In Mingora bus station, when asking for the bus going to Gilgit, I am indicated a minibus next to me. I put my luggage on the roof, and I get up. I have very little space for the legs and I know that the ride will be long, very long… All that I hope for, is that the road will be in good state… After half an hour of waiting, the minibus is finally full and can leave.
The driver stops to refill the tank and to re-inflate the tyres then the minibus enters on a partially battered road. I just hope that it will not be like this for the whole journey, because the suspension is bad and I sometimes knock myself against the window or the ceiling. After ten kilometers, the state of the road gradually improves and we drive at ease during half an hour in Swat valley, northwards.
The valley starts narrowing, and I can contemplate the changing landscape at ease. The mountains gradually become higher and at a given moment, the driver turns eastwards to take a mountain road. The scenery is splendid, but the road deteriorates more and more as we slow down more and more too. I am beginning to get fed up of this minibus and I am looking forward to arriving in Besham. I just know that after a 2,000m high pass, I will be half way between Mingora and Besham.
After a checking point on the pass where I have to leave my name and address (for security reasons), the road deteriorates further and it is now a rocky road. The landscape becomes gradually more and more mountainous, the valley narrower and narrower; there is just enough space for two vehicles to cross each other.
There is no parapet and fortunately we are driving near the mountain slope for the major part of the way until Besham. Time passes slowly, and I am fed up of this bus because I am forced to firmly hold myself on the seat if I do not want to be knocked out. At one given moment, the minibus stops: there is a traffic-jam. According to what I can understand, rocks crumbled down and a tractor is awaited to evacuate the rocks.
At 12:30, I arrive completely exhausted in Besham, and I know that there is still a long way left to Gilgit. I do not want to take one of those minibuses any more and I await a coach coming from Islamabad at Karachi Hotel.
I am told that there is a bus coming from Islamabad at 2pm and that I have time to eat something. I order dhal rice with a Coke and I chat a little bit with a political sciences professor. The bus arrives at 1:15pm and its passengers get down for lunch.
There are still seats in the bus, and I get in. The bus is somewhat comfortable and has A/C. I am reassured because I do not want to spend 10 more hours under the same travel conditions as this morning. At 1:40pm, the bus leaves. We drive along the Indus River, crossing tiny villages in small valleys (which were formerly independent micro-republics).
Karakoram Highway does not deserve its name. It certainly does not look like a highway but more like a mountain road (in good state, phew!). The landscape changes again. From Mingora to Besham, the mountains were green, and I could see tea plantations, farms, holiday villas, etc. After Besham the mountains gradually become rockier and the peaks increasingly higher. We are entering the Indukush mountains and right after them, it is the Himalaya mountains.
At 6pm, we stop close to an affluent of the Indus River. A mountain river flows into the main river with a deafening noise. A man offers to host me and two other fellow travellers in Gilgit.
The bus must repair a flat tire and change the water, and repair takes a certain time, during which I get to know the other passengers. There is a deaf person among them, and I try to briefly communicate with him. His Sign Language lacks structure (many useless redundancies, according to my analysis - I am a Sign Language researcher by the way). I have lots of trouble to follow him, but after a short while, I manage to communicate with him.