While the PTDC in Besham may not have won any prizes for its ambience or its canteen-like restaurant it had definitely served its purpose for me. It provided a bed, somewhere safe to park the bike and luke-warm water out of both hot and cold taps.
It did however have uninterrupted views of the mighty Indus River. The tide must have been out, though.
Discretion being the better part of valour, I had already scrapped any plans of riding the 125km to Shatial if it was going to be like the last 20km of yesterday. So the new plan was to ride to the next PTDC in Dasu about 85km away. I estimated this would take 3-4 hours depending on the road, the traffic and the weather.
Before moving a millimetre today I was wanted to find out exactly what lay in store for me. So, before leaving the PTDC in Besham, I asked the man behind the desk if I would be able to stay at the PTDC in Dasu. I should have known better when he said “Of course. No problem”.
With only 85km to cover, I rode optimistically out of the deserted carpark and back onto the KKH. Within a kilometre I was stopped at a police checkpoint. No dog-eared book this time, just a police escort. So off we rode. I found following another vehicle distracted me from the much more pressing task of where I was going to put the front wheel for the next 5m. Scrabbling along amongst the gravel in 1st gear, and sometimes 2nd if I was lucky, we stopped after about 10km at another police checkpoint. Here I was handed over like a relay baton to the next escort. This process was repeated every 10-15km. Each time the escorts would stop for a bit of a chinwag and another 5-10min would be wasted. Eventually, I made it to Dasu by early afternoon. Pretty good going I thought to myself. My escort took me to the PTDC and even introduced me to the desk clerk.
I knew it wasn’t going to end well when the desk clerk starting shaking his head and giving me apologetic looks. Apparently the local shire council was having its monthly meeting and the PTDC for completely booked out. I asked if there were any other hotels nearby knowing full well what the answer would be. There weren’t.
There was no option but to revert to my original plan of riding to Shatial for the night. It was only another 40km (1-2 hours) up the road and there was still plenty of daylight left.
So the baton-passing started again.
On arriving in Shatial, I was handed over to a full police checkpoint and out came the passport again. With formalities out of the way, I asked the senior officer where I could stay in Shatial. He informed me that the hotel had closed some time ago. And anyway, foreign tourists were not allowed to stay overnight in Shatial. He suggested that I could rest for a couple of hours on one of the charpoys at the roadside serai before continuing my journey, but I failed to see any benefit in this.
It was now getting on for 4pm and there was no hope of any sort of accommodation until Chilas – a good 65km away. That would mean at least another 3 hours of riding and that didn’t include any baton-passing. The only thing that I had in my favour was that the sun did not set until between 7-8pm.
So I set off again with yet another escort leading to yet more handovers every 10-15km. Each time precious minutes of sunlight were slowly disappearing behind the 5000m mountain ranges while Iqbal and Abdul caught up on the latest gossip.
Finally, about 20km west of Chilas, I crossed out of Kohistan and into the Northern Areas and the end of the escorts. It was now after 7pm and dusk was setting in. So, in the last of the fading light, I rode in to Chilas and stayed at the first hotel on the left-hand side of the road.
And the name of the hotel?
I kid you not – it was “Shangri-La”.