The Doc: ‘Let’s get up at easy time.’
VisionAli: ‘Zoo-per. Ven is that?’
The Doc: ‘Ven you wake up is the most easiest time’
But Didar has other ideas. Despite the bike miles in my legs crying out for some rest, I’m up at 530am, because ‘it is closing in and looks like rain’. Sunrise breaks bright and beautiful over Hunza and the fluffy white clouds that there are, serve to give the blue sky depth. Sunbeams dance across the valley, the river effervesces and the peaks glint golden. I have been had, but I am delighted to have been had. Like lottery winners.
It is hard to describe the scenery without resort to cliche. Breathtaking. Spectacular. Dramatic. Blah blah blah. My writing is not good enough to convey how the scale and ferocity of the mountains hits you between eyes like a slap. Rivers that look like they’ve taken too much Alka-Seltzer; cliffs that would laugh at the pretension of the Burj Khalifa; ravines that were too beyond imagining to cast them in the Lord of the Rings; and lakes that are more blue than Pep Guardiola (definitely) – that’s the Karakoram (not to be confused with the Himalaya or Pamirs or Hindu Kush, or you’ll upset the Hunzas).
Talking of Hunzas, I’m already over-due in registering my appreciation for the support crew – Didar, Furkan, Salman and Razman. Without their great humour, kind and gentle humility and total incomprehension for why you’d want to ride a bike when you’ve got a perfectly good SUV, we wouldn’t have got this far.
Like the whole Hunza Valley population, they are Ismaili Muslims, adherents to the Aga Khan. They wear their religion relatively lightly, but not their generosity of spirit, sense of community and kindness to outsiders. Didar speaks with a wisdom and humility that is rarely revealed in the western world: with a deep connection to and knowledge of Hunza, he has a realistic appreciation of the wider world through extensive travel and a sensible anticipation of the change that the KKH and CPEC in particular are bringing to the valley. With the help of the Aga Khan Development Network (praiseworthily more a development organisation than a religious sect in these parts), community elders like Didar might be able to manage change in a forward-looking, sustainable manner. They might also want to think about a broadband connection next …
Today is a ‘zoo-per take it easy’ rest day. But today, vee are trekkers, vee are not just car-sitters. So in the morning, vee trek. VisionAli is heard to mumble, ‘When is the fun supposed to start?’ as we head up the Ultur Ravine. He and The Doc turn on their heels and skip down the hill at the barest mention of lunch / yak.
Thankfully, we stayed at The Eagle’s Nest last night and all points are down. For once, there is no sub-continental hyperbole in this branding – it is an extraordinary setting on a pointed hill-top high above the valley. VisionAli walks out of the lobby and clings to a post to avoid falling off. It is then that I break the news that he’s making his mountain-biking debut.
I am told I am a ‘Kutter Biker’. Like the more extreme ends of Taliban and Wahhabi thinking, Kutter is a few points on from ‘fanatic’. I take it as a compliment. With a mighty ‘Insh’ Allah’, VisionAli heads south. The next hour is like watching a Jackass episode dedicated to downhill mountain-biking. Ramzan and Salman, our drivers, cannot speak for laughing. In fact, they cannot drive for laughing. Whilst waiting at our destination Altit Fort, I spend 45 minutes teaching some local kids to laugh out loud and slap their thighs when a chunky Lahori riding a red and black bike comes around the corner. It works a treat.
Altit Fort is an iconic Karakoram structure that has stood the tests of time and attacks from warrior peoples for over 900 years, according to our proud tour leader. VisionAli says his bum feels a bit like Altit Fort today. So it’s back uphill to the oasis of the Serena in Karimabad. Can’t wait for the 100km back to Gilgit tomorrow?
To read more about Dan and Ali’s bike ride, please click here. Dan Wright is raising money for The Knowledge Foundation, a social enterprise based in Pakistan. The project aims at supporting young people with education and academic development. To donate to Dan’s Virgin Money Giving page, visit this link.