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Karakoram Highway to Kyrgyzstan


Beyond the Himalayan Range lies the greatest concentration of mountain ranges in the world. Here we have a unique opportunity to experience astounding natural beauty and ancient cultures whilst enjoying some of the best cycling in the world.

Day 1: Islamabad - Gilgit

You need to arrive into Islamabad on the Saturday no later than 05.00. If you wish to get accommodation in Islamabad for the night before, then we can arrange this for you at cost price. We will try to take the early morning flight to Gilgit (not inlcuded in trip cost); this is one of the most dramatic flight routes in the world. A small Fokker Friendship plane flies around Nanga Parba at 8,125m; the sharp triangle of K-2, the second highest mountain in the world, is clearly visible on the horizon. The pilot sometimes invites passengers into the cockpit to see some of Pakistan's 82 peaks over 7,000m, which stretch, range after range, as far as the eye can see.

This route is 'weather dependent' with about one third of flights cancelled, some at the last moment. If the flight is cancelled we will travel by coach to Gilgit.

On arrival in Gilgit we will be transferred to our hotel.

Gilgit Altitude: 1,500m (4,921ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (L,D)

Day 2: Gilgit

We spend the day relaxing in Gilgit. You have the option of visiting the incredible seventh century Kargah Buddha - a three metre high statute carved half way up a cliff-face. A 10-minute walk from here is the Shuko, a Buddhist birch-bark text (now called the Gilgit manuscripts) that was found in 1931. The manuscripts are now divided among museums in London, Rome, Delhi and Karachi.

Cycle Distance: 18 km (11 miles)
Gilgit Altitude: 1,500m (4,921ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L)

Day 3: Gilgit - Chirah

Today we set off on the bikes and cycle into the beautiful and remote Bagrote Valley which spans a distance of 25km and is a 43 km distance from Gilgit. Located at the heart of the Karakorum Mountains, it is surrounded by four Mountain Peaks: Rakapushi to the West, Dirn to the North, Popurash to the East and Dubani to the South East. The Bagrote river flows through the steep valley and merges with the Gilgit. The lower region of the valley has been likened to a lunar landscape and is in strong contrast to the upper valley.

We cycle up the narrow road to the summer pastures passing beautiful terraced fields and meadows. The crops and orchards are irrigated by water channels from the Barchi and Hinarchi glaciers and mountain snow. Ice from the glacier is transported to Gilgit as the town has no ice factory. Chirah is the final village along the track, with a view of Hinarche Glacier and a series of ridges culminating in the Diran Peak (7270m). Nagyr is on the other side. Tonight we will be camping.

Cycling Distance: 36km (22 miles)
Total Climb: 1,377m (4,518ft)
Total Descent: 372m (1,220ft)
Chirah Altitude: 2,600m (8,530ft)
Accommodation: Camping (B,L,D)

 Day 4: Chirah - Gilgit

This morning we visit a school which redspokes supports as part of our community initiatives. We have a chance to meet local families. There is time to walk around and enjoy the view of the prominent Dobani peak and the Hinarche Glacier. After lunch we set off on the bikes. Our ride back to Gilgit is mainly downhill and a gentle trip compared with yesterday's ascent up the valley. Back in Gilgit you will have time to look around, visit a tea shop or pick up some of the handicrafts for sale in the town.

Cycling Distance: 36km (22 miles)
Total Climb: 372m (1,220ft)
Total Descent:  1,377m (4,518ft) 
Gilgit Altitude: 1,500m (491ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L)

Day 5: Gilgit - Minapin

Setting off from Gilgit, we will make a short off road detour from the KKH to visit the home village of our guide Arman, we stop here for lunch. This afternoon as we rejoin the KKH the road climbs gradually, we pass a few small villages, beyond here we will catch sight of the huge spiral of Rakaposhi mountain looming in the distance. The road goes so close to its base that it is hidden most of the way. It is only when we arrive at our small family guesthouse at Manipin that we really witness the true beauty of Rakaposhi. Our accommodation for the night is situated in a beautiful tranquil orchard.

Cycling Distance: 79km (49 miles)
Total Climb: 1,323m (4,340ft)
Total Descent: 752m (2,467ft)
Manipin Altitude: 2,030m (6,660ft)
Accommodation: Guest House (B,L,D)

Day 6: Minapin - Karimabad

The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is at its most spectacular between Ghulmit and Gulmit. The road rides high on the eastern side of the river, twisting and turning around the barren foot of the Hispar Range, which boasts six peaks over 7,000 metres. On the opposite bank, villages cling implausibly to the side of the 7,388m Ultar Mountain.

Above, the highest snow-covered peaks are hidden  from view behind the jagged teeth of the ridge. Our ride leads us to Karimabad, the capital of Hunza. A short but spectacular day.

Cycling Distance: 33km (20.5 miles)
Total Climb: 702m (2,303ft)
Total Descent: 341m (1,118ft)
Karimabad Altitude: 2,400m (7,874ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B)

Day 7: Karimabad

A rest day, but with so much to see in this enchanting village, it is unlikely that you will get much rest. Highlights include the 13th Century Baltit Fort and the Sacred Rocks of Hunza. For the really adventurous amongst you, trek up the Hon Pass for incredible views across the whole of the Nagar valley.

Karimabad Altitude: 2,400m (7,874ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B)

Day 8: Karimabad - Passu

As we leave Karimabad the road drops down to the village of Ganesh before we begin a fairly hard 15 km climb. Remember that if at any time you have had enough, just wait around for the back-up vehicle. Due to the floods of 2010, a section of the KKH between the village of Gulmet, and Gulkin is now impassable and we will take a ferry here to continue along the route. This afternoon we cycle on a further 16 km to Passu. The road climbs with intermittent glimpses of glaciers, precipices and gleaming white peaks, before the 10 km descent to Passu, which brings us directly to the incredible Passu Glacier where we will stop for the night.

Cycling Distance: 48km (30 miles)
Total Climb: 902m (2,959ft)
Total Descent: 612m (,2008ft)
Passu Altitude: 2,480m (8,136ft)
Accommodation: Guest House (B,L,D)

Day 9: Passu - Shimshall

Today we transfer by vehicle setting off for the first 6km along the KKH, just beyond the Batura Glacier we turn off to cross a suspension bridge over the Hunza river and follow a jeep track up to Shimshal. The road has been described as a miracle of engineering by some. On our approach to Shimshal we pass rocky fields partitioned by dry stone walls, and houses built of mud and stone. In the distance we may catch a glimpse of Odver Sar (6,303m). The village herdsmen pasture their sheep, yak and goats in the seasonal mountain grasslands, located several days walk from the village. The people of Shimshal are Wakhi.

Cycling Distance: 59km (37 miles)
Total Climb: 524m (1,719ft)
Total Descent: 1,128m (3701ft)
Shimshal Altitude: 3,002m (9,849ft)
Accommodation: Guest House (B,L,D)

Day 10: Shimshall - Passu

Today we cycle down through the valley passing the Mulungutti Glacier as we travel through a stunning scenery. The valley is home to herds of sheep, goats and yaks that are moved up and down the valley with the seasons. But we see little evidence of settlement apart from the few shepherds' huts on the narrow track road. We cross the Hunza River over a suspension bridge before re-joining the KKH about 6km north of Passu.

Cycling Distance: 59km (37 miles)
Total Climb: 524m (1,719ft)
Total Descent: 1,128m (3,701ft)
Passu Altitude: 2,480m (8,136ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 11: Passu - Sust

We can make a late start this morning. When we depart our beautiful surroundings this, we have a picturesque 39 km ride to the quiet and unremarkable border village of Sust. We can pick up any supplies we need here, before we cross over the border.

Cycling Distance: 38km (24 miles)
Total Climb: 601m (1,972ft)
Total Descent: 265m  (869ft)
Sust Altitude: 3,668m (12,064ft)
Accommodation: Guest House (B,L,D)

Day 12: Sust - Tashkurgan

We transfer today into China. We set off by vehicle driving up to the Khunjerab Pass. There are a number of border formalities we will need to pass through during the day

Tashkurgan Altitude: 3,085m (10,212ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L)

Day 13: Tashkurgan - Kala Kule

Another fantastic day as we cycle to Kala Kule. This is a long and challenging ride with some amazing views in probably the most spectacular part of western China. For the first 40 km there is a gentle incline as the road winds its way through the Tagharma basin, where you get the first views of the stunning north side of the Muztagh Ata Massif (Father of Ice Mountains at 7,546m). The wind can be strong up here but usually it's a tail wind. The road gets steeper for the last 32km to the top of the 4,200 m pass. Then it's an exhilarating 30km blast downhill, providing the wind is blowing in the right direction!!! We finish the day with a 20km flat ride to the lake. If we can arrange it we will stay in a Kyrgyz yurt otherwise we will tranfser to Kashgar.

Cycling Distance: 97km (60 miles)
Total Climb: 1,114m (3,655ft)
Total Descent: 567m (1,860ft)
Kara Kul Altitude: 3,668m (12,034ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 14: Kala Kule - Kashgar

In the morning Tajik nomads can often be spotted in the area, as their horses, yaks and Bactrian camels graze around the lake. With the 7,546m high Mt Mustagh Ata and the 7,720m Mt Kongur in the background you'll be in no hurry to leave. But what a day we have in front of us, as we enjoy a downhill cyle dropping around 1,800m through the Ghez River canyon with dramatic glacier mountains. From Ghez you have a choice to either transfer to Kashgar, or cycle the last 65 km - the road is flat but the head wind can be strong.

Cycling Distance: 67km (42 miles)
Total Climb: 1,433m (4,734ft)
Total Descent: 172m (5,68ft)
Kashgar Alt: 1,282m (4,206ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L)

Day 15: Kashgar

A well-deserved rest day and time for sightseeing. Kashgar was an important hub on the Old Silk Road; a vibrant Islamic centre positioned at the foot of the Pamir Mountains and commanding access to the high glacial passes of the Silk Road routes into Central Asia, India and Persia. On Sundays Kashgar hosts the most famous market in Central Asia, so we will have chance to enjoy a lively, busy scene that defies its geographical remoteness with crowds flocking in to trade knives, hats, carpets, pots and pans, fresh fruit and vegetables, clothes and boots and every kind of domestic and agricultural appliance - often handmade. Colourful and exotic headgear is one of the features of the market. A short distance away is the Ulagh Bazaar, where traders sell their livestock, including horses, camels, cattle and sheep.

Kashgar Altitude: 1,282m (4,206ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B)

Day 16: Kashgar - Tash Rabat

An early start as we transfer across the dramatic Torugart Pass (3,752m) into Kyrgyzstan. A short distance along the road after the visa formalities, we view the frozen lake Chatyr Kul before reaching Tash - Rabat. This small cluster of yurts is part of a well-developed network of Community Based Tourism (CBT) initiatives which have helped the local economy and gives travellers a great insight into a traditional way of life, unchanged over the centuries. We will be staying in communal yurts.

Tash Rabat Altitude: 2,850m (9,350ft)
Accommodation: Yurt (B,L,D)

Day 17: Tash Rabat - Al Bashy

Before we leave we will have a chance to visit the 15th century stone caravanserai. It's believed to be originally a Nestorian or Buddhist monastery dating back to the tenth century. Leaving Tash Rabat behind us, the lush green pastures and snow-capped mountains of the Tian Shan Mountains are a pleasant change from the red desert on the Chinese side of the border. We drop 700m before we reach today's destination of Al Bashi.

Cycling Distance: 73km (45 miles)
Total Climb: 183m (600ft)
Total Descent: 1,236m (4,055ft)
Al Bashy Altitude: 2,085m (6,840ft)

Accommodation: Homestay (B,L,D)

Day 18: Al Bashy - Bottom Dolon Pass

We begin the day with a relatively easy 27km climb up the Kyzyl Bel Pass (2,625m). Kyrgyzstan is probably the most beautiful of all the Central Asian countries. This is very much in evidence today as we cycle past small farming communities and nomadic shepherds. The road winds between red hills and eroded landscapes, the occasional vehicle will pass by during the 16 km descent towards the town of Naryn. The surface progressively deteriorates to a rutted, bumpy; gravely track making this a thriller ride. After a stop for lunch in Naryn, this afternoon we have long climb before we reach our campsite.

Cycling Distance: 110km (65 miles)
Total Climb: 1,512m (4,960ft)
Total Descent: 1,093m (3,585ft)
Sleeping Altitude: 2,480m (6,702ft)

Accommodation: Camping (B,L,D)

Day 19: Bottom Dolon Pass - Kochkor

This is a challenging day as we cycle over the Dolon Pass which at 3,035m is the highest pass we encounter in Kyrgyzstan. We end the day with a long downhill ride through a wide fertile valley that takes us to Kochkor, where we will stop for the night.

Cycling Distance: 110km (65 miles)
Total Climb: 1,512m (4,960ft)
Total Descent: 1,093m (3,586ft)
Kochkor Altitude: 1,846m (6,056ft)
Accommodation: Homestay (B,L,D)

Day 20: Kochkor - Bishkek

Our last day's cycle takes us to Issyk Kul, the second largest alpine lake in the world surrounded by  the snowcapped Tian Shan Mountains the turquoise waters of the lake never freeze over. A fantastic location to finish a wonderful ride. After lunch we will transfer to Bishkek, pack the bikes up and then spend time exploring this laid-back picturesque city.

Cycling Distance: 62km (38.5 miles)
Total Climb: 163m (535ft)
Total Descent: 356m (1,168ft)
Bishkek Altitude: 724m (2,375ft)

Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 21: Bishkek - Home

An early morning transfer to the airport for the morning flight home.

Bishkek Altitude: 724m (2,375ft)

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