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.