This is part of the twelfth section of our around the
Complete Trip Overview & Map
Coming from Iran or read our previous visit to Pakistan
5/12/06 Even the official border is open and we had to search around for immigration, police and especially customs to complete paperwork. Stayed in Taftan, right on the border.
6/12/06 The road was 40 km gone when the sun rose. The colourful Pakistani trucks were just leaving their night time parking places and the desert air was freezing. It is 630 km to Quetta and with only eleven hours of daylight there was not much time for sightseeing and the sun was set by the time we arrived. I was surprised how busy the road is now compared to eight years ago. Mostly trucks and buses, their cargo moving between the two countries. There was no need for us to be accompanied by a police escort although we saw a number of well armed police vehicles moving along the way that occasionally rode with us for a few kilometres. There is a new section of excellent road where previously there was dirt but the long single lane between Dalbandin and almost to Quetta doesn't seem to have improved. Miki is an avid photographer, writing articles for Japanese magazines. She is planning an article of our time together and shot many photos. The barren landscape and a mix of Afghanistan and Pakistan character personalities supplied many subjects. Pakistan has one of the world's fastest population growth rates and with many Afghanistan refugees settling in the area there are many small mud villages dotted along the road. We stopped at a disused settlement for breakfast, then tea in Dalbandin and another tea at a truck rest. At each stop we were inundated with local interest. Miki, with her Asian face and small stature, a woman riding a motorcycle, drawing the majority of looks. Some polite questions about my relationship with the two women. Here only family members can travel with women, and women are almost not seen. Three men at the truck stop invited us to join them, Afghani, one was mixing hashish with tobacco before smoking and was introduced as a Taliban, with a laugh, perhaps, perhaps not. The storm that moved through Bam two nights ago had also dumped rain on this desert region. The railway was washed out in places, the road covered in drying silt. Some areas were deeply gouged where water rarely flows. Desert lakes formed across the sand dunes, an unusual backdrop to the black mountain range that the road follows for much of the time. The traffic in Quetta was at its peak as we arrived and one of the three wheeled, motorcycle powered, Tuk Tuk's offered to lead us to our hotel. It was full. Apparently the President, Musharraf, is due in Quetta tomorrow morning, and all hotels are full of tribal leaders and their entourages. There had been one small, police escorted, group of vehicles we had seen along the road and a number of tribal leaders near the border region heading this way. The Pakistan tourist authority managed to find us a reasonable hotel that was not full.
7/12/06 We had planned a rest day but it was forced upon us more than we wanted as I was off and on to the bathroom most of the day with the regular traveller's complaint but we managed the usual jobs of clothes washing and diary writing as we listened to the jets and helicopters fly overhead for the President's visit. Probably also the safest option as crowded street gatherings are not the safest places in an often volatile nation. It surprises people when we say that Pakistan is one of the most conservative countries we have visited. Often Iran, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan come to mind first. Our assessment is based primarily on the role of women in the society. Few at all are seen in the streets of regions like Quetta. Even in Afghanistan many women can be seen, or not seen as they are covered in a burka robe, moving about the streets, individually or accompanied by family. Saudi Arabia has shopping malls where women, with only eyes visible, congregate to shop, but in Pakistan's more remote areas there is virtually no contact between women and anyone else outside the family. Western women are however well received, included in conversations, can shop alone, and are treated well if they are not demanding.
8/12/06 The tyre we have carried all the way from Greece as it was
the last available H-D dealer, we fitted. The local
tyre wallah was an ageing 60 year old who k
knew everything but had never changed a large motorcycle
tyre before and seemed like he wasn't willing to learn. Not
prepared to take any advice he refused to use liquid to get the
bead to seal and only after many attempts would he let me apply
soapy water. We wandered
around the bazaar more people watching
than produce but both were interesting.
9/12/06 Miki on her Suzuki left this morning wanting to catch up
with her friends in Lahore. We again rested.
10/12/06 The tourist office advised that we should not take the road
via Loralai to Multan, we would need a special permit,
so we headed out towards Sibi and through the Bolan Pass.
Iranian petrol is still available roadside once we were
out of town, the price increasing now to 35 rupees a litre but
still a lot cheaper than the Pakistani petrol at 58 rupees. The
snow on the surrounding hills has been melting and the sunshine
of today kept us warm as we started to ride downhill through the
long pass. The two Dutch bicyclists we have been travelling with
also left this morning, but we missed seeing them along the road.
Once down near Sibi and onto the flat plains of the Indus River
the temperature increased and the heavy warm clothing was gladly
removed. A police escort followed us for the last 200 km to Sukkur
where they led us to a hotel for the night. We were also given
an armed guard for our
evening outing through the streets. All
the contingents of the police who have been instructed to
escort foreigners everywhere whilst in the province of Sindh.
11/12/06 Our police escort was waiting our departure at 7am and led
us out of town and for the next 360 km to Bahawalpur
where we left the highway for the shortcut to Khanewal
bypassing Multan. Like most police escorts we have received,
they either drive in front of us and expect us to follow closely
or they tailgate. As each police car only escorted us for a few
km's then handed us over to the next district's vehicle, we were
constantly requesting them to please keep well back so we don't have
to worry about them. On two occasions they almost ran us off the
road trying to clear a path for us in traffic with their sirens blaring.
Designed to make us feel more secure their presence hurried us along
and not wanting to delay them by stopping to take photos or for tea
rest stops. There have been recent attacks on foreign businessmen in
the area and some kidnappings but not on tourists. Once out of the Sindh
area and into the Punjab the police were still present but not as
concerned and often we were able to lose them
in traffic. This is the breadbasket of Pakistan and the roads
are currently full of overloaded trucks carrying last season's
produce of sugarcane, rice and cotton to storage. There are ten
times as many trucks as private vehicles and even though it was a
4 lane for most of the time progress was slow with roadwork and trucks
overtaking trucks. Only a few private cars make it to the highway
reflecting the high cost of petrol and car ownership here.
12/12/06 A foggy morning with the air thick with smoke from burning
residual crops and rice husks in brick making kilns. Our
third day of traffic. The blaring horns of express buses trying
to meet their schedule. The slowness of the trucks. Bicycles
and motorcycles darting out in front of us and the ever present
donkey and camel carts make progress slow and challenging. Today
we saw at least a dozen overturned trucks their load stacked too high
and just dropping off the road edge was often enough for the roll over.
Three motorcycle accidents and we were involved in one as we were
entering Lahore. A car sideswiped us slowly whilst we were almost stationary
knocking us down. The police
were called with little damage to either
vehicle but we were taken to the the station to make sure there
were no complaints from either side before being allowed to leave.
Polite and as tourists we were given an extremely fair hearing.
13/12/06 We have been planning to be home for Christmas now for the
last month despite having told the family back home that we
can't possibly make it till early January. An early arrival surprise.
With flights booked out of India on the evening of the 23rd of
December we arrive the morning of Christmas Day. Our main concern
in this plan is will the Indian authorities allow us to leave the
motorcycle in India for the five weeks we hope to be in Australia?
Something other travellers have had problems with. It is a public
holiday in Lahore today and the backpacker's where we are staying
is full of the more long term young India or Pakistan alternative culture
westerners. Many have been here for weeks or months taking on local
dress and getting lost in the cheap drugs that are available in this
region. One of the last drop out countries, cheap and long visas, a surprising
number of travellers get lost here rather than returning home, often living
on a few dollars a day. As we get older we are
taking longer to recover from a few hard days riding and found it
difficult getting up early this morning or becoming enthusiastic in
seeking out the city's sites preferring to sit in the hostel.
14/12/06 Sufism is a relaxed form of Islam but it is often not recognised
by the more traditional sects of the religion. It is believed to
have been responsible for the spread of Islam to India. Our hostel
owner, a Sufi, takes travellers to see Qawalli singing at a nearby
shrine where some of the best performers come from all over the country
to display their talents. The musicians are devotees and sing and play
their instruments in front of an audience sitting crossed legged on mats.
About five minutes is all that is allowed to each band. The time disappears
quickly as money is collected from the audience or thrown at the stage
in appreciation of each performance. The event leaves the best musicians
till last when a standing ovation by the crowd leaves the performers
with still more notes being thrown in their direction by the enthusiastic
and generous believers. In the evening there is another event. This time
drummers beat out a loud deep rhythm for an extended time whilst
dancers spin and shake their heads violently to the beat. A crushing
crowd sits encapsulated by the music and dance however the main pastime
was the smoking of hashish mixed with tobacco. Those enjoying the event
the most were those smoking the most, otherwise the drumming became
a little repetitive.
15/12/06 The prize for the most unusual border crossing must surely
go the one between Pakistan and India. Since partition in 1947 the
two countries have never really been friends. Over 10 million people
were displaced choosing to or having to move from one side of the new
border to the other due to religious beliefs. It is believed half a million
were killed along the way in fighting. The ongoing territorial dispute
in Kashmir has not helped the situation and two wars have been fought over
this territory. There is only one border crossing open between the two
countries and it closes regularly when tensions rise. Even when open there
is little trade between the two giants as all goods have to be hand carried
for 300 or more metres passing the hessian wrapped bundles from an Indian
porter to a Pakistani one or vice versa to then be reloaded onto the other
country's trucks. Today more than 50 trucks were lined up waiting to offload
their cargo from the Indian side. Tomatoes and onions were ripening and
rotting whilst they waited to be hand carried, over a week in many cases.
We were at the border by noon and had no problem passing out of Pakistan
and were allowed to take photos of the goods transfer.
Move with us to India