Besham to Gilgit the KKH Terrain: Our Trip 2

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Indus Valley from Alai Road Looking Towards Besham

Featured Image: Indus Valley from Alai Road Looking Towards Besham

ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  1 July 2021

Besham to Gilgit, the Terrain on the Karakorum Highway: Our Trip 2

This is the third article on our trip up and down the KKH. The first is The Karakorum Highway which gives an overview of the terrain on the whole journey. The most difficult section to construct was in Indus Kohistan, which includes part of the area described in the second article The Lower Karakorum Highway: Our Trip 1.

We drove from Besham to Gilgit in a long day. Being stuck in a wagon all day, I did not get the opportunity to take photographs and need to fudge by showing other photographs from around Gilgit and Hunza to give you some idea.

The Gorge Country

The gorge country begins below Besham and continues after Besham for some time. One can see from the featured image a view of the Indus Valley from the Alai road the beginning of the difficult terrain in Indus Kohistan. One can imagine I think from that photograph that this is only the beginning of the mountains and that things are going to get worse rather quickly.

In the two articles, I said in the Karakorum Highway:

From Abbotabad on, the KKH winds mostly through narrow gorges on the Hunza, Gilgit and Indus rivers, which flow into one another down from the Khunjerab Pass. There are many bridge crossings across seemingly endless tributaries. The deepest and narrowest gorges are on the road from Abbottabad to Gilgit. The gorges open out somewhat above Gilgit. The climate at the bottom of the gorges is unbelievably hot and oppressive in summer.

‘It is like an oven’ said the gloomy bank manager from Dasu who travelled with us on a ‘Wagon’. The heat radiates from the cliffs thousands of feet above and is reflected down into the bottom of the valley. Although heat rises, it does not rise quickly enough. We met some walkers who had walked down from Fairy Meadow near Nanga Parbat base camp to the Raikot Bridge. The soles of their boots had melted on the black rocks. They regretted not paying for the jeep.

And in the Lower Karakorum Highway:

The canyon walls were high and slide prone for the first part of the trip. We were mostly in dry country at the bottom of chasms, but we saw all that there was to see of the river fans of the tributaries we passed over and small plateaus of cultivation above and near the edge of the river. We passed Chilas, the Raikot Bridge, the turn off to the Astore Valley and Bunji, but were not versed enough in history to pay much attention. We did however, stop at Talechi and viewed the largest number of snowy peaks viewable from the KKH, including Nanga Parbat (8126 m) behind us and Rakaposhi (7790 m) ahead of for the first time.

I also mentioned in in the first article about falling rocks. How these are the major cause of death for locals on the Pakistan side of the Karakorum Highway. And how rocks rained down on our wagon not long out of Besham.

River Cliffs & Watered Vegetation Near Gilgit
River Cliffs & Watered Vegetation Near Gilgit

Whilst down the bottom of gorges or near the river on the Karakorum Highway you have little idea of what is above you. A vivid example was on our return from China on the road below Gulmit on our way to Karimabad (see map); we had to wend our way through a snow avalanche that had only just been cleared. It was a bright sunny day there was a warm cliff face above us of a few thousand feet. Not a mountain in sight. The snow looked as if some God had scooped it up with an ice cream scoop and flung it down on the road.

On the map the deep gorge country extended from before Besham to about Chilas, when the country opened out and the hills except for the drop into the river were not quite as close or severe.

Colonel Algernon Durand in the late 1880s did not see this gorge country as he walked and rode from Srinagar in Kashmir over two sets of passes down to Astore (marked but not named on the map) on the right hand side of Nanga Parbat. What Durand would have seen in the high country he traversed between passes were beautiful pine forests as shown in the photograph taken near Chalt below.

This was a long trek from Kashmir for Durand, but through some delightful country. However, the worst part of every trip to Gilgit was to come. This was the slog down from Astore to the Indus River, the perilous crossing of the Indus at Bunji, and the tedious and difficult walk beside the river to Gilgit.

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