Waking up at sunrise, a very long first day on the road awaits us. We board Hussain’s small Nissan, a little surprised by the car category chosen for a road that looks long and sometimes battered. Objective: to reach Chilas, more than 500 kms away via Abottabad, Manserah and Besham, a longer route (nearly 120 kms) than the one going through the Babushar Pass, unfortunately for us not yet open.
The first very green landforms appear as early as Abottabad. As expected, traffic is congested, especially in Besham. Sections in works with construction equipment with ruts, somewhat complicated crossings on the side of steep rock faces, appear ones after the others. Fortunately, the company and the explanations of Hussain (who drives very well), embellish this long and tiring journey. We learn so much about the region, the history of the country, marked of course by the rivalry with the powerful Indian neighbor, which probably explains to a large extent the strong (especially economic) ties with the no less crushing Chinese neighbor. It is also China that finances and ensures largely the renovation of this highway, and the construction of a huge dam on the Indus. No better way to ensure a more direct opening on the Pakistani ports…
The landscape changes gradually to become more rocky, with the first snow-capped peaks in the distance. The road follows the course of the Indus, whose brown and bubbling waters mingle with turquoise torrents directly coming from melting glaciers. Magnificent. All this under a beautiful sun, which illuminates the different shades of rocks and suspension bridges leading to improbable tracks and remote villages.
Not to mention the small waterfalls and the springs, where the locals or passing drivers get refreshed or…polish their moped and even their truck! And we cannot miss the safety rails and completely crashed poles, witnesses of the probably frequent landslides. All the fragility of human constructions in the face of an indomitable nature…
We do not really know how we succeed in (well, especially the children) keeping up with 15h of road, with a minimum of stops. Hussain, who for the first time drives tourists on this road, had « a little » underestimated the duration, and we arrive at Chilas after 9pm. Small issue at the hotel that is not the one originally planned, and where we will have the opportunity to test a hotel service (not a bad thing, the first since the departure!), a la Pakistani, entirely provided by representatives of the male gender. Very average, but at least, despite the power cuts, the generator takes over and we can spend a well deserved cool night!
The two days will be a succession of real slaps of beauty, on a much better road. We never tire of these landscapes of high mountains that would almost make us want to embark on trekking and mountaineering to be familiar with the summits.
It is too late to organize an expedition to Fairy Meadows that would allow us to observe the Nanga Parbat (8126 m) fairly closely, so we will be satisfied with the view point from the road between Gilgit and Chilas.
Mount Rakaposhi (7788 m) will offer us the view of its magnificent glacier almost perpendicular to the road and its summit from the hotel in the village of Ali Abad, near Karimabad, where we will spend 2 nights. The meeting point of the 3 mountain ranges of the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush Range, along the roadside, will also be one of the must see where we will pose.
Hussain warned us: the Hunza Valley is a special region in Pakistan, even more in these mountainous lands and with very patriarchal traditions: until now almost never seen in public spaces (except for some colorful spots in the fields or at the edge of the rivers), women are more visible here, keep shops, drive cars. And where we expected facial features closer to Tibet and Nepal, these are rather Caucasian faces that we see.
We will finally decide to try the round trip to Kundjerab Pass, border post with China, the highest in the world, at 4600 m. Some 150 kms of a splendid road later, with lake Atabad, veritable mirror of turquoise water (on which ferries ensured the continuity of the highway before the construction of the tunnel), and the Hussaini bridge, suspension bridge on the Hunza River. We will only cross Sost, the last big city before Kundjerab.
We hardly ever see any vehicle on the last 20 kilometers leading to the border crossing. This road looks like a no Man’s Land, but much more beautiful, the mountains have golden reflections, and one would almost want to eat the Cones Mountains, a series of dark chocolate covered peaks covered with ice. All with the sound of Pakistani summer hits. Memorable…
Little by little, the snow appears, as well as some herds of yaks and…marmots! We cover ourselves to go out under light snowflakes and to cross the pavement of this road full of symbols, until the barrier a few tens of meters before the big portico of the Chinese side. A little fatigue for the children, but phew, everybody reacted well to the climb and the high altitude.
Highlight of the show: Abbas, owner of the hotel, will accompany us with his own vehicle (to spare Hussain’s) to Hoper Glacier, a 1h30 drive away. Easy access, we can even venture a little on this wide river of stone-covered snow blocks, and take the sights in.
This busy schedule will not give us the time to wander the streets of Ali Abad and enjoy its spring air, and finally, only the Altit Fort will be visited.
Already time to leave, we then start the return trip that will last 2 days, our heads full of memories, children and adults.
We will not deprive ourselves to take pictures on the way back (often the same as during the first trip, but better), where we even meet Julio and Maialen leaving too to discover this beautiful region.