November 26, 2006 GMT
Pakistan - part1

After doing all the paperwork and taking two hours to leave Iran, we ride out of Iran into Pakistan following a dusty trail only to realise we have missed the immigration point, which I actually mistook for a chook shed. (Chicken Coop) We turn around and join the 100 locals who are queuing, the money changers are trying to boss us around and tell us we must join the line outside and stay there, obviously so they have more time to badger you to change money. Tierd, hot and slightly annoyed Skill goes into the main office where we are processed in 10 minutes, then it is off to the the next shed across the rubbish strewn dustbowl called Taftan.

The carnet details are entered into a huge old ledger that measured well over a metre long. Finally we are off, to get our black market fuel

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and make the break to Dalbandin across the incredibly harsh dessert landscape. We were informed that we would have a police escort to Dalbandin so we were pleased when none eventuated.

About thirty kms from Taftan we are stopped by a piece of rope stretched across the road. Out of a tent appears a red bearded (hanna) guy wearing grey flannel like pajamas carrying a huge gun. OK what now!!!!

We are to learn that these are checkpoints manned by the Baluchistan Levi where we have to record our passport number, apparently so the authorities can track us if we go missing. In truth this probably would not happen as they are often loose dirty scrappy bits of paper jammed into an exercise book.

The road to Dalbandin is good, fast and straight. Occasionally to break the monotony of the vast dessert landscape there are a few camels, both dead and alive. The only other traffic on the road are the black market fuel guys in the blue utes and the occasional Pakistani trucks which are truly beautiful.

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We arrive in Dalbandin to the only hotel in town but after the Mirjaveh hotel it is sheer luxury. On arrival we are instantly swamped by about 50 people. Skill goes inside while I have 50 Baluchi men just staring at me. I take the opportunity to photograph a few of the kids.

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We have just got into the room when the power goes off, we are reliably informed it will be back on at 7.00pm so we grab our headlights and candle and have a cold shower. We then entertain ourselves by looking out the window at the passing parade on the main street. Goats being herded, donkeys and carts being driven by 10 year olds, colourful trucks with horns blaring, black market fuel runners and even the odd camel. Add to this the open drains, rubbish, small fires and men urinating in the street (discreetly underneath their clothes) Bloody Hell!!!!! What is it Dorothy said to Toto, "I don't think we are in Kansas anymore"

That night watching television in the main office of the hotel there is a report of Bomb blasts in Quetta with 30 people being killed or injured. Not good news, but we are now committed, we have to go on, there's no going back.

Next day is a long ride to Quetta. Everyone has been telling us how bad the road is, and while it is not great, (it is a one-lane, pot holed, bitumen surface) it is no worse then roads we have travelled in Far Western Queensland. Although sand dunes blowing across the road in places was different.

At one point we go to overtake two trucks and get pushed off the road into the soft sand, the bike is out of control (tank slapping), all I can think is "this is going to hurt". Skill powers on and somehow we remain upright. His remarkably cool comment is, "I don't think I'll do that again".

The landscape is dramatic, sand swept dessert to one side of the road and huge mountains on the other.

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The locals were mostly friendly, waving and crowding around when we stop for fuel.

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There was only one section near Nushki where we thought things were a bit dodgy with the kids throwing rocks and a couple of cars swerving towards us to frighten us, and people screaming at us. We also passed a motorcycle, where the pillion was carrying a shotgun. Around the next corner we come across three army trucks and about 100 soldiers who seemed to be scouring the area, guns at the ready. It was at this point I was really looking forward to getting to Quetta.

We have since learned that most other travellers had an armed escort through this area.

We refuel in Nushki and head towards the Lak Pass, this is where our armed police escorts begin. In a way you feel much more unsafe when they are around, emotionally you begin to think, "I have an armed escort, it must be unsafe". Then they make you do 50 km hour so their old vehicles can keep up, and finally you attract the attention of every Pakistani on the road, "Foreigner here, Foreigner here" Here are a couple of photos of our escorts into Quetta.

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We arrive at the Hotel Bloom Star, tierd but happy to be in Quetta, it has been a long, long, long day.

It is here we meet the wonderful Samuel, another Dutch cyclist. Samuel has ridden his pushbike every km of the way from Holland and camping out alone all the way across the Baluchistan dessert, sometimes getting water from wells with the camel herders. This amazing, unassuming young man is a true adventurer.

We also meet Robyn, a Canadian, meeting another overland group who have not yet arrived. Robyn spends the following day with us, and tries on a few traditional Pakistani clothes.

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One cannot begin to describe Quetta, it is a filthy, wild west frontier city with open sewers and dust/fume laden air but we could not help but wander around with our mouths open. (Well not literally, you would get a mouthful of two-stroke and diesel fumes and God knows what else.)

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The town is made up of many different ethnic groups including Pashtuns, Baluchis, Mohajirs along with Afghan refugees.

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Next morning we are awoken by the sound of jet fighters flying over, we wonder what is going on, but no one seems to bat an eyelid.

Later that night we realise why the jets had been so active all day, the Pakistani Army had bombed a Religious school on the border near Peshawar killing 80 people. This has since caused huge tensions within the Pakistani government with some members resigning.

In the evening we catch up with Marcus and Daniel (a young English backpacker who has hitched a lift on the back of Marcus's bike). They made it to Quetta a day later than us and we have a few celebrationary beers in our room - our first beer since leaving Turkey.

Next day we leave Quetta discreetly with a minimum of attention?????

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This is a daily occurrence, we cannot stop without being mobbed, we make our own traffic jams.

We manage to get away with no police escort and follow the road through the Bolan Pass where the English built a famous train line. Later we hear grenades had been thrown at the train just 1 day earlier as it climbed the pass. We pick up a couple of police escorts along the way but they only drive with us a short way.

At one point we stop beside a river for a break, there are a friendly group of camel herders there who are happy for us to take photos.

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Marcus is feeling pretty dreadful (some food poisoning) so he and Daniel stop in Sibi at midday while Skill and I press onto Jacobabad. While looking for a hotel we are accosted by the local police who take us to a hotel then place an armed guard with the bike and two more outside our room for the night. Jacobabad isn't on the tourist route for obvious reasons, this is the view from our hotel window.

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It is late, we are tierd so order dinner in our room and leave the over zealous police to get on with it. Talk about overkill. The locals are very friendly and we feel there is absolutely no threat to our safety.

The next day is the worst days riding we have had on our whole trip. No police escort out of town but they stop us after about 10km and we have an armed escort for the next 450 km at an average of 50km/h. We could maybe understand the escort through the Sind region as it has a dodgy reputation, but we felt safe and people were always friendly.

This area is quite scenic. It is where we cross the mighty Indus. There is an abundance of Water Buffalo and the local people are harvesting the reeds along the waterways. We wished we could have stopped for more photos but our escort precluded us from doing so.

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The escort then continued for another 200km through the safest area of Pakistan, the Punjab, to city of Bahawalpur.

The police inform us at one point that we will need an escort for all our travel through the whole of Pakistan. We are shocked. It is incredibly irritating to do 50-80km/h on the highway, stopping continuously to change escort cars, with a long chat between police at every change. They also chase away any local people that come near us, we feel quarantined from experiencing and seeing Pakistan, the reason we are travelling here.

In the end we just ignore them, honestly no less than 20 cars and 60 personnel were involved in these escorts. Talk about a waste of resources.

We argued, complained and threatened them, as no other travellers we have met have had this harassment. We are sure it is not law, so we are not breaking the law by ignoring them are we? That is our logic anyway. At one point in sheer frustration I ask them do they think we are bad people. They are genuinely mortified " No, no, no it is our duty and honour to provide an escort."

They just do not get it, we just want them to leave us alone. So annoyed and angry are we that on several occasions both Skill and I came very close to telling the police officers to f... off, which would have been a first for both of us. We resisted but only just.

Skill even tried to tell them we would make an official complaint and that we had intended to stay in Pakistan for one month, but if police keep harassing us we would leave to the more civilised India as soon as possible - trying to use the Pakistan-India rivalry but still no luck. Several times we just speed away from the clapped out old diesel Hilux's ignoring police directions to stop (a little disconcerting when they are holding machine guns), but they would just radio ahead and the next armed escort would be waiting for us. Ahhhh......

We are totally exhausted by the time we get to Bawaluphar (10 hours later, no lunch and in the dark) and checked into the first hotel we see, not what I would call great, in fact it is only just passable. We have our cold shower and find a fabulous restaurant next door, it was really good. Then we crash into bed.

So tired are we that we don't wake till 10am so decide to stay the day, not that Bawalhapur has a lot to offer. Find an internet and wander the market, with it's eye popping sights.

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Later we meet a lovely women in the hotel, this young woman is in an arranged marriage with a controlling, angry, scotch swilling old man, who is a bigamist into the bargain. Bigamy is acceptable in Pakistan apparently?????

I admire the hanna on her hands and later in the evening she comes to our room and paints my hands then we have a girly make up session, with my limited makeup.

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She does not have much English, but I glean that she has a boyfriend (of some means) whom I end up talking to on the phone. He had quite good English, so I now have his email and will attempt to get the full story from him. I just hope that she is very careful.

In the evening over dinner Skill and I plan our escape from the police, we have everything packed up and aim to get on the bike as early and as quickly as possible and tell the hotel guys that we are going to the Lal Suhanra National Park - opposite direction to where we are really going.

Next morning we put "Operation Escape Police" into action and finally we are free, we ride to Multan and then onto Lahore with only two police checkpoints but no escort. What a relief.

We are stopped by the Highway patrol on the pretext that our lights are on, but he just wants a chat. At one point he asks us if we are carrying a gun as a means of protection. And he is deadly serious. We are shocked and emphatically say "of course not". I wonder if my tomato knife counts as a dangerous weapon

In Lahore we do what every guide book tells you NOT to do we ask an auto rickshaw driver to take us to a hotel, we agree on a price ($1.00 AUD) and then make sure he leaves before we enter the hotel. Worth every last cent. We stay in Lahore for 4 nights, after the 8 days of solid rides we are ready to stop for a while. On our first day we overcome our fear of the suzuki auto rickshaws and start to enjoy riding in them, the drivers are crazy but amazingly skillful at the same time. We venture out to Lahore Fort and after paying the overinflated foreigner's price spend the afternoon wandering around.

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Once again that wonderful Muslim hospitality kicks in, people are amazingly friendly, we have numerous people give us their addresses and phone numbers inviting us to visit their homes and cities. We also start to be a little overwhelmed by the number of people, men women and children who keep wanting to have their photos taken with us. We are here to see Lahore's main tourist attraction and by day's end we have become the tourist attraction. These ladies wanted me to pose with them.

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The following day we wander the markets and the local streets of Lahore,

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then spend the rest of the day at Lahore's only backpackers The Regale Internet Inn where Marcus and Daniel are staying. They arrived the same day as us, with even worse Police escort stories. After comparing notes over more local beer we decide Marcus wins.

Apparently they endured the same Police interference as we did but Marcus did not slow down at all and just kept riding as the Police chased him. At one point they radioed ahead and got the police in the next village to set up a roadblock made out of cars and long pew like seats. By the time the boys arrived every person in the village was gathered around the roadblock and he almost had to lay the bike over to stop in time. The short story is that he was not allowed to use the road he had chosen and had to backtrack two hours with a police escort for the rest of the day.

Marcus' mate John has also arrived from Australia with a new BMW gearbox and drive shaft in his luggage. Now, as chance would have it there is also another HU member, broken down in Lahore. Lars' BMW drive shaft had also failed. Somehow Lars had managed to find a guy in Lahore who is a motorcycle collector and BMW enthusiast with a workshop and band of willing workers. This guy is a university professor/lecturer and you can only see a fraction of the bikes he has collected all stuffed into this garage..

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But due to the professor being at university during the day, the boys can only use the workshop during the evening which is what they do. The guys (Marcus, Skill and Lars) work late into the night with the help of the Professor's team and sometime after 1.00am emerge with two working BMWs.

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From Lahore we have a reasonably easy days ride to Islamabad, however finding a hotel is difficult, they are either absolute dives or five star hotels. It is at times like this we really wish we had kept our tent as the Overland Camping Area looks great.

In the end we opt for a dodgy hotel as it is late. No dinner and bed. I can cope with the dirty sheets, the less than clean bathroom and cold showers, even the heated arguments coming from the next room. However I could not cope with the rat that ran over my foot when I got up to use the bathroom. I let out a huge scream which Skill slept through. I then spent a sleepless night on the look out just in case Ben had relatives.

Next morning my sunny disposition had disappeared and for this reason my husband had shifted us to a new hotel by 8.00am.

We venture out to get our Pakistan visas extended as we think they are about to expire. But they assure us they are all in order, valid for 3 months and donít need extending. That's not how we read the visa, but we donít argue, just hope its all OK at border exit time.

We then go out to find the Indian High Commission. At the security checkpoint to the Embassy Enclave they will not let us in on the bike which we figure is reasonable, ok we will walk in. NO. OK we will catch a taxi. NO. Ok then how do we get into the Indian High Commission.

Apparently we need a letter of invitation from the Australian Embassy. WHAT? We think they donít understand, so we say again we just want to apply for a visa. Same story, we cannot even get to the Embassy, let alone get a visa application form! OK how do we get this letter from the Aus embassy?

We are told to ride our bike to the Australian Embassy which incidentally is inside the same secure area and just around the corner from the Indian High Commission! The stupidity of some bureaucrats is often beyond comprehension.

After talking to the guys at the Australian Embassy they tell us to ignore the police and just ride around the corner to the Indian High Commission, which we do. We collect our paperwork from a nice Indian man and ride out waving to the security police as we do. They all happily wave back

On our way back to the hotel we call in to see if any of our cyclist friends have made it to Islamabad. No they haven't but Rose and David Cochrane a British couple we met in the Iranian Embassy in Ankara are camped there as is Robyn from Quetta.

We spend the afternoon and evening there and join the Overlanders for takeaway Pizza Dinner.

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Next day it is back to the Embassy Enclave and Security Checkpoint. Once again we are stopped, but wiser this time we say we are going to the Aus Embassy. You must have a diplomatic passport. WHAT? " No we rode in yesterday, we are going to Australian Embassy to collect our letter of authorisation" we fib to them. Then another policeman comes over and says "they were here yesterday, it is Ok".

So we sneak off in the direction of the Australian Embassy and then cut around the back again. We don't stand in the queue with the 100s of Pakistanis but push to the front of the line and are let in straight away. We are not being pushy as there is a separate queue for foreigners. In under an hour we have submitted our applications and passports. We ride back out through the security checkpoint and once again wave to the police, who enthusiastically wave back. ONLY IN PAKISTAN!!!!!!!!!!!

We spend two more days in Islamabad, trying to organise postage, update our blog and also visiting Dave and Rose at the Camp Ground.

On our final evening in Islamabad at the hotel Skill spies something out of the corner of his eye, eventually tracking it down to underneath my bed. Yes. It is yet another rat and yes we are in a different hotel. Skill goes down to the reception.

Skill: There is a rat in our room
Reception Guy: You want tea in your room?
Skill: No there is a RAT in our room
Reception Guy:(with great excitement) A rat!
Skill: Yes a rat!
Reception Guy: (Now highly animated) Oh very good. You must take this man with you, He is number one rat killer, he is like cat.

So up they all troop, and the number one rat killer fails to kill or even catch the rat as it dashes out of our room and up two flights of stairs with four grown men in hot pursuit. Below is part of the rat extermination team.

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Tomorrow we plan on heading up the famous KKH (Karakoram Highway) towards the Khunjerab Pass (Chinese Border). We know that it is getting late in the season and we will probably not make it that far (due to the snow and ice on the road) but are really looking forward to the journey.

Cheers and Chai,

Quote of the Week: "A traveller without observation is a bird without wings" - Moslih Eddin Saadi

Posted by John Skillington at November 26, 2006 12:58 PM GMT
 


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