We seemed to have missed most of the international dramas after we have left the places that they happen. We left Ankara and soon after a huge bomb rocked the shopping district (we walked down that road where it happened) and another bomb goes off in Izmir after we rode through it. Also we missed a large protest in Tabriz in Iran where Stuart got arrested by the secret police. We didn't miss the dramas in Islamabad however, and we'll fill you in on the details later in this blog entry.
We left Quetta and had several days of very difficult riding through some very long and rough roadworks with rocks the size of a large orange tossing us around like rag dolls. Steve came off his bike quite hard on the way to Lorali from Quetta, the Pakistanis have a nasty habit of creating their own speed humps and as they are not Highways Agency speed humps, they are not signposted or marked. We were following a pick-up truck to the turn-off to Lorali and the driver braked hard as even he missed the approaching speed hump, and Steve locked up (silly I know, but he was really too tired to ride and really shouldn't have bothered riding that day) and hit the tarmac hard. It really shook his confidence and nerves and it took a few weeks to regain it.
We reached the Punjab Province border and were given a police escort through the area all the way to Multan where we stayed two nights before heading for Lahore (Steve calls it The French Prostitute....think about it) which is 'apparently' the cultural and artistic capital of Pakistan. If you call 50 metre long streams of raw sewerage artistic or cultural then I suppose it is.
On the first night we caught a cab to a restaurant and you couldn't see across the street as the pollution was so dense.
We left La Whore and rode up the Great Trunk Road (known locally as the GT Road) to Islamabad. The GT Road is actually a major highway from Calcutta in India to Kabul in Afghanistan. Unfortunately we seemed to be riding on the one bit that is fraught with danger. Forget roadworks and the usual hazards, along this road you have to watch out for horse carts turning right in front of you, suicidal pedestrians that wait until halfway across the road before seeing if it is clear (or safe) to cross and numerous water buffalo that are quite content to just lay on the road at their leisure.
We got to Islamabad and went to the Indian High Commission to get our visas, this was to take seven days, dropped our bikes off for a service at the only guy in all of Pakistan that is recommended by other bikers, and hired a jeep with a driver to drive us all (Liz, Steve and our mate Stuart) up to the Karakoram Highway where we found the only decent thing about Pakistan.
We reached the most Northerly town on our trip which was Pasu, this town is at 2500 Metres above sea level and we were still craning our necks to see the tops of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. The Pasu Glacier was only about 800 meters upstream from our hotel so we took a stroll up to have a look.
We returned to Islamabad after seven days and landed ourselves slap bang in the middle of a military curfew. On the day we arrived there was trouble brewing at the Red Mosque in sector G6 (Islamabad is one giant grid pattern with each grid being assigned a reference, G6 is one of these giant squares) and later that night the curfew took hold. We woke the next morning to barbed wire strung across the road outside our hotel and armoured personnel carriers patrolling the streets. Sitting in the courtyard garden we could hear the grenade explosions and shooting from the Red Mosque and later on the second day the Pakistani army decided to display a real show of force by flying three Cobra attack helicopters in formation over the mosque.
We were able to obtain our passports with the help of the Second Secretary Consul of Security at the British Embassy who drove us into the diplomatic enclave to the Indian High Commission. It took a few days to get everything together to prepare to leave and we finally got permission from a magistrate who based himself at our hotel, along with some senior brass from the army, to leave the curfew area.
We rode back along the GT Road (this is when Steve's confidence came back at last) and headed for Wagha on the Pakistani side of the border. That evening we watched the fantastic flag lowering ceremony at the border which involves the Indian and Pakistani soldiers trying to out do each other with their parade drills. There are flag bearing crowd cheerleaders on both sides geeing up the crowds to cheer for their respective troops. One touching thing with this ceremony is that despite the tensions between India and Pakistan, the soldiers march up to each other to the white line separating the two countries, salute each other and then shake hands.
The next morning we were greeted by the Major in charge of the Pakistani contingent as he is a motorbike fan and took lots of photos of our bike and us and him on Steve's bike. On then to India where we got through the border with relative ease and on to Amritsar.
On the way there some twit on a small 125cc motorcycle without mirrors (or apparently the ability to look over his shoulder to confirm it was clear) decided to swerve right in front of Liz's bike as he wished to turn right from the left of Liz. The result was Liz catching her wing mirror cover and getting a small scrape up her forearm and the reckless idiot cartwheeling off his bike along with his pillion. The advice in this kind of situation is to never stop (especially if you are a foreigner as you are ALWAYS at fault even if it is obvious that you aren't) so Liz didn't miss a beat and kept going.
A few days at Amritsar at Mrs. Bhandari's guest house which is just brilliant. We visited the Golden Temple before heading for where we are now, McLeod Ganj which is not far from Dharamsala in the foot hills of the Himalayas. We will be here for a little while depending on what volunteer work we can do before heading South again towards Agra, Varanasi, Rajasthan and down to Goa and Kerala.
We're updating the photos today too so have a look.
Ciao for now
Liz and Steve