Update 16 - Pakistan - Taftan
11th January 2002.
Entering Pakistan on Christmas Day, with Afghanistan
only a few kilometres to the north and trouble brewing
with India, was a somewhat bizarre and exhilarating
experience. The trip through Baluchistan (the most western
province of Pakistan and bordering Afghanistan) had
always been considered by us as the most "difficult"
part of the trip. The area is known for it's drug trafficking
and banditry, and the events of September 11th 2001
(which occurred way back as we entered Istanbul) had
only made the area more dangerous - with a large influx
of Afghan refugees and local pro-Taliban support. However
we'd heard positive reports from travellers in Pakistan
and decided to ignore all the media-hype and stick to
our original route, with only one slight alteration
- no cycling.
We believed that it might be safer to travel through
Pakistan by public transport, though once in the country
we felt pretty much happy and the words "What are
we doing? We should have cycled" were uttered on
many occasions. Oh well, the decision had been made
and after passing through Pakistani customs we immediately
jumped on the bus to Quetta. Bikes and bags were thrown
on the roof and tied down, and we squeezed ourselves
on amongst the locals. It was a 14-hour overnight journey,
on an incredibly bumpy and narrow road, punctuated only
by a couple of food/toilet/prayer stops, and at least
the film they showed was funny (even if it was in Urdu).
daylight came, we could finally see what we had been
travelling through - barren, mountainous desert, villages
few and far between, and the road itself was in bad
condition and often only single lane. The people and
villages looked poorer, but already the people were
changing - they looked very different and wore more
colourful clothes - no more dull Iranian colours. We
arrived in Quetta mid-morning and set about unloading
in the busy bus station. The plan from here was to catch
a train to Lahore, but first we had to cycle through
Quetta to register with the police, withdraw money and
buy Scrabble! Cycling in Quetta was an experience -
back on the left side of the road, officially at least
- in practice the auto-rickshaws, brightly decorated
and lorries simply drove wherever they wanted, horns
constantly blaring. We survived and arrived at the train
station, mission accomplished, only to find that getting
a train wasn't that easy. However after much Pakistani
bureaucracy and seeing how a huge railway company operates
without computers (lots of triplicate forms and typewriters),
we managed to get a scrap of paper which allegedly had
Lahore written on it. There was no space on any direct
trains to Lahore - we had to catch the night train to
Karachi and change somewhere en route. Simple .... possibly.
spent the day at Quetta railway station, sampling the
local culinary delights (yipppeee no more kebab), talking
to the locals and drinking sweet milky tea. By the time
we left, we'd grown quite fond of Quetta and it's friendly,
helpful and polite people - a mix of all sorts - Baluchis,
Pashtuns (Afghans), Sindis and Punjabis.
settled down in our sleeper cabin for a game of Scrabble,
followed by one of the best nights sleep on the entire
journey. We arrived at Rohri the following morning and
set about finding our train to Lahore - only to discover
that "our" train was actually full and there
was no room for the bikes on board anyway. Spent the
whole day dealing with Pakistani bureaucracy at it's
best (i.e. going around in circles), being invited to
a Taliban school and playing Scrabble and cards on the
platform with a huge audience. We finally got on a train,
but no sleeper this time- we were in the cattle truck
with the locals. OK it was cramped and not particularly
comfy, but it was very interesting to see how the Pakistanis
finally arrived tired and rather stiff in Lahore, and
had a mad ride through the busy streets to the YWCA
hostel. Apparently it was closed, but they let us in
anyway, though a day later we wished they hadn't - only
3 managed to have a hot shower and then all the water
stopped. But it wasn't all bad - we had the place to
ourselves - plenty of space to party on New Years Eve.
We cooked up a huge dinner on a bonfire, under the supervision
of Masterchef David, and all the boys had a celebratory
shave! (I certainly needed one). Listen to the embarrassing
antics of David and Juan on a TukTuk (a large motorised
rickshaw) by clicking on tuktuk.rm.
Lahore was a very pleasant city, full of life and interesting
sights such as the ancient fort, the busy bazaar, the
beautiful 17th century Badshahi Mosque and the famous
Lahore museum, and we ended up staying almost a week.
took a day trip to the border to witness the closing
ceremony, but Pakistani public transport again delivered
us late (grrrrr!) and we had to make do with a few photos
of us standing next to the impressive Border Rangers.
Oh well, we'd have to see the show when we crossed into
It was time to leave Pakistan and get cycling again.
From our brief and rapid journey through the country,
we'd seen that it wasn't as bad as everything makes
it out to be - the people are friendly though they are
poor, and it can't be an easy place to live - sandwiched
between hostile India and warring Afghanistan. The country
seems deeply divided - very Islamic, and yet the military
government sucks up to the West and is rife with corruption
apparently (the Army even owns Pepsi!).
we left Lahore, joining the Grand Trunk Road, which
once connected Kabul with Calcutta, along with the thousands
of others - cyclists, cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws,
horse-drawn carts, buses, taxis and cows. Having so
many other cyclists around was a comfort in the mad
traffic - we were just part of the crowd - see the video
clip Adrian took whilst we were cycling - lahore.asf.
Once we were out of the city however, the traffic virtually
disappeared and when we arrived at the border there
was hardly anybody there - the quietest border I have
ever seen. We crossed the border into India (only 8
people did that day - and we were 5 of them!), the border
closed and that's when the border started to get busy......
Click here to see
the Progress Chart.