overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Escaped, temporarily!

Written by Martin Pitwood. Uploaded 15 February 2006.

Pakistan, Country 14, Diary entry 7th-10th Dec 2005, Total distance in Pakistan: 4867km

So finally we managed to escape our 5 star captors and said fond farewells to Doc Mansur and Susan before heading off into the distance... and only 5 minutes up the road towards the ATM we found Taimur coming the other way, so he waited while we got some money and we had to do the farewell thing again with him before he led us out towards the main road and we were on our way out of Karachi.

It takes a while to get out of the city; it is a big sprawling mass, but finally we found the highway to take us towards Lahore and it was a decent road... for the first 150km or so. From there on it was a dreadful road! There were stretches of 20 or 30km where the road was "under construction" - read that as the road was totally missing and we were driving through dirt, trying to see though the dust chucked up by the lorries. On several occasions we made good use of the off-road capabilities of our vehicles where some ambitious lorry drivers had tried to overtake when it plainly wasn't going to work, causing everything in both directions to grind to a halt. We could go round on the bits of dirt too lumpy for everyone else, but still it made for pretty slow going.

We were heading for our first overnight stop in a small town called Sukkur where we'd been recommended to stay by our Karachi friends, but despite the fact that this is where they always stay when they drive north, nobody could tell us with any confidence how long it should take us to get there. No hang on a minute, I'll correct that, everybody gave us answers with great confidence but all the answers were different! We were told 8 hours, 9 hours, or even the wonderfully non-committal "4 to 6 or 7 hours"! It ended up taking us about eight and a half hours before we arrived at the recommended hotel, only to find that they would not let us camp in their grounds like we'd been promised! The rooms were a little out of our budget too so we asked where else we could try and we were told "Circuit House" and given directions.

We arrived at Circuit House and went inside to ask if we could camp somewhere and after some language barriers we got our point across, but we were told to go round the corner to another part of Circuit House. Curiouser and curiouser. We asked at the gate round the corner and were told to come in - this was obviously something military - and we ended up talking to Mr. Khoso who is the District Commanding Officer of the region's military forces! We explained what we're doing and that we were just looking for somewhere to camp, and he said "you will be my guests"! After a cup of tea and a slice of particularly nice cake, during which we told him of our plans to head up to Gilgit ("my friend is DCO there" and called him to tell him we were coming!) we were taken round to the first part of Circuit House and shown to a room where we were to stay the night. Then one of the staff took us to the restaurant across the road for an evening meal! So our first night out of the protective custody of Karachi and we fall right on our feet! Sukkur is on the banks of the Indus River, it is very wide at this point and fishing is a big industry here so we tried one of the fish. It was very nice but better was the chicken handi which we all agreed was delicious.

With another long day's driving ahead of us we set off early, our plan being to reach Multan for the evening. Soon after setting off Maz received a phone call from one of the Karachi crowd to check we were OK during which she mentioned we were going to Multan. Less than an hour later she got on the radio to me to say she'd received a call from Aamir in Lahore, that he'd heard we were going to Multan, that he had a friend there and that he'd called him and told him to expect us! The spider's web catches us again!

The roads were as bad if not worse than before. One part of the road was so completely missing that we had to take a detour through narrow village lanes and then farm roads to get past the missing bit and back onto the road - it was only because of all the buses doing the same that we had any confidence we were going the right way.

On one of the few decent stretches the police decided it was a good place for a speed trap and letting Alex and Maz through, frantically waved me over. I stopped, but didn't really know if I had been speeding or not - if I had, it was by a few km/h though as the road wasn't THAT good! So I wound down the window and asked if there was a problem, to which the policeman said "no problem, we just wondered if you'd like to stop for a cup of tea"! I said that I was travelling with another car ("oh yes we saw them too") so I explained that it'd be better if I caught them up otherwise they'd wonder what had happened to me! Though it was a bizarre situation it was nice to see that "normal" Pakistanis have the same sense of hospitality as our hosts in Karachi, that it's not limited to the more affluent or more educated types. In fact we got waved through many of the toll booths along the road, and at one when I tried to offer money the man replied "In Pakistan you are a guest!" - it was very humbling.

Mumtaz and his familyFinally we arrived in Multan after another long 8 hour drive, the entire way overtaking pedestrians, bicycles, horse carts and tractors ferrying agricultural whatever from one place to another. The whole region is extremely intensively farmed and for the whole drive we didn't see a single patch of bare land. The only other exciting part of the drive was when a tractor suddenly and without warning decided to turn right just as Alex was overtaking it, missing him by millimetres, which gave us all a good adrenaline boost.

The friend in Multan was called Mumtaz and we met him and his family at his house for a well-needed cup of tea (the adrenaline had long worn off) before we all went out for dinner. Multan exists to serve the agriculture industries in the surrounding area and as such is very much a working town, but strangely there was one restaurant called Zanzibar which was very modern-looking with chrome and neon decorations and it was absolutely packed. We had to wait a few minutes for a table big enough for the eight of us. We decided to go for the all-you-can-eat buffet, always a good option as far as I'm concerned, especially in this case because there was Chinese and Pakistani food on offer and it's not often you get to mix the two (it was nicer than it sounds!). There was also a good range of desserts of which I had to sample each one :)

After the meal we returned to Mumtaz's house and collected our overnight bags from our cars, left them there and then he drove us to his mother's house a couple of km away which was to be our accommodation for the night - a whole house to ourselves with security guard and everything! We were all knackered though so we didn't throw any wild parties but just went to bed.

Us with Mumtaz's familyAfter being collected by Mumtaz's driver and taken back to the house we had a lovely breakfast (traditional Pakistani, lots of parathas and a sampling of the very nice halva puree) and then said our goodbyes to Mumtaz and family, and got on the road again for a third long stretch of driving. Just after leaving Multan we turned north off the main Lahore road as we were heading for Islamabad, and though the roads we took were not major roads and were crowded with bicycles, they seemed easier because there were few trucks, no buses and the roads were consequently in better condition, but there was still a long distance to cover. After 5 hours of these small roads we finally reached the motorway and we could relax! The motorway joins Lahore to Islamabad and was built in the last couple of years, against the protests of many people who said the money could be much better spent. It takes quite a wide arc bypassing the many towns that have sprung up along the older Grand Trunk Road, and as a result of this there is very little traffic indeed on this glorious 6 lane smooth highway (though maybe the 150 rupee toll also puts a lot of people off). Apart from one short stretch where the road winds its way up the side of a plateau it is easy to cruise at 100km/h which was just wonderful.

Islamabad is a new city, created as the country's capital when it was decided that Karachi was too far from the centre. It has a very modern feel, though artificial like Washington D.C. or Canberra and it is based on a grid, it is divided into blocks and sub-blocks and someone's address is of the romantic format House 24, Street 8, F8. It makes it easy to find stuff at least, once you get the hang of it. We didn't get the hang of it straight away so were driving around for 20 minutes looking for the landmarks we'd been given to navigate by, but finally we found our way to our destination.

Our host in Islamabad was a guy called Amjad who is also a member of the Offroad Club but due to business commitments was not able to make the trip through Balochistan with us. We did meet him in Karachi at the soirée at the Omar residence and again the following night at a restaurant, by chance. He works in the oil industry and was in Karachi on business with some Chinese colleagues, but normally their work is in Islamabad where Amjad has a guesthouse which the Chinese were using as a base for their office and living space. They had kindly agreed to allow us to use some spare rooms overnight during our time in the city.

When we arrived at the guest house the Chinese guys were there busy working and they promptly invited us out for dinner! They said there are two good Chinese restaurants in Islamabad and they were taking us to their favourite. All was arranged for later that evening and then we contacted a contact of Doc Mansur's who promised to take us to the army supply stores in Rawalpindi (about half an hour from Islamabad) to get some warmer clothes.

We went in the back of a small minibus with the major and his driver, whose style made me glad that I'm driving my own car most of the time, and we got to Rawalpindi and the market. Unfortunately the warm coats were all US camouflage pattern fresh from the black market in Afghanistan, and we decided that it wouldn't be the best idea to go into the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan looking like an American soldier! Fortunately back home my parents had found a nice warm down jacket for me which my brother would be bringing out to India, so as long as I could survive Pakistan I'd be properly equipped for Tibet which we are expecting to be REALLY cold. Our trip to Rawalpindi wasn't wasted though; we each bought some lovely army green sweatshirts and jogging bottoms to use as pyjamas. They are really warm and when we are all wearing them we look très sexy!

We got back to Islamabad in time for food. Having spent a week in a factory in China a few years ago I was a little apprehensive about what the food would be like, I certainly wasn't expecting anything like Chinese food in Europe or the States, but I certainly didn't expect so much chilli! There was a chicken dish coated in some spices and fried, it was possibly the hottest thing I have ever tasted, and it had to be eaten carefully because of the shards of bone hidden inside. There were hundred year old eggs, which tasted like eggs but were black, couldn't see what the fuss was about, there was a dish described as "green beans" but it was 50% red because of the chilli peppers, and the pièce de resistance was a fish dish which was strikingly decorated in small slices of green and red chillis. It was only after that initial shock did I notice that it was only the fish's head! No idea where the body went, probably fed to the cats in the alley. All of this was washed down by a bottle of "Chinese mineral water", Pakistan being a dry country and all. The "water" blew my head off though so it must have had some strong minerals!

The next day I paid another Toyota pilgrimage. It seemed that my car was too easily going into a skid when braking heavily and on investigation underneath I found that the braking load sensor which had been fixed in Karachi was bent out of shape again! The cause is the auxiliary fuel pump added in the UK, when the suspension articulates it hits this sensor - a similar problem to what Alex experienced in Egypt, except in his case it broke the pump. Toyota were not too helpful. I wanted to order a replacement sensor but they couldn't tell me the price, which bits could be ordered or how long it would take! But I did get a better understanding of how the sensor works, so in the end I bent it out of shape so the braking performed as expected. If I ever drive the car without the heavy stuff in the back it'll be wrong, but I can't imagine that happening any time soon! I tested the brakes the moment I saw a Dunkin' Donuts at the side of the road and popped in for a coffee (not great) and a doughnut (great), and stopped again at a couple of DVD shops on the way home to check out the dodgy 100 rupee movies.

That evening Amjad took us and the Chinese to an Afghan restaurant at the Jinnah Super. It consisted of quite a mix of different things - kebabs (it had been quite a while since our last!!), salads, steamed veg-filled dumplings which were LOVELY etc. and we thoroughly gorged ourselves on the good food (the pile of kebab skewers next to my plate being a bit of a giveaway but I managed to merge it with Maz's pile so it didn't look too bad :) ), but despite our best efforts there was still a load left over. We were a little shy about taking it with us but one of the Chinese guys seemed to sense we'd be interested so he asked for it all to be boxed up and the next morning it was all there in Alex's fridge as sustenance for the long drive up the Karakoram Highway into the mountains.

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Comment from Ant.
Well it looks like a subtle change of direction... just because you're not getting much diving in, it seems to have become a gastranomic tour de force! That's really cruel when I'm sitting at my desk eating my own sandwiches... think I'll have to go out on Friday for a Nepalese meal in Tunbridge Wells in your honour!

How are the waistlines coping with only eating, driving and sleeping?

btw love the blonde hair Martin, very Essex, bet the dark roots have grown through by now!!!
15 Feb 2006 @ 14:02:29

Comment from Scooter
the bit about "the all-you-can-eat buffet, " reminded me of Pizza Hut and our dive club trips there for the salad bar for 'all you could stack up in a dish' ;0) clearly some habits die hard as your chinese take away shows...
15 Feb 2006 @ 21:25:18