Cruising The Roof Of The World – Pakistan Part 3

As a German tourist, you don’t want to be dropped off or left behind in the middle of nowhere on Nuku Hiva, which is part of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

While a remote area of Pakistan’s Hindu Kush Mountains, located close to the “Roof of the World,” is not a place where German-eating cannibals hang out, it’s also not the best of places to be left to fend for yourself. That indeed happened — not to me — but to a fellow traveler of mine. And to my surprise, he actually fended for himself quite nicely, while receiving a little help from a random motorcyclist who came to the rescue.

Read on to experience a land cruise across the Roof of the World and the impending abandonment and return of my friend Michael. Plus, as incentive for continuing to the end, you get a look at incredible Buddhist rock carvings that you probably would not expect to find in Pakistan.

A Day in Chitral

After getting cultured in the Kalash Valleys, we journeyed onward to Chitral. Chitral is the main town of the region, nestled deep in a valley of the Hindu Kush Mountains.

A beautiful view of the Hindu Kush Mountains

It is situated along the Chitral River, and it used to be the capital of its own princely state until it was incorporated into Western Pakistan in 1969. Despite its interesting historical background, Chitral is most famous today for its natural beauty. We stayed there for one night, which was just enough time to see and enjoy the town a bit.

Welcome to the town of Chitral, with its stunning backdrop 🤩

During our day in Chitral, we went to see an old fort overlooking the river. The fort was built in the 18th century to protect the region from external threats, and it was restored at the beginning of the 20th century, and was just recently renovated again after a big earthquake a few years ago.

Checking out the view with some local kids

After seeing the fort, we went to check out Shahi Mosque, the main mosque of Chitral which was built just under a century ago.

A lovely mosque

Next, we went to see an old kind of cable car bridge that pulls people up in a little cabin just by muscle power. It’s a little hard to explain, but basically, someone is on a wheel and the cable goes over it. It looked like a lot of fun, so we took a ride on the hand-pulled cable car over the forcefully flowing river and took some photos on the other side. We really enjoyed taking pictures of the mountains and city over that river passage.

Looking down over the powerful river

That evening, we visited some nearby valleys to track down the rare Marco Polo sheep, which come down to the river to drink now and then.

We went down to a narrow gorge where they often visit. We got to see some of them high up in the mountains while others came down to the river for a drink. We took a lot of pictures of the majestic animals and enjoyed the scenery before returning to Chitral for dinner.

On to Mastuj

The following day we left the town of Chitral and continued on toward Mastuj, which was about a ten-hour drive from where we started.

The roads were so bad here that it took us 5 hours to cover 30 km 😭

Mastuj is basically the last town in the Hindu Kush Mountains before reaching the Shandur Pass, which takes you to the Karakoram Himalayas.

On the road again

Nothing too special happened on the drive to Mastuj, except that we had another amazing view of Tirich Mir, the mountain with the highest peak in the Hindu Kush range, which I mentioned in my last post.

The stunning Tirich Mir in all her glory. Kind of gives you that feel you get when flying by Everest, minus the champagne.

We made a few stops along the way to see different overlooks of the river valleys.

Spectacular scenery all around

The whole area was very beautiful, and I really enjoyed seeing the scenery there. There are high mountains, deep valleys, lots of little villages, kind people, and plenty of agriculture.

Green valleys and snowcapped mountain peaks

In Mastuj, we stayed at a nice little homestay with surprisingly strong internet. We enjoyed some delicious homemade regional food for dinner, and got a good night’s sleep. 😴 The next day, we were fueled up and ready to take on the Shandur pass.

We were well rested and ready to make our way to the mighty Shandur Pass!

The Shandur Pass

The road from Mastuj to the Shandur Pass was an even longer drive than we’d sat through the day before. We woke up early in the morning to hit the road and headed back south before turning east toward the Shandur Pass. The Shandur Pass has some hairpin turns, but generally isn’t such a bad pass to take. Locals affectionately refer to the pass as the “Roof of the World”

Making our way to the Shandur Pass

The main attraction of the Shandur Pass is the polo ground, which is the highest in the world at 3,400 meters. Every year they have a polo festival there between the Gilgit-Balistan team of the Karakoram and the Chitral team of the Hindu Kush. The festival consists of seven matches over the course of three days, and it’s a massive celebration for the locals.

At the top of the Shandur Pass

Just east of the Shandur Pass is the beautiful Shandur Lake. We stopped there briefly to take in the views before continuing down the other side of the pass to leave the Hindu Kush and head toward the Karakoram mountain range.

But first we enjoyed lunch at a nice guesthouse

A Tourist Left Behind

Our next destination was Gupis, but we still had a long drive ahead of us to get there. Like the day before, we spent most of the day driving without seeing too many special sights, other than the beautiful mountain valleys and rivers.

Views along the way

Over one of the rivers, we spotted a nice hanging bridge, which we went to check out. The water under the bridge was a beautiful shade of azure blue. We got back in the car and actually forgot one of our group members there, which was a story that stuck with us for the rest of our trip.

The beautiful hanging bridge

One of the guys from our group, Michael, had just crossed the bridge to take some photos of the river below. When the rest of us got back in the car, no one realized that he wasn’t there with us. The guide didn’t count to make sure that we had all made it back, so we just drove off without him. 😳

It looks a little dicey, but there are worse places than this to be abandoned, right?

After about ten minutes down the road, another member of our group asked, “Where is Michael?” The driver stopped in his tracks and turned the bus around immediately to return to the river bridge where we had forgotten him.

But much to our surprise, Michael managed to catch up to us on his own before we ever made it back to meet him at the bridge. Somehow he had flagged down a guy on a motorcycle and jumped on the back of his bike to catch up with us. Honestly, it was pretty impressive that he was able to organize himself so quickly in the middle of nowhere up in the mountains in Pakistan and track us down before we even turned back for him.

After a brief motorcycle ride through the mountains, Michael was returned to us safe and sound.

No one was too upset, and we all had a good laugh about the situation. After that, every time we left a place, we reminded the guide, “Don’t forget anyone,” or “Make sure you don’t forget Michael again!” We also teased him that he should pay us a tip instead of the other way around. 🤣

Reunited in the mini bus

Sightseeing in Gilgit

After retrieving all the members of our group, we continued along the mountain highway to Gupis, where we spent the night before continuing on toward Gilgit the next day. Gilgit is one of the main towns in the area where the Hindu Kush and the Karakoram mountain ranges meet. It is very popular with tourists, who use it as a base for trekking and mountaineering adventures through the Karakoram range.

The town of Gilgit

Gilgit used to be an important stop on the silk road and was once a major center for Buddhism, so we were able to see some of what remained from those ancient days. Just a few kilometers outside of Gilgit city, we found a valley with a rock carving of Buddha from the 7th century called The Rock Buddha of Kargah.

The Rock Buddha of Kargah

There were a lot of Buddhist inscriptions along with the face of Buddha in the rock, so we climbed up to get a better look and enjoy the views before returning to the main town of Gilgit.

Amazing ancient Buddhist carving

The next day we would say goodbye to the beautiful Hindu Kush Mountains, and enter the spectacular Karakoram range, which you will experience in the upcoming post.