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The Himalaya Diary 2012

Members of CK BB returned this year to the Pakistani Himalayas.

 

 

They will try to defend last year‘s results – victory of all stages last year and overall victory of Haring, runner-up position in the Team Classification, 6th place of Fraňo, 10th place of Košút and 6th and 7th place of Hanesová and Vojtášová respectively.

Martin Fraňo said about the upcoming event: „This year 2 of our members have been asked by the organizer to lead the training camp preceding the race itself. Last year the training camp was organized by Nathan Dahlberg, an ex-professional, ex-member of teams Motorola and 7-Eleven, Tour de France participant, stage winner of Tour de Switzerland, Tour de Mexico and many other races. Since Nathan could not participate this year due to family reasons, we were happy to accept the organizer’s offer. This year the camp will be run by myself and Zuzana Vojtášová. The camp will consist of training in the Kaghan Valley, nearby towns of Shogran and Naran. We will ride in the surroundings of these towns plus all of the routes that  feature in the Tour the Himalayas race. The training camp starts on Sunday, 9th September, and finishes on the Tuesday ten days later, when other foreign participants will start to flow in. The race itself will start on Friday 20th September. The organizer Khurram’s hotels in Shogran at an altitude of 2.700m and in Kiwai at an altitude of almost 2.000m will serve as the base for the camp. It’s from these places that we should start our training. The rest of the Slovak Team is expected to arrive in Pakistan on 15th September. As an accompanying event to the race itself, a sports day for the kids at the local primary school is organized 2 days prior to the race start. All cyclists taking part in the Tour will be participating. The school was built and is run by the race organizer, a non-profit organization the Kaghan Memorial Trust. The trust supports children of the region that was severely hit by an earthquake some years ago. 11 teams are invited for the Tour this year: Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Scotland, England, Denmark, Holland, Pakistan, a selection from the Khyber Pakthunkwa region, Sui Southern Gas Oil company team and World United. Each team consists of 3 men and 2 women. Besides individual men’s and women’s rankings there is a Team Classification counted on the basis of the best times of 2 men and 1 woman in each stage. Our riders Fraňo, Bátora, Viglaský, Vojtášová and Hanesová will compete against riders such as Czech Rauchfuss and Dutch Turpin, participants of Cross-Country World Championships. Several medallists from international 24-hours races will be at the start along with ex-professional road cyclist, Soren Petterson. We also helped the organizer to communicate with the Czech and Hungarian teams that are new to the race. Both of them are strong teams though it will be interesting to see how they cope with the altitude. My personal bid for an overall victory is Bátora, I hope he will repeat last year’s dominance of our rider Haring. Based on Haring’s great performance, our team has a good reputation and is expected to fight for a victory in the Team Classification. Last year’s performance set the expectations high. I also hope the acclimatization camp prior to race itself will help me and especially Zuzana Vojtášová to adjust to the altitude since during the race it varies from 2.700m to 4.200m. At this altitude, good acclimatization can be even more crucial to one’s performance than his actual form.”

Day 1 (Zuzana Vojtášová)

„Lufthansa is on strike, but I don’t think that affects your trip anyhow.” – an SMS from my mum caught me on my 1st day off, sitting in a café in Sliač after light training. It affected us a lot though. Last year we flew with a low-cost airline to Liverpool, where we spent the night at a friend’s house who drove us to near-by Manchester the following day. This year we decided to make our travel less complicated and got a more expensive ticket with Lufthansa, flying directly to Manchester. It seems choosing a good brand may not always be the right choice as about 30 flights across Europe were cancelled on Monday, our return flight amongst them. Early Tuesday morning, before heading for the airport, we check Lufthansa webpage, another 50 flights are cancelled but none of ours so far. Knowing the lazily executed and often badly done work of the airline employees, I always wonder how they can constantly ask for a salary increase. Check-in in Vienna went surprisingly fast, the only surprise was an additional 10€ on the normal 50€ bike transfer cost for printing a baggage coupon for the bikes. Untill now I never paid for a “boarding pass” for my bike, oh well, times are changing. The following trip Vienna-Dusseldorf-Manchester is rather boring, with a bit of stress when checking whether the connecting flight was cancelled. Knowing there might be problems with bike transfer on the flight to Pakistan, we head for a check-in in Manchester 15 minutes before check-in opens. Of course there is no reference to our bike transfer in the system, there usually never is even if you pre-register. Fighting for the cost-free transfer is good for improving our English and soft skills. We try to pretend that a situation such as this has never happened to us before with any other airline. The lady at the check-in is pretty good at bluffing too and makes us wait over an hour for a Manager. Since he is not authorized to make a decision, we wait 30 minutes for a further Manager. With a permanent smile on his face, he responds without any hesitation that there is no space for oversize luggage on the flight. When we mention that AirBlue is one of the key sponsors of the event, he changes promptly to “then there is no problem”. The lady at the check-in waits patiently for another half an hour just to have it confirmed in written form. I prefer to spare our colleagues and the Czech team the same problems and prevent their bikes from missing the flights, so I report to the second manager all the relevant data. He made a picture of their tickets to his Black-berry – he saved approximately 2 extra steps needed to get to his copy machine. Flight to Islamabad goes without any problem, however is quite long and tiring, with a gas stop in Turkey. We spent over 1,5 days by travelling.

After landing in Islamabad, I planned to refresh myself in the Ladies room at the airport. I was greeted by four “toilet ladies“ (there is a special expression used for ladies working in the public toilets in my language), all happy someone showed up in the bathroom. One of them was opening and closing the door, making sure none of the men would get a glimpse of me washing my hands. Another one run after me with toilet paper, and another one followed me repeating “you are beautiful“. She might have been impressed by my rasta track suit. Only later I learned, when this situation repeated itself, that she might have liked the light colour of my eyes. Who knows. The last lady was taking her time off, no rush to do anything. Local women tend to stay aside and in female groups. I wouldn’t expect to meet a bunch of them in the Ladies room though – there is a logic in it though, they will not come accross any unknown man in the ladies toilets. So if they are not doing any cleaning work at the airport, it is very well possible they spend the time together in the Ladies room.

We airport lobby, a KTM volunteer Leony awaits us impatiently. She came over from Holland and is staying for one year working on voluntary basis for a non-profit organization Kaghan Memorial Trust (KMT). The race Tour de Himalayas is organized to help promote awarenes of this trust and its local activities – an international cycling race attracts the media attention more than the trust itself. It is not very common to organize a sporting event for 40 foreign riders with some of them arriving directly from World Championship – all of this is valuable information for the media. However, the race itself is due to security issues held secret until one day before the start. Kaghan Valley is not that easy to access, so belated media disclosure of the race should prevent any organized terrorist groups in their activities. Transfer from the airport to Khurram’s house is well known to us from last year, so this time we don’t look like Japanese tourists and don’t take any pictures. Later in the day we take a short nap awaiting a long and busy night with Khurram.

Day 2

Main organizer of the race Tour of the Himalayas, Khurram, who himself prefers to be addressed as ‘boss‘, is a very social person. And very assertive as well, he does not like any opposing.

So after one year of not seeing him, we knew the evening wellcoming party would be long. The next day we thus sleep-in. As it rained the whole night and morning, we decide only to do only a little bit of jogging, no bike today. We check the KTM spare bikes that were not used since last year’s race. I pumpe the weels while Martin takes care of punctures, controls and oils the cables.

2 of the KTM volunteers go to a fitness club in “French Club“. It’s supposed to be an elite membership club owned and run by the French Embassy in so called “Red Zone“ of Islamabad. The Red Zone enclave remins me of West Berlin before 1989 – it’s a guarded and fence-protected premises in the middle of Islamabad where all the embassies, lodgins for diplomats and entities run by the embassies such as sports grounds, bars ets are located. The enclave is surrounded by tall walls with barbed wire tops. Almost every object in the enclave is protected by its own walls and numerous police guards. Diplomats and employees of the embassies live and work in the enclave, they can even do some basic shopping here. It all looked very depressive to me, mostly because it reminded me of the times prior to 1989. The feeling might have been emphasised by the fact we got there late in the evening, by dark. Girls did’t get to go to the gym due to heavy traffic, but we asked them to take a tour of the Enclave later that night, so we went for a beer there. A real classy society tends to meet in places such as French Club. I imagine many of them rarely do go out of the Enclave and when they get home to their home countries, they speek of the dangers they were surrounded by in the middle of Islamabad.

Only foreigners can enter the Red Zone without any prior notice. With a passport of course. Pakistans have to send a request 1-2 days in advance depending on what they want to do in the Enclave – whether just to use some facilities, or visit an Embassy. It is impossible to get into some of the clubs unless you are an inhabitant of that particular country – I was told the Brittish Club is supposed to be real strict about this, or unless you pay an expensive subscription fee. French Club is supposed to be one of the easiest accessible ones and is also quite friendly to non-members – prices for non members are about some 30% higher than for members and there are some restrictions as to when the other services such as pool etc. are available.

Day 3

The third day is just like the previous one – it’s raining, so we try to get some extra sleep after the first party night and before the next one. We went for a short jogging in the surroundings. Martin must look like an extra-terrestrial being, he doesn’t have any shorts for running, so he put his cycling clothes on. We spend the afternoon by a tour of a newly build multi-functional complex CENTAURUS.

Shabaz, Khurram’s friend, is responsible for smooth running of the whole project in terms of business and occupancy. The occupancy ratios, costs and sales prices in such projects interest me since I come accross these figures at my work back home quite often. It seems that hotel industry in Islamabad is better functioning than the industry average of Slovakia. It might be just as well due to the fact Pakistan is a country of 180 million people, there surelly are more people needing hotel accomodation than there are in a 5 million Slovakia. Islamabad is also a very important city in terms of politics – it is the capital of the country with all Embassies. Next week also Vladimir Putin should be coming for 2 nights. I can’t even imagine what the traffic will be those days. When we tried to enter French Club last night, there were bad traffic jams in some streets because the Prime Minister was supposed to pass. Maybe he was only coming home from dinner. But I assume if Pakistan is safe enough for Putin, it should be just as well for us.

We don’t start the day nor start doing anything unless we have a cup of good coffee. Like in all Pakistan, at Shabaz office the ‘coffee‘ consists of Nescafé with milk. I’d call that rather a capuchino, very light. Almost an up-rising started in the office, the guy making the coffee made a special effort to make a really strong coffee for us. Laughing, we swear it’s the best and strongest coffee we had in the past few days. We start calling it a kashmere capuchino laté – the guy preparing the coffee is originally from Kashmir. He of caurse denies any hostilities between kashmere, pakistani and indian inhabitants. The war has been – unlike in many other countries – carried on on paper for the past 50 years or by supporting terrorist and similar groups.

We are really looking forward to taking the tour of the CENTAURUS construction site. There is a similar project to this one in our capital, Bratislava, only the level of CENTAURUS is much higher I’d assume based on what I saw. Three towers are under construction, 2 residential ones, 1 office one and another tower will be built within the next 2 years and will include a 7* hotel complex. All buildings are interconnected by a 5 floor shopping mall with trademarks such as IWC intented for upper class. One floor amounts to 125tsd m2.

It really was interesting walking around a construction site where normal persons cannot access unless discussing a rental place next to Hugo Boss or planning to buy an appartment worth 300tsd€. The best experience for me was taking the provisory construction lift up to an exemplary apartment in the 30th floor. I felt kind of VIP. These are all experiences I would hardly ever get to experience in Slovakia. The same for other events – on ‘trips‘ such as this one, we get to dine with ministers and important businessmen, because races in many countries are being sponzored from government money and rich philanthropes. There is one interesting thing about the Centaurus project I forgot to mention – it was projected by the same company as the currently highest building on Earth, the Burj Kalifa in Dubai and is financed by a saudi-arabian syndicate.

We go back to ‘work’ after the cultural experience of visiting Centaurus. We searched the city for caliper in order to check the durability of chains on Khurram’s spare bikes. We printed a picture of it and showed it to the driver who obviously didn’t have any ide what the tool might be used for despite his “yes ma’am” and brought us to a PC store.  After being redirected to a local market, we find the caliper in a store of 3x3 meters and about 5 metres in height, worth only 5€. I also got myself nice coat-hangers for my apartment, so I consider the mission successful. Chains on the spare bikes were all OK, only on one bike it was completely used out. I bet it was the bike ridden by ex-professional Nathan with superhuman power in his legs.

Day 4-6, Training Camp

„Ma’am where do you think you’re going? You are not dressed properly“ – so the training is over for today. The weather has been bad since we got to Pakistan, we haven’t ridden our bikes yet. We go at least for short jogging instead. Martin wanted to sleep in a bit today before the tiring transfer to the mountains later in the afternoon, so he didn’t join me today and I didn’t get to sneak out of Khurram’s residence secretly. I’m not very eager to go running with an accompaning car following me, nor running only within his vast premises, so I take a day off (again). There are certain limitations such as this one for women or for a foreign visitors.

According to what I saw, a woman is treated very nicely by men and is highly respected by the society – they call it being a “senior person“. Not in terms of age, but in terms of sex. Women are very limited and restricted in their actions on the contrary. They cannot do whatever they want to and go wherever and with whoever they wish to. The same applies to foreign women, but this time for different reasons – whereas it’s a question of security for foreigners, for pakistani women in some regions it’s a question of family honor. There are still some regions in the country where ‘death of honor’ is still tolerated only to protect the family name. These days it should be more tolerated in the poor regions and families, but is still present. Death of the girl/woman is later reffered to as accident and hardly ever is taken to court. In the regions where we will be travelling, these practices are no longer present, so I feel free to joke around with the organizers and people from the trust. The organizers, donors and race guests are all men of big significance such as wealthy businessmen and ministers, they are well aware of the ‘western’ manners.

Transfer to the mountains is really slow and tiring despite the traffic not being very heavy. There is a 5-lane road leading out of Islamabad, later changing to a 2-lane Kashmere Highway. After some time we turn to the famous Karakoram Highway which is a normal provincial road, no highway despite it’s name. The journey out of Islamabad is being slowed down by a pakistani speciality – traffic lights on the highway and a turnabouts which are obviously in the fast lane. Noone crosses the lights when the red one is on, but feel free to overtake all the cars from the side, by riding on the roadside. Guess the Traffic Code doesn’t apply when driving there. We stop for a late lunch in the city of Abbotabbat, where Osama bin Laden was supposed to get killed last year. Noone here, and not even abroad, believes it happened like the media reports it. The house were he was supposed to get killed was guarded and later was supposed to get distroyed so as not to attract tourist attention and attract his supporters. The late lunch at a local immitation of McDonalds is rather expensive. I guess the price of 3,50€ for a small lunch must be considered to be a good-level restaurant here. I do appreciate though the chicken in my burger being in one piece, not ground.

 

We wake up to a great weather on the first day of the training camp. We quickly assemble our bikes and head down the asphalt road to the village of Kiwai. We go a bit further up the walley as well, due to heavy rains the previous few days we are unable to take the forest roads. Mud here is really sticky and slippery. After taking some pictures at a local photogenic bridge we turn back to the hotel. The majority of the road is quite steep. Only Australian Matt and Pakistani Asad are in the camp so far. Asad looks really motivated, I hope he’s not gonna burn all his matches the first 2-3 trainings, there are 2 weeks of riding and later racing ahead of him. Matt is going to suffer a bit more I assume. He’s not a sportsman like the rest of the cyclists who will be coming here for the camp or the Tour. He rides only for fun. With no clips he will have to walk steep routes where it is well ridable if you have your feet clipped in. With only 1 ring in front (luckily the easy one though) and 7 speeds in back, I assume he’ll suffer a lot the next days. He doesn’t mind walking along his bike though as he came to prepare himself for a half marathon. Later in the afternoon I go for a short run with Matt in the rain. We go up the hill, taking the forest route and it really is unridable on bike so far. At night 2 other pakistani cyclists arrive.

There are heavy rains in the morning of the 2nd training day. It has been raining the whole night and the whole morning, deffinitelly no cycling in a weather like this, I don’t want to risk getting ill. Matt is ready to go, he’s all motivated, saying he’s not going to melt, only get a bit wet by the rain. It’s about 15 degrees C! New Pakistani riders arrive by lunch time. We go for a run just before the lunch. Also Martin and a Pakistani Tahir join us this time. We got almost to the top of the ascent, it takes us less than 1 hour to make the tour. Tahir pretends it’s the Championship of Training Camp and starts his pace pretty high at the hotel. After few hundret meters he goes bust and spends half the training in the security jeep following us. He decides to make the descent on foot. He’s running in a cycling time-trial suit in cheap chinese sneakers. Halfway down his sneakers fall apart, one of the sole fell off. He stops for a second, tears the sole off, throws it into the forest and continues to run in this rocky terrain. I feel like a pussy today.

The weather is still bad in the afternoon, heavy rains are being alternated with light showers. Still not good time for riding, so we try to come up with a different activity – we come up with an indoor training session of core stability excercises and some strenghtening excercises. I asked for some blankets we could use as mattress. The hotel staff only found a carpet for praying to put underneath the blankets and they are not very happy about that. Later they are happy replace the carpets with a foil. 10 minutes before the start of the session the rain eases down, so we decide to ride down to Kiwai and up to the hotel, still better than no riding at all.

This is Martin’s view of todays day: „Ascent form Kiwai to Shogran is about 10km long, but the elevation is about 1.000m, one has to climb from altitude of cca 1.500m to about 2.500m. The elevation can amount to up to 23% in the steepest parts as my I-bike reports. It takes about 1 hour of normal ride to get to Shogran. We did the same climb yesterday as well, but today there is more of us as new cyclists arrived. The prestige of cyclists is thus higher, it rains and the road is slippery. Before riding up I told everyone this is just a training camp, not a race. I asked them to go at 80% of their capacity. Of course noone cares about these instructions. They were recovering all morning while we went for a run, so they are all fresh for their personal Championship of the Camp. One by one they drop off in coma, because they didn‘t start at a durable pace, but instead started literally sprinting up the hill. The majority of them has a very weak riding technique, which makes it the more difficult riding uphill at a slow pace. Only Sabir and Asad make it to the top in first group. They both tried to get rid of me. Both of them have good endurance and stamina – Sabir is Champion of Pakistan in Road race, Asad the best profi Army rider. Furthermore both of them have good decent bikes and as the only Pakistani cyclists so far do have clips. Asad wins todays ‘race’, me and Sabir loose about 1 minute to him. Sabir tried to get rid of me in the end, it’s useless to keep repeating him “take it easy”. He tries hard untill total collapse. I wonder how many days they are capable of riding this way. There is still evening training session for them and hopefully a longer bike ride tomorrow.”

The evening training session excercices are really lots of fun. Pakistani guys have never done anything similar. They are weak in these exercices and have problems performing some of them. Due to a language bareer it is hard to explain the principle and technique of these excercises. But I do hope it will get better. After a half an hour long core-stability exercises, their inner core muscles are completely destructed. Indoor training ends with a stretching session. I didn’t know it would be such a challenge – I found it quite difficult explaining the reasons for stretching and the right techniques. Hopefully they are not too demotivated and we definitelly plan to continue with this plan over the next days.

Day 7-8

Despite the pesimistic weather forecast, we awake to a beautifull and sunny 3rd training day camp. Forest roads are still too muddy, so there is not many possibilities where we can go – there is one to be precise, ride down to Kiwai and further up the valley. We cross the river by a concrete bridge and follow the only route there is, steep gravel one. It does ease after 1km or so, but is still unridable for majority of Pakistani cyclists due to their lack of technique and ultra-weak core stability. Bike training turns into a bike-pushing challenge instead. I’m shouting from the back to let me pass, but obviously they are not used to that and never even realized I was talking to them (hello?!). So I have to get off the bike and walk some ridable parts as well as it’s difficult to get back on your bike in steep gravel climbs. I start getting the impression I am a technically skilled rider. We make a turn after some 30 minutes and take the same route for descent. Seeing the Pakistani guys, I get the impression I’m a natural-born downhill rider. Those who know me well must have burst into laugh by reading the previous sentence. Down by the riverbank I find desperate Azar with his bike up-side-down. Don’t know why, but these guys keep putting their bikes up-side-down whenever possible. Azar is a professional army guy, but can’t solve his problem with the stuck chain and almost destroyed derailleur. I solve his problem in less then a minute and start getting the impression I am a skilled mechanician as well. I am happy if I made any one of you smile now. Not being aware of the reality, today was The Day to boost my ego.

On our way back to the hotel, 4 of us go to visit the school. We are just in time to see the last 30 minutes of classes. We try to infiltrate in the classroom of the youngest ones by sitting at the tiny chairs inbetween the kids. Later, in a different class, we have to answer about 100 times the same questions about our favorite colour, favorite game, about our names and the countries of our origin. In the meantime, Martin is participating at the Camp Up-Hill Championship up the Shogran road. We start the climb half an hour later due to our stop at the school. Matt decides to take the jeep, he’s quite tired after the first few training days. I ask the police guys to drive him to the hotel, I keep saying I’ll be fine riding on my own along with 2 Pakistani guys. They say they have to follow me, it’s their duty to follow the only woman in the camp. I feel kind of sorry for really exhausted Matt sitting and half sleeping in the back of the truck as they follow me for over an hour while I get to the hotel by bike. So as to amuse themselves a bit, they ask me for my camera to take some pictures of me riding. 90 out of approximatelly 100 pictures they took were really blurry, and on about 5 of them, they took a picture of themselves with their guns. It’s the „anti-terrorist commando“, no kidding, that’s what their T-shirts say.

These are Martin’s impressions of today: “Pakistani cyclists can be devided into two groups. 3 of them are really strong – they are all professional cyclists. The rest of the group is weaker both in terms of performance and technique. The main difference is like I said in the first 3 ones being professionals. One of them is a member of Army team which counts some 20 cyclists in total. Another two guys are members of WAPDA (Pakistani state company managing the water resources and electricity production). According to what the guys told me, there is about 40 riders in this team with average salary of 400-500 american dollars. Not much considering women usually don’t go to work, so the man supports financially the whole family consisting of 4-5 kids. Prices in big cities are about the same level as in Slovakia, life is a bit cheaper in small villages. Besides these 2 teams, there are two other cycling teams with professional cyclists – the railway team and Sui Southern Oil Company (petro-chemical company). Both have about 15 professional cyclists. After retiring, ex-cyclists are given other jobs within the company, so they don’t have to worry about their future while cycling. It’s a paradox a country like Pakistan, with only one important race, The Tour of Pakistan, has almost 100 professional cyclists. Outside of Pakisan they participate only in the South Asian games or Championship of Asia. The comparison with Slovak cycling is really sad – despite really good results of Slovak riders on international level, we only have 11 professional cyclists. Tour the Himalayas is the only MTB race in the country. In Road Championship of Pakistan, only 48 selected riders are allowed to take start. Each of the professional teams sends 6 best cyclists plus there are 4 departments also sending a team of 6. Championship of Pakistan is organized each year on the same routes, in 3 disciplines: individual time trial, team time trial (teams of 6 riders) and individual road race. There are two WAPDA cyclists in the Camp, who are Champions of Pakistan in road race, one also being a Champion of South-Asian Games. They overcompensate the lack of technique by their determination. Hard to even count how many times they fell when going uphill. All of them have small elbow and knee bruises, but they do improve day by day. Evening core-stability excercises help them as well and all of them are very determined and competitive. I can already see the positive impact this Camp has on these guys and I am really persuaded it will help them a lot, especially in their riding skills.”

Day 9 to the last day before the race

First of all I would like to appologise for not updating our diary over the past few days, many people were writing me asking for more news and stories from our Pakistan trip. There are more reasons for not up-dating the diary. Many of you know by now the race was cancelled. We were escorted by more then 100 armed guys to the capital the night before the race was supposed to start and spent 5 days of gym training and sun-bathing by the pool in the ’golden cage’ of Marriott hotel downtown Islamabad. Not having the possibility of getting to know each other during the race, we got to interact with other cyclists playing games in the local Bar at nights. On the first day of our ‘inprisonment’ we followed the news on TV and watched live the army helicopter securing the protests agains the provoking video of the prophet Mohamed going on in all islamic countries around the world. It’s a real pity the protests went violent in some parts of Pakistan – it’s a pity for the country itself. I will let Martin explain the reasons for the race cancellation as he got to discuss it with the organizer the most of all of us. I guess the threat of terrorist attack towards our grop must have been real, otherwise they wouln’t have cancelled the race – 12 months of work and lots of money invested for a good cause and none of it bringing the positive impact expected. I believe Vladimir Putin called off his visit to Pakistan these days too.

During our stay in the second hotel in the Kaghan Valley belonging to Khurram’s Arcadian chain of hotels, in Khanian, we had no access to internet. Actually no mobile signal either, what appealed to me – real holiday at last. There are problems with electricity supplies throughout the whole valley due to a spring calamity. During the last couple of months, electricity is being delivered only for 3 hours daily. The rest of the time, everyone has to produce their own electricity using diesel generators. Electricity shortage applies to all Pakistan, there was an alert in every room of 5* Marriott hotel that electricity and internet connection might go down from time to time. During the time the electricity was on in the Khanian hotel, we used the plug in for our small electric heater to dry our clothes. I keep forgeting to carry an adaptor plug with me, so I only could use the plug in for one device at a time, with dry clothes being the priority to me. Battery on my laptop lasts exactly 0 seconds without being charged. But the main reason why we didn’t put any update to our webpage and FB profile even after we had a 24-hour fast internet connection in Islamabad was that we didn’t tell our parents about the race being cancelled due to security reasons and about our rather adventurous transfer from the mountains. The later they get to know it, the better for them. So hope this reason is good enough, the well-being of my parents is a priority to me.


There are not many possibilities for a bike ride around Khanian. Wherever you go, you have to climb 300-400m in altitude in order to reach a more flat course. During the 6 days spent in Khanian we got to ride both race courses that were supposed to take place in this part of the valley. We were lucky also with the weather, both times we went to Babussar Pass at 4.200m above sea level we had a really nice and warm weather, while in the same time it was raining back at the hotel. We decided to make our first day at Babussar Pass more interesting and challenging for the riders, so we announced 3 intermediate sprints on the way up. I happened to finish 2nd in 2 of the sprints – in the first one by accident as the guys thought we were only kidding about the up-hill sprint and in the last one due to a really short sprint of only about 200m at the very top of the Babussar Pass. Pakistani cyclists at the camp are really strong in terms of power, but are not used to changing pace quickly, they don’t have the speed required for sprinting. I must admit though, that at the finish line I got ousprinted by Ibrahim, who doesn’t have clips and was riding really powerful with only normal shoes on. Ibrahim also won in the General Sprints Classification, I finished 4th (I prefer saying I finished 1st behind the podium). Ibrahim got some bonus pancakes to his dinner as a reward for the 1st place.

I was really happy I got used to the altitude well this year. Last year I suffered from the very beginning. Now I had no breathing problems except in one of today’s sprint. Even my headaches from the lack of oxygen were dissappearing after 1 day or so, probably mostly due to the fact that we were training at the altitude of about 3.000m and we lived at an altitude of less than 2.000m. Encouraged by no acclimatization problems I tried a bit higher training pace the following day at Babussar climb. I got to the top with ease, but the altitude hit me hard on my way down, not far from the jeeps. I was once again remembering my experience from last year of breathing like a fish taken out of watter. I was really happy Haroon stayed by my side and got me to the jeeps. He knew I liked the electric horn on his handlebars, so he played it all the way down just to keep me alive. He must have run out of his batteries I guess. I asked him to get 5 of this horns for my teammates by the time we would leave Pakistan. He promised to bring them and some of the other foreign riders asked for it as well. Since we were inexpectantly rushed out of the Kaghan Valley the night before the race was supposed to start and we were not to meet Haroon again, I was really surprised he found a way of delivering 15 pieces of these electric horns for all the foreigners that  he met in the Camp. Noone was expecting it, it was a really great gift and he made 15 people really happy that day. This tells you something about the mentality and hospitality of local people as well. The electric horn can be found in many countries from Great Britain to Australia these days. After getting rid of my respiration problems I got to shoot from a kalashnikov the Elite Force guys use. I always wanted to shoot from an automatic gun, just to get the feel of it. One of the guys held me by my shoulders just in case I’d get thrown back by the shot, but I’m fine, I thought it would hit me harder.

After 4 days of training camp in Shogran and 3 days in Khanian, our family atmosphere was over with the arrival of another 10 cyclists. The rest of Team Slovakia arrived along with some Brits, one Dane and one German girl. The following day we got transported on rented jeeps to a tourist town of Naran and from there we rode our bikes up to the lake Saif-ul-Maluk where one of the stages was supposed to take place. I was quite tired from the previous training days and a bit ill as well, so I decided to take the jeep up. I wanted to take rest well before the race started. Untill now we rode over 300km, half of it in really steep roads. If I had known there would be no race, I wouldn’t have waisted my chance to ride in the beautiful terrain though.

It rained the whole following day. It’s a bit perverse but I was kind of happy it rained – I needed some rest, but if the weather was good, I’d feel sorry not to go for a ride. So I was glad the weather made the decision of taking a day off for me. This beautiful English weather of caurse pleased the newcomers coming mostly from rainy Britain, so they went for a 3-hour ride. I guess if I only arrived here, I would go for a short ride as well, but definitelly not for 3 hours. We have rather dry and arid climate in Slovakia, so if it rains from time to time, noone goes for a ride but waits for better time. Even when it rains during the races, many people decide not to start that day. Now that is a bit silly I admit. We played cards with the Pakistani guys and later that day I helped a bit with preparation of a Birthday party for Lukas.

We went to do some shopping in the town – ingredients needed for the B-day cake plus some baloons. The road is almost blocked in some parts due to new landslides caused by rains in the previous 24 hours. The driver looks more often up to the steep slopes than on the road ahead of him. I’m not completely comfortable with that. On our way back I understand his motives – the road is newly blocked in one part by a new landslide, we pass with some difficulties. This was the only time during my stay in Pakistan I was really concerned. When being transported to Islamabad due to terrorist threats, I was not scared, because the threats were not visible to me, you don’t get to see a threat like that plus I was well comfortable with more than 100 Elite guys surrounding us, whereas here, seeing the very recent landslide I was really not very calm on our way back to the hotel. When we get back to the hotel, Sarmad and Nawaz started decorating the dining room and the cook Shahid went to prepare the B-day cake. I got really sentimental seeing these guys who had known Lukas only for the previous 2 days and here they prepared a Birthday party for him. Sarmad was cutting letters for „Happy Birthday Lukas“ sign what Nawaz carefully posted on the wall. Lukas helped all the Pakistani guys with their bikes and even despite him not speaking a word of English, they became friends. By preparing a B-day party and buying him small gifts, they wanted to reward him for what he has done for them so far. Later in the evening I went to the evening training session class and kept thinking of his reaction when he finds out. He really was shocked, didn’t expect any of it: “I would never expect these cyclists whom I‘ve known only for 2 days to prepare such a great Birthday party for me. They planned this along with my teammates, decorated the room with baloons and colorful confetti. I got small gifts from all of them. Small things that really mean a lot to me. I was really touched by all this. Later they also brought a cake with a candle on it. Everyone in the Camp enjoyed a bit of the cake. I will never forget this party.“

I only have to make one correction to what Lukas said – the Pakistani guys planned and prepared everything, they didn’t even let us participate financially at buying the ingredients for the cake. I was allowed to stir the cream for the cake twice, otherwise they did everything themselves. The whole party and its preparation were like from an american movie. These are all moments I could hardly ever experience in my hometown or during a typical holiday.

The following they we rode our bikes from Khanian to Shogran where we got to meet the rest of the cyclists who came for the race. Altogether over 50 cyclists in total. The next day we participated in Sports Day at school. Kids were really motivated and happy to see us after 1 year. We cheered them during their final disciplines and later on it’s our tour to compete in the tug-of-war. It’s a good opportunity to get to know the other cyclists a bit.

About 30 cyclists who arrived on one flight got here without their bikes. AirBlue didn’t fit those 30 bikes in the plane, so they had to wait for them untill the pre-race day. They all mounted their bikes and went for a light ride – one day before the race noone goes for a serious training, you try to save as much energy for the race as possible. Two of the girls were probably too excited to ride their bikes and had small accidents due to a lack of attention in the decent. Brasilian girl dislocated her elbow what disabled her from taking part in the race and our Hungarian friend Ester get some new bruises on her leg and elbow. When riding in countries like this, with closest hospitals being way too far from me, I ride with a 100% safety on my mind.

Transport to Islamabad – alias “golden cage“ instead of a race

On the eve before the race, nothing indicated any problems. We took a great dinner under the clear sky in the hotel terrace, later followed by a press conference in the lobby of the hotel. After the first few sentences everyone could feel there is something more serious to be announced. When Khurram addressed the media guys to turn their cameras off, I believe even those who did not speak English knew the press conference is not going the right way. It was Minister of Sport who announced the race being cancelled and only an unexplained phenomenon of exploding light bulbs eased the bad mood there was in the room.

Transfer to Islamabad under the assistance of Elite Force was really like out of an American movie. We were all packed within one hour and ready to leave. Organizers wanted us to leave under cover, and at night when the trafic is not very heavy. I guess they were scared also to travel through the city of Balakot, from which an aggression towards us came. We say good-bye to all the pakistani guys from the camp which I find really hard. Despite the language barrier with the majority of them, we got really close and the farewell was sentimental. Probalby also due to the language barrier – I knew I can talk to these guys when I’m with them, but it will be difficult to stay in touch on facebook where you can’t get understood. I am happy I got to spend the Training Camp days with them and give them at least part of my knowledge and experience. I could see they really appreciated all what they learnt during these days. They improved rapidly both in their riding skills and in the evening core exercises and I think it was also this visible improvement that motivated them even further in their efforts. It’s very rare to see a person grateful for information and for sharing your experience and knowledge these days. The unexpected farewell in a rush was the toughest moment of the whole trip. It’s sad people around the globe get separated by politics and especially by politics covered under a religious disputes. It’s all about the political power and influence distribution destroying nice things such as this race for example.

Transfer was without any problems. The barriers within Islamabad ready for Friday demonstrations were open to us since we were escorted by police. We stopped in front of a 5* Marriott hotel, which is suppossed to be the safest place in Islamabad for foreigners. So safe there was a bomb attack on it couple years ago. A bomb hid in a truck detonated close to a reception killed over 50 people, injuring another 250 and leaving a 20x6m deep crater outside the hotel. Just to stay safe, we spent more of the time far from the reception, close to a swimming pool and in the gym. Noone was guarding us, we could have walked out of the hotel premises, but it would be kind of the opposite of what the organizer tried to do for us - arranging the transfer and a safe place for us to stay while in Pakistan. Khurram tried to keep us busy in the evenings by taking us to nice restaurants, but I bet the majority of people still felt sorry not being surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the Kaghan valley. Our mostly selfish dissapointment for the race being cancelled must be nothing compared to the dissapointment and regrets the whole organizing team must be going through. They had planned this event for almost a year, invested lots of time and money in it and now it’s all gone. Despite the huge financial loss this event brought them, they took the best care of us, arranged a very comfortable and safe place for us in an expensive hotel and were taking us for great dinner out each night.

Why the race was cancelled (Martin Fraňo)

As we spent in Pakistan almost 3 weeks prior to the race, we had no idea about the youtube video. We were all the time surrounded by a beautifull nature of the highest mountains on Earth. We trained in a beautiful scenery of snow-topped Nanga Parbat and played card with the Pakistani cyclists and staff in the evenings. In the meantime, a revolt towards a bad quality video ridiculing the Prophet Mohamed arose in all Islamic countries. After watching the video, there is no doubt the movie was dabbed – and so the protests of the actress were sincere. Everyone who saw the trailer must admit it is a primitivism on a Teletubbies level and an act aiming to provoke the radical part of islamic world. People who tend to uprise for a reason such as this one are usually illiterate or lacking education and the really low quality of the video addressed precisely this group. And it worked. No wonder it worked – if Jesus was said to be homosexual, murderer or a brutal person, not only Vatikan would protest, but so would the whole christian world along with the islamic one. I was in the middle of the demonstrations, about 500 metres from the rebellion and I can tell that only uneducated people took par in the violent protests. It were only people with no education, with no hope for a better life and they were taking their only chance to draw attention to themselves – these people have nothing but their believes. And they protest if someone is reproaching their only belief. I understand them and it is very well possible I would behave in the very same way if I was in their place. There were roughly some 500 people in the protests downtown of one-million city of Islamabad and none of them used their gun despite the fact that almost everyone in the city ownes an automatic gun. Some people were injured, but not due to a firing. In the city of Lahore, the demonstrations were calm, resembling rather our Violet Revolution. Moslims were protesting along with Christians agains the public ridicule of the prophets. Prior to these protests, noone could estimate the way and the extent of these protests. Despite the organizer‘s assurance of our best security up in the mountains and our readiness to support the protesters against the absurd video by not taking start of the first stage, the Minister along with KMT staff and police responsibles decided to cancel the race and take us to –according to them- a safer place of hotel Marriott. It was only later I got to learn a group of terrorists from a nearby city threatened us. This story seems rather a fiction to me but it is true, that 50 foreign cyclists could serve as a very easy target for someone looking for attention and respect. Difficult to say whether it would help more an islamic revolt group or a western agents operating in the region used to provoke such incidents. It is well known there are many of them infiltrated throughout the country, looking like a natural-born Pakistanis. The supposed death of Bin Laden 2 years ago in a nearby Abbottabat being most likely just one example of these practices. Minister was simply worried and as he could not predict the extent of the protests and their potential continuation, he felt safer by calling the race off. All the panic foregoing the night transfer seemed a bit hastened to me. We even had to leave our bikes behind in Shogran. Before the decision about our bus transfer was taken, they even considered transporting us by army helicopters – this alternative was rejected though as the helicopters were not equiped with a night vision system and the following day had to be ready for the demonstrations during the Bank holiday. A really unnecessary stress was put on us – I cut my hand when dissasambling my bike, my blood was all around me on the floor and a police guy was literally shouting at me to hurry up otherwise mi bike would stay unpacked. None of the cyclists knew about the potential threats back then, so all the stress seamed really exaggerated. We were moved to a supposedly safer place of a luxurious Marriott hotel. Despite the fundraising race cancelled, and so despite this huge economic loss, organizer arranged for us a full access to wellness and fitness activities within the hotel, what was really already well above his obligation. During the precipitous transfer, the Minister of Sports decided to show his confidence in taking good decision by joining our convoy – he said he was going to stand by our side untill we are all in a safe place. The rest of the organizers as well took their guns and their jeeps and played their role in securing a safe transport of all of us to Islamabad. I can sincerelly say I have never ever participated in such a family-athmosphere race – this fact makes me even more sad about the unfair finish of this year’s edition and an uncertain next-year’s tour.

Not very many people know the Afghan government put a ban on import of Pakistani newspapers with a view to prevent any violence on the soil commanded by Taliban. The government acted fast and prevented its country from a potential threat. My feelings were very puzzled that night – I didn’t share the feeling of fear with other cyclists, but felt a huge dissapointment. My dissapointment was really immense and had 2 causes. I knew Khurram would never organize this race again and it’s the end to an extraordinary event with all his previous months being completely wasted. The second reason was more personal – I only had about 20 minutes to say good-bye to all the Pakistani cyclists, my new and very close friends. They were helping me packing, the cook carried my 20kg heavy luggage up the steep hill to a different hotel – simply they were ready to do anything for us. If I had asked them to climb a wall, they would have done it, they were so loyal. I was really happy we got to meet one of the cyclists, Asad, in Islamabad. He spent the last 2 days with us in Islamabad, we payed cards, darts in the bar and he was carrying my luggage for me all the way to the airport. He as well was hiding his tears when saying good-bye. Just like the protests against the movie originated, they dissappeared likewise fast. I’m sick of the wrong impression of a typical Moslim by ignorrant Europeans or Americans. By having travelled to islamic countries such as Pakistan, Morocco, Western Sahara, Iran, Burkina Fasso, Senegal, Cameroon and others, I can say without any hesitation that people in these countries are much nicer and sincere as the majority of the western world. They are much more friendly, humane with their values unspoilt. They respect the good values of islam and are willing to share what they have with other people unlike the people in western world.

What you get in the media is a pure propaganda addressing and appealing to ignorant people. There are both good and bad people in every nation. And I can say openly that Pakistan is not a country of terrorists. The handful of radicals is really only a fragment of a 180 million population of the country – and many times this impression is intentionally created and highlighted by the media. The truth is, it is a country of very nice and friendly people with a limitless hospitality. It’s by no doubt the country of the most friendliest and most hospitable people I’ve been to. The country embracing mountain ranges of Himalaya, Karakhoram and Hindukush is absolutelly beautiful. This is the true Pakistan. The impression of Pakistan we get in the rotten media is deliberately bad, serving but one reason and that is to get access to the natural resources this region has, the tactics seen in Iraq and in Libya lately. You get to know the world only when you travel it yourself and don’t depend on what you’re being told about it in the media. My answer to everyone asking me whether I am happy to be back home from a terroristic Pakistan is the very opposite – I tell them I am sad to be back from a country full of great, nice and very hospitable people that are almost extinct in western countries. I am sad to be back in the tense Europe after spending a great time in a beautiful country such as Pakistan.

Complete photogallery on facebook.


 

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