Chilas to Babusar, Pakistan.
The Babusar pass is one of the highest paved road passes in Pakistan. The high-reaching pass is at an altitude of 4173m. The Babusar Valley comes on the road passing from Kaghan Valley. This road soars through Naran, Batakundi, Besal, to the Babusar top -- the highest point of the valley. The road goes down to Chilas (altitude 1265m), situated on the Indus Riverbank surrounded by barren high scale mountains. The temperature is pretty hot down there as well.
We -- the three passionate and amateur cyclists -- planned to do this cycle ride from Chilas to the mighty Babusar pass for a long time. Finally our plan was seemed to be getting together. We packed our bikes and started our journey from Islamabad to Chilas via car. It took us around nine hours to reach Chilas through Kaghan Valley.
On the way we passed through beautiful Kaghan Valley to reach Babusar Pass. We stayed there for an hour and so to acclimate ourselves to the altitude for our ride the next day. It was windy and cold and definitely pretty thin air at altitude 4173m and we felt low levels of oxygen while walking around the pass. It was a beautiful evening looking at the switchbacks from the top. We were excited yet nervous to experience one of the most difficult climbs and at such altitudes. We had a nice tea on the top and then left for Chilas.
We reached Chilas before sunset and started to prepare for the epic ride the next day. Surprisingly, the weather at Chilas was way too hot -- even more than Islamabad. We cleaned our bikes, inflated our tires, lubed our chains, and checked the bikes thoroughly in Chilas for a big ride next morning. We slept well in time to recover from the long journey.
Finally the day came to test ourselves on the epic climb. We woke up early to start our day, otherwise it would have been too hot to start a climb from Chilas. We had a good breakfast in Chilas and took a memorable bike leaning photo in front of Shangrila Resort’s memory wall. Then we left for the starting point.
We started cycling around 7:40am and we were excited to start the big ride. On this climb, the distance doesn’t seem to impress, but the elevation gain and altitude creates the “X” factor. We were about to do around 3100m climbing in just 40kms. The climb started within the first kilometer and we were feeling good about it. We planned to take appropriate breaks for food. Our broom vehicle was with us carrying the supplies. We took a first break after 10 Kms and were feeling quite well so far. It was a short break and continued to move ahead.
The gradient from Chilas was somewhat easy initially, with the climbing being mostly at 5% to 7%. We seldom got three to four straight short patches, which felt like a blessing on us. Gradually we climbed and passed through few rough patches due to landslides, which we had to walk our bikes through. There were water streams passing through the road and we enjoyed that too.
We couldn’t focus much on the scenery of the climb while heading into the valley. Though the road was beautiful and we were looking forward to the mighty pass, the difficulty of the climb had our main attention. The climb got harder and harder gradually towards the target. At this point we started taking breaks after every 5kms to regroup and move ahead together. We were keeping ourselves hydrated with electrolytes and eating energy bars and fruits (bananas and apples).
The sun was shining bright and at one point it got really hot even at the altitude of 3000m from sea level. High gradient and weather started to melt us on the climbs. With every passing meter we were getting tired, and kilometers seemed to be passing very slowly. This is where the mental endurance kicked in and we focused on the finish line. Suffering started after the 25 km mark.
When final 15kms were left to the top, we took a long break to regain our energy, had tea and some fruits and energy bars. This was the point where we faced gradients as high as 16% at some points and we started to feel the low levels of oxygen and encountered really strong headwind as we were closing to the mighty Babusar Pass. Such winds were never experienced before while cycling. The wind actually drained us pretty fast, plus riding on high altitudes like 3500m was a real challenge as well. At this point we started to take breaks after every 500m distance due to strong wind and weather getting harsher gradually.
As you can see we were spent and weather didn’t allow us to move ahead. Alas! when last 3 kms were left, the rain started and it got unbearably cold where we had to abandon our ride and load the bikes on the back of our vehicle to the finish line. We had two cups of tea each to get ourselves together at Babusar Pass.
Words can never justify the feeling of joy and pain we had together on the epic ride. Chilas to Babusar Pass is not an easy bet even if you are acclimatized. The experience is a lifetime memory that we will cherish until we do it again.