Cycling Challenge: Chillas to Babusar Top
The Babusar pass is one of Pakistan’s highest paved road passes. The high-altitude pass is 4173 meters above sea level. The Babusar top is reached via a road that winds through Naran, Batakundi, and Besal to the top, which is the valley’s highest point, and then descends to Chilas (altitude 1265m). Chilas is situated alongside the banks of the Indus River, surrounded by barren high-scale mountains, and it is also quite hot down there.
On September 19, 2021, Humza, Umayr, and I, 3 passionate and amateur cyclists planned to do this cycle ride from Chilas to the mighty Babusar pass, we had planned this for so long and finally, this plan seemed to be getting together for all of us. That morning we packed our bikes and started our journey from Islamabad to Chilas in a Toyota Hilux. It took us around 9 hours to reach Chilas through Kaghan Valley.
On the way, we passed through beautiful Kaghan valley and reached Babusar Pass. We stayed there for an hour and so to acclimatize ourselves for the ride the next day. It was windy and cold and definitely pretty thin air at ALT: 4173m, we felt low levels of oxygen while walking around the pass. It was a beautiful evening looking at the switchbacks from the top is always mesmerizing. Excited but also anxious to tackle one of the hardest climbs, especially at such a high altitude. After enjoying some wonderful tea, we departed for Chilas.
We arrived in Chilas before sundown and got ready for the challenging ride the following day. Unexpectedly, the heat in Chilas was even worse than it was in Islamabad. In preparation for a lengthy ride the following morning, bikes in Chilas were completely cleaned, the tires were filled, the chain was lubricated, and so on. We tried to log in some restful sleep so as to be ready for the next day ahead.
The opportunity to challenge ourselves on the epic climb has finally arrived. We had an early start on the day because if we had waited, it would have been too hot to begin the ascent from Chilas. In Chilas, we enjoyed a satisfying breakfast before posing with our bikes in front of the Shangrilla Resort’s memory wall. We then departed for the starting location.
Around 7:40 a.m., we began cycling, eager to begin the long journey. The elevation gain and height, rather than the distance, seem to have more impact. We were ready to complete a 40-kilometer ascent of roughly 3100 meters. Within the first kilometer, the ascent began, and we were optimistic. We intended to take proper rest and meal intervals. We had the items with us in our broom vehicle. After 10 kilometers, we had our first break and felt well thus far. The break was brief and the action kept going.
The gradient from Chilas was a bit easy initially; we were mostly climbing from 5% to 7%. We seldom got 3 to 4 straight short patches which felt like a blessing to us. Gradually we climbed and passed through a few rough patches due to landslides which we had to walk through. The water streams that ran alongside the road were also something we loved.
Heading into the valley through a beautiful road but while climbing and looking forward to the mighty pass, we couldn’t focus much on the scenery side. The climb got harder and harder gradually towards the target. We have started taking breaks after every 5kms to regroup and move ahead together. We were keeping ourselves hydrated with electrolytes and eating energy bars and fruits (bananas and apples).
The sun was shining bright and at one point it got really hot even at the altitude of 3000m from sea level. High gradient and weather started to melt us on the climbs. With every passing meter, we were getting tired, and kilometers seems to be covered really slowly. We turned our attention to the finish line at this point as mental fortitude began to take hold. After 25 kilometers, the suffering began.
As we approached the massive Babusar Pass, we encountered gradients that reached as high as 16% in some places, we started to feel depleted of oxygen, and there was a fairly strong headwind. Even during the fierce headwind weeks of Doha, never had I ever before encountered such winds while cycling. The wind drained us pretty fast, and riding on high altitudes like 3500m was a real challenge. We have started to take breaks after every 500m distance due to strong wind and the weather getting harsher gradually. We, therefore, took a lengthy pause to replenish our energies when the final 15 kilometers were left at the summit, consumed tea, some fruits, and energy bars.
We were completely spent physically and mentally as well, plus the weather didn’t allow us to move ahead. Alas! when the last 3 km were left, the rain started and it got unbearably cold where we had to abandon our ride and load the bikes on the back of our vehicle, and finished the line. We had 2 cups of tea each to get ourselves together at Babusar Pass.
Words can never justify the feeling of joy and pain we had together on the epic ride. Chillas to Babusar Pass is not an easy bet even if you are acclimatized. Chillas to Babusar experience is a lifetime and will cherish it until we do it again.
There is a small video clip that Umayr Bhai did, watch it here