All posts for the month August, 2015

We spent the (night of 28th), 29th, 30th and 31st Aug as a guest at the home of Iqbal Ghangla, a fellow “biker traveller” who is a frequent host to foreign travellers to Multan. He tells us he hosts around 400 people each year! Amazing! He describes himself as “not a wealthy man” who leads a simple life, but at the same time refuses to take any kind of payment, gift or token of thanks…we tried but he just flatly refused saying it would offend him. He is a bit of a legend in Pakistan, having travelled many, many kilometres on a variety of motorcycles he owns. He is the Patriarch of a local group called Multan Adventure Group and involved with the Pakistan Bikers Travellers Association. He is also an accomplished  action/adventure photographer. He told us he considered us family….Vince his brother and I his sister.

Multan is very agricultural, and extremely hot and humid! As for all of Pakistan, the power goes off regularly (at least two or three times each day for a few hours) and it was a killer for Vince and I. Locals described Multan as having no middle class….your are either the very wealthy or very poor…..we saw both during our stay.  I have to say that people who have nothing….will give you all that they have here… was a very humbling experience for us as Australians. I think by comparison of how shamefully we treat visitors to our country and both Vince and I can see the opportunity to change when we return home….we can learn so much from Pakistani people about kindness and hospitality….they are the Masters! The food in Pakistan has been the absolute BEST we have had on our whole trip so far……truly wonderful! When we first arrived at Iqbal’s, we were greeted with drinks and flower lais….followed by a showcase of his collection of vintage Vespa’s, a new Suzuki 150 kitted out for adventure travel (it’s for his son who is 15 but needs to be 17 before he can ride it), his 660 Tenere, Honda 150 as well as several other small bikes…..very impressive.

Iqbal, his family, and friends (whom we met over our stay), all welcomed us into their homes, businesses and lives, they all insisted on treating us to meals, drinks and showing us around….as well as sharing their insights, beliefs and daily life. It has been an absolutely fascinating experience and we have learned a lot. Vince and I felt very overwhelmed at the friendliness, generosity and hospitality of the Pakistani people….even total strangers stopped and insisted on giving us drinks when we ran out of fuel on the main street, in one of Iqbal’s small bikes. We both developed colds, and although I love the Pakistani food it was giving me heartburn…so Iqbal kindly organised for us to go by Tuk Tuk to visit his family Doctor, who not only treated us but refused any payment, as we were “guests of Pakistan”, and then sent out for drinks for us! Just as an adjunct about borrowing the small bike… was a big adventure in itself….riding without body armour for the first time…..and even three up on a bike at one point….Iqbal, Vince and me on the back in the organised chaotic traffic of Multan, Pakistan!

Vince and I felt extremely honoured and privileged to meet a wide variety of Iqbal’s friends, including some local business owners, Ilyas Khan Durrani (United Mall) and Manyal Chandio (Security Manager United Mall), Saeed Khan (Alnoor Electrics Concern),  Shoaeb Sabir (Honda -Sabir & Saghir Auto Service) and others such as the Vespa Paint Shop and Flour Mill (unfortunately I can’t recall the names….my apologies).  Vince was really impressed with the many “boy toys” owned by Hassan Reza (Farmer and descendant of the Prophet Mohamad)…he took us down to his “village” where we were treated to fresh mangoes (No 12 local style) and a welcome cool off in his well/irrigation reserve….by the light of the full moon….magical.  Hassan had kindly showed us earlier through the old walled city and his family tomb/shrine and we met his cousin, the son (Ali?) of the current head and his wife, of the 46 generation Shia Muslim family. During our stay I saw very few women, and the only one I managed to actually have a conversation with was Hassan’s cousin’s wife……she is a teacher and we had a very interesting conversation in her home….she was extremely relaxed, candid and open with me…….it was a real pleasure  and provided direct insight into the real life of a muslim woman. I felt privileged that she shared her life with me….It appears women are the same the world over, regardless of culture and religion!  Although all the men we have met here have been extremely polite and accommodating of me as a Western Woman in their inner sanctum, it is also been very clear that women in Pakistan hold a very different place in their husband’s lives…..and to be honest it really is a “boys club”. I think that if the men had their way, I would have been invisible and they would just have spent time with Vince……but as I say….they were respectful of the fact that in our Western culture women have a different role and my husband and I wanted to be together. This was much appreciated and I really enjoyed meeting them and talking with them. I was very impressed with some of the good work Ilyas Khan Durrani is doing to combat illegal dog fighting in Pakistan ….he is passionate and rescues many animals with his own funding.  Being the dog lover that I am I found this exceptional.

The Western media would have us believe that Pakistan is dangerous and not a place where Westerners are liked or should go…..however, the practical experience of visiting this amazing place has been the direct opposite (with the exception of the armed escorts previously as a precaution). Whilst Iran was very friendly and welcoming….the level of direct care, kindness and hospitality offered and given in Pakistan has been out of this world. Westerners are very welcome and cared for……and it’s not about tourist money… one would let us pay for anything…..we have been treated like Royalty here.  So much so that we have altered our original plans, basically to transit through to India, and we are now headed North to see the KKH…..a dream of Vince’s for many years……our new friends have shared photos of what we can expect and it is pristine and beautiful…..we are very excited.

(The Karakoram Highway (KKH – or N-35 in Pakistan) is one of the highest paved international roads in the world  Connecting Sinkiang Uighur of China and Gilgit–Baltistan of Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, located at 36°51′00″N 75°25′40″E, at an elevation of 4,693 metres (15,397 ft). It is known as the 8th Wonder of the World)

Vince and I would encourage any Westerner’s with an open mind and heart to come and experience Pakistan for themselves…….the people here are the BEST reason to come and visit…..we have been through about 20 countries or so now…..and no where have we been made more welcome or looked after better.  Come see for yourself ….you won’t be disappointed.









Sukkur to Multan – 490km (including 20km overshoot & 20km back-track)

Our iPad alarm went off at 05:30am, allowing us 30 minutes to get organised before our pre-ordered breakfast of omelette, toast & jam appeared at 06:00am. We were expecting to be collected at 07:00am by the escort and the three Italian 4×4’s as advised the preceding evening, but when I went out to the bike at 6:10am our escort was already waiting outside for us so we loaded the bike as quickly as we could and by 06:35am we were following our escort to a petrol station where we refuelled, and then waited the next hour for the 4×4’s to appear, along with another escort vehicle.

Whilst waiting I organised some of the curious local boys into two facing lines and went through a basic karate drill – detaching shirt grabs – but the enthusiastic crowd was starting to swell quite considerably so a policeman chased them away and asked us to sit near their patrol vehicle.

Karen waved to some local ladies walking past and en masse they came up to greet us, but what started out as quite innocent started to turn a little bit as we were swamped, and again the crowd was chased away by a policeman.

We got going as soon as the 4×4’s arrived – once again I took up position directly behind the police vehicle leading the convoy, upsetting I think the driver behind – but I can’t see past his wide 4×4 and it’s easier for me to be behind the police utes as I can see them and they can both see us and look past us easily to see the cars behind. In addition – I can keep up with the police as they zip between the traffic where as the slow diesel 4×4’s always fall behind.

The road from Sukkur to Multan is about 450km long and is green on both sides with crop cultivation – rice, cotton, sugar, mangoes. Mills were dotted along the route to process the raw crops, and lots of trucks plied the highway carrying goods up and down, often overloaded and bursting at the seems.

On the subject of trucks we saw four separate truck accidents – all of them looked very nasty, but the police didn’t slow down at all – they kept on pushing along. We averaged about 40kmh for the day, though did have a short stint of 100kmh which was quite enjoyable. The police would sound their sirens to get trucks to pull over and make way for us – one truck was slow to do this and the police waved a big stick at him as their ute pulled up alongside – later in the day another policeman smashed the door mirror off a truck that was too slow to move over – and the police indicated to us via sign language that the driver had been on his mobile phone as well.

We managed to get a quick drink from our water bottles being carried by the Land Rover at one checkpoint mid-morning, and about 12:30pm we signalled the police sitting in the covered ute that we needed a drink, so they pulled over at a fuel stop a few km down the road. Karen and I had our usual lunch – some dry granita biscuits, water, and a bottle of coke bought from the shop that was quite revitalising, and we’re ready to continue on after ten minutes, but the Italians had set up for a gourmet lunch and told the police to wait for them as they needed to finish brewing their coffees. A similar incident yesterday over coffee, and the Italian Job Fiasco last night had already tiried our patience and this was the last straw for Karen – we were sweltering in the hot, humid conditions in our helmets and riding gear, and when the officer recognised our willingness to get moving he got his men back in the ute and sped off, bike right behind and the 4×4’s in various states of disarray.

In the afternoon we stopped at a few check-points and when asked where we were going, we always said ‘Multan to see our host and friend, Iqbal’, and gave they police his mobile phone number,. We would then redirect the police to the Italians to discuss their needs as we did not want to get involved in which hotel they wanted this time. But later in the day, as we approached the outskirts of Multan, we veered NE and started heading towards Lahore. Having won a gold medal in navigation only yesterday, Karen was hot to impress again today and sure enough, she started to see road signs saying that Multan was behind us. We were already into a 12 hour day again.

I stopped the bike on the side of the road so we could check with police and find out where they were taking us, and they answered ‘Lahore, which wasn’t the right answer for us. This was because the Italians had told them we were ALL going there! We thought they were coming to Multan. The Italians were furious with us that we’d stopped the convoy – both Karen and I had sharp words with two separate drivers, telling them to settle down and pull their heads in. Contrary to what one driver said to Karen – the bike CAN and WILL stop the convoy if that’s what we need. She set him straight on that score, as well as the fact it was our escort in the first place ….not theirs and we were not going to Lahore (another 320km onwards)….the Italians has no right to tell the police otherwise.

The police led us another km down the road where one policeman stayed with us so another escort vehicle could arrive and take us back to Multan, whilst the Italians carried on to Lahore. Neither Karen nor I were impressed at all with their dramatics – they didn’t mind it when we stopped the convoy earlier today so people could have a lunch break, nor yesterday when Karen (sans-GPS) figured out we’d overshot Sukkur and needed to turn around, and we where glad to be on our own, albeit with Bilal, our Punjab Police Commando.

We waited in an airconditioned office attached to the petrol station whilst the police tracked down Iqbal and rustled up another vehicle – when it arrived the local Elite Squad Commander was with his team, so we complimented him on the efficiency and courtesy of his men as they have all been wonderful. Bilal treat us to a cold coke and we chatted about places to visit in Pakistan. His AK47 was equipped with two magazines taped together to double the number of rounds – when I saw the rest of his team they also had the same magazine configuration, and this is the first time I’ve seen this arrangement in Pakistan.

Siren blaring, the police ute raced back into Multan, and we stuck to the rear bumper as close as I dared. We were riding into the setting sun and the late afternoon traffic was chaotic, but the police vehicle bludgeoned its way through the cars and trucks and motorcycles and tuk-tuks, and we followed closely in its wake. After about 30 minutes of riding mayhem we pulled over, and a short while later a sleek black Toyota pulled up and Iqbal, our host, bounded out and introduced himself to us.

The Toyota led the police, and the police led us, down a few bumpy and muddy side streets before we arrived at Iqbal’s three-storey mansion, set in some beautiful gardens and surrounded by high walls. Iqbal welcomed us with flower wreaths, and after a swathe of photos we sat with Iqbal, some of his friends and the police team under the shade of the trees on the grassy lawn and enjoyed a welcome and relaxing cool drink.

Admitted to Iqbal’s care, the police team were dismissed and so after a solid round of hand-shakes and thank-you’s they remounted their ute and took off – job well done!

Iqbal calls himself a ‘biker traveller’ – and the term fits him perfectly. On the verandah of his mansion was sitting his Yamaha 660 Tenere – the only local bike bigger than 150cc I’ve seen here, and in his garage he showed us his collection of about seven or eight vintage Vespa scooters, including two recently restored Vespa’s. He also showed us the brand new Suzuki 150cc motorcycle he has bought for his son (aged 15 now, can ride it at 17), complete with panniers and top box, as he sets his son up to join him for adventure travel rides.

Iqbal showed us to our room and after unpacking the bike we showered and relaxed for a while, before Iqbal explained that we would go out for the evening, and I would ride his old 150cc bike with Karen on the back and follow him on one of his vintage Vespa’s. We grabbed our helmets – we were in our off-bike gear – and after a few kicks on the kick-starter we wobbled out onto the bumpy road in front of the mansion as I got used to the four-down heel-toe gearbox, and disconcerting brakes. We bumped down a muddy alley way and popped out onto an unlit main street, first riding along the footpath until I was a bit more familiar with the bike, and then out into the chaotic street traffic.

The riding was absolutely crazy – Iqbal was scooting ahead in his Vespa and I was trying hard to keep up, all the while dodging pedestrians and vehicles and camels and donkeys. We just shaved along the side of a donkey cart parked on the street – without street lights and blinded by the lights of oncoming cars it was very difficult to see, and Karen was “speechless” in her enthusiasm for such an entertaining ride.

10-15 minutes later we arrived at a very upmarket shopping centre and after walking through the metal detector at the entrance, into a lift that the locals were told to get out and let us in by the security guard, then Iqbal led us to the manager’s office on the top floor, where he introduced us to his friend. We had a stimulating conversation and shared a delicious traditional Pakastani meal. After dinner his friend showed us videos of the rally 4×4 he would like to build, and slideshows of the scenic delights of northern Pakistan. Iqbal showed us photos he has taken at various car rallies – he’s a very talented photographer and his action photos are awesome!

About 11:00pm we said our goodbyes to Iqbal’s friend, who has invited us back again, and remounted our loan bike for a slightly more sedate ride home, made easier in the lighter traffic but still quite an adventure. It had been a very long day and quite tiring as well, but the challenges of the day had been replaced by the friendship and hospitality we had received first from the police and then from Iqbal and his friends, and we slept soundly in this knowledge.

As we are advised not to travel on the 26th due to security issues on the road to Sukkur our escort was postponed until the 27th. After a quite and uneventful day in our hotel yesterday we were well rested and ready to move on. Some Italian tourists had arrived on the 26th, and they would be joining our escort to Sukkur.

We started early, without breakfast, as our escort was due to pick us up at 7.00am….we were up and ready with the bike packed well before and waiting. The 3 four wheel drives (white, beige and red) belonging to 5 Italians were also lined up as they were slowly alighting from their sleeper sections and finishing off their breakfast. The gentleman on his own (his wife is flying to meet him in India) offered to carry extra water for us as he is a biker too and knows what it’s like. We were very appreciative of the offer and took him up on it. (Note here that the stickers they had made for their trip included :Lets Get Lost….but more about that later!)

Once the escort arrived we were quickly on our way. The beige car was quite aggressive and pushed to the front….which meant in the heavy traffic it was difficult for us to see past and we could not see the escort properly. We all stopped to refuel and Vince took this opportunity to get behind the escort vehicle….much to the disgust of the beige car driver….who continued throughout the day to try to get in front…..but Vince was smarter than him and managed to maintain our position… a convoy situation the bike should be at the front!

The road from Quetta and the towns beyond, were a feast for the eyes with so much going on, traffic everywhere, vehicles of all shapes and sizes, often overloaded….including with animals and people….unbelievable. At one point I saw a goat being pushed into the luggage compartment of a tour bus….I saw chickens in Tuk Tuks, a motorbike with a rider and pillion and a goat straddled across the seat between them (missed the photo though). There were carts pulled by donkeys, horses, camels and bullocks! Life was busy in the city streets…even at that early morning hour.

As we moved over the mountain pass we saw our first glimpse for water…..after days and days of travelling only through desert. As we moved across the provinces, from Balochisatan, through Singh and into Punjab, we saw the landscape soften and fill with greenery and crops and the obvious signs of irrigation and agriculture were evident. We saw camels and water buffalo in addition to the everyday goats, sheep, cattle, horses and donkeys that we have seen elsewhere.

There were many passport and security checks along the way and with the addition of 5 extra people (who I have to say were very disorganised in having their papers ready) it became a lengthy, and very hot process. The temperatures were in the 40s and when we are moving on the bike it is tolerable, but when we stop it is just insane! But we kept our fluids up and tried to keep our patience….life in a convoy!

We often see the Jilly Trucks broken down….marked with rocks to warn others…..but today we also saw some accidents……not very nice!

At one point we were told that the police would take us to a rest stop as there was an issue on the road and not safe for us to travel for about another 30 min. So we stopped for a cool drink….the escort then came and told us we needed to go! Over the past 5 days we have discovered that escorts wait for no one….and rightly so…they have a job to do. (In fact over the escort time I dropped a glove and we just had to leave it behind…..the lock from Vinces pack safe fell off but we just had to leave that too). So when the message came back that we had to wait because the Italians refused to leave because they were making coffee….Vince and I were unimpressed but said nothing….and just sweltered in silence. Later for a lunch stop things seemed to be a bit better organised with us all being ready to go at the correct time. The police really are marvelous, once we left Balochistan we had no more Levies escorts, but sometimes it was regular police and at others an elite squad of commandos.

Our “Italian Job” came at the end of the 12 hour day…..despite the NOC banning the use of GPS (so we didn’t use ours) they were using theirs but all three vehicles failed to spot when we overshot Sukkur and were headed for Multan……I alerted Vince when I saw the road signs and we pulled over our motorbike escort to discuss. The Italians went off their trees at the policeman and attracted quite a crowd. Vince and I tried to keep a low profile and eventually we were on our way to the hotel the Italian’s wanted, the Inter Pak Inn. We cooperated, as we felt that the convey would need to stick together to be easier for the escort tomorrow. However, when we got there they decided it was too expensive and wanted to go somewhere else. It was a bun fight between them all……Vince and I had already checked in, but luckily not unloaded the bike. The Italians argued with the police saying it was the wrong hotel and remained unconvinced when the police assured them this was the only one of that name. Eventually, we set off for another hotel. Again the Italians were not happy…..I was sunburnt, soaked in sweat, dirty and my dermatitis was manic…..Vince and I said we were going to stay at that hotel (Euro 30) and we left them arguing out in the street! The behaviour was ridiculous and we just wanted away from it. It has really tested our patience today and we are not looking forward to travelling with them again tomorrow….but we will make the best of it….that’s what Aussies do!

We had a very welcome shower ….even without hot water…..the room was air-conditioned…..and though the power still went off (at least two to three times a day everywhere we have been in Pakistan) they had a generator that kicked in. The meal was great and we have ordered an early breakfast for the morning! I was asleep before my head hit the pillow…in fact poor Vince didn’t even get a proper “good night” or kiss, as he was downloading GoPro footage and I fell asleep!


Today was a rest day for us at Hotel Bloom Star, Quetta. The road south from Quetta to Sukkur is about 420km long and crosses the Kachhi Desert before reaching the provincial border of Baluchistan and Sindh Provinces. Despite some of our earlier escorts saying that we wouldn’t need a NOC (No Objection Certificate) to travel south of Quetta, all of my research on Horizons Unlimited had suggested that a NOC was an essential prerequisite, and our Australian 4×4 friends – Claire and Emiel – had needed to get a NOC in Quetta just a week earlier, so we weren’t surprised when we had been told the previous evening that the Police would collect us this morning and take us to the Home and Tribal Affairs Department to obtain our NOC.

As an explainer – the NOC is a piece of paper that states that the relevant local authorities do not object to having a foreign tourist travel a particular stretch of road, and that the Police will provide all necessary security arrangements to ensure that nothing untoward happens. The NOC has to be presented at the Police check-points along the route, and without a NOC you will not be allowed to proceed.

Karen and I had a simple but enjoyable breakfast of toast and jam, tea and coffee in the cool gardens of the Bloom Star. A local family staying at the hotel were very intrigued by our presence – I counted about 10 or so young children, and they were fascinated by us. Initially timid and shy, with some coaxing they eventually came out and sat with us. The eldest boy could speak English and so we chatted with him, whilst his younger cousins and siblings just sat and smiled. The girls were dressed in very colourful dresses, and many wore armfuls of bangles and sported henna tattoos on their hands and feet. The boys wore the traditional male dress – not unlike a pair of plain coloured pyjamas.

One young girl – Sophia – was particularly taken with Karen, and Karen gave her the ‘Save the Rhino’ bracelet that she had bought in South Africa last year to add to the collection of bangles on her arm.

The elderly grandmother came out from behind the garden fence from wher she had been watching proceedings, and the young boy introduced her. She spoke no English but we still had a chat with her, and she sat and joined us and the children.

After breakfast we bade farewell to our Baluchistan entourage and presented ourselves at Reception, ready to go to Home Affairs. Four armed men from the ‘Anti-Terrorist Team’ arrived, and one of them procured a tuk-tuk to take Karen and I, with the four men astride two motorcycles.

The tuk-tuk drive to the Home Affairs office was one of the wildest rides I’ve ever had – it would have featured perfectly in a James Bond chase scene. As the lead motorcycle raced off the tuk-tuk was right behind the bike – literally just an inch off his rear wheel. Time and again I thought that we’d crash into the motorcycle as there was no space at all between us, and we were weaving through traffic and dodging obstacles all the time. The motorcycle veered down a side street, bouncing over a speed bump with the tuk-tuk in hot pursuit – Karen and I both thought we’d roll over as the weight shifted cornering hard over the bump, and we may have nudged the police bike at this point, but the wild ride continued unabated for a few more minutes without any accidents but plenty of exciting moments.

We pulled into a secured carpark and alighted, and the guards formed up around us and marched us through a complex of official buildings before leading us up the steps of the Home Affairs office. We were led down a dark corridor and admitted into a large office where seven men were working, surrounded by high piles of paperwork, and our team left us at this point.

We were made very welcome by the men in this office. They inspected our passports and prepared our NOC application, offering us sweet tea in the process. One smartly dressed man – he sported a waist coat over his blue pyjamas, sat with us and described some of the aid programs that Australia contributes to in Baluchistan, involving irrigation and water management, crop development, and livestock management. Apparently Australia has developed a lot of relevant experience and knowledge in these areas that is applicable to the farmers in Baluchistan, and they share both their knowledge – and a portion of the profits.

We were led to three other offices down the other end of the long corridor to obtain approvals from two officers, including the Deputy Secretary of Home and Tribal Affairs Department (and we enjoyed a brief but very pleasant chat with him) before moving on to two other officials, then returning to the first office and after a short wait, receiving our NOC. Everyone was most professional and helpful. The administrative process took about an hour or so.

Another Police team was organised by phone and when they arrived we retraced our journey back to the Bloom Star, but at a slightly less frenetic pace. On this journey one policeman sat next to the tuk-tuk driver, AK47 on his lap.

Back at the Bloom Star we enjoyed a spicy lunch in the cool gardens, and I was introduced to the elderly man who maintains the gardens here – and it’s obviously a labour of love as the gardens are immaculate. Whilst he didn’t speak any English I think he could still appreciate the compliments I offered about his garden, as he grinned a big toothless grin that stretched from ear to ear.

Throughout the afternoon we had numerous men pop by to sit and chat for a while, keen to hear about our travels and practice their English-speaking skills. At one stage we had about five men chatting with us, but the hotel manager chased them away eventually so we could eat our dinner in peace and quiet.

It was another hot night and when the power went out and our room fan stopped I grabbed a blanket and a pillow and slept on the balcony outside our first floor room, overlooking the garden below, as this way I could enjoy the cool evening breeze rather than roast in the room.

Woke up before sunrise to the sound of dogs barking, roosters roosting, and Imam calling the faithful to morning prayers. We put our mattresses away and left our rooftop bedroom to go downstairs and get ready for our anticipated 07:00am pick-up by the next Levies team arranged to take us out of Dalbandin. Our two overnight Police guards had slept up on the roof with us – in fact one of them had recommended that we sleep on the roof as the hotel power goes off at midnight and the overhead fans in the rooms no longer work and they become a sauna.

About 7:30am our escort arrived and we were quickly on the move, taking in the sights and sounds of Dalbandin as it hustled and bustled into life. We had two quick stops – the first to get some water for the trip, and then fuel – 14 litres for about 1,200 rupee, served out of a plastic canister and a tin can through a cloth-covered funnel.

Ali, the officer in charge of our morning team and proud driver of the brand new Toyota Hilux Levies ute had said that we were to meet up with three other tourist vehicles at a check-point down the road, but we never met any other travellers throughout the long, hot day.

We had approx 320km to travel from Dalbandin to Quetta, and we averaged 50kmh across the whole day. The day’s temperature peaked around 41.5 degrees – so not quite as hot as some of our previous riding days, but I was feeling quite sick with nausea through a lot of the morning, which made the riding difficult. The Levies have perfected the hand-over of travellers from one escort team to the next, so the change-overs are quick – so quick we often didn’t have time to grab a drink of hot water from our water bottles stuffed into the cavity of the spare tyres strapped to the back of the bike.

Fortunately we were invited inside a hut at the check-point at which Ali and his team handed us over to our next escort – a man on a 125cc Honda with his rifle slung over his shoulder, and we were offered a revitalising tea inside the hut before we moved on, and the sweet tea helped settle my nausea.

The terrain for the start of the days ride was across a flat and barren wasteland of a desert. In places sand drifts had crossed the road and we had to ride across these sandy patches in pursuit of our escort vehicle.

As we approached the first hand-over point – just east of Padag I think – we picked up a low mountain range to the south of us and followed its contours to the hut where we had the sweet tea. This area seemed more inhabited and there were signs of crop cultivation and livestock, benefiting from water derived from the mountains.

Following the next escort on his 125cc Honda we left the hut and immediately around the next bend was a grassy oasis with perhaps 50 camels grazing on the grass. We whizzed past the camels and none of them battered an eyelid, heads down instead as they ate.

Trees started to pop up on the plain, and we entered a small village, pulling up behind the escort under the shade of a tree outside an Islamic Boys School, and waited briefly for our next escort – this time two old sunburnt men on a single motorcycle, the pillion with his rifle in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other. The boys at the school came out to see us – or more likely the motorcycle – as we waited for our escort, and that was a bit uncomfortable as they crowded around us, touching and fiddling with the bike. We were happy to get going again, and the breeze as we rode on was also welcome.

A short distance down the road we were handed over to two young guys on a motorcycle, and for the first time in the day we picked up our speed a bit, even managing to get up to 100kmh! We hoped that we’d have this escort all the way into Quetta, but it wasn’t too long before they handed us over to the next team.

All in all we lost count of the number of escorts we had throughout the day – probably between 25 and 30, and the number of check-points we had to present our passports to, and complete a log book with our particulars. With that said all of the police officers and Levies were very professional and courteous, and we enjoyed their hospitality and kindness. At one stop the Police showed us the drip irrigation system they had installed that allowed water to run down the reed wall of their shelter, cooling the breeze as the air passed through, and their dog ‘Tiger’ who they were training to guard their check-point when they were out on patrol.

The day progressed at a slow rate, and at one stage we were a bit concerned that we may not make it to Quetta, but once we’d passed Nushki – the typical overnight stop for escorts that can’t reach Quetta in a day – our confidence increased even if the speed of our escorts didn’t – and at times we were crawling along at 30-40kmh, baking in the sun.

We entered the mountain range and the road became quite fun to ride on, twisting through the hills as it climbed up towards Shaikh Wasil, before flattening out in a cultivated area. Our escort here pulled over and waved us on. We checked with them that we were free to ride on unescorted and they said ‘yes’, so we slipped into sixth gear for the first time in the day and enjoyed our run up to Lak Pass. The traffic at the tunnel here was banked up so I followed two motorcycles down the wrong side of the road as no oncoming traffic was coming through the tunnel, and when we popped out the other end we found out why – two trucks had collided and caused a traffic jam. We squeezed between the chaos of trucks all over the road and pushed on our merry way for another few kilometres before we came to another check-point where the absence of an escort caught the Police by surprise, and we were pulled over.

The Police at this check-point were wonderful, inviting us to sit in their hut and offering us cold water from their urns whilst they got onto the radio, trying to figure out what to do with us. An elderly gentleman came in and chatted with us – he spoke excellent English and explained how he was an Immigration Officer and had spent twelve years working in Taftan, before moving to other positions throughout Pakistan. This man had a large paddy-wagon parked outside the check-point and he explained that he’d heard that a large number of Afghan men were rumoured to be moving through the area without the necessary papers, and he and his officers were waiting to pick them up. Sure enough we saw two men inside the paddy-wagon when we arrived, and another eight or ten were offloaded from a bus stopped for inspection and they too were bundled into the wagon.

We sat on the ‘naughty bench’ outside the check-point hut and watched the vehicle inspections continue, and waved at the passing traffic. Utes full of girls dressed in bright, colourful dresses would pass by and we could hear them singing – it was a wonderful sight. Colourfully decorated truck and buses with live goats and people on top sped past. After 30 or 40 minutes a Police ute pulled up and an escort team alighted – giving us hugs of happiness that they had finally located their wayward tourists.

We were quickly on our way, and soon afterwards started to enter Quetta. The roadside chaos was a delight for our eyes and ears after the drab monotony of the desert crossing. Our destination within Quetta was the Hotel Bloom Star – the Bloom Star gets a mention in the Lonely Planet guide and is – we found out later – the only place that foreign tourists stay at when in Quetta. Whilst we only had a few km to ride to our destination we had perhaps six or more escort teams take us along various sections of the main road. My favourite escort was the armoured car that had his siren on, Karen liked the covered ute with three armed Police in the back – constantly alert and with their fingers resting on their trigger-guards. Every time we slowed down for traffic these men would pop up from the back of the ute and survey the surrounding area like uniformed meerkats.

We followed the escort vehicles as close as I thought safe – we’d sit behind them by just a few feet as they pushed their way through the afternoon traffic. Any cars or rickshaws that came too close were warned off by the Police – a little tap on their rifle enough to convey the message.

The last team we had needed to turn right across a busy, congested intersection (upon entering Pakistan we’ve switched back to riding on the left-hand side of the road), and one officer jumped out of the Police ute and stopped the traffic so we could pass through. A short distance later we were ushered into the secured car park of the Hotel Bloom Star, and the OIC formally handed us over to the hotel staff, and then left with his team.

We signed into the hotel register and were shown to our room – dilapidated and basic, but after sleeping on a rooftop in Dalbandin and in a Levies lock-up in Taftan, our room was almost as good as anything the Hilton could offer.

After a cold shower – no hot water here – we ordered dinner (chicken curry & chicken masala) – and a couple of alcoholic beers arranged by the Bloom Star staff – and then after downloading our photos from the past few days and watching them on the Mac it was time for bed – a long, hot day on the back of the four previous long, hot days – but we’d arrived safe and sound in Quetta and we’d had a wonderful adventure getting here. Mission accomplished!!!

After a night on the floor of the Levies Lock-Up guard room, we woke around 6.00am and got changed into our riding gear…as we had no idea what time the escort would be leaving….we had just been told it would be early. As it turned out we got no notice….just a guard popping his head in the door around 7.00am and saying “we go!”. They stopped for fuel….we didn’t need any….and then we were on our way. Another stop to pick up an extra armed officer (making 4 in total) and we were out in the desert…..desolate and foreboding. Taftan is very rural and it seems a harsh existence there….but the goats were happy in the main street!

At the first check point the boys all got together and I sneaked off to take photos of the first wild camel I have seen! One of the guards followed me and tried to coax the camel closer for my picture…but no luck…we had to go….and the escort waits for no one….rush, rush, rush!

Further along the sealed road was closed off…..we think due to a sandstorm that cut it off and sand needing to be removed….but we were not sure. In any case it involved going off road into the desert……yes folks, that’s right….we can now claim the adventure of riding off road across the Sandy Desert of Baluchistan!!!! Go Adventure Girl and Adventure Boy! I was a little alarmed when our armed escort stopped unexpectedly in the middle of the desert….but it was only for a toilet break for one of the guards!

Back on the bitumen, we saw a rock that Vince thinks is Pakistan’s answer to Ayres Rock in Australia. I was fascinated by the highly decorated (and often overloaded) trucks on the road….awesome! When we arrived at Nokkund we had to go to the police compound and wait for our next escort to be organised. There was one particular young officer who was quite cheeky but left us in no doubt he would shoot anything that looked sideways at us! This particular escort was much faster and we hoped that we had them for a while, but soon enough we were handed over at a subsequent meeting point that involved removing the remains of a truck accident where a man had died. This time it was a motorbike escort with the pillion having an AK47, we seemed to alternate between Toyota utes and motorbikes. I am a bit unclear exactly who is who but there seems to be at least three different groups….the Levies, Police and the FC Militia. In any case they are all involved in protecting us.

We arrived at the Al-Dawood around 4.30pm and the next escort chief met us and got us organised into a room in the hotel (1000 PKR 10 Euros per night). The room was dilapidated, stinking hot, with only a fan, two single beds (mine had blood on the sheet) and the power goes off regularly. We had to ask for towels, which were threadbare and there was only a squat toilet. We were told to go to our room, freshen up and come down for lunch in 10 minutes…..are we in protection or are we prisoners…..Vince says a bird in a gilded cage is still a bird in a cage! A little later there was a change over from the Levies to the Police….2 AK47 armed officers who followed us everywhere….checked our room and made us lock all our windows (which we had opened to try to cool down). They were very nice….and stayed all night with us….watching over us constantly….even taking Vince to the shop next door to by some water and drinks…….the other one stayed with me in the hotel. Many of the people in the hotel were very friendly and sat and chatted to us….I asked a question about schooling and I inadvertently opened a pandoras box…..the next thing I knew I was being handed a phone to speak with the local Principal of the Bright Future Community School….and one of his teachers……they wanted me to come and see their centre….which I couldn’t. The next thing I knew they arrived at the hotel along with 10 of their English students ….we all sat in the garden (under armed guard of course)….Vince joined us and it was a very pleasant time. We gave them all a sticker and encouraged them to stay in touch. I will check out their website and when I get back to Australia will see what resources etc I can assist them with. (I was also subsequently contacted by three members of the BEF Balochistan Education Foundation as a joint government and banking sponsorship program for remote community schools in the province….they invited me to tour their schools…..but I had to decline due to having to leave for Quetta).

Welcome To BEF(Balochistan Education Foundation)

After saying goodbye to our new friends we invited our body guards to have dinner with us. It was very interesting talking with them and finding out about their family and professional lives. They also told us that the power goes off at midnight and doesn’t come on until morning and the room will be too hot….so they suggested we sleep on the roof. We took their advice as even with a fan the room was like a sauna….and the four of us were happily sleeping on the roof under the stars!

We got up at 4.30am to load the ANIMAL and be on the road by just after 5.00am. Akbar, our host at Akbar’s Tourist Guest House (US$30), got up to see us off. We had carefully packed the gift of famous Bam Dates he had given us the night before, for our long desolate journey through the desert. We were afforded the opportunity to watch the magnificent sunrise over the Iranian desert…..very romantic and special.

The 440km trip from Bam to the border at Mirjaveh (Iran) and Taftan (Pakistan) was hot (41.5 degrees Celcius) and very dry. The hot wind off the desert was like a blast from a furness. We saw a bus on its side along the way…not sure what had happened but we saw lot and lots of Camel Warning signs… actual camels though!

We stopped for a checkpoint just before Zahedan (390km from Bam)…this was a bit scary as there were armed guards everywhere and our passports were taken from us….always stressful for me when I don’t have my passport! Vince was called in by the big boss and they took him to a locked compound…..this really stressed me out as I waited with the ANIMAL. But my fears were unwarranted….they had been just chatting about our plans and the cricket! The big boss had offered us an armed escort to the border but Vince had politely declined (as he had heard that they really slow you down). Our passports safely returned, we stopped in Zahedan for fuel. This was of great interest to the locals, who have no idea of personal space or boundaries, we found ourselves quickly surrounded with hands and heads being very inquisitive so we got out of there as quickly as possible. Just out of Zahedan there was another checkpoint, and again Vince disappeared into a locked compound….but I was much less worried this time.

As we got closer to Mirjaveh we could see the mountains that have Afghanistan on the other side, and land mine signs all alone the edge of the desert… stopping to take a toilet break here! Not for the faint hearted this adventure travel!

About 4km short of the border we were stopped at yet another check point and the guards were very nice, giving us chairs, water and shade….but at the same time insisting on an armed escort to the border. We had to wait a little while but before too long they arrived….4 guards with AK47s….two in the front of the vehicle and two riding shotgun in the back. We had to keep a relatively close distance and if we got to far back they would put on their hazards to make us come closer. The younger military officer in the front had our passports and carnet and helped organise our exit from Iran by getting our passports stamped and although it took him about and hour and a half to finally find the correct customs office to stamp our carnet du passage… was all eventually in order. Vince through the whole experience was amazing…I found it much more stressful …. as I watch our documents slip continually out of sight and at one point some Inspection officers (with guns) were insisting on our passports and carnet….which we didn’t have……but luckily the other armed escort returned for us and sorted out the problem. Thank goodness for those blood pressure tablets of mine! We were exited from Iran with military precision and professionalism by the armed escort officers. However, there were a few at the final exit who treated our passports with disrespect….passing mine around like a dirty picture and handing it on to other guards who really had no need to see it……Vince thinks its because they don’t see pictures of women without their Hijab and my passport photo shows my hair. It made me very uncomfortable…but as they all had AK47’s I wasn’t going to argue the point!

The contrast with Pakistan on the other side of the gate was astounding. People came up and welcomed us….helped us go to the front of the passport line…change our money without hassling us at all….they showed us the customs office for our carnet (although it turned out to be the wrong one). The official at the small Customs Office explained we need to go to the big Customs House for our carnet and he instructed an armed officer to go on motorbike so we could follow. We did this but it took us to a tiny building with a dirt floor and several military uniformed people. They spoke little English but we managed to explain we needed a stamp….they got us to fill in about 4 different registers…including a from for Levies Protection….none of which was explained to us. We got our carnet handed back unstamped and I quickly picked up our passports they had just left on a desk as we were ushered to follow another guard on a motorbike….supposedly to get our carnet stamp.

We arrived at a secure compound with double walls. I disembarked the bike inside the first gate and was ushered into the second gate which was locked behind me, leaving Vince on the other side….I was very uncomfortable. When I turned around I realised I was in a male prison…..I quickly followed the guard who was making his way to an office….but no one was there. He disappeared into another room and I was left standing, carnet in hand, looking across the quadrangle at a multitude of prisoners in the yard, some in cells, some in chains….but most just sitting on the ground in the oppressive heat. I felt panic setting in but then the gate opened and Vince rode in on the ANIMAL. It was a relief to see him….but neither of us knew what was going on. Eventually one of the armed guards indicated for us to come into the guard room where we sat on the hard concrete floor as a prisoner made us some tea. No one spoke much English so it was very difficult. I was not at happy camper at all, and the sounds of the guards “extracting” confessions was not helping, but at least it was now clear we were not actually prisoners as we were on the “good” side of the yard. One of the guards, who could see I was stressed tried to explain we would go to Quetta tomorrow….it was only 12.05pm ….not a happy thought!

After what seemed like a lifetime, a guard came and took us to the next room where the Assistant Commissioner, who could speak English, told us that we were under Levies Protection and would go to Quetta early in the morning. He apologised for the basic conditions in accommodation but as it was a remote outpost it was all there was, and we were safer inside than outside. I asked about our carnet….and he said he would get one of his officers to sort it out (this eventually happened in the evening but only after I spoke with the Governor of the Jail and he got two Guards to take Vince to Customs House). Despite the language difficulties and very poor conditions the guards made us a comfortable as possible. They shared their food with us (lunch at 3.oopm and dinner at 11.15pm) and the hot brackish water they have to drink. There was one squat toilet, and to get to it you had to walk through the yard with the prisoners, and in a cell next to the toilet a man was crying and in chains. We could not shower, or even brush our teeth! We slept on the concrete floor of the guard room with only a light mat flooring and used our jackets for pillows. It really was one of the most difficult situations I have ever had to face in my life, but I must admit it was also a very unique opportunity to see things in action in the Levies Compound, as that night over 200 Afghani prisoners were brought in due to trying to cross the border without papers. It certainly is a busy place and the staff work extremely hard there. The Levies is a paramilitary role within Balochistan that keeps law and order in the rural communities (Area B). Within the cities (Area A) the police have responsibility for law and order.

Yadz to Bam (Iran)

The Orient Hotel (US$50 per night) did offer breakfast at 7.30 but we wanted to leave early to avoid the heat of the day as much as possible on the 560km trip from Yadz to Bam. So by 7.00am we were on our way, making a brief stop for fuel. Along the desert road we saw an accident that had just happened….but plenty of help was already on the scene so we didn’t stop to offer assistance. We saw sheep for the first time in Iran, previously we have seen goats and a few camels.

At our second fuel stop a group of women approached us, with two small children wanting to take photos….I agreed as the little girl was completely fascinated by me….I also removed my helmet of some of their photos and gave her a sticker…..I guess I am something she has never seen before….it’s illegal for women to ride motorbikes here and even if they are a pillion, none wear any protective body armour or helmets.

There was a vast nothingness to our journey for most of today….but every now and then there would appear a group of domed mud brick houses….literally in the middle of nowhere! I don’t know how people could live in these extreme conditions. Another phenomenon is the sudden appearance of industrial companies…such as concrete, again in the middle of absolutely nowhere!

Kerman was much larger than we expected and quite modern compared to some places we have past through, including works of art along the roadside along with a Dutch windmill, but we didn’t stop…. we were on a mission to crunch the kilometres and get to Bam. We did call into a small roadside stop south of Kerman and bough some drinks, ice-cream and little cakes…..the only food we had all day. Not ideal but you take what you can get!

We passed through some toll gates…..but as usual no charge for our motorbike….which really should not have been on there in the first place.

When we arrived in Bam around 3.00pm and had a bit of trouble finding Akbar’s Tourist Guest House, where we were booked in. A local motorcycle rider helped out by letting us follow him right to the front gate. Akbar was out, but his helper, Sam (also a guest from England), greeted us and made us some tea. With Akbar’s arrival also came the offer of some famous Bam dates….they were delicious. Our room was basic but adequate….although very hot with no fan or air conditioning. Opening the window did provide a bit of breeze….but it was still very hot.

In the evening Sam took us to one of the few local restaurants where we ate outside in a hut, sitting on cushions on the floor. Unfortunately, I left my camera behind so have no photos of this, or the heard of goats walking along the main street!

At last – back on the road today after being pinned down at our hotel for thirteen nights by the shambozzle of our Indian visas, and we were both looking forwards to our 640km ride to Yazd, our evening destination.

We had a light breakfast at 7:00am and were on the road soon afterwards, taking a different route through Tehran before picking up the same highway we’d travelled a few weeks before when we had headed south to Esfahan.

We refuelled at the stop 30km south of Qom – our third time here, and had a quick drink before pushing on. South of Keshan the road split in half – left lane to Yazd, right to Esfahan. We peeled left and for the first time today found ourselves riding a new road – though albeit we’d already experienced the hot riding conditions and desert vistas previously, so we knew what to expect.

We refuelled at a small servo near NAME, and Karen had a photo opportunity with a young girl in her ‘Miss Men’ t-shirt before we carried on. We kept our breaks short and sparse, keen to cover the distance as quickly as we legally could. There were lots of Police speed checks along the way and I pulled over at one check but we soon realised that the Police had flagged down the car behind me, so we were quickly on our way again. The cruise-control is a bonus out here – I set it to the speed limit and then just relax.

Approaching Yazd I fired up the GPS and selected the ‘Orient Hotel’ coordinates I’d entered the previous evening, but something was obviously amiss when the GPS instructed me to ride another 840km towards the north-east of Iran, so I quickly switched that off. We pulled over and got the iPad out of the top box – I’d taken some screen shots of Google Maps showing at various magnifications our destination, and Karen held the iPad and gave me navigation instructions as I carried on riding. This became a bit harder when her Sena ran out of power, so she had to yell above the noise of the wind.

At one stage I could see a small willie-willie moving towards the street we were on, and the dust was completely obscuring visibility of the road ahead so I pulled over and waited for it to pass which was fortunate as two 44 gallon drums had been blown onto the road, blocking our path.

We found the short road we needed to ride down to get to the Orient Hotel but the entrance was blocked off and the road had been ripped up for maintenance, so I took the next turn, and quickly got trapped into a maze of paths between the mud-brick walls. A young boy offered to show us how to get to the Orient, but he led us into a walkway too narrow for the bike and we were almost wedged in tight before I decided to back out and try another path. A man on a motorbike saw us reverse out and he led us back to the main road and then down the chopped up street, before pointing out the Orient up a little alleyway.

The roadworks had removed any semblance of a ramp from the road to the footpath and then the footpath up to the sloping alley, so I had the wrestle the bike up onto the footpath using a pile of sand and rocks about 20m away, and then used all brute engine strength and zero finesse to get the bike up a steep lip and onto the alley, popping a wheelie and almost dropping the bike in the process. Once I was up the alley and at the hotel I found out that the garage parking was around the side of the hotel, accessible from the rear street where we’d originally been …. duh !!! With that understanding, Karen and I stripped all the gear – including panniers – off the bike, and slimmed down I was just able to scrape the bike through the narrow walkway we’d taken from the opposite end when led by the young boy. The walkway had a few turns in it which narrowed the path and at these I needed to lean the bike over a bit and wriggle the bars to get enough clearance, but with a bit of perseverance, and with Karen guiding me, I got the bike through and then into the secured garage area, which was just a junkyard next to the hotel. This is the beauty of this trip – with no one else to help me other than Karen – if I get myself into a riding situation then it’s up to me to get the bike out again, as there’s no one around that I can get help from. It’s not always comfortable or fun, but it does increase my self-reliance a little ….

Dinner was the most delicious chicken curry, eaten on a day bed on the rooftop of the Orient as we watched the sunset over the Jamie Mosque. The spicy curry was absolutely delicious – the owner’s wife is Indian and her home cooking is a treat. We had the option of chicken or camel curry, and part of me wanted to try the camel, but it had been a long day and I was happy with something simple and straightforwards. Maybe we’ll try camel curry in Pakistan 🙂

Without dwelling on the process as it’s the result that counts – Karen and I gratefully received our tourist visas for India this afternoon from Faranak – the kind lady at the Indian Embassy here in Tehran who assisted us during one of our earlier visits.

The visas include the magical words “60 days stay to travel by road from Attari Wagha land border into India on motorcycle.” It doesn’t get any better than that folks !!!

Back-tracking to the morning, Karen and I started our day with a quick breakfast at our hotel before jumping into a taxi and scooting to the Indian Embassy, arriving just before 09:00am. Karen was able to hand over our passports around 10:00am, and we spent the rest of the morning scrounging up some rations (granita biscuits and baked beans) as we may need them during our upcoming rides over the next week or so.

In the afternoon Karen set to work updating our trip notes – she is maintaining a detailed log of where and when we’ve been places – and I pottered around with some packing – I’ve moved our 2 x 1L water bottles inside my pannier as when they’ve been strapped to the outside of the pannier the water has reached boiling point I’m sure and is quite undrinkable. Beyond that I wrote out some trip notes for Karen so she can guide us out of Tehran tomorrow morning, at the start of our 640km ride down to Yazd.

About 3:30pm we caught a taxi back to the Embassy, and after helping the copy-paper guy carry some boxes inside we waited for 4:00pm to arrive, and with it our passports. Faranak greeted us with a huge smile – she has been very supportive these past couple of weeks, and we had a lovely chat with her before we left, visas in our hot little hands. Faranak has MA’s both in tourism and computer engineering,  and having spent time in India previously – including six months in Kerela in India’s south – she was able to suggest a number of places we should visit.