The experiences, the pictures of alldaily life in Pakistan have pulverized everything that we have seen so far. The country is most beautiful and has wonderful people, unfortunately a lot of them live in extreme poverty and can hardly make a living in a society that is exploited by a corrupt political and military elite that draws profit out of the situation rather than initializting fundamental change. And each who does is being killed by those in power or other extremist groups. The life in the districts Balochistan and the agricultural Sindh, where the flood of 2009 has done its worst damage, is as simple as you can imagine – it will remind you in a way of the Middle Ages. The damage of the incredable watermasses is still visible everywhere: we saw destroyed tracks, streets that were just completely washed out by the flood, little towns out of tents sponsored by the UN with begging people in front of them and many other sad impressions. But the comparison of Pakistan with the Middle Ages meant also something nostalgic for us: We saw beautiful endless golden wheat fields with huge palms in between, women in the most corlorfull dresses, working in these fields without any technical equipment, cropping the golden wheat with their pure hands. We saw little children on the way to their school, carrying all their schoolbooks on the head. We saw more donkeys, camels, cows and carriages than cars on the streets and were impressed by the mountains, the deserts, by the whole nature. Life in Pakistan is organized chaos, loud, hectic, wonderful and horrible in one, simply breathtaking!
So our perception of Pakistan is – to say the least – twilighted, but we hope sincerely, that things in the country will finally turn out to improve. And, starting with our entry from Iran into the country at the very west at Taftan border station, we will try to give you a realistic picture of a underdevelopped, but great country that has to deal with Al Quaida and the Taliban, the political domination by the US, radical islamism, a weak government, a lot of corruption and the consequences of the horrible flood in 2009 (only to mention the most present problems).
Travelling in Pakistan
Our Pakistan experience started rather problematically. At the passport check on the Iranian site we were told that the entry stamp (going back to our entry into Iran at Sero border) was missing, which meant for us, that we couldn’t get the exit stamp from Iranian border officials, which again is necessary to enter in Pakistan. So we were told to go back to Zahedan – the next big city in Iran – to have things worked out. But this was our last day of valid entry visa into Pakistan (April 17th) so every going back would have meant: end of journey for us – at least in Pakistan! We couldn’t believe that a simple (god damn) stamp would lead into so big trouble and I was starting to get really annoyed by the officials insisting on this issue. After some waiting, and even more argueing, they had finally made some calls to Sero border and figured out that two long haired, white skinned Germans (maybe Reinhold Messner and Wolfgang Petry) in a green Volkswagen mini bus, represent no (major) threat to their country and that – in the end – we would be allowed to enter into Pakistan 🙂
So, in the whole, getting through the different border offices on the Iranian site had already taken us six hours, so we were more than glad to see the Pakistani site. But here again surprises were waiting for us. After our registration in the border immigration office we had to go into three different customs offices to finally get the import documents for our car approved (see pictures below). Here bureaucracy basically consists of dusty old rotten books that nearly fall apart. Names, passport and visa numbers are to be entered, but we are sure that no one will ever care about our entries. We saw more Ak-47 guns than properly working personal, but this would be a picture we would soon get used to in Pakistan. For after the customs adventure the Pakistani police officials had a weaponed guy seated next to Stefan in our car.
He was supposed to provide us security for our 250km trip to Dalbandin (this in the aftermath was just one of estimated 40 different police escorts we got in Pakistan). To our surprise, our new companian with his rifle did not make us feel uncomfortable in any way. But in the same time we cannot say that we felt so much safer by his presence. If someone wants to bomb you, or tries to kidnap you, this guy could have hardly prevented it, but at least for our psyche it helped a little out…
For the driving in Pakistan, going on the left side of the road didn’t cost us as much adaption as did the real bad road conditions and the permanent and recurring military check post. The first check-point looked pretty much like the basecamp of the bad guys in Rambo 3. Imagine one street, surrounded just by desert, five guys with Kalashnikovs sitting in a castle made of clay, with a big gun on the roof. When the boss of these guys was talking to us, his alcohol breath was getting in my nose and he started to command his soldiers to check our car. Unfortunaltey it was strictly forbidden to take a picture, but if you watch Rambo 3, you`ll know what I am talking about.
Stopping every 20-30km at these check-points kept us from advancing quickly and soon made us realize that we would never be able to reach the city of Quetta in one day, as orignally planned. Passing the border had simply cost us too much time…
Late in the evening we arrived at Dalbandin – a busy city located just around 40km from Afghanistan -, spending the night in a compound being protected by several police officers. Before we went to bed (in our car) the hotelmanager showed us around the crowded marketplace, carrying his AK 47 with him. And of course, as Globekickers, we did not miss the opportunity for a quick challenge with him and some other security guys. They were probably the first people we met so far, who had not seen a table soccer ever before in their lifes. So after some introduction in the process of the game, which is fortunately not to hard to explain, we had quite an enjoyable time together that both of us will probably never forget!
Next morning maybe 20 people (mostly with weapons) were standing around our car, waiting for something. Because we don`t like people just starring at us, we just took out our frisbee and had some morning sport all together 🙂 Afterwards we prepared for the trip to Quetta. The roads got even worse than the day before, but this time we dealt with the military check post in the style of Globekickers. We stopped by, put our table out to the car, built it up right next to them and had another nice play!
After this little timeout, we made it through the desertous parts from which you can even see the Afghani mountains and arrived at our destination in daylight. Quetta is the capital of the Balochistan district and is – as well as Dalbandin – close to Afghanistan. It was the first bigger city in Pakistan that we saw in daylight, and what we saw at the first glance, we could hardly believe.
We haven’t been to a city before with that much military and police forces in it to provide security. It felt like we found ourselves in a complete chaos: traffic is totally unorganized, loud, dominated by small motorcycles, rickshaws, carriages and some few cars. Police is desperately trying to keep things running but their authority is hardly respected by anyone. Most of people are poor – their day basically consists of working and sometimes begging to make a living. As soon as they recognize foreigners, they get really curious – to say the least – and everybody in the streets, out of this curiosity, will start talking to you even if it is superficial small talking only. In a way, we started to feel like an attraction or better saying some aliens 🙂 People in Quetta are simply not used to see any foreigners or differently looking persons. If there is something like a cultural clash, then here – in Quetta – the time for it had definetely come for Stefan and me!
Overwhelmed by this intensity of life and the extreme poverty we took a rest in a hotel for two nights. We had actually planned to spent the night in the car, but police were recommending us it would be safer to spent the night in a security area, which is what we did. So Lourdes Hotel was then after an estimated two months of traveling the first place where we spent money for a night. All the 8 weeks before we had successfully slept either in our car, at friends or most probably at Couchsurfers.
During our check in at the hotel we got to know Zafar, a Pakistani business man, who is married to a German woman and therefore speaks really good German. He help us kindly out with our upcoming itenary (see below) and invited us not only for a great dinner next night, but offered us above this to come to Islamabad where he is living. As you will see in the next article, we finally accepted his offer and went to Islamabad..
After two days we left Quetta – again escorted by a police car going ahead of us to clear the way. Our minds still overburdened with the pictures, the people and the incredebility of impressions, we started our long journey to Lahore. This day, our military escort was really starting to get on our nerves. From the Iranian border to Quetta an escort might have made sense, but in between Quetta and Lahore, in our opinion, it was not necessary. We drove on normal streets, sometimes even motorways, so we hardly could imagine a situation, in which we would have had any advantages out of our security escort. So we slowly, but surely recognized the disadvantages of beeing escorted and got more and more pissed off. We drove through the most beautiful nature, but were not allowed to stop, because the security people permanently wanted us to continue. Secondly, they drove like (pardon) shit, sometimes way too slow, sometimes too fast. So two times, when they were too slow, we just escaped, but without success, because the next escort at the next check post was already waiting for us. And that was the third problem. Each escort had the responsibility for our security, because we were driving in their district. So each of them wanted us to leave their district as soon as possible. The consequence: We were dirving 14 hours a day and each new escort was telling us something like: “Just 30 km, then you can sleep!” But that was a lie, because after 30 km the next escort in the next district was waiting for us, telling us the same story. After we figured this procedere out, we insisted on getting some sleep, which we really needed. So we ended up in a police station, parking our car in between some prison cells and as much security, as you could imagine.
The next morning we got in our pants and brushed our teeths, watched by 20 people with machine guns and some prisoners arrested in the cells. Our journey to Lahore continued to be exciting. In one district, we got an escort, which looked like a special force. 2 Pick-up`s, 15 soldiers with M16-guns, AK 47`s and even a Bazooka. As soon as we entered a town to get some money, petrol, food or water, all the time a guy with a big weapon was following us like a bodyguard with a very serious look. We actually found these situations pretty funny and couldn`t prevent the feeling that we are very important persons 🙂
Finally we entered Lahore, the second biggest town in Pakistan. The escort took us to a hotel and insisted to pick us up the next morning to bring us to the Indian border at Wagah. We told them, we didn`t want their protection anymore and would continue on our own and they accepted. But – big surprise – the next morning an escort was already expecting us, but we argued so long until they left us alone. So, after five days with armed babysitters we finally were free people again.
Unfortunately, I counldn`t use this freedom to much, because I felt sick (never eat a rice-dish with meat and vegtables after it has spent a day in a 50 degree hot car). I stupidly did and layed down in bed for the next three days. Luckily, I am not talking about the bed of our car, but of the room the couchsurfer Burhan offered to us. But our experience with Burhan and his family is another story to tell. We will try to catch up as quickly as possible with the many happenings!
To be continued…