The motorcycle ride from the metropolis of Lahore to the valleys of Kashmir. A small dream come true. Alhumdulillah.
The following is a roughly edited collection of journal entries that I made while on the trip. To make this more challenging (as if), I promised myself that I would also write everyday. Given that writing is a part of my job, I effectively wanted to keep working while adventuring.
I also have compiled a quick-and-dirty photo essay of the Kashmir on a Bike trip. Click below on the image to see that:
Now on to the travelogue:
Everyone who is older than me, anyone after whose name I’d put “appa”, “bhai”, “auntee” or “uncle”, all of them told me not to do it.
One of these elders even said it out loud, “listen, the reason I don’t want you to go is because if God forbid, something bad happens, what will people say to me? That why didn’t you try to stop him?”
He was just playing his part of showing that he cared. I really don’t know if that is the right way to show one’s concern, but nonetheless, everyone else thinks it is the right way. So they say it.
But many things that I am very proud of, people initially told me not to do it, based on this very reason: fear.
I am used to this now. That’s why I can take it. I seriously believe that had this been a “different” me, I would have been angry at worst, embarrassed at best. Had this been a different me, I would have listened to the “brotherly advice”. But now I just take it all in, process out the emotions and only talk about things that may help me in my journey.
My Mother, my siblings, my wife – they are used to this too I guess. They know they can talk me out of a lot of things, but they just can’t use words like, “why not do something safer?”
Fear is a reason, just not a good enough reason. Of course there IS fear. Of course there IS a risk that all the objections come true.
Emotions play a large part in our decisions, but we must chose which emotions get how much weight. The emotion of fear should be given the least weight. The core decision should come from something else, not fear.
Well, that’s the theory at least.
Many travelers have tried to explain why they travel. After reading many of them, and also asking myself why I just sometimes feel the need to travel, I believe it is pointless in trying to explain why I wanted to travel on a bike, alone.
There are so many small reasons that add up: getting out, getting fresh air, change of scenery, nature. The destination of choice – Kashmir – was also not as relevant as one would think.
The simplest reason that keeps coming back to me is also a boring one; I went because I wanted to, and from the looks of it, it seemed unlikely that I could.
The fact it seemed unlikely – a guy with three kids who is not a biking enthusiast – was perhaps a very appealing side to this, for me. Perhaps.
But like most men I know, I too used to dream of such an adventure; mountains, alone on a bike. I can’t really put to words the reason “why” so many people dream of such a thing, that fact remains as unsolved as before.
A Note on Packing
This saw me pack a very heavy bag. A heavy bag for writing tool – what, a pen and a notebook? What? A biking friend, who has traveled to most of the mountainous destinations in Pakistan – and that’s saying a lot – showed utter surprise, even shock, after he saw the following picture:
Why pack so much? You are alone and going for a few days only; why take so much stuff? My answer is simple: the ungainly bag holds not only the few clothes that I took, but also my complete, unedited laptop bag!
I wanted to take my laptop with me, to keep working (which included writing). One option was to take the laptop and other assortments – charger, mouse and such – and then fit them into a smaller bag, along with the clothes.
The other option – the one I took – was to simply take my laptop back and pack it within the larger bag. Much like those Chinese dolls, where the smaller one comes from within a larger one, a smaller bag rests peacefully inside of a larger one. I could easily tie down the bag on the bike – as you can see – and ride in peace knowing that my office is intact and with me in pretty much all its entirety, complete with a fiction novel tucked away for those times that I may find it harder than usual to fall asleep.
The Planned Route
The route I took was as follows:
Lahore to Islamabad. Islamabad to Muzaffarabad. Then back the same way. It sounds ridiculously simple when I write it like that.
There is a small matter of the GT road between Lahore and Islamabad; most bikers hate that route. For good reason; riding through the plains of Punjab, on a road infested with heavy, fast and rash traffic, with no scenic stops, in the middle of Summers – that is a good reason to avoid this route. I had been warned many times that a lot of first-time riders like me completely lose all interest in biking once they traverse through the ugliness of the Grand Trunk road.
The ride from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad was the prize. It involved going through Murree, which in itself is a destination to enjoy and a sight to behold (had it not been for the urbanization of this easy-to-reach vacationing hilltop).
The ride from Murree to Muzaffarabad on the other hand, is almost a coveted piece of route, complete with winding uphill and downhill, magnificently carpeted roads, and lush green giants standing guard on all sides. The fact that you are not riding through the mountains (through a valley for example), but on top of them means that there are mountains everywhere, in front, behind you and on your sides.
(The Man with) The Plan
The plan was to first reach Muzaffarabad because that would mean I can say, “I am in Kashmir”. Muzaffarabad district also houses Muzaffarabad city, the capital of Kashmir, and is the first major destination that comes when you come from Islamabad.
Kashmir is actually a self-governing autonomous territory of Pakistan, and yada yada yada read Wikipedia entry here. It also means that Kashmir is heavily guarded by the Pakistan Army, and that is a good thing and a bad thing. Good because you feel safer than usual, bad because you feel restricted than usual.
I had a room booked in Muzaffarabad and that was enough of a plan to build on. From there I could go to Neelum valley, which is more beautiful than the name suggests.
So that was the plan: reach Muzaffarabad, and see if you can go further, otherwise, return home. In the process, I would graduate to a “tour” biker and would have the Lahore-Islamabad route as well as “Been to Kashmir” under my belt. The goal was satisfactory, the challenge was enticing… I was ready.