Watching the Truck Painters of Pakistan, and moving on …

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ December 8th, 2007. Updated on April 20th, 2009. Published in: Travel blog » Pakistan.

Travel Journal Overview: Recovering, and with my mind made up I got to visit one of the most inspiring of places that I’ve been. A truck garage.

This entry has been rewritten under Stories: The Pakistani Truck Painters here you will find better editing and a lot of photographs

A Pakistani Truck Painter

A Pakistani Truck Painter

This was one of my final days in Peshawar, and although I wanted to head for another or the same Afghan refugee camp there was another area Pakistan life I wanted to document. We headed into the center of Peshawar, aiding the usual plethora of rickshaws, bike mules and even camels. Ifzal wanted me to see the Bala Hisar Fort; a place I had been before during one of y walks around the city, but one I hoped might prove a little more interesting with my guide. Bala Hisar was commanding fort set on rocky mound looking over the city. While the fort would have been interesting to visit, it had been occupied my the military now for years, so I really did wonder why we bothered to come.

We took a taxi to a bus park off one of the main ring road. A few questions later and my Peshawar resident ‘guide’ took me to another location, another park. All this uncertainty was making me think I had made a good choice about not going to the north. At least the new bus park had what I wanted to see.

We entered over a muddy stretch and past oil drums, engine parts and planks of heavy wood. Buses and trucks were lined up in rows, some mere rusting skeletons of their former selves others sparkling new brightly colored road monsters. We walked over to the first area where there were people. A group of 5 men were sitting on planks of wood, hunched over long metal sheets that had been hand painted with swirls of whites, greens, red and blues. The men were using heavy scissors along with hammers and sharp pointed chisels to cut out shapes. Some were just long strips, as if intended to ling a door or a roof. Others were cut into circles or spires. I went low and began to photograph. I got the feeling I was not particularly welcome, as if they had seen the like of me before. Still, no one objected.

By the far side near a shack entranceway a coveralled man was working a pedal powered ladle. We watched as he expertly cut out spiral shapes from various off cuts of wood. He was happy to have his photo take, and was easily bemused at my fascination of his work.

We walked across the yard to what looked to be a new truck. Pakistani trucks are old MAC trucks that have been given a new life. The huge engine bonnet still stood with the front windows perched above it. After this the similarities ended. The whole driver cabinet was surrounded by a giant plywood frame as if resembling a lions mane. Although in this case containing a broad spectrum of psychedelic patterns. From intricate lines, to leafy flowers all manner of carefully hand painted designs brought these old road hauling beasts a new passion. And it was indeed with great pride and presence I watched as these roadside artists so very delicately applied Pakistan’s own beauty to the oil guzzlers.

At least five men took up various positions around the MAC truck. Some on makeshift wooden scaffolding, others standing tall. All with paintbrush in hand. The colours were not that mixed. Bright yellow, medium green, brilliant blue along with a lush red and stark white seemed to be the only colours used along with black for outlines. I continued on photographing, and unlike a while ago here I could see wry smiles of pride appear on the faces of these unique artists.

Next to the newly panted exhibit was another monster of a truck that seemed to be nearly twice the size. This was another MAC truck, except this one had been gutted. The engine was taken out, the doors had been removed and the outer drivers cabinet had been stripped down completely. All around the the driver cabinet was a mane of newly cut plywood supported by a skeleton of scaffolding. Two men were busy taking exact measurements of the window area. A small boy handed them up an electric drill and they began making holes. Looking on at all this with a very proud smile was Mr. Shirani. A large grey bearded man wearing a large white Shalwar Kameeze. It was of course his truck. He was have a complete refit. The truck had been a recent purchase and he was having its old eastern block look denoted to history. From a complete engine overhaul to giving it the colourful additions to Pakistani motor fashion. Mr. Kamikaze was getting the works done.

What fascinated me quite a bit was the fact that a lot of metal was being ripped out and replaced by wood. Whether this was because the metal was worth something or because it was easier to carve designs into wood I don’t know. What I do know is that I would never again look at a Pakistan door the same again.

We left with Ifzal trying to take me to another painters workshop. He did find another one, but it paled in comparison and it took us a long time in the sun to find it. We headed back into town and I took Ifzal to a tea house we had been to before. I offered him some money for all the time he had spent with me in showing me around. He was a guide after all, and had lost out in taking me to the north. He refused at first, but then gratefully excepted the few days cash I put into his hand. He excused himself and we agreed to meet back at the hotel later.

I spent the evening packing and that included a nice Pashtun hat Ifzal had given me as a parting gift. IT tweaked my guilt a little, but I was still happy about the choice I had made in not going with him to the north. He was not exactly the most stellar of guides. But more over than that: the whole Katherine, daytime bus curfew shenanigans had me paranoid to the max.

It was time to move on.

Some related links from this website that  you might like: (including a lot more photographs from Pakistan)

Stories: The Pakistani Truck Painters

Stories: The Last Khyber Pass Journey

Pakistan Travel Guide

Resources: How to Guide – Iran to Pakistan overland

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