Waking up in the Hunza valley was a remarkable experience. It is impossible to do justice to the scenery here. The massive snow-capped peaks of Rakaposhi which rise to 7800m are just one of the impressive sights that greet you as you progress through the valley. Taking a leisurely drive and about a zillion photos, we took a side road which was pointing to Hoper glacier. This was to prove a bad idea though we didn’t know it at the time. The road was a dirt track that was very steep and rugged and about 20 Km long. We came across a Swiss cyclist who was struggling along and gave him a lift. After a while, the engine problem occurred again so we decided to try the wet towel idea. We soaked two towels and put one on the solenoid and one on the radiator pipe. After a while, a tractor came so we had to move. I moved the towel and put down the bonnet. We headed off again for the last few Km to the glacier.
We spent a few hours walking on the glacier and enjoying the views before leaving to go back down the dirt track. After a few Km we noticed smoke coming from the engine. The fire extinguisher in the front proved to be worth its weight in gold because when we opened the bonnet we were greeted by the sight of large flames consuming the spark leads on the right of the engine! The towel that had been on the coil had slipped down onto the manifolds out of sight so I hadn’t noticed it when closing the bonnet before and assumed Richard must have moved it. The heat from the manifolds had ignited it and it had burned the spark leads and the fuel return lines from the carbs before we put it out. We recovered fairly quickly from the situation though, as we had spares leads and spare pipe sections we used to fix the return lines. There were some singed electrical wires too which were easily replaced. Feeling fairly pleased that we had managed to recover from this near disaster we drove back down the KKH to return to Islamabad and then cross to India. Time was becoming very short for getting to Tibet. However, our troubles weren’t over yet.
On Tuesday we were nearing Abbotabad (what is it about this place?) again when the ignition problem occurred with a vengeance. The problem would not resolve itself and was occurring even though the engine was cold which put pay to the over-heating coil theory. For about 90 Km we had to drive at 25 miles an hour as the engine was performing too badly to go faster. We limped back to Richards mates in Abbotabad and hatched a plot for getting the problem fixed. Due to the time constraint we decided that Richard would take the Landy to the garage Islamabad and I would go to visit the ActionAid project in Muzaffarabad.
Unbeknownst to me, while I was in Muzaffarabad (see separate post), the Land Rover was driving fine and again had no visible problems when taken to the garage. This was becoming infuriating. We had hoped that the problem had finally become permanent so it could be resolved but its intermittent nature meant that it was impossible for the mechanics to diagnose. We have no alternative but to continue on until it finally manifests itself completely.
Saturday we made our way to the border at Wagah. I did get stopped by the motorway police for speeding (they have a 50 Km/h zone – ridiculous) but I managed to convince them I was foreign and knew nothing. Wagah is the only place where vehicles can cross to India but it was surprisingly deserted and surprisingly hard to find – being located down a poor road with no signposts. After the usual few hours of beurocracy and the usual drugs related questions we were through and in India. On the very line of the border we were offered cold beer but as we had no currency yet we couldn’t take them up on this offer.
We drove the 35Km to the city of Amritsar – the home of the legendary golden temple –Sikhism’s holiest site. Under the Sikh code, anyone can stay at the temple for 3 days free food and board. Sweet. We made our way there after getting some cash at an ATM. It was a relief to be able to use these wondrous devices again after not being able to use them in Iran and only being able to us two banks in Pakistan.
The Golden Temple was magnificent and we spent hours wandering around it, claiming our beds and getting fed in the canteen. 30,000 people eat here every day and the food is prepared by Sikh volunteers. In the evening, we caught a rickshaw to the one bar in town which was a grubby dive and we had our first cold beer in weeks. We got into conversation with some locals who were keen to discuss politics. This is common everywhere we go. Stick to the down with Bush line and you are on to a winner. Then it was back to the temple. The temple changes at night and comes home to a lot of people who are keen to espouse how great Sikhism is. I learned a lot about the religion from these people but I don’t think I’ll be donning a silver bracelet just yet.
After a night in the temple we left Amritsar for Delhi on Sunday morning. We didn’t reach it by Sunday night as the road is jammed full of bicycles, motorbikes, lorries and pedestrians which makes it almost impossible to get above 40 mph. We stopped in a truck stop and prepared to hit Delhi early the next morning.