Bikes packed before breakfast, which was served at 07:00am. Pakistani breakfasts for Martin and myself – spicy omelettes and paratha, porridge for Karen which suited her well as her stomach is still a bit upset.
We left Balakot about 08:00am, and quickly picked up the climb into the hills. The objective of the day was to get to Gujranwala – about 380km away – and based on our previous experience along these roads I was expecting a long day on the bike and that’s what transpired.( 400km. 10 hours.)
In many villages here in Pakistan they have installed traffic calming devices – either ‘sleeping policemen’ – speed bumps that slow you down, or rows of metal teeth that have the same intent. Many of the speed bumps are quite high and we’ve scraped our bash plate across a lot of them, grateful that we’d replaced the stock bash plate with the longer ‘enduro’ plate in Perth before we left on this trip.
A couple of days ago I almost sent Karen flying off the bike when I hit a speed bump that was hiding in the shade of an overhanging tree – the road was broken up, pot-holed and wet, hence the surface was all black and the speed bump was perfectly camouflaged, and I didn’t see the speed bump so there was no warning at all. When the bike hit the bump Karen was catapulted into a standing position and was fearful she was going to get thrown off the bike.
Today’s drama occurred at one of the many rows (actually they installed in two or three rows) of the low metal teeth – as usual I slowed down and looked for a line that would take us over just one row of teeth (the rows offset and a single-track vehicle a la motorcycle can run over one or two teeth, depending upon the line taken) – and just as we went over the metal plate we received a massive jolt – as if we’d ran into a brick wall. Karen as snapped backwards against the spare tyres strapped to the top-box. I was certain we’d have damaged with both tyres and or wheels as the force was huge, but the bike continued on and all indicators showed that the integrity of the tyres was still intact.
Initially I thought that perhaps one the metal plates had flipped up and caught the tyre, but when we stopped in Abbottabad for coffee I checked the bike, and two of the three mountings that attach the rear mudguard to the swing arm had cracked and the mudguard could now pivot up and down so I’m more inclined to think that the mudguard had swung down and caught the metal plate, a bit like the arrestor hook on an aircraft. Either way I’ve now removed the mudguard.
From Abbottabad I led Martin out towards Murree – ‘Shiela’ his GPS personality wanted to take him to Islamabad via the main road, but Martin loves the twisty, scenic roads, and the road north Murree is delightful to ride.
We stopped around midday at the Amore Hotel, halfway between Abbottabad and Murree – initially to see if Karen wanted to stop for the day, and when she said she was feeling better and up for the long ride to Gujranwala, to have a coffee in their almost western cafe.
Back on the bikes we passed the monkey place where you can buy food to feed the monkeys – not that Karen did this but she still got off this bike to take a few photos, and a short while later I saw two falcons sitting on their perches next to their trainer, but we didn’t stop here.
Once we’d passed Murree the traffic going down towards Islamabad was much worse – the ride to Murree had encountered very little traffic on the twisty roads, but the other side was busy and it was difficult to overtake as the straights are so short. We did see two cars that had a head-on accident, but the police were there so we didn’t stop.
As soon as we dropped down to the plateau the temperature and humidity started to increase, and also the manic Pakistani driving. We took the bypass road to avoid Islamabad, but once we’d picked up the Islamabad Highway heading south to the N5 it was like the Wacky Races.
I’d calculated in my head that we should arrive in Gujranwala about 6pm, and we hit that nail on the head. The traffic was quite chaotic and we lost Martin shortly after negotiating a messy traffic snarl. I slowed down and crawled up the road in first gear but still I couldn’t see him in the mirrors so I pulled off the road to wait.
Very quickly we had a small crowd of onlookers around us, and then we had two Highway Patrol police cars pull over and park, lights flashing. This only attracted more onlookers, and within seconds we were in the middle of a crowd six people deep, with people spilling onto the busy roadway.
The police were extremely friendly and courteous, offering every assistance. As I described our trip to one of the policemen and described how wonderful Pakistan was and how friendly the people were, he translated my words for the benefit of the crowd. It was getting dark and the crowd was so big I was concerned that someone would get run over, and there was no way I could see if Martin was coming, so I accepted an earlier offer from the police to be escorted to the hotel – the Marian, where Karen and I had stayed previously on our way up to the north. I had previously hoped we could turn around and go back and look for Martin but there were no breaks in the dividing wall that ran down the centre of the highway, and in the darkness it would have been difficult to spot him.
Red and blue lights flashing, we followed the Highway Patrol car to our hotel, with the second car behind us. It took about ten minutes to get to the hotel and it was completely dark when we arrived, and we were grateful for the escort. Karen explained that we had lost a riding companion, but without a phone number the police could do little to assist.
Karen checked with the hotel reception but they said they had no rooms available, which was a dilemma as there was no where else to stay and Lahore was another 60km down the road. As we discussed options in the car park outside the hotel entrance – including putting the tent up on the hotel lawn – a man asked us if we were staying at the hotel, and Karen said no rooms were available. The man then went inside and spoke with the staff there, and a room magically became free. Through sheer good luck we had been approached by the General Manager of the hotel, and he’d cancelled another booking to accommodate us!
We checked into our penthouse-sized room – perhaps the best in the hotel, and shortly afterwards the phone rang – Martin had tracked down us down to the hotel and was downstairs at Reception! His bike had gone onto reserve but had then stalled and wouldn’t restart. He had then pushed his bike to a petrol station to get some more fuel, and the bike started straight away.
We were all exhausted, but after showering and a change of clothes we all enjoyed the twin steaks in the restaurant and a good chat about our day. Martin remarked that he hadn’t quite believed me when I had said that it would be a long ride but had since come to appreciate just how slow it can be on the roads over here.
Tomorrow Martin will cross into India at the Wagah border crossing, whilst Karen and I relax for another day at the Marian. We’ve enjoyed Martin’s company a lot, but he needs to push onto Nepal to get his visa for Myanmar – perhaps we’ll see him in South East Asia somewhere on his way to Australia 🙂