Quetta to Islamabad
Trip Start Apr 06, 2007
33Trip End Nov 18, 2007
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In Quetta I picked up a Shalwal Kameez (native dress) in the bazaar and spoke to the locals, who all seemed to be Afghans. Unfortunately, whilst in the bazaar, nature called. (I warn you that the description that follows is revolting so if your eating lunch maybe read this later.) The toilets appeared to be down a lane, but rather than a toilet it was just on the ground. Men were scattered along the lane squatting. The sight and smell of shit was disgusting. I realised that there was indeed toilets but with a 5 pence levy I could understand why locals chose outside
After Quetta we headed first Southeast to flatter roads and then followed the Indus North to Peshawar. Armed gaurds escorted us the whole way which was a huge pain. They were eager to get rid of us so whenever we stopped they rushed us to get going again - one day we ended up driving for 19 hours! Though we did get a laugh out of their 'uniform': tshirts with 'No Fear' written on the back.
Peshawar was chaotic and in your face. The first day I hired a taxi to the Islamic College. Strange seeing Victorian architecture in a place thousands of miles away from Britain and without a single Brit there. From there the taxi man took me to the Smugglers Bazaar on the outskirts past an Afghan refugee camp. Here I saw AK47s in every shop window and pistols being filed and assembled. After holding some gun parts my driver decided it was time to leave (the locals always know best)
The next day we travelled along the Khyber Pass - the gateway into Afghanistan. The area West of Peshawar is tribal and the police have no say here. Unlike the armed gaurds thus far (which was over the top and unneccesary) here they were required. As we drove Westwards along this track men sat on the hillside casually with their guns at their sides. We drove to a point 5km from the border to peer into Afghanistan (mountains and plaines!) and take photos. Signs along the pass read 'Shoot to Kill' and 'Khyber Rifles Welcome You'. On the way back along the narrow passage we could see a group of men setting up a tripod which was a tad unnerving. Though give these men a wave and they respond with a wave and the biggest smile you can imagine. Strange lands. Again Britain's impact could be seen as a British built railway line runs parallel to the Khyber Pass, built in the 19th century for the first Afghan war.
Peshawar was the first place I have felt overwhelmed so far. Women in colourful headscarfs grabbed your arm as you passed looking for charity. Just walking down the street me, Lorna and Will were watched by everybody and followed by a group. People here must have seen white people just a few times before - our presence was a spectacle to them.
The Karakoram Highway was next and is without doubt my favourite place in Pakistan upto today. Built in the 60s by the Chinese and Paks it took 20 years to complete and is said to be one of the biggest engineering feats since the pyramids. Although still sceptical of this claim it was still amazing. Two and a half days drive through the Karakoram Range, along a road that had been etched into cliff faces many metres above the Indus river, and only half of its distance had been covered. Here we stayed at Karimabad where we hired a jeep out to a glacier in Hoper Valley.
We retraced our steps South through the Karakoram to Islamabad, which I will venture tomorrow.
Pakistan has been like a series of countries. In the south nomads somehow survive in the dusty scorching desserts. Further north in friendly Quetta, a city that sells virtually anything, friendly Afghans have found refuge and a place to make ends meet. Peshawar was chaotic, just watching rickshaws negotiate pedestrians negotiate scooters from the hotel roof was nerve-racking. Being in it was a little too much. In Karimabad literacy was 80% - overall Pakistan has 50% literacy. Up there people beleive in a different type of Islam where women should be empowered and schools are everywhere
I would say it is apparent the Pakistanis on the whole are not an educated bunch. Full grown men crowd and stare at the truck for ridiculous amounts of time. I appreciate the fact that men hold hands with one another in this part of the world, as in Iran, but in Iran it was minimal. Here, in some places (eg tribal regions of the Karakoram) men couldn't keep their hands off one another. Their behaviour was childlike. Not to forget the beleifs in this region were simply backward.
Pakistan for me has been a shock. Experiencing poverty at first hand is tough. The filth and the ignorance that comes with it is astonishing. Flies cover any fruit/meat/rice you buy. Chickens are kept alive right up until they are bought because refrigerators are expensive
Anyway, I still have Islamabad and Lahore to take in so I shouldn't really summarise yet - they are sure to be just as different as the other places are to one another.
IN OTHER NEWS...
I will be cutting my stay in India down to 1 week. Catching a flight from Delhi (hopefully after seeing the Taj) to Kathmandu! Signed up for a 2 week trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp.
At the end of 10 weeks I am missing friends, family, Glasgow and western culture now. But the trip far out weighs out and I hope it does right to the end!