Pakistan - 1
Taftan (05-09-2000) till Islamabad (17-09-2000)
Crossing the border was so easy and relaxed. I was offered a chair when they were doing the paperwork of my Carnet (bike papers) and had tea as well. After finishing everything I spend the night in a hotel in Taftan the border town on the Pakistan side.
The next day I had a long trip ahead, from Taftan to the first mayor city in Pakistan, Quetta, was about 650 km.. But the road conditions were different (=worse) than in Iran. But as I was warned for this it didn't came to me as a surprise. The first 200 km. was actually a perfect new wide asphalt road. The next 450 km. was a narrow road full with potholes. Every time a truck came ahead I had to slow down and pass it carefully. With cars or pickups this problem didn't appear in theory as we could pass each other easily.
But that was the theory which should work well when they were going to their side of the road as well. But some of them simply stayed on the middle of the road so I had to dive into the shoulder with about 80 km/h, which wasn't a fun at all. So even when a pickup approached I had to slow down and be prepared to go into the shoulder. Also I was warned for the speed bumps, which were very hard to see, but I only remembered this warning when I was hitting one before a railroad crossing at full speed. I managed to stay on the bike and then suddenly realised that there was another speed bumps at the other side of the railroad crossing, hit the brakes and made it safe over the next one.
Because of the extremely cheap fuel in Iran there weren't any petrol stations along the road here. Everywhere however there were barrels standing with illegally imported Iranian fuel. Of course they weren't sold against Iranian prices but against half the official Pakistan fuel price. They were using old cooking oil cans of 5 litre and poured it in the tanks using a hose and a funnel. This guaranteed leaking petrol everywhere but with my help we tried to reduce the spilling as much as possible.
Around 5 pm I arrived in Quetta and found a hotel where I could cheaply camp in the garden. Pitching up a tent cost only Rp. 80 (USD 1.50) but parking my motorbike cost another Rp. 150, then a 10% tax was added so I left and took a hotel room (elsewhere) for Rp. 250 and free parking.
Quetta I liked immediately. Of course it was a dirty city like everywhere but people were actually doing something. Most of the time it wasn't all efficiency but at least there was activity going on. Something I had missed in previous counties. I took a day rest here before I headed of for the next trip to Islamabad.
When I was ready to leave, the next morning I noticed the Toyota Landcruiser of the 2 Austrians I met in Esfahan, they must have arrived yesterday late as they were still asleep when I softly knocked on their room door and got no answer.
The road from Taftan to Quetta was perfectly marked compared to the roads elsewhere in Pakistan I found out know. There are a lot of markers along the road saying how many km's it is to the next towns but the city names are in Urdu only. But this was just a matter of getting used to and wasn't a real problem. I also had the advantage that I could use my GPS for additional navigation. The fact that you're using main road doesn't give any guarantees about the quality of the road. A perfect smooth road can get full with potholes around the next corner so you have to drive careful and defensive all the time. Sometimes the asphalt ends completely and you have to drive off road for a couple of km's. I even had to cross a riverbed as they were repairing the bridge (although I didn't see anyone at that time). This all makes it impossible to plan ahead where you want to spend the next night. Simply just drive and see how far you can get.
After Lorelai the clouds got darker and just before Kocheri it started to rain so I took shelter at a small restaurant (a kind of truck stop) along the road and had some tea. When the rain ends it was about 5 pm already and the owner of the place asked me if I spend the night here. There were rope beds standing outside everywhere. Mainly used for people to sit on when they had some food but also to lay down and have a little rest when you're tired. He was very glad with my decision to stay here and so I was able to eat some real local food as he had just three big pots on the fire and there wasn't anything else to eat. But this wasn't any problem as the food tasted good. At night they carried out one of the rope beds and put it next to my bike and I slept on it inside my sleeping bag.
Truckers stopped the whole night to have some food or to repair the punctures in their tyres so it was quite noisy but I slept well. At 6.15 am they woke me up with the message that my breakfast was ready. This breakfast wasn't something special as they had only tea, tomatoes and crackers.
The trucks however were something special to see. The are very nice and colourful painted and they all take out the doors of their cabin and make some new ones of wood which are much smaller but are integrated with the design of the rest of the truck. Furthermore they are richly decorated with all different colours of small lights and with pieces of metal hanging on metal chains so they swing to each other every time the truck hits a bump which makes a lot of noise.
I went into the Punjab where the army had a shooting practise at the shooting range. It's not a restricted area, so all local people are gathered around the range to see how well their army was shooting. The shooting session has to be stopped temporally when a cow tried to cross the shooting range. After someone chased it away they continued shooting.
I crossed the broad Indus River and followed it up north. The Indus valley is very green but this is only because they irrigate the area. As soon as they don't irrigate a place there's nothing else but plain desert. My maps weren't the best ones as the Tourist office in Taftan had only maps in Urdu but had translated the major cities. I took a wrong road and got on a small local road which wasn't bad at all because there's much more things to see compared to the main roads, but the road went worse every kilometre so I turned back to the main road and spend another night at a local truck stop. This truck stop was better than the previous one as there were much less trucks stopping by and they were able to serve a decent breakfast in the morning. From here it was easy to reach Islamabad in a day but I had to make a little detour as motorcycles were not allowed on the highway. There's only one highway in Pakistan and this is between Lahore and Islamabad.
The campground in Islamabad was situated on the south side of the city in a nice area full with trees and, most important, the campground was restricted for local people. So here it was possible to really relax without locals were gathering around you. The campground was totally deserted when I arrived, but not for long. Before I was able to put up my tent two bikers arrived, a Swiss and an Austrian guy. Later an Australian biker arrived as well on a KTM so it was a nice meeting.
The Australian got his bike for free as he asked the KTM factory in Austria if they had a bike for him as he was planned to do a 50,000 km trip through Europe and Asia and finally they gave him the new 2001 model to test it out. The only 'restriction' he had was that he had to return after his trip to the factory so they were able to take the whole bike apart for inspection.
The campground in Islamabad was a relaxing place to be. And the problem with most relaxing places is that you're staying there much longer than expected. I spend a week there doing all minor things, but basically doing nothing. I went on the Internet a couple of times, bought some decent maps of Pakistan, India and Nepal.
The Austrian had bought an Enfield in India and planned to drive it back home. But two days after he left he returned as he heard a funny sound in his engine. in Rawalpindi (close to Islamabad) they took apart the whole engine and found a piece of metal in it. Where it came from, nobody knew but after a couple days delay he was able to continue his trip back home and I haven't seen him back since. Paying some extra attention to my bike I saw that there was a crack in one of my alu-pannier. I went back to the same motor shop as where Hartmund (the Austrian) had 'repaired' his bike. They couldn't weld aluminium but they put an extra steel plate behind it for additional strength and did the same for the pannier on the other side. This repair took about 4 hours and cost me only USD 6 including the steel plates. The next day the steel plates already started to get rusted but who cares about this. It will hold for at least a couple of months.
The Australian on the KTM left for India but in return an Austrian couple arrived on a bike from Iran as well the two Austrians in the Landcruiser I saw in Quetta. They heard me knocking on the door but didn't respond on it.
Gion, the Swiss guy, waited for spare parts send from home and together we decided to make a tour through Islamabad as we hadn't seen anything of it yet. There's not much to see in Islamabad as it's a new city (less than 40 years old) and well planned. I thought it was similar to Brasilia, which was a lot of concrete boxes to me. But Islamabad was different. It was spacious as well and also a lot of concrete was used but probably because people were actually living there it was not bad at all although it hadn't the charm and chaos of an ordinary Pakistani city. First we went to the huge Faisal mosque (financed by Saudi Arabia) where about 70,000 people could follow the service. Not all of them inside but also on the big squares around the mosque. The next stop was a viewpoint north of the city, which showed clearly how much green there was in Islamabad. Finally we went to a lake close to the campground to have a drink because the temperatures were still high (around 30á“).
The day before I left Islamabad an Encounter Overland truck turned up on the campground. The same organisation I used over 2 years ago for my round-trip through South America. It was nice to see that hardly anything had changed since and so it brought back a lot of memories. But when I turned around to see my tent and motorbike and I was glad I had them now and wouldn't be on that truck anymore. The amount of freedom I have now with the bike is so important for me now that I wouldn't miss it. But I never had regrets making that trip with them and I'm sure I wouldn't have made this trip if I hadn't made that organised trip.
Posted by Martin Rooiman at September 17, 2000 03:04 AM GMT