Wednesday 29 August 2007, Nokkundi
The Immigration Building looks to be in a bad state of repair but it has air-conditioning and modern computers with digital cameras. Customs on the other hand is is a better building but everything is done manually.
We met Marithe and Richard, a retired French couple traveling to Australia, at the border and decided to stay with them through the desert to Quetta.
And we are back driving on the left hand of the road. Whoopee!!!!!
The road has easily spotted kilometer markers. Great. The downside is the flood damage. Sometimes the road has been completely washed away. In other places only the sides have gone and sometimes this has been temporarily repaired. In one spot a pass through some hills had been completely filled with sand and we had to detour around.
Even though we were prepared intellectually, a big shock was the cost of diesel. After all in Iran it cost petty cash. The € 50 we changed at the border was sufficient to buy the diesel required to get to Quetta! There was a lot of diesel and petrol available in plastic jerry cans. Black market from Iran?
The night was spent in the Customs Station where we had access to a toilet and a bush shower. The shower was very refreshing after traveling through the desert.
Thursday 30 August to Friday 7 September 2007, Quetta
The houses in the villages we passed through are made mostly of mud brick but they are finished of neatly with square corners and straight lines. Unlike Iran where the finish could be atrocious.
The road continued as yesterday, sometimes reducing to a single lane due to the damage. Eventually at Noushki the road improved and was reasonable all the way to Quetta. There were many police blocks. We were waved through some but at others had to write down our passport details in a book. Finally the 500 odd kilometers were over and we entered Quetta. It took ages to go through the shack shops and tent cities into an area of small shops. The city has very few buildings higher than a single story. But it is colorful. The trucks are all decorated as are the scooter taxis, buses and even the tractors. It is also very dirty and the traffic is chaotic. The drivers are not much different to Iran except that besides cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians you also have to deal with horse and donkey carts, barrows being pushed and the 3-wheeler scooter taxis.
We stayed at the Bloom Star Hotel. The only one to allow camping in the very small car park. In the end we took a room though as it was not that much more expensive. It also have a power point and a TV. The wires of the TV were pushed into the plug! So we added the wires for the laptop as we did not have an adaptor. Most important we found an ATM and could draw cash. Liquid at last. Talking of liquid, beer is also available although only very discreetly and it is expensive. Our time was spent buying essentials like a new battery and a generator. Meals were purchased from small local restaurants. All the food has a bite but it is not all that spicy.
Pieter's Journal click to read
At this point we agreed that we needed to go our separate ways. More time was spent buying luggage, a second camera and a second cell phone. Pieter has taken the Land Rover, I am continuing with public transport. Since the Land Rover is in my name and stamped in my passport we had to go to customs and have the stamp transferred into Pieter's passport. Mt Durrani an official of the Establishment Section in Quetta Customs was very helpful. Hopefully there will be no problems when Pieter enters India. Another administrative task popped up. Each year the SVB, Dutch Pension Department, needs to know that we are still alive before they continue to pay out the pension. There is an official form that must be completed, signed and stamped by a Justice of the Peace. The man in the next room, Ali, has dealings with the Magistrates Court and offered his help. First he had to understand what the form was about. He needed to go through it with Pieter. I was sent off to visit with his wife while the men discussed the form! She could not speak any English but I did establish that they are Baluchi and she has 3 children. Next morning when it was time to go to the Magistrates Office, I was once again requested to keep his wife company. This time the answer was no as I also had to sign the form and show the judge I was alive. Once again the friendliness and helpfulness of the people came through. Ali introduced us to a lawyer who organized for the judge to sign and stamp the form. All in all it took 3 hours, a lot of time was spent helping us and payment was refused. Truly amazing.
Women were much more visible and vocal in Iran. Here there are very few women on the street and they very often have their scarf draped over their mouth so very little of the face shows. I attract a lot of attention because I am foreign and do not wear a scarf at all.
Pieter left as soon as the form was signed but I had to wait for the 9:00pm bus to Sukkur. I was given a room to relax in for the day and when it was time to leave Yusef's father drove me to the bus terminal and Yusef made sure my luggage was put in the tool box not on top. They were truly very very kind to me.
Saturday 8 to Sunday 9 September, Larkana
The bus trip was amazing. I arrived about an hour early to make sure the seat that the Tourist Office booked was not given to someone else. Already the bus was being loaded. People who had not been able to purchase inside seats, sat on top with all the luggage. Some were already up there when I arrived. The luggage came in all types and sizes from proper suitcases to wooden crates - all hauled up on top. Inside the air conditioning was working and people gradually took their seats. The seat next to me was taken by a young (12 years old?) girl and her small brother. Her mother and father with baby sat across the isle. Her younger brother and sister shared a seat in front, next to another single woman. Then the stools were brought out and men were seated down the isle on the stools. Two or three had standing room at the front, presumably they sat on the floor later. No-one could move. The few late comers with seats had to climb over the people in the isle! Crowded is an understatement! The bus was decorated inside with colored lights and plush material everywhere. Quite garish to my western eyes. The bus stopped twice for half an hour at a time to allow a late meal and early breakfast along with a comfort break. There were a few disgusting places for the comfort breaks near the mosques, even the Pakistanis avoided most of them.
We arrived in Sukkur about 7:00 am. The next step was a bus to Larkana. This was a mini bus and I had to buy 2 tickets as my suitcase is too large to fit under a seat. Women sat in the back, presumably because there is no isle so the passengers occupying the middle seats had to climb over the other seats. Can't have men climbing over women now can we. We had to climb in from the back. Halfway along the journey the mini bus gained extra travelers hanging on to the back of the mini bus. Of course I've seen photos of this, but reality always leaves a stronger impression.
It is hot!!! and humid!!! Quetta is so cool by comparison. The Royal City Hotel is a bit grubby but at least it is not too bad and I have a single room with shower and fan. Unfortunately there are no windows so the fan merely moves hot air around. It is cooler in the corridor. Saturday morning was spent sleeping. I really am not good at overnight travel. The town is much like Quetta but dirtier and smaller. The Internet Cafe is slow. There are the same type of restaurants though and Sugar Cane juice is available. I went to one of the small restaurants for dinner. The only woman in amongst a sea of men. Everyone was very polite and I had a long conversation with one young man. He wanted to know if I thought Pakistanis were terrorists. This is a question I have been asked several times since. I know many people in the world unfairly connect all Muslims to terrorism but I have not heard of Pakistanis being equated with terrorists.
The reason for coming to Larkana is Moenjodaro, a major city of the Indus Valley civilization flourishing from the third to the middle of the second millennium B.C. (5,000 years old). About the same time as Mesopotamia and Egypt. The ruins of the ancient city still show wells everywhere and a proper drainage system. Apparently refuse removal was also very well organized. By far superior to other concurrent civilizations. The main building still standing is a Buddhist Stupa and a ritual swimming pool both from the 2nd century CE. Ahh but transport was once again the most interesting thing. I asked about local buses but was told I had to have a police escort provided free by the city. A bit annoyed I agreed. It was then suggested I go on his motor bike, just pay for petrol. This sounded good. He obviously made something from the sale of petrol but OK. First we went to the police station to book in. Then off to Moenjodaro 30 kilometers away. I asked about a helmet, but no it is much better to feel the wind in your hair!!!! It was in fact very pleasant. There is an airport at Moenjodaro and a plane was taking off as we arrived. It seemed like all the locals were out in force to watch the event. At Moenjodaro I had to book in again with the police and then we walked over the site. But again it was hot. I think we did more sitting in the shade than actual walking. The site is immense though and I found it interesting. By the time we returned to the hotel I was exhausted and my legs were sore. I am not used to straddling a bike for such long periods. Great fun though.
Monday 10 September 2007, Bahawulpur
This is once again all about bus trips. The bus from Larkana to Sukkor was not air conditioned but the windows opened and I had the VIP seat right at the front. It is a single seat and no-one can sit beside you. This implies no one can take over part of your space - bliss. The 100k journey took over 2 hours because the bus went through every little village and stopped whenever anyone flagged it down or wanted to get off. There were official bus stops but anywhere else would also do. No-one was allowed to sit on the engine section next to the driver so the extras all had to crowd in the back and stand. Most of them were only going short distances though so it was no big deal. The minibus was faster as it stopped less frequently. At every stop beggars and sellers of drinks and food would force their way through the crush to peddle their wares. I was very glad to be reasonably isolated from all this.
When we arrived at Sukkor I explained I wanted to go to Bahawulpur. No problem, my bag was carried off to another bus, I paid Rs100 and was once again given the VIP seat. This seat was right at the front of the bus and my luggage fitted nicely beside me. People could also sit on the engine cover and comfortably find room for their feet in my floor space. I queried the price as it seemed rather little for 300 kilometers, but was assured it was correct. This time the air-conditioning did not work but the windows opened. The usual beggars and peddlers climbed on board. A well dressed bearded man stood up at the front and gave a sermon. He then proceeded to take contributions for the cause. Obviously a worthy cause as there were quite a few Rs 100 among the take. All a totally different experience for me.
At Sadiq Abad I found out why the fare was so cheap. I had to change buses again. By the time I arrived at Bahawulpur I had been 12 hours on the road. I asked the rickshaw driver to take me to a particular hotel, but he didn't understand and took me to a more expensive place. It was at least not too much more so I did not bother to argue and took the room. At least there were windows along with a fan. It was only later that I discovered the windows did not open and that the room had not been cleaned since the last occupant. I did get a clean sheet though. Give me a cheaper hotel anytime, if I am going to have poor conditions I do not want to pay a lot for them. Next morning I went to the PTDC Tourist Office to find out if there was a tour to the shrines in Uch Sharif that I could join. Unfortunately not. I was told it would be difficult to go by public transport. Uch Sharif is 75k away and the shrines are dispersed. The price quoted for a hire car was way out of my budget so I decided to move on. I found out later that public transport was as readily available as anywhere else in Pakistan and that at least some of the shrines are within walking distance of each other. This combined with being relatively overcharged for the evening meal, the dirty hotel room with stale air and the hotel trying to exhort extra money from me made my experience in Bahawulpur very unpleasant.
I wanted to try the train but was convinced by the PTDC that a good bus would be better and quicker. Going with the flow I went back to the hotel booked out and onto the Dawoo bus terminus. How right he was! The terminus is a clean building with lots of comfortable chairs to wait in, clean toilets (including a throne) and a cafeteria. The bus was decorated western style not Pakistani style. The air conditioning worked. Each passenger had their own seat, including children. A sandwich was served along with water and cool drink. The hostess made announcements in Urdu, English and Punjabi. The video worked and each passenger had their own earphones. The movie was in English. A video of the passengers was taken presumably for security purposes. The bus stopped 3 times on the way to Rawalpindi. Each time there were clean facilities and a snack shop. At Multan the first stop where the majority of passengers came on board, another packed lunch was served and another video of all the passengers taken. I lost my seat to a man and wife so had to move forward to take up the 2 front seats. I could put my feet up for most of the journey! The bus traveled at well over 100kph. What absolute luxury. Of course it cost but it was worth every rupee.
The countryside is not very interesting. It is flat with lots of rice paddies, flooded fields, water buffalo lolling in the water and brick factories. The roads range from good, especially nearer to Rawalpindi, to potholed and in need of major repair, to sections in the process of being repaired.
Tuesday 11 to Monday 17 September 2007, Rawalpindi
Rawalpindi is chaotic with unplanned streets, dirty, noisy and very busy. There are shops selling everything you would need right near the hotel. There are also several bus stops that go to various places in Islamabad. Islamabad by comparison was very well planned in 1960 by a Greek Architectural firm named M/S Constantinos Doxiades. It consists of large square areas called sectors. Each sector has an alphabetical prefix and a number e.g. G4, and its own shopping centre and parks. The streets with in the sectors are not straight or at right angles to each which gives it a human feel.
I spent most of the first few days relaxing and just wandering around near the hotel. However I did go to the Heritage Museum. Unfortunately the electricity was off so it was temporarily closed. I spent some time wandering around nearby. It has been left natural and is just like being in the country. On my return to the museum there was still no electricity so I continued on to the Pakistani monument celebrating the birth of Pakistan in August 1947. It is an interesting petal shaped structure with murals on each of the petals. Hand prints of the artisans line the steps up to the monument. From there I walked down to Zero Point just below the monument. Presumably this is the theoretical centre of Islamabad. A passing driver gave myself and 2 Pakistanis a lift down to a major bus stop - all from the goodness of his heart! Would not happen in Johannesburg, but then I would not get into a strange car in Johannesburg in the first place. From here it was easy to get a mini-bus into Rawalpindi. But the poor driver had a tough time. Maybe because it was the first day of Ramazan. First he was pulled over by a police man for stopping in the middle of the 3 lanes to drop passengers. This is quite normal so why him in particular? One passenger then decided to put in his 2 cents worth. He almost ended up assaulting the police man. He was hauled away by other passengers before things got too far, but I am sure it did nothing to help the driver. Eventually the driver had to hand over some papers which he did not get back. Later on the driver went through a red light - stupid but not unusual. Unfortunately this really upset another driver who stopped his car, got out and took a punch at the mini bus driver! I was sitting beside the driver, the place where women are always seated, but moved very fast out of the way. After that the driving of the mini bus driver became really bad, taking many unnecessary risks, I was glad to get out!
Taxila is an ancient town about 30 kilometers west of Islamabad. It was on the routes between India, western Asia and central Asia and had various cities ranging from 6th century BCE to 5th century CE. Alexander the Great passed through in 326 BCE on his way to conquer India. That man surely got around! The Greeks and the Buddhists seem to have co-existed within the general area until about the 5th century CE. The information is somewhat confusing. There are many sites belonging to both cultures including Greek temples and Buddhist Stupas and monasteries. A stupa is a memorial to the dead or sometimes a particular death.
Of course transport comes into it again! I went there is a mini bus sitting 4 to a seat meant for 3. I was the one with half a bum on a seat! Eventually one lady got out thank heavens. The men are just as badly off. Some have to stand leaning over seated passengers! At least they get to their destination. At Taxila I hired a 5 seater rickshaw to take me to the various sites as they are spread over several kilometers. Eventually we returned to the museum, which closed within 15 minutes for lunch! I spent the time chatting firstly to a man and his well educated daughter then to two well educated young women. They were sisters and lived nearby. They found it very difficult to understand a woman going anywhere without a family member. It seemed far too difficult and lonely for them. The museum was reasonably interesting. I returned by local bus. These are segregated, men at the back women at the front. Only the conductor goes everywhere. A large group of women boarded the bus with their belongings tied in material and babies in their arms. No English but they wanted to know why I had no scarf - indicated it was too hot; why no jewelry - indicated it could be stolen. I wanted to take their photos but one mother said I could take one of her baby. Naturally I sneaked in another but it is not that great. The men in the back were really crowded so one couple got in the front. This man used his wife as the excuse to be up front but at least he had a seat!
Back at the hotel I had an interesting discussion with the staff. According to one of them 50% of Pakistani men are homosexual and that is how HIV is transmitted. It is quite acceptable for men to share rooms - but no-one knows what happens inside those rooms - maybe the sheets tell a tale? He also believes that most people only observe Ramazan in public but eat and drink secretly during the day in private. A very cynical young man!
Tuesday 18 September, 2007, Dir
I wanted to see the Kalash Valley which is in the Hindu Kush mountain range and had 6 days before I needed to be back in Islamabad. Should be easy, 2 days travel, 2 days in the valley, 2 days return. Do NOT follow my example. Two days in the valley is not enough. Since it was a short trip through small towns I decided to buy a small backpack and take a minimum of clothing etc. This was a wise decision. I could not have managed at all with the large suitcase. But first the journey. Traveling by public transport is always an adventure especially when there is a language issue. I was told to go to Pirbedai Bus Station as there are buses to everywhere from there. There was supposed to be a bus directly there from Rawalpindi. Maybe there is but I ended up taking two separate buses. For bus read any form of public transport, in this case one of these was a very colorful pick-up. On arrival I asked for the bus to Dir where I had decided to break the journey. I later found out there is no bus going directly to Dir. The closest is to Timargarha. In any case I was put on a large bus and told to get off at Nowshera, all of 136k into the 265k journey to Dir. Now what? Luckily a Pakistani man also needed to head in a similar direction and he advised me to come with him to Marden a further 18k in the right direction. At Marden we got off at a street corner! My friend knew where the bus station was and we walked to the bus station where I could get a mini bus to Timargarha. Immediately I was asked to pay for 2 seats as I was a lady and there were no other ladies going that way. The front two seats in a mini-bus are reserved for ladies. I made it as clear as possible that I would pay for one seat and the driver had to find some-one to sit next to me. In fact I re-iterated this several times. No-one sat next to me so of course once we arrived in Timargarha a heated discussion arose. The fare was Rs80 so I gave the driver Rs100. He was upset but I stuck to my guns and reminded him I had said 1 person 1 fare from the start. The police came along and gently removed me from the scene to the mini bus for Dir. The driver followed still trying to get more money. The new driver was now very well aware that I was paying for 1 fare and he found a young man named Raheel Khan, a electrical engineering university student going home for Ramazan, to sit beside me. Not all Pakistani men refuse to sit next to strange women!
By the time we arrived at Dir it was well after dark and I was exhausted. I had spent over 10 hours on the road. Raheel insisted that I stay the night with his family. They were really very nice, warm hearted people and welcomed me into their home. The family consists of his mother, father, aunt and one unmarried sister. They had kept some delicious dinner warm which we both ate with pleasure. The meat dish was buffalo, very tasty. Their home consists of 2 upstairs rooms off a small yard. The cooking is done on the verandah or in the yard. The toilet is outside the yard and virtually underneath it. There is another room downstairs and a pen for the goats and sheep. The rooms were very clean with carpets on the floor. Shoes are removed on entry. After dinner it was time for the news on TV. The whole family congregated in one room to watch - until the electricity stopped. This happens in Rawalpindi quite frequently as well. We then all went to bed. There were enough beds for everyone with blankets as it gets cold at nights. I slept in my clothes as it seemed that everyone else did as well. Besides there was no private place to undress.
Wednesday 19 September 2007, Chitral
Next morning Raheel and I were given breakfast. He is not well and is therefore excused from the Ramazan fast. Unfortunately the breakfast went straight through. Not wanting a repeat of Egypt I asked to go to the doctor. Raheel took me to the local hospital where I was automatically expected to go straight to the head of the queue. Once I had the prescribed tablets it was off to the bus station for transport to Chitral. Raheel's brother was the driver of the 4x4 Land Cruiser used for this stage of the journey. Lowari Pass is great. The valleys are green and cultivated. The mountain sides are dry and rocky. The roads are being improved but are not very good. Trucks do go to Chitral even though sometimes the rock overhang is barely high enough. At one stage a truck had rocks placed near the wheels on one side so that when it drove over the rocks the truck tilted away from the rock face and so managed to get by!. It is a 3 hour drive to Chitral 100k from Dir, and late afternoon by the time we arrived, far too late for any one to drive through to the Kalash Valley so I spent the night in the Tourist Lodge.
Thursday 20 to Friday 21 September 2007, Bamboriat
The first item on the agenda was to book in with the local police and obtain a permit for the Kalash Valley. Basically just some administration but the hotel needed the permit number for its records as did the Peace Hotel in Bamboriat. Once again the transport was a 4x4 Land Cruiser. This time an absolute necessity. The 4x4 facility was used quite a few times but not the diff lock. The road is narrow with very few places for vehicles to pass each other. Either they scraped by with millimeters to spare or one vehicle reversed to a wider spot. The rocky overhang was much lower than on the road to Chitral. The streams coming down the mountains went over the road, sometimes taking part of the road with it. Definitely 4x4 country. There were some superb panoramas though, just a pity I did not feel I could ask for photo stops. There were quite a few police check points as well where foreigners had to sign a register. At least I could see that very few foreigners had gone that way recently. I stayed at the Peace Hotel because the 4x4 driver is part of the family that owns the hotel. It was clean and comfortable with a bucket of hot water provided for a bush shower. I made the mistake of waiting till dark for a wash though. Electricity is supplied by a municipal generator. The output is very poor. The light in the bathroom gave off a faint yellow glow, barely enough to see anything at all! The bedroom light was better, you could actually see as far as the other side of the room. The only possible thing to do after dark is to sit around talking or go to bed. A full moon would give better light. The meals were more like European cooking, tasty but not hot spicy.
On Friday I decided to splurge and hired the 4x4 with driver and Sher Wazir, owner of the Peace Hotel, as the guide for a tour of the Kalash Valley. We started at first light and returned by lunchtime. We visited many Kalash Houses where the occupants were very happy to have their photos taken. Although they were paid for this they also gave grapes, apples and peaches in return. The houses are simple, very often single room dwellings. The beds are placed around the walls and the central area is used for cooking. The people were very friendly and generally busy with bringing in the harvest for drying. There were peaches, tomatoes and corn that I actually saw being dried. Walnuts were also being harvested. At Baranguru I met a group of young tourists who had been there for a week or so and in no hurry to leave. Much the better way of seeing the valley. They spent their time relaxing, playing cards, drinking tea and taking easy walks through the area.
As for the roads, this time the diff lock was used in several places!
Saturday 22 September 2007, Timargarha
It was again an early start at 6:30am. When you are in bed before 8:00pm it is very easy to get up so early! The drive to Chitral was once again with the same 4x4 driver. At Chitral I met Raheel's brother but his was not the first transport to leave. He did organize for some-one to sit next to me though so 1 person 1 fare. The driver was terrible. He went very fast, far too fast for the road and the curves. I still occasionally get car sick and felt nauseous most of the time because of the speed he went round those 180° corners. Then he took a short cut! When he saw just how high the obstruction was he did not reverse, Oh No, he tried to go on! At least there were road construction workers nearby who lent him a spade to dig himself out. Served him right.
At Dir there was a change to a mini-bus. My seating companion was a young man on his way to Taxila. The driver also shared his seat with a passenger! Somehow he managed to drive safely. Shades of Johannesburg mini bus taxis!!!
I decided to stop for the night and found a reasonable hotel that also had a restaurant. Communication about a meal was a difficult but one of the staff suggested an omelet. Sounded OK. It was not your normal European omelet though. It consisted of 1 egg with onion, tomato and much else besides, eaten with chapatti naturally. It was very tasty and filling.
Sunday 23 September to Monday 1 October, Rawalpindi
The journey through to Rawalpindi started with the usual discussion about 1 person, 1 fare. Amazing, but as usual the driver found some-one to sit next to me! I actually felt a bit sorry for him as this time he was an older man and could definitely not be classed as my son. He came in for a lot of ribbing which he took with a shy smile. Once we were stopped by the police and the policeman also gave him some ribbing which he again took well.
Administration is the main occupation in Rawalpindi. First our visa needed extending. Pieter and I have decided to visit SA and this requires a 3 month extension with a single re-entry. This all takes time. Otherwise I have written up the website, talked to other tourists at the hotel and generally taken things easy. Of course cricket dominated the TV and everyone was very disappointed when Pakistan lost the World Cup by a mere 5 runs. So near yet so far.
I finally visited the Heritage Museum. It is beautifully laid out showing scenes from everyday life of the different peoples of Pakistan. There are also displays of carpets, embroidery, mirror mosaics and other handcrafts. I was shooed out at lunch time and decided to walk into the nearby park for a rest. There were many families on Sunday outings and the children had great fun on the swings and slides. A TV documentary group happened along and I was interviewed! Mainly on my views of Islamabad and the parks. Another family was also interviewed and we later started to talk. Abdul Haleem and Syma invited myself and Pieter to dinner the following evening. We had a lovely time at their house on the outskirts of Pindi. We will probably visit again in December when we return from SA.
Tuesday 2 to Friday 5 October, Islamabad
Tuesday I moved back into the van with Pieter. We had a braai with the other campers, Caroline and Immanuel (whom we had met in Quetta) and Monica and Eugene from Germany. The lamb and chicken was delicious but of course the piece de resistance was the beer obtained from the concession room at the Marriot Hotel.
Finally Pieter had his new Dutch passport (the other one was full) and had his Pakistani visa put in. The tickets to South Africa were paid for in cash. None of our credit cards work in Pakistan and only one ATM card and then only at Standard Chartered. Obtaining the cash for the tickets was a mission on its own. But we could head north at last.
Saturday 6 October 2007, near Nathiagali
We decided to head through Murree to avoid the trucks on the Karakorum Highway at least for a while. The road went through green hills, steep valleys and small villages clinging to the road. On one side they are built on stilts and on the other carved out of the mountain side. Cars are parked on the narrow streets, buses, trucks and every other type of vehicle scrape through sometimes only 1 way at a time. The road had actually slid away in one place but it was being repaired. Generally the road is very narrow and cars use the whole road only moving over for oncoming traffic or traffic that wants to pass. Passing another car is an art. It is impossible to see enough of the road to pass safely, so everyone takes their chance and pass on blind corners. Usually there are no vehicles coming the other way and if there are, everyone has good brakes and a fine sense of space - near misses happen!
Cricket is being played everywhere. If there is a flat piece of ground some form of wicket is set up (rocks, sticks, anything will do), a bat and a ball is produced and a game takes place. The road is also used if there is nowhere else. At every stream cars are being washed. Sometimes there is a small business with a hose pipe taking water directly from the stream.
We were stopped at Kohala as foreigners need a permit to go further along that particular road. Later, looking at the map I realized it is part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir province. This is a disputed area between India and Pakistan. We had to return to Murree and then head to Abbatobad. We spent the night tucked away off a small side road in the forest.
Sunday 7 October 2007, Batgram
It took a while to finally reach Abbatobad on the Karakorum Highway because of the narrow road but the scenery was lovely. The highway is a standard two lane road that twists and turns through the mountains. It was built with the help of the Chinese to make trade with Pakistan much easier. It also connect villages which would otherwise be quite isolated. It is supposed to be an all weather road but there are many areas where landslides wipe out the road and it has to be continually rebuilt. Streams also run over the road - a typical low lying bridge! We made it to Batgram before calling it a day and treated ourselves to a hotel for the night. Next morning we headed out of town only to come to a complete stop. There was a protest march and all traffic through the town had to wait for the march to go past.
Monday 8 October 2007, Sumernala on the Karakorum Highway
The road continued as before with some spectacular views of the Indus River. At times the sides of the river were extremely steep and deep. We stayed overnight at a truck rest stop. Many drivers stopped just after dark to break their fast. Others also spent some time sleeping on the beds provided outside.
Tuesday 9 to Wednesday 10 October 2007, Gilgit
The highway continued with more and more splendid views. The valley tended to be wider than previously and there is a dam being built by the Chinese. Our goal was Gilgit from where I intended to trek to Fairy Meadows. We asked at the hotels if someone was going to Fairy Meadows and would be willing to share the cost of the Jeep. Some people walk the 15 kilometers up 1320 meters, but I knew I would not be able to manage it plus trek up to Fairy Meadows. We found Satoko at the New Tourist Cottage and arranged to go the next day. Pieter had already decided that trekking was not for him so he headed north towards the Chinese border.
Thursday 11 to Friday 12 October 2007, Fairy Meadows
The trip by minibus to Raikot Bridge was uneventful. The trip up in the jeep was as exciting as I had been led to believe. The jeep was about 1,7 meters high, much lower than our Land Rover at 3.3 meters. Even with such a low height, the roof sometimes barely missed scraping the overhanging rocks. The track is also very narrow with the edge of the road barely inches away from the wheels. One mistake and the jeep would tumble down several hundred meters. Luckily we did not meet any jeeps coming the other way. There are slightly wider sections though where jeeps can pass with great care. The track is a private road built and maintained by the locals. They have built it for their vehicles. Once at Jhel the trek begins. The track is wide and reasonably easy ascending 640 meters from 2666 meters to 3306 meters over 5.5 kilometers. In theory it should take 2.5 hours. Satoko could have managed that easily. I set the pace and it took us 3.5 hours. Easy is relative and I am obviously not that fit! There were some spectacular views though. I was glad to reach Fairy Meadows. We had an introduction to Raikot Sarai and because it is end of season we were given a lovely room with a fantastic view. Dinner was very welcome as unfortunately the cook was not there when we arrived. Also being Ramazan they could not have dinner ready before 7:00pm.
It is cold at night and I was very glad I had hired a sleeping bag. What with the bag, the duvet and 2 layers of clothing I slept very warm and was ready to trek again the next day. This was going to be an easy day. First to Beyal, 200 meters over 5 kilometers then on to the viewpoint for Raikot Glacier and Nanga Parbat (8125 meters). It is such an easy walk that I almost managed in the usual time of 1.5 hours. Satoko went on a bit further than the view point while I sat out of the wind in the sun, enjoyed the view and listened to creaking and grating of the glacier. A cook accompanied us as far as Beyal and cooked lunch for us when we returned from the view point. Then it was another easy walk back down to Fairy Meadows.
After dinner and his mountain cigarette (hashish), Dilbar, the manager took us for a walk to see the fairies. We didn't see any but the reflection of the stars in the pond was worth the short walk in the dark. The skies were clear and the stars put on a tremendous display.
Walking down on Saturday morning was supposed to be easy. Unfortunately I twisted my knee right near the start and our progress was slow. Satoko very kindly ended up carrying all my gear while I limped along trying to keep my knee as straight as possible. She really is wonderful. I have never been so glad to see the end of the trail and the jeep. The jeep ride seemed even more 'exciting' going down. The jolts didn't do my knee much good either. We had to wait for transport from Raikot Bridge back to Gilgit. The men at the bridge thought we may not get there at all because next day was Eid and everyone had gone home already to celebrate. But within an hour a young man transporting a reconditioned Toyota from Japan offered us a lift to the Gilgit bus station. From there we caught a Suzuki to the hotel. All the Suzuki's were waiting for at least one passenger before they were going anywhere as business was very slow - the last day of Ramazan. Our Suzuki ended up doing quite well though as the people walking into town were very happy to get a ride. Pieter had already returned from the Chinese border and with an anti inflammatory tablet my knee soon felt much better.
Saturday 13 to Wednesday 17 October 2007, Gilgit
Sunday was the start of Eid. All the guests at the New Tourist Cottage were invited to lunch at the home of one of the managers, Israr, and dinner at the other. The spread was fantastic. Many different dishes are prepared to cater for all the family and friends that visit over the 3 days of Eid. We had 2 superb meals but I can imagine that if you visit many homes you end up eating only a small spoonful at each. We all tried salt tea. Personally I liked it but Pieter did not appreciate the taste. Satoko and I joined the women for the evening meal rather than stay with the men. The women were constantly on the go, preparing plates of food, calling a male family member to take it through, getting dirty dishes back to wash then attending to their two female guests. It was much more lively than sitting with the men. We both had our hands decorated with henna.
Money, small amounts of Rs10 or Rs20 were constantly being brought through for the children. Apparently 'children' may be given money until they are married. The older they become though the fewer people give to them. The young boys usually buy toy guns - like boys the world over! After Eid there were many boys playing on the streets with their new guns. The children also had new clothes which they wore proudly.
We had to wait until the end of the 3 days of Eid to put in and collect washing from the laundry.
I still wanted to see Karimabad and Hunza where Pieter had just been. Pieter wanted to head for Chitral where I have been so once again we went our separate ways
Thursday 18 to Sunday 21 October 2007, Karimabad
The Hunza Valley is magnificent.
Baltit Fort was probably built around 1230 CE to house the rulers of Hunza. Through marriage cultural influences from Baltistan, then part of the Tibetan Empire, were incorporated into the 15th century modifications. These influences included the carvings on the wooden beams and small doorways. The doorways served two purposes, firstly the Tibetans were small people and secondly they ensured everyone bowed when entering a room! The structure of the fort is quite common. It is made of wooden beams with stone in between covered by a mud surface. The combination of wood and stone helps to prevent major damage during earthquakes. This construction is still used in some areas today. Stones had been carved out to make cooking pots. These take some time to heat but also keep hot for a long time after. The fort was abandoned in 1945 for a more modern residence. It was restored by the Aga Khan Trust and opened as a museum in 1996. The tour of the fort is guided and while I was waiting for an English guide I talked to the ticket officer, Alamgir. He invited me to look at his farm after he finished work. He has a small patch of land where he grows various kinds of apples, cabbages, cattle and goat fodder and other vegetables. He also has a cow and some goats. His wife looks after the farm and she is very busy all the time.
I enjoyed my walk along the main canal. The whole valley is irrigated by glacier water running through various canals. The sides of the canals form pathways for the residents. Many of the young girls wanted their photo taken and one of them invited me for tea. The lounge room had both floor seating and chairs. The cushions were covered with tapestry done by one of the sisters-in-law. It was beautifully done.
I took a day trip up to Passu to see the glacier. After leaving the road I headed in what I thought was the right direction but the path petered out so I decided to cut across to a building I could see (the Glacier Breeze Restaurant as it turned out) . This meant going through thorn bushes, over stone fences and down slippery inclines until I came to a river. I just could not see a way across but in the distance a man waved indicating I should head downstream. Eventually I came to the road and a bridge just about 200 meters down from where I originally left the road! This was the right path. Ahmed said he would show me the way which was relatively easy. But I am not a great trekker and I had on sandals (I was expecting a jeep track right up to the glacier) so I was a bit slow. Then one sandal split in the middle. That is when I called it a day. Ahmed runs the Glacier Breeze Restaurant (see www.hunzavalleyexperience.com) and I had a lovely bowl of vegetable soup before setting off back to Passu to catch the bus back to Karimabad. I needed change for the bus and while the shopkeeper was sorting out the money I asked him when the next bus might come. There are no timetables but buses do tend to come by at relatively regular times. His answer - no more buses today. It was only 3:00pm! I did not want to stay in Passu. So I sat by the side of the road and put out my thumb when a car passed - 2 in 30 minutes. Then a jeep with tourists stopped. It looked quite full but I went over and asked if they were going to Karimabad and could I get a lift. They said it was OK, they just wanted to buy some snacks from the shop. I ended up getting out at the hotel where I was staying as their hotel was further along. From some almost disasters to good things. Isn't life grand.
Monday 22 October 2007, Gilgit
The trip to Gilgit was pretty ordinary. Once in Gilgit I replaced my sandals and bought a ticket to Skardu. I am now officially eligible for senior citizen discounts, pity there are none available at the moment!
Tuesday 23 October 2007, Skardu
The trip to Skardu was as scenic as I had expected, but only if you sit on the right hand side. It follows the Indus River with lots of white water and steep canyons. There was also one very big rock right in the middle of the road. I don't know when it fell but at least there was no vehicle underneath! There are a variety of bridges from the type where there is a platform suspended from a rope and goods or people are pulled across, to suspension bridges for people only, to short bridges of wood and metal plates to suspension bridges for vehicles. The suspension bridges are the most common. They allow one vehicle at a time doing 5 kilometers per hour. Every other car pushes in front of the trucks and the army takes precedence over everyone. At least there is usually a man at either end to ensure both sides get a fair chance, otherwise the next car is on the bridge 30 seconds before the previous car / truck is off, thus only allowing one way traffic. At one bridge I counted 12 trucks waiting to cross over. Photos of the bridges are not allowed.
There were two checkpoints on the way to Skardu. The first checkpoint reviewed the identity cards of all the Pakistanis, the second checkpoint also wanted my details. Usually it is only the foreigners who have to fill in a book!
Wednesday 24 October 2007, Khaplu
The river valley flattens out at Skardu providing a much wider view. I wanted to go on to Khaplu where I was told you could see the Masherbrum Mountains, however the only minibus was at 4:00pm. This meant I had time to walk up to the Kharphocho Fort. It is built of wooden beams with stone in between similar to many other forts and houses, It was closed but allowed some great panoramic views. I actually met the key holder on the way down but declined his offer of climbing back up to see inside. I was lucky to see several grooms going to the mosque to say special prayers. This part of the ceremony is for men only. The groom is all dressed in white with his face covered and a very colorful 'bib'. Later he will go to his wife's house to pick her up and take her to his house. Traditionally the bride wears red.
The bus eventually left close to 5:00pm and picked up any passengers on the way. The moonlight (almost full moon) on the water and mountains was very pretty. The road itself is only 14 years old, but as is normal in these parts, twists and turns following the Shyok River. The bus eventually arrived at 8:00 pm. There was apparently only one cheap hotel open so I booked in, had a lovely beef curry and went straight to bed. There was no hot water for a proper wash!
Thursday 25 to Friday 26 October 2007, Mashalu
The view from the hotel was not very good so I walked up to the expensive Karakorum Hotel and took photos from their roof. Four men digging foundations for a wall wanted their photo taken, It is easy to oblige when you have a digital camera with lots of memory. I watched 4 men sawing a large log. One on each end of the saw and one sitting on each end of the log. It worked. I also watched a chicken being slaughtered Halal style. First it's throat was cut and the blood drained into the waste water channel, it was then turned over to ensure all the blood had drained out. Chickens are sold by weight, not only to the end customer but also to the retailer. There was little else to do so I sat on the hotel verandah reading in the sun.
Shujaart Ali ( www.karakurummagic.com ) and Javaid Akhtar ( www.k2international.com.pk ) saw me sitting up there and came up to talk. They explained that you could not see Masherbrum from Khaplu but you could from there village of Mashalu. Since that was one of the reasons for coming this way I decided to go with them. Of course this involved first getting a permit which is only given if there is a guide with you. I had 2 so that was not a problem. Then at the checkpoint the army had changed the rules and we had to go back to another office to obtain a number. Finally we were on our way. Once again great scenery. The Shyok river is very wide where we crossed it. Most of the time it was crossed on a path through the river bed rocks but there was a suspension bridge at the start. I stayed at the Government Rest House, not a budget option but the only accommodation available. Dinner of tasty rice was brought up. The locals eat chapati, rice and potatoes sometimes accompanied by chicken or beef. There were plenty of blankets as I was the only guest but once again no hot water. I can understand this as wood is not readily available, electricity is problematic in such a small place and gas has to be brought in.
Friday was cloudy so no chance of seeing Masherbrum. I watched the start of a primary school day. The pupils gathered just below the Rest House. This started with the singing of the National Anthem led by a small group of boys with the rest of the school repeating the line. Then the children squatted down for roll call. Each child in each class has an English number to which they say "Yes Miss" or Yes Sir". There are 3 male teachers and 1 female teacher for 124 pupils. The children then marched off to class in a reasonably orderly fashion. Shujaart later explained that it was a private school half funded by a Spanish NGO, partly by the various business men in the village and partly by the male pupils. The girls are taught for free to encourage female education. Shujaart was one of the founders of the school and along with some colleagues the first to send their daughters to the school. The boys wear grey pants, green shirt and a tie. The girls wear traditional dress with a white shalwar and blue Kameez and white scarf. I would not have chosen white, although the colour combination is very popular as a school uniform throughout Pakistan. But Pakistan is such a dusty place it is impossible to keep white clean, therefore it ends up grey.
Once the children were in school I went for a walk to try and photograph the autumn leaves. On the way back I saw a group of women sifting the chaff from the wheat. Naturally I wanted a photo but they refused and I ended up helping them with the detailed picking out of the debris. It is a communal effort with some women coming for a short time and others spending all day there. The process starts with someone taking wheat into a wooden oblong tray with 3 sides, standing up and letting the wheat fall. The breeze sends the chaff away from the wheat. The chaff lands on a hessian bag and the wheat falls onto the tarpaulin where most of the work is done. When I tried it everything fell onto the tarpaulin! The sifted wheat is then sorted through by hand looking for chaff, un-ripened wheat and especially near the end small stones. Even so many small stones ended up in the final bags. I managed the detailed sorting but was much more meticulous than the others and therefore much slower. I gave everyone endless enjoyment. Not only was I useless at the initial sifting of the chaff from the wheat but I am also very stiff and inflexible compared to the local women. They can place their legs in the most compact manner and still lean over to work. I could not lift the full bags of sorted wheat either! Passersby, both men and women, had comments to make which caused much laughter. It was great fun even though it is dirty dusty work.
Then there was an earth tremor. Some of the women jumped off the roof so quickly they almost flew off. The rest of us stayed and held onto each other. I could actually see the progress of the tremor through the mountains because of the puffs of dust from small landslides. I later learnt that in the next valley 3 villages suffered considerable damage, 1 young girl died and several people were injured. The villages have also been cut off because of the earthquake. I am glad we were on the edge of the earthquake. The north of Pakistan is unstable because it is where the Indian and Eurasian plates meet and push against each other.
The children are very agile. They (boys and girls) have to climb trees to knock down the leaves. These are eaten by the cows and goats. They are also collected and stored for winter fodder.
Tourists are spoiling the people though. The children have learnt to ask for rupees and pens. One high school girl actually started to look through my bag for a pen! They are not begging per se but because of the behavior of tourists they now have certain expectations.
Saturday 27 October 2007, Gilgit
I was up early this morning to catch the jeep (Toyota 4x4) back to Skardu. It was not as cloudy as yesterday but I still could not see Masherbrum. There were no problems at the Khaplu checkpoint even though I was a day late leaving. Seems the problem is to enter not leave. I had thought of staying for the night in Skardu to have a hot shower but on checking my finances realized that I may have to continue until I reach Rawalpindi. Unfortunately we only have 1 debit card which works and then only at a Standard Chartered Bank found only in the larger cities. This meant traveling straight on to Gilgit. I was once again on the right hand side so could see very little of the river valley. I could see lots of very large rocks sitting in the dust on the mountain side. It would not take much of an earth tremor to send them all the way down onto the road! The road went under a few waterfalls that I did not remember from my trip in. After 12 hours on the road I was ecstatic to find that the bus fare to Rawalpindi was less than expected and allowed me to stay for the night in Gilgit. I was able to have a lovely hot shower and wash my hair. The next hot shower will be in SA!
Sunday 28 October to Thursday 8 November 2007, Rawalpindi
I slept late as I intended to take an overnight bus and arrive in Rawalpindi midmorning. The bus takes 15 to 16 hours. However Ayub from Life Adventure Tours offered me a lift which I accepted as it would be much quicker. It still cost the same as the bus though and took 14 hours. This meant I arrived at 5:00 am and had to rouse the night watchman at the Al Azam Hotel. It may actually have been better to go by bus. There was another passenger as well who got off at Manshera. There were some benefits. We stopped so I could take a photo of the 3 mountain ranges meeting (Karakorum, Himalaya and Hindu Kush) plus some Buddhist etchings in rocks right on the highway near Chilas. You have to know they are there as they are not very visible. After Manshera I lay down on the back seat and managed to sleep a little.
I was very impressed with the reflective material on the back of the trucks. It made them stand out dramatically. All the drivers were much more courteous than during day time which certainly helped prevent accidents.
The first few days in Rawalpindi I spent doing very little, mainly sleeping, after withdrawing some money of course and taking Pieter the card so he could have the Land Rover serviced. After that it is down to reading books, playing computer games and talking to the occasional hotel guest. I did visit the Rose and Jasmine Garden only to discover everything had been pulled up and was in the process of being revamped. I also had two lovely evening meals with Chris and Mags. They cycled on a tandem through some of the 'stans', China and then down the Karakorum Highway on their way to Nepal. They intend to be back in England for Christmas and still have many kilometers to cover. I wish them the best of luck.
The marriage season starts at the end of Eid. Musicians wait outside the marriage halls waiting to be hired. They use drums to celebrate the marriage. The dress is pretty standard so presumably traditional. The main car used for the wedding is decorated with lots of fresh flowers in Pindi.
The last night I had dinner with Shabbir Cheema. He is very knowledgeable about anthropology and the relationships between various groups of people. Apparently the northern Pakistanis, especially around Kalash, and the Swedish people come from the same original stock. He is of the "Aryan' race himself. It was an interesting evening.
Friday 9 to Monday 12 November, 2007 Peshawar
I decided to go by train to Peshawar as I have not yet traveled by this method in Pakistan. I had already checked the timetable and was warned that trains tended to be late so I was prepared to wait. I wanted to catch the 14:50 train. It finally arrived at 15:40 but had to wait for a platform until 16:00! Still not too bad by Pakistani expectations. I actually found it a frustrating and unnerving experience because none of the officials knew anything i.e. what time the train would arrive nor the platform. There were lots of trains coming and going and obviously I could not understand the Urdu announcements. In the end I stood just near Enquiries, the only people who had the information and asked to be told when the train arrived at a platform and which one. The ticket I had bought was for a sleeper carriage. There were 3 tiers of beds facing each other in a row down one side. Along the other side there were two tiers end to end. All the top bunks were down and used for luggage. The middle bed was hooked up so people could sit. Unfortunately for me the headrest attached to the middle bed is too fat and right in the middle of my head resulting in my head being forced down. Not very comfortable. In the end I put by back against the carriage wall and my feet,without shoes, up on the seat. Perfectly acceptable to everyone. The carriage was not that crowded and as people got on and off at the stations the people sharing the compartment changed. The journey itself took 4 hours arriving in Peshawar at 20:00. The Rose Hotel where I intended staying is very close to the station so I decided to walk. I was sent in the wrong direction! Eventually I caught a taxi. I will return to Pindi by train though as the stations are within walking distance of both the Rose Hotel in Peshawar and the Al Azam in Pindi.
Prince is a guide who had been called in by the Hotel to offer his services. I agreed to go with him to Takat-i-Bahi on Sunday. I also mentioned to the hotel that I would be prepared to share my room to reduce costs.
After a wonderful hot shower I had a good sleep in the next morning then went out to explore the bazaars. Before I left I was told there was a woman, Mira, prepared to share. Mira had arrived on the overnight bus from Lahore. She and Prince had waited for me to wake up but eventually left for the Khyber Pass. They expected to return around 4pm.
As usual there are several bazaars which merge into one another, each specializing in different goods, some I have not seen on sale before! Such as birds and ready made dentures. Single teeth were also on display. It is the first time I have seen sewing machines on sale as well but since every tailor uses hand powered machines, this must only be because I have not been in the right place. The shoe makers all seem to make and sell their own hand work. The best was the butcher. He held the knife between his legs and cut the meat into small chunks that way. Talk about a sword is rather literal here! I visited the Mahabat Khan Mosque with its many painted wall panels. It was built in 1630 by the governor of Peshawar under the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.
The night was for relaxing in front of the TV in my room. I wanted to catch up on the news and asked which channel Al Jazeera was on. I prefer their news program to CNN as it seems more balanced. Guess what? Since the state of Emergency declared last Saturday ALL news programs have been banned! Oh well there are always movies and soaps. Prince and Mira eventually arrived at 9pm and we then spent a good hour talking. Mira had already seen many Buddhist shrines and decided to sleep the next morning.
The next day, Sunday, was spent with Prince. I was up for an 8 am start and left Mira sound asleep, rather like myself the day before. The day was to be spent visiting several Gandhara Buddhist sites. The Gandhara and the ancient Peshawar Valley is first mentioned in the Rig-Veda as the cradle of Buddhist civilization. The artists of the various sites took their inspiration from Greek, Roman and Persian art. The sites are also mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang in the 6th century CE. It was part of Darius' empire in the 6th century BCE. Later Alexander the Great passed through on his way to conquer India. You never seem to get away from these two men! Pakistan also has had many Chinese travellers and influence over the centuries.
First stop was a small sugar factory on a farm. The farmer grows the sugar cane. It is then crushed in a larger version of the machine which produces sugar cane juice. The juice is fed into a very large pot where it is boiled. The resulting 'sludge' is lifted out and rolled into balls (refer to photo). It tastes like caramelised sugar and is often used in milky tea to give it that lovely flavour. Much nicer than the over processed white sugar used in the west.
Takht-i-bahi was next in the itinery. Takhat means a rocky ridge and Bahi means spring. The spring still exists and the rocky ridge is still there and covered in various monastic buildings such as the main Stupa, a court of votive stupas, an assembly hall, meditation rooms, monks rooms and secular buildings. These are all built on different spurs of the ridge. It was built around the 2nd century BCE using stone laid on mud and lime mortar. and has been able to withstand the seismic activity in the area (with some reconstruction). It is the best preserved Gandhara Buddhist site and is included in the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List. The various statues recovered from the site are spread across the world with quite a few in the Peshawar museum.
On the way through to Jamal Garhai we visited family of Prince. The children loved the idea of having their photo taken, but once again not the women.
Jamal Garhai was built by Asoka in the 3rd century BCE and destroyed by the Huns in the 6th century CE. The views are apparently magnificent but there was far too much mist.
Shahbaz Garhi was also built by Asoka in the 3rd century BCE after his conversion to Buddhism. The inscriptions are from Buddhist literature, espousing moral principles, religious tolerance and piety (dharma) as enunciated by Buddha in a script called Kharoshti. Unfortunately very little of the script remains visible.
The last day in Peshawar was spent at the museum looking at the various Buddha statues on display. Originally they were made of stone but increased demand led to the use of Stucco in the 3rd and 4th century CE and then terracotta. The Buddha is depicted in 4 different poses - meditation, teaching, reassurance and occasionally the turning of the wheel. Later Prince took me to an amusement park. The locals only arrived at about 9:00pm but they all had great fun on the same sort of rides you find the world over.
Tuesday 13 to Thursday 14 November, 2007 Rawalpindi and Islamabad
This time the train trip was taken during the day time. I decided to take a single seat and leave the "compartments" for families. Many of the women boarded the train in burkas. They ensured their privacy by tying shawls across the entrance to the "compartments". This way they could uncover their faces. Of course the police and the ticket collectors all looked over the shawls anyway.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent preparing for the SA trip. Thursday night was spent in the van at the campground and Friday morning spent packing. A taxi to the airport and the normal waiting began.
Friday 15 November to Thursday 20 December 2007, South Africa
Etihad Airlines is great. We had our own footrests and TV. There is a rule about turning off cell phones particularly during take off and landing. Seems no-one heard this rule because as we approached and landed at Abu Dhabi just about every person had a cell phone which went off - a welcome message from Etisalat cellular provider. We had a 10 hour stay at Abu Dhabi airport plus the plane was late due to fog. The airport was extremely busy as everyone else was also delayed including many groups of pilgrims going to Mecca on Haj. Each group of women had their distinctive head covering. The men were all dressed in two white pieces of cloth - rather cold in the air conditioning. Seats were at a premium and slightly more secluded areas of the floor were covered with sleeping passengers. The armrests of the seats cannot be put up so everyone had to sleep sitting up.
The airport building is fantastic, very well laid out and modern. It is also rather pricy, along European lines.
We finally arrived in SA about 11:00 am. David had been following the arrival times and was there right on time.
The time just flew by. We spent the first week with David and Norah in the spacious flat they are purchasing together. Then a week in the Formula 1 at Southgate visiting our old haunts and nearby friends. One of whom lent us her car during the day. Another 2 weeks with David and Norah but this time we hired a car as transport from their flat only goes to the centre of Johannesburg. The last few days were back at the Formula Inn this time at Southgate. The flats where Norah and David stay only allow 4 people and Pieter Frank had come to visit. The Formula 1 was fully booked and we only managed to get into the Formula Inn because Pieter booked ahead. 16 December is traditionally the time when everyone leaves Johannesburg and heads to the coast (still mostly whites) or family homes throughout the country (still mostly blacks). Everyone returns in time for the new school year..
The major differences I found was the self confidence of the black population. They seem to have taken their place as equals to other population groups. Of course this is based on the scene in Johannesburg, the major commercial hub. Prices have rocketed, I am not sure we could afford to live in SA anymore. The difference between costs in Pakistan and SA truly highlighted the price hikes. The infrastructure has deteriorated with quite a few potholes in the roads. As for electricity, there was supposed to be planned maintenance but some cold weather and poor maintenance resulted in rolling electricity outages while Eskom desperately tried to get it all sorted out. Many businesses had to close during the outages resulting in lost trade right in the middle of their busiest season.. Politics is much the same. Mbeki has become more autocratic over the years and alienated his own party. Jacob Zuma is closer to being brought up on criminal charges for corruption but has the charisma to obtain the support of the ANC. Even though he did his Zulu duty and raped a woman because she visited him in a short skirt, the ANC Women's League still voted for him. There are several very competent black women and although they would not have been voted in as ANC leader this time round I feel the League had a duty to propose them. The League has let the women of SA down.
We managed to spend quite some time with both boys and visit quite a few old friends. Others we missed because they were gallivanting around the globe or just too busy with the Christmas season almost upon them. All in all we had a fabulous time. We will have to try and return sooner next time.
The plane was delayed. Seems to be par for the course with Etihad Airways, but then the prices are low. The passengers were given the last call to board the plane, so everyone dutifully got into line. Unfortunately the plane was not ready, so the queue did not move for over half an hour. Eventually we boarded but not before a group of young Afrikaners managed quite a few games of cards
Abu Dhabi airport was not as busy this time round thank heavens. They even had a choir singing Christmas songs. It was a lovely sight.
Friday 21 December to Tuesday 25 December 2007, Islamabad, Pakistan
We actually arrived late Thursday evening and went straight to bed. Friday was quiet on the streets, This is a bit unusual but we pottered around and there were enough shops open to obtain basic supplies. Then Saturday was also quiet. This is unheard of. Pakistanis are always up and around. We found out that it was large Eid. The major pilgrimage (Hajj) time is after Ramadan, hence all the pilgrims when we left. Once those who were able to go return everyone celebrates by eating lots of meat. Many sheep and goats are slaughtered. Gradually the traders returned to open their shops and by Monday trade was in full swing again.
Wednesday 26 December 2007, 30k from Lahore
First stop was Rohtas Fort near the town of Dina. It was started in 1543 by the Pashtun ruler Sher Shah Suri to protect the strategic Peshawar to Calcutta Road from the Mughals. The area inside the walls is massive. There is a village straggling around the walls which go on for 4 kilometres. Very interesting.
The idea was to reach Lahore before dark but at Jhelum we ran into an election rally. The cars, trucks and motor bikes sporting a green flag with portraits on them went on for kilometres - one for each side of the road. It took forever to get past it. The road itself is being rebuilt in places, is potholed in others and there are stretches of good road. You still do not want to travel in the dark though. We stopped at a service station for the night.
Thursday 26 to Friday 27 December 2007, Lahore
Pieter tried to drop me outside the hotel I had been told about. After going around in circles looking for the flower stalls we decided I would walk. We knew it was close by. If you are walking it is easy to find the flower shop (notice the singular) but it is impossible to see it from the main street, no wonder we could not find it. Pieter went off over the border while I intended to spend a few days seeing the city. Since I had arrived early I was able to see the Qawwali music (Islamic devotional singing) at the Data Sahib Shrine in the afternoon. Another guest, Osgur, came along as well. It was very interesting. Various groups performed singing songs to the tabla (drums) and harmonium. People gave money to the performers especially the last few, showering money over the floor and friends. There were dignitaries who were given leis and flowers in greeting. These they put back almost immediately to be used for the next dignitary. One man in particular was very fast to remove the flower leis. Sweet fried dough balls (tastes like koeksusters) were handed out to everyone and rose water sprayed around. There was much coming and going but some of the audience really concentrated on the music. After the prayers we went upstairs to look at the shrine. Data Ganj Bakhsh is from the 11th century and was one of the most successful Sufi teachers. He is considered one of the most notable Sufi saints. People touched the tomb and prayed there. Then we started walking back to the hotel but diverted to have a meal, a good mutton curry. We had finished the meal and were busy paying while the restaurant was being closed. This was very strange as it was just after dark, the time for night life to begin! Management would not let us out, there was trouble in the streets and we should go back upstairs and sit down. Benazir Bhutto had just been assassinated! We sat around for a while until the streets were very quiet and then quickly walked back to the hotel. Some posters had been ripped down but anyone on the street was walking purposefully home and there were very few cars. The ones around were in a hurry. The hotel was locked but they let us in when we rang the bell.
So much for seeing Lahore!
Friday none of the guests went out. The staff went and bought food so there was some trading going on but the shops were closed and there were police everywhere in the Mall (main street). Most of the guests smoked and we sat around talking. There were lots of power cuts and the Internet did not work very well but this is apparently normal. The worst affected was a French couple who had just arrived from India after endless trouble obtaining a Pakistani visa. They decided to return to India.
6 of us were on our way to India. So on Saturday 4 of us hired a taxi to the border 30k away as we had been told no buses were running. 2 others decided to try their luck with the buses, They ended up hiring a rickshaw. Lahore was still closed down although a few shops were open. Outside in the countryside life continued with shops open and people on the streets.
The border was reasonable. Baggage was searched by the Pakistanis though and we all had a body search.
|Averages||Rand||Rupee||Euro||USD||Back to Iran||Next to India|
|Cost per litre diesel||4.28||37||0.49||0.63|
|Camping per night||11.56||100||1.32||1.69|
|Hotel per night||31.99||277||3.65||4.68|
|Kilometers traveled||6 170|
|Days in country||88|