Friday, November 03, 2006

8000 meters

After a few days in Gilgit, watching polo and chatting with other backpackers we decide to go see the famous Nanga Parbat Rupal face. Nanga Parbat, 8125m, marks the begining of the Himalaya range on the other side of the Indus, and its north face stretches 4500m high. Amazingly, you can almost drive up to the base camp, it's just a short 3-hours walk to reach it (as opposed to 1 week to get to K2 base camp). Unfortunately, while the weather was good until now, clouds start to build up as we reach the bottom of the face the top of the mountain is hidden. We even get some rain during the night (which means snow at Khunjerab for our fellow English bikers Tom and Peter as we will find out later).

Time to get down in the valley. The Indus valley at this point, which is so narrow and steep that the raod has been carved all the way into the cliff. Very impressive. It starts to rain again so we overnight in Besham, only customers of the hotel, so we get a very good price.

From there on the weather and the landscape changes radically: it's now hot and humid, and the buffaloes replace the yaks on the side of the road. I even cross a couple camels, but the one-humped kind, not Bactrians camels. This is definitely another country, and indeed we're now in Punjab, and this shows also in the traffic which gets progressively more intense and chaotic.

Arriving in Islamabad, we pitch our tent in the tourist campsite, reserved to foreginers, and heavily guarded by police outside and soldiers inside. But the atmosphere is good and of course we meet many other tourists on foot, bicycle, motorbike, car, 4x4, truck, you name it.

Islamabad is not very interesting, being a new city planned from scratch to become the capital of the new state. We came there for the sole purpose of getting an Indian visa. All embassies are grouped in a heavily guarded enclave where it's forbidden to enter on foot, you have to use a special shuttle after having given away your cameras, cell phones, etc.. And since Prince Charles in currently touring Pakistan the police is pretty cranky.

Our passports in the hands of the Indians, we have to wait 1 week for ours visa, which we hope will allow us 6 months (but the rumor here says you can get only 3 months). Meanwhile we chill out, chat with other people and do some maintenance on the bikes (as usual, Anders like to do some mechanics, for himself and others. I on the other hand go by the rule "if it ain't broken, don't fix it").


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