Published: April 13th 2009April 13th 2009 Adventures on the Road to Murree from Islamabad!
Pakistani Painted Truck
Slow moving on tight curvy roads.
So, the steep, narrow, curvy, and perilous mountain road leading up from Islamabad to the cool mountain-top town of Murree is, well, steep, narrow, and perilous.
The road to Murree is also filled with large commercial trucks that are rolling folk art, wonderfully painted, and dazzlingly decorated. They are also often old and tired. Metal chains dangle and clang as the trucks struggle and strain to go up hills. If you are behind one of them, the people in your rear-view window become increasingly agitated if you don't pass them.
There were some other factors to consider as well: (1) a steering wheel on the right hand side, (2) a stick shift in your left hand, and most importantly, (3) oncoming traffic, which means on the right hand lane, and (4) you are often blind to the oncoming traffic because of the tight curves.
The local convention is to gobble up every possible centimeter between you and the vehicle in front of you. And of course, to pass slow moving trucks. And in those situations when you pass, if you do start to meet head on, everyone typically slows down
Pakistani Army Truck
This is the Pakistani Army Truck that we hit head-on driving down from Murree.
really fast and hence avoids actual contact.
Except if you are a Pakistani Army convoy. They have their own conventions. The Incident in Question
My wife of three days and I were driving from our honeymoon in Murree back down
to Islamabad. Seems that a Pakistani Army truck, leading the convey, and carrying an Army Colonel, was barrelling up
the mountain road and wasn't inclined to make any room. So we met, head on. My bad.
Our Toyota Corolla now lacked several crucial front end parts and pieces, and was a crumpled mess. Their Army Truck was in much better shape but experienced minor damages. Again, my bad.
I was immediately surrounded by Military Police and thought that my visit to Pakistan had just taken a very unexpected and unfortunate turn, perhaps toward jail. For some reason, I kept thinking that a Pakistani prison probably lacked air conditioning. Which would have been the least of my troubles. And the Colonel simply said, "You understand that you are in very serious trouble now." I didn't feel relieved exactly.
Cell phone calls were made, and more MPs arrived. Also, Pakistani Army traffic accident investigators arrived. I kept telling
Scene of the Wreck
Mid-way during the negotiations.
the Colonel that I was sorry and that it was my fault, but that didn't impress him very much. Things Got Better
During a lull, I introduced him to my wife and told him that we had just gotten married and were on our way down from our honeymoon in Murree. He said, "Are you an American? And you just married this lovely Pakistani lady? And you just came from your honeymoon?" I answered "Yes" to all. That changed everything!
He put his arm around me and said, "Brother, I will take good care of you." And he did. First, he congratulated us on our recent marriage and wished us a good and long life. Then he told the mechanic from the Army base to fix our rental car good enough to drive down the mountain back to Islamabad.
Things were so bad that the mechanic had to put the front bumper and other parts in the trunk because they had fallen off. And the Colonel gave us his cell phone number in case "the people at the car rental place give you a hard time-- tell them to call me." And he also said, "When you
Our Murree Friends
They fed us while the mechanic fixed the rental good enough to drive back down to Islamabad.
get back to America, I don't want you to have bad stories to tell about Pakistan, I want you to have good stories to tell."
I was informed that I had to pay for the damage to the Army truck. If so, the local police would not be involved. I was mentally calculating how much cash I had on me, and how much cash I could get from the ATM in Islamabad. I assumed that the bill would be in the thousands. But everyone was smiling. I was told to sign and initial a rapidly-written, hand-written document in Urdu and curiously, in green ink. To this day, I have no idea what I signed. But the bill, well that was about $30. Whew.
The international incident occurred in front of a house on a hill, and the four guys who were spending a few cool weekend days in Murree invited us up to their house while the mechanic worked on the rental car. Since it was noon, and we had been on our way to find something for lunch, they gave us tea, fed us, told us stories, and entertained us. They strongly recommended not hitting any
Pakistani Army trucks head on in the future.
The Mechanic and the Toyota
This is the mechanic who fix our rental Toyota enough to drive it down the mountain back to Islamabad.
After two or three hours, when the mechanic returned the now semi-fixed up rental car that was good enough to drive, I paid the mechanic another $30 and our new friends insisted on driving the rental into Islamabad so that they could negotiate with the car rental staff in Urdu on my behalf.
What could have been the worse day of our new marriage turned out to be one of the best. Even at the car rental place, when I opened to trunk to present his front bumper and a few other missing parts, and asked for a replacement car, the manager just smiled and gave me a new set of keys. "Inshallah, this new car will come back in one piece without parts in the trunk" he said. It did. At every turn, Pakistani hospitality saved the day. A few links to Pakistani painted trucks: http://www.pbase.com/noorkhan/trucks/ http://www.tabblo.com/studio/stories/view/984840/ http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200502/masterpieces.to.go.the.trucks.of.pakistan.htm
There are more photos below