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Travel reports

A bombing

With India we now had left the country, which for now was on the last place on both our list of sympathy. Hopefully we finally would leave the indescribably chaotic traffic and the endless piles of garbage and catastrophic hygienic conditions behind us.

Up ahead was Pakistan. Without question, the most critical country concerning safety on our trip to Germany. In addition to the knowledge of an ever-present risk of be affected by an attack the uncertainty of whether we would ever be allowed to travel through the province of Balochistan worried us. There would be no alternative route. We definitely would have to go through Balochistan.

The first task was to comply with the dress code. Next to covering shoulders and legs Nadine now had to wear headgear (eg hijab), and loose clothing that covers the bottom (covers the body shape). Even men are basically asked to wear long sleeves. Great thing when thinking of the (still) high outside temperatures.

In Lahore we met Anje and Izaak again and were surprised by the very friendly and welcoming locals with their mentionable good English skills.

Lahore Fort and Mosque
Curious children in Lahore
Market stall in Lahore

One sight made us quickly realizing that we had arrived again in a completely different country: at almost every intersection and in front of every agencies one could see policemen, armed with the typical AK47 rifles, the most widespread assault rifle in the world. On the other side another group of people was hard to find on the streets: women.

Our task was to obtain a permit for transit through Balochistan in the competent home department. Unfortunately it was weekend and, moreover, were two Muslim holidays ahead.

On the morning of November 2, a Sunday, we wondered how we would spend the day. Our idea was to go to the Wagah border (again) to watch the famous border closing ceremony. There one can watch Indian and Pakistani guards in their colorful uniforms and fierce countenance, saber rattling parading up and down, cheered and applauded by visitors on both sides of the border before it gets ceremonially closed.

Simply because of laziness in the afternoon we decided to put the visit on the following day and to stay in the hotel that evening.

Possibly this saved our lives.

At precisely this evening at the end of the ceremony a bomb attack took place near the visitor parking in which, according to various sources, about 60 people were killed. We first heard about the attack by Nadine's cousin from Germany who had read first reports on the Internet and inquired about our well-being. The constantly hearable sirens on the streets of Lahore and heaps of people on the roads could only imagine what a sensation the incident had caused.

The hotel staff asked us to stay in the hotel and avoid gatherings which we did. Due to the holidays and difficult security situation after the bombing the visiting if the Great Mosque and the Fort of Lahore failed.

Border closing ceremony at Wagah border
Ice cream in Lahore
Fired nuts

On Wednesday morning we went to the home department. Talking about working hours the Pakistani officials did not differ much from them in India. One cannot expect any presence before 10am.
With the certainty of actually receiving the permission for the onward journey (however at an uncertain date and time) we left and went to lunch. Now it was clear that we were ... misinformed by the German Embassy. In other words, this was the second German Embassy, which failed to help us / did not want to help us.
Due to the bombing on Sunday there was a delay in the processing, so we had to wait till late Friday afternoon until getting the permit. But at least the way to Quetta (and thus into the Balochistan province) was free for us. In Quetta we would then have to apply for a second permit (to get to Taftan on the Iranian border).

The "NOC" ('non-objection certificate'), as the permit is called, has allowed us to travel via Dera Gazi Khan and Loralai and thus saved us the longer (official) route via Sukkur. On Saturday morning, after seven nights with virtually no significant sightseeing, we left Lahore for Multan. The next morning we continued towards Dera Gazi Khan and Balochistan border. After paying at a toll plaza and moving on we suddenly were overtaken by a wildly waving policeman on his motorcycle.
Despite showing the permit letter he asked us to move back to the toll plaza where a small police stand was located as well. There we had to face six skeptical looking police officers. While Anje and Nadine had to stay with the cars (as they prompted) and got surrounded by begging children, Izaak and I were summoned to the office of senior official. After presenting the permit as well as our passports, visas and Carnet documents and some phone calls by the officer after one and a half hours a police car with four armed policemen on the bed showed up. Our first escort on the way to and through Balochistan. Many more should follow.

Meanwhile it was already noon and so far we just did a fraction of the distance to Loralai, the town where we intended to stay the night. We reached the town of Dera Gazi Khan and quickly learned an advantage of having a police escort: with flashing lights and excessive use of the horn cleared the road and often simply drove unrestrained in an intersection and forced all the other vehicles to stop. Travelling á la VIP convoy? Probably not. While the first escort brought us quickly forward, changing of the escorts (since they always only cover their assigned sections) took a lot of time. Firstly, because we often had to show passports and the police often did not want to get assisted by us (if they did, we were much faster with writing our data in their books), and secondly, because the next escort was not always standing by and waiting for us.

Overloaded truck
Little camel caravan
Checkpoint at Balochistan border

We left the Indus valley and with it for an indefinitely long time we would have seen green landscape (if you could call it like that) for the last time. The road winds its way up into the mountains, numerous serpentines had to be passed while the number of oncoming cars decreased rapidly. Great warm-up for the ahead lying Balochistan.

The Pakistani province of Balochistan is one of the largest in the country, partly rich in mineral resources, but, at the same time, has the poorest population. The local population feels exploited and let down by the government and strives for Balochistans independence what the Pakistani government is trying to suppress by massive police presence.
The problems and possible incidents such as bombings or kidnappings in the region are therefore not such as the assassination at the Wagah border to lead back to Taliban groups, but on separatists, which act selectively against government agencies, police and military. With this knowledge it was not quite clear to us whether the escorts would actually serve our protection...

Apart from the not always fluent operation and the time-consuming change of the escorts the policemen were always friendly, in a good mood and for good for small talk.

Landscape near Fort Monroe
Landscape near Fort Monroe
Group picture with policemen

Our request if we could stay overnight at Fort Monroe, which was on our route, was rejected after an inquiry by the police. No foreigners allowed there. Large and wide signs at the turn-off for Fort Monroe told the same when passing it. Another point on the felt infinitely long list of mistakes with regards to content in the various Lonely Planet travel guides.
Thus we could already prepare ourselves for a long drive to the small town of Loralai. It was afternoon and six hourse already since we left Multan and just did half the distance by now.
A ride at night was therefore inevitable. The one thing travel guides etc. strictly advise you against. The entry in the province of Balochistan was relatively easily. Over a distance of about one kilometer, three checkpoints distribute. And everyone wanted to see our documents and it took its time until the next escort was ready.
The roads were rough for a while now, the escort drove slower and the sun fell like a stone towards the horizon.

At some time our escort (at this time it was about the eighth since Multan) suddenly stopped on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and said to us: 'My area ends here. The next escort is on the way. If you want, you can go move on and meet them on the way'. Well, we had a choice: continue without an escort, or wait here an indefinitely long time. In the midst of a naked, expectant dark stone desert. In such a situation one or two horror movies come into everyone's mind, which deal with similar situations. Because of this we said: We move on!

We tried to whitewash this scary situation by thinking 'In darkness, every car looks the same'. We took the lead, with regard to Anje and Izaak set the cruise control at 85 km/h and retrieved our 130W spotlights back from 'hibernation'. In fact, it took around 30 km of driving in desolated darkness which seemed to be 80 km, until we came to meet the escort. Upon greeting the driver of the police car jokingly lamented about sunburn after getting faced with our high beam after meeting each other behind a summit. Then we went behind a police escort again ... with 65 km/h. A perfect speed to represent a good target practice for any young terrorists. The driver even turned on its blue light so everyone on the surrounding hills knew right away that a police car convoy was on its way. The road itself was empty (with only our three cars on it).
In contrast, he made no use of his high beam. I hate such drivers.

Road near Fort Monroe
Group picture with policemen in Lorala
Landscape near Qila Saifullah

About 8pm we arrived in the town of Loralai. The head of this evening's escort on duty took us to a hotel away from the city centre and assigned us a group of four men to guard us. When we got out of the car, we noticed coldness - simple coldnee. We were at about 1500 m above sea level and the temperatures used to be around 10°C. After all the months at always 30°C and more that felt like jumping into ice water. From Europe, we could expect similar temperatures with a minus in front of it, when getting there. Since that we got doubts about the destination of this tour...

Friendly and welcoming to guests as Muslims usually are the police chief even offered us to pay for the accommodation. However, since we were not sure if the hotel operator would eventually get his money, we declined with thanks and paid him by ourselves.
While Nadine, Anje and Izaak stayed in the hotel, put their feet up and 'enjoyed' a cold shower, I accpeted the offer to go with the policemen to town and a quickly collect some dinner for all of us. And so I found myself in the night in the middle of Pakistan in a police car with three armed policemen in the middle of a cold dreary little town. We stopped in a small alley and entered a kitchen where a tall man with typical long bushy beard and hat was working diligently behind the pots. The policeman insisted to pay us the food and after half an hour we were back in the hotel with salty pickled beef, slightly spicy lentil soup, Naan (dry large flat bread) and some grapes. A welcome change after all the chicken meat in recent weeks.

To actually get some sleep during this odd cold night we now had to dig out our thick garments which once used to get packaged in the lowest basement of our backpacks.

The next morning we continued our trip towards Quetta. With regular escorts exchange we wound our way through the barren landscape and crossed a mountain range pass before we reached a well-paved main road again.

Man in Qila Saifullah
andscape near Kanozai
Police escort near Quetta

Around lunch time we arrived in Quetta. We stopped at the side of the road and waited for one more and final police car, which was to take us to the hotel. One then passing policeman waved to us and signaled to us to follow him. After we started the engine and moved, the guy was already gone. Where was our escort? We still do not know today. Finally, we made our way through even hectic town to the hotel by ourselves - 'strictly not allowed and highly dangerous' as we taught very soon...