I came across a nutty video (at the bottom of this post) which brought about an old story.
- Pakistan ! (how badly I want to return when seeing this…);
- the roads or rather tracks these two guys are riding;
- the way they are riding, a bit… well… say eh… sloppy? (does wearing an Afghan cap as a helmet adds to the thrill?);
- the biker’s age;
- THAT BRIDGE + THAT TUNNEL as of minute 2:45………………
Here is my story about the very same bridge.
2002, Gilgit, Pakistan
Iris Heiremans and I had been on the road for months from Belgium by the time we reached Gilgit, capital town of the northernmost province of Pakistan. On fuel motorcycles ‘of course’, two fully laden Suzuki DR 650 SE’s. The town lays along the famous Karakoram Highway, nicknamed KKH. We were heading North, towards the 4.600 m Khunjerab pass on the Chinese border.
That morning we left Gilgit and I had chosen the so-called ‘back door’ to leave town. It was a short cut and seemed logical on the map. A bit of a busy morning it was too but we finally found the one lane road, then… noticed the narrow, wooden suspension bridge across the Hunza river.
We weren’t too sure about riding loosely hanging bridges but we set off, cautiously. By the time I reached the middle, a hollow feeling hit home. Something was wrong with the bike: I could hardly keep upright. Then suddenly I realised the bridge had started swinging. It wasn’t the motorbike… For this there’s but only one solution: off at FULL THROTTLE !
But then a car entered the bridge from the opposite side.
It happened quite some time ago but the memory of the scene is as vivid as yesterday. I recall screaming and blowing my horn frantically for there was just NO way we could either stop, let alone turn around on the one lane, swinging device. By then we had noticed that the bridge ended in a long tunnel which made it impossible to see any oncoming vehicle, or vice versa for that matter.
We just HAD to halt…
The car and we were standing face to face on a swaying, wooden bridge with a large mountain river some twenty meters below. We were just paralysed, shouting for minutes, trying to convince the car driver to reverse. But already other cars had pulled up behind the first and everything was deadlocked, with pale faced Iris and I trapped in the middle. I had no idea how to get out of the situation; there was no way to get off the bikes as we even had trouble staying upright.
Then, after what seemed ages, a bunch of Pakistani on foot came to the rescue. A couple of each held on to the bikes, helped us getting off and turning the bikes around. We finally managed to ride back, off the bridge towards the traffic jam which had formed on that side as well. Never ever have we lived this much relief of sensing solid ground beneath our tyres.
How did we finally cross?
We parked, waited till our hearts pounded normally, watched how traffic was creeping across and most of all how the cars took turns in crossing. Finally we set off behind a few cars, pretended not to feel the swing, freaked out again in the steep, narrow, unlit and stony tunnel right after the bridge and stopped at the very first tea house along the road.
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The featured image above is this Danyor suspension bridge, © Shakeel Ahmad. Built in the sixties, it has been declared unsafe and replaced by a two way concrete bridge a bit further down the river, constructed and completed in 2013.
Dubbed as “Pul-e-Sirat” (the bridge between heaven and hell), the 510-feet-long bridge connects to a 10-metre curved tunnel. Locals say the journey is a test of a driver’s skill and nerve, and add that an abrupt stop can leave a vehicle stranded on the middle of the stream, “which is a quite a frightening situation”.
In the video below as of minute 2:45 you get another good idea of the bridge, the incredible, unlit, narrow and steep tunnel right behind it on the other end, and about how our story must have looked like. Enjoy !