After another leisurely breakfast cooked by Khan, I packed the bike and said farewell to the two hospitable brothers who had taken me into their restaurant, their village, their school and their lives for just two short days.Sost was a mere 45km from Passu – only about 1-2 hours depending on roadworks and landslides. I was on the road by 9am and wondered what the KKH had in store for me today. As it turned out, not much. Compared to previous days the road was relatively easy going. Just the usual mix of pot-holes that could swallow a Mini in one mouthful, culverts disguised as speed-bumps, washed-out bridges and landslide rubble.
The closer I got to the Chinese border, the more frenetic was the construction work by the Chinese road gangs. Strangely, instead of closing one lane at a time and then going back to do the other lane, they would close both lanes at the same time as they repaired the entire width in one go. This meant all traffic would be held up for extended periods of time. Maybe they have a shortage of lollipop men.
Even so, I still managed to reach Sost by 11:30am without too much fuss and the day was not yet half over. The town was a squalid shantytown that resembled one long Main Roads camp – which is exactly what it was. The acrid smell of diesel and hotmix filled the air. It could have been used as a set for a Mad Max movie.
I had been given the name of a few guesthouses to check out as possible accommodation. The first was closed, I couldn’t find the second amid all the unnamed alleyways and the third had taken on the appearance of a 19th century hovel.
When all else fails there is always the PTDC. Ironically, many months ago before I had left Australia, I had found a website that said it could take bookings for the PTDCs. I had inquired about booking a room at the PTDC in Sost as I knew it would be my last stop in Pakistan. I never did get a reply to my email.
No matter, I was here now and they had a room. In fact they had many rooms. Just like the PTDC in Besham all those weeks ago I was the one who put the “T” into “PTDC”. Unlike Besham though, the staff at Sost were exceptionally friendly and very chatty. They seemed pleased that I had stayed at a PTDC before. Almost like a member of the family.
It was now June 30. Despite all my time wasting along the KKH I still had to fill in the last three days in Sost before I could cross into China on July 3.
It is difficult to know what to say about Sost.
Originally I was only going to spend two days here before riding up to the final police checkpoint at Dih, only 35km away – leaving me just 50km to the border at Khunjerab. But a chance encounter with the Chief Customs official in the middle of Sost put paid to those plans. Yes, I could stay at Dih but I would have to return to Sost to complete all the exit formalities – something that I had absolutely no desire to do. So three days at the PTDC in Sost it would have to be.
How does one fill in three days in Sost? With great difficulty is the answer. The “town” exists for two reasons, and two reasons only. Firstly, it acts as the Customs checkpoint for the truckloads of cheap goods coming down from China. Secondly, it acts a huge marshalling yard for all the Chinese road workers and their heavy road-making machinery while they are rebuilding the KKH. Apart from these two functions it has no redeeming features whatsoever. Even the staff at the PTDC who are posted here from other major centres in Pakistan consider Sost to be purgatory and count the days until their “country service” is over.
The days consisted of breakfast cooked by Shamsuddin, walking up the one and only street (the KKH) to check if Sost had been magically transformed
overnight into an Asian Camelot and then walking back disappointed on discovering it hadn’t. Apart from that the days were spent catching up on writing and trying to find something interesting to photograph.Even though Sost is about 85km from the actual border at Khunjerab, it acts as the final Customs and Immigration office for Pakistan. After leaving Sost you must proceed directly to the border. Do Not Pass Go and Do Not Collect $200. The road has only one other stop at a small dot called Dih – 35km from Sost. This is the start of the Khunjerab National Park where you must stop and pay an entry fee (US$8) even though you are not allowed to stop. Then 500m up the road is another police checkpoint where you must “entry”. Did they not think to put the two checkpoints together?At last the day arrived to leave Sost and head for the Chinese border at Khunjerab and then on to Tashkurgan. And what a day it would turn out to be.