Whatever you might think about what you read next, just remember I’ve had a great time in Pakistan so far.
But to start from the beginning…
Everything happened right as usual with border problems and an expired visa – Again.
I was on my way out of China, slowly rolling up the beginning Himalayan mountain ranges, with less and less Chinese tourist the father I got. I had met a couple from New Zealand called Tim and Alex who cycled out from Kashgar a couple of days before me. They had been sent back to Kashgar though after camping by the road about 45 kilometers from the city, so I managed to catch up with them about 40 kilometers from the border where they asked me:
“Have… you.. by any chance been stopped by some sort of customs officers in the city 80 kilometers back?“
“Huh? What? No?
“Weird… We had heard that we would have to get a stamp somewhere around here, but the bazillion officers along the road just keep waving us on.“
Shit! Damnit! Ass! It all made pretty good sense to me because the border had also been divided into 3 instances over 120 kilometers coming into China. They had just landed in China and wanted to cycle from Kashgar to Islamabad, and were therefore in no hurry. I, of course, had a visa that would expire 3 days later.
So I race onward to the next millionth blinking police station, and after a bit of explaining found out, yes – we were all missing a bloody stamp from a city 80 kilometers back. The official I talked to told me I had to be at the customs office 11:30 the next day. So I raced back, told the Kiwi’s and kept going late into the night. Next day bright and early 11:30 (Beijing time, of course, not local – because fuck you that’s why.) I was parked at the gates of the customs office, where a confused man looked at me and with wavy gestures made it clear the place was closed on the weekends. Great – Stuck in China for another weekend.
Sunday night a beautiful pushy little Chinese American half my size somehow managed to empty enough Jack D down my throat that, yes – I missed the 11:30 Beijing time window, which meant the Kiwi’s now coach up to me, and we were all shoved into a bus towards the border after they had padded me down, taken my confession, fingers prints and whatever else they needed before I was allowed to leave with my expired piece of paper China.
To be honest, I’ve felt a bit bad about how negative I was the last week I was in China – until I road across the border that is. Pakistan and China are like day and night when it comes to how friendly, talkative and hospital people are. This is the morning after sleeping next to the home of a local farmer. I’ve talked to more people in the week I’ve been here than the 3 months I was in China.
A kick to the nuts of your comfort zone
Pakistan takes your comfort zone and kicks it right in the nuts from the first day you arrive here. EVERYONE wants to talk to you, EVERYONE wants to shake your hand, look at you, have a selfie with you, give you some sort of present or invite you to have tea with them. For a long while you will feel like royalty – you do need to have patience and happily accept a certain amount of selfies per day.
You’ll see 5-year-old kids crawling up onto a 4 meters tall pile of some sort of packed goods on the end of a truck to hitch a ride home from school. You’ll walk past the local butchers and hear a “SQUAAAARK!“, look back and realize he just chopped off the head of a chicken, and see him wipe his huge knife off in a red and brown blood-soaked cloth on the table.
You’ll be riding dangerously close to the edge where the tarmac doesn’t just end, but so does ground that keeps you from falling off the mounted and a long drop and certain death.
No matter how lazy or introvert you are – You won’t be bored here – not for a minute.
I apparently have a taste for Pakistani food, because I’ve been stuffing myself with, for me, surprisingly many new dishes. But what really blows my mind though is how I’ve been eating all these different tasty meats for a good long week now, and not once has my butt exploded in a fountain of diarrhea – which I would kinda expect when seeing an image like this.
Kalashnikovs and kidnapji
After a couple of days of cycling, I was getting closer and closer to the “line of control” – I had talked to police here and there but it was mostly just a couple of random city “cops” or border police, oh yeah and the Pakistani Intelligence something something, because they found out I had a visa to continue into India.
One morning I was woken up by 4 friendly guys with Kalashnikovs, who… Well.. Just wanted to talk and even tried to help a bit. No matter how friendly you are, it still feels a bit weird packing your house and bed while 4 strangers with guns are looking at you. I got everything wrapped up, even my now 4th puncture and got on my way to the next city, Chilas.
About 20 kilometers from the city I had my 5th puncture of the whole trip and tried to find a private’ish little corner of the village I was in to fix it. Even though a bunch of kids spotted me and soon attracted the attention of some more people, inclusive a guy that spoke next to no English.
He said something. Something I’ll probably never truly know what meant because it was completely out of context since I only recognized the words:
“…mobildi e kidnapji…“
Even though he said it twice I still just dismissed it as misunderstood jibber jabber from my part. But then, the same day 15 kilometers later I was resting in a plastic chair at a little shop, sitting shoulder to shoulder with this big bearded Pakistani fellow with about 7 or 8 other guys sitting and standing around talking, asking me a few questions here and there, when all of sudden, the guy kneeling in front of me says the same thing at least 2:
“…mobildi e kidnapji…“
I wasn’t really sure what to make of it and again shrugged it off as me misunderstanding something taken out of context – Even though… I shortly after said, “nice to meet you guy, and goodbye“.
I tried asking someone about it later, who absolutely didn’t want to talk to about and instead hurried on to say it was a very safe area. I choose to believe they were talking about me more out of concern than anything sinister, it was just a weird to hear it twice in one day by 2 different people.
I arrived a crossroad that would either lead me 3000 meters back up into the Babusar mountaintop and towards Islamabad or an extra 150 kilometers around. The police wouldn’t let me pass over the mountains at that on my bike because of “security” as they said – so I continued into Chilas, where the police very quickly caught up with me again and explained I had to follow them to a secure hotel where they had guards posted. The place was a “bit out” of my price range, so I was pointed towards an ATM 4 kilometers further up into the main part of the city.
It this point I should probably tell you, it was boiling hot and I had had no dinner the day before and no breakfast this morning, so it felt like the 4 k’s would kill me before I reached the top. But then, once again, the police found me – I wasn’t allowed to ride around without an escort? Well… Fine by me – Bring me to the bank then. As I was more and more desperately trying to curse the ATM machine back to hell for not working, I had to keep sitting down so as not to keel over. After the third ATM I staggered back out to the cops, sweating like a pig and white in the face and murmured:
“…something something hotel please…“
I broke out my emergency 100 dollar bill, went into my room and collapsed on the bed. Something had definitely changed from the first couple of days in Gilgit, and the next I found out just how much.
Maybe I’m just cheap, but I don’t get hotels – I admit, this particular room looks pretty awesome, and wasn’t the most expensive room I’ve ever stayed in. But I would choose the cheapest hotel any day of the week as long as it has working electricity, a shower and maybe even Wi-Fi…
I DON’T CARE how worn down things are, how ugly the color of the walls are or even if it’s not 100 % germaphobicly clean. I just popped into a hotel that wanted to charge me 10.000 rupees or 80 Euro’s for their cheapest room, while the one I ended up in a kilometer further down the street only wanted 1.000 rupees. I’m not paying for your hotel renovation, I just want a place to lie down for a couple of hours and I can’t do that if I’m mad about the extra 9.000 rupees I just pissed down the drain FOR SLEEPING!
Whenever you… Or more accurately your body starts talking to you, remember it’s always temporary and whatever you’re trying to do is not necessarily a bad idea (this might be an exception though) – It’s just your body’s desperate way of giving you its “opinion” on the current state of things.
- Like when you are so tired you feel like puking, that apparently means – “feed me you asshole!”
- Or when you start feeling dizzy and sad, that means – “I’m freezing!! I’m tired! Get warm and go’ to sleep, please!“
- And finally, if you start feeling overly angry, frustrated or even aggressive – That could just mean, “this shit is HARD! Do something easy, I like easy!”
Or at least that’s some of the limited body vocabularies my body has. You can either choose to ignore it, suppress it or try to distract your head so it just won’t listen – or do something about it. If you do the latter then you’ll experience a sudden explosion of endorphins and happiness followed by a sadness of having abandoned your plan.
So just try to stick it out or accept you feel like shit, know it’s temporary, try and do something to make your body happy — but stick to your plan, you’ll be happy and proud of yourself if you do.
High risk area
By the next morning, I had figured out that something was definitely going on in this area and I probably shouldn’t argue too much with the police, which you actually can do here. If you pull out your best salesman skills, stay determent and a little stubborn, the police will actually listen to you – They will go’ a long way to try and give you as a tourist what it is you want – which is pretty amazing. I’ve had salesmen working under me that had no clue that was what they were there for, to try and help give the “customer” what they were looking for.
Good job Pakistani police!
With that said, I didn’t imagine they were following me around because they liked they liked the smell of my farts, but because there is an actual security risk, and especially for a white blond European cycling on hardware expensive enough to keep a family or a certain cause going for a good while longer.
Police mobile marathon
I’ve tried my absolute best to by any means get to cycle all the way from Denmark to India, but I “only” made it to China before I was forced to put my bike into a car and skip ahead the first time. So I tried to cycle extra kilometers to catch up on what I had “lost” as a quick simple fix. But I’ve been in the back of a “police mobile“, as they call them here, for a good 200 kilometers now, and there’s no chance this is the end of the ride, so the whole “cycle ALL the way” is more or less dead, and instead I’ll have “cycled all the way I’m allowed to“.
Most of the police here is too on edge to let me go anywhere by myself, so I’ve sat in the back of police mobiles for 10 straight hours going only 200 kilometers from Chilas to Bashu because I had to change cars 17 times. That might sound like a thing you said to make a point, but it’s not – 17 fucking times I had to lift my bike in and out the back of different police vans, with all of their own unique problems for storing a bike. My blue 45 kilo heavy Surly bicycle isn’t exactly made for carrying, so by the time I hit truck number 16 and Mister fucking twenty questions, I completely lost my game face and quickly started answered with:
“No… No… No… Because… I don’t know… I don’t care… No…“
Until I finally just let him talk to the wind.
I always try to wave, smile, say hello and answer questions – because some of the people living in the mountain valleys were born there, they grow up there, get married there and die there and aren’t all as lucky as me to get to just dally around the world on my bike and eat pizza.
But… Some of the people here have a different way of “listening“. Meaning they ask the same question 2 – 3 times even though I JUST answered the same thing to the guy standing RIGHT next to them 2 – 3 times. And just to be sure… I get the same question – from the same guy about 5 minutes later. It seems like more people than not speak a little English, but it might be because I’m overestimating how much they actually know.
So when you’ve sat in the back of a police van with different police every time, answering the same questions…:
“Are you Muslim?“
“Are you married?” – “Why not?“
“How old are you?” – “Why are you then not married?“
“How much does your job pay?“
“What is your job?“
“How much does your bike cost?“
“Do you like Pakistan?“
…to someone that may or may not understand the answer anyway for 10 straight hours!
You get a bit worn down.
Were waiting for the next police mobile to arrive to pick me up and drive me another 10 – 15 kilometers. I felt a bit like a hot potato being thrown one hand to the next – But still… Even though it was a long a tough ride, it’s pretty damn impressive they actually do this for a dumb Dane who’s venture into an area I maybe shouldn’t have been in.
I meet a bunch of cool Pakistani guy in Bashu, 2 of them brothers called Main Fahad and Saad, who were there for a bridge opening their father had been a part of building. I helped them take a couple of photos of the bridge and manage to crash my new drone into its first lamp post. It was a big day.
Never a dull minute
I snuck into the city Bashu with my new Pakistani friends for a couple of minutes to get some money out of an ATM, and again – within minutes of my stepping out of the car, the police had figure out I was there. Some here say I may have to ride with them all the way through Pakistan. Whatever happens, I won’t be bored – the beauty, hospitality and intensity of Pakistan is amazing and almost a bit too overwhelming.
Islamabad and police mobile – here I come!