The plan was to leave Quetta early and take route 65 to Sukkur. I had been told it’s a good road and not at all like the Robbers Road.
I awoke at 4:50am to the sound of explosions from incoming mortars, or possibly some sort of rockets. They were landing quite close as the whole hotel vibrated and it was only a two storey building. The mortars were followed by the clatter of small arms fire. I got dressed and went down to the lobby and out into the grounds. The security guards, who are all armed with either AK47’s or pump action shot guns, were milling around the extensive garden and car park area.
I went back in the lobby and spoke to the duty receptionist, asking if it he could find out from the police if it was still safe for me to travel. It transpired that “they’re not answering the phone because it’s Sunday!” I suggested they weren’t answering because someone was firing mortars at them. Anyway an hour later and I decided to go ahead with my planned journey and so left the hotel and found route 65. The escort would just have to catch up.
The first 50 miles were appalling, every bit as bad as the Taftan-Quetta road. Admittedly this was through a mountainous area but I thought that if this is considered a good road then I want out ASAP. There was an army convoy going in the same direction and as they were heavily armed I decided to join them for the security it offered. Eventually they turned off at town called Mach and I continued alone. After a further 20 miles there was a police post and they were not happy about me travelling alone and so I was detailed an escort.
The escort system is operated by police in each separate district so you often have to wait at the district border, where invariably there is a checkpoint, whilst your next escort comes to meet you.
The next 100 miles the road was really very acceptable but for the last 100 miles it deteriorated again with deep potholes and a generally bumpy surface. I was conscious the whole time of the broken shock absorber and just hoping that the temporary repair would hold. The whole journey took 10 hours with no comfort break, because the police have other duties, and my stomach chose this morning to have its first upset (nothing to do with the mortars, more to do with a Chinese dinner).
Once I had had a chance to shower, rest and drink lots of water I decided to take a short walk to get the lie of the land. I had not gone more the twenty paces out of the grounds and the security guard caught up with me and told me that it is unsafe for me to walk out; I am therefore a virtual prisoner with no facilities in the hotel.
It is a source of regret that I cannot say that Pakistan, like Iran, is a beautiful country with a largely warm, friendly population. The region of Balochistan has beautiful mountains and, not to everyone’s taste, wonderful desert areas. Some of the people are very friendly and hospitable, but unfortunately many treat me with suspicion and a lack of respect. Certainly the region is extremely poor; the towns dirty, smelly and exceptionally basic.
It is absolutely clear that the people and local officials believe that they are discriminated against by the Central Government in Lahore, which may be true, but the lifestyle certainly creates a potential recruiting ground for extreme elements.
I left Sukkur at 6:30am along with my police escort. The temporary repair to the shock absorber still intact. After about 20 miles heading north the scenery changed quite rapidly with much more greenery about. They grow rice, sugar, cotton and cereals here. The further towards Lahore we went the cleaner the towns were and the more prosperous people appeared, although still poor by western standards.
My police escort has been absolutely brilliant with smooth efficient changeovers so that I really only stopped the once for refuelling in the whole 280 miles. One of the escort vehicles did throw up a stone and crack my windscreen however, so that is another thing to add to my list of things to repair. I think I shall spend a few days in Lahore to sort things out for Bridget.