We take our bikes from the pick-up and we start with our border crossing process. This time it seems very easy and the border crossing looks totally different from the ones we crossed before.
There are only a few buildings located in the sand. There is not a real gate and with the help of the people we receive our stamps at different places. Iran lets us go easily and Pakistan welcomes us friendly. There are big smiles on the faces of the custom officers and we drink a cup of tea with them. A good start in Pakistan…
We cycle only for a few kilometers and then we arrive at the bus stop. From here we have to find a bus that will take us to Quetta. Soon we find a nice bus an after we agreed about the price we take our bags off. A strange man arrives and tells us that this bus won’t leave and that we should take his bus. We don’t trust him at all and ask our money back and we decide to go and look for another bus. A couple of hundred meters away from this man we run in to a friendly bus driver who is leaving soon to Quetta. Together with the busboys I climb on the roof of the bus to make sure that our bikes and bags are safe.
With pain in our hearts we are going through the dessert. It’s almost incredible that this area is so dangerous. You don’t see anything except sand and a small straight line which is the road. There are supposed to be rebels here which kidnap tourists to receive money. Despite this we have the feeling that we could cycle in this area. Safety first is nice, but it gives me a “f-feeling’. We are treated as VIPs in the bus. It’s nice to talk with the bus driver and his crew. They smile a lot and they are joking all the time. A big difference with the serious people in Iran, and it feels good.
The ride goes well. Only one time I have to get out of the bus because a policeman wants to meet me in person. When we arrive in the capital of Baluchistan we see a lot of police out on the streets. Every hundred meters there are policemen with heavy guns. This town is supposed to be safe in comparison with the other part of the province. Up till now we didn’t see any disturbances. In Quetta we stay for a few days. We ask for advice at the tourist office about the route. We drink our first beers after Iran and we enjoy the cozy street life. From many cyclists we heard that hey took the train from Quetta until Bahawalpur. This to avoid the police-escorts. But we don’t want to wait to start our cycling and after we have been told that there is a safe route we take the decision to try it out. So on a cold morning we cycle out of Quetta on our way to the Indus. We have to get used to drive on the left side and the traffic as well. Everywhere there are goats, sheep, dogs and camels, bicycles, rickshaws, bikes, busses and trucks. When we are out of the town we can breathe fresh air again. When we look over our shoulders we see an enormous cloud of smog.
We have a fantastic descend. We pass colorful trucks and all the drivers wave to us. When we arrive to the village where we want to sleep there’s a big check-post. We have to stop and tell the men where we come from and where we want to go. When we explain we would like to stay the night in Mach, a conversation with another police station follows. After a while they tell us that we will be brought to the police station and that we have to spend our night there. They take really good care for us. We drink tea and the commander brings us a special meal cooked by his wife. When we want to leave in the morning they call for the commander. After some Pakistani words which we don’t understand we hear the words: “Now it’s daytime and you can go!” These words come from the commander and we are allowed to go.
Up till Sibi we can cycle without police-escort. The landscape changes from dry ground in to a green scenery. For us it’s a nice change after the empty desserts of Iran. Now we cycle along palm trees and fields full of wheat. When we want to enter Sibi we have to stop again at a check-post. Here they tell us it’s unsafe and that we have to go to the police office. We follow a pick-up with 5 armed policemen to the station. Here they write down all our passport stuff and then they bring us to a hotel. Everything goes friendly and they ask us to come by the office in case we want to leave Sibi. Marlous doesn’t feel very well and we decide to stay for another day. It’s New Year’s Eve and I drink a beer to celebrate. It’s quiet on the streets at 00:00 there isn’t a party going on. In Sibi we meet two cyclists from Germany and Austria. They want to cycle everything and they refuse the escorts. We would like to cycle as well but if the police tell us to have an escort we will take it.
Leaving Sibi the ‘thing’ with the police starts. This part of Pakistan is extremely dangerous according to the police and we are not allowed to cycle. The bikes have to go in the pick-up of the police and with armed policemen sitting next to us we drive from one police district to another. At first it’s kind of funny the way we are treated and talking with the armed guys but after a few times changes cars the fun disappears. It’s good that we knew that this could happen otherwise it would be a strange surprise. And everybody is very friendly and relaxed. When we think that the police-escort on the road will be it we’re wrong. In Jacobabad we’re dropped of at the hotel by 6 men with big guns and then they say goodbye. When I want do a little shopping in the evening they catch me. Two men are guarding us in front of the hotel and we‘re not allowed to go on the streets alone. “This is Ali Baba area, they are dangerous!” So I walk trough the streets with besides me a man with an enormous gun on his shoulder. In Jacobabad we both get sick so we have to stay for a few days. These days we are never alone. Even if we buy some bananas across the street we have company. It feels a bit odd not to be free to go where we want to because it should not be safe.
With a healthy stomach we announce we want to leave. The hotel manager makes a phone call with the police and after a while a pick-up arrives. We decide to go as far as we can get in the hope that we can cycle again from Bahawalpur. This is a real ‘pass-them-through-day’. Exactly 14 times we have to change pick-ups. I’ve never seen so many guns, uniforms and policemen in one day. We’re trained in smiling to them, shaking hands and giving answers to the same questions. One of our escorts makes it a real nice touristy tour and shows us the surroundings of Sukkur. We stop at the bridge over the Indus, they bring us to a temple and we visit a mini-zoo.
Up till Punjab we are accompanied by the police. From one district to the other we are not allowed to cycle. “No to dangerous, go in car, it’s for your safety!” The evenings we spend with the police going out for dinner. We share a ricksjaw together. All of this changes when we arrive in Punjab. We’re very happy that we can cycle again. Up to Bahawalpur there are policemen besides us on a bike to keep an eye on us. After two weeks we arrive safe in Bahawalpur.
According to other cyclist you are ‘free’ after this city. We’re looking forward to this but first we have a discussion with the police. They don’t want to let us go. They say they have an obligation to guard us despite it’s a safe area. They tell us we can use them to travel safe trough the traffic and to keep the people at a distance. This is not what we want and we try to explain we want to continue the trip by ourselves. We decide to stay for a couple of days in Bahawalpur and then try to leave without our police friends….
Taftan (border) – Quetta: Bus
Quetta – Mach: 71km
Mach – Sibi:110km
Sibi – Jacobabad: 21km by cycle then police-escort
Jacobabad – Sadiqabad: Police cars
Sadiqabad – Ahmadpur East: 31km by cycle and for the rest police cars
Ahmadpur East – Bahawalpur: 63km