Pakistan is amazing!

Now this will be something new for those of you who have followed me for a while. Two blog posts within the course of just a few days! Anyhow, we are slowly catching up to my current whereabouts and this time I will tell you (almost) all about my week or so in Pakistan. The plan for Pakistan was to cross from the India border at Wagah in the northeast to the Iran border at Taftan in the far west. The first half of the journey up until a town called Sukkur I would do on my own and for the second half I would be joined by my awesome guide Mohsin and a security escort to take me through the province of Baluchistan (if you are ever planning a trip to Baluchistan in Pakistan – which is something you should be doing – reach out to Mohsin at City Express and he will help you out!).

My route through Pakistan
Pakistan

Day 96 – entering Pakistan: After a fantastic week in India it was finally time to enter Pakistan through the famous Wagah border crossing. I had my visa and everything in good order so the border proceedings were quite straight forward and I was through the whole process in less than two hours (which is quite normal when attempting to bring a foreign vehicle across borders). My first stop in Pakistan was Lahore (less than 30km from the border) where my dear friend and colleague Andrea had put me in touch with her dad Håkan who works in Lahore, so I was heading to his house where he had kindly offered me to stay.

About 30 minutes after entering Pakistan I had my first encounter with the wonderful Pakistani hospitality when I got a little bit lost in Lahore. When I stopped to call Håkan for some directions a couple of very nice gentlemen immediately pulled up and offered to help me find my way, and once I explained where I had agreed to meet Håkan (in an area of Lahore called Gulberg) they guided me onto the right road to get there. I know I have probably said this 10 times by now about 10 different countries, but Pakistanis are truly among the most hospitable people I have met in all my travels!

After another half an hour or so I eventually arrived in Gulberg and was immediately treated to a fantastic little oasis of Sweden in the middle of Pakistan. A comfortable bed, hot shower, cold beer, filter coffee, some good chocolate and even a gin and tonic! And as I arrived on a Sunday I got to join in on the weekly tradition of having a steak at a local steak house, which was most pleasant and much better than I would ever have expected in this part of the world. After that welcome protein injection we went back to the house and sat up talking about my trip, life in Pakistan and Australia until late in the evening (here is where that G&T came about).

Day 97 – accidentally buying a painting: As it was Monday, I had the whole day to myself to explore the local area as well as catch up on some of the detailed planning for the Europe stage of the trip. Also, sleeping in was on the agenda (and was successfully accomplished). My first mission outside of the house was walking over to the local shopping center to withdraw some cash and try to get a Pakistani SIM card for my phone. After succeeding with the former but not the latter, I gave up and went for a leisurely stroll through the lush streets of Gulberg back towards the house.

Met these kids as I was walking through Gulberg, Lahore
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As I didn’t really have any plans I was very excited when I saw a sign for an art gallery (the unicorn gallery, no less) up a side street, “why not check out some Pakistani art now that I am here?” I thought and headed that way. That turned out to be a fantastic idea! Not only were the owner Seemah and her daughter Soraya absolutely delightful and friendly people, but Soraya was also a super talented artist herself and I completely fell in love with one of her paintings and spontaneously bought it. After spending the next few hours in the gallery talking about everything from the local art scene to world politics I headed back to the house but only after making plans to come back for lunch the day after (did I mention the amazing Pakistani hospitality?).

Buying a painting 
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Back at the house Håkan soon returned from work and we largely repeated the activities from the night before, staying up much later than I am used to at this stage. Håkan also managed to get me that SIM card I was looking for earlier in the day, which would prove essential for the rest of my travels in Pakistan. Håkan, if you are reading this, huge thanks again for being such a fantastic host in Lahore!

Day 98 – mostly having lunch, but also going to Multan: I basically woke up, packed up the bike and then went back to the unicorn gallery for lunch. And what a lunch. I probably stayed for four hours, enjoying great local food (including, but not limited to a tasty brain masala) and more stimulating conversations. If you ever find yourself in Lahore, be sure to stop by the unicorn gallery! After finally leaving Lahore, it was an easy drive on smooth highways down to Multan where I arrived just after dark and more or less went to sleep straight away.

Day 99 & 100 – getting a police escort and hot weather: It took two days to pass the eastern parts of Pakistan from Multan to Sukkur. Upon leaving Multan I had to check in with the local police who decided I needed a security escort (initially in the form of a police car going in front of me on the road) from there onwards, a couple of days earlier than I had expected but no issue as it is free of charge and the Pakistani police usually are a jolly bunch to hang out with. So although the only thing I could see myself needing protection from was the risk of excessive hospitality, I was not too fussed about having them around. Particularly entertaining was observing the vast variation in type and quality of escort vehicles, ranging from perfectly modern pickup trucks to tiny 70cc mopeds to finally just having a police officer sitting on the back of my bike!

The most fun form of police escort!
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Another thing. I don’t know how many times I will say that I am experiencing the hottest temperatures of the trip but hopefully this will be the last. As I was making my way southwest in Pakistan the thermometer crept up to settle around 44 degrees, which makes for very challenging riding. Especially as the police escorts usually swap (one district handing over to the next) in the middle of nowhere with no shade in sight and every minute of standing still feels like being steamed alive inside my riding gear. So upon reaching my hotel in the evenings my first order of business would be setting the AC on 16 degrees and curl up in shivers on the bed for about an hour until my body was back to normal.

Day 101 – meeting up with my guide and heading into Baluchistan: In the morning I finally met up with Mohsin and his crew (Mohsin, Khawar and Ashfaq), who would be going with me in their car for the remainder of my stay in Pakistan. The plan for the day was to make our way from Sukkur (located in the desert in central Paksitan) to Quetta (located in the mountains in the western part of the country). Imagine my excitement when Mohsin explained that on the way we would have the pleasure of passing through the hottest city in all of Pakistan… Anyway, after some hours of excruciating heat and the occasional break for me to sit in the air conditioned car for a few minutes to cool down we made it to the mountains and started getting to more moderate temperatures.

Mohsin and I waiting at police checkpoint somewhere along the way
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No desert is complete without camels!
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In Quetta I stayed at a super charming little hotel with a nice garden and (as far as I could tell) no other guests but myself. After unpacking and having a shower Mohsin and Khawar came back in the evening with some dinner and after that I went to bed, exhausted after another day mostly spent in 40+ degree heat.

Day 102 – a bonus day in Quetta: The plan for this day was to start our journey towards the Iran border, going from Quetta do Dalbandin which is roughly half way to the border. Only that did not happen at all. Instead, about an hour after dinner the night before my stomach started feeling a bit odd… I then proceeded to spend the whole night in the bathroom and by 6am or so in the morning I decided I was so dehydrated it would probably be a good idea to go to the hospital. So I woke the hotel receptionist up, hopped on the back of his motorbike and he took me through the empty streets of Quetta to the nearby hospital.

At the hospital, I was quickly showed to a bed in the medical ward and my arm hooked up to an IV drip. There were about 12-15 other people in the ward in various levels of distress (the guy on my right seemed to be completely fine, the guy on my left had been bitten by a cobra), but being a bit of an exotic guest at a regional hospital in Pakistan I got plenty of attention and was soon diagnosed with some good old food poisoning and my drip was spiked with various things to speed up my recovery. Eventually, after some moderately successful communication between the hotel, the police and my guide Mohsin my whole crew also showed up at the hospital, followed by lots of discussions (including a little bit of flirting) between my guys and the doctors whilst I was dozing off…

My view for most of the day
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When I woke up again early in the afternoon I already felt much better and after a while I was asked to go see the head doctor in charge of the whole medical wing of the hospital, who had a quick look at my tongue and concluded that I was recovering just fine. He then insisted I have some tea with him and then I would be moved to a VIP room for another batch of drip before being signed out a couple of hours later. Again this amazing hospitality! Unfortunately I have no photos but the VIP room was like a luxury time capsule from the 70s, complete with dark wood paneling and plush beddings in various shades of brown and yellow. It was amazing! After another couple of hours of napping I was signed out, driven back to the hotel where I had the prescribed diet of white rice and yoghurt and then went to bed.

Day 103 – heading towards Iran: In the morning I was feeling like a somewhat capable human again and hence we took off towards the Iran border, only 24 hours delayed. This is a very remote area of Pakistan, with few towns and stunning desert landscapes complete with camels and sand dunes trying their best to consume the road. But the road was good and our police escorts were mostly fast so we made some very good progress and decided to continue past Dalbandin and head closer to the border.

Riding through the desert landscapes of Baluchistan
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Where the boundaries between road and desert are sometimes a bit fuzzy
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We eventually made it as far as Nokkundi where there are not really any hotels but because Mohsin and the guys know everyone who’s someone in Baluchistan we were offered to stay at the resting house for government officials located in the local Customs compound. So we had a very pleasant evening, sharing photos from all the various cameras and enjoying some very nice homemade food.

We then set our alarms for an early departure to get us to the Iran border by 10am. But I will tell you all about that in my next update!

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