We are in a Pakistani Prison, it’s 8pm and we are drenched from the storm we have just ridden through for 2 hours in the dark, thankfully we are in the guest quarters and not housed with the hundreds of Pakistani Prisoners. Our friends from Lahore had arranged our stay here only 3 hours ago via telephone – it was a good thing they insisted on taking a local SIM card for our phone.
We had planned to ride to Besham for the night but after 3 police escorts we were informed that the road had been cut off by landslides and we were not able to pass. In a small police check point hut we tried our best to communicate our desire to stay and continue on the following day but after numerous phone calls to our friends in Lahore it was advised that we return 100 km’s-it was 4pm.
I was clutching at straws, I asked if there was a hotel nearby, could we stay at someone’s house or if we could stay at the Police Station nearby and although the police were trying they their best they insisted we head back. As I was pulling my helmet back on a local man pulled up in his ute and with a handshake and a big smile I explained our predicament and with a brief discussion with his friend in the passenger seat he invited us to stay at his house for the night, the police however insisted we head back. This is the Pakistani way, they are quite simply the nicest people we have ever met, their hospitable nature is at times overwhelming but forever appreciated. This is how we are warm and dry within the safe confinements of the Prison boundary with our dinner on the way watching a Pakistani woman Bollywood dance on a wardens laptop.
The following morning we awoke to blue skies and a wonderful breakfast waiting for us. With all our gear strung out to dry, we were led to the prison office within the prison walls to obtain wifi access, we needed to touch base with our wives and check the weather forecast ahead. After most of the guards hands were shaken we tried to obtain information about the road condition to Gilgit, phone calls were made and we got the impression all the landslides had been cleared. Smiles all round it was back to the living quarters to pack up and ride back up and beyond. The sun was out, road dry and we were on the way to Besham our first nights destination. The traffic was terrible getting out of the lowlands and we didn’t make it to the foothills until 1pm but the weather was still favourable and our spirits were as high as the mountains we were chasing. Again we were greeted by many police escorts and Armed force patrols but successfully made it to Besham almost half way to Gilgit.
We stopped at a hotel for lunch and were informed that the road ahead was still not passible! Apparently a bridge had collapsed and would not be repaired for days, why the Police or Armed forces had not told us this before riding up is a mystery? Accepting defeat we retreated for the night, Jimmy made some friends who again invited us for a great dinner.
We have edged our way towards Pakistan with trepidation, we had been warned of the political situation and as an Australian who only reads the headlines I had no idea what to expect, not deterred but cautioned. In fact the Pakistani people are so welcoming it’s beyond comprehension why the media/governments print such headlines. We have spent 9 days in Pakistan and only paid for 4 nights accommodation adding to that we have only paid for 8 meals, the rest has been insisted upon by friends and strangers as we are their guests. I shudder at the thought of a Pakistani arriving in Australia and this experience has reminded me how nice humans can be to one and other. I can’t believe I’m sitting on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border with this revelation. The further we travel abroad the more I realise that no matter what nationality, race or religion all of us are alike. We all have families to love, stomachs to fill and friends to laugh with, or in Pakistan’s case men to laugh with. We have found the culture confronting, with all these very kind gestures of hosting, cooking meals and showing us around but not once have we met any women of the family. Actually we haven’t technically seen any woman since arriving in Pakistan. We see people walking in Burka’s with children, we sometimes see eyes but more often we see Brown burkas with mesh over the eyes.
I fully respect the culture and faith but I do have trouble understanding it, we walk past women in full headwear with their faces turned away until we have passed by, we enter a room unexpectedly to find a woman swiftly turning away. I can’t help but think about how the women feel about this? It is obviously an ongoing women’s rights issue for the Islamic faith and with faith and traditions thick as blood in Pakistan I don’t expect anything to change but it does remind me how lucky we are in Australia with freedom of speech and faith.
I’m finishing this blog from the garden of Nagar Fort in Chitral. One of our friends from Lahore suggested we stop here and what a place it is! Still occupied by the Royal family. For any other travelers passing through we highly recommend spending some time there – get in touch with them on their Facebook page. We decided to head back up and spend a rest day here before our mission to head west to Iran’s border. Again the journey has been full of Police escorts and many Army check point logs completed.
We had a relaxed day off the bikes yesterday and one of the Princes showed us around with a tour of the Fort, river and small hospital that serves most of Chitral. We rose at 6 am this morning and got away early to make it to Madan in good time, we had agreed to meet our Lahore friends at Amir’s house for a final night together. Our spirits were crushed 15 km’s up the road as the tunnel that we needed to pass through that is still being built was not open for us. We waited until the agreed 12 noon to pass through and then were informed that it was still not possible, Tuesday was the next day it will be open-3 days away! We returned to Nagar Fort for lunch. So now we are officially stuck in Chitral, mind you it could be worse!