January 11, 2009 GMT
No.17. Pakistan. Crossing the Baluchistan Desert

At last, the story resumes....at the Iran-Pakistan border.

Pakistan. PAKISTAN! How many people can say they’ve ridden a motorcycle overland to Pakistan?! I was e-lated!…and then, very nearly e-longated. Pakistan’s traffic drives on the left. I was riding on the right. One learns quickly.

My route was to take me across Baluchistan to the 'wild frontier town' of Quetta near the Afghan border then on south.

Three days later my world would to be turned upside-down on the wind swept desert road south to Sukkur - “…not recommended if you are traveling independently.”

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Click here to see the full story


Click on MORE below for the highs - and lows of this stretch of Dusty Highway...

I’d left Bam at sunrise fearful of the 600kms that lay between myself and Quetta. Crossing the border at Mijave I’d made it as far as Notkundi before I was ‘encouraged’ off the road into a police compound – for safety reasons. This stretch of road was not the place for that romantic night out under the stars. There's bandits in them there hills.

The men who'd kindly fed me (after sunset) the previous evening, had gone. I packed and rolled out onto the road and turned East, once again heading for Quetta. I arrived in 'Crazy hour', that time shortly before sunset, and the town was chaotic - doubly so after the (near) isolation of the desert road. The Lonely Planet lead me to the Hotel Bloom Star - an oasis of calm.

Later that evening I returned to the Hotel having eaten in a nearby restaurant ( I use the term loosely). Four or five locals were engaging the owner in an animated conversation. They fell silent as I walked in. " And now a cartoon?!" suggested the young man at Reception. I'd told him earlier of my skills as a Caricaturist. Looking round at the assembled 'party' - I regretted it. To cut a long story short - I survived to tell the tale...(Flick back to 'Episode 6a -Pakistan' for the full nerve wracking story).

Gearbox oil topped up and I was away at 8.00am on the road south to Sukkur over the legendary Bolan Pass. The British army had built a railway through this dramatic region in the 1800s, steep gradients and 20 tunnels - each one named. The project had cost them dearly...

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The sun beat down on the road south. The tarmac shimmered, deserted. Quiet. Quiet that is, except for a nagging rumble coming through my footpegs. I'd felt it in third gear over the previous days but now I was picking it up in all gears...and now louder ...and LOUDER. I stopped. Checked oil. OK. Started the engine, engaged first gear...kkkeeEERRRUUNCHH!!! What the F*ck? Gearbox? Shaftdrive failure? This is it. It's all over. I slumped to the ground and lit a cigarette. It should have been a Hamlet cigar......

Is this it? The end of the road for our Gritty Biker? Find out in the next 'gripping' episode - coming soon...!!!


Posted by Simon Roberts at 08:03 PM GMT
January 28, 2009 GMT
No.18. Pakistan. The Karakoram Highway.

Disaster strikes!! Shaft Drive failure?

As the bike cooled down, the silence grew. The desert road seemed…deserted. It was. Almost. A speck on the horizon grew and two armed men pulled up…on a moped. Baluchistan frontier police. Saved! Or was I?

They’ll call a pick-up truck and I’ll be in a garage within the hour. No. An hour passed as they tried my helmet and sunglasses on, read my magazines and took photos of each other. We eventually got our act together and flagged down an empty flat bed truck which slid to a halt in front of us.

Now the only problem was how to get the bike up onto the truck……

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'No Problem Salmon!' (my name for the next few days). The truck was backed down into the scrub and we eased the bike across a plank onto the truck - “On the road again...” Yes!

You can read the rest of the story by clicking on MORE below.

What I hadn't realised was that I'd just signed up for Pakistans favourite Driving Game - Chicken Run. Overtaking. This meant more points the longer you stayed out on the other side of the road while overtaking. Double points if you could run them off the road too. Luckily I was assured "Don't worry Salmon, Allah is with us!". Unfortunately he was with everyone else too. The only thing in our favour was that we were the biggest truck on the road. I then found out I was down for the Advanced version of this 'game' -The NIGHT version. AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!

These guys were going straight through - literally - until Lahore. Horns constantly blasting it was nightmarish.. I quizzed one of the overtaking moves and the driver, Sedaq, looked at me, threw his head back and howled with laughter... I crouched behind the seats and braced myself for the inevitable head on collision.

To cut a l-o-n-g story short, I spent four l-o-n-g sleepless days and nights with these crazy guys (at around 30 mph due to a heavy load of rice picked up en-route) who got me all the way to Pakistan's only 'heavy' bike mechanic in Lahore. It involved switching vehicles so we could get the bike into the congested streets of Lahore...arriving at 4 o'clock in the morning. Try arranging this kind of 'hospitality' in a European country.

Mr. Waheed's bikeshop on the Grand Trunk road. A remarkable establishment with a distinctly 'Dickensian' flavour. Full of small spanner wielding urchins. Go there if you get the chance. It should be included on a tour of Lahore. I was given one by Usman, Mr. Waheed's nephew who's own 'white knuckle' driving style certainly shortened my life expectancy. Oh how I laughed as we drove into an unlit busy underpass - the wrong way and then, realising he'd taken us in the wrong direction, promptly did a 3-point turn. What joy.

But time flew by and within a few days I was bidding farewell to Mr Waheed and his young mechanics who (amazingly) had found the necessary spares to get me back on the road. I asked no questions. I was just glad to be back on my way to the Karakoram Highway. Thanks be to Allah. Thanks be to Visa.

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It was with some trepidation that I turned off the GT Road heading north up the KKH leaving the autumnal warmth of the plains behind me.


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As I climbed higher, the weather deteriorated. I became aware of Relief camps left and right of the road. It was a sobering sight. People wrapped in blankets, some squatting round fires, others queueing for supplies. I rode steadily through the crowds - I hadn't expected this so far west. The recent earthquakes had obviously effected a larger area than I'd thought. Farm buildings lay all around - completely flattened. I'd never experienced anything like this. I shuddered.

The road climbed higher up the valley and the rain continued to fall and the temperature dropped. I have to confess, for the first time, this 'Gritty Biker' was overwhelmed with the desire to be at home, on the sofa, in front of a log fire with a mug of tea watching an old movie....A big thanks goes to the man who fitted my heated grips - tears came to my eyes as their warmth glowed through the dampness.

I made it to Besham that night, on the banks of the Indus. Hotel Paris. A fine establishment which would have had more 'stars' if they'd been able to offer hot water. They weren't. Or heating. Or electricity. That night I dreamt of log fires.

Loud rumbling woke me from my lounge sofa. This area had also suffered in the earthquake - the hotel owner had lost a sister and her children. That makes you sit up. I thought of land slides and secondary earth tremors. After the rain these things happen, don't they? I was almost relieved when I realised it was thunder. The rain had eased but the sky was still threatening. If it's raining here what's it like at higher altitudes? Where's that sofa?

After miles of desperately bad roads literally carved out of the mountain sides I was flagged down by a Police officer - another passport check - or so I thought. 'Do you want to see a snow leopard?'. Er, why not? He waved me into an walled compound and closed the wrought iron gates behind me. Odd. I realised then he wasn't dressed in Police unifom. Four other men stood around. 'This is it. I'm going to be robbed!' I thought. Like a kid who gets asked if he wants to go with a man and '..see some puppies'.

One of the guys was washing a white van down - Jeez! He's washing out the evidence of the last tourist they sliced up and fed to the 'snow leopard'... At that moment a man came from behind the building followed closely by a snow leopard - unchained.

What the hell was I going to do?! See the next gripping episode of 'The Road to Kathmandu'...coming soon.

Posted by Simon Roberts at 02:34 PM GMT
 
 

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