Two Aussie blokes riding their BMW R1150GSs from Australia to Europe

Tag: police

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

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