Travel Journal Overview: I truly enjoyed my introduction to Pakistan. Travel is after all not meant to be a smooth ride, otherwise there is not point. Pakistan during Emergency rule, fun and games, but with 50 + hours of no seep I was struggling.
Arriving into Quetta, Pakistan
After some confusion with the Rickshaw driver I finally arrived at the Bloomstar hotel. The LP had said it closed at around 10pm, so you can imagine my sheer and utter despise for the book when the man at reception said that they were open 24 hours.
We argued a while as he showed me rooms, I was now on for 50+ hours of no sleep and was functioning on mistrust for everyone after the Niskey incident. Finally I settled on a single room with bathroom (squat) and a heater for 400 rupees.
More overland travelers in Pakistan
I headed into the courtyard for breakfast figuring food before sleep. It was there I met two more bikers, a nameless German and Nicky and Australian. I then remembered Paul in Yazd telling me of how he had met Nicky on-line and thought it was a solo female biker going through Iran and Pakistan, but once they met in person he realized Nicky was in fact a guy. WE joked over this, and it soon came to light that Nicky was really not doing so well. He’d been arrested by Pakistan customs for not having a carnet de passage and had his bike confiscated.
This in itself is bad, but what came next made me have little sympathy for the guy that was once thought of a a girl. He was broke. Next to nothing left. Hence he never got a carnet de passage. He’d no idea about Iran or Pakistan needing a carnet de passage and was really surprised Iranian women had been so covered up. Also, he found out the hard way that I Ran does not except international credit cards. Hmm, he reeked of a lack of research. So much so it was worrying he had managed to get this far.
I mentioned I was going to head to the PTDC to try and get some information on where was currently good to go in Pakistan under the current circumstances. Nicky was coming too, except that the customs men were waiting for him at reception. . . Well… I figured the guy was buggered.
Getting more information for more overland travel in Pakistan
I headed off to the PTDC office, taking in Pakistan for what it was in Quetta. The roads were completely different to Iran, gone were the neat tarmac lines and reasonable traffic. Here it was choking fumes with loud colourful buses charging down pot holed roads dodging auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws. The people were quite different too. Now there were fewer women on the streets. And there were a lot more women completely covered in Burkas. What was unexpected too was that a lot of the Burkas were bright blue, or grey in colour.
I headed into the PTDC office and sat with the rather boarder yet proud Mr. Dost as he handed me more maps of Pakistan that I knew what to do with. I think there had been an over print, or rather under number of tourists in Pakistan. We then turned out attention on what and where I wanted to go in Pakistan. I had mentioned trekking in the north. To which I got a positive response. Unfortunately the response on how to get there was not so good.
A direct bus from Quetta to Peshawar, where I knew someone living there from an on-line forum, would only take 24 hours. But according to Mr. Dost the whole area in-between the two cities was off limits due to terrorist activities. I would have to go to Multan, then onto Lahore, up to Islamabad and onto Peshawar from there. At a guess several days travel. I cringed, and asked if I just took my chances on the bus what would happen. Mr. Dost shook his head gravely and said that I would have no problem getting a ticket, but there were many police stops along the way and I would be asked to leave the bus. This could take place at any time, day or night. And I would have to make my own way back to Quetta. Considering Niskey; this was not good news.
Banks, money, and my first taste of military rule in Pakistan
I headed off to see the rest of Quetta, although I had essentially been awake for the past 55 hours I was OK so long as I kept moving. Quetta was beginning to remind me a lot of Nigeria. Open drainage ditches, crazy traffic and a lone traveller walking through it all. Donkeys with carts, rickshaws with old men piloting them, bright buses all jostled at speed for a position on streets with no signs. With my really crap LP I got quite lost trying to find Standard Charter bank, and ended up in a street full of heavy machine gun turrets, coils of razor wire and army types staring cold faced at each other. My real first taste of Musharaf’s Military Rule. Still I was lost, and most of the local banks had no clue where standard charter was. A few military types did as I boldly asked a local Sargent. Hew pointed me in the right direction and I continued on down that path in a similarly questioning manner. Standard Charter, as reliable as ever.
The best mutton leg in the world comes from Pakistan!
Hunger started to bite so I made my way to the Usmania Restaurant, not thanks to LP’s incorrect map, and many thanks to the locals who again pointed me in the right direction. I sat in the middle of the fairly classy restaurant and noticed the lights coming on for me. Who doesn’t like that?!! I ordered a Mutton leg and two cokes. Much to my surprise the mutton leg was huge, and much to the surprise of the people opposite me I finished it. Really I have never tasted mutton that good before. I wiped my brow on my shirt and noticed the thick greasy black trail it left behind. I must have looked a site after 50+ hours of travel. What’s more, Pakistan was humid, and I really did not like the way humidity made me sweat. I paid the 460 Rupees before heading back to the hotel for a shave shower and a very much needed bowel movement.
I decided there was no need to spend any more time in Quetta, and Multan did not make be that interested. I would visit Lahore on the way back into India, there were also no trains going through the banned North West Frontier Province. So the best option for me was the 32 hour train to Peshawar, which would have me circle down through the Bolan pass into Multan and up to Lahore before passing through Islamabad and into Peshawar. I changed into clean clothes I headed out to the nearby train station for a ticket to Peshawar.
Pakistan’s friendly people
It was only after changing into more western style clothes that I noticed more, “Hello, Mister’s” being directed at me. Friendly faces waved, and an occasional person would offer me chai, or come walking alongside me for a chat. I made it into the train station and after a bit of a jostle of a queue managed to find out that all economy seats were booked up and the only remaining seats were super economy and 1st class, the latter costing a whopping 2700 rupee. Also, according to the ticket master, the alleged arrival time would be 9pm, or rather 12am or even later depending on the ‘weather’. I went for the ‘First Class’. Can’t afford it anywhere else in the world, and I knew I wanted a bit of comfort on such a long journey. If the train was going to be that delayed I could always hop off at Lahore, but I had a contact in Peshawar along with the hotels number so I could always call ahead.
Dinner consisted of a seriously nice Chicken Shabeeya and a strange conversation with the night watchman. He told me that Nicky had left, but was looking for me. And had waited around all afternoon for me in order to ask me for some money to help him out. I have to say I was glad not to have been there. For anyone stuck in a place under current political clime’s I would have helped. But to help someone who had landed himself in this predicament was a long shot. especially with my current lack of sleep. As distant flashes lightning flickered the dark clouds to life the night watchman turned to leave saying that the tourist man was very bad. I shrugged it all off. Nicky must have packed the bike onto the train like the customs had told him to do instead of driving it overland. Once at the Indian border he could take his chances again.
I headed to my room and did some washing, turned on the heater and read for a while as I heard the rumbling of thunder mix with strange new noises of Pakistan street life outside. Surprisingly I was no longer that tired. In fact I felt more tired getting up at 4am sometime in the comfort of European travel. Finally I turned the light out and settled down to sleep.
Some related links from this website that you might like: (including a lot more photographs from Pakistan)
Stories: The Pakistani Truck Painters
Resources: How to Guide – Iran to Pakistan overland