March 24, 2003 GMT
Baluchistan

We made it across the Baluchistan desert without being robbed, kidnapped, shot or even breaking down, which altogether was quite a bonus.

Much to our surprise, customs in Quetta proved to be a pleasure, thanks to Mr Raza (Assistant Collection, Car Section). He is a very urbane and well-informed man, with whom we discussed cloning, the limits of scientific knowledge, and Bertrand Russell's views on religion, before we even turned to the issue of bikes. We later talked very frankly about the political situation in Pakistan and the region, and its wider implications for sovereignty and multilateralism.

Our bikes were still required to travel under the auspices of customs. This either meant waiting several days for a train to the border, or proceeding with an escort. We explored the possibilities of putting the bikes on a bus or truck, but in the end Mr Raza came up with the admirably creative solution of sending the escort on ahead by bus while we travelled independently on the bikes.


A rare patch of sand in the desert

A rare patch of sand in the desert


In addition to the frisson of excitement provided by the potential hazards, the ride across the desert was enjoyable in its own right. The first day was quite varied, riding through and beside the stark hills, with the landscape varying from a dusty, rock-strewn vista to the sand dunes of popular imagination. Despite the extremely inhospitable surroundings, there were occasional sparse settlements, from which little children came running as we approached, gesturing for school pens. Whether they do this to all passing vehicles, or whether they've become adept at recognising the sound of a Bullet across the desert, I can't say. Another mystery to me is where the flies come from in the desert. You can stop a hundred kilometres from anywhere in any direction, and within minutes there will be a crowd of them buzzing around your head. At one fly-strewn shack we stopped for a cup of tea, and heard murmurings of 'America' among the obligatory crowd, so we became French. Usually we're Scottish, as a compromise.


Keeping an eye out for Osama in the hills

Keeping an eye out for Osama in the hills


We kept a low profile when we stopped for the night in the outpost of Dalbandin, since it has a reputation as being a den of thieves, and proceeded early in the morning to the border after filling up with contraband fuel. This stretch was almost completely barren, with literally nothing to see in any direction for hour after hour. The occasional slight turn in the otherwise perfectly straight road was signposted, presumably to guard against the numbing effects of the monotonous surroundings.


Not much variety around here

Not much variety around here


Raza's letter had indeed preceded us to Pakistani customs at the border, and had the desired effect. At Iranian customs, however, we broke our previous record by enduring a full 48 hour wait in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, they were civil about it all, and never once told us that we had to go back to Pakistan. It took several hours before they came up with their proposed solution, which was that we would have to buy insurance to cross Iran and have details of the bikes written in our passports to ensure that we re-exported them.

To their credit, it would all have been sorted out more quickly had we not arrived on the first day of a two day holiday. In any case, progress would have been difficult since a hot sand storm raged around us throughout the wait. It wasn't until half way through the third day that the insurance document was drawn up and they came up with the non-negotiable figure of two hundred dollars each. Smarting from the financial blow, we rode on into Iranian side of the desert, gradually becoming more elated at overcoming the major administrative hurdles to our journey.

Posted by James Whyte at March 24, 2003 02:09 PM GMT
 



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