Our crazy trip along the Karakarom Highway or basically what happens when your flight from Skardu to Islamabad gets cancelled.
When we had booked our flights for Skardu we basically assumed everything would go as per schedule. The trains would leave on time, the flight would not be delayed and of course no cancellations. We had known that flights to Skardu do get cancelled but based on our research, September was good weather time.
As the days neared to our trip, our worries grew but thankfully Islamabad to Skardu went normal - we did experience delay of 1.5 hours but that was still bearable - the flight took off and we reached our destination. Unfortunately we were not so lucky on the way back - the flight a day earlier than ours had gotten cancelled and as we were halfway to the airport we found out ours had also cancelled.
Now the Skardu flight cancellation means the following:
- Waiting for PIA to accommodate you in another flight. As per PIA regulations, the confirmed passengers get first priority and if there are remaining seats, the stranded passengers get an option.
- You figure out hotel stay & transport for the next day. Of course, you will need a place to stay and you would need to delay / cancel your seats from Islamabad. In our case, our train tickets from Islamabad to Karachi got wasted.
- You take the Karakoram Highway from Skardu to Islamabad which is a 20 - 24 hour trip by road and of course that requires a night-stay to break the trip.
So basically, a case where every path led to an adventure. In our case, we decided to go with option 3 - the biggest adventure of all! Yay.
We also did because we had other seasoned travelers with us who were planning a road trip and we basically latched on. Turned out to be the best impromptu decision we made because .... great company, relatively comfortable ride & reduced travel costs.
We started from Skardu in the morning - initially the ride was crazy bumpy but it got better as we reached the highway. Initially our plan was to stop at Shangrila Chillas Resort for the night (an 8 hour trip) and then leave early morning at Fajr for Islamabad. However, our driver felt that going to Naran directly (which would take 12 hours) was a better option as there are potential landslides in Chilas which might result in us being stranded. As much as we all wanted to go to Chilas we listened to the driver's advice and went to Naran instead. It took longer, like 12 hours but the subsequent journey ahead from Naran to Islamabad was 8 hours meaning we would reach Islamabad around 12 pm - 1 pm. We crossed Babasur Pass in the evening making sure to stop for a few minutes at Babuser Top to admire the view. Babuser is the highest point in the Kagan valley so basically you walk through clouds on the top not mist.
We finally reached Naran at night on a road that was pitch dark. I kept praying the entire time because all I could see was lights in the distance or a glacier that we passed by. We stopped at this hotel - it was definitely not Shigar or Khaplu but passable to spend for a couple of hours as we were leaving for Islamabad right after Fajr.
24 hours on the road - Would I do it again? I hope never.
Not because the ride was bumpy but because there were no clean restrooms on the way. So either you go Pakistani style or you don't eat / drink anything or well both.
But wait .........
As if 24 hours on the road weren't enough our flight got delayed. We had taken an emergency Air-Blue flight in the evening at 7 pm giving us enough time to refresh ourselves in Islamabad - go for a nice lunch followed by coffee. We went to Tuscany Courtyard (YUM!) followed by Mocca (SO relaxing). We got to the airport at like 4 pm and decided to spend time reading our Kindle.
Instead of the boarding call, what we heard was flight delayed till 7:15 then 9:00 pm then 9:30 pm then finally 1 am in the night. Thankfully, the flight finally took off at 1 am and we reached Karachi 3:30 am and then home at 4:30 am.
After which we promptly fell asleep for like 2 days .....