samnstew

8 – 19 October: Armed escort into Pakistan at the Mirjaveh – Taftan land border & the road across to Lahore

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We were handed over to the last crew and they even took us all round the various offices and rooms we had to go through to get the immigration and customs completed to exit Iran. No fixers here and no crowds either. There were mostly freight drivers, and we didn’t spot another tourist all day.

The Tourist Information officer posted here, spoke good English and insisted we call at his office, so he could give us a booklet on the province, Baluchistan, and take a couple of photos too. The last stop was to get the carnet stamped out, and here again we were guided through the process, no hassles at all. We were able to sit in the shade for the last check before crossing over, and even given some juicy grapes to munch on. The escort finally said we were cleared to go, and they waved us off to the Pakistan gates…

And so we were finally through the gate into Pakistan, and we were immediately greeted by equally friendly border guards and personal. First into the immigration office, and again only a handful of people crossing here. The clock on the wall said 3pm (1.5 hrs in front of Iran – which was great for daylight hours in the evening), and we also knew that we definitely wouldn’t be going any further than this today. The locals were clearly very different, and nearly all had a better grasp of English – so we felt rather bad at knowing very little Urdu (though we did know a few words of greetings and thanks). The male dress we saw, was either the typical Pakistani long shirt and baggy pants or standard military dress, and everyone was so friendly again. As our passports were being checked in immigration the first Levies officer arrived (They being a cross between military and police; and wore a black long shirt, with epaulettes of the Levies division). We even had our photos taken, and I was asked to remove my helmet, and so found out that I no longer needed to wear the Muslim headscarf. Outside there were a few money change guys too, and we needed to get some Rupees – they were also friendly (even more so making a few fat Rupees at the border unofficial rates). We’d checked before getting here that 100 Eu should give us around 11500 Rupees. We were offered 9000 – no way, and we were walking away, so he said okay – okay 9500. I showed what I had written in my book, and said 10000 Rupees, He said yes too quickly! But the deed was done. We also got 1250 Rupees for our last 500000 rials, so plenty to get us on our way. The Levies man got us on our bike, leading on his small 125….just 200 m up the road to the next check area. Here we were motioned to park the bike, and we were gestured to enter a small concrete cabin. It was pretty basic, mud floor, small desk (with a laptop covered with a cloth headscarf), a couple of tin chairs, a bench seat against the wall. A gas bottle stove, a few plates and a pottery water vessel. It was pleasantly cool inside, though the guys put the electric fan on for us. There were 3 of them, and all spoke some English – and ‘asalaam alaikum’ all round. We had to wait a while in here, and several people came and went, and then someone who could enter the computer info came in. All our details were entered manually into ledgers too, and our photograph taken again. We’d also had to sign a paper for the Levies escort too. Everyone was friendly, and we were even offered fresh Iran dates – Stew had some, though I declined, I don’t really like dates. Then finally all was declared done, our Levies escort returned, and we followed him on the bike again, and passed our first view of the very colourfully decorated Pakistan trucks. This time we were taken to the Taftan-Levies compound. Large steel gates were opened and we were ushered inside. It was pretty evident that this was going to be as far as we got today, our resting place for the night.

It was a secure compound, with several delapidated and sad looking vehicles. After parking up the bike, we were shown into an office room, and over the next hour several people came and went, taking passport details, making photos of them, and us (again, twice), and writing out notes. We sat and read our books for quite a while. Stew was taken off with the carnet, and also managed to get that stamped, while I conversed with one of the government staff (a middle aged man, in a khaki Pakistan shirt). I learned his family was 500 km from here, and he had 7 children 6 boys and 1 girl. He worked 2 months here, then got 10 days off home. He asked about our family too. They all dissappeared for a while, so Stew escorted me to the communal squat toilet – it wasn’t too bad, but he said there was a much smellier one in the cell next door. We snapped a couple of quick photos. When the guys returned, they asked we move the bike, and ended up putting in by the wall next to their open air prayer garden mosque.

We retired to the room, with our sleeping bags, and sorted ourselves some egg and tomato sandwiches for dinner, from our supplies. Then a large group of people arrived, milling round outside, so by 7.30pm we’d locked ourselves into the room we’d been provided with, at the Taftan-Levies police quarters. It was the police boss’ office, we were told. Hopefully we’d get some sleep, and off on the road to Quetta in the morning with our Levies escort. Though by now with the crowd of people gathered out in the compound yard it was quite noisy. Having arrived after dark, we really didn’t want to venture out to investigate (I had the feeling I was the only female around)!

We both slept really well considering the circumstances. I heard the early morning mosque call, and then the birds twittering – it was still so dark outside, but just about breaking dawn when my alarm went off at 6.30am. Stew was still sleeping soundly, so after the snooze alarm I turned over and checked the time on his watch, it was 6.45am: We were supposed to be ready for 7.30am (we thought), so started our morning reveille, making a cuppa and having some fruit for brekkie. We opened the doors in full daylight around 7.25am, and found several of the Levies also up getting ready for their day, teas and breakfasts too.

It turned out to be quite a remarkable day…..even though in the end we didn’t make a start on the road till 9am!! We just sat patiently outside or in, reading our books and just waiting to be told when we were heading off. One of the vehicles, a blue Toyota ute was being checked over, water in the radiator, windscreen wiped of desert dust. Then at last our support crew were ready, an elder scrawny chap, with a headscarf wrapped like a turban, and an older guy were in the pickup cab, while two younger guys with a Levies baseball caps were riding along with their AK47’s in the open back of the UTE.

It was another intruiging day of escorted passage, today flanking the Afghanistan border, as far as Dalbandin (half way to Quetta). The 350 km stretch was interspersed with stations of the Taftan Rifles all along the route, and we were pretty much following an old railway line too. Every so often there were checkpoints and we were pulled over to a halt. Our Levies came over and mostly I had to climb off the bike with our passports, go into a shady outpost box, and fill out a ledger with all our passport and visa details. It was like a ‘duty of care’ – line of progress as we made our way towards Quetta. After the first stop, Stew was able to ask the elder Levie, that we needed petrol, so not much further along, they stopped again at another mud hut. We were soon brought out 1.5 l plastic bottles of petrol. They were a friendly group of guys and young lads, all known to the Levies, and after the fuel fill we were even brought over small dishes of sweet hot tea.

The first 100 km the road was pretty rough in places, we were getting bounced and shook all over the place, and then we hit some sand dunes too – so we wobbled quite a bit getting through on our road tyres.

The day was pretty clear and bright, and not too hot or uncomfortable. A lot of the day there was a decent breeze across the vast expanse of desert, and dust devils were like sprites dancing their way across the sands, as we danced our way between the potholes. The scenery was mesmersing, changing desert landscapes, and even shimmering mirages, After about 100 km stretches, we were driven into the next Levies station, where crews and vehicles were changed, the preceeding group returning to their base. At least this gave Stew chance to…. get off the bike for a leg stretch and rest too. The facilities were mostly pretty basic though – with electrics always looking dodgy

At each place most of the men spoke some English, and we were always well greeted, and pretty much asked the same questions; what was our country, are we married, how old we were, how many children, what are our jobs – and where were we going. We generally reciprocated, finding out that most of the men were married with up to 6 children, one of the guys even had 2 wives. At the first levies station, a young officer spoke quite good English, and Stew ended up giving him his Mexican skull bracelet (it seemed much appreciated, and like it had gone to a good home), as was asking about our ID bands and the other things Stew had on his wrist.

So we set off again, out of the small town passed the petrol station and local bus stop, trying load even more into an already loaded bus!! And onto more spectacular desert road scenery.

This image caputured so much – the petrol drums, motorbike, camel and graffitti on the mudshack!

By 3.30pm we’d reached another Levies station about 50 km before Dalbandin, and here we were welcomed inside a large room with comfy chairs and a carpet (everything else had been mud/concrete huts to this point). We had both pretty much had enough for one day – we’d had little to eat, and only some swigs of water, and really didn’t want to go much further. So we were glad to hear the intention was we slept at a hotel when we got to Dalbandin, and so with our last support crew of the day we headed off. It was an old slow Toyota diesel pick up, that even had a big Pelican bird tied up in the back – we set off and crawled along at between 50 – 60 kph. It was painfully slow and going to take another hour to cover the distance (as the road was reasonably good, and we could have gone much faster), and our achy bums were definitely getting to their limit of endurance for the day. We were well relieved when we finally pulled into the secure compound at the rear of the dusty desert Al Dawood hotel.

The Levies crew soon bade farwell, leaving one officer to stay with us for the night (with his AK47), and the hotel staff. We were welcomed and shown to a room (the VIP 102) – actually better than we’d expected, a large room with sofa seating, coffee tables, a large cupboard, two single beds and an old tube TV on the stand by the door. The bathroom was servicable, though rather gregarious – OTT porcelain set in bright yellow and white. The sheets looked clean, but there were no towels or toiletries, and everything was covered in a fine layer of desert dust.

It was definitely up to our needs for the night, and we were soon left alone to recuperate. Stew had a quick shower first, and drip dried, then managed to make one mug of tea, before our element finally clapped out (after first giving Stew an electric shock), so we shared it with a couple of digestive biscuits and peanut butter from our supplies.

We were visited by one of the hotel staff (and our Levie). We asked if we could buy water, and he said yes, there is a small shop outside. So I went along, and found the tiny dusty shop, right next to the hotel front door. I managed to get a 1.5 l bottle of cold water, a pack of biscuits and a small pack of sliced white bread (we just weren’t sure what would be on offer for food). One of the staff, a young man, spoke quite good English, came to the room later and he told us there was a night manager who would be along later and would organise food and drink for us (We were hoping for beer, but it never materialised).

There was a power cut, and all went black as the sun had set a while ago – we weren’t sure what was happening, so ventured downstairs to see if we could organise some food. Then at 7pm the power came on again, and we were shown to a dining area, with a TV playing. The night manager asked what we’d like to eat, chicken curry – veg curry?  We said we’d get one of each, and nan (no chappatis), and he asked if we would also get the meal for our Levie officer, no problem. While we waited we watched the end of a Bollywood movie on the TV, and our Levie keeping an eye on us too. We were both getting tired, and glad when the food arrived around 7.45pm. It was basic, one plate of chicken curry (on the bone), in a thin sauce, and one plate of bhindi curry, with 2 large nans. The Levie was also given a chicken curry and nan too. It looked way more appetizing than the Iranian kebabs we’d been eating the last 2 weeks, and we really quite enjoyed it. After that we took oursleves off to our room, with a last knock form the staff, with the bill asking for payment. It was 2700 Rupees, for the nights stay and the meal (for 3). Stew managed to finish off his latest book, while I had a shower and typed some of the diary. The room was quite warm, so we left the ceiling fan going as we bedded down for the night. We’d already been told that our escort onward tomorrow would be at 9am, so plenty of time for a sleep in.

We were awake in plenty of time to make ourselves tea and breakfast. We opted to go for our own supplies, as we really weren’t too confident what we’d get downstairs. So we had quite a nice coffee table set of sliced bread, cheese spread, vegemite and peanut butter.

We got our bags ready dressed in our riding gear, and headed downstairs just before 9am. The levies were around and a couple of staff, and we managed to buy a 1.5 l bottle of water for the journey. Everyone was round looking at the bike (its so unusual round here), so we were able to take a few photos before we set off 9.15 am. We didn’t arrive in Quetta till 7.15 pm in the dark, 10 hours to cover 320 km, quite a pace – and just one incredible journey!

First stop as we made out way through the morning melee in the dusty town,  was to get petrol, and fill up so we knew we’d be able to cover at least 200 km. It was another plastic bottle fill, but at least the guy had a funnel today.

The Levies changed vehicles and personel like hot cakes today! They seem a good bunch of guys, doing a good job, in a harsh and difficult environment. Their working conditions at the outposts were so rudimentary; little comforts or delapidated furnishings, and a bit of shade from the elements, nothing more than a sleeping mat, a single gas burner, kettle, a car battery to support the radio communications.

Mostly we weren’t held up too long waiting for vehicle changes. The first stretch seemed the longest before a change, and we crossed some pretty rough road and sand dunes again. The day was clear and bright, and the desert sun not too warm, the early morning breeze was in fact quite cool. We passed across all forms of desert and scrub, mostly following a single track rail line, and military outposts and stations. Small mud villages sprang into view, hardly discernable from the landscape. We were quite surprised to see several with solar panels. The vast landscapes vanished off to the distant mountains of Afghanistan on our left, and other mountain ranges came into view on our right.

Often outside the villages were tall chimneys and brick works – and so many of them spewing black smoke into the air. There wasn’t much livestock around either, only a few scraggy goats and cows. I think we saw more camels than anything else.

Anywhere there were homesteads, villages or town we mostly only saw men and boys. We’d hardly seen any females at all since leaving Zahedan. In Iran the women are much more open in society, while here they really do seem to be a ‘home’ possesion. The only time we saw women was a couple of times working in the fields, or collecting water – and that was more like young girls. They seem so separate from the men, even the school children were in separate girl and boy groups, and we really only saw boys out playing or on bicycles, and of course, there were only boys playing cricket on some bit of open ground.

When we got up into the mountains we were following the most smelly clapped out diesel ute, we’d had to follow all day. Stew was trying to keep a good distance back. There was quite a bit of other road traffic too, coaches and trucks piled high with people and goods, making for some fascinating glimpses of the lives round here. And so often we had to weave in an out of the lanes, to avoid the slower vehicles. Some of the levies were in utes and at other times we were following motorbikes too. The trucks and coaches are so wonderfully decorated, and many times we saw passengers riding top deck, with the baggage, or clinging onto the back.

The first escort vehicle actually pulled us over for a tea stop. But the boss was rather pushy, and asked several times for a ‘gift’ – we didn’t oblige, and were quite glad when we were passed over to the next crew. The other younger guys were much more pleasant, just happy to have these unusual foreigners about, and enjoy our strange attire and transport.

We had photos taken so many times through the day. At one stop, the next levie crew were just having some lunch, so we were taken into a leafy canopy out of the sun. There was an open cot, and delapidated chair to sit on. Most places the lads spoke some English, so communication was pretty easy. And here we had a very lively, Muhamad Farook, who wanted a photo with Stew.

We were just getting ready to set off again when the escort vehicle wouldn’t start up. We hadn’t yet got on the bike, so Stew went to help them bump start it, with another 3-4 guys. I could have helped too, but it was a great opportunity for a bit of GoPro and photos.

We had another tea stop later in the afternoon at a one man outpost, a mud shack on a high point, with great views of the road ahead. There was a young levie officer, and an older helper. He was so chirpy, brewing us some tea, and offering us great chunks of sugar. They break off a chunk, put it between their teeth, and sup the tea through it. They were surprised to see us enjoying unsweetened black tea.

We passed a couple of so called ‘cities’ – the definition must just be on population size, as the buildings were no different to the smaller towns. As we slowly made our way east things gradually began to change, we were leaving the desert plains, and agriculture sprang up wherever there was a water supply. By the time we stopped at Nushki (the closest city to Afghanistan – maybe 10 km away), we were taken to our first petrol pump to tank up.

And not much further on we were heading to the LakPass – a final climb and tunnel, emerging onto an actual dual carriage way, we could see the sprawling expanse of Quetta in the basin below. The sun was sinking fast, and a shadow was crossing over the face of the city.

We really didn’t want to be heading in Quetta in the dark, but it was so beyond our control. Here we had to sit and wait at least 15 mins for the next support car, just watching the sun sinking further. There were so many different security forces here; highway patrol, anti terrorism squad, commandoes, and levies, and they all greeted us well, slinging their weapons over their shoulders. Quetta was only 5 km away, so near yet so far – and when our escort finally arrived, it turned out to be at least another 45 mins to actually get through the mayhem of the city, at rush hour!! And still another 3 escort vehicle changes. As we descended into the heart of the city, it really was something like you only see on the movies. The hoardes of humamity going about their evening business, shopping, markets, engineering, buses, AND so many trucks, buses and tut-tuts on the road.

There definitely was heightened security as we saw military station posts sandbagged, and as we got to our next escort change found it was an APC (Armoured peronal carrier).

We were instructed to follow behind, which was easier said than done, as the local traffic just weaved in and out, nearly all gawping and waving at us, and nearly causing traffic bumps, as they just weren’t watching where they were going. At times the rear door of the APC opened, and the officer was directing other traffic to move away, so Stew could get back behind him – he was doing a great job. And every few minutes it was just getting darker and darker. We were switched again to another APC, and seemed to be following one long arterial road right into the city.

I could make out a lighted bridge coming up and we diverted to the side, coming to stop under the flyover. Here we were transferred onto our final escort. Two small motorcycles, Levies police, each with a driver and passenger carrying a AK47 (I’d run out of camera battery power at this point!). We were again instructed to follow, one in front of us and one behind. But they knew the territory and were zipping in and out of the traffic flow like gnats! Stew couldn’t follow closely, we just weren’t as manoeverable or able to get through the small gaps!! We had to make a U-turn at one point and lost the bike in front, so the rear one took over, and we only just managed to keep him in sight. Another few minutes, they took a sharp left turn into a dark side street, and maybe 200 m on they swept into a compound behind a huge metal gate. We managed to pull up behind them. And so we were delivered to the Bloom Star Hotel (no option given), we parked up under cover, noticing a small travelling bus also in the compound. Stew was on a buzz, saying ‘that was fun’, and we shook hands with the levies thanking them for getting us here. They handed us over to reception and then duties done, they took their leave.

Unbelievably we’d arrived in Quetta on the eve of a two day public holiday (Ashoora), everything would be closed and we so we couldn’t get our compulsary letter to leave (NOC) till Thursday – and till then we are on lock down in the hotel!! – And we can’t get any beer either 😦

Not only that, but the ‘friendly’ receptionist quoted us rates around double what other foreigners have paid here in April and June this year – We were way too exhausted from the day to argue; so we’ll see what we can do in the morning!! Its not at all what you needed at the end of a very long hard day on the road.

So we got settled in a room, after being shown two (we preferred the one nearer the garden terrace) – We were so grimy from the days drive across the desert, it felt good to peel off our riding gear, and down to some lighter clothes. I organised things round the room, as Stew went to ferry all the gear up from the bike (that was all covered in desert dust too!). He spoke to a Dutch couple who were the owners of the travelling bus. They had bought it in Kerala and driving it home. They said they had driven the KK north, and it was wonderful, and that Lahore was a lovely city too. They had to leave in the morning, and would be escorted the way we had come. Well the room was was just about acceptable, the two single beds looked freshly made though the ‘white’ sheets were decidedly grubby looking, and the pillows were like bricks. At least the top blankets smelled cleaned. Everything was rickety; there was a small tube TV which we couldn’t get to work – and had to ask about. The receptionist came in took the dangling wire for the aerial, got another remote – and finally got it to sputter into action. Thankfully here there was more then the restricted ‘Press TV’ of Iran in English, we found BBC world news and a couple playing decent movies – so something to add to the ‘enforced rest days’ activities.

The bathroom looked clean-ish, with only a squat toilet, though it was a flush type – but it ponged quite bad, very sour drainage. We flushed several times and ran water into the sink too – hopefully it would improve. We kept the door closed! We were brought round two small thread bare towels, and two tiny pieces of soap – From what we’ve seen, even at the Dalbandin VIP room (1800 Rp), I’d say definitely overpriced, and way too much at 4000 Rp – and another 1000 Rp for breakfast, but they do kind of have us with the short & curlies.

We’d not really eaten all day, and could do with some food – we really didn’t have the energy to start making something from our supplies, but we were hungry. So Stew went ask in reception what was available, no problem. He was offered chicken and veg curry, with biryani rice and chappatis. About half an hour later it was delivered on a large tray to our room – it looked delicious, and of more substance than we’d had in Dalbandin.

We both tucked in heartily, thoroughly enjoying the meal. Finally feeling more normal, we got comfy on the beds and watched a bit of TV. I checked the internet too, and was surprised to find we could get a connection in the room. It was slow, but we got connected. It was getting too late to send messages so I’d do it tomorrow. We were then surprised to find it was after 10pm when we came to switch out the light and turn in for the night.

Day 1 at the Bloom Star Hotel – we slept well, woke early enough, made a cuppa, and then managed to have a hot (ish) shower. Thankfully the smell in the bathroom had dissipated quite a bit, to I’d say acceptable. Keeping a good flow of water flushing the drains seems to be the key. Wifi was on, Stew managed to get a news fix, and I sent a couple of quick whatsaps to the girls, and Olaf (he’d sent a message, saying 2 of his friends were now in Perth, and could they stay at our home 🙂 Dressed we headed down to reception to check out options, after I’d checked iOverlander and the blog page for room rates. There was a different guy on reception, who spoke English – so we said we weren’t really happy with the rates quoted last night (Showed him the webpage on the laptop). He said we’d have to wait till the senior man was back at 2pm. And for breakfast – we knew it wasn’t worth the 1000 Rp, and they were offering parata, eggs and tea, so we said we didn’t want any. I also asked for the meal price for last night, as we hadn’t been told how much that was either. It was on a bill-paper in our room number pigeon hole, and so I could at least check this. 830 Rp, which for what we had I thought was fair. So we returned to our room, made some more fresh tea, and Stew had some nan bread with vegemite 🙂

And from them we passed on a very slow day; swaping between reading, computers, TV and Oh, there were regular powercuts too. Apparently twice a day, one at noon till 2pm and another from 4 – 6pm. So for them, we sat out in the garden again.

Just before 2pm we were called over to reception. There were a couple more staff around, and the guy who checked us in last night. He asked what the problem was with the room, and I again showed the recent internet prices shown. BUT he said I told you the rates and showed you the room last night and you agreed!! We were so exhausted from the 10 hour day on the road when we arrived after 7pm that we were in no condition to argue anything. We really don’t like being taken advantage of, and so set along arguing our case – its so hard work, and just typical off their way; you have to bargain for everything. But the internet evidence was quite clear, though they also argued high 36% inflation rates – BUT I also knew they were over charging us, from what I’d read others had paid both here and in Dalbandin recently! We could have argued longer, but its really not worth it, and I just stated out case, and that we HAD to stay here 4 nights, so surely some special price (Ouch!! – no choice, and not even allowed to leave the hotel premises!). Another guy in the background stepped up. He was the only local not in the male Pakistan national dress – he wore a black sports T-shirt and shorts (I think he was more in charge), and also spoke very good English. He said yes we will make an offer, the room WITH breakfast would be 4000 Rp (Still too much, but we couldn’t be bothered to continue to argument) – we agreed OK! Oh, they were all very pleasant – but it just left a totally bad vibe about the place. So that sorted, they said ‘now can we bring you some breakfast – complimentary of couse’. And we said yes fine. It turned out it was too late for breakfast menu, well after 2pm, so we had lunch, and half an hour later were brought out to the garden a tray of very tasty looking chicken biryani. We sat and enjoyed the meal, and with too much to eat, we pilled the left-over rice into one of our blue bowls, and took it back to our room for later.

We both did quite a bit of work on route planning, and I was making sketch maps and notes of potential stopping places along the way, and also checking the GPS maps. It looked like we’d be ok for getting into Lahore, and from other prices we could see, better value than we were getting here. We also had to work on the decision of what to do from India – so we were looking at visa and bike paper entries from Burma down to Indonesia. And really its not looking good. Burma is hard (compulsory guide), Thailand is difficult with 60 days max tourist visa and bike entry (so no good to leave the bike for over a month). Malaysia was looking OK, with both 3 month visa and bike entry possible – BUT then Indonesia was difficult again. It was beginning to look like flying back from India was going to be the best option, without getting embroiled in all the hard work of securing ongoing land travel. NOT that this option would be easy or straightforwards either. Well, enough for one day. For the afternoon powercut, we headed to the garden again, but by 5pm it was all in the shade and actually dropping quite cool, so Stew had his jumper on and I was wrapped in my shawl. We lasted half an hour before returning to our room. I showed Stew all the photos and some of the GoPro I’d made copies of earlier – I think we have a nice few favourite shots of the border transit experience.

With the late lunch, neither of us fancied a big evening meal and were quite happy with the left over biryani rice, followed by black coffee and digestive biscuit with chocolate spread. The evenings TV movie was Ted, so Stew ended up watching ‘Breaking Bad’ on the iPad, while I managed to get the Italy-Greece section up on the blog, before turning in for the night.

Day 2 – Bloom Star Hotel – Stew had an awful nights sleep, his guts were not right, and he said he just couldn’t sleep, felt like he was on speed! And there was a pseky mozzie or two, that also disturbed me, but I slept much better. Its quite a dark room, so even though I heard the birds, we dozed on till 8.30 ish. The air was pretty stale too, and dry so we felt quite stuffy. I got up to put the ceiling fan on to circulate some air, while Stew went to shower, and freshen up. He said it was good and hot this morning. Well not being sure what time or what was on offer for breakfast, we thought we’d better head down to reception around 9am and ask. It was fine we could get breakfast up to 10-11am ish. Its a bit vague, we also asked for 2 bottles of mineral water too, and went to sit in the garden in the lovely early morning sun, that was just reaching the first corner on the lawn. I’d heard a few helicopters flying over a few times through the night, were more again this morning (Looks like military patrol really). After asking a second time, and another long wait we were eventually brought out a breakfast tray – two oily single fried eggs (definitely not rosy), 6 slices of toast, 1 blob of jam and a small pot of tea (1000 rupees – $12 AUD, really!!) – the least appetizting food we’ve been brought so far. We ate some, and drank the tea and headed back to the room. I put the pan on for more hot water, to make a mug of coffee, and had a slice of the toast with vegemite and peanut butter; so much tastier. Stew thought he was coming down with something, took a couple of paracetamols and relaxed on the bed for a while, as I was trying to catch up with a few things on the computer. And took a couple of pics – the view we had of the mountains, and the hotel dodgy wiring !!

In fact Stew was dozing and tired nearly all day, and just happy to rest on the bed. Definitely some bugs, and hopefully the good rest day today, would see him right again by tomorrow. I was happy just tapping away on the computer too. During the afternoon powercut, I gave the cooker jet a clear our, refilled the petrol and boiled up some water, so we had afternoon tea and biscuits. Stew went back to dozing again, so around 4pm, I went to sit down in the garden to get the last half hour of sunshine, before it dropped too cold to sit out. Stew came out to join us for a while, just for a change of scene, and we sat out until it got too cold.

Back in the room for the evening, Stew wasn’t up for a big meal, so we just made some quick noodles and soup. We brewed mugs of coffee after, and I’d found a couple of chocolate biscuits we’d been given as ‘change’ in our last shopping in Bam – and they went down really nice. With the power back on for the evening, we put the TV on and found the movie ‘District 9’ was starting at 7pm – which was quite reasonable to watch again. After Stew watched some more ‘Breaking Bad’ on netflix, while I managed to get the Turkey chapter ready and up on the blog, before we turned in for the night.

Day 3 Bloom Star Hotel – NOC certificate?

Stew slept a lot better, feeling well rested – though I’d woken earlier with all the mosques wailing, seemingly in competition with each other! We dozed on till 8.30am then made a morning cuppa, and both had a shower while there was hot water. Once dressed we headed down to reception just to see when we could get to the police station. The receptionist, said he’d call them, and they should be here in 15 – 20 mins, and we could have breakfast after. So we went back to our room to wait, and checking a few things online. There was a whatsap from Lacey, saying they had had a nice evening dinner with Ines and Henke (Olaf’s friends in Perth:). One of the guys came to get us about 45 mins later, and we asked are we walking or do we need the motorbike. He said no, a rickshaw. We took the carnet with us just in case, and collected our passports from reception. There were 3 police officers waiting and no sign of a rickshaw. We were both ushered on to the back of one of the small motorbikes the police arrived on. Hard to take pics, but it was a fun ride, and so lovely to get out in the morning sunshine, and away from the confines of the hotel.

The streets just beyond the hotel were bustling with people, donkey carts and tut-tuts, and a load of shops, fruit and veg stalls and other business (hard to believe what poor fayre we are provided for breakfast, with so much just round the corner – I really didn’t want egg when we got back, and asked for some fruit, and was told they didn’t have any !)

Anyhow, the ride was pretty short and we were soon in the large police compound, with several quite large multi storey buildings, some looking much newer than others. We were taken directly into one, along a large corridor to the end, and asked to sit and wait, it was 9.45am. The metal bench outside the room was propped up on one side by bricks. The place was quite busy, with various groups of males, from office workers, to uniformed staff, tea boys and cleaning staff. The corridor floor was a long expanse of marble, that didn’t look like it had had a good wash in ages. The mops the cleaners were using were so tatty, grubby and bedraggled, it didn’t look like they would clean much at all. There was a flurry of activity in the room we needed to go in, and then one of the guys invited us in to sit on the more comfy sofa. He then dissappeared, and no one came in for another long while. It was a pretty huge office, with old wooden (60’s) furniture. There were desks and tables set off each wall facing each other, so whoever sat behind the desk could see what was going on in the room. The desks were pretty tidy, and the back wall by the door, was floor to ceiling packed with masses of papers filed in packages, with a cardboard base, and tied up with string. The status of the occupants were given by their desk size and chair. The biggest desk and best chair was just in front of the sofa, and clearly the boss of the office. He came in first, a man of smaller build and was more of Asian appearance than Pakistani, dressed in civilian clothes (In fact all the office staff were).

Over the next 3 hours we saw people coming and going, and the 5 or so guys working in this office, going about their daily work……A file was created for us, and with this and our passorts, we were processed, checked and re-checked, between this office and two others – before everything was finally completed, to the satisfaction of the boss. Everyone was friendly and helpful, and most spoke some English, (one guy really well), and they were all interested in our story, amazed we we driving back to Australia. We were even provided with glasses of sweet tea, while we waited. It was amazing to see how the office heirarchy worked; the senior staff getting juniors to pass folders across the room! Folders seemed to be meticulously kept and one guy was filing new papers into exiting files most of the time we were there. He had no hole punch, but a broddle, and so opened the string fastened file, placed a board behind the sheets to be added, broddled new holes, and then threaded them onto the existing pile. With the cover replaced, files were wrapped in more string and tied, then placed back on the open filing wall. A junior (though not so young) was the gofer, he was sent to make photocopies, and make the tea. Everyone knew their place and the working atmosphere was really pleasant. There were physical greetings with every new person that entered – so instead of just saying hello to the room, every person was greeted in turn, hand shakes, touching hearts and even hugs at times….that is of course, except for the women (though we only saw two all morning) – custom dictates that men are not permitted to touch (i.e. hands), with them. So our file was passed from desk to desk, slowly making progress. The senior staff didn’t do anything on the computer in the room, and we had to wait till someone else came in, who could actually enter our details, to draft the NOC letter. The printed draft was then passed (by the gofer) to the boss – it went back twice for minor edits. Copies were made for them too, and then we were taken down the corridor to another office, notes added to a ledger and then we were escorted back.

Finally, 3 hours later, with our signed and approved NOC, we were wished well and with thanks and goodbyes, we left the office following our police guard. We were walked out to the compound gates, which were by the flyover road, I remember from our drive into the city. Here there was another office on motorbike. They flagged down a tut-tut, and one officer climbed in the back with us, while the other (pistol in his vest), drove alongside on the motorbike.

It was only a short drive back, through the hussle and bustle, and we were asked for the 80 Rp fare, as we climbed out at the hotel gateway. The police escorted us right to reception, where our passports and the NOC were requested (They said they would make a photocopy for us). It was 12.30pm, and we asked are we too late for breakfast – no, that was fine, and we said we’d take it out in the garden.

As I said earlier, breakfast was a very poor affair – Stew ate both eggs today, while I had some vegemite, peanut butter and jam. The power was already off, so Stew got his tools out and went to do some checking on the bike. While I made some fresh coffee, and copied the mornings pics and GoPro onto the HD. Stew returned a while later, with the news that the extra weight was actually cracking the subframe under the seat – It would need welding, but not today! He fixed it up as best he could with some jubilee clips he had, and we’d try reorganise the weight as much as possible, when packing the bike later. Next job was getting finances and times set for tomorrow. We counted out our Euros, and checked the exchange rate before we headed back down to reception. First we asked the time to set off in the morning, and asked for 7am – the guy on duty explained the police always come between 7 – 8am, even when they ask for 7am, its usually later. OK, we’d keep that in mind. Then money change, we asked the rate first, and were offered 112 Rp per Euro (with commission included), this would give us 43,000 rp, and we’d calculated 46,000 with the currency converter, so that was OK. Carefully counted out and handed over, we then asked for our bill and handed 17,000 Rp back over the counter! So all done except for our packing, we headed back to our room, with an hour online before the afternoon powercut at 4pm. It came round pretty quick, and so we headed back down to the garden to get the last hour of sunshine, as the shadows slowly expanded over the lawn. Another family of Muslim guests were also out in the garden (one man and 3 women – all quite jovial, laughing and having a good time), and brought us over some coffee, when they had a tray brought out to the garden…so nice.

Amazingly the first receptionist who greeted us when we arrived came across and asked if we wanted beer fetching (wonders never cease – though I’m sure he was making quite a few rupees out of it). We asked him to get 4 ( 500 rp each), so when he got back with them, we took them discretely up to our room. A first beer in over 3 weeks, and Stew was not enjoying it as much was he expected – (I think it was more the state of his guts than anything), but I was. A bit of a celebration getting our NOC 🙂

While enjoying the cold drink, I showed Stew the Turkey update on the blog, while I did some cleaning up of our gear. Just wiping everything down with a damp cloth – but it made a big difference!

Then drink finished, we wanted to do some more packing on the bike – so we took down both side boxes and the gear that we strap on top of them. We were approached by both staff and the other guests, as we started on the pack up. They were all so intruiged by the bike, having never seem one without a drive chain. It turned out the family that gave us coffee in the garden, were actually on holiday from Oman. And as ever we obliged with requests to take photos, not only of the bike, but also us too.

Back in the room, we watched some TV, and a bit later Stew made some tuna and pasta dinner. He’s definitely not himself, as he didn’t eat much or finish his beer, but it made really decent camp food. I cleaned up the dishes, and Stew watched more ‘Breaking Bad’, before we set our alarms, and bedded down for the night just after 9pm.

We’d set the alarm for 6am, and wanted to finish packing the bike, and a bit of breakfast before our police escort arrived. We were so looking forwards to getting on the road again, and finally finish our enforced stay at the ‘Bloom Star’. We were ready and taking the first bags down to the bike by 7am, and there was no one in sight. But we did find another tour bike parked up next to ours – A German Africa Twin (they must have arrived late, and we probably wont see them, so Stew wrote a note on the back of one of our cards and we left it on the bike for them). We went twice more to the room, totally finished packing, then sat in reception using the wifi. It was 7.30am, and then I heard stirring behind the counter – one of the guys was sleeping there. He got up sleepily, and we asked for breakfast – nearly 8am before anyone else appeared, and the police weren’t even called before then! At least we got some fresh tea and hot toast this morning.

Finally the police arrived, a last couple of photos and we were heading off around 9.15am….

It turned out to be not quite what we expected…….another day under full escort, well beyond the Baluchistan – Sindh province border. The air quality getting out of Quetta was just awful, and even before we’d left the city boundary we’d changed excort 3 times again.

The blanket of pullution hanging over the city was so clearly visible as we headed into the surrounding hills. And the darks furls of smoke from the brick chimney fields were our last impression receeding into the background.

We were passed onto our first motorcycle escort of the day, and we’d no sooner set  off than they pulled in at a garage to fill up, and then just further up the road, they stopped again to assist at a traffic accident, phoning for back-up.It was a relief to finally get into the mountain pass.

We were only waved on, free at last 30 km from the town of Sukkur. We’d had an endless number of escort changes, as they played relay, and we were the batton, being passed on from one escort to the next – so slow going at times, but it was a feast for the eyes what we saw on the drive today. Such a land of contrasts

There was some prety spectacular scenery too, and we watched a caravan of camels following a dry river bed, as we passed through the rocky terrain.

From there we were down in the vast plains of the Indus, seeing harvested crops being well overloaded onto trucks, and finally onto our last change of escort.

We needed another petrol fill, and then I’d set the GPS to a random hotel in the town. We were still in the rice paddies of the Indus – following the huge irrigation plains, and I could see we were getting close to the town, on Military Road (We’d seen a couple of hotels nearby this morning), and with the sketch map, I was looking out for anything before we crossed over the rice canal bridge. The outskirts were dusty, poor places, with all manner of activities going on. Then we getting nearer we actually saw a couple of decent shops, and then a pizza place. Not much further, I saw a sign for a ‘Decent Guest house’. There was a gated yard, and the building was back off the main road – it looked like it would do fine, and any way we were just too dead beat to go any further. We’d been on the go over 8 hours and really only had two 5 minute rest stops (Between escort change), and no food. And we had virtually exhausted our water supply too.

We were warmly greeted in English, and the man behind the counter said we should sit and wait for the boss (owner). We asked if we could take a drink from the fridge, no probs – we were parched. Stew took a 2 l bottle of sprite and we were soon gulping it down. The boss arrived a few minutes later, and we asked for a room with a double bed. Another man, showed us to a room just up behind the reception. It was big, and so much better than what we’d had at the ‘Bloom Star’. There was a bigger than double bed, a sofa and coffee table, as well as bedside tables, a wardrobe and a large-ish tube TV. The bathroom was large too, with both types of toilet – and the whole place looked cleaner too. It would do us fine, and so we asked the price, saying we’d stay 2 night – 2500 rp a night and there was wifi too. I filled out the register, handed over our passports and paid for the 2 nights. We soon got our gear in the room, and so good to peel off the riding gear again. I was drenched, but too exhausted to change, so we pretty much collapsed on the bed to recover. We found tissues, a decent bar of soap and large towel in the room, and a menu; everything from breakfast, snacks, dinner and drinks. Stew wanted a shower – it was tepid, but he said it was fresh, but I just didn’t fancy one. We then got the rest of the baggage off the bike, and asked about ordering some food – Nooo, there was no cook around for a few days (on holiday!). But the owner, said there was the pizza place and KFC up the road – so no probs really, so we headed out. The Pizza place was first, and looked decent and quite busy, so we went in. It was so nice to see females; women and children out. There was even a kids play area where we sat upstairs (downstairs was full). We ordered a combo meal of medium pizza, mixed salad, garlic bread and drinks. It was fresh and decent though not quite what we expected. The mixed salad was fruit salad, and the garlic bread never appeared, it was replaced by 2 pieces of fried chicken. We ended up taking half the pizza and mixed salad back to the hotel room. It was already pitch black but quite early, even so we were well ready for bed.

The room was really dark and not too hot, so we didn’t get up to make hot tea till nearly 9am. We had a very relaxing morning in the big and comfy room. We breakfasted on the left over fruit salad and pizza from last night, and then Stew got online for his news fix. I had to do some washing; the clothes I’ve been wearing under my riding gear had been through some extreme conditions and in serious need of a freshen up. There was no hot water, but that didn’t make much difference, it was tepid and warm enough. So everything got a good scrub, before I took myself in the shower too. Then time for another brew, and more online activities.

We learned that Sukkur was strategically placed on the mighty Indus River, and essentially the new city constructed under the British Raj. They had also built a master piece huge (mile long) barrage across the Indus, between 1923 and 1932. It serves the largest single irrigation system in the world, and is the backbone of the economy of the country. Solely reliant on the river as there are no significant ground water reserves. The system feeds into huge canals, and into the many kilometers of rice paddies we saw yesterday. We should be able to see the barrage bridge, when we drive onto Bahawalpur tomorrow. This was around 400 km away, and we thought ok for the next stop, so we also looked for a few hotels and I drew another sketch map in my note book.

Around 1pm Stew was getting a bit peckish, so we dressed conservatively, and ventured out into the hot sticky street. The streets were so dusty and dirty, and there were roadworks right along the kerbside, not that there was any work going on. It was just mounds of dirt along a trench and what looked like open sewer (so work in progress!). There was a whole bustle of human activity, and we felt like we were almost naked on display, with all the looks we got. We headed south, as on the street map we’d seen a symbol for a 7-11; and sure enough we found a decent size ‘superstore’, just what we needed to stock up on our depleted supplies. It was a clean oasis compared with the streets outside. We managed to get a whole load of toiletries (we just about needed to resupply everything; toothpaste, shampoo, moisturiser, shaving stick, talc), and we got some tasty scoobie snacks; digestive biscuits, nuts, crisps, and tinned fruit salad and yogurt (which we had for lunch when we got back, so good) a couple of cold cans of lemon-bir, and Stew got the local version of a magnum icecream, to walk back with. We’d bought quite a few ‘luxury’ items, so not surprised the bill came to nearly $30! I was happy doing more on the blog update, while Stew watched some more ‘Breaking bad’. We were tossing up whether to pack before going out to dinner, but its easier to leave it till after – as we can still lock the valuables while we are out, and we can wear trainers too. We decided to leave it till later, and next Stew wanted to shower, but also a hair cut….so he sat on the bog, and I snipped away as short as I could get all the way round (It took a while!), but didn’t look too bad in the end 🙂

Then out of the blue the room phone rang, and a guy on the other end said ‘Hi, its Till – you left a card on our bike in Quetta, and we are here now in the same hotel in reception’, – quite surprised, I said OK, we’ll get dressed and come meet you. And so we had a really lovely evening together, getting some tasty curry at a place across the road.

We finished off looking over the map, and decided we’d ride together for the day north tomorrow, 400 km to Bahawalpur. After that they were heading further north to the KK highway, while we’d continue further east to Lahore.

With the alarm set we were up early, and preparing for a day on the road. We made tea and had some yoghurt and fruit, and then I made a mug of coffee too while we were packing. We got everything strapped on the bike by 8am. We finished the coffee, brushed our teeth, and got into our riding gear. It was about 8.15 am, when Till and Carolyn appeared, dressed in riding gear and nearly ready to go. They had only woke up 20 mins earlier…..So we had riding buddies for the day, and what another amazing day on the road we had.

It was already warm and sticky, and the air quality was miserable as we headed off. First amazing sight was the Sukkur Barrage – such an impressive bridge and barrage over the Indus.

It was nearly back to back trucks all day – and pretty hard going, but yet SOO relaxing without the Levies escorts.

We could stop for petrol and drinks and rests just when we wanted. First stop was for a cuppa chai – so fun, even with the huge crowds 🙂

And then after 3 hrs and 100 miles, it was a petrol fill and some curry lunch. The guys had a look in the cooking pots to see what they wanted to eat. And Stew was giving geography lessons before we could get back on the road.

We saw so many incredible and wonderful sights on the road again – but there were some dodgy moments, as a herd of cows crossed the road, and we screeched to a halt behind Till, and police ute nearly ran into the back if us. They pulled over a bit further along, and were taking photos of us too. Till saw a dog knocked over, and there was a nasty accident with a truck – the cab totally squashed on the opposite carriage was. There was so much on the road, and so many trucks – with speeds from slow to very slow, and we were weaving in and out, along with the rest of the cars and bike.

There were camel carts, donkey carts, tut-tuts, motorbikes, bicycles, water buffallo, goats, sheep, tractors, with huge trailers, cars, vans, buses and trucks, and, and………

And it just never ceased to amaze me just what you would see being carried on the back of the local motorbikes:

The last 60 km were so hard on the bum, we just had to make another drink stop, and then we made it to Bahawalpur around 4.30pm. The town was bustling and I navigated us by the GPS to the PTDC motel. It was on a quiet road away from the centre, and passed an impressive looking Government girls high school, and police station.

It didn’t really look like a hotel, with a gated barrier, so we pulled in a little further on the road. A young guy on a motorbike, stopped behind us, and speaking good English asked what we were looking for. He was amazing and so helpful…he took us round to the PTDC motel 50 m back, and took us to reception. Apparently they weren’t allowed to have foreigners stay! He talked to the staff and made a couple of phone calls. They said foreigners were only allowed in one hotel near the airport (around 7000 Rp – too expensive!). So we talked more with the guy on the bike who had stopped for us, learned his name was Osama (originally from Saudi), but now with his family here in Bahawalpur. He was studying graphic design at the uni. Anyhow, it ended up the police were coming, and would check with us, and say where we could stay. So we waited for the police – and having thought we’d seen the last of the levies and police escort here we were again. We were taken passed the police station to the police club. A walled enclosed compound, quite posh, with manicured gardens, and a few buildings.

We were motioned to park the bikes up, and then the 4 officers climbed out of the car, coming across to shake hands, say hello and welcome and a good look at the bikes. We were taken into one of the buildings, and it was so posh…we all felt too grubby and grimy to sit on the nice furniture. It was certainly such a contrast to the last police station we’d stayed in at the border.

Osama was go between, with his good English, and got everything sorted. There was a big 1 bedroom suite, with a large sitting room. We were happy to share, and Till and Carolyn happy for us to have the big bed in the bedroom. And there was a big flat screen TV too. The bathroom was spotless and no squat toilet. 7000 rp, (we paid 5000 rp with having the bedroom) – then there was dinner too. We just asked for something simple; veg, rice and chappaties in about an hours time. Carolyn and Till showered (It was cold water, so we didn’t bother). We all poured over the maps, with Till and Carolyn trying to reach Islamabad (but that was nearly 700 km away, and Osmama reckoned that would take maybe 10 hrs – and he reckoned 7 – 8 hrs to Lahore.

We were served dinner in a huge posh dining room, plenty of food, but not really spicy. After, as Osama and the others headed out, we made ourselves comfy on the bed. Then a couple of the staff came in and put a mattress and blanket in the lounge area made up for when they got back. There was a knock on the door and we had to get passports checked, and in the end Osama was not allowed to take them out to the palaces – (on military ground and curfew for foreigners after sunset!). We also said we were all going to Lahore, as the police were quite insistent that we didn’t travel to any prohibited cantonment. Oh, and they said we would get a police escort out of the city. So we all bedded down for the night, not looking forward to another day of escort in the morning!!

It did turn out to be another amazing, but very tiring day on the road. While waiting for our first escort, we chatted with the officers in the compound, and learned that Pakistan has 2 billion, population!

We weren’t given much time to stop and rest, just quick petrol fills, and escort change overs. We did manage to grab a few samosas and bottle of cold drink, and Till was able to get his rear tyre blown up, with a small compressor at a tyre place on the road side….all under police guard 🙂

It wasn’t all grimy, dusty road; there were some quite green expanses of cotton fields and rice paddies. We finally parted company with Till and Carolyn, after a great section of motorway (the best road we’d been on in Pakistan and it was deserted. Stew just opened up the throttle and we cruised along at 12o kph :). They headed north with another escort towards Islamabad as we continued onto Lahore. It had been great having riding buddies for a couple of days.

We were also escorted, so never got the chance to stop at the only MacDonalds we saw in Pakistan. We saw school kids being dropped off from the buses and skipping across the railway lines (No OH&S there!)

….and then the last escort right into heart Lahore – it’s huge, and from the outskirts, we showed the officer the hotel we preferred that we had seen online – the Amer Hotel on Lower Mall Road. They took us right there, it was about 10 km getting through the melee of the city, and we followed a quite scenic canal nearly all the way in, including the dobi wallas washing in the canal. Traffic was so heavy, Stew was so grateful for the guide in. We were delivered outside, exhausted at 4pm – another 8 hr driving day. We parked up and thanked the officers so much. They asked how long we wanted to stay, and if we needed and escort out. We said we were going to the Indian border, so really didn’t need and escort there. So that was fine, and they took their leave.

Nearly all the hotel staff spoke English, and we were welcomed in. It was situated on a pretty busy road, but set back a bit, and with parking down the side – with a security guard, so should be all good. We were shown to a big ‘junior suite’ – pretty decent, with TV, fridge and sitting area. SO we asked how much, 7500 Rp + tax. We said..,….ooo, way too much. We’d checked online and the place advertised rooms for 4500 Rp – I said. The guy showing us round said, as we were special guests from so far, he would let us have this room for 4500 rp + Tax (5250 all together). This also included breakfast – We soon agreed we were happy to stay for 2 nights at that price, and even managed to pay on our debit card.

We needed to recuperate a bit, got a few things off the bike, and were brought up some hot tea, and cold water. We put our water and can of beer in the fridge to cool. An hour later feeling so much better, we enjoyed the cold beer with chips and nuts; quite a treat. We then unpacked all the bike, and asked about food. Restaurant was open till midnight, and breakfast finished at 10am. The porters helped us get everything in the room, and we gave them a tip too – Next the wifi; logged on all good. There was a whatsap from Lacey, if we could skype – She had sent it much earlier in the day, so I sent a quick message, and she got straight back to us. They were just finishing a birthday evening dinner with the gang at the Anarlakshmi – and she said they would put on the skype when they got home. Timing was pretty good, and it was so lovely to see them. Problem with the speakers though, they could hear us but we couldn’t hear them. I couldn’t find what was wrong with the speaker….so we ended up talking with whatsap and video on laptop. It wasn’t brilliant, but it was great to catch up, especially as Sairha would be at TAFE all day tomorrow, and Lacey was starting afternoon shift. The birthday parcel from Turkey had arrived (great) – and she liked the baby police outfit!!, and the bracelet, And the cuff earrrings were great for Sairha too. She sent a few pics on whatsap too – couldn’t really talk well, we were getting a right echo, so we said we’d try again tomorrow. Love and kisses and goodnight 🙂

We went downstairs, but the restaurant looked dark and deserted, so we did a quick reckkie on the street…but nothing within easy walk. So we ended up back in the hotel, and asked at reception, and also is it possible to buy beer. Well, they didn’t sell it, but it can be obtained from the upmarket hotels. No problem, we weren’t really that bothered. The older man at reception was asking us about our travels on the motorbike, and seemed really happy to be hosting us in the hotel. In the end we decided we’d just get a bit of food room service and ordered; biryani rice, dall, 1 roti and raita. It was delivered in abut 15 mins, and was really tasty – just right really. After that we were fading, but managed an hour on the computers before turning in for the night. It was really comfy on the big bed, and even the mosque wasn’t too much of a disturbance, but I didn’t sleep well at all. I think I was too tired, and I had the inklings of bad head bugs coming; my throat felt like I’d swallowed a rasp! Stew was zonked, slept much better then me and woke much fresher. We were online at 8am for a Happy Birthday Lacey – whatsap and skype (Even though I’d restarted the computer, updated software, and checked the mic and speakers, we still couldn’t hear her talking) – but we managed a lovely natter and catch up all the same.

Then we made the most of the decent room facilities, bed, shower (even though it was cold), and I washed through all my grubby clothes, and my head shawl. Having a small pack of washing powder made so much difference. We then dressed and headed downstairs for breakfast – and not a bad buffet. Yummy Pakistani breakfast, veg curries, channa, paratha, and toast, jam, fruit, juice and tea. I still didn’t feel full of beans, so we just relaxed a few hours in the morning, and I even dozed off for a while again, between the floor renovations going on outside our room! Stew made us some tea and biscuits, and then we nattered about what we should plan to do around here. We both fancied seeing the border closing ceremony (Its a 40 min drive away, and possible with a round trip taxi), and checking the local area there were a couple of places we could walk to.

Then we thought we’d walk about, so dressed to go out, and checked in at reception about a taxi and staying another night. They said we’d need to set off about 3pm to go for the border ceremony, and it was really getting too late today, so we said we’d do that tomorrow, and it was fine to stay another day. It was so noisy and busy out on the street, and hard to get out of it. We’d seen a park on the map, and thought we’d wander there….but it was all barbed wire secured, and seemed to have no one in except a few gardeners; it must be a privileged place to go. Bikes were parked up all over the place, and some had very interesting number plates. We did pass the Post Master General building, and I managed to get a few Pakistan stamps, and there was a Daramsalam college shop, so we went in for a wander. Stew bought a colourful Muslim cap and some dates, but we couldn’t find any Pakistan stickers.

Then we headed on the Mall Road, passed some very impressive buildings; government, military, Punjab University and Lahore Museum. It was on the opposite side of the road, so we thought we’d go there on the way back (but by then it was closed, so we’ll have to go in the morning 9am).We wandered into the smaller shopping streets, ended up in bicycle alley, and small workshops, as well as the usual T-shirts and clothes, but nothing interesting from Pakistan. There were also a lot of street food stalls, but really it looked quite grimy – but so lovely to see the small teashops, fresh samosas being cooked, and lots of other snacks too. It was pretty hot so we just stopped for a cold drink at one of the street side stalls.

After that we headed back to the hotel, ready for a cuppa, it was already after 4pm The reception staff greeted us as we walked in, and we found workers on the corridor in front of our room, now working on retiling the floor! There was a knock on the door, and we were brought a complimentary plate of fruit – some grapes, bananas and an apple. We weren’t sure what to have for dinner, but Stew was getting a bit peckish around 7pm, so we thought we’d have a wander up the street. There were a few eating places, but the road is so busy, and smelly with vehicle exhaust and dust, we just didn’t fancy a road side place. We decided we’d just eat at the hotel again. The restaurant was empty, even though a few people had eaten in the lobby, and we’d be more comfy in the room. I wasn’t too hungry, so we just got one curry (boneless chicken handi), plain rice, nan and raita. And it was soon delivered. The tastes are really good, but the chicken was a bit chewy and not really worth the extra rupees you have to pay. It did make a good decent meal though. We were trying to watch some TV movie, but it was pretty rubbish, so Stew put more ‘Breaking Bad’ on netflix, while I needed to get a reference written for Sean, before heading to bed.

We had a comfortable nights rest, and thankfully the loud mosque right next door, only made a short call around 5am. We dosed on quite well after that, and got up around 7.30am to make some tea, and get online for an hour. Stew was getting his news fix, while me a few emails. We planned a touristy day and knew the museum opened at 9am, so we dressed and headed down for breakfast around 8.15am. The dining room was deserted, with no sign of any buffet, so we went to check at reception. We were told there was no buffet this morning, but individual order. So we went back to sit down, and the waiter came along – we ordered toast and Stew also ordered fried egg, and black tea. The tea was very strong, so we managed to get a pot of hot water too. It did make a nice change, with butter and tasty mango jam. Breakfast done, we got ready to set out for the day. The streets weren’t too busy, but still such a lot of dust about – you taste it as soon as you step out of the door. It was only a 15 min walk, and we found the place pretty quiet to start with. We had to get ‘Foreigner’ entry tickets (400 rp), and an extra 25 rp for the camera. The building was magnificent, and we really enjoyed walking round the cavernous rooms.

There were some restorations in progress, but as with most things we’ve seen in Pakistan, everything was covered with a film of dust. Each room had at least one security guard, just sitting doing nothing much – giving them a cloth to do some cleaning wouldn’t go amiss. The rooms were separated into different themes, with quite extensive collections from China, Burma and Tibet. There were some really interesting small sculptures, from the early people in the region (Habanan?),

nd of course evidence of the British Raj all over, including a huge sculpture of Queen Victoria. Stew liked the armoury room best, with some of the longest rifles I’ve ever seen – they must have been 12 ft long. There was a beautiful old hatchet, and musical instruments of war too.

There were marching drums, and some great horns and trumpets, even from Tibet too. An upper floor was dedicated to the fight for the independence of Pakistan, from the later 1930-40’s – So much of the leader and champion of the cause (?), with walls covered with old B/W photos of the time. By the time we’d finished wandering there were several groups of well behaved young school children being taken round too, but apart from them we only saw one other group of tourists – Chinese, with their police escorts too. We headed back outside, hoping to find the bookshop open – but it wasn’t. There were some locals outside and they wanted to take photos with us – so many in the end. And then they moved onto the Chinese visitors too. By the time we’d done the bookshop was just opening (10.30am) – and I was keen to get a few postcards (along with the Chinese too). Stew also got a bottle of sprite, and we sat on a bench in the shade, to write one of the cards to send. I had stamps from yesterday, and we were passing the post office on the walk back too.

We were back at the hotel around 11.30am, and made a brew in the room. There was yoghurt left over from last nights meal, so we both had some fruit and yogurt, which was a nice change. We went straight out again, taking a rickshaw to the old fort, passing the minar-e-Lahore tower on the way.

It was a good 20 min drive, through some pretty bad traffic and big roads, so I reckoned we’d have struggled on foot. The rickshaw dropped us off at a building site, with a long path way leading towards the fort. They were doing so much construction work on a huge expanse of land around the fort site. There was even a tent village for the workers – and it was so dusty and dirty. And a police fork lift truck!

We made out way round, and soon found our way to the ticket office and entrance gate (another 500 rp each as foreigners), and then into the fort proper.

It was amazing, such a massive structure – the biggest fort we’ve visited I’m sure. The outer defense walls were huge, and so high up to the ramparts. An inner even higher wall lead into the main compound – It had all been tiled at some point. A lot was derelict, and some parts were being restored, but even so it was very impressive. The only other foreigners we saw were the Chinese with their police escort again, and no other white faces. We were asked to be taken photos with so many times.

There were huge quadrangles of gardens, lawns and trees, which we crossed as we made our way in and out of the various buildings and pavillions.

By the time we made our way out it was already 2pm, and another 30 mins rickshaw ride – the traffic was even worse. We were so hemmed in at one point, we were being over taken by donkey carts. We made it back to the hotel by around 2.40pm and made a quick cuppa before getting ready to go out again. We wanted to see the Wagha border closing ceremony, and asked for a taxi in reception just after 3pm – We sat and waited and waited, and waited some more.

No sign of a taxi, but there was an outdoor barbour shop right outside the hotel wall! The reception guys assured us the taxi was coming but by 4.10pm, it looked like we’d no chance to get there. Then finally the taxi arrived, we climbed in and then started a very slow progress through the heavy traffic – by 4.20pm, we were no where near out of the city, and knew we’d never make it to the ceremony on time. So we told the taxi driver to take us back to the hotel (and paid him 500 rp for his troubles). An opportunity missed, but we could try go again from the Indian side after tomorrow. We headed back to our room. I wasn’t too hungry, but we wanted something to eat, and didn’t really fancy the offerings on the street. So I went downstairs to order us some room service. Stew wanted fries (pototoe), while I just wanted some dall, and we ordered a portion of roti too. The food was really good, and Stew enjoyed the proper potatoe fries with some dall and roti. Definitely enough for a decent meal, and we finished off the evening with some coffee and a couple of biscuits. It wasn’t too late, when we turned in for the night, listening to music over the headphones.

We slept well, and were up early with the mosque call, making hot tea around 6.30am. We knew the border wasn’t open early, but even so we wanted to be there in good time before too much traffic. We then set about packing, and wanted to get everything strapped on the bike before breakfast. We were all ready by 8am, and heading into the breakfast room, were happy to see the buffet spread on again this morning. Stew had a good helping of the channa and aloo dishes with paratha, while I just had a bit and then made a slice of toast with mango jam, for something sweet after. Breakfast done we paid our bill, and got into our riding gear. We were on the road by 8.40am – and we found our way out pretty well. We even saw an UBER pink tut-tut, which I just managed to snap a pic of 🙂

We were heading in the same direction as the fort yesterday, but not turning off, it was only another kilometer onto the ringroad. It was so quiet, as we were waved passed the toll booth – and then not much further we were stopped by the traffic police. Apparently motorbikes, are not allowed on the ringroad. We pleaded our case, saying ours is a big bike, and being friendly to foreigners, they said we were OK to use the nearside lane. The day was already warm, but in no way fresh – there was so much dust in the atmosphere, and the air quality was so bad. Road signs saying ‘Avoid Pollution’ seemed a bit of a joke!

As we got to the last 5 km to the border, the first sign was the long queues of truck, and then we reached the first checkpoint. After that there were passport checks every 500m – and really no other traffic about. Everyone was friendly, but it was quite slow going. After a third check (I think), we were directed into the immigration hall. It was just about 9.30am and just about opening. It must be one of the quietest border crossings we’ve been to, with hardly anyone else making the crossing, and no other foreigners. We were processed quite quickly through the Pakistan side, getting the carnet stamped out too. And we managed to change the 4500 rp we had for Indian notes. Then we were onto the famous Wagha gates – and really a land border like we’ve not seen before..

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