We had hoped that losing our escort yesterday would mean there wouldn’t be one onus today, and it was true for the morning as we road the busy, hilly road between Abottabad and Mansehra. Once we got to the police checkpoint before Mansehra though we were made to stop and wait for a truck follow us.
At this stage we were happy enough to take the escort as we thought we wouldn’t get to ride this section of the KKH at all. The last tourists of last season that had gone up in November had been made to ride a bus all the way through the KPK province, from Abottabad to Chilas. It having to put up with a sometimes actively annoying escort allowed us to cycle then so be it.
Mansehra sat at the bottom of a wide valley with green fields either side. The town was busy as always. The road on the other side of town followed a river as trees dappled shade and the ride after Manshera was surprisingly serene. We stopped for lunch at a small fish shack beside the river. Our escort made us move on and eat at the’VIP’ restaurant down the road that didn’t serve any fish.
The landscape became even more picturesque. As the foothills of the Karakorum moved in over the flat land more and more terraced farms appeared on the sides of the hills growing rice and tea. This progressed gradually until the hills were all steep and covered with terraces or left with trees where to steep to cultivate. The road into the hills was lush and green with streams running along side it. It felt almost Alpine.
The ride continued much like this for the rest of the day. We would pass through the occasional village but for the most part settlements were dispersed farm houses scattered over the terraced hills. We filled up our water at a pump and then went to find somewhere to camp.
We found a perfect spot out of view of the road amongst a small clearing of trees on small flat top of a hill. We pulled over to set up and of course the escort didn’t want this. We weren’t trying to be difficult or to make their work hard, but we didn’t want to go pay for a hotel when this perfect spot was available. They didn’t have a good reason either, just the old ‘security issues’ and this time they claimed ‘wild dogs would come’. Thus we felt in the right to set up our camp.
Since we were at an impasse the situation was escalated up the chain of command until a station officer arrived and told us to get going by spinning a yarn about local families not liking the police. We managed to negotiate out of staying in a hotel (expensive) to camping in the yard at the next police checkpoint over. A police checkpoint they claimed was only 10 minutes of cycling away, but with it getting dark we got them to carry us and the bikes in the van. We had learnt by now that any claims the police make to get you moving aren’t entirely true and a good thing too as the checkpoint that was a ’10 minute cycle’ away turned out to be a thirty minute drive over two steep hills.
Finally we were set up in the yard of the police checkpoint. You would think this would keep them happy but in the middle of the night another policeman came by and tried to get us to move to the hotel. At this point we were behind sandbags and razor wire next to a police checkpoint at the top of a pass so we were pretty sure he was full of it and went back to sleep.