Two Aussie blokes riding their BMW R1150GSs from Australia to Europe

Category: Pakistan

Budapest to Vienna – the end of the road after 26,250kms

Very happy with ourselves as we stepped off the bikes in the heart of Vienna

Very happy with ourselves as we stepped off the bikes in the heart of Vienna

And that’s a wrap folks! For me this epic adventure has finally come to an end, I promised Sophie I would be home for her birthday and although I have missed it by one day I will make her birthday party. I feel naked without my motorcycle, my life as I know it is in a 27kg bag and my bike will eventually make it home by ship, thankfully James and Monica can look after it until then.

What a bike! Brigitta's 17 years old with 170,000kms on her clock and she's taken me 26,250kms across 14 countries without a hitch

What a bike! Brigitta’s 17 years old with 170,000kms on her clock and she’s taken me 26,250kms across 14 countries without a hitch

All 27kgs of my life's possessions for the last 4 months, wrapped up in a $4 gypsy bag

All 27kgs of my life’s possessions for the last 4 months, wrapped up in a $4 gypsy bag

Vienna, Austria (Monica’s home city) was the catalyst for this trip and what a beautiful city it is! Always coming in a very close second to the world’s most liveable city, Melbourne. After spending six wonderful days in Romania I only had three full days to take in Vienna, but with Monica to show me around I feel like I know it and can’t wait to visit again with Sophie. We have many friends and family who now reside in Europe so I can see many trips to come.

The red wine consumed last night has brought on some emotional reflection of our journey. What we accomplished in four months on our motorcycles will only take a jet plane 22 hours. Looking out the window of the plane I can almost pinpoint our journey overland. I’m dressed in my new clothes from Zara in Vienna, upon purchase I noticed it was made in Pakistan and it took me back to the road, riding past huge textile factories producing items for the western world to consume but I’m sure none of the other patrons were thinking what I was…

For us Pakistan has a very different meaning than most

For us Pakistan has a very different meaning than most

Blokes on Spokes was a motorcycle adventure but underneath our desire to ride around the world there was much more to the journey. James and Monica had made a massive decision to leave Melbourne and start anew in Vienna. For myself it was an opportunity to remove myself from our all consuming business and busy life in Melbourne. My business partner Nick and I have been working extremely hard on our business for the past 12 years and I am the first to acknowledge that it has taken a toll on our health and well being. Four months ago I left Melbourne a worn soul: I was searching for something other than the 8-5 slog and have to admit I was concerned that our journey would provoke even further frustration of my work/life balance. In fact it had the opposite effect. The whole experience has been so humbling that I now only feel guilt of how fortunate my life is. I am returning to Australia a new man. I had lost my way in a Western world driven by money and success and forgotten about the most important things in life. Family, love and health come first and everything else second from now on. We left Melbourne in search of good roads, scenery and adventure but I’m returning with no lasting memory of the riding but only of the kindness of people. I am also returning a more focussed businessman; wealth is an absolute privilege in this world and I am lucky enough to have the support and ability to increase it for the future of my children and family.

I cannot thank James enough for the support over the last few years, not only was he my best man at our wedding he was also the brainchild behind our adventure. Months of preparation leading up to our rushed departure proved vital to our success and I will be forever grateful.

Jimmy, on the streets of Malaysia. It takes two to tango, and I wouldn't have made it without his help

Jimmy, on the streets of Malaysia. It takes two to tango, and I wouldn’t have made it without his help

Pakistan to Persia

We’re in Isfahan! It’s Friday morning and James’ wife Monica has just landed. Lucy will join from Jordan later tonight and its a near miracle that James and I arrived at 6:30pm last night. Once on Iranian soil we completed the 1250km journey to Isfahan in 17 hours, through the desert on perfect tarmac with hardly any traffic woes. I could have glued my throttle on at 110km/h. After 2 days in Iran I have finally had time to reflect on the journey thus far and especially Pakistan.

It’s fair to say luck wasn’t on our side in Pakistan but then again Pakistan is not a lucky country. After my last post from Nagar Fort our journey to the Iranian border proved to be the toughest 12 days of our trip so far and I’m pleased to say that James and I are still best mates and we have made it across the most difficult nation on route with no injuries or broken bikes.

Approaching the tunnel in Nagar.

Approaching the tunnel in Nagar.

We left Nagar Fort behind schedule and shortly after taking off on the way to the tunnel we needed to pass through, a member of our police escort stopped suddenly and reversed at speed into my bike! I bailed in time to obtain no injuries with the petrol tank taking the blow, leaving a decent dent in it but luckily not leaking fuel. I actually found humour in the whole ordeal given we were under ‘police protection’. James on the other hand didn’t. His blood was boiling within seconds, giving the police a lecture about mirrors and the like. But this incident was just the beginning of it.

Once at the tunnel the Korean engineer denied passage and would only let the bikes through without us on them sparking a frantic search for a truck to load the bikes onto and take them through within the hour. On top of this I had a toothache that had become bad enough to previously warrant a trip to a dentist in Pakistan who prescribed medication.

Pierre would be proud!

Pierre would be proud!

Further on the journey James’ bike broke down, not once but twice on consecutive days with two completely unrelated problems, the second costing us another day. Our planned route came to an abrupt end in Bhakkar with the police escorting us away from our booked hotel to a different police district for us to become someone else’s problem.

Why won't it go?

Why won’t it go?

After 3 hours we solved the problem

After 3 hours we solved the problem

Discussions between police and army officers took place until 9:30pm until we were escorted to a ‘safe’ hotel with security. Safe, but with no vacancy! A brief standoff took place between us and the police before James and I realised the tension was building. To have any luck at all we would have to settle on sleeping on the dining room floor at the most expensive rate paid since Thailand. To make matters worse, the following morning the police escorted us back to the town they originally picked us up from and left us to continue our journey only to be stopped another 60km’s up the road to be turned around again. Another police standoff this time with our new friends from Darwin to Douglas. We eventually made it to Multan and were finally told the information we had been asking for all day – the path we were trying to take was not possible. We were eventually given the right path to take! It was of course the longest route and under police escort all the way.

Colm, a fellow overlander posing with a policeman

Colm, a fellow overlander posing with a policeman

Hands off the triggers boys

Hands off the triggers boys

Arriving at Rahim Yar Kan at 10pm we set off the following day along with our new friends Colm and Eddie. We put in a massive 16 hour day under police escort to Quetta, the journey taking us through Baluchistan, and the arid landscape and 42 degree heat taking its toll on James. He was throwing up at lunchtime and by 2pm I was trying to arrange one of the officers on our escort to ride my bike so we could put James in the escort vehicle and I could ride his bike. I managed to find the only Pakistani officer in the country who couldn’t use motorcycle gears properly.

Policeman in pyjamas riding Drew's bike, when James was too sick to ride himself

Policeman in pyjamas riding Drew’s bike, when James was too sick to ride himself

We eventually arrived at 8pm on friday night, not ideal given we needed to obtain our N.O.C (No objection certificate) to continue west. We already knew that the police would not process our N.O.C until monday morning but what we didn’t know is that we were not allowed outside of our hotel without a police escort! Hotel Bloom Star became home for the 3 nights ahead and all food and supplies were to be ordered through the hotel management and delivered to the hotel. Amongst food and supplies for the bikes we managed to obtain some contraband… beer! Only 4 Australian blokes would pay $US100 for a slab of beer. Ironically it was brewed in Pakistan.

Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey

Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey

Our only view of the outside world - from the rooftop of our hotel in Quetta

Our only view of the outside world – from the rooftop of our hotel in Quetta

Blokes on Spokes meet Darwin to Douglas

Blokes on Spokes meet Darwin to Douglas

It was nice for some new company along the journey

It was nice for some new company along the journey

On Monday morning we were escorted to the police station to obtain our N.O.C’s and after we had tea in about 5 different offices over 3 hours we finally received the document. We spoke to the head of staff about our intentions to leave very early the following day for Taftan. The border closed at 4:30 pm and by our math if we left at dawn ( N.O.C dictating travel during daylight) we could make the border crossing and continue at least 100km’s into Iran. He assured us that this would be possible and phone calls were made. However we shouldn’t have been surprised that at 5:30am we were all sitting in reception ready to go with no escort in sight. It finally turned up at 6:50am and escorted us 1km down the road to another escort! I think I stopped counting at 10 different vehicles. Some had armed guards, others just a driver with a gun. Every now and again a man with a AK47 turned up on his 70cc Moped.

This district couldn't afford an escort car, so we got a 70cc motorbike instead

This district couldn’t afford an escort car, so we got a 70cc motorbike instead

Must not pass the 70cc powerhouse

Must not pass the 70cc powerhouse

We tried to explain to every escort our desire to travel at 80km/h but when the clock struck 2pm and we were not even halfway, our dreams of making it to Iranian soil were over. I had joined Eddie with a bad case of ‘the runs’ but the final kick in the back was James hitting me from behind at 50km/h on a sketchy stretch of road taking us both down. Luckily the sand that caused the accident also broke our fall and no significant damage was done. Still over 100km’s out of Taftan by sunset we continued on in the dark and 60km’s out at a police checkpoint we were informed that there was a 50% chance of continuing onto Taftan and maybe we should stay somewhere else for the night… Thankfully they took us through and we slept in the Police station/local prison for the night. Across the courtyard were at least 50 Afghani refugees housed for the night. The fact that they seek asylum in Pakistan was a bleak reminder for us at how bad some areas in Afghanistan must be.

Racing the sun to Taftan

Racing the sun to Taftan

Fill her up boys!

Fill her up boys!

I'm sure we can go faster...

I’m sure we can go faster…

...because there aren't too many distractions on this road

…because there aren’t too many distractions on this road

Until it all turned to sh&t

Until it all turned to sh&t

As you can well imagine we were ready to move on to our next country. But after 2 days in Iran with it’s near perfect highways, clean cities and western conveniences I now look back on Pakistan fondly. Yes it was hard, but riding a motorcycle around the globe was never going to be easy. Pakistan challenged us from every angle but we kept pushing on, determined to get through it. This is the adventure and the reason we left the comfort of our own country for. We have just returned from a fantastic lunch with our friend Amir’s family in their home in Isfahan, Iran. I am stuffed full and once again overwhelmed by the hospitality. Isfahan feels European and we can easily tell from here on in things will become more and more comfortable. Pakistan, India and beyond will become distant lands but we will hold on to the experience forever. Before I know it I will be sitting in Vienna waiting a flight home….

For interested overlanders, check out Jimmy’s post on Horizons Unlimited about which roads to take and which to avoid

Pakistan – Police plus politics equal postponements – 16,135kms

As a fairly well travelled chap, I knew very well what to expect for the first half of our journey. South East Asia didn’t disappoint, but nor did it surprise. Once leaving India however Drew and I were both thrust into very new territory – an unfamiliar culture, staunchly religious (and a very unfamiliar religion at that), with a bad reputation in our western media for unsavoury social behaviour.

But we’re both open minded, and we have embraced Pakistan as fully as we could. I kid you not, the people are the friendliest I’ve ever come across (actually, the men are the friendliest I’ve ever come across – I haven’t met any women so am not in a position to comment).  We had expected to keep our distance with Pakistan to avoid getting into any sticky situations, but ironically of all the cultures we’ve encountered on our journey thus far, it’s Pakistan’s that we’ve immersed ourselves in most fully. We’ve done more homestays than hotel stays, we’ve been fed to bursting, enjoyed countless chai tea breaks, and even had fuel bought for us. Pakistanis are hospitable beyond words.

And the scenery is simply breathtaking – the world’s second highest peak, K2, is in the heart of the Karakoram ranges, where the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges meet. Descending from the mountains you’re taken through fertile agricultural lands, which is followed by vast deserts that give you the feeling of riding through landscapes straight from Star Wars’ Tatooine. There’s a lot to love about Pakistan, and by rights they deserve to have a booming tourism industry.

But undeniably there is a darker side to Pakistan, the side that westerners are more familiar with. Outside of the heavily populated (and economically powerful) eastern province of Punjab the presence of armed forces in Pakistan is almost overwhelming. Police walk around casually with AK47s or assault rifles slung over their shoulders and 9mm pistols strapped to their hips. The army is no different. Bank security guards carry double barrelled shotguns, whilst men of moderate prominence employ armed bodyguards to accompany them as they go about their daily business. Thankfully we’ve not witnessed anything unsavoury ourselves, and when speaking to locals about the security situation everyone’s very quick to say “there’s no security problem here”. I have no doubt that this is due to the huge presence of armed forces, and as a result we’ve become very blase about being surrounded by men with weapons.

Refuelling under armed escort in Dir

Refuelling under armed escort in Dir

When digging a little deeper in conversation with Pakistani people we’ve come to realise that their plight is a horribly complex one. Oblivious westerners might assume that all these problems relating to guns and armed forces stem from 9/11 and the Taliban’s presence in the region. No Pakistani has denied that things didn’t change significantly for them after 9/11, however the problems go far deeper than that. For more than half a century, Pakistan has been a political football; it began when the British partitioned the subcontinent in 1947, and by all reports they did a pretty average job of it. It’s no coincidence that both Pakistan and India have a province called Punjab, and to this day Jammu and Kashmir are still disputed territories.

Pakistan is resource rich, and located in a strategically opportune spot on the Gulf of Oman. Russia invaded Afghanistan in the late 70’s, and out of their own self interest America sided with Pakistan – this was part of the cold war. But Pakistan also borders China, and China’s might is huge. The Chinese are currently investing heavily in infrastructure in Pakistan, for both resources and strategic military gain. But of course China and America don’t get along so famously, and in more recent times (according to the Pakistanis) America has seen this as a passive threat and have retaliated by supporting India. Incidentally, China is also supporting Nepal after India tried to cut off their fuel supply to force them into political submission.

And we haven’t even touched on religion yet! Pakistan is an Islamic state, and Islam comes in different flavours. Whilst Sunni and Shiites previously got along, it was apparently hardlined Saudi Arabian Wahabis that showed an interest in setting the cat amongst the religious pigeons. Remember too that Pakistan is a nuclear armed nation with a notoriously corrupt government and you can start to understand just what a sticky situation it is. Religious extremists are just the salt and pepper on top.

Of course we haven’t seen any Americans, Russians, Chinese or Saudi muftis – we’re blissfully ignorant of Pakistan’s political woes. What we have had to deal with though is literally dozens of military and police checkpoints. Independent travel by road in Pakistan is arduously slow. There is no way for us to know what road is open, what road is restricted and what roads we’ll be required to travel under police escort. Hour upon hour has been wasted sitting at the roadside waiting to find out if we can proceed, and if you look closely at our GPS tracks, you’ll see all the times we’ve had to double back on ourselves. To make matters worse, the police from one district won’t communicate with the police in the adjacent district – we’ve sat around for hours whilst we’ve waited for them to negotiate amongst themselves what should be done with us. These guys couldn’t organise a root in a brothel and sadly all of this has left a bitter taste in our mouths about Pakistan.

Whilst the world’s superpowers make their sport in Pakistan, the everyday Pakistani goes about normal life as best they can. And the overlander travelling across the country is left to negotiate the roads and the checkpoints as best they can, wondering if Pakistan is bitter or sweet.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a historical, political nor religious expert – this post is a condensed interpretation of conversations with everyday Pakistani people – don’t hold it against me if I’ve misrepresented the situation.

For fellow overlanders looking for a more detailed run down of our experience, check out this post on Horizons Unlimited

Pakistan – don’t worry Mum, we’re in prison


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.

Pakistan would have been such a different experience without these amazing friends from Lahore

Pakistan would have been such a different experience without these amazing friends from Lahore

Sightseeing in Lahore

Sightseeing in Lahore

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.

You can't touch this

You can’t touch this

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.

Our first (and hopefully last) trip to prison

Our first (and hopefully last) trip to prison

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.

Stunning scenery outside of Besham, under police escort of course!

Stunning scenery outside of Besham, under police escort of course!

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.

An excellent BBQ of beef with friends in Besham (you wouldn't get this in India!)

An excellent BBQ of beef with friends in Besham (you wouldn’t get this in India!)

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.

This photo says a lot - scenery, police escorts, and culture

This photo says a lot – scenery, police escorts, and culture

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.

Locals crossing the bridge to Nagar Fort

Locals crossing the bridge to Nagar Fort

Our host, Razi (the prince!) with Nagar Fort in the background

Our host, Razi (the prince!) with Nagar Fort in the background

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!

Yep - this tunnel's still under construction. 8.5kms of muddy dirt track underground!

Yep – this tunnel’s still under construction. 8.5kms of muddy dirt track underground!

Waiting for our passport details to be entered on the other side of the tunnel

Waiting for our passport details to be entered on the other side of the tunnel

Horse riding at Nagar

Horse riding at Nagar

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