Around the world by bike
(1 312km - 70days)
Crossing the border into Pakistan (at Taftan) I immediately had a feeling that it was a friendly country (maybe it reminded me of Africa). People all wanted to help with the bike and wanted to know where I was from and what on earth a woman was doing on a bicycle in such an inhospitable and, sometimes, dangerous area.
Once across the border, it was forbidden to cycle, and according to them, it was not safe. I could hear the border officials mumble “Taliban, Taliban” and together with a very strong military presence, it was enough to put the fear of God into me. When I looked, the bicycle was already on the roof of the bus. The road leading to Quetta was a 620 km stretch, that took between 20 and 24 hours by bus! It was indeed a desert with barren mountains and temperatures reaching into the fifties. The bus was overcrowded with people sitting on the roof. The road was horrible and bumpy, but at least the bus was nicely decorated! The advantage of being a woman travelling alone in that part of the world is that you get to sit in the best seat in the front of the bus and you get to go straight to the front of lengthy queues.
2 July - Quetta
We arrived in Quetta in the early hours of the morning, a good time of the day to be outside and about the only time one could be out. I cycled into the city to find a hotel, refresh, get money, and a sim card. At last, I was back in business again. What a unique place Pakistan was, camel-drawn carts, congested alleys, milk tea, chapatti and rickshaws. When the Pakistanis heard I’m South African a big smile would come crosses their faces, and all they want to do was talk cricket. I don’t blame them as political instability plagued the country and sport the only pleasure.
I had only just arrived in Pakistan, but I loved it already. It might have been hot, dusty, windy and even dangerous at times but there was a friendly vibe about the place and the street food excellent. I bought myself a proper Shalwar kameez consisting of big baggy pants and a long, long-sleeve shirt. The shalwar kameez was be worn by both men and women, but the styles seemed to differ by gender.
There was, however, a slight problem in cycling to Islamabad. What I could understand was that the police had to escort me, a distance of nearly 1 000 km. If they wanted to do that, I was happy with it, as I thought it far more difficult to sit in a car at 15km/h in 50 degrees C than cycling. A much larger problem was camping or sleeping in roadside accommodation where a woman cannot always mix with men. There was a definite reluctance on their side, and I had no intentions of making my life a misery or trying to change people’s way of thinking or being chased on by people who are getting bored in a car.
I decided to take the train to Islamabad, a trip that I read was quite a scenic one. In hindsight, I should have cycled, and to this day, I’m sorry that I did stand my ground.
3 July - Quetta – Islamabad (by train)
The local train station was quite an experience, with loads of locals and luggage of all shapes and sizes. I bought a ticket for Islamabad, but there was just sitting places available. The sleeping compartments were all taken. We were scheduled to leave at 14h30 but only got underway at around 16h00. The train itself was quite a pleasant surprise as it was air-conditioned. The seat was, however, a bit hard and very upright making it quite impossible to sleep. On the train, there was a noticeable military presence, I had a feeling that they were guarding me, as a soldier came to sit opposite me and never left. At one stage, I heard that the train in front of us was robbed and that could have been the reason.
The train travelled from Quetta over the well-known Bolan Pass, a desolated mountain area frequently used by invaders. The pass is very steep, and the train pulled by two engines, two in the front and one at the rear. The going was really slow as the train stopped at every station. On the platform, one could buy all sorts of interesting local food. Eventually, I asked the conductor for an upgrade to a sleeping compartment, which I got and could then at least lay down.
4 July - Islamabad
The entire day was spent on the train. As the train reached the province of Punjab, the land was much greener, and one could see wheat, rice and cotton fields, even water buffalo. We only arrived in Islamabad at around 22h00. The train stopped in Rawalpindi, as there was no train station in Islamabad. In Rawalpindi, I found that the hotels were only for locals and did not take foreigners. I went from hotel to hotel, every time receiving the same answered. It was late, and I was tired, and eventually, I gave up and took a taxi to a hotel in Islamabad. What a dump it was, but a bed was a bed, and by that time it was already 24h00. I later discovered that the reason might not have been the fact that I was a foreigner but that I was a woman.
5 July – Islamabad
I slept and slept and only woke up at 10h30. The room was terribly hot and just had a fan and no outside windows, no wonder there were some many creepy crawlies running around. By the time I got outside, I had found that it was raining with the result that it was not only hot but also extremely humid.
In walking around Islamabad, I found a tour agent who could arrange a trek to K2 base camp. I have always been fascinated with high altitude climbing and have read just about every book on the market. I was, therefore, more than over the moon to do this famous trek. It was an expensive trip, but I was determined to do it. The reason for the high price tag is that K2 is located in a Nation park and one can only enter with a guide. The trek includes transport to the start, a guide, a cook and porters to carry everything.
6 July - Islamabad
I was so excited that I arrived at their office a day early, thinking that it was already the 7th. I spend another day in Islamabad, not that I minded as I enjoyed walking through markets and trying out all the street food, from samosas, chilly bites, potato fritters, nuts and fruit. I spent the rest of the day packing my bits and pieces for the trek. Basic stuff like warm clothes, sleeping bag and sleeping mat, the rest was being provided by the trekking company. I had no hiking boots and was seriously considering buying a pair, but it was a Sunday (weekend in Pakistan), and most shops were closed.
That day a suicide bomber walked into a crowd at the Melody Market and killed about 15 people, it was scary to think that I was there just a short while before. In the rest of the city life went on as usual. In Pakistan, it is hard to find a child without a cricket bat in hand, and watching TV, you would never guess that hockey and squash are also national sports.
7 July - Islamabad – Besham
I was eager to get going, and I was up early and raring to go, but it was after midday before we left Islamabad. As tradition has it, we first had to visit the Minister of Tourism for a Trekking Permit, the Alpine Club for a briefing, and Rawalpindi to pick up some supplies.
The road north was extremely busy, jam-packed with colourful trucks, the landscape was lush with green hills, what a difference from the province of Balochistan. We passed numerous small villages with locals in traditional dress, and shops displaying their wares on the pavement including tires, plastic chairs, apricots, and clothing. We soon reached the Karakoram Highway (KKH), which hugs the banks of the Indus River. The road was somewhat narrow, winding and washed away in places, and the going therefore slow, with the result that it was after dark when we reached our overnight spot at Besham village.
8 July - Besham – Skardu
We made a quick stop to view the place where the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush mountains meet; then we were on our way again. After Jaglot we turned off the KKH on an even narrower road. With high cliffs on the one side and exposed drops down to the river on the other, it was quite a performance when a vehicle came from the opposite direction. It was after dark again that we reached Skardu, a busy, dusty town. I was more than excited to be in Skardu, and a place I have read about in numerous books. Scardu was lively with a host of trekking/mountaineering shops from grocery stores to second-hand trekking equipment stores. I spent the night at the well-known K2 Motel, famous amongst trekkers and mountaineers. The Motel must be one of the original ones as the rooms were huge with large shower rooms and a lush garden outside overlooking the Indus River. I could hardly contain my excitement staying in the same place as the world’s most famous mountaineers. This was the place they rested and prepared to summit the infamous K2.
9 July - Skardu – Askole 3000m asl
By then I had discovered that I was the only guest on the trek! It was a strange and somewhat uncomfortable feeling to have a crew consisting of Ali the guide, Munwar, the cook, and ten porters! Just imagine that! I felt like the queen of Shiba! Before we left, we still had to pick up more supplies and then it was off to the shop to find a pair of hiking boots for myself. I found a pair of good secondhand boots for a fraction of the original price. Once again it was midday by the time we left, and it was another 6 hours by Jeep to Askole. Askole was the last village along the way, and from there everything had to be carried up the mountain, explaining the need for my ten porters. Just before Askole we encountered a landslide and had to abandon the Jeep and carry our luggage across the rubble to where another Jeep was waiting. It was a slow and bone-jarring drive to Askole, up steep mountains with hairpin bends and cliffs down to the river (not a ride for the faint of heart).
In Askole we set up camp (my tent and a large cooking tent) and Ali the guide organised porters for the trip.
10 July - Askole – Jhola Camp 3200m asl
We set off relatively early for a short and easy walk all along the Braldu River on a very rocky terrain. It was a beautiful warm day and quite hot at times as I set off with my entourage. The path was narrow and at times quite precarious. We crossed a side river along a suspension bridge and soon we were at the campsite with toilets and washing facilities. The water was however from the river which came straight from the glacier and therefore freezing cold, needless to say; it was a very quick wash. Munwar (the cook) cooked up a storm of chapattis rice and chickpeas. The air was very dry, and although my skin became dry and shrivelled up, but I was more than happy to be walking in these mountains.
11 July - Jhola Camp – Paiya 3600m asl
Again it was a relatively easy walk along the river with our first views of high peaks ahead. Close to the campsite, one could see the Baltoro glacier as well as the peaks of Cathedral Towers in the distance. The path was extremely stony, and it felt good to take off my boots at the end of the day. Surprisingly enough the new boots were very comfortable, and there was no sign of any chafing or blisters.
I discovered that the porters are very superstitions and even just on a trek to base camp they would perform their usual rituals and prayers. We had hardly started our trek, but already this was a place where they traditionally take a rest day and where they slaughter a goat and sing and dance until late in the evening.
12 July - Paiya
At Paiya I met Mark and Alex, from the UK, also trekking to K2. A charming and easy going couple. I was glad to have their company as it can get rather lonely trekking on your own. We lazed around all day, a good thing as well, as we all seemed to have upset stomachs.
13 July - Paiyu – Khuburtze 4000m asl
We got up early to prepare for the 6-hour climb up the Baltoro Glacier. The glacier is 62 km long and stretches all the way up the valley. One can hardly believe you’re walking on a glacier as it was covered with rocks and stones. Every now and again we could see deep cervices, making the danger real and the ice made walking somewhat slippery. It was a steady climb up the valley and to our camp that by then started to resemble a real mountain camp with a few tents scattered among the rocks. Chickens and goats, brought up by the porters were running among the tens but was steadily becoming less. We sat in the sun drinking many cups of green tea, looking out over Paiyu peak 6600m and the Tango towers 6239m.
14 July - Khuburtze – Urdukas 4200m asl
We walked real slow and the distances where short. Out next stop was Urdukas camp which we reached by walking all along the lateral moraine. The views were spectacular but soon after we arrived it started raining, and we spent the rest of the day sleeping and nibbling on nuts and dried fruit swallowed down with numerous cups of tea. At the camp were also two climbers from Greenland who attempted to summit K2 but returned due to rock falls and avalanches. Soon it became too cold to be outside, and we all retired to our tents. Close to the camp were reminders of climbers who had died on K2, as well as the graves of porters.
15 July - Urdukas – Goro 2 4500m asl
It was a beautiful bright day and a most spectacular day as we walked along the Baltoro glacier. The terrain was still very rocky and slippery in places as we negotiated our way over the glacier and past some nasty looking crevasses. Ahead one could see Gasherbrum 4. We were now starting to feel the altitude and were entirely out of breath walking uphill. We slipped and slid along the glacier until we reached our campsite on rough stones and ice in the centre of the glacier. Goro 2 is a spectacular site surrounded by all the high peaks and what a glorious view. Supper was early as it got cold as soon the sun sets. The food was absolutely delicious with soup, rice and at least two other dishes not to mention dessert!
16 July - Goro 2 – Concordia 4700m asl
An easy walk along the glacier with spectacular views of Mustagh Tower, Gasherbrum 4 and finally K2! It was a bright sunny day, and K2 (the 2nd highest peak on earth after Everest) was cloudless, rising 3600m straight up from the Godwin Austin Glacier. We camped on the glacier again, and one could hear the constant cracking of the ice while lying in your tent. Once again it was cold, and for the past few days I had been sleeping and walking in all our warm clothes.
17 July - Concordia
After breakfast, I took a walk with Ali the guide to Gasherbrum base camp and towards Gondogoro La over steep, slippery ice. On returning to Concordia, I felt somewhat nauseous, probably due to the altitude. Once again it was cold as soon as the sun set, and one could do little else but curl up in your sleeping bag.
18 July - Concordia
This was a rest day at Concordia, so we spent most of the day lying in our tents and just enjoying the views. Concordia is the spot where five glaciers converge and a popular camping place for trekking expeditions. Most of us were suffering from upset stomachs (which seems to be very common at Concordia) and the rest day was a welcomed one.
19 July - Concordia – Urdukas
It was time to retrace our steps, and a long days’ trekking lay ahead as we left Concordia on the return leg of the trek. We were not too sorry to get out of the “shit zone” (proper sewage disposal is a problem in this frozen, rocky landscape). It was a cloudy day, and one could hardly see any of the surrounding peaks we’d enjoyed on the way up. We only arrived back at Urdukas camp at around 17h00. Urdukas was a wonderful campsite on the side of the mountain overlooking the high peaks. We just sat spying on the newcomers on their way up the path.
20 July - Urdukas – Paiyu
It had become the norm for me to be woken up with a cup of coffee, and soon afterwards breakfast was ready which always consisted of chapattis, cereal and tea. During breakfast, the porters quickly packed the tents up and started on their way. It was a relatively long day, but mostly downhill. Finally, we reached the snout of the glacier but then it started raining, and by the time we reached the campsite we were soaked to the bone. My bag was not waterproof as it was a quick and cheap purchase in Islamabad before I left, so everything was damp including my sleeping bag.
21 July - Paiyu – Jhola Camp
We woke to a cloudy morning but it did not look like rain, so we set off on our way to Jhola camp. The path was narrow and stony, so it was single file walking, but still, we chatted away and soon reached the campsite. Quite a few people were camping at Jhola, most of them other trekkers on their way up the mountain. Among them were also porters trekking up the mountain with a dzos (half cow half yak). The dzos were to be slaughtered at K2 base camp to provide meat for both climbers and porters on their return from the summit. At least it was a dry evening, and we could hang out our wet clothes to dry.
22 July - Jhola – Askole
Coffee was brought to my tent again at around 07h00, by which time it was light for a while already. After breakfast, we set off quite sad that it was our last trekking day. An easy 6-hour walk all along the river again and across the snout of the Biafro Glacier until at last, we saw the green oasis of Askole. The day was partly cloudy, and by the time we reached the campsite, it started raining. We dived for our tents and waited for supper to be prepared. That night an interesting group of Russians arrived on their way to climb the Ogre.
23 July - Askole – Shigar
It was another a bone-jarring Jeep drive on an extremely narrow mountain road, with hairpin bends and cliffs. Shortly after we left, we found the bridge washed away, again we had to abandon our Jeep and walk across the broken bridge. A 20-minute walk brought us to a landslide, and this time it was a nerve-racking and slippery walk up the mountain and down the other side to where we found another Jeep. Then off to Shigar were Mark and Alex were to overnight at the Shigar Fort hotel. One look at the hotel and I booked in as well. It was by then 14 days since we had a shower and after walking and sleeping in the same clothes, all we could think about was a hot shower and clean clothes. And what a place it was! A 400-year-old fort now restored and converted into a hotel. We showered and showered; I must have stood there for at least half an hour, what a luxury it was! That night we had a delicious supper in the hotel restaurant before retiring to our very fancy rooms.
24 July - Shigar – Skardu
We got picked up after breakfast, and it was a short drive to Skardu where we were trying to get a flight back to Islamabad. This flight is never sure as it is very weather dependent. To our delight, the flight was on (although late), and we were off to Islamabad. That night I heard from Ernest and was surprised to find that he was only 16 km away in Rawalpindi.
25 July - 13 August - Islamabad
I found a campsite right in the middle of Islamabad, a place where one meets various other travellers, some by bicycle and some overlanders, but all very interesting people with loads of stories.
In the meantime, Ernest arrived in Islamabad, and we planned on cycling to China together. After trying in vain to obtain a visa for China, we finally settled for India. We applied at the Indian Embassy and left the campsite in Islamabad to cycle the Karakoram Highway.
14 August - Islamabad – Aliabad (by bus)
Instead of cycling all the way up the Karakoram and back again, it made a lot of sense to take a bus up the pass and cycle back to pick up the visas on our return to Islamabad. After a slow start, we finally left and cycled the short distance to Rawalpindi to get a bus to Aliabad in the Hunza Valley, which is as far as the bus goes. The bus left at 14h30 and we settled in for the trip. The ride was painfully slow and as can be expected, somewhat uncomfortable. How all these back-packers travel overland by bus, I don’t know.
15 August - Aliabad - Karimabad
No doubt, we got little sleep on the bus as it rattled, bumped and shook along the KKH. We only arrived in Aliabad at midday, making it a 22-hour bus ride! We cycled the short 7 km to Karrimabad which included a steep 2 km climb up to the small village. We found a room at the Haider Inn at 300 rpm (R30.00) with excellent views and good food. The set dinner consisting of soup, veggies, pasta, dhal rice, tea and desert cost 120 rp (R12.00)
16 August - Karimabad – Passu – 51 km
Phew, at last, I was on the bike again, cycling along the narrow road of the KKH. The way was washed away in many places, and clear evidence of rock falls could be seen everywhere. Fortunately, the road was relatively quiet with only a few trucks and jeeps. We arrived in Passu after a few hours of cycling and camped behind the Glacier Breeze Restaurant, right at the foot of the Passu Glassier. The restaurant is well known for its excellent cuisine, so we splashed out on supper and enjoyed the local Hunza food. We were also awarded a full moon, and what a sight as the moon rose and shone on the snow-covered mountains and nearby glacier!
17 August - Passu – Sost - 41km
The road continued up the valley, and although there were no significant climbs, it was fairly up and down, past many small villages. We arrived fairly early and stayed at the Park Hotel, a real local joint with very basic accommodation. Sost is a real border town with trucks running to and from China.
18 August - Sost
19 August - Sost to the pass and back – 87 km
We took a lift up the pass as I had a cold which had been hanging in for days (at the top the pass is 4733m high). We could also leave our heavy luggage in the hotel. It was a brilliant, cloudless, sunny day and the views were spectacular. From the pass (the Chinese-Pakistan border) it was 87 km downhill all the way back to Sost. Halfway we stopped and lit the stove for coffee and enjoyed the view.
20 August - Sost – Karrimabad – 94 km
The road back to Karrimabad was not as downhill as I expected, but once again reasonably up and down with some steep climbs. I felt quite tired when we arrived in Karrimabad, and again we had the steep 2 km climb up to the village. Maybe it’s the cold or maybe the altitude, or perhaps just a case of being unfit (I’d hardly done any cycling in the previous six weeks). An excellent supper at our Inn awaited us again.
21 August - Karrimabad
The Inn had a great view and atmosphere, and we stayed another day, mainly to see if my cold would not improve before setting off again. The power was very unreliable and went off three times while trying to send one email, how frustrating. Most of the smaller villages only had electricity every other day so we could not complain.
22 August - Karimabad
We woke to find the day overcast and raining, so we stayed in bed until late. Breakfast was the usual milk tea and local pancake (a thick pancake with jam). Lunch was more local food consisting of a local pizza (onion, tomato and cheese sandwiched between 2 chapattis) Supper was the usual communal supper! Karimabad is one of those places where most people seem to come for a day but end up staying a week. We took a walk around the small village and up to the old fort, which was renovated.
23 August - Karimabad – Gilgit – 106 km
Well fed and rested we left Karimabad for Gilgit. Not long after we set off the road was blocked due to a landslide. Nothing one can do but sit and wait for it to be cleared. I could feel that I had become fairly unfit as we cycled what is supposed to be down (but lots of ups and downs again). Fortunately, there were many villages/shops along the way where one can stop and get some food and drinks. We reached Gilgit via a small narrow tunnel and suspension bridge.
24 August - Gilgit
We stayed at the popular Madina Hotel, slightly more expensive at 390 rp (R39.00) for a double room, but with clean bedding and hot water, it was worth it. We spent the day wandering around the town and markets. What colourful markets they had, Ernest bought himself a Hunza hat with lots of advice and encouragement from the locals.
25 August - Gilgit – Talechi – 67 km
Once again, we only left the Madina Hotel quite late. I was sure that one day we would get an early start like most other people, but to get Ernest going in the morning was not an easy task, at times I’m sure he did it deliberately just to annoy me. We did not encounter many steep hills just the general up and down of the Karakoram. A whitewashed monument signalled the junction of the Karakoram, Hindukush, and Himalaya mountains. Here we found an unfortunate Dutch traveller who pulled too far off the road and overturned his Land Cruiser. A bit further we found the Nanga Parbat Hotel, a half-built structure where we could camp. The views across to Nanga Parbat (8125m second highest in Pakistan) were excellent. The mountain is also known as Killer Mountain due to a large number of deaths among mountaineers.
26 August - Talechi – Chilas – 71 km
A hot and dry day on the road but a reasonably short ride to Chilas but we were delayed by Ernest who had three punctures, and we arrived later than expected. A headwind also seems to pick up between 14h00 – 16h00, and it was best to do most of the cycling in the morning. People have warned us about stone throwing in the region, and it had already started. We passed the notorious land sliding area just past Raikot Bridge without any incident. In Chilas we stayed at the Karakoram Inn, typical of Pakistani Budget Hotels with dirty bedding and filthy bathrooms!
27 August - Chilas – Dasu – 117 km
We entered the Indus Kohistan district, a very conservative area where no women at all are seen outside. This area reminds me a lot of Ethiopia, both in scenery and stone-throwing children. The area is also considered slightly lawless, and camping in the wild was not recommended. Here the gorge was deep and narrow with cliffs on the one side and sheer drop-offs down to the river on the other side. About 15 km before Dasu we found a rest house with such an idyllic setting that we could not refuse when the manager offered us a room at 50% discount.
28 August - Dasu – Pattan – 53 km
The plan was to cycle to Besham, but after 50 km and more delays by another flat tire by Ernest, we decided to stay in Pattan. Ernest had by then used all his spare tubes as well as mine, and we would have to stock up once in Islamabad. The area was so scenic that we did not want to rush it. The road climbed high on the canyon wall, and the scenery was truly spectacular with more greenery than further north. The Indus River flowed way below us as we cycled up the mountainside. In many places, the road was washed away or damaged by rock falls from the crumbling mountainside.
29 August - Pattan – Batagram - 96 km
For me, this was the most scenic part of the KKH, with lots of greenery and forested mountainsides. The road was still in poor condition, to such an extent that I broke my front luggage rack. We fixed it the best we could and held together with duct tape and cable ties we continued. I guess it was not as bad as the Polish cyclist we met on the way, who broke his gears and only had one gear (and that going up the KKH). At Thakot we crossed the Indus River (the official start and end of the KKH) and climbed out of the Indus valley, what a hot sweaty affair! At Batagram we stayed in a hotel which had definitely seen better days - the lack of tourism was painfully visible in many of these places.
30 August - Batagram – Abbottabad - 98 km
From Batagram it was yet another climb up to Chatter Plain, and then a good downhill run. The villages were all close together with busy bazaars, and it was a slow process getting through. The road was jam-packed with colourful trucks, cars, Jeeps and donkey carts. From Mansera to Abottobad was again up and down, but now the children seemed to be scared of us and ran like crazy as we came along. People appeared to be stunned and just stared open-mouthed at us. I don't know how many women they see on a bike, but then it is not surprising as not even I have met another women cyclist along the KKH. In fact, I have not yet met another multi-year women cyclist along the way. I, therefore, understood their surprise.
31 August - Abottobad – Islamabad – 125 km
It was an unpleasant ride after such fantastic scenery, how spoilt we had become. We encountered roadworks along the way something that never makes for pleasant riding, instead it that made for a somewhat dusty ride. Eventually, we arrived back in Islamabad and back at the campsite. We were gone for more than two weeks but found the same people still waiting for their visa’s.
1 – 3 September - Islamabad
We collected our Indian visas and Ernest spent two entire days cleaning and servicing the bikes. I bought two more books to read as books were incredibly cheap (all copies). Added to my luggage was now not only a VERY thick Indian Lonely Planet but also two novels. It was Ramzaan (Ramadan) and the markets were very quiet, but the mosques start calling at 4 AM, and then there was a loud clatter of pots and pans as the local workers and guards in the camp prepare to eat before sunrise.
4 September - Islamabad – Jhelum – 124 km
We said goodbye to our friends in the campsite and got on the road to Lahore. It was easy cycling as the road was so much smoother than the KKH but that, by no ways, meant it was perfect. It was still very hot and humid, but it always appeared to be better on the bike as at least we had some air movement. The roads were also not as busy as usual due to Ramzaan. Most of the roadside truck stops and petrol stations, or CNG stops (they use compressed natural gas instead of petrol) were, however, open, so there was no shortage of something to drink along the way. The road south was reasonably level, and we reached Jhelum in good time where we stayed in a local hotel. Even they wanted to give as breakfast at 4h00, which we politely declined. One thing about the local Pakistani hotels was that they clearly indicate the direction of Mecca, and rooms come not with towels but with a prayer mat.
5 September - Jhelum – Gujranwala – 100 km
After our own, much later, breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches, we left our room in Jhelum. In the early afternoon, we encountered one of the biggest storms to date, first with a howling dust storm and then thunder, lightning and hail! We took shelter with the locals, and after about an hour it cleared, and we could be on our way again. It was still drizzling, but at least the dust settled, and we could see where we were going. When it started pouring again, we pretended we were wealthy tourists and booked into an overpriced roadside hotel (still with dirty sheets and broken bathroom fittings!).
6 September - Gujranwala – Lahore – 82 km
It was a relatively quick ride into Lahore on a flat but very bumpy road (work in progress). The road passed through numerous busy markets with chaotic traffic. The area was not unlike Africa with cakes of buffalo/cow dung being dried next to the road for fire, and each and everyone on a bicycle racing you. It was usually not long before a chain or peddle comes off, or otherwise, they usually tire after a few minutes. Cycling into Lahore was another item that could be considered as “Fear Factor”.The streets were jam-packed with vehicles, animals and people of all shapes and sizes and as far I can figure there were no rules, just go. It seemed important to make as much noise as possible, and for us, on the bicycles, every 10 metres of safe progress felt like a major accomplishment.
7-8 September - Lahore
We found a reasonable place to stay in Anarkali market with its narrow and winding allies. Not only did we have to dodge the rickshaws and other traffic but also the cricket balls flying everywhere, as it was a game played on every pavement, street or open area. We wandered around and visited the old city, fort and mosque. We ate from the street stalls, that was ever-present, even although it was Ramzaan. The air pollution was tangible, and Ernest picked up the dreaded “Lahore Throat”.
9 September – Lahore, Pakistan to Amritsar, India – 67 km
It was a 35 km ride to the border, which was modern, efficient, and unexpectedly quiet. From the border, it was another 30 km to Amritsar. As we cycled into town and came across a parade, elephant and all, this was India after all.
We entered the land of the Sikhs and turban-clad men and headed straight for the well-known Golden Temple. Amritsar is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine, The Golden Temple. The temple is not only one of the holiest temples but a symbol of brotherhood and equality and anyone s welcome, irrespective of colour, race or creed to seek spiritual solace. There were thousands of pilgrims, with free accommodation and food for everyone. The atmosphere inside was genuinely spiritual, and on entering shoes are removed and heads covered. The main temple is covered in gold and stands in the middle of a sacred pool. The continuous and melodious singing of hymns while devotees dip in the sacred pool, said to have healing power, added to the very tangible spiritual vibe of the temple. While I soaked up the tranquil atmosphere, Ernest went in search of the local beer (something we haven’t had for more than three months), and on returning somewhat unstable, he nearly got kicked out of the dormitory where we stayed in the temple complex.