Key Places - Karakoram Highway
The picturesque mountain town of Gilgit is a hub for travellers to the Northern Areas of Pakistan and the place of stunning scenic beauty. Gilgit was an important city on the Silk Road. The area has had a history of political and military rivalries. Immediately following the end of British rule in 1947, the people of the region decided to join Pakistan through a popular local revolt against the government of Maharaja of Kashmir.
Situated in a narrow valley on the Gilgit River at its confluence with the Hunza the local economy is mainly agricultural. Gilgit is surrounded by some of the world's highest mountain ranges: Karakoram and the western Himalayas, with the Pamir mountains to the north, and the Hindu Kush to the west. Three of the world's longest glaciers in non-polar regions are also in Gilgit-Baltistan: the Biafo Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier, and the Batura Glacier. In addition to this there are several high-altitude lakes in the area. Tourism, notably trekking and climbing is growing with the draw of the mountains.
At the far end of the town's traditional bazaar is a narrow suspension bridge stretching out across the fast flowing waters of the Gilgit River beneath. This is the largest suspension bridge in Asia at182 metres long. Trout fishing is popular here and local streams and lakes are said to be 'bursting with fish'. A popular local past time is polo which is reputed to have originated here. At one time Buddhism was the way of life in the region so visitors will across a number monuments and symbols including a rock engraving of Buddha carved out of the rugged mountain side at the mouth of the Kargah Nullah six miles outside the town.
A key stopping point along the silk route Kashgar is at the meeting point of roads from Eastern and Central China. Local communities include Uyghurs, Han Chinese, Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks.
Karshgar's open Sunday market the Mal Bazaar is said to be the largest bazaar in Asia. Locals from all the surrounding villages come to town to buy and sell livestock. The daily Yengi Bazaar offers a wealth of handicrafts, cloths, carpets with over 4,000 permanent stalls and an entire street dedicated just to food.
Other points of interest include the Mor Buddhist pagoda. 40kms northeast of Kashgar city, the pagoda was built in 7th century during the Tang dynasty and destroyed 12th century. Monks who live in the city to come to worship here.
In the old town you can visit Areya Street, where you will find, Uyghur styled architecture and bit of history. Muslim Uighurs make up almost half of the Xinjiang region's 22 million inhabitants. They have their own Turkic language, music, food - even their own (strictly unofficial) time zone, two hours behind Beijing's. The town's 'Gaotai residence' (Gaotai Minju) are old slum-like mud houses. Around 220,000 people live in this mud-brick quarter some homes are over 500 years old. A few of the streets have been cleaned up for tourists; but they remain full of authentic atmosphere.
Bishkek is a city characterised by bazaars, leafy parks, Soviet era statues and monuments. Ala-Too Square is a concrete central city square formerly 'Lenin square' is the scene both of frequent political demonstrations and cultural festivals.
City landmarks include the State Historical Museum a three floor museum featuring seasonal exhibits, Soviet-era material and the history and culture of the Kyrgyz people. The M Frunze Museum was the home of General Mikhail Frunze, the World War I and civil war general born in Bishkek. The city bore his name until it was renamed after independence. The museum has photos and displays from the Slavic era.
The Osh Bazaar is Bishkek's principal food market. From fresh sheep's heads to Korean pickled salad, and a variety of Kyrgyz snacks you will find a whole host of products on sale especially in spring and summer when local farms have their produce on sale.
"A wonderful trip with excellent organisation, in a fascinating part of the world. The biking days were quite doable for an average cyclist, and the occasional rest days were interesting..."