Bahawalpur Estate where the BBQ was held (Bahawalpur, Pakistan)

Bahawalpur Estate where the BBQ was held
(Bahawalpur, Pakistan)

Armed with my Iranian visa I set off for the border. Seven smooth days with no problems, then I’d be out of the region’s trouble spots and safely in Iran enjoying the famed hospitality I’d heard so much about.

My first stop on the tour of Southern Pakistan was the city of Bahawalpur. Mansoor’s mate Ahmed had offered me a spare bed which I was only to happy to accept. As I got closer to Baluchistan and safety concerns increased, the more local contacts and safe havens I had the better, was my way of thinking.

So with safety in mind I set off on the highway south on a the first day of Muharram. A day that it was suggested in some quarters that I should stay off the road. I had made the call to proceed after talking to a number of sources. Boris had so far slipped under the radar pretty well so I was confident there wouldn’t be any issues. Most of the Muharram processions, and thus concentration of people were going to be in the cities, making the open road quieter and safe to travel on.

The drive south was fairly in uneventful apart from the of loss of communications. What I hadn’t factored on was the government shutting down mobile communications across parts of Pakistan. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to contact Ahmed when I arrived, which posed an interest conundrum of how I would find my accommodation that night?!

I reached Bahawalpur around 4pm and fortunately the mobile network was working when I needed it. I met up with Ahmed and his mate Shoaib at Shoaib’s restaurant. We had a late lunch, then drove to Ahmed’s house to drop Boris off before heading out for a BBQ with their mates. On the way I got stopped by a security checkpoint and asked where I was from. I’m from New Zealand mate. With a wryly grin the police officer asked me if I was part of the New Zealand Taliban!! Nah mate, don’t think there is a New Zealand Taliban, I said. O.k you can go. Cheers mate.

That evening I met a big bunch of Ahmed’s mates who always met up for a BBQ and a few drinks on Muharram. We had a night of great food and great banter, at an amazing location. It was a bit of a late one though so I wasn’t feeling so flash when I had to get up at 4am to drive to Sukkur. Fortunately for me, Boris’ drivers seat motor jammed and I couldn’t move it into position to drive. I was going to be stuck in Bahawalpur for another day to fix it. The silver lining was I got to go back to bed. At 5am I wasn’t complaining.

Bahawalpur BBQ Boys (Bahawalpur, Pakistan)

Bahawalpur BBQ Boys
(Bahawalpur, Pakistan)

Bahawalpur BBQ Food (Bahawalpur, Pakistan)

Bahawalpur BBQ Food
(Bahawalpur, Pakistan)

My hosts Shanzah & Ahmed (Bahawalpur, Pakistan)

My hosts Shanzah & Ahmed
(Bahawalpur, Pakistan)

A day later I said farewell to my hosts Ahmed & Shanzah and departed. The next stop was Mansoor’s village near Saliqabad. Here I met Mansoor’s dad, Zahoor and brother, Saad and we went for a walk around the fields. Agriculture is big here. Cotton, sugar cane, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, sunflower seeds/oil and wheat play an important part of the local community business. We then chilled in the courtyard waiting for friends from Peshawar to arrive for a BBQ lunch around 2pm.

The fields of Saliqabad (Saliqabad, Pakistan)

The fields of Saliqabad
(Saliqabad, Pakistan)

My hosts Saad & Zahoor (Saliqabad, Pakistan)

My hosts Saad & Zahoor
(Saliqabad, Pakistan)

Sunset near Pano Aqil (Pakistan)

Sunset near Pano Aqil
(Pakistan)

At 3pm I headed for Sukkur. Outside a town called Pano Aqil on the way to Sukkur, I rang my contact Ashiq and told him I was nearly at the toll gate close to his house. He didn’t understand anything other than the name of the city I called out. There was silence, followed by laughing at both ends of the phone as neither understood what the other one was saying!! However he was there waiting for me though so all everything was o.k. We then drove 30kms in the opposite direction, away from Stukkur to a private farm. Here I meet an assortment of people, as I was the special guest for the evening. Alee was my English-speaking contact. He was a nice guy but he eventually drove me nuts with non-stop questions. I got no peace and after I long tiring day, the same old questions just wore me down. I finally escaped at 9.30pm to bed after arguing about what time I would leave the next day.

The amazing hospitality was starting to get to me. Eating, talking, eating, talking, driving all day. Then repeat. Day after day. I could feel the need for a few nights in a hotel to myself.

Early morning sunrise near Sukkur (Pakistan)

Early morning sunrise near Sukkur
(Pakistan)

Ashiq & Alee (Near Sukkur, Pakistan)

Ashiq & Alee
(Near Sukkur, Pakistan)

It was a frustratingly slow start to the day as Alee didn’t quite appreciate my urgency to get on the road early. It wasn’t until after 10am that I finally left Sukkur for Quetta. Adding to my frustration was a nervousness of where I was going and that I could sense something wasn’t quite right with Boris. I had a bad feeling.

Quetta in Baluchistan was probably the biggest hotspot on my entire trip. The one place I was concerned about the most. It was the most high-profile in terms of recent terrorist activities and a place where I would be escorted everywhere, with very little freedom to move about. I had to travel through the area to get to Iran. There was no other way. I wasn’t expecting any major problems but one thing this trip has taught me is to expect the unexpected. It was the one place above all, that I wanted to travel through quickly and smoothly.

So when Boris’ brakes failed just outside of Jacobabad I was left shaking my head in anguish, muttering why me?! Fortunately I was 10kms short of the Baluchistan border where the security really increases. A couple of calls to Alee and I was put in touch with his old school friend Yasir, who lived in Jacobabad. Don’t worry, Alee said, Yasir will help you. Next thing Yasir turns up with his armed guards and his mechanic. Boris was patched up and we drove into Jacobabad to get him fixed. It turned out it was just warn out brake pads, which we had changed and we were good to go by the evening. I was a little confused why the brake pads had worn out so quickly. The previous set had lasted twice as long. I had my suspicions that the service in Delhi might have caused a problem.

Boris' brake failure (Jacobabad, Pakistan)

Boris’ brake failure
(Jacobabad, Pakistan)

Yasir's Hotel (Jacobabad, Pakistan)

Yasir’s Hotel
(Jacobabad, Pakistan)

As it was too late to continue I had to stay in Jacobabad. Yasir just happened to own the best hotel in town, where I was put up as a guest (for free) for the night. I was certainly grateful I had my network of local contacts. I’m not sure I would have solved my problems as quickly as I did.

My drive to Quetta the next day was positively boring in comparison. It was a slow start getting through the Baluch border, along crap roads and with lots of security escorts. I made it within 30kms of Quetta with a mix of security and no security and over a dozen checkpoints by 4pm. It was a pretty chilled ride to be fair, while travelling through a lovely barren landscape.

The Road to Quetta (near Quetta, Pakistan)

The Road to Quetta
(near Quetta, Pakistan)

My security detail heading into Quetta (Quetta, Pakistan)

My security detail heading into Quetta
(Quetta, Pakistan)

Welcome to Quetta from the birds  (Quetta, Pakistan)

Welcome to Quetta from the birds
(Quetta, Pakistan)

The journey into Quetta involved being handed from one police unit to another (every 2-3kms) as we made our way into town and finally to the Bloom Star hotel. In total it had taken me eight hours to travel 300kms. I checked in and chilled with some complementary green tea. I was relieved that there had been no further problems. Tomorrow I would apply for my No Objection Certificate (NOC) to travel to the Iranian border and be on my way the day after. As I couldn’t go out sightseeing I had no choice but to relax in the hotel. A pleasant surprise was finding a replay of the All Blacks v England rugby match on that evening in the hotel. A top win for the AB’s and sweet revenge for the smashing win took a year earlier.

The next day I headed off to the Home & Tribal Affairs office to apply for my NOC. I applied at 9.45am and finally got it back at 3pm. It was a long boring day sitting in an office arranging paperwork but I finally had my permission to leave the next day. Travelling abroad can be so rock’n’roll at times!

That permission was revoked ten minutes after leaving the hotel the following day. There was fighting or something bad on the road my guard said, in his dodgy English. That’s wasn’t a good sign. So it was back to the hotel where I found out it was actually a strike in support of an assassinated politician by his supporters. I’d have to stay for another day and as a result get another NOC. Bugger!! My guards took me back to the Home & Tribal Affairs office to get a new NOC. Here I was given the news that the strike would last for two days, so I would have to stay for two more days. Oh yippee!! The thought crossed my mind that I was going to be cutting it fine with my visa expiry date, but there was nothing more I could do.

Breakfast in the sun (Quetta, Pakistan)

Breakfast in the sun
(Quetta, Pakistan)

The police force at one checkpoint leaving Quetta (near Quetta, Pakistan)

The police force at one checkpoint leaving Quetta
(near Quetta, Pakistan)

Desert views leaving Quetta (near Quetta, Pakistan)

Desert views leaving Quetta
(near Quetta, Pakistan)

After four nights in Quetta I was finally allowed to leave. As reward for my patience I had a nice and slow eight-hour drive with escorts all the way to Dalbandin. The day ended well though as Mansoor had arranged for the Assistant District Commissioner to look after me. So when I was stopped by a car load of serious looking chaps at the edge of town and asked for my passport, I just mentioned Saifullah Khetran’s name and I was escorted directly to his office for afternoon tea and biscuits. Fabulous. We chatted about the usual things like where have you been? where are you going? are you travelling alone? A new question threw me though. How do you satisfy your feelings? asked Saifullah. I nearly spat my tea out laughing. After that bit of entertainment I thanked my host for his hospitality and was shown to the local tourist hotel, for what I hoped would be my last night in Pakistan.

Afternoon tea with the Assistant District Commissioner (Dalbandin, Pakistan)

Afternoon tea with the Assistant District Commissioner
(Dalbandin, Pakistan)

The road to Iran (outside Taftan, Pakistan)

The road to Iran
(outside Taftan, Pakistan)

And it was, that on the 23rd of November 2013 I made it to Taftan, cleared customs (without any inspection, again!!) and immigration (without them realising I’d over stayed by one day!!) before heading across the border. Iran awaited and a return to the freedom of travelling by my own free will. I couldn’t wait!!

9 Responses to “The Badlands of Baluchistan, A Braking Boris & Holidaying in Quetta”

  1. And how is it that you satisfy your feelings?

  2. Friends who have been to Iran had a fantastic time. Look forward to reading your impressions. Hope it goes well.

    • It’s been a rough start to my time in Iran. Two weeks after arriving I’m finally starting to enjoy the place.

  3. Hi Jon

    I’m enjoy looking through your blog, I’m a big fan of Pakistan. Is that picture of the estate in Bahawalpur your own? Is it open to the public?

    It’s rather a shame that Quetta and Baluchistan have become so security conscious, the area is one of my very favourite. Glad to see however that you got into Afghanistan with your car.

    I hate to say this, but as a fellow Toyota owner I am shocked at how unreliable your truck is… are you sure it’s not a Land Rover 😀

    Good luck with the last bit of your trip

    Daniel

    • Hi Daniel,

      Glad you are enjoying the blog. Pakistan was great to visit. The estate in Bahawalpur is a private residence but I could put you in touch with the right people and they might be able to show you around. Let me know.

      Don’t be to hard on Boris. He spent 2 years driving around Africa before I got him. Unfortunately I ran out of time to fully prepare him and a few problems have resulted. To be fair if the gearbox hadn’t gone (as a result of a problem I had before I left – just found out today) I’d have been pretty happy with its performance. I’ve lost a few days along the way due to small problems that take a while to solve when you are in the middle of nowhere.

      Hopefully I’ll be back on the road shortly.

      Jon

      • Poor old Boris, seems he has had a hard life. A shame you had such a bad time in Zahedan, Baluchistan is really fantastic, though I guess the police minders must spoil it somewhat. I really hope you get Boris sorted out soon so you can have at least a few relaxing days in Iran. Visa extensions were easy in Tehran when I was there, so there’s always that.

        Good luck!

        Daniel

      • I appreciate your support Daniel. We drove Boris for the first time last night. Today we do the final checks and then I’ll be on my way. It’s not the visa expiry that worries me so much but a self imposed deadline to get to Istanbul by the 24th for a flight to Paris. I’m meeting my Mum for Xmas. As she has flown over from NZ it’s a must-do event. There is never a dull moment in this part of the world.

        Jon

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