Diary - Pakistan

Wednesday 20th March 2002 - DAY 49 cont...

We passed through the Iranian border unhindered (there weren't separate immigration queues for men and women) - in fact we were the only people there and had to wake someone up to let us through. This may have been becuase it was the first day of the Iranian New Year or just that no-one is passing into Pakistan these days. On arrival at the Pakistan immigration office we explained our problem with the Carnet and they were very friendly and helpful (especially when we showed them our letter from the Pakistani High Commissioner in London). We had our passports stamped (no going back now!) and were accompanied through to the Customs section where we were invited for 'tea' (milky and sweet in Pakistan) and to discuss the problem of our Carnet. They, like the PTDC, couldn't understand why Pakistan had been excluded and were most surprised (and a little put out), but suggested that the best thing to do would be for one of the customs officers to accompany us to the central administrative offices in Quetta where they would be able to sort out the paperwork for the rest of the journey. We were then invited to meet the Head Collector of Customs who was wearing a tweed cap and sat drinking tea in a very carefully maintained, English-looking garden (quite peculiar in the middle of a desert). It turned out that he was a great fan of England and all things English and he was delighted to meet us and insisted that we stay as guests at the border rather than going to the hotel. He assured us that there would be no problem with the Carnet and that it would all get sorted out. We were provided with some excellent Pakistani food and ate (using right hand only) with him as guests of honour at the table where we were waited on hand and foot. We went to bed feeling much more confident about the situation.

sandy bit of the Baluchistan desert

Thursday 21st March 2002 - DAY 50

Starting point: Taftan
Ending point: Quetta
Distanced travelled: 414 miles

We were woken up about 5.30am (4am as far as our body clocks were concerned) by a very loud call to prayer and decided that we might as well get up and make an early start across the Baluchistan desert - it's advised that you do this stretch in one day and don't travel at night because of bandits. So we set about putting some jerrie cans on the roof rack to make some space for our escort. We were fed more tea and biscuits as we waited for the paperwork to be finalised - which was tediously slow and it was about 9.30am by the time we were actually able to leave with escort in tow. The first 250 km was pretty uneventful and dull: a fast, straight road (there must have been about 6 bends in total) with the desert varying between grey/gravelly and yellow/sandy. At one point sand dunes had completely blocked off the road so we got to play around off-road for a bit. We stopped for lunch at Dalbandin, where our escort had a friend who was able to fix us up with some good food (in the meantime he disappeared to have a smoke - and came back very talkative. His only English consisted of 'this is jumping' (for the speed bumps) and 'this is Pakistan!' for everything else), then headed off again towards Quetta. From here the road narrowed to a single track - which meant we spent most of the time moving aside for the 40 tonne trucks heading towards us - and our progress slowed considerably. We were going well and had reached the bendy, mountain roads when a pick-up truck shot round a corner way too fast and out of control. Fortunately Robin, who was driving, was miraculously able to swerve to avoid both the truck to our right and the sizeable boulder to our left by what must have been a few centimetres. We saw that the truck had ended up upside down so we went back to check if everyone was okay. Amazingly no-one was seriously hurt - a young boy had a gash in his forehead, so we helped bandage him up with our first aid kit. The other driver was quite friendly and acted as if this sort of thing happens all the time - I guess it probably does. It was getting dark as we approached Quetta and the road had got very busy with trucks and the occasional UN vehicle - the trucks in Pakistan are all very ornately decorated and the colourful paintwork glows in the dark - it felt like we'd been caught in the middle of a circus procession, we just wished that we had a musical horn like everybody else. Our escort came into his own as we drove into town and was able to direct us to our chosen hotel before excitedly rushing off to see his family who he hadn't seen in weeks.

the other car

Friday 22nd March 2002 - DAY 51

Starting point: Quetta
Ending point: Ziarat
Distanced travelled: 102 miles

We met up with our escort again mid-morning and trundled off to the central Customs Office to sort out the documentation for us to continue our journey. As it turned out, it was very fortunate that we had crossed the border yesterday and not this morning as originally planned - the offices would be shutting at lunchtime for a national holiday and weren't going to open again for 5 days, so we would have been stuck in Quetta. It took some time to sort things out at the Customs Office (although our letter from the High Commissioner sped the process up a great deal) - apparently their reservation was that in the past people have beaten up their escorts and thrown them out, so they had to get all sorts of signatures and permission in order to authorise us with one. We felt quite sorry for the new man who had to come with us as he'd probably been looking forward to a 5 day holiday and just happened to be the last person on duty. Still, we managed to set off from Quetta around 4pm aiming to spend the night at the mountain village of Ziarat - about a 2-hour drive according to our guide book. As we were leaving Quetta we were just commenting that the sky had turned a funny shade of yellow when all of a sudden it hit us and we were caught in the middle of a huge dust storm. Everything got very windy and visibility became tricky - we probably should have turned back at this point, but having set off we decided to continue. Our escort had seemed to know where he was going so when we came across a military check-point that told us we were half way along the road to Kandahar and had to turn back, we figured we had better use the GPS instead. The dust storm continued severely for an hour or so but the wind had at least died down a bit by the time we arrived in Ziarat where we found a hotel and crashed out.

Saturday 23rd March 2002 - DAY 52

Starting point: Ziarat
Ending point: Multan
Distanced travelled: 310 miles

single lane road in mountains

The dust had cleared when we woke up and we were able to see that Ziarat was actually quite a pretty little village - famous for its Juniper trees apparently. The road onwards was in pretty bad condition (unpaved and full of potholes) - it took us 1 1/2 hours to travel the first 30 miles. When we stopped to fill up with diesel a crowd of at least 20 people gathered round to have a look. The road improved somewhat as we drove onwards towards Dera Ghazi Khan but then we had to climb up over a dizzily high mountain pass where the roads were very bendy and narrow and had severe drops down the side. It seemed to take forever to descend the other side into the Indus valley. It was amazing how the scenery changed from being so deserty and barren on one side of the pass to suddenly being incredibly hot, humid and very green on the other. This was our first real taste of the sub-continent as we were confronted with rickshaws, bicycles and multitides of people carrying things on their heads through the crowded markets. We had been driving for 10 hours and were pretty tired by the time we eventually reached Multan and found a cheap hotel for the night.

Sunday 24th March 2002 - DAY 53

Starting point: Multan
Ending point: Lahore
Distanced travelled: 223 miles

We were relieved to find that the road north to Lahore was in much better condition so we were able to do the final leg of our transit by lunchtime leaving the afternoon free to explore. I think our escort had been hoping that we'd drive on to the border that day, but we wanted to do at least some sightseeing while in Pakistan - only wish we could have stayed a bit longer. Navigating the old city of Lahore was a bit of a nightmare and we eventually found our hotel by following some kid on a bicycle who offered to show us the way (he looked as though he felt very important). Our escort insisted on coming with us to the Fort and Badshahi Mosque and we had to convince him that we weren't going to try and sell the car and escape the country that afternoon in order to shake him off while we went to get some food. We found an interesting little cafe/restaurant owned by a local artist where we were able to sit on the roof and eat. We met our first foreigner since Esfahan - an American aid worker called Dee who was based in Islamabad. We were apparently the first 'travellers' she'd seen since she'd been working in Pakistan. We wandered back through the streets of the old city - through a whole street of people selling chickens in various stages of slaughter and various parts of animals (sheeps' heads, giant bulls' testicles etc.) which was all a bit grim. Our escort looked relieved to see us when we returned to the hotel.

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore

Monday 25th March 2002 - DAY 54

Crossed border to India - See India diary