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Published: November 21st 2007
When I left Quetta, I was determent to leave a part of my life - and Ann - behind. Before I could go though, we had to finalize a few things that had cropped up at the last moment: proof of life for the SVB (my pension) and permission to drive the car, which is in Ann’s name, out of the country.
That done though, after the usual hold-ups and misunderstandings, I was finally free to leave. A last picture, a fare-well and off I was, promptly going in the wrong direction. That was soon corrected though, and I hit the road to Kalat.
It was still light when I stopped at an all night filling station with restaurant, an establishment where hot meals were dispensed out of large pots and one could choose from various dishes. It cost more then I had expected, but what with a table for me myself instead of having to squat on a rope bed without mattress could have influenced the price.
Sleeping was possible notwithstanding the noise, as always when one is close to exhaustion.
Early the next day, that is at about 8:30, I’m ready to move on.
Although some parts of the road are good, in fact varying between passable and excellent, the parts were the road is under construction and the surface consists of gravel of the very rough kind, with often a number of men varying in age from 8 to 80 clobbering medium boulders into large gravel, reduced my average speed to about 20 km/h. There is little traffic other than large trucks and busses which claim the road as if no other traffic exists. The trucks on the other hand, badly overloaded with towering cargo’s, lumber along at 10 km/h. The drivers are generally of the nice kind, returning a hoot or wave as I overtake.
The landscape is rather unremarkable, flat and close to desert. There are hardly any mountains and often the landscape stretches unobstructed to the horizon. Nomad camps could be seen occasionally and large flocks of sheep and goat.. The dust on the other hand is very remarkable, especially when late in the afternoon I get off the road and have a look inside the camper.
Apart from the chaos, which is complete, everything is coated with a thick layer of dust. Neither the back flap of the camper nor the door close properly and dust is sucked in as if invited.
The place I have chosen to camp is nicely surrounded by stony hills and after setting the interior back the way it should be I take my air rifle and do some shooting. It’s a most rewarding sport when you are able to hit the target properly, in this case the top of a beer bottle at the distance of about 25 meter. When busy with this exercise I find that the pellets I bought cheap in Quetta, 3000 of them, are too small for my rifle. I must admit I never thought there was any other caliber than 4,5 mm and 5,5 mm, but these are definitely smaller than 4,5 mm because they slide out of the barrel before I can shoot them away. Pity.
When I am finished shooting 2 boys turn up on a motorbike. One day, the world is going to regret the relentless advance of 125cc motorbikes. Anyway here they are, friendly and curious. A little later, 2 others appear, also friendly and curious, but hesitant to go on. Eventually 2 of them do, the others make themselves comfortable where they can keep an eye on me. When, eventually, one of them gets up and asks for money, I realize it’s time to move on. They may be friendly and harmless, or they may come back and nock on the camper in the middle of the night.
Whether I give them money or not (I have little available anyway) may not make any difference.
A few kilometers further I find one of those filling stations with eating facilities and, after asking for- and getting permission to stay, I settle down.
From my overnight camp to Karachi is a relative short distance with more of the same dusty road and a lot more oncoming traffic, still mainly trucks and busses.
I get there at about 2 o’clock and head for Club road, where the tourist office is situated. Not realizing this is the biggest town in Pakistan with close to ten million inhabitants, I start to follow the road which, according to my map, must get me to my destination. After a while I ask for directions: “turn off at an old tower and you will be there”.
After a few kilometers I ask for directions: “follow this road and turn left at an old tower”. This goes on for an other couple of kilometers and when I turn off eventually I never saw an old, medieval tower, but I am standing in Club road nevertheless, opposite the Sheraton Hotel.
Here I meet Ali who claims to be a guide and taxi driver although his car is unmarked.
Ali suggests I should try to get parking in the hotel’s parking area, for the tourist office is closed on account of this being a Sunday. No need to say that my charm is not enough to get permission.
Ali then suggests he take me to a public parking area where the cost is low and security high. That proofs to be situated in the harbor area where the cost is moderate and the stink almost intolerable. But one gets used to it because only outside the city where relative little refuse is dumped (and almost never fish
entrails and heads) is the air fairly clean.
By now it’s past four and I’m buggered. While the car attracts the usual curious onlookers, I sit inside the camper and watch the shadows. They come and go and eventually I decide to gather some energy and get out to lock the cab door. Too late: my camera is gone! Stupid me; I left it too late and now that camera I was so endlessly happy with, is gone.
That night Ali takes me into town to find an other one, but I know I have no money and can not buy if I wished. But one never can tell, maybe we find a used one or a special offer: wonders are still happening, I’ve got plenty of proof.
Not this time though and I decide to leave town the next morning instead of staying a day or two.
Before I can go though, the next morning, Ali insists on taking me to a few important landmarks, the first being the Chaukundi tombs some 27 km out of the city. A memorable place indeed, going back to the 16th to the 18th century. The tourist information says little about these remarkable tombs, but the site, difficult to find without guidance, is certainly worth a visit. Pity I could not take pictures!
(I had left my “back-up” camera in the camper for reasons I can not explain). After that we drive past the Quaid-e-Azam’s Mausoleum, built in memory of “the father of the Nation”, a highly visible, impressive structure that was closed when we got there.
At about 2 o’clock I say my farewells to the parking attendants and Ali, and find my way through traffic as thick as chocolate mousse to the outskirts of town, close to the highway to Hyderabad but not right on it. That takes another half hour and lands me on the wrong side of the road.
Now, in some countries to make a u-turn is almost impossible. It takes km’s, even in build-up area’s, to get to a round-about or opening in the barrier to change direction. Also here. And because I am not the only one with the need to change direction, there are forced openings in the barrier. Also here.
It’s tricky but I make it, so at last, and it is now almost 4, the car is pointed in the right direction on the right road and the journey can continue.
The highway is straight and level. But I am not going to reach Hyderabad, not even the turn-off to the Indus highway which will take me straight to Peshawar, according to my map. I once again find a stop-over place along the road. Soon after dark traffic dies down and I sleep, hot and wet from sweat, but sound.
Soon after 7 am the next day I’m woken up by a knock on the door: Malak Chando, a member of the highway police wants to know if I’m all right and if there is anything I need. Since he speaks passable English we have a short conversation and I get his cell-phone number “in case”. That will come in handy a few days later.
After eating a few tomato’s for breakfast ( by now I know I’m loosing weight) I hit the road again and an hour later I’m on the Indus Highway, running North more or less parallel to the Gen Trunk Highway which runs East of the Indus highway and not through tribal area which will later become an issue
Every village I drive through offers the same sights: chaotic traffic where busses are dominant but the rest, rickshaws, motorbikes, pedestrians and an assortment of animal-drawn carts (donkey carts are familiar but camel carts are new to me and then there are water buffalos, Brahmans and ordinary cows that do the job as well, apart from horses of course) are slow to respond. Trucks come and go and the rubbish that’s lying around is astonishing. Nothing ever gets cleaned it seems, or taken away or tidied up. I never saw a rat but they must be there by the thousands.
The landscape is still the same: level ground, dried out and sandy with occasional a tribal tent camp. Occasional also I come across a truck with a most peculiar load: from afar it looks like a fat lady with a very wide, flat hat. They are the trucks that take the kaf, the cut straw that is a by-product of the combine harvesters, to whatever destination. It’s light and bulky and judging by the number and size of the heaps of the stuff I pass they have their job cut out for them.
This time I stop at a place where I’m offered the use of a shower and where I can do some washing. Once again it’s a friendly place with some curiosity in my “home” but soon that is past and I can do what I want to do. I prepare a bucket with clothing and soapy water and find the shower. Here, I am not alone.
A thousand little creepy- crawlies occupy the floor near the drain and, quick witted as I am, I realize I have the means to put the skids under their tiny feet and send them to an unpleasant destination. Soapy water does wonders! After that it’s wonderful to feel some cool water over my body again. It hits me cool and drips off hot as if I’m a geyser. Don’t think I never wash unless there is a shower! I was (myself) (nearly) every day in the camper, but a shower beats it for sure!
The next morning, Wednesday it is, the landscape that has started to change the previous day becomes more fertile with watery rice fields and a maze of water ways where buffalos stand in the water and sometimes little boys move amongst
them. I can’t prevent myself from wondering what the quality of the water is like, with animals doing what animals do, out or inside the water. And water buffalos are big! There are numerous brick factories, mostly with smoke stacks that seem to make large quantities of good quality bricks.
Villages are surrounded by water, traffic is still thin with few private cars and the road mainly good. There are stretches I can really move, with now and again an obstruction.
Come 5 o’clock after a long day’ driving, I stop at a Shell station that looks clean and inviting but soon it becomes clear I’m not welcome here. It must be in or near Paharpur which, it appears later, lies in a tribal area and staying overnight is prohibited. It’s DANGEROUS, they say. After some heated conversation I agree to move on. About 20 km further on, in an other Shell station, we have another heated conversation in which I call for the assistance of the highway patrol man, Malak Chando. Eventually I get permission to stay but I realize there is something not kosher her either. And indeed: half an hour later the police appears. They insist I move to a place of safety. It’s pitch dark now.
One officer complete with AK 47 has to sit next to me, the other defies death on his motorbike without lights to show us the way.
!0 km on and a patrol vehicle appears to take over. Another half hour and another almost crushed Toyota bakkie with policemen turns up. As we finally stop at police barracks they want to know: do I want to sleep inside or out. I want to sleep at a place of safety, not inside police barracks where it may be safe but also noisy. Now a process starts in which there is a lot of talk, a lot of confusion and misunderstanding until, in the end, I plead: just get me to an all-night filling station, please!
That, at last, they understand and a few minutes later I am parked, nice and easy, where I’m welcome to stay the night. Just when I think we have had it a three-star policeman suggests I should come to a place where it is quieter, but I’m done. They leave me and so the day ends, finally!
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