The second day of our long road trip retracing our steps back to Kashgar took us from Skardu, where we had spent the night, back up the valley to Sost which was to be our staging point short of the border crossing back into China.

The drive followed the Hunza River upstream around the western edge of Rakaposhi. We stopped at the memorial to the builders of the KKH, and later stopped at the Rakaposhi view point for tea. The staggering views up the north face above were just as impressive the second time around!

We drove straight through the green terraces of the Nagyr and Hunza without stopping and made good time to the rockfall which formed the Attabad Lake. It was at this point we said goodbye to our faithful 4WD drivers as well as Sher Baz, our cultural guide. Crossing the lake by wooden boat was a highlight of the entire trip, just as it was when we crossed it two weeks ago (even though it feels far longer than that!) – a mini adventure in itself, and lovely to kick back and take in the views of the turquoise lake, high cliffs and snow-capped mountains for the hour or so it took us to traverse from one end of the lake to the other.

The mooring place for the boats at the upstream end of the lake was past the point at which the lake meets the silty waters of the river pouring into it, and our boat struggled along near the bank (where the current wasn’t as formidable) to make headway. Some deft boatmanship got us across the river to the opposite bank where we were able to tie up to some rocks and scramble up to the road and into the same minivans we rode in when we first arrived in Pakistan.

A short drive later past the bulging snout and terrifying roadside moraines of the Gulmit Glacier and we were back in Passu for a late lunch at the hotel we had stayed in. We didn’t stay in the hotel however, as our objective for the night was the town of Sost and the basic/dated PTDC hotel. Sost was where we would be processed and stamped out of Pakistan tomorrow – if everything goes according to plan.

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We left Shigar at 6am expecting a 12+ hour day of driving ahead. Following the road back to Skardu, we turned up a side road just before we got into town and headed south up a deep valley. As we gained altitude we drove through different layers of vegetation, and the first light hitting the changing foliage of birch trees was quite brilliant.

The road surface was pretty good most of the way up, but the last couple of kilometres were nothing more than a jeep track. Approaching an altitude of almost 4000m the valley widened out and we entered the plateau of the Deosai Plains. The scenery reminded me of the Scottish Highlands with rolling hills covered in grass, and a dusting of recent snow had covered the higher slopes. This late in the summer, all the grass was brown.

It took around five hours to cross the plains, chugging along some very rocky jeep roads. We broke up the travel with a tea stop and lunch, and there wasn’t too much to see in the desolate expanse apart from the occasional herd of goats and sheep as well as colonies of golden marmots – the biggest (and tamest) I’ve ever seen, all fattened up for winter ahead.

While on the plains we were passed by a British motorcyclist who had ridden his Triumph bike from England across Europe and Russia, through China and down the KKH. He was on his way to Amritsar, where he planned to turn around and drive back to the UK along a different route through Iran. Impressive stuff! He joined us for tea and it was great to hear his stories. www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/China-Jolly/

Once we crested the 4300m pass on the western side of the plains we began a loooooong descent down the Astor Valley. It took about four hours to drive back to where the Astor river intersects with the Indus (and where we picked up the KKH again) at around 1200m altitude. We didn’t stop too often on the descent as the weather was turning and there wasn’t much to see, and we were hit by a thunderstorm at the point we should have been able to look straight up at Nanga Parbat – shame!

One and a half hours later we were back in Gilgit, exhausted and dusty from the full day of off-road driving. With one day behind us, we have still three full days of travel to get back to Kashgar in China.

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We left Khaplu and drove back down the Shyok valley to where it converged with the Indus, and then followed the Indus past the turn-off to Shigar/Askoli to Skardu. We were going to spend a few hours in Skardu and I was curious to see what it was like given the historic role the town has played in the mountaineering history of the Karakoram.

We first took a stroll down the street through the bazaar in the old part of town. Nothing too special to see, just a busy local scene. We then drove a short distance away to the famous K2 Hotel, where so many of the expeditions over the decades have started and ended. After a basic lunch we walked through the hallways which are adorned with stickers, postcards, photos, posters and handwritten notes from all of the various expeditions and groups over the years. There were a lot of famous names in the world of climbing up there, and it was great to see even the Army Alpine Association (to which I used to belong in Australia) get a mention.

We also toured the K2 Museum adjacent to the hotel, erected by the Italians to celebrate their first ascent of the mountain in 1954. I loved seeing the old photos (not much has changed locally it seems, but Westerners tend to wear fewer pith helmets) and the old maps of the Baltoro Glacier and Karakoram range. Once we were done there we drove back to Shigar, to the Fort Palace where we had stayed a few nights ago.

The following morning we took a long walk around the lovely village of Shigar. The locals were very friendly to us and we visited a girls primary school – super cute watching them learn Urdu by reciting poems they had written in front of the class (and a gaggle of Westerners).

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