THE BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAINS OF PAKISTAN ARE CALLING -WE HOPE TO MAKE IT ALL THE WAY UP TO THE CHINESE BORDER
What a joy the Pakistan border was with calm quiet order everywhere and only 2 offices to visit, even the dodgy money change men were calm, maybe it was a mixture of 40 degree heat and being mid day during Ramadam. We drove into Taftan and found the bank to change money- take an immediate right as you leave customs. We then started to search for a garage. After driving past the “garage” twice, it was Rose that suspected the 6 large forty gallon drums sitting at the side of the road was probably it. BINGO. Out popped a wee lad with a 10 litre jug and a funnel and we were in business -at 30 rupees a litre it wasn’t as cheap as Iran but we were still happy. The PTDC wouldn’t let us camp in the grounds, so we had to book into one of the grotty rooms with an en-suite that consisted of a toilet that didn’t flush, a shower that was actually a big bucket full of cold water with a jug to pore it over yourself, and a tardis like machine that was actually an air con unit. CLASS. Tomorrow is the big push to Quetta so we spent the day relaxing and playing with the mad grinning dog that lives here.
18th OCT. 2006 TAFTAN to QUETTA
The road from Taftan to Quetta takes you through the heart of Baluchistan an area of Pakistan that is renowned for tribal tensions and risk of kidnapping. As a result some areas are out of bounds to foreigners, others require armed guard and some even disclaimer documentation. You are strongly advised to travel in convoy but with no other overlanders in sight since Turkey we have little choice.
We got up really early and were on the road by 5.30 am. The first monster speed bump you get to is just on the outskirts of town. They are usually situated on the outskirts of villages, either side of train crossings and at check points. Cross with care. We didn’t reach our first open check point ‘til after 6 am and it was a very simple case of putting your details in a book. The road from Taftan to Nok Kundi is a little bumpy and only 1 and a half lanes wide so if you meet a lorry it’s best to move over. It is tarmac all the way apart for a short stretch of one mile that is sand track but very easy to follow. From Nok Kundi to Dalbandin it is a great road of normal width and excellent tarmac and even though the speed limit is 80km’s we stormed along at 100km’s making full use of such good road conditions. At 10km’s north of Dalbandin ( take the bypass round town), the road returns to being a little bumpy and narrower with parts being reduced to one lane due to sand drifts, the sand drifts only lasted for 40 km’s. We got the lorries to move over ,allowing us to overtake, with lots of horn tooting and light flashing. Every police check point was really friendly but some have wire across the road as a barrier so be careful you don’t drive through that by mistake. We were enjoying the scenery and the driving so much that we shot straight past one check point near Padag and a couple of miles down the road 2 cops on a bike came toward us waving frantically. They were our armed escort who we had to follow at a maddening 45km/hr, eventually we picked up our next armed guard who squeezed out a much more respectable 75km/hr. We dropped off our armed guards at Ahmad Wal and Dave took over the driving. From Nushki to Quetta the landscape became very dry and dusty and we passed through a couple of sand “storms” but were able to continue driving and arrived in Quetta by 2pm.
Along this whole stretch of road you will find fuel, it is in 40 gallon barrels but the quality seems okay. We really enjoyed today and found the drive to be easy but long. Finding the Bloomstar Hotel: You arrive at a major fork in the road on the outskirts of town take a right and follow this for a ong way. Eventually you will come to a roundabout, after the presidents hospital and surrounded by market stalls take a left and again follow this for a long way. You will come to a railway crossing and once you are over this take a left and again it is a fair way before you will see a sign on the right for Colvin Road from here you can work off your lonely planet book. We were spotted by the police and escorted for a time before picking up an armed security police escort. Everybody was very friendly and polite but looked rather serious- we wonder if security is heightened because of the rockets in Islamabad. So- with a goodbye wave from 2 AK 47’s we booked into the Bloomstar with hot showers and a t.v that had HBO and STAR MOVIES channels. Dave -aka Barry Norman thought he had died and gone to heaven!! We spent the next 2 days chilling and we met our first overlanders. YIPEE. (The Bloomstar has an armed guard next door plus large locking gates for the carpark.)
17th OCT 2006
110 rupees = £1
KILLER SPEED BUMPS
20th OCT. 2006 QUETTA to SUKKUR
With the direct route from Quetta to Multan apparently still too dangerous to take, we decided to drive to Sukkur which is in the Sindh region of Pakistan.
This region is also deemed unsafe with a risk of banditry and kidnapping you are warned not to travel out-with of the Karachi boundary unless you have an armed guard.
We left Quetta with nessie looking fab after a long overdue wash and polish by a local at the hotel and Rose looking like Frankenstein’s bride afterI cut her fringe with the nail clippers! Tee hee. The road south was the usual one and a half lane width with fuel stops and security stops here and there, when you get to Sibi it widens to 2 lanes. The Bolan pass had some great scenery so we stopped for lots of photo’s, once again we really enjoyed the drive and we saw some great things along the way from nomad tribes on the move to Victorian style train tunnels. (We did spot a heavy armed police presence in one area.) Once you get near Sukkur the scenery changes with rivers and waterways everywhere. We reached the Inter park hotel at 2pm but they wanted 2,450 Rs so we drove to the Forum Hotel where, after wading through beggars, we were told they wanted 2,400Rs. Neither are very nice but the lesser of the two evils was the Inter park so Dave donned his negotiators hat and we paid 1,500Rs for the night. Staff were not good, the showers were cold and the roaches averaged 4 inches. We would NOT recommend this hotel but they did have an armed guard. We read that there was a grenade attack at a train yesterday in the Bolan pass area, no one was killed but that would explain the heavily armed police that we saw when we drove through today.
21stOCT. 2006 SUKKUR to BAHAWALPUR
Today we are leaving the Sindh region and heading to the Punjab district. It’s an area that is renowned for safety and stability.
We left the hotel and passed the oxen getting their morning wash in the river as we made our way onto yet another good road. The entire length of this road is dual carriageway with only a few short stretches still under construction, there are no more monster speed bumps, the toll booths wave ou through for free and even the many highway police cars leave you alone. We decided that since we are now on ‘safe ground’ we should start doing the tourist bit- we visited Derawar fort and the Bibi Jawindi shrine at Uch Sharif. Derawar Fort was impressive and gave us a chance to drive into the Cholistan desert -the road to it is a bit tricky to find but well worth the effort as the scenery is fabulous. Uch Sharif however was a disappointment with half the shrine collapsed following a flood you’d be better to wait until Multan to see a shrine. The scenery today has been fantastic with rice and cotton fields everywhere and some beautiful birds. We arrived at Bahawalpur and checked into the Welcome Guest House –a great B&B. If we had arrived earlier we would have headed for the campsite at Lal Suhanra National Park which is 35km’s east of town which is meant to be beautiful.
22nd OCT. 2006 BAHAWALAPUR to MULTAN
After the long day yesterday it was great to only drive 100 km’s today. As the map was useless and there are no signs in English it was a bit of a task getting to the Sinbad hotel but this is the best place we have stayed yet and at 1,900 Rs a night it should be. We caught a tuk tuk to the Qasim Bagh Fort and then walked down to the Sheikh Rukn-I-Alam Mausoleum both are worth a look but nothing fantastic. Multan is a typical Pakistan town- dirty with open sewers, full of characters and terrible air pollution. We treated ourselves to our first non nessie meal tonight.
23rd OCT. 2006 MULTAN to ISLAMABAD
Multan was as difficult to find a road out as it was to get in and after asking several people we eventually found the Lahore road. We had intended to turn at Okara for Faisalabad but missed the turn and ended up on the Lahore road all the way. The air quality from Multan to Lilla ( north of Lahore) was so bad we could barely see beyond the road and were glad to find the motorway to speed through it. We arrived at the outskirts of Islamabad and came upon an electronic barrier toll booth where they asked for our ticket and then were unsure what to do when we said everyone had waved us through, so in the end we were charged the standard rate of 150 Rs for the trip from Lahore to Islamabad! The city has wide clean streets that are well sign posted making it easy to navigate so finding the campsite was a breeze– we met 6 other overland vehicles and it was great to swap stories and tap into other peoples ideas.
We found the landrover garage SIGMA MOTORS (see top tips page) but with it being Eid all business’s were closed so we took a card from the guard and will call later to book nessie in for a service and check up. Then we set off to Indian embassy and applied for our visa, they have promised us 6 months but apparently they tell everyone this, when you go to collect your visa you discover that you have been given only 3 months.
It is reputed to be the worst Indian embassy anywhere.
We look around the local shops and find a butchers- desperate for some chicken we selected a nice plump white one, she disappeared into the back of the shop squawking and appeared 10 minutes later in a plastic bag plucked, gutted and cut in half. (Must admit the flesh still being warm was a bit off putting but she tasted yummy.)
One of our many armed escorts Room for one more? Part of the Taftan to Quetta Road
How does the song go? Nomads on the move Donkey with a wing mirror!
VERY BAD HOTEL
ANOTHER GREAT DAY
SOME OF THE INTERESTING BITS OF DRIVING
ON THE KARAKORAM HIGHWAY
25th OCT. 2006 ISLAMABAD to PESHAWAR
We are now entering the North West Frontier Province, an area that borders Afghanistan and has a strong tribal community, some areas are too lawless to visit and others you need an armed guard. Seek up to date advice on your chosen route.We had a late start and drove the short distance to Peshawar, which was a rather dull drive, only to find that all the hotels were booked so we drove to Hayatabad and the youth hostel there. The police were unsure of it’s exact location but they eventually found it near the NADRA building. No sightseeing today as everywhere is closed. It amazes us that within such a short distance of Islamabad you seem to be a world away in culture, every man has a beard and his head is covered, you struggle to find a woman that is not completely covered with their borqa- but we are in the border area of Afghanistan so imagine that has a strong influence.
26th OCT. 2006 PESHAWAR to MINGORA
We drove through Charsadda and Mardan before stopping at Takht-I’Bhai to visit the Buddhist monastery. Mhmm-looked like a pile of rubble to us so we didn’t bother. We continued onto the Malakand Pass where the road deteriorated- it’s the type of road we hate with lots of potholes, a frighteningly steep drop to one side and a surface that consists of impacted rubble but the views looking back down the valley were lovely. We stopped at the Bat Kela PTDC for a leg and back stretch and I (Rose) got chatting to a group of local women who, with perfect English, asked me all about Scotland and after a few photo’s of each other they presented me with a ring as a welcome gift. What amazed me was that as soon as these beautiful, well educated women got into their car, they completely covered up again (including their faces). I obviously haven’t grasped the whole cultural thing yet. We arrived at Mingora and booked into the PTDC which has a great camp area but won’t allow it. Typical.
27th OCT.2006 MINGORA to DASU
The weather broke badly last night and we had a huge storm with lots of rain -so we decided to hot tail it to the KKH before the weather gets too bad. After checking emails at the Serena hotel we set off for the Shangla Pass, at Khwazakhela the road deteriorated very badly then, at the summit, we were stopped and told we needed an armed guard as the Pass lies within a disputed region. We explained that we only had 2 seats and after a 20 minute wait with radio checks ahead to ask the safety status of the day- they let us go unguarded. The road was unbelievably bad with massive holes you could lose a motorbike in and a deeply pitted surface- it was the hardest days driving we have ever done. We were unable to drive over 30km’s/hr with an average of only 20km’s/hr for the bulk of the route because of the conditions and stayed in either 1st or 2nd gear the whole 65km’s from Khwazakhela to Besham. We arrived in Besham and Dave took over the driving as I was exhausted. Just north of Dasu we found the PTDC and set up camp in their grounds– after a hot shower and a meal we reflected on the day and decided that it was probably one of the best days we have had- with gorgeous valley views, a challenging drive and our first few km’s on the KKH from Besham to Dasu.
28th OCT. 2006 DASU to CHILAS
The KKH is a safe region to travel in but the side valleys are tribal- therefore the Pakistan police and government have no real powers in these areas. Some tribal tensions can affect the main route so you should check the safety status.We didn’t expect a motorway but were surprised with the KKH– for miles the road clings to the side of a sheer rock walled valley, you have rock falls, a very bumpy surface, landslides and parts of the road that have collapsed into the valley below- it scared the pants of me and was like a white knuckle ride in parts! It took from 1966 to 1978 to build and still they have engineers and bulldozers stationed along the road side ready to clear all the land slides and rock falls. As of Jan. 2007 the Chinese are going to upgrade the road to highway standards and the whole driving experience will be lost.The worst part is from just north of Besham to just south of Chilas: the road is steep, windy, has large rock overhangs that are full of fissures and just waiting to drop and had several land slide areas- one of which put us at an alarming angle when driving over. The scenery was lovely with the wide sand banked Indus river below. We arrived in Chilas, had a look at the petroglyphs then camped into the Shangrila hotel. With no women in sight and an unpleasant atmosphere it is not a place to go walking around and you should definitely wear a headscarf.
29th OCT. 2006 CHILAS to DIH
We made the decision to race up the KKH and then take our time coming down- so today we drove all the way to Dih with our only stop being in Gilgit to look at the shops and get some milk. Thankfully the road drops toward the valley and the surface improves. The scenery from Chilas to Gilgit is absolutely fabulous and we spent most of the drive open mouthed at the views. The men at Dih were happy for us to pitch up for the night and with typical Pakistan hospitality they immediately offered us food, we explained that we had our own and got on with the daily business of a shower and set up. The temperature was only 5 degrees so the scalding water of our shower was welcomed and after a meal of Heinz baked beans, fried potatoes and eggs, we went over to say hello properly. Their shack had flat pieces of wood to sit on and they were huddled round the stove they use to cook with. The meal they had was only just enough for them- if we had accepted they would have gone without food so Dave went out to nessie and brought back a tin of tesco strawberries, a bag of Turkish rice, a tin of Heinz baked beans, a tub of Nescafe coffee and a litre of milk. After explaining that you ate the strawberries cold and the beans hot they got stuck in and really enjoyed some new food. The coffee was the real gift- they lovingly made a cup each using 3 grains per cup to make it last. After a nights entertainment with Dave demonstrating his magic tricks we went to bed and shivered the whole night– it was now minus 10 degrees!
30th OCT. 2006 DIH to CHINA
We woke to ice on the inside of the tent and ate breakfast in the front with the heater on full blast. Then we set off toward the Chinese border-typically we only got 100 yards and came across the official Dih rest house area! Never mind, we really enjoyed our night at the check point. The road through the Khunjerab Pass is very good and we made it to the second last checkpoint in no time where the official stopped us and would not let us carry on. He said that because the last Pakistan post was unmanned he could not let us through in case we jumped over to China- we explained that we didn’t even have passports as the Indian embassy in Islamabad had them so it would be rather hard to get into China and he eventually let us drive the last 10 miles of the route. We got to the last post at 15,393 feet and with the Chinese flag in the distance we took a few photo’s then turned around and headed back down the KKH and toward some warmth, stopping at Sost to admire the jaw dropping views and again at Passu for yet more stunning views. We also gave ourselves a hell of a fright at a suspension bridge near Passu where Dave thought it would be fun to get a photo of Nessie on the bridge- only problem was that when he drove onto the bridge the whole thing wobbled and dropped by 2 feet. A rather fast and bumpy reverse manoeuvre and we learnt our lesson! We stopped at Karimabad to look around the Baltit Fort and then set up at Rakaposhi campsite in Aliabad– probably the most beautiful place in the world! We spent the next 2 nights here enjoying the company of another overland couple and trying to recover from the driving of the past week.
Derawar Fort in the Cholistan Desert A fellow overlander on his VESPA! Some friendly locals
1st NOV. 2006 ALIABAD to DASU
From Chilas to Dasu we were back onto the bad road but at least the two landslides had been levelled and cleared off the highway since our drive north. We met an OZ couple who are on their way to the UK and spent a pleasant night at the Dasu PTDC chatting about the toilet and road conditions they experienced in China.
KKH TIPS: Stock up on groceries esp. fresh veg + fruit as the choice is limited other than at Gilgit. Fuel is readily available. Be prepared to wait for the road to be cleared of debris- this can take days and be aware that your biggest danger is from rock fall.
2nd NOV. 2006 DASU to BALAKOT
We decided to drive to Mansehra and then look at the Kaghan valley with a view to finding a bit of forest bush camping. Big mistake. The views from Besham south were new to us and we drove over the swinging bridge before stopping for a spot of lunch and watch two cricket teams having a match on a dry rice field. With good road conditions and warm air we were having a great time. Within 60km’s we found ourselves in the middle of the earthquake disaster tented villages. We knew that the epicentre had hit this region but had not appreciated how near to Mansehra it was and were shocked to see that the locals are having to face yet another winter under canvas. We came across the PTDC, (what was left of it) and asked if we could park for the night, the chief of police appeared to say that he would take care of our safety. The PTDC is starting to rebuild as of next week and at the moment has only a reception area- no water, toilets, electric or walls. It was all a very humbling experience.
3rd NOV. 2006 BALAKOT to ISLAMABAD
After saying goodbye to the soldiers from the tented hospital behind our site we drove to Muzaffarabad to see the red fort. Another bad idea. We passed tented villages, schools and communal kitchens plus lots of collapsed buildings that are still to be demolished before a rebuild programme can commence. It makes you wonder at exactly what has been done in the last year to help these poor people. We arrived at the AZAD, JAMMU & KASHMIR check point and when asked for our permit, we explained that we didn’t have one- they said that at the very least we should have an NOC ( remember this is the no objection certificate which allows the police and government to wash their hands of any responsibility for your safety if you are killed or kidnapped), we explained that we only wanted to visit the city for the day and then drive to Islamabad- reluctantly they allowed us to pass and with some trepidation we drove into town. Dave had spotted a photo of the fort in one of the PTDC hotels so when we eventually found it we were gob smacked to find that it was a pile of red rubble! Obviously a bit of digital wizardry had gone on with the photo. Very disappointed we drove to the hill station of Murree where, at 7,000 ft, we enjoyed the views and fresh air before descending into Islamabad and the campsite. We spent the next week shopping in the western food supermarkets to fill nessies cupboards full of treats for India, getting nessie serviced, going out for meals with friends, topping up our gas bottle and collecting our India visa-which we got for 6 months.
11th OCT. 2006 ISLAMABAD to WAGAH
We eventually dragged ourselves away from the comforts of city living and drive to Lahore via the N5( rather than use the motorway again) but as we got to the outskirts of the city the Wagah turn off was closed- so we followed everyone else and ended up in the middle of the steel manufacturing area of town. The great thing about getting lost is that you always see things that ordinarily you would miss, and boy did we see some sights, but the worst bit was that we got stuck in a traffic jam with those stubborn donkeys again and spent over an hour wedged between trucks and facing a donkeys ass. Great! By now it’s starting to get dark, the smog was choking and we still had to find the Wagah road. When we did find the road it was deeply rutted, dusty, full of various road users, none of which had lights on, and the lanes went from 2 to 1 and right to left with no signs to warn of the changes or the sudden and massive drops on the road surface levels. Even our lights could not cut through the dust and smog.
It was probably the most dangerous driving conditions we have faced yet. We had made the decision to not visit Lahore after hearing from other travellers that have just come from there that the night is full of gun fire, the touts are horrific and the air is awful. I reckon we made the right choice by going straight to Wagah, camping outside the customs house beside the PTDC and being first in line for the morning. Only negative was that we missed the closing of the border ceremony.
12th OCT. BORDER CROSSING DETAILS
We woke early and enjoyed a relaxing time chatting to other travellers before being invited into the passport office to get processed. First the officer asked if we had a pen, then if we had deodorant and finally, if we had good shampoo- we said no to all but went red in the face at the last request as he was obviously wearing a wig! Next onto customs- no mooching here but rather slow and with only a quick look in the back of nessie. A final passport check and we were off to the Indian side.
STOP PRESS***************************STOP PRESS***************************STOP PRESS
We have met other overlanders who have come behind us and have spent the whole trip with police escorts. All the way from Taftan to Wagah: border to border! They were so frustrated that they have driven straight to Lahore and not ventured north to Islamabad, desperate to get rid of their guards!
BUDGET COMMENTS: We had our vehicle fully serviced, bought a full set of spare filters for the next service, had a nut replaced in the transfer box and a diagonal wheel change for a total of £105, we have not included this in our budget spread sheet. We also spent a lot of money on meals out and western food shopping in Islamabad which came to £60 we have included this in the budget total.
We have really enjoyed Pakistan from the reserved politeness of the people to the fantastic variety of scenery and the superb freshly baked chapattis found along the roadside. Every where is colourful from the autumnal reds of the KKH, the lush greens of the Punjab rice fields and the gold’s of the Cholistan desert to the people; the men wear lovely pastel colours and the women are in extravagant glittering materials of rainbow hues. But the best, absolute best thing of all has been the other road users. Every one is decorated to the max from henna camels to tractors bedecked with mirrors and plastic flowers, trucks lit up like Xmas trees and even bicycles covered in tassels and plastic flowers- it was a sight to behold and a source of endless entertainment, especially when you pass a truck driver with a dodgy steering block who looks like he’s wrestling a python rather than just trying to drive in a straight line. WE LOVED IT!!!! We will definitely be back to spend a lot more time here when the weather is warmer, to enjoy some more wonderful Pakistan hospitality, and drive some of the northern routes that were just too cold to do now.
HIGHLIGHTS: Taftan to Quetta drive, Northern Sindh and southern Punjab scenery, Derawar Fort and the Cholistan Desert. Shangla Pass, all of the KKH but especially Hunza valley, Passu and Aliabad.
The other road users with their kaleidoscopic vehicles and the fantastic driving experience.
DISAPPOINTMENTS: Grotty hotel rooms and Pakistan towns; some have open sewers, all are dirty and most have really bad air pollution.
FUEL: Readily available. 30 Rs per litre from a drum or 39 Rs a litre from a pump.
SHOPPING: Local shops stock the basics. You will find supermarkets in Islamabad: 7th Ave, Jinnah and Supermarket sell western food products.
WATER: Not available at every garage but you can top up at most campsites and hotels.
ROADS: A mixed bunch ranging from god awful to motorway. See diary entries for details.
POLICE: Absolutely tremendous. Polite, professional and always willing to help.
SAFETY: Can be a big issue in some regions and under constant change so always get up to date info.
LANDY: Excellent selection of oils, filters and good servicing parts. Also see top tips page for landy garage.
Insurance is 3rd party only and very few Pakistani people have any. Police told us it was a waste of money so we didn’t get any!
BACK 2 TOP OF PAGE © www.nessiesadventures.com, 2006, All rights reserved.
DID YOU KNOW THAT IT IS ILLEGAL FOR ANY MONEY CHANGER TO ASK FOR MORE THAN 2.5% COMMISSION?
KKH TOP TIPS
PLACES NOT TO VISIT