islamic countries, for example, if someone is caught stealing they are taken to the state court and tried under it's laws. Adversely, if someone is caught drinking, they are taken to Islamic court (yeah...it's illegal for Pakistanie people to drink). There is a distinction between crimes against Islam and crimes against the state and each are treated differently. I found this interesting.

So with some persistence, a healthy smile and a pair of slacks from China, I was able to pick up my Indian visa 5 days early. I spent my remaining days in Pakistan having my mind blow away by the artistic, mystical and somewhat comical culture of Sufi muslims in Lahore (the most progressive city in Pakistan). Sufi's believe in using various alternative ways to reach higher levels of spiritual enlightenment, ranging anywhere from art to music to trance (shaking their heads uncontrollable for four hours to drums) to smoking hash to whipping themselves until blood is pouring down their own backs. Lahore is a crazy cool place, only 20 km from the Indian border, a place where Islamic mystics (if they deserve this term) are on display each Thursday night, a place where a subway is manned by a man with a shotgun, a place that actually just had three bombs explode last week.

So that closes the Pakistan book, what an absolutely beautiful country, amazingly rich culture, from north to south, I definitely didn't expect it to be this cool.

Here's some stats from the end of Pakistan:
Total Distance cycled - 7632 km (4,742 miles)
Total Elevation gained - 95,939 m (314,760 ft)
Total time on bike (butt on Brooks) - 480 hr - 52 min

I also uploaded most of my pictures from Pakistan here:
And my pictures from China here:

Glorious, glorious KKH

It was best not to look down, this was the view from inside the jeep to Fairy Meadows.
Two inches stood between us and a sheer cliff

This was the road to Fair Meadows (picture above) supported by hand placed rocks, scary

Konup and I slept under the stars just off the KKH

Me and some hungry Pakistanie workers on the KKH, dressed in typical Pakistanie fashion

Me at Nanga Parbat basecamp

The Killer, Nanga Parbat from Fairy Meadows

Pakistanie kids also dressed in the typical fashion


We walked this suspension bridge near Passu

View from my tent in Passu

The meeting of the three mountain ranges
[Karakoram Range, Himalayan Range and Hindu Kush]

October 11, 2009

China revisited, The Karakoram Highway

8.2 - 8.16

So I arrived back in Kashgar, nearly 2 months after my first visit and what a noticeable change in atmosphere. The riots in Urumqi, followed by an aftershock of unrest in Kashgar, were only about 3 weeks before my arrival and the town was now dominated by an overwhelming military presence ensuring order and communist compliance. Seriously, there were masses of heavily armed military trucks just driving in circles around the city waiting for a problem (or excuse) to kick some Uyghur ass. I'd seen this previously in the Tibetan town of Ganze where the military presence was outnumbering the Tibetan population 10:1 and we were told that monks and foreigners weren't allowed to use the internet. The town of Kashgar had turned into the same story, except this time the Chinese government had basically blacked out the entire Xinjiang province from communicating with the outside world. No internet, no international calls or faxes, nothing....it was an interesting time to be in Kashgar, but we took it in stride nonetheless. There were hardly any tourists in Kashgar (most had canceled their plans after the riots) but there were tons of cyclists! We spent our nights not being slaves to spacebook, but rather eating weird Chinese dishes (like donkey meat pies), drinking cheap beer, sharing stories from the road and somewhat enjoying our detachment from the rest of the world. We did tourist things during the day, visited markets, explored old town Kashgar, sat in the park and read books, wondered through the Sunday animal market. I found a Merida bike shop with a new Shimano rear hub and just like that I was back in the bicycle game.

Military convoys dominated the streets

Relaxing with other cyclists in Kashgar

Sunday animal market

This is where I met Michal (aka Konup), a Czech cyclist who had cycled all the way from Czech Republic to Kashgar (across Russia and Kazakstan). Here is his website: http://konup.nastole.cz/wp/

We met in the western restaurant in Kashgar and this is how the friendship was born:
'My english not so good and I a little drunkie but the road is very good road!' - referring to the amazing views from the not so amazing quality of road connecting China to Kyrgyzstan.

I initially thought he'd been cycling alone for too long and he'd gone mad (kind of like those people who just start talking to themselves out of nowhere) but turns out the owner of the restaurant was desperate for business and kept feeding him shots of cobra whiskey (literally there was a cobra soaking in the whiskey). I said goodnight to the crazy Czech cyclists and returned to my dorm room, 30 minutes later he came stumbling in and crashed on the bed next to mine. The next morning he explained the owners generosity with the cobra serum (with a hand on his forehead), he didn't speak the best English and my Russian was a bit rusty but we instantly became friends. He also had a nice camera so props goto him for most of the awesome pictures on this blog.


So I was heading to the Ninth Wonder of the World, the Karakoram Highway, which connects western China to Pakistan, at this point I was heading alone which was a little unnerving regardless of the positive report from the rest of Team 7. Konup and I were heading in the same direction (once I convinced him to bag his Tibet trip and head to Pakistan) so we decided to cycle together from Kashgar. The Chinese government had set up additional checkpoints for Uyghur and foreign people on the road, which had reportedly given some cyclist problems, so Konup and I cycled along a backroad for the first 10 kilometers until the first major checkpoint was dodged. From there it was a beautiful stretch of flat, deserty, dry, somewhat remote road all the way to Karakul Lake (my third Karakul Lake on this trip...one in Kyrgyzstan, one in Tajikistan, and one in China). I forgot to put on ample sunscreen from Kashgar and the Donkey Meat Pies were wreaking havoc on both of our stomachs, so we ended up spending a day recovering in a Kyrgyz yurt at Karakul Lake, which was one of the most beautiful places in the world to recover.

Our humble abode at Karakul Lake

After some 15 hours of sleep and a well needed break from the sun, we started cycling towards the Chinese border town of Tashkurgan. The road from Kashgar to Tashkurgan was absolutely beautiful. It only took us 2.5 days of cycling to reach Tashkurgan from Kashgar and from there the Chinese government requires all independent travelers to take a bus up and over the Khunjerab Pass (the official Chinese Pakistan border) to the Pakistan border town of Sost. After one night in Tashkurgan (yet another disgusting Chinese border town) a bus ticket was bought and I was finally stamped out of China for the second and final time.

I had spent a total of 70 days in China on this trip. I had a quick flash back, kind of a mental slideshow of memories along my Chinese journey (my entry into southern China alone, being offered maggots wrapped in a banana leaf, the beautiful hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge, teaching english in a Tibetan classroom, my tazmanian devil Giradia experience, the wind/sand/snow storm that almost took my rainfly straight off my tent, cycling 10 days on the remote Tibetan plateau, saying goodbye to the rest of Team 7, the whorehouse hotel in Urumqi, beginning my solo adventure from Kashgar). China has been a large part of my trip and I did some serious growing in this wonderful country.

This all came as I was on the bus, riding to the Pakistan border with a bus of Pakistanie men completely decked out in Salwar Kameez. I was pulled out of my reminiscent daze by a Pakistanie man tapping me on the shoulder. I turned around, he was an older man, one of the more serious looking bald men with a huge white beard, he struck me as extremely religious.

"I hope I'm not bothering you but I wanted to ask you a question" - Pakistanie man
"Sure, go ahead" - I just knew he wanted to ask me which country I was from, I had already decided I would tell everyone I was from Canada
"I wanted to ask you how many women you poked in China" - Pakistanie man with a grin on his face
"Uhh, none" - I did not see that one coming
The Pakistanie man points to his friend sitting in the front (another ultra religious looking elder) and says "Three"

We all laughed hysterically and that served as my introduction to Pakistanie people. We had great conversation with the men on the bus, everyone spoke extremely good english served with a thick layer of wit and a hint of playfulness that had me feeling much more at ease about the uncertainty for the days that lie ahead.

As we approached the top of Khunjerab pass, we started to ask the driver if we could cycle the remaining 80 km to the Pakistan border town of Sost. After some resistance and consistent debate, we were allowed to get off the bus and finish the remaining 80 km by bicycle. This was an absolutely beautiful stretch of road, I still didn't have a visa for Pakistan and I was already stamped out of China, so technically I was illegally in Pakistan (yup...an American illegally in Pakistan). The views were so breathtaking that the idea of racing the 80 km to immigration/customs just seemed like a crime. So we decided to take our sweet time, stopping every 5 minutes to take a picture and soak in the beautiful, remote, jagged mountains that surrounded this astonishing road. The simple fact that this road was successfully built and still somewhat maintained was nothing short of amazing, it definitely wasn't an easy task building it. Something like 2 workers died for every kilometer of the KKH, something I didn't like to think about too much. However there were tons of Pakistanie and Chinese people working on the road, each working in their separate ethnic groups; each time we'd pass a Pakistanie group, work would stop and cheers and eruptions of positive energy would come from the workers, the Chinese would just stop and stare with a cigarette in their mouths. We also realized that we'd somehow timed our visit during Ramadan, the month of sun-up to sun-down fasting observed by the muslim world. No food, no water, no bacon, nothing while the sun is up, this is going to be interesting.

The road zigzagged through an amazing valley, dwarfed by 7 and 8 thousand meter peaks. My jaw was dropped and my eyes were stuck in a buy-eyed fashion. We spent the night in 'no man's land', legally out of China and illegally in Pakistan. The next morning we awoke and completed the remaining kilometers through a beautiful stretch of road and arrived in Sost at customs/immigration. I still didn't have a visa and could easily be turned back to China if they were in a sour mood, so I entered the building with a polite demeanor, knowing that I was at the mercy of the officer on duty.

I was immediately greeted by an officer who looked as tough as Stalone with a stern face
"Who told you it was ok to get off the bus?" - Tough guy
[Pause] [Pause] [Pause] "the driver" - I'll never get the visa now
"IT IS NOT ALLOWED!" - Tough guy in an even tougher voice

I'm definitely not getting the visa now, he looked at me smoking his cigarette through a cupped hand, on a rating of 1-10 on manliness, this guy was at 100. He made me want to grab an axe and start chopping wood, eat a steak for breakfast and possibly chase it with a glass of bourbon. He took my passport and hesitantly started filling out my visa. 5 minutes and $150 later (yeah, American visas cost $150, Czech Republic was free), my visa was glued into my passport and everything was filled in save the signature. I sat in a hallway with Konup for 30 minutes, waiting for them to hand me back my passport, wondering what was taking them so long. Then opened the main door and entered a man dressed in what resembled blue pajamas, accompanied by 4 tough looking body guards. This guy was the boss of something, did he just get out of bed?. The boss and his cronies walked into an office and 2 minutes later I was summoned inside. We asked if they wanted both of us but they only wanted to see me. So I walked into this office with the pajama boss siting behind a desk and his cronies occupying the remaining chairs,
"So you are from America?" - Pajama Boss "Where do you want to go in Pakistan?"
I replied with Islamabad (the capital) to which he quickly responded "Not allowed". "I mean Gilgit?" - this is only as far as I wanted to cycle, some 200 km away, to which he again replied "Not allowed", "Ok, so where can I go in Pakistan?" - a little confused at the question, "Hunza" - he replied. Hunza! This was only some 100 km away from here, and why was he not telling this to the Czech guy? The pajama boss then began an explanation of how the Taliban were gaining ground and how it was not safe for me past Hunza. Wow, this took that comfort gained from the playful Pakistanie guys on the bus directly away from me. I agreed to everything he said, kind of like saying 'yes sir' to everything the principal says, just to get him to sign the visa form and make me a legal tourist in Pakistan.

So I left the customs office a little disturbed. Sost, my first Pakistanie town, was like something out of a horror movie. There were only men walking around this town, men all dressed in the same clothing (Kameez dresses). What a drastic change from China! Even the places which you could typically find at least one women were replaced with only men. The markets had only men buying and selling vegetables, the tailors were all men, all restaurants were only men eating, cooking, preparing, serving food, all men in the same dresses.

So Konup and I ate a meal (prepared and served by only men) then grabbed a hotel room. The words from the pajama boss were still ringing in my head bringing my American pride to an alltime low. When we checked into a hotel and were asked to fill in the registration form, I just copied Konup's information into my space, altering a few numbers and letters here and there, basically saying that we were neighbors in Czech.

Later that night we grabbed diner at the hotel (prepared and served by one man this time). Mind you Konup has a thick Russian sounding accent and a limited English vocabulary, he uses his hands in illustration most of the time, so when we carry on a conversation, it's rather obvious that we're not from the same country and especially not hometown neighbors (we're speaking English for crying out loud!). So as we carried on a broken conversation at diner, the owner brought tea to our table and politely inquired "What is your countries language?" We both opened our mouths simultaneously saying two different things. I replied with English while Konup replied with Czech. The owner gave a satisfied response of "ok", kind of like saying "that's what I thought". I felt terrible, the owner didn't seem to care and that turned out to be the first and last time I lied about my nationality in Pakistan.

More Pakistan to come....Pictures (props to Konup for the good ones!)

Most wanted Uyghurs

Mao illuminated at night in new city Kashgar

a little cramped? Store front in Old City Kashgar

The Karakoram Highway in China

Larger than life, Muztagh Ata, me riding towards Karakul Lake

The view from our yurt at Karakul Lake, Muztagh Ata mountain

Beautiful campspot second day from Kashgar

Uyghur men eating boiled sheep's heads in Kashgar, they said the tongue was the best