- Useful Links
It was only with the Hindu soldiers (sepoys) rebellion against the British in the 1850's and the consequent blame attached to the Muslim Mughal emperors by the ridiculously ignorant British, that the Muslims were marginalised in India and the power transferred to the Hindus. This led in the end to the rise of 'Hinduism' and the eventual creation of India swiftly followed by Pakistan, as a response to fears for the safety and rights of Muslims in India. It also left fertile ground for conservative back to basics Wahabi Islam to spread from Afghanistan as a response to the glitz and glamour of the Mughal emperors, and ended with the conservative Islam now found in Pakistan.
The fort is pretty well preserved/refurbished and gives a good idea about the opulence amongst which the Mughals lived. Huge harem's, extended families, hundreds of children all living in the fort along with Eunochs, armies, poets etc.
Next to the fort is the Badshahi mosque which is one of the biggest in the world and can be viewed from the top of Cooco's Den, a restaurant on the roof of one of the old Haveli's of Lahore – the old buildings left from the Mughal era.
Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat
Silhouettes at Nanga Parbat
High Dynamic Range Photography of Nanga Parbat
High Mountains Everywhere
Mohammed Nour at Fairy Meadows
Riding on the Minibus Roof
Gilgit to Chitral
Route Profile and Hotels
Part 1 - Riding up the valley
Part 2 - Climbing higher
Part 3 - Shandur Pass
Part 4 - The Descent
Part 5 - The Friendliest People
Part 6 - Great Light
Part 7 - More HDR Photography
Our Route and Cycling Guides
China - Pakistan Border Road Guide
Route throught the Karakorum in Pakistan
Route through China, Pakistan and India
Gilgit to Chitral Road Guide
Gilgit to Chitral Profile and Hotels
Gilgit to Shandur Pass Map
Route Map from Lahore to Kathmandu
Music from the night: Click preview to play it on this page
There were maybe 500 people crowded into an open area between some buildings and a Sufi shrine, all sat next to each other closer than I could have imagined people could sit. Thursdays are also tourist night, so there is an area that we are led to, obviously full of people who had a good seat, who now have to be aggressively kicked out of the area and threatened with sticks to make them move. It doesn't help that everyone in the whole room is smoking huge joints and isn't inclined to move. Half the crowd is in a trance, the rest are passing around joints like there's no tomorrow.
The 50 Pakistanis's who were sitting on the steps of the shrine in the tourist area were replaced by about 10 tourists all staying at Malik's guest house - 'The Regal Internet Inn'. He's well respected and his helper Niemet also did his best to make sure we were all OK. All over Lahore if we said we were staying with Malik people said he was a very good man and touched their heart, everyone saw him as their friend. The reason for all this chaos were the three drummers stood with huge drums, swirling around like dervishes (the original dervishes were the first Sufis) playing amazing rhythms and spinning on the spot while they did it. The most famous one is deaf (blue clothing) and can still keep time from all the vibrations.
We stayed for about 4 hours and went home elated from the experience, if the first people to play acid house weren't inspired by Lahore's Sufi night I will be amazed. What made it even more strange was the transvestite's who regularly walked through the crowd and went into the shrines and then prayed for half an hour or so, while the music was going on. In such a crazy macho man world it seemed so incongruous to see 'gay men' dressed as women being able to walk around openly. Some are eunochs and live a very secretive life that William Dalrymple managed to find out a little about in 'City of Djinn's', they are respected and feared in Pakistan and India, yet are thought to bring good luck...........
On Sundays especially, thousands of people travel the 30km from Lahore (Pakistan) and Amritsar (India) to attend. It is like going to a football match...walking towards the stadium with announcements and the buzz of so many people all attending one event.
The whole nationalistic spectacle makes you laugh, smile, groan and despair...all in equal measure. It's great theatre, watching the crowd is almost as good as watching the stars - the soldiers. Two sets of people divided by a line that none of them would have chosen, shouting 'Pakistan....Super Power'!! and chanting at the Indian crowd behind a small dividing gate.
The next day we were in the paper and virtually our whole story was made up. The only thing they got right was our names and the fact that we started in Mongolia.
We were never scared, we never had 4 punctures. Don't believe what you read in the papers. Be a critical thinker!!!
Today we got asked to sign the article by the hotel owner who has mounted it on the wall in his office. Then another couple of local people came to see us and asked for us to sign their copy too. It was a bit embarassing, but very funny.
On the Road Gallery
Our Route Across Mongolia
Google Map of Route
We've finally arrived
Our apartment in UB
Crossing the Country
Mongolian roads are a bit different
How gers (yurts) are changing
Half way and knackered
Road surfaces gallery
Defeated by Mongolian roads
The way the roads change
Horses in Mongolia
Spreading sand dunes
The scale and pain of the place
Some of the best campsites on earth
We finally reach Olgii
The Mongol Rally
The Mongolian border town
Yaks at the border
Border Crossing to Russia
Crossing the border
Stuck in no-mans land
Half-way and knackered
Gallery of the terrible 'road' surfaces
The sand wins
Isa and her wind burned lips
Struggling to keep clean
The scale and pain of the place
Sunsets and Light
Incredible cloudy skies
Amazing evening light
Birds of prey
Food and Drink
Mutton, mutton, mutton
Cak Bum Ace
Road Guides for cyclists
Road Guides for Crossing Mongolia
General Information for Crossing Mongolia
Mongolia country info
Letter of Invitation with Monkey Business Tours
Letter of Invitation with Legend Tours
Getting a visa and onward travel options
We can hardly blame them, not many tourists come this way and any that do are packed inside the NATCO bus or in Jeeps insulated from the people in the villages. We are today's entertainment. If anyone wants to practice their English, we're a great opportunity...
'Hello, How are you?'; 'What is your name?'; What is your religion?'; What is your village name?'; 'Photo,photo, photo?'; 'Green Chilli!' (all that one little boy could say in English)
We would often meet large groups of children walking huge distances to get home from school, anxious to interact with the strange foreigners and their loaded bicycles. Some were shy, others desperate to show off their English skills. Many of the children go to Government schools, (8 Rupees/month – $0.1) but others are lucky enough to go to the Aga Khan English Medium Schools (350R/month - $5) and speak superb English for their age.
Because some of Northern Areas isn't officially part of Pakistan, but part of the disputed Kashmir, the local people rely on the Aga Khan to build bridges, schools and medical centres, put pipes in for drinking water and build irrigation channels, as they receive very little from the Pakistani government. His picture is everywhere and the prowess in English of so many of the children is testament to the success of his many schemes in the area. Amazingly his schools are also co-educational which may help explain the more relaxed relationships between men and women in the countryside.
Women would frequently talk to us and many spoke better English than their husbands, and it was almost liberating to see them walking alone and unveiled, shaking hands with men from their village, something we would never see in towns.
Many people wanted us to take their pictures and then send them copies when we reached a larger town, our notebook is now full of addresses. Some people wouldn't even want the photos sent to them, they just wanted the interaction and to see themselves on the screen of our cameras. Often if we stopped to take a picture of something, groups of men would line up beside it to add interest, or ask for us to take photographs of the whole family. Children nearly always got really excited as we arrived, and thanks to well intentioned NGOs, we would hear the chant of 'pen, pen, pen, pen' echoing round the terraces above us.
One other thing that amazed us was the number of children with pale skin and red hair, and others with amazingly blue eyes, so unlike the rest of the population of Pakistan.
Here's a slideshow of some of the people we met:
This post is for Ari in New Zealand. Hi from Simon and Isabelle.
Did you get our postcard?
With so many military and police in the towns of the Northern Areas there are lots of well organised teams that enter this annual competition. It lasts for one week from November the 1st and as tourists we got to sit in the VIP section to watch the opening ceremony and the first exhibition game between the Gilgit Police B team and the Gilgit Scouts B team.
Every town in the Northern areas has a Polo ground which consists of a long thin field surrounded by high walls an banked concrete seating or steps.
The whole atmosphere was fantastic and involved musicians, singers, dancers, flag carrying, each team parading past the VIP guests (us), lots of saluting and also during the game quite a bit of angry appealing to the umpire concerning the rules.
The Police won 9-2
Here's some photos of the whole spectacular:
If you click on the picture you can go to a flickr page where each item is tagged so you can see what it is. We can fit all of this in the bottom of one of the panniers.
Our appartment in Ulaan Baatar
Missionaries everywhere in Ulaan Baatar
We meet more cyclists
Half way and knackered
Defeated by terrible sandy roads
Amazing cloudy skies a we cross a pass
Chili Lips for Isabelle
Incredible sand dunes
Trying to keep clean
The valley of pain
Incredible evening light
The best campsite on earth
Finally we reach Olgii
Olgii in the far west
Yaks at the border
How the road changes constantly
Food and Drink
Part 1 - UB to Tsetserleg
Finally getting into China - a miracle
Being given advice about the route
The corn harvest - a use for all the new roads
On the route to Yining
We start to attract some attention
Hotels who don't want foreign tourists
Some useful Chinese symbols
Chinese brands of car
People on the streets of Kashgar
Getting the runs in Kashgar
Landscape and Nature
Cycling up the Ile valley
The road less travelled
The incredible Bayanbulak Grasslands
Byanbulak Grasslands - Snow makes us turn back
Retreating by bus
Incredible geology in the Ghez valley and Canyon
High valleys and sand dunes above Karakol
The Tajik Autonomous zone
China to Pakistan from Tashkurgan
6pm: My biggest problem is that after a couple of days of lying here I'm getting crabby and uncomfortable, I'm not really tired but I feel exhausted, I'm hungry but don't want food, I want to go out but can't face it, I watch TV but I've seen it all before and I really need a shower but water frightens me. I'm not even ready to wear pants yet which says something about my state, so I sit here typing this with all on display, hoping the cleaning lady doesn't use her key-card to get in without knocking first. It must be tremendous fun for Isabelle, who kindly buys me the things I desire and then sits there looking as bored as I feel. At night I've been watching films on our impossibly small laptop sent out by my friend Rob in the UK. Janette, who chose the films, has excellent taste, but why are today's offerings all about death and loss!? I need cheering up not constant crying and blubbing.
We have spent the last 3 months worrying about how to get into China. It felt as though we were cursed. In April with our HK ID card, we could have got a one year multiple entry visa, then the Tibet protests stopped that. Until recently it was possible to get a visa in Almaty, but the Chinese embassy there has now become like Fort Knox – no-one can get in, let alone apply for a visa. We have spent so many sleepless nights worrying about how to get into China, we've heard reports of people being refused entry on bicycles, about cyclists being thrown out of hotels once they do get in, of other cyclists being told that the border was closed to foreigners.......it has been hell. Last night I woke up several times and as we cycled the last 20km to the border my heart was racing with apprehension, I was nearly sick.
Russia to Kazakhstan
We get ourselves a cycling Translator - Vincent 25th September 2008 On the final day in Kazakhstan we set off early, hoping to get somewhere near the Chinese border. About 2km down the road we saw another cyclist infront of us. We chased him down and met Vincent – a Taiwanese man cycling from California to Beijing. He started in May and always does at least 100km every day and has now done about 12,000km in total. We camped together just before the border and he has now become our lucky charm....we think that without him and his perfect Mandarin we would have struggled to get across the border into China. Vincent left his job as an engineer because it was driving him mad and told his wife that he wanted to cycle across the world. After not speaking to him for a few days she finally realised that maybe she should support his idea and she 's now an avid reader of his regular posts on his blog. (unfortunately in Mandarin) His Taiwanese Passport (Republic of China) is an unusual document as it isn't recognised by China. He has to use a special passport here because China still sees Taiwan as being Chinese. Even the Kazakhs refused to give him a Kazakhstan visa in his Taiwanese passport because they don't want China to think they recognise Taiwan, so they gave it him on a separate piece of paper which caused him loads of problems at the Kazakh border. Vincent speaks good English and takes photos of everything. He refers to himself as 'That crazy Taiwanese guy' and is going to cycle with us until we head South for Pakistan. He feels as though he is now home because for the first time since he left Taiwan he can now understand everything that everyone says and he loves the food (as do we!)
Here's how it's described by the Kazakhs:
It's spectacular and well worth the visit. So many people seem to just drive there from Almaty, look over the side for an hour and then head back. They are making a great mistake. The canyon has loads of great viewpoints at the top and it is possible to scramble around exploring for hours. We eventually found the dirt road down into the canyon and were rewarded with spectacular views as we cycled down through the side canyon called the 'Valley of the Castles'. The initial descent into the canyon was very steep but when we finally reached the river we had the whole place to ourselves. Why there aren't more people there is hard to understand, this was definitely the highlight of our time in Kazakhstan. For Frank – our cycling companion - it was heaven because he could finally get warm. Guide books say that it is too hot here in summer but with all the glacial melt water flowing down from the mountains, this is hard to imagine. We would have liked to have spent a day exploring but we needed to push on to China to cross the high mountains before winter sets in. We left Frank basking in the sun.
His website: frankvanrijn.nl details his many trips, which basically cover the whole world. He is sponsored by Gazelle (a dutch cycle maker who pay for all his flights and provide his bike), Vaude (panniers and clothes), Schwalbe (tyres) and cycles for between 6 and 9 months a year before returning to Holland to write books and present slideshows. The only thing he has that isn't sponsored, is his brown leather shoes which he insists on wearing whenever cycling.
It was great to spend time with him debating how normal he is, the likelihood of aliens, the merits of clip on cycling shoes, dogs or cats? and Buddha not needing water for 60 days, although some of his views are slightly affected by the large amount of time he spends on his bike. He hates dogs because they always chase him (he carries an ultrasonic device called a Dog Dazer) and because they bark at night when he camps near villages and they once ripped his tent apart. (We think he left food inside!)
We went with him from Almaty to Charyn gorge and it was sad to have to leave him to head for China. We hope the cold in the mountains of Kazakhstan doesn't make his life too miserable.
By now it was the 6th September and we were left with a horrible dilemna; either carry on back to Europe or fly over China to either Pakistan or India, neither option being ideal. We cursed the Olympics, we cursed the Tibetan protesters, we cursed the Chinese government, we even tried blaming each other but when we enquired about air tickets to India another outrageous idea popped into our heads...........
The following morning we were on an Air Astana flight to Bangok, followed by an Air Asia flight to Macau and a Hydrofoil to Hong Kong. Two days later we had a proper Chinese visa and then 3 days after that another Kazakh visa so that we could re-enter Kazakhstan. After a surreal 10 days in HK visiting friends and scaring them to death by just turning up at their houses with no warning, we landed back in Almaty on the 18th September and on the 20th we were back on our bikes. This has to be one of the most expensive 'visa-runs' ever!!!!!!!
His picture is everywhere, with children, with gas pipelines, with outrageous city developments. This is all despite the fact that up to 20% of the population live below the poverty line and are really subsistence farmers. His daughter is being groomed to be the new president in a dynastic line reminiscent of Bush or the Kennedy's and has combined her own political party with that of her father.
Elections here are corrupt and denounced by international election observers, and Nazarbaev's political opponents are found shot, or end up locked up in prison during election years and with Nazarbaev controlling the media they don't have much chance to start with. For the moment Kazakh's are quite pragmatic about him, while the country is developing they seem prepared to put up with him. He does have some good ideas, but why doesn't he just give back all the money he's 'stolen' and step down from government? Does he think he's the only Kazakh who could run the country? Maybe he is?
Click to Zoom; SHIFT click to Zoom Out; Click and hold to move
You will need Silverlight on your computer to view the above map. routemappakistan routemapchina
- Aeroplane - it should be done at immigration. Unless it's a small airport it will probably be automatic.
- Train - can get it done but difficult and involves nagging and begging
- Road - no one knows how to do it or seems to want to try. We kept asking but 'Nyet, Nyet, Nyet!'
If it doesn't get registered on entry then your best option is to go to a hotel who will register it for you for a fee. This can range between $10 and $20. If your hotel (like ours) won't do it then you will have to find the OVIR office or Immigration office yourself. We started with the police station and eventually got to the right place. In Semey all the instructions for the registration form were in Russian and no-one was prepared to help us in the office. We were just a problem rather than people who needed help. Eventually a really nice security guard came and started filling it in for us in Cyrillic with our passports etc. and we then wrote an explanation sheet which we gave to the registration people to stick on the wall. They looked mildly pleased so it might still be there and of some use.