Caravanserai 2019: cycling the Silk Road

21/11/2019



Behind the Caravanserai project there are two men, Sebastiano Audisio and Valter Perlino, two friends who have decided to travel to impossible places to spread the spirit of Occitania in the world. We have already told you the story of Sebastiano, revealing the goal of the last edition of Caravanserai: the heart of Asia, between Pakistan, China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, by bike on the Silk Road. Now it’s time to retrace this incredible journey through remote places, of which there are often no maps at all. Are you ready to follow Sebastiano?

In Pakistan, along the highest road in the world

We leave June 14th, from Milan, and arrive after 11 hours of travel to Islamabad, Pakistan. But this is still nothing! We still have to face 650 km of road to reach the real starting point of our adventure. Put like that, it doesn't seem too much: in the West, it's just a few hours drive. But here things change and the arithmetic of travel uses other rules: here, 650 km mean no less than 29 hours of a van in two days, on roads very different from those to which we are accustomed.

On June 16th we finally reach Skardu and from there the extraordinary valley of the Shigar, in the north of Pakistan. This valley surrounded by high jagged mountains and crowned by hanging glaciers, which increase the charm of the desert that appears dotted in the distance by green oases, is rich in lakes and prairies and renowned for its fruit trees. A special light makes it unique and incredibly beautiful. Time does not exist here. We are guests of Navache, strong and proud Balthi bearer, a friend met by Valter in past adventures. We are happy, the long-awaited moment has arrived. While we assemble our mountain bikes accompanied by the curious and amused look of the children of the village, we are projected into our journey, and a healthy frenzy assails us.



June 17th: I'm excited, let's start cycling! We must continue in the valley of the Shigar, among a succession of small villages, breathtaking landscapes, curious encounters. We are at an altitude of 2300 meters where the earth sometimes merges with the sky, and here our ride officially starts. And what a start! We take the track that leads to the Deosai Plateau, at 4000 meters above sea level. The track is almost impassable, between mud, snow and more mud that make it difficult to move on two wheels. Often, we must then face fords with bare feet and - believe me - it is certainly not a small thing! The water is cold, it flows fast, but we certainly can't afford to get our boots wet, it would be dangerous. A leaden sky makes the place severe, almost inhospitable, but at times lightning-fast sunbeams light up the pastel colors of these high-altitude prairies.



We will need almost 3 days of cycling and some thrusting our mountain bikes, for a total of 120 km with a drop of over 800 meters, to reach the Karakorum Highway, the highest road in the world. All in all, however, it does not seem to be so high: the mountains and the peaks that surround us distort the perception and the road seems to run in the valley bottom. As in the other experiences of Caravanserai, the cycling part of the adventure gives us the opportunity to meet the thin air of the high altitude, a fundamental step to start and complete the acclimatization for the subsequent ski mountaineering ascents.



Here luck is definitely on our side: we manage to pass just before the collapse of a glacier, which isolates the area of the Hunza valley and which would have forced us to interrupt our expedition. Instead, on June 23rd we reach Passu, right along the Karakorum Highway. This village on the banks of the Hunza river has become a tourist destination for mountaineering enthusiasts, thanks to its location at the foot of the Passu Sar and the homonymous glacier.

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But our goal is far beyond and, having abandoned Passu, we enter the Shimsal valley, along one of the most dangerous roads in the world. We certainly do not miss anything! It is a stretch of about 55 km, dug into the rock and literally suspended in the void: spectacular and terrifying at the same time, it really provides us a nice adrenaline rush. After more than 60 km of dirt road we reach the village, which lies in an almost unreal plateau, surrounded by peaks that pierce the clouds and glaciers, where the wheat fields alternate with patches of yellow flowers.
In this area we spend six days trekking, in an isolated and little-known area of Pakistan. It is our acclimatization phase before facing the Manglik Sar, a peak of 6050 meters.

The challenge with Manglik Sar


On June 27th we start to get closer to our goal, the Manglik Sar. This is not a technical mountain, it is a snowy peak with very steep but skiable walls, a great training for the next challenge of this journey. We walk 120 km, of these 45 are extremely dangerous, we travel almost hanging on the wall of the mountains up to the Shimsal Pass. Here we truly experience a unique emotion: we feel that in the world of mountaineering - at times so cheeky, so slammed on the front pages of newspapers - still exists the true adventure, the one with a capital A, which takes you to places you would not have never imagined. Remote places, connected by roads that defy the linear logic to which we are accustomed, and where pastors are still available to share the little they have with those who are fearless enough to reach them.



From the Shimsal Pass we give the assault to the Manglik Sar. And here we report the same as what is written in our digital logbook, the facebook page that collected the notes sent during our trip. They are short sentences, transmitted quickly with the first connection available, but which condense all the emotion of two days that we will never forget:

"June 28 and 29: we arrive at the Shimshal Pas 4650, strong wind, snow in the night and only 2 days to attempt the climb without intermediate fields. We leave at around 10am and immediately face a lot of snow to beat. We advance but time passes and at 18, as previously decided, we absolutely have to go down: only 80 meters are missing, but the game becomes too dangerous.
But it's not over. We arrive at the night camp. Me and Valter talk and after all the hard work we put in, I decide to try the next day. Maybe it's a gamble, the gap at these altitudes is excessive, but I'm fine and at 7am I leave. In part I use track made with Valter, but the ridges are reworked, I go more to the right to avoid a crevassed area.

TOP!!! HERE IS EVERYTHING GREAT!

I look down towards the field and virtually feel Valter rejoicing and giving me the charge to bring home the first full descent of the Manglik Sar 6050m! "_Seba

How much satisfaction can there be in stating "I did it for the first time ever"? There you go: try to imagine it and you will have an idea of how we felt there, at the feet of Manglik Sar.



However, this undertaking does not mark the end of our journey. Furthermore, we are not looking for records to beat, but we want to satisfy our desire to know the places we are going through. So, we continue our bike adventure along the Silk Road, ready to meet other people, ready to face new challenges. We arrive at Post, the last outpost of Pakistan, and Chinese customs are waiting for us. Beyond the border, the second part of our journey, between China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
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Garmont has supported the desire for adventure of Sebastiano Audisio and Valter Perlino with a supply of footwear born for the mountain ... but also suitable for cycling trips to the limit of the impossible!
 
 
 
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