After a few days of Rest & Recreation in Multan as guests of Iqbal – Pakistan’s #1 adventure rider and most gracious host, it was time to push on towards Murree, about 340km north of Lahore. With Lahore 350km north-east of Multan I wasn’t really expecting to cover the 690km from Multan to Murree via Lahore in one day, but I was hopeful that without an escort we’d make better time than we had previously, and so after loading the bike and enjoying one last breakfast of fried egg rolled up in paratha and fresh mango juice with Iqbal, he kindly led us from his home to the turn-off to the N5 to Lahore so we couldn’t get lost in the Multan traffic.
We refuelled near Khanewal at the petrol station where we had stopped at last Friday afternoon waiting for an escort to return us to Multan after the fiasco with the Italian 4×4’s, but then afterwards I wondered if that was such a good idea as when I’d flushed the washroom cistern on Friday it had half-fallen off the wall, and I wasn’t sure if I’d get into trouble.
On the highway we could max out at the 100kmh speed limit and it was nice to ride without an escort, but our average speed was probably closer to around 40-50kmh as often we’d need to slow down behind slow trucks that were overtaking even slower trucks. The roadside was a combination of rural farmland and developed villages, and both of them threw up constant hazards in the form of erratic tuk-tuks, 150cc motorcycles, impatient car drivers, crater-like potholes, speeding coaches, herds of water buffalo crossing the road, etc etc.
Without an escort we could stop where and when we wanted to, so for morning tea we pulled up to a Pepsi-signposted stall and had a cold drink and a chat with some local men. Pepsi has won the advertising war against Coca-Cola here in Pakistan. We pushed on again in the heat and the dust, weaving between the traffic and chipping away slowly towards Lahore.
Lunch was a quick stop for a drink and some chips before we continued on our way, eventually arriving at the start of the motorway that runs north from Lahore to Islamabad. We’d heard a rumour that motorbikes weren’t allowed on the motorway, but I hoped that Pakistan would be like Iran in that regards and make exceptions for large-capacity foreign bikes, as we’re certainly capable of sustaining the 120kmh speed limit imposed on the motorway.
The six or so Police at the check-point at the start of the motorway waved us on, and so did the toll-booth operator, and we started to enjoy the open road and absence of chaotic rural traffic, but we were flagged down by a police officer and so rolled to a stop to chat with him. He said we really required a permit, but allowed us on with instructions to stay in the left-hand lane, except for when overtaking.
Encouraged with his permission we took off again, only to be stopped again at the next checkpoint further down the road. At this checkpoint the police officer wasn’t so easily swayed, and he called for a police escort vehicle to lead us off the motorway and out to the Grand Trunk. Karen sat on the naughty bench for 45 minutes as we waited for the escort, whilst I chatted with two men from the NHA-MP (National Highway Authority – Metro Police), and found out that the primary purpose of this checkpoint was to enable them to stop all coaches, video the licence plate number, destination board displayed on the front of the coach, and every passenger onboard, whilst the driver dropped off a list of all passengers. This information is retained for a week and then deleted if not required. Karen is getting quite used to sitting on the naughty bench, and once again the kindness of the Pakistan police shone through, as they offered us cold water to drink and food to eat.
When our escort patrol car arrived we greeted the three officers, and then followed back down the motorway on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic before we could find a break in the central dividing barrier and cross to the correct side. A few km down the road the patrol car peeled off at an exit and then pulled over, and we stopped to have an interesting conversation about religion, Pakistani Mystics, famous poets of Lahore (and their counterparts from Shiraz in Iran after I’d mentioned that we had visited Sadi’s Mausoleum in Shiraz), and the interesting sights we’d see by travelling on the Grand Trunk Road north to Rawalpindi rather than taking the motorway.
The conversation with the police officers (one of whom was also a Mystic) was enthralling but Karen was sweltering on the back of the bike, so we apologised once again for the inconvenience caused and took off, quickly picking up the Grand Trunk Road and immediately being swamped by all the road hazards that I’d been trying to avoid.
We kept our eyes peeled for a hotel or guest house as it was late afternoon at this stage and appreciating that we wouldn’t reach Murree today I was happy to call it quits rather than push on too far for limited gain, especially as I was a bit shagged from all the cut-and-thrust riding.
Just as we were approaching Gujranwala we spotted a hotel and pulled in there, and quickly checked into seventh heaven. We were able to get all of our filthy and smelly clothes washed, and we enjoyed a tasty steak in the restaurant – the first we’ve had in months.
Today has been a long day and we didn’t achieve the stretch goal I’d set, but we’ve set ourselves up to make Murree easily when we get going again. Tomorrow will be a rest day here in Gujranwala – I’ll use the opportunity to go over the details of the KKH route suggested by Iqbal, and Karen will upload a few photos from our time in Multan.
Upon reflection we’ve covered Pakistan from west to east over the past fortnight and it’s been a demanding and challenging experience, but it’s also been extremely rewarding and insightful. We’ve been privileged to meet and talk with many Pakistani’s and hear about their aspirations for the country and their sadness at the negative images of Pakistan presented on mainstream western media, and we’re looking forwards to the next part of our Pakistan adventure – the KKH !!!