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Published: November 10th 2017
Geo: 34.93, 72.8791
Next morning we were up with the call to prayer (5 am for those who are not up with the Muslim traditions) and packed up pretty quickly before too many locals worked out we were camped on the edge of their village. Chilas has the reputation for being the last fairly safe area before the troublesome area inhabited by Taliban further south. Chilas was about 109 kms from where we were camped and the road was fairly slow. Although a main road it was not well maintained due to the unrest in the area. Anyway about 70 kms into the journey we catch up to two ute loads of military guys heavily armed. At one stage there was a traffic jam on the road ahead and all of the guys bail out and surround the jeep. The mood was a little subdued in our cab, very quiet in fact just watching. Seems there was no need for alarm and they all hoped back on the jeep and we continued. Not long after this we drove through one of the doggiest villages I have ever seen. The mood was uncomfortable, there was not a single woman to be seen and
Looking very proud of themselves as they delivered us safely to the Government approved secure hotel.
all the men looked like Osama Bin Laden. Darren was driving and after the village says "pitty there was not a restaurant in that village we could have stopped for lunch". totally shocked, I let fly…seriously if you had stopped the car I would have done you in myself. No need to wait for the Taliban to get themselves organised.
Anyway about 10 kms further down the road he says shall we stop for tea. Really… those military doods were not setting up picnic blankets when they stopped the vehicle. Now this is one of those times we should ask the viewers back home. Seems I (L) am being overly risk adverse.
Long story short we were going to take a short cut just before Chilas but the police would not allow us to travel down the short cut road. Whilst we were at the road block a public bus rocks up and Darren says to me but they can go. It was at this stage that the door of the mini bus opens and the conductor armed with a large gun gets out to let a passenger out. No more need be said I thought. Lets take the long
We never imagined that two ute loads of heavily armed Muslims would feel surprisingly comforting
road tomorrow as it must be traversed during the day for obvious reasons. It is about 2.00pm and Besham is about 200kms away, 6hours drive so is not possible today. Theoretically Chilas is the last safe stop before Besham. The bit in the middle is largely uncontrolled Taliban territory.
We stop at the police road block into town to ask about somewhere to stay. We were directed to the poshest hotel in town ($30.00 for a room). We are the only ones there which suited us just fine as there is a guard with a gun at the entrance and barbed wire all around so it should be safe. We stop in the restaurant and order some lunch. By the time we have finished our lunch the place packs out with very official looking Pakistani men. About 50 in total. Darren makes the light hearted comment that I hope they are not the Taliban Chieftains. Feeling a little overwhelmed we finish lunch rather hastily and retire to the comfort of our room. Read lay low for a while. A little later in the evening more Pakistani men rock up equipped with guards and guns. Hmmm we like our room very much and decide to stay right there for the evening. Lucky we had a late lunch as tea is definitely not the go.
Anyway the morning comes and the sun is shining. We start to pack our stuff back in the car to leave and several security guards, a police man and the hotel reception guy starts asking us where are we going. Besham. Lots of serious discussions in Pakistani is exchanged in the group and the reception guy tells us it is best you have an armed policeman travel with you. Now we assumed this is a scam and ask how many rupees for the policeman. Things got a little more worrying when they said no money. This indicated they were serious.
so off we go with 3 in the cab and one machine gun. Now apparently we only need the armed guard for 10 kilometres, however as we were to find out we had a grand total of 6 escorts who played tag with us. When one team reached the end of their responsibility another team appeared and off we went again. Which in the main was strangely comforting however it became very difficult to stop and pee or even have a tea break. On the first leg I stopped the vehicle at a bridge to give way to the traffic… this however was not what our guard was happy with… Lisa noticed his fingers twitching on his gun and his hand came up and indicated to me I should proceed with haste… Humm silly me for being polite apparently the bad guys don't do politeness with bridge traffic… There were a few brief periods where the terrain was steep and we could proceed on our own so we stopped to have a drink, stretch, cigarette and pee…. However we were always surprised when a police man would appear and move us on…. Seems they were serious..
There was one valley where there was a strange smell in the air… looking out my window I noticed there were fields of marijuana… well maybe not fields however hill sides and it was a very strong smell. There were even plants growing in the various Police check posts… seems everyone was happy.
So in a nut shell we arrived safe and very thankful the day was over… it's a strange thing when we don't really understand all that is happening and everything that is happening has a slightly heightened sense of realism. The road was also very crap, not just a few holes but so crap the average speed was probably only 20km/hr for about 80km's.. so the constant bashing of the vehicle coupled with the sense of urgency by the police and the not so friendly looks from some of the locals resulted in us both being buggered. We arrived at what looked like being the last police check post and assumed we could proceed into the town. Darren asked if it was safe to go into Besham and we got the head wobble very safe. However, in reality not so it would seem as they had called a squad car complete with four armed guards who escorted us from the check post, through town, with our sirens and lights on and delivered us to our hotel of choice, waiting patiently whilst we attended reception. This hotel was well guarded with a good smattering of razor wire surrounding the perimeter and thus we were both very thankful to arrive at the Besham PTDC hotel about 3 pm in the afternoon and flopped in the foyer for Chai. All is a days work in these parts.
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