Cars dressed in flowers as young couples celebrate their union , entourage in tow so they fill the streets with colour , the lack of scent but not colour from the flowers stuck to the metal, for plastic can only mimic nature from a distance, the dressed up cars range from the quintessential 800cc Mehran to the more affluent Lx four wheel drive , they all have one thing in common , that love is alive , new, fresh and wrapped up in the faraday cage , safe for now from any lightning bolts. So special is this day that the usual Pakistani road rules are doused by the potion called love , no hooting , no pushing in, just adoration and smiles.The policemen salutes, takes control of the traffic just for a moment as other road users obey his commands , love passes, so does that moment of calm and as if nothing happened all returns to the lore , the road lore that lets Pakistan get from place to place.
Just a little way outside of Hunza we come across a very recent landslide that has held traffic ransom since the early hours , dawn broke so did what held the earth intact , rock heaved , earth lost her grip and hell broke loose, it rushed down the mountainside and in just the blink of an eye, life in that part of the world stopped, the road no longer passable. It was time to call in the big guns and so the machines that man-made came to take back from nature, to restore passage and as we arrived nature gave us a reprieve, she sent no more down the mountain, let us celebrate a small victory as the road opened just as our wasps arrived on the scene. She looked down upon us the ever interfering troop of humans , she understands our desire for progress, our need to tame and take, we have yet to understand , respect and appreciate her as she keeps giving and we keep taking , one day , one day it might just buckle and break like that bridge that served for so long , that last load just too much.
With the back log this would be our first taste of traffic as the aggressor as all those who had been blocked and locked down, now tried to make time, those small wasps with no rear view in a constant state of fight and flight, so we rode looking so forward to the calm of gravel and dust
We make our way down the KKH towards the ever famous Gilgit , just to pass through on our way to Astore , we stop for breakfast at our now local spot and it is smiles and hugs all around as plate after plate of food finds our table on a non stop conveyer belt with chai to wash it all down , it is here that another road warrior joins our band of scooterists , Adeel has ridden nonstop for 16 hours from Lahore , he joins as easily as if he is my long lost brother , we are bound by that invisible silver that runs strong in our blood , one man , one road , one bike, one people, one world , and just like that we would ride together , laugh together our bond forged and spliced by commonality in our love for the open road, the shared curiosity for things new, undiscovered and unseen.
Argument after argument over trying to pay the bill we take our leave put rubber to tar our last bit before we turn to take the road to Astore.That left turn and bridge crossing could not have come sooner, Bomber and I now so tired of being buzzed by those four wheeled obesities that have been plaguing our day threatning close encounters of the metal on metal kind.
The road alive with all modes of transport, including our scooters and the ever famous taxi van. As I ride I observe this carrier and its lore. The lore simple really, stop as you please, load, drive, pass where you please and always let another passenger on. Interior full, luckily we have thought of everything, a heavy hard chrome bumper hangs off the back, not for protection mind you, more as a platform to load a few more, standing room allows one to enjoy the wind in your hair, the sun on you face, no stuffy interior for them, taking a call easy, just squat down hide yourself from the wind and have your chat at over 80 km per hour while holding on with one hand, those passenger’s rooftop are not so lucky, they hang on to the rack with both hands and all their might as the 16 to something seater rocks those roads, putting poeple and place together, uniting friends and family. The carrier veers off the road stops in a cloud of dust for another passanger wants to get on.
Into the mountains we begin to climb, Adeel ahead showing me the riding line, as if it was any help, considering my power or lack thereof, the difference in wheel circumference, ability and agility.Bomber under me, my wrist working overtime to optimise those gears and revolutions, we did our very best to ride, ride alongside that damn 125cc full of modern power and comfort.That said we had the road to ourselves, just what I love, bends that whined, cliffs that race your heart, a chariot with a chassis, very few horses and little else we climed, curved and carved our way to Astore. I would often come around a bend and find Adeel enjoying the vistas and views with his James Dean biker look, completed by the Porsche cap he sported and smoke in hand,the relaxed rider only to be buzzed from his state by the sound of Bomber approaching.
My time full of the amazement of this place as I rode, stopped, looked, loved and did fist bumps with myself, man this place is just so intoxicating. I knew the day was running from me, I wished I could have bought back an hour or seven to stop more, swim roasdside, drink chai, dance alone in these mountains with music bursting from my headphones, time to let water run over my eyes that lets me see more clearly, those tears that cleanse and open my heart to this world , only a few kilometres to go and Astore would appear, put people and reality back in my eyes .Another flight to dream set free by this place of beauty.
We checked into the Kamran hotel for the night, the door sported the sign VIP, I was over the moon, wow this was going to be great, the only part of VIP that was VIP was the sign, all else threadbare with an odour that let your nostrils flare like a polo pony amidst the fever of a mountain match with no rules, I reeled back at sight, sound and smell,but true to Pakistani style we piled in laughed, joked and made the very best of this place we would call home for the night.The staff very accomodating bringing sheets and pillow cases to cover sheets and pillow cases, later that night wrapped up in only humor we would sleep.
Then is was into the van to take the road to Rama, a 45 min drive that puts America’s roller coasters to shame. America might engineer fear, fright and perspiration in their theme parks, the road to Rama does it au naturalle , single track , cliffs and sheer drops rendering all saftey equipment useless.
The van and Moin having to use all gear,grit and grind to summit and to descend , give me bomber with that lack lustre light to ride this road any day over being in that cell on death road, called the van, both up and down equally petrifying.During our decent things got to a point that Atzaz had to get out the van to direct us around a hair of a hairy hairpin, as he was screaming to Moin to come forward, the local behind us was screaming that our front wheels had left the actual road and were rounding the corner on loaned land with no integrity or support, apparantly 11 cars had realised their demise right here , not us though, the loaned land held and we made it around and down. MashAllah.
Home safe in VIP ville, Very insignificant person, dinner and bed for tomorrow we ride for the Doesai plains, apparently the first Vespa’s ever to attempt this crossing that is around 135 km, with all that comes with the unknown it was time to rest, let both body and mind prepare and repair while we slept.
For all you thrill seekers, adrenaline addicted human beings, when you tire of all that other stuff, lock yourself in a 16 seater metal cage as a passenger, drive the road from Astore to Rama in the twilight so you can see, feel and sweat the small stuff, when back home you will find yourself instructing the inverted roller coaster personal not to clip you in, you will just hold on yourself,then you will know you have re calibrated, your fear levels elevated on the road to Rama.
Until we meet again