Saturday, 13 November 2010

Days 72 - 79: Up close and personal with the Baluchistan Levies

Lahore, Pakistan

So now to bring you up to date...

After crossing the border into Pakistan at Taftan I was immediately whisked off to the Baluchistan Levies station. They told me there were no buses that day and I would need to spend the night at the station. Quite a fun 24 hours actually. It's a bit like the wild west in Taftan and staying at the station was a cross between Assault on Precinct 13 and Rio Bravo (movie buffs will be able to tell me why that's unsurprising). They fed and watered me and all in all it was a good time. Although I couldn't actually leave the station. One slightly unnerving moment was when I was chatting to some people inside the station. I asked if they were police and they said no and made a gesture of putting their wrists together. So they were all prisoners. Altogether there were 83 prisoners in the station, and it wasn't a big one. Fortunately all of them were there for passport and visa violations in Iran, from whence they'd just been evicted. After 24 hours I was ready to move on, but sadly when I went off (armed bodyguard in tow) to catch the bus it turned out that there was a strike. So no buses that day.

I'd resigned myself to another (and possibly another and another) night at the Taftan Hilton when Ali and Daniyal turned up. They'd been driving overland from the UK to Pakistan, initially in 2 cars and now in 1 car following a crash in Turkey. So I squeezed myself into the back of their 3-series BMW, very grateful to be getting out of Taftan, and off we went. As a bit of background info the road between Taftan and Quetta is VERY DANGEROUS and shouldn't be driven in the night or without armed escort. Initially we had a guy with a gun in the car but about half way to Quetta they decided we didn't need it any more. A little further on, thanks largely to terrible roads and lorries constantly using main beams, we had a crash. No-one hurt, but the radiator was knackered. We managed to limp on to some vestige of civilisation in the form of a cluster of houses, where several people tried to fix it, all to no avail. Since that hadn't worked, we decided to wait it out, hiding in a hut by the side of the road in the middle of the night. Kidnappings and tribal violence are quite common along that road so we decided it was best to keep our heads down. After a couple of hours the police turned up. We'd been checking in at police checkpoints all the way along the route and when we didn't arrive at the next one they eventually sent out a search party.

The police turned up a little more en masse this time and they towed us to a second levies station where we spent the rest of the night. Again, all a bit wild-west.

In the morning we got a tow to the nearest big town where we sat and waited for Ali's friends to come out from Quetta to pick us up. At that point we stuck the car on the back of a cattle lorry and sent it off towards Quetta and we piled into the Toyota pick-up (in hindsight a much more sensible vehicle for these roads!).

Pic below is of our various rescuers...

After the fun and games on the road, Quetta was a relative haven of calm, so I kicked back for a couple of days and then got the Jaffer 'Express' to Lahore, a 30 hour train journey in standard class (no first class available), which was made easier by all the friendly folks on the train, including Waqas, below...

In Lahore I've spent about 4 days at the Regale Internet Inn, a relative haven of peace and calm in a crazy town. Visited all the sights: the old town, the fort, Jehangir's tomb etc.

Spent a fun day with Javed, who I recommend as a guide if you come to Lahore (, +92 300 4350 693, photo below, Javed's on the left). Also I've enjoyed a lot of local music at various venues including a great band playing on the roof here at the Regale.

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