I hitched hiked to Passu and it was a piece of cáca. I didn’t even have to put my hand out when a kind chubby man offered me a lift. He was en route home for a wedding (which I also got a nod to). Mid way we stopped off for some chai and bonded over our love of apricots. My mind was blown when I saw him pour salt into his tea (apparently this is a v popular custom in Northern Pakistan). He then proceeded by adding instant coffee into his salted tea. I did the same minus the salt adding. It was naturally minging but I was literally dying for a coffee that it more than did the job.
The chap was a hotel manager so conveniently had some contacts and sorted me out with a safe camping spot in a nice hotel with a jackpot view of the Passu cones.
So Passu is a tiny village known for its striking scenery of these cones shaped rocks which reach over 6000 m high and are just spectacular. It is probably the most photographed road in Pakistan.
I set up camp amongst a load of Pakistani families (terrible idea). They all thought I was a freak and people over here just cannot comprehend a woman travelling alone. When they see the tent they further freak out. I was serenaded with screaming children for the night but all was compensated for the ridiculously good and free view.
I was feeling pretty bad in Passu and was not sure was it caused by altitude, loneliness or just general exhaustion (in hindsight it was likely a combo). I was also trying to recover from dirty water incident. What travelers sometimes underestimate is the energy it takes to plan a solo trip and sometimes it is exhausting waking up every day with absolutely no idea how to get anywhere. The added bonus in Pakistan you have no idea of what obstacles await you. The next am I made my way to Passu’s most famous café called Glacier Breeze which probably has the best view in the world. My travel book author proclaims that Passu is his favourite places in the world. I can totally see why.
The café is famous for its view but mostly known for its moist apricot cake which is an attraction in itself. I dumped my backpack and took front row seat. I was drenched in sweat from the walk but couldn’t believe my luck when I saw a foreign couple!!! I am not going to lie Pakistan has delivered on so many levels but it has not been easy and one of the hardest things has been the loneliness. Day to day you will rarely meet a female and foreign travelers have become a thing of the past. At least when things are shit and you are with someone you can just laugh it out, but alone it it just misery. I was desperate to find people to trek with or chat with. Anyone looking to open a hostel? Go to Pakistan they need one!!
This couple were inspiring. They were travelling as a family with their 2 and 3 year old boys in a converted van. They were on the road over a year and Pakistan has been one of their favourite countries to date. Not an easy gig but seriously inspiring stuff. I quickly coped out of my feel sorry for myself mood took in the marvelous views and ate 2 slices of badly needed cake. I was even treated to a decent cup of coffee. Just what the doctor ordered.
Two Pakistani lads rocked up and hilariously knew my name (I hadn’t a breeze who they were if you will pardon the pun). They said they recognised my shirt!! Who hasn’t? I wear it every day. They remembered me from Hopper Glacier. I briefly met as they were en route back from a 4 day trek to Rush Lake. I offered to carry their bags up the last hill as I totally related and felt sorry for them (having been in that situation way too many times). They said that would be unheard off for a girl to offer like that and that’s how they remembered me!
We all bonded over more apricot cake, hunza water and apricot juice. I eventually realised hotel man had abandoned me (he promised to collect me from the cafe and drive me to a campsite). It was just as well he stood me up he felt like a funny fish from the get go. I asked apricot man could I pitch my tent in the café grounds. He didn’t hesitate and I even organised to go trekking with him the following am to the surrounding glaciers. Myself, Cherry and Zohaib my new MATES piled onto Cherry’s Honda and made our way to Husseini’s famous suspension bridge.
The Husseini Bridge is known as one of the most dangerous in the world. Mainly because of the massive gaps between the planks , +/- missing planks and the vicious winds causing it to rock. The raging river beneath really settles the nerves. Local authorities have now banned tourists from crossing the bridge. Everyone was being turned away. It also didn’t help that I was a woman. Luck was on my side when Cherry sweet talked the guard into letting me cross. It was an Oscar worthy performance as he stated I came all the way from Ireland just to cross the bridge. After lengthy discussions I was issued a visa for the bridge which meant I had to to myself. I think he thought I was a VIP and part of the embassy. Obviously said nada. An incredible scary but thrilling experience.
We rewarded ourselves with fresh apricot juice afterwards (famous in the areas) and Cherry dropped me back home (aka apricot café) where I was camping for the night. An amazing experience and I got a short taste on how amazing it is travelling the KKH on motorbike.
That evening I was camping solo in one of my most randomist locations to date. It was stunning but to be quit honest it was sad. It was just this small tent in the midst of these sky scrapper rocks. A few random men put up my tent for me and treated me to my third slice of apricot cake. The famed apricot cake is being baked all night long so the smell wafts through the area.
I went inside to avail of the rare wifi signal in North Hunza. Feeling slightly homesick, overwhelmed and quite honestly lonely I started balling my eyes out. I think nothing screams more loneliness than one pitched tent in the wilderness. Travelling to places un touched by tourism is authentic, exciting but quite honestly can be difficult and really lonely. This type of scenery is so incredible that it is nice to share. Apricot man was a little confused and did the perfect thing by giving me a blankie and an awkward tap on the shoulder. An interesting fact about the apricot making business is that the people of Hunza are so sound that no other restaurant or café attempt to make the same cake. It is there thing and people respect that. I think this is the nicest gesture ever. There is another cafe that is famous for walnut cake and you won’t find it anywhere else except Cafe de Hunza. This is something you don’t see in Europe.
The next day after a complementary coffee myself and Tenveer set off early to explore the nearby glaciers. This was stunning we were lucky enough to meet a Shepard en route who was on the verge of a mental breakdown as he hadn’t had human contact in days (I feel you mate).
We encountered some difficulties when part of the trek was missing caused by a massive landslide. After a dangerous scramble over a cliff edge we both made it and continued on the gorgeous trek where we were trekking around two different glaciers.
That evening I decided I wanted to try my luck at going back to Hopper and to attempt the strenuous trek to Rush Lake. I successfully hitch hiked with some army officers. Cherry convinced me it was worth it and one of the most beautiful treks in Pakistan. He found out there was a group of students from Lahore attempting the trek and that I could tag alone ( he was determined to find me some mates).
Hitchhiking on the KKH is a dream as it is one road and everyone is so friendly the longest I waited was 5 minutes verus 6 hours in Argentina! There was pure and utter confusion when I rocked up to Hopper. I was told to go find a man called Sherbaz. A few random men frantically grabbed my bags and escorted me into a hotel. I ended up getting my own guide because he said the group from Lahore were so slow and hated exercise so I would be better off alone.
After setting up camp for the night I was fed an array of foods; Korean noodle soup with potatoes, fresh cherries, some local pastry covered in apricot oil filed with a sweet wheat filling (this was kind of minging but obviously licked the plate). The food kept on coming and I had dahl and chapati to finish off. I rolled into my tent. I was told for Rush Lake you need a guide as you have to cross multiple glaciers which are filled with crevasses so its no easy gig. I insisted on carrying most of my food and camping equipment (most people hire a cook for the trek but I obviously wanted to make life more difficult).
7 am was kick off the following morning and I was in for a rough but beautiful ride……