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.