Breaking barriers – journey of a 1000 miles
“When we were on our way back from Khunjerab there was a land sliding. Rocks fell on us. We thought it was the end for us, we are not going back. It felt like the end of the world,” Guliafshaan Tariq recalls her journey to Khunjerab Pass.
On 20 September 2015, two girls, Guliafshan Tariq, and Samar Khan broke the norm when they cycled from Islamabad to Khunjerab Pass, the highest border in the world, completing a journey of more than 1000 km in about 9 days; a very rare move for Pakistani girls.
Pakistan Today got in touch with one of them for an insight of their journey.
A NUST graduate and a computer engineer by profession, Guliafshaan Tariq has been in the sports field for six years, “I was basically a rock and wall climber. Then, I trained as a paraglider from Pakistan Army School of Physical Training (ASPT) Kakul, Abbottabad. I am also a certified pilot.”
Guliafshan started cycling two and a half years ago after returning from Dubai with a complete course in parasailing.
She realized that cycling is her game after she participated in the National Competition Championship for women and won a silver medal in a scratch race for the Islamabad team, “I started exploring the Margilla Hills, Daamn-e-Koh, Monal on a bicycle. That is when I met Samar at ASPT Kakul during my paragliding course. That is where the idea of riding together initiated.”
A cycling trip that started as merely a fun activity eventually turned into a venture. Samar, who had never ridden on a bicycle before, rented one and rode to the mountains. “That is when we decided that we should go to Abbottabad,” Guliafshan added.
They rode from Islamabad to Abbottabad twice where they met some officers and shared their harassment stories with them during the tour. The officers invited them to visit Gilgit and Hunza, considering the fact that harassment isn’t an issue in those areas.
Guliafshan was already fond of the northern areas and Samar joined in. They downloaded the maps, decided their path and thought they should travel further.
“While reading the maps we found that Karakorum Highway (KKH) is the 8th wonder of the world and that its end is Khunjerab Pass. We thought that since we are going up to Gilgit, why don’t we attempt something that nobody has done before?!”
The girls prepared for 3.5 months. They trained for mixed martial arts, learned puncture repairing and also took first aid training.
After borrowing bikes from friends, the two girls left for the journey fully trained and totally equipped. “We had a full meal plan. We carried chocolates, almonds, pistachio etc which we had to throw later to reduce weight. We carried spare parts for the cycles with us (tubes, tyres, chains). Everything one could think of. We even carried camps with us, even though we didn’t know if we would reach the destination on time or not.”
“Our target was 120-125 km/day but when reached the hills, there it would become 80km per day. On our way back our speed increased.”
Although the journey was more than a 1,000 km, only a 1,000km was covered on a bicycle, “Kohistan area was exempted due to the condition of the road. We rode all the way from KKH and there was a new road, inaugurated by Chinese government, which was really good,
They spent Eid-ul-Adha and Chaand Raat at Hunza, Karimabad, “We camped there. The weather, the view, the valley, the people, everything was amazing! The food was not very spicy and people put salt in their tea instead of sugar. They have a totally different culture.”
They had to manage with the food until they found the PTDC spot, “At PTDC we finally got some tasty food. They were really cooperative and when they came to know that we were coming and gave us complimentary rooms. We asked them to cook some spicy chicken tikka for us since it was Eid.”
The journey wasn’t a piece of cake, “The weather kept changing. It was raining at one point, then there was snow and suddenly the temperature increases and it became hot.”
They never thought that they will not be able to reach their goal, “we never doubted ourselves and were sure that we will be able to reach Khunjerab. We had set our mind to the target.”
We tend to believe that some sort of harassment is bound to happen when girls are travelling alone. But surprisingly, nothing of that sort happened during their Journey. “It was a different experience for us. We thought that men would tease us knowing we were two girls travelling all alone. But frankly nothing like that happened. Not even a single guy harassed us. It was really calm, people were really polite,” she said. “They were treating us like we are foreigners because of our attire. It was unbelievable that we are Pakistanis, for them” she added.
Belonging to an army family, Guliafshan said that it was not hard for her to convince her parents for the journey.
Pakistani girls feel held back because of the limitations that come from being a girl. But Guliafshan thinks differently, “Pakistani girls make their own barriers around them, ‘we can’t do this because we are girls.’ Then there is another barrier which is imposed by the society. Firstly break your own barriers. Try to explore yourself, try to find your passion, your field and then try to convince your parents. If your parents are with you so you can do anything!”
She believes that being a girl is not an excuse to abandon your dreams, “Take this thing out of your mind that you have to face limitations since you are a girl! As a girl you can perform better at sports than boys; you have a flexible body, you are balanced and you are sharper than men!”
She compared how in sports, women around the world are more successful than men, “My friend Nazia Perveen, is a national wall climber. She has won 32 times in Pakistan and also defeated boys four times. She also represented Pakistan in Singapore. You just have to explore your calling.”
The girls haven’t ended their quest at Khunjerab. They have a bigger ride planned, “Siachen is under-planning and we also plan to cycle around the globe.” pakistantoday