Inspired by Che Guevara’s travels in South America, Hammad Shakil and his wife Ayesha embarked on a unique honeymoon-adventure from Karachi to Kashmir, covering 2,800 km on their 150cc motorcycle in 17 days. It was a journey full of fun and adventure, love and laughter and memorable incidents, which were sometimes tough and at times uncomfortable.

Hammad was already working for a tour-operating company, so arranging his own honeymoon package was a piece of wedding cake. He shared the idea of exploring Pakistan on two-wheeler for their honeymoon with Ayesha a year before their wedding, and he was lucky to have a like-minded partner who, instead of being apprehensive, appreciated the idea and started working on the plan with him.

It was going to be a first for both of them: Hammad had previously only covered trips of up to 500km while Ayesha was not comfortable with sitting on a bike even on the smooth city roads, yet she embraced this plan happily.

Adventures can make any journey worthwhile. And if that journey is the beginning of a marriage, they can be a way for a newly-wed couple to bond

Initially they thought of visiting Hunza and Skardu, but Hammad had already been to Skardu and Ayesha had already seen Hunza. So they both decided on Kashmir for its romantic and peaceful environment, and famous picturesque places such as Ratti Gali Lake and Taobat. It took them a year to work out the details of their travel plan, and three weeks after their marriage, the courageous couple set off for an adventure of a lifetime.

“The best way to explore places, especially in the north of Pakistan, is on a motorbike. You can reach your destinations easily in a cost- effective way and get a 360-degree view of the landscape,” says Hammad.

Relaxing together on Ratti Gali Lake, Kashmir
Relaxing together on Ratti Gali Lake, Kashmir

Hammad and Ayesha mostly stayed at hotels along the way, with friends at a couple of places, and even camped one night at a petrol station in Bahawalpur. At every hotel where they dined or stayed, the managers would insist on complimentary hosting for this daring couple but the duo insisted on paying for themselves.

Dressed like bikers, the security officials at checkposts would be surprised when they would approach the pillion rider and even impressed and inspired by Ayesha’s boldness — one official at a checkpost at Keran saluted them. “We both were dressed like bikers, so the security officials at checkposts would assume that the pillion rider would also be a male. After shaking hands with me, when they would approach my wife and she would lift the face-shield of her helmet, they would be quite surprised to see a woman,” recalls Hammad, grinning.

Together they faced challenges, and together they worked out the solutions, setting the pattern for facing life together.

For Ayesha it was an unforgettable experience. It had been her dream to explore places, and this dream came true in an exceptional way — on her honeymoon, dressed in biker’s kit in jeans, jacket and army boots. Her own family found out about this trip when the couple left from Karachi on bike and posted a status on Facebook.

Ayesha stands with the royal carriage of the Nawab of Bahawalpur at Noor Mahal - Photos by Hammad Shakil
Ayesha stands with the royal carriage of the Nawab of Bahawalpur at Noor Mahal - Photos by Hammad Shakil

They set off from Karachi at the crack of dawn, and after barely one kilometre from home their heavy luggage fell off the bike. They had to leave behind some bags, a bold move indeed at the very start of a journey into the unknown.

Hammad remembers their journey as a unique experience of a lifetime. “We explored our country and culture, and met hundreds of people all over Pakistan. Most people think Pakistan is not a safe place to travel with your family. In my experience, wherever I went with my wife, the locals welcomed us with open arms and facilitated us in every possible way. We will have enough stories to share with our next generation when we are old. I hope our journey will set a trend and inspire other couples to explore different ways to travel with their life partners.”

On their first day, they rode 300km to Moro and reached Bahawalpur at midnight, exhausted after a grueling stretch of pothole-riddled roads and heat. The massage chairs and biryani at Taj Restaurant rejuvenated them.

Next day at Arifwala, they took a refreshing dip along with friends in the cool waters of a tube well. From Gujrat to Islamabad, a light drizzle made the scenery more beautiful and romantic. They tried the roadside tea sitting on decked out swings on the Murree roadsides. They rode to Kashmir Waterfalls in a doli (canoe) for the view and ate delicious fish. After an early dinner at Muzaffarabad Cafe, they explored the peaceful city with its lovely bakeries and eateries. In Kutton, they spent the evening sitting by a waterfall.

A view of Arang Kel, one of the most picturesque tourist spots in Kashmir
A view of Arang Kel, one of the most picturesque tourist spots in Kashmir

Next, they hired a local jeep for a thrilling ride to the flower-strewn landscape of Ratti Gali Lake, where a biker from Karachi surprised them with the famous Bombay Bakery cake for their one-month anniversary. They stayed up all night watching the beautiful stars on top of the mountains from their hotel balcony in Keran. They visited Sharda Ruins and Sharda University, and rode on jetskis. In Kel they watched a polo match between Chilas and Kel teams organised by the Army. From there they took an unforgettable cable-car ride to Arang Kel. At Taobat they enjoyed the beauty of the river and the forest and also had their first quarrel. Later, they made up, laughing and sharing jokes and memories of their journey again.

Soon they were standing on their hotel balcony enjoying their last sunset of Kashmir. They were both happy and sad at the same time — happy because they had completed their journey, and sad because they would miss the peaceful place and their time spent together. They took pictures of the sunset and promised each other that they would revisit soon.

Finally they departed for Karachi on the Greenline Train, leaving their bike in Islamabad, as they were in no mood to ride it back home. Sitting on the train seats after 1,800km on a bike felt good. Hammad quipped to Ayesha, “It still feels like my hands are on the accelerator of the bike. It will take a few days for my hands to return to normal.”

Together they faced challenges, and together they worked out the solutions, setting the pattern for facing life together. When Ayesha lost her mobile phone, Hammad, seeing that she was upset, promised to buy her a new one when they returned home. When their way was blocked by a waterfall, they admired the waterfall while working out a way to get around. When there was a power breakdown, they lay under the night sky and counted the stars. When Ayesha got injured by a horse, they enjoyed the slow walk and many stops in the forest.

“At the beginning of our journey towards Islamabad, we both felt a bit uncomfortable. But as time passed, our comfort level grew. We got a chance to spend time together and discover our love for each other. We would stop often for tea breaks; explore places; try the local food; sit near the river for hours talking to each other and share jokes and make future plans. This tour brought us closer to each other and taught us the best lesson of life: how to live with each other in any circumstance,” says Hammad.

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 14th, 2018

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