We will take advantage of this large, quiet park to decide on the rest of the program, and recover a little (the intestinal germ has finally spread to the whole family).
Not possible to miss the North of the country and the mythical Karakoram Highway, the question is how to get there. We would love to be able to immortalize Arty almost at the foot of the Himalayas, but a quick calculation of what a round trip of more than 1000 km to the Hunza Valley, added to the mechanical wear (on a road with difficult portions to cross) would cost us in fuel, and the fatigue of driving in the mountains, we strongly hesitate. The other option would get us completely out of our self-paced journey, as it would mean going for a rental car trip with driver/guide, and of course the hotels, meals… We start to enquire from this side, to have quite a good feeling with Hussain, who contacts us a little by chance via a forum. It is finally with him, that we agree for a guided tour of 6 days/5 nights, for a cost a little higher than estimated by going there with our own vehicle. Departure scheduled in 3 days, it gives us time to attempt an incursion to Peshawar, last great city of the west, and to visit the archaeological site of Taxila, near Islamabad.
Management of some practical aspects: depositing our laundry in a dry-cleaner, and gathering water in one of the water filtration stations where Mr. Everyone comes to refill (the quality of the tap water seems to be a problem, even in the heart of the capital), then direction the west.
Back in the back, I will not see much of this road and the entrance to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including conservative tribal areas (remember that we are not far from Afghanistan). It is at nightfall and at the entrance to the city of Peshawar, just after Fort Bala Hissar, that we will meet our first checkpoint (it is surprising that we did not encounter any before that). No bivouac possible anywhere, obviously (expected). On the other hand, we were hoping to find a hotel that would allow us to stay for the night (even taking a room depending on the budget), but the 2-3 that we try with the help of the police are of a standard too high. And the police, very nice (we will even be treated to a small plate of delicious Afghan rice pulao), do not look very keen to welcome us in their « neighborhood » or organize an escort to allow us to visit the city the next day. Well, a bitter U-turn before we stop for the night on a highway area.
The arrival in Taxila the next day will be via a surprisingly congested road, and we almost fail to notice the museum and the tourist information center at a crossroads. A good fifteen sites to visit, surrounded by inhabited areas if we believe the density of road traffic. We choose to start with the Jaulian site, 7 kms away. The signposts are not the most visible, but we finally arrive at these ruins of a Buddhist monastery (and where many other religions and influences have succeeded to each other) where there is really no crowd (in fact, we will be almost the only visitors). Our guides have a really thick accent, but we manage to follow approximately the explanations (while keeping an eye on Ntyalé who has really wandering hands), and to appreciate modestly the quality of the excavations and the restoration of the ruins, which offer a beautiful view of the valley.
We just have time to visit one or two sites, and following the advice of the guides, we are looking for the sign indicating the site of Bhamala stupa, which apparently offers a beautiful view of the Haro River. Again, we are not at the end of our surprises, it is not a road, but a very narrow track along the stream (turned into a lake at this place because of the huge dam Khanpur downstream), which leads us after a good hour (unfortunately with mandatory sawing of a few branches, and beautiful scratches on the truck’s body) to the archaeological site.
We will be the last visitors of the day just before the break of the fast. The view on the river is indeed very beautiful, and the site, breathing serenity, is still being excavated. Well, it’s nice and all that, but it’s time to take care of the U-turn, because obviously, the icing on the cake at the end of the trip: a tree too low for us! Phew, fortunately we have a pilot behind the wheel, and maneuvering the U-turn, with a tilt, and in the night on a strip of 5m wide, is performed in 30 minutes. No way to get back on the road, we sleep on the spot, but at least in the starting position for the next day.
We leave quietly for Islamabad, and almost hesitate to stop at Taxila where the paradise of mechanics is located and especially for truck art made in Pakistan. But we have some hints that look promising in Lahore, where we expect a good week at the end of our stay.
Heading towards downtown Islamabad, with its large tree-lined avenues and traffic lights where we will be surprised to see transvestites, working alongside women and children.
Barely time to park to recover our laundry…and a beautiful storm bursts with torrential water. It’s like being in the middle of a monsoon! This is where Hussain, our future guide, will join us to get to know each other, and prepare for the departure to the North planned for the next day.
After a short visit to the Faisal Mosque for 4/5 of the family (the rain does not inspire me), we join our Spanish friends Julio and Maialen that we left in Ghalat in Iran, in the Jasmin Park, for a small improvised dinner.
And it is at a late hour in the evening that we will park Arty (entrance to the millimeter) on the site found by Hussain, for a short night before the « great expedition »!