Silk Road 13 : Giglit to Islamabad via Kohistan

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Silk Road Pakistan June 2016
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Got up early, and at 5:30AM, our new driver (Abdul Karim); also an Ismaili from Hunza (Misgar village, north of Sost and very rural) came to pick us up. We had 2 road options to Islamabad; one was an 8-10hr drive over the scenic Babusar Pass and the other was a 12-14hr drive through Kohistan district. As our luck would have it, the road through Babusar Pass was under construction; due to re-open in 5 days (always seemed like we were 5 days too early. So off we went to Kohistan.

Kohistan is a district in the NW Frontier Province; and neighbors SWAT District to its west. The people of this district are supposed to have a “Rebellious culture”, which is the most distinctive quality of the region. The literacy rate is the lowest in Pakistan, just above 11%; with the split being 17% for males and 3% for females (what a difference from nearby Hunza district where literacy is 100%). Health care is quite poor, with 10% of children dying before age 5. This is one of the poorest districts of Pakistan. There is a great emphasis on religious (Sunni Islamic) education. Languages spoken are Pashtu in the west (towards SWAT), Shina in the north and Kohistani elsewhere. Economy is mostly agricultural (timber, agriculture and goat/sheep rearing).

The Taliban are known to be active in this region; which is why foreigners are not allowed in this area between 4PM and 8AM. We were told to keep a low profile, and avoid talking to the “dadhi-wallas” (the bearded ones); a reference to the Taliban’s. Just what we needed. I was also told to go easy taking pictures, especially of the women here.

Our first stop was Juglot, which is where the Indus river meets the Gilgit river; and where the HinduKush, Himalayas and Karakoram meet. The Silk Road here connected Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan and China.

silk-road-13-image001At Jaglot

silk-road-13-image002At Jaglot ; on way to Chilas and Kohistan

Then, we stopped at Chilas for breakfast at the Shangri-La hotel; which was old and needed renovation. Bathrooms were clean though. Then we crossed over into Kohistan and at the district’s Foreigners Facilitation Center, we were told to wait for an armed policeman escort. Abdul managed to convince them then an armed guard (man) in the back seat with Dilshad (female) was not appropriate; and they agreed; but asked us to drive in a convoy with a minbus that would be there shortly, which also had a foreigner in it, and they were going to place an armed policeman in that minvan. Abdul fortunately convinced them that we would get slowed down by the minivan, and that we had an afternoon flight to catch in Islamabad.Sometimes, white lies are necessary. Phew, dodged that one.

So off we drove into Kohistan with no armed police escort. We saw some very beautiful countryside, as this is still a mountainous and hilly region; but very different scenery than Hunza and the Gilgit areas we had been in. There was a lot of timber on the roadside from the forests over the mountains, and the road (which was still the Karakoram Highway (KKH)) had deteriorated and the Chinese were actively rebuilding the KKH.

The KKH starts in Kashgar, Xingjian and ends just before Islamabad, Pakistan. With the many trucks using the KKH, and its deteriorated conditions, the going was slow in places. The KKH basically followed the Indus river (from Skardu and Tibet) all the way through Kohistan. Beautiful and different scenery from what we had seen in the Karakoram Mountains.

silk-road-13-image003Basic rural housing, barren landscape. What do people do for a living?

silk-road-13-image004KKH; and potential rockslides in the making behind the truck

silk-road-13-image005Main KKH to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan

silk-road-13-image006Must have a beautiful view from that house. These old Landcruisers were used in logging and transportation

silk-road-13-image007Lot of logging & timber milling in this area; timber came form the other side of the mountains where the forests were.

silk-road-13-image008Small town shopping

silk-road-13-image009Boys selling herbs on the roadside

silk-road-13-image010Nice scenery by the Indus river

silk-road-13-image011More small town

silk-road-13-image012Glacier rivers

silk-road-13-image013Great scenery; note the sheer vertical rock on the right of the sedan

silk-road-13-image014Simple abode

silk-road-13-image015Roadside kitchen & stand for roasted corn; had to stop for this. He was actually roasting the corn inside hot sand that was on the stove.

silk-road-13-image016Chinese rebuilding of the KKH

silk-road-13-image017Beautiful landscape; note the small villages on the hillsides in the back with white roofs

At one point, we had to stop as there was a traffic jam due to a rockslide that had occurred just the night before and the army was busy clearing it and allowing only 1-way traffic. So we had to stop and wait. I could not help it; I had to get out, take some pics and talk to some “dadhi-walas” (much to Dilshad’s dismay) who were also waiting for the road to clear. These men were from Dasu (capital of Kohistan) and had rural farms there. They were very nice and friendly; definitely not the Taliban dadhi-wallas :). Dilshad stayed in the car, as she was not comfortable

silk-road-13-image018Traffic jam due to landslide the previous night

silk-road-13-image019Well decorated trucks; rockslide in the back

After driving thru more beautiful countryside, we stopped at Besham for a late lunch. We stopped at Farman Karim’s hotel (another Hunza ismaili) and had lunch with him. (This Hunza connection is pretty good, and seems like most Hunza people have Karim as the last name; I must have some connection to Hunza 🙂 in a previous life).

silk-road-13-image020Scenic; road snaking along the hillside

silk-road-13-image021Settlement on hillside

silk-road-13-image022Settlement on hillside – 2

silk-road-13-image023Chinese rebuilding of the KKH

silk-road-13-image024Lumber traders

silk-road-13-image025Share the bridge with everyone

silk-road-13-image026Loading and unloading lumber on trucks. Note the thickness of the lumber; these must be some old trees


silk-road-13-image028More rural housing on remote locations

silk-road-13-image029Town in Kohistan; with Military training facility

silk-road-13-image030Beautiful countryside, with zig-zag roads to climb

silk-road-13-image031Natural waterfalls everywhere

silk-road-13-image032People crossing the Indus river on the wooden pulley platform

We kept driving and at one village, we were signaled by a police pick-up truck with armed policemen, to follow them. OK, what did we do now? Were we driving too fast (over limit)? Dilshad thought it was because I was taking pictures. Turned out that they simply were escorting us through the town. How did they know we were foreigners? I guess our faces gave us away, as we had not exited the car when they signaled us. Or maybe it was the License plate of the car that gave us away?

We kept driving through multiple small picturesque towns and cities, like Dandai, Thakot, Chanjal, Kandar, Chappargam, Sharkah, Dhodial etc. We drove through a couple of large cities like Manserah and Abbottabad. I wanted to stop in Abbottabad and visit the Osama compound, but Abdul informed me that the military had demolished the place and had shut down access to that area. So nothing to see there

silk-road-13-image033Beautiful mosque under construction

silk-road-13-image034Small town dadhi-wallas

silk-road-13-image035Local transportation

silk-road-13-image036Decorated tractor

silk-road-13-image037Many uses for flat roofs

silk-road-13-image038Hill Station and traffic

It was now getting to evening. Fortunately, the commercial trucks are required to pull over and get off the KKH between 5PM and 9PM, to allow people in towns to get to the bazaars etc without the heavy truck traffic. So we were able to make good progress. Finally arrived in Islamabad; this was the end of the KKH that we had started on from Kashgar, China. And fortunately, we did not encounter any Taliban while in Kohistan.

Islamabad seemed like a lively and clean, well laid out city, clean, with areas/neighborhood sectors clearly marked. Roads were very nice, and wide, multi lanes in each direction. Civilized, after all, this is the capital city of Pakistan. After a small dinner, went to sleep.

Islamabad and Lahore next.

This entry was posted in Asia, Pakistan, Silk Road Pakistan June 2016

7 thoughts on “Silk Road 13 : Giglit to Islamabad via Kohistan

  • Pingback: Silk Road 12 : Onto Shigar Fort and onwards - Ali Karim Travelog

  • Fannie September 26, 2017 at 5:26 pm Reply

    This is one awesome article post. thank you! Really Cool.

  • Alta August 8, 2017 at 3:25 pm Reply

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Bless you!

  • Bret April 19, 2017 at 3:39 pm Reply

    The post has really peaks my interest. I’m going to bookmark
    your website and keep checking for new information.

    • Ali Karim August 12, 2017 at 8:06 pm Reply

      Thanks Bret

  • Fannie April 18, 2017 at 9:07 am Reply

    Saved as a favorite, I actually enjoy your blog!

    • Ali Karim August 12, 2017 at 8:06 pm Reply

      HI Fannie, so glad you enjoyed my travel blog of my travels through Hunza and Kohistan. Kohistan province was actually a little scary due to the Taliban presence, as we were only allowed to travel during daylight hours.

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