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And we were traveling to Gilgit
Gilgit plan was made in an instant. Hassan(friend) asked me to go to some place as he was fed up by the usual 9-5 job routine and wanted a change. He deserved that as working for a company for 6 years, he only took 4 days off in these years. I was free at that time as well. Yasir(brother) was planning to set up his business in dubai and was available for Gilgit trip. Our 4th travel buddy was Dr. Zahid(friend) who was back from Australia. I asked him and he confirmed immediately.
For me, reason for traveling to Gilgit was obvious. I always wanted to go there since childhood but every time something came up. Second reason was the rich history of Gilgit Baltistan. You can find this history here. We set a plan and executed it this time.
It is my habit that while traveling with friends, I always ask them to make one person in charge of all travel financial matters and we call that person ‘Ameer’. This ammer collects all the funds and pay for us wherever needed. Our ameer was Zahid. We were in Jeep’s cabin at 4 am in the morning. I was at driving seat and route of our choice was GT Road (At that time Hazara Motorway was in construction).
I was enjoying driving it till Hasanabdal when for some no reason our jeep’s air conditioning stopped working. Man, it was June, time was 8:30 am and we were feeling the heat. Ideally we should have stopped and get that checked but I was in a rush to reach Gilgit in one day. Local drivers consider this Rawalpindi-Gilgit route of 12-14 hours but as we were new on this route so our estimate was of 16 hours. So, keeping famous urdu poet Nasir kazmi’s verse “waqt acha b aaye ga Nasir” (Good time will come) in mind, we kept on moving. Though, It was not until Naran valley, we got that good time.
We were in Abbottabad around 10 am. I remembered the time in 2003 when I visited my cousin Capt. Imran who was in Pakistan Army back then. Abbottabad was named after Major James Abbot in 1853 during the British rule in the sub-continent. The city has many of army setups, PMA kakul (Pakistan Military academy) being the most famous one. This academy is like the Sandhurst in the UK, providing training and courses to cadets.
Abbottabad has many places to visit. Illyasi mosque(exists on a water stream and there is a water pond in front of it.) and Shimla hill(by reaching on its top you can have a whole city view) are two of my favorites. There is also a beautiful hill station, “Thandiani” about 30 km away. After crossing Abbottabad and for driving for 30 minutes, we reached Mansehra. One thing to remember if you are a foodie, eat all you can from Abbottabad and don’t expect good desi taste in any city of northern areas. At least I never liked desi punjabi food there.
Mansehra is named after leading general “Man Singh” of Mughal emperor Akbar. It is the main gateway if you want to go to Naran valley and Gilgit Baltistan. So far, the city has not-so-good road network and there are high levels of air pollution. This is because everyday thousands of vehicles enter and leave city and it’s always jam packed especially in day times. From here, we started moving towards Balakot.
Balakot is not the Balakot it used to be back in 2004. Earthquake of 2005 had completely destroyed it. This city is also known as the city of martyrs. Here, Syed Ahmed Barelvi and Shah Ismail fought their last battle in 1831 against Sikh army. If you carry on the road from Balakot it will take you to Kaghan valley.
At around 2 pm, we were entering in Naran valley (town of Kaghan valley). This valley has a lot of attractions for nature enthusiasts. I have been coming to Naran since 2004. So, I have seen this valley growing from a small town with a limited number of hotels to a big busy town. We didn’t make a pitstop and kept on moving to Babusar Top. The road was open, fully carpeted and above all scenic. Parts of this road and surroundings make you believe that you are in Scottish highlands. Too much resemblance. At half past 3, we are at Babusar top. It was the peak of our “good time”, the weather was amazing and we were loving it. We made a short stop here and then continued our journey.
At Babusar top, you reach at your top elevation of your journey (13691 feet) and moving to Chilas is a downhill. It’s a hard journey from top to bottom. Hassan was driving on this zigzag road. After some time our bakes were overheated due to constant braking. In mountains that’s the problem almost everyone new faces. I have further discussed this road in my Skardu Diaries. There came a time in our journey when brakes were so hot that they completely stopped working. Luckily, at that time we were already near Chilas city so we decided to change the brake discs as they were completely worn out.
Half Way Through
For entering Chilas city, we had to move a bit off track from the main road to Gilgit. The scorching June sun was not kind to us in Chilas. We had to consume a lot of water while mechanic was changing brakes. The city was although not very big as we can expect in Punjab or any other province but still it has had all the basic necessities. At around 5 pm, we left Chilas and started moving towards Gilgit.
Long travels usually frustrate you especially when you air conditioning is not working, you realize you just have one cd in your jeep and you are listening to it over and over again, your entertainment system is not accepting memory cards etc. When we started the journey from Rawalpindi, we were in such a jolly mood. Laughters, smiles and stuff but after spending nearly 13-14 hours in the jeep, it started fading away. And we still were no way near to Gilgit.
Me and Hassan are childhood friends but we are not so good when we travel together for few days. But it never happened on the first day of the journey in the past. This time it did. After listening to all the songs of our only CD, Hassan started playing songs from his phone by using Aux cable. Bear in mind, mobile reception on this route is not reliable. It comes and goes as it pleases. So playing from youtube was not the option.
Finally in Gilgit city
Hassan’s aesthetic sense is adorable and so is his music collection. But on that particular day I had to listen to legendary Rafi songs for an hour (Greatest Indian playback singer). You might think it’s a good thing but believe me it was not. On that day, his collection had some really sad songs (I call them those songs, Rafi g used to sing on funerals). I bear that for an hour until Jaglot came and I exploded with anger. We exchanged some hot-words and after 5 minutes it was back to normal. We reached in Gilgit city around 12:30 am. And luckily, we got the room quickly. Interestingly, it was hot in Gilgit city. So, like any other day we switched on AC and slept.