ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN
Part 1, General Information
Part 2, BLOG Pictures and Gallery
PART 1, GENERAL INFORMATION
Capital city; Islamabad
Population; 215 million
Currency; Pakistani Rupee
Km travelled; 3690km
Days in Pakistan 30
Languages; Urdu, English is the second language
Pakistan has historically and culturally been associated with its neighbours Iran, Afghanistan and India. Since Pakistan and India achieved independence in 1947, Pakistan has been distinguished from its larger south-eastern neighbour by its overwhelmingly Muslim population (as opposed to the predominance of Hindus in India). From independence until 1971, Pakistan consisted of two regions—West Pakistan and East Pakistan, located more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the east in the vast delta of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system. In response to grave internal political problems a civil war in 1971 erupted, East Pakistan was proclaimed the independent country of Bangladesh. Pakistan is nor the worlds 6th most populated country with nearly 215 million people. We never expected Pakistan to be so full of beautiful landscapes, beautiful hospitable people. Pakistan for us was the surprise and we will be back
The surprise package in Asia, Pakistan has diverse cultures, people, and landscapes, since the 1970s when the country received unprecedented numbers of foreign tourists, tourism has declined due to political unrest. The country only attracts few tourists. Pakistan’s tourist attractions range from the mangroves in the south to the Himalayan Mountains in the North East. The northern part of Pakistan has many old fortresses, examples of ancient architecture, and the Hunza and Chitral valleys, home to the small pre-Islamic Kalasha
The region closest to the Indian border North of Lahore great valleys. Leena being one of the best Reshian is a hamlet with unparalleled picturesque beauty and situated 67 kilometres Westward of Muzaffarabad. Chananian situated opposite to village Leepa near the Line of Control (LOC) of an altitude of 2226 meters. The road from Rushian to Dao Khan is rough, Dao Khan outstanding scenic beauty and panoramic views. Kel is a base camp of mountaineering activities up to “Sarawaali Peak” which is 6326 meters high, and it has a glacier about 23km long being the longest in Kashmir. From here you can connect with the Karakorum Highway via Sharda to Gilgit via the Shandur Pass. Ramkot Fort, located on the top of a hill and surrounded by River Jehlum from three sides, presents a picturesque landscape.
One of the major highlights of our Pakistan adventure was the Karakorum Highway or KKH. We are told it is the highest paved road in the world. (4695 meters) We were warned to be careful as the mountain road has hairpin curves and dangerous drop offs. The Karakorum Highway connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass. The route of the KKH traces one of the many paths of the ancient Silk Road. The road has a length of 1,300 km Pakistan: 887 km and China: 413 km. It was started in 1959 and was completed in 1986 after 27 years. The road is mostly asphalted. However, some sections in the lower part are challenging and still dirt. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime and can sometimes block some sections of the road. The worst part was the 200km between Besham to Chilas the 200km took us 11 hours. Most parts were only 1 lane wide and reversing is a constant fact of life. The sheer drops are not for the fainthearted*1. However, the incredible views of K2 you see along the way make it a must do road trip. The border crossing between China and Pakistan at Khunjerab Pass is open between May 1 and December 31. The highway passes the Hunza Valley and the city of Karimabad, and the amazing view of Rakaposhi mountain (7790 meters high) Attabad Lake was for us the end of the road. Due to a massive landslide this lake was created in January 2010 and at the time of our arrival our truck was to big to be ferried across the lake. However, we are told that 24 km of new KKH containing five tunnels (in total 7KM) at Attabad Barrier Lake will open again in 2015. It may also mean the border with China will be open all year round.
*1 Major roadworks were planned during our visit in 2014 hence this section will be improving over the coming years.
the city has gained fame as the site where Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, was shot and killed on May 2, 2011. Osama bin Laden’s compound, known locally as the Waziristan Haveli. The compound was located on the end of a dirt road not far from the Military Academy. After the American mission, there was extensive interest in and reporting about the compound and its design. To date, the Pakistani government has not responded to any allegations as to who had built the structure. After the operation was completed and bin Laden was killed, Pakistan demolished the structure in February 2012. At the time the building had 4.5 meters walls with barbed wire, and there were two security gates. The house itself did not stand out architecturally from others in the neighbourhood, except for its size and exaggerated security measures; for example, the third-floor balcony had a 2-metre
15 miles from Wagah, the border crossing with India, where turbaned guards from both countries take part in a daily foot-stomping ritual. The city of Lahore is one of the Indian subcontinent’s most brilliant gems, yet it remains relatively obscure outside the country Must see places are, Lahore Fort build by Akbar the great in 1575. The massive pink red Badshahi Mosque climb the high steps up to a grand vaulted gatehouse, which leads into a vast arcaded courtyard, built to accommodate 60,000 worshippers. The Walled Old City is a sprawling warren of bazaars divided into large quartiers of formerly glorious, now decaying old townhouses. It starts at the Delhi Gate, one of Lahore’s half dozen surviving gates. Last but not the least The Shrine of data Ganjbaksh
The capital city and home to the Faisal Mosque the largest mosque in South Asia and the fourth largest mosque in the world. Built in the year 1986, it was named after the late king of Saudi Arabia, Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz, who backed and financed the construction. Rawalpindi is also part of Islamabad (Islamabad-Rawalpindi metropolitan area) exceeding up to 4 million people. Other points of interest are Pakistan National Monument, Democracy Square and Margalla Hills National Park
Capital of the Khyber province and according to the locals the oldest city in Pakistan going back to 539 before Christ. Like Lahore the old city is a must do with a great bazar, the clock tower square, the Mohabbat Khan Mosque, the Bala Hisar Fort, (foreigners are not allowed in) We were in urgent need of a Michelin Tyre and found a store with literally hundreds of tyres imported (Stolen or smuggled) from the US Army in Afghanistan. Security is strict in town and foreigners are refused entry during times of tension
The city was one of the most important trading centres of medieval Islamic India and attracted a multitude of Sufi mystics in the 11th and 12th centuries, earning the city the nickname the city of saints. Must do places are Shah Gardez just inside the Bohar Gate It is a rectangular domeless building decorated with glazed tiles, a work of considerable beauty. The Multan Fort, a military installation, was a landmark of Indian defence and architecture. The area around Multan is known for its citrus and Mango farms. While camping at a mango farm we were surprised to hear that most of the farmers mangoes were exported to Australia.
The Capital of Baluchistan with a population of over 1 million. The name Quetta is derived from the word “Kwatta” which means a fort and, no doubt, it is a natural fort surrounded as it is by imposing hills on all sides. The city is known as the “Fruit Garden of Pakistan,” due to the numerous fruit orchards in and around it, and the large variety of fruits and dried fruit products produced in the area. Just before Quetta is the Hazarganji Chiltan National park great overnight stop. It is close to the border with Afghanistan and the famous Bolan Pass. It is made up of several narrow gorges and stretches. It connects Sibi and Quetta by road. Quetta is a major trade centre between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately, during our visit their was a lot of tension and a major bombing killing a police officer and his son. We were moved from the central part of the city to the police station further north. Our permit to visit Hanna Lake was cancelled for good reason as the day of our planned visit a bomb exploded at the lake side restaurant where we planned to stay overnight in the carpark! After 7 days we were given permission to leave Quetta with an army escort to the Iranian border 800km away. We never made it to Ziarat and Mehrgarh for the same reasons as above.
BALUCHSTAN to IRAN BORDER
After 3 days we were given 10 minutes notice to leave Quetta and be escorted by the Pakistan Frontier Corps to the border with Iran 2 days drive away. The province of Baluchistan contains most of historical Baluchistan and is named after the Baloch. Neighbouring regions are Iranian Baluchistan to the west, Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the north and Punjab and Sindh to the east. The population density is very low due to the mountainous terrain and scarcity of water. Our overnight stop was in Dalbandin a town suspected to have quite a few Taliban around mainly Sunni Islamic fundamentalist who refer themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In the past it was alleged the Pakistan military supported the Taliban (leader was Osama Bin Laden) but this had stopped since September 11 attacks in 2001. During our visit tension was high and while in Quetta the locals had to deal with bombings of a train, gas line, roadside bomb in Quetta and 2 bus bombings between Quetta and the Iran Border. We were told the outlawed Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a foreign-funded terrorist group, claimed responsibility for some of the attacks. Nevertheless, the region has superb scenery, and several tribes. Brahvi, Balochi and Pashtoon tribes are known for their hospitality. The mode of dress among the Balochi, Pashtoon and Brahvi tribes is very similar having a few minor dissimilarities. Turban is the common headwear of the men. Wide loose shalwar (a bit like lose trouser) and knee-long shirts are worn by all. The dress of the woman consists of the typical shirt having a big pocket in front. The shirt normally has embroidery work with embedded small round mirror pieces. Big ‘Dopatta’ or ‘Chaddar’, a long rectangular piece of cloth cascading down the shoulders and used to cover head, are used by the women. Our last stop was the border town of Taftan where we entered Iran at the town of Mirjaveh. The town was in lock down upon our arrival as a few days before 5 border guards were kidnapped and found dead the following day. Pakistan was a highlight of our overland tour around the world so far and just as we left the Pakistan Custom office Clary was quickly reminded to cover up before entering the Iranian gate. It was here where the Iranian Army waited to escort us from the border to Zanehan. Which was classified as a danger zone at the time.
As guest to Pakistan are held in high esteem and considered a blessing from God. Better off people even slaughter sheep or goat for their guest as we experienced. Having bush camped near villages we were looked upon as guest of the whole village. This open heartedness, great hospitality and help given by the people of Pakistan e is the loving feature of the tribal people and is not as deep in the city or town dwellers. A special thanks to a few people in Pakistan, Mukaram Tareen Jahangard for looking after us while in Lahore and pointing out all highlights in Pakistan. Mr Tayyab from Tourism Pakistan who together with Mukaram Tareen organized our permits to travel in restricted areas. The police special force in Quetta for looking after us while in Quetta and the Anti-Terrorist squad also known as the elite Force and the police commando’s for protecting us during the 750 km crossing of Baluchistan to the Iran border.
Pakistan recorded 53.5 degrees in 2010 the hottest reliably measured temperature ever recorded in Asia. Pakistan climate varies between the high mountains in the north, the coast in the south and the plains where temperatures regular exceed 48 degrees in summer.
Summer; 23 degrees at night to 47 degrees during the day
Winter; 6 degrees at night to 35 degrees during the day
Rainfall; July and August
Summer; 10 degrees at night to 23 degrees during the day
Winter; Minus 10 degrees at night to 5 degrees during the day
Rainfall; January to may
Summer; 20 degrees at night to 45 degrees during the day
Winter; 5 degrees at night to 33 degrees during the day
Rainfall; July and August
Summer; 22 degrees at night to 48 degrees during the day
Winter; 10 degrees at night to 38 degrees during the day
Rainfall; July and August
Summer; 15 degrees at night to 50 degrees during the day.
Winter; minus 5 degrees at night to 18 degrees during the day
Rainfall; Dec to February but minimal
Summer; 20 degrees at night to 48 degrees during the day
Winter; 3 degrees at night to 30 degrees during the day
Rainfall; Jan to February but minimal
Part 2, BLOG Pictures and Gallery
BORDER TO LAHORE
After the border ceremony, our first stop in Pakistan was Lahore 30 km from the Pakistan/India border. Crossing the border was simple efficient and fast. Roads in Pakistan sofar so good (Perfect). Lahore has Pakistan’s second largest population of approximately 13 million people, and is the capital of the Punjab province. Lahore is rich and has a fabulous history of over thousand years. The heart of Lahore is the Walled or Inner City, a very densely populated area of about one square kilometre. Bazaars and market places in Lahore are legendary- the Kashmiri, Suha, Chhatta, Dabbi, Anarkali are the famous ones of the old city and Fortress Stadium is included in modern Lahore. These markets supply everything that anyone could possibly want; from cloth to copper, brass and silver-ware; watches and bangles to carpets, chapattis and chai. Everything is colourful and available in a large variety and abundance and displayed to entice. After searching for our Michelin tyres between Uzbekistan and India it was here where we organized the delivery of the tyre direct from Afghanistan. The bazaars in the old city are the ones people dreams about. Tiny alleys, selling virtually everything from handicraft to transistor radio, tin sauce pans to refrigerators. Some are just wide enough for a rickshaw, a string of donkeys or carts- and pedestrians must leap into doorways to give room. Some alleys are only possible by single file. Not for our truck. The Old City is surrounded by a 9-meter-high brick wall which served as a protection for the city. Access to the old city is possible through some well-preserved gates. Some of key Lahore attractions are Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque and Shalimar Gardens. Places we visited were Jehangir’s Tomb of Emperor Jehangir.
Built in 1637, it’s believed to have been designed by Jehangir’s widow, Nur Jahan. The tomb is made of marble with trellis decorations of pietra dura bearing the 99 attributes of Allah in Arabic calligraphy. These are inside a vaulted chamber, decorated with marble tracery and cornered with four minarets. Lahore Fort is the star attraction of the Old City. The fort was modified in 1618 and later damaged by the Sikhs and the British, although it has now been partially restored. It’s believed that the site conceals some of Lahore’s most ancient remains. Pakistan is crazy about cricket and one way of breaking the ice with the Pakistani is to strike up a conversation about the game.
Pakistan played Australia during our visit and trust me it’s worth experiencing it as much for its wildly ecstatic spectators as for the game itself and we only watched it in the street.
LAHORE TO ISLAMABAD
Next, we arrived In Islamabad home to former cricket great turned politician Imran Khan. However, mentioning Australian Cricket Star Shane Warne or Ricky Ponting will break the ice, get you involved in a cricket discussion and next you most probably will be invited into the house for a cup of chai and dinner. Pakistani people are very hospitable and the most welcoming we have encountered in any of the countries we visited this trip *1. We arrived early afternoon at the gate of Islamabad Tourist Camp only to find it closed. Police has closed the camp as it had become a security risk? Lucky, we had been in contact with Mr Tayyab (R.I.P.) from Tourism Pakistan who has been very welcoming and organized a hotel In Rawalpindi for us where we could stay in the car park. Islamabad’s most recognizable landmark is the Faisal Masjid, a very large mosque gifted by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, much more a place of serious worship than a tourist site. It is open to non-Muslims outside of prayer times. We also visited Daman-e-Koh, a lookout point in the hills above Suburb E-6 with great views of the city. The security forces seem to have put a lid on things, and the city has been relative calm since the beginning of 2010 with some bombings, shootings or kidnappings targeted at Pakistani politicians. Last month 11 people were killed at an attack at the Islamabad courthouse and while we visited, a powerful bomb exploded not far from where we were camped killing at least 30 people and wounding at least 250 people, some badly. We must admit initially we were nervous about all the guns, army and police check points. It is not possible to walk or drive around without a passport or driving license to prove your identity. But you get used to it very quickly and it is a matter of necessity in a country where since 9/11 the situation from safe to lots of issues started courtesy of the war against terror.
*1 I will spend a special chapter on the people of Pakistan who made our trip so special.
THE KARAKORUM & NORTH-WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE
The Karakorum and North-West Frontier Province is a must to explore for every Pakistan visitor. The Northern Area is the most spectacular and fascinating region of Pakistan. It is here that the world’s three famous mountain ranges meet – the Himalayas, the Karakorum’s and the Hindukush. The whole of Northern Pakistan has come to be known as a paradise for Off Road drivers, motorbike riders, cyclists, mountaineers, climbers, trekkers, hikers and anglers of the most famous trout fish. A true adventure area. It is very unfortunate that most overlanders cross Pakistan from either Taf Tan (Iran border) or Wagah (India border) and just transit, never spending any time in Pakistan. We have all heard about the very friendly and hospitable Iranian people, but the Pakistani are no different. Abbottabad was our first stop and starting point of the famous KKH Karakorum Highway. (N35), the main reason to stop here was to see where Osama Bin Laden lived in the suburb of Bilal Town for over 5 years only 800 meters from the Military Academy. (N34.169308 E73.242439). The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road in the world. It connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an elevation of 4,693 meters (15,397ft). It connects China’s Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions and serves as a popular tourist attraction. Due to its high elevation and the difficult conditions in which it was constructed, it is sometimes referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Despite being called a “highway,” the road which reaches its highest point of 4,700 meters at the Khunjerab Pass on the border between China and Pakistan, is a 2-lane road from Abbottabad to just before Besham. From here it turns into a road with potholes, gravel, and very poor conditions for the next 300Km. The 200 KM from Besham to Chilas took us 10 hours! Most parts remain only one lane wide, places where trucks push past each other at dizzying heights. It was here where we got side swiped by a small Suzuki that tried to come past; lucky for him the road was wide enough, so he did not go down the steep embankment. A 400 million road widening program (a gift from China) was originally to be achieved by 2013 at the latest, but then a violent landslide north of Karimabad occurred. The crumbling mountain buried many villages and created an artificial lake that put some 22 kilometres of road under water. The Chinese have decided to drill a tunnel to bypass the newly created Attabad Lake, now a tourist attraction. Scenery along the Karakorum is superb. At one stage we were within 150 kilometres of China-Tajikistan-Afghanistan. The military presence is huge due to the extremely sensitive state of Kashmir (Pakistan/India Conflict). The Karakoram Highway has strategic and military importance to these nations, but particularly Pakistan and China. We drove as far north as the massive landslide 15 kilometres north of Karimabad. On January 4, 2010, a massive landslide created the potentially unstable Attabad Lake which reached 22 kilometres (14million) in length and over 100 meters (330 ft.) in depth and within 6 months it began flowing over the landslide dam. The landslide destroyed parts of villages while killing many inhabitants. The subsequent lake displaced thousands and inundated over 20 kilometres of the Karakorum Highway including the 310 meters long Karakorum Highway Bridge 4 kilometres south of Gulmit. It is only possible to cross to the Northern section by boat until the new tunnel is finished. The lake has now reached nearly 30 kilometres in length and goods from and to further north are transported over the lake by small vessels, to be reloaded onto trucks at the other end.
The Karakorum highway meets the Indus River at Thakot and continues along the river until Jaglot, where the Gilgit River joins the Indus River. This is where three great mountain ranges meet: the Hindukush, the Himalaya, and the Karakoram. The western end of the Himalayas, marked by the ninth highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat, can be seen from the highway. During our trip we had some spectacular views of this 9th highest mountain of the world (8,126 meters) and Mt Rakaposhi from our Camp site near Karimabad, 27th highest of the world at 7,788 meters.
The region includes some of the world’s largest glaciers like the Baltoro Glacier. Five of the world’s mountains taller than 8,000 meters are in Pakistan and are accessible and can be seen travelling on the Karakorum highway. When travelling through The North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan your safety is the biggest concern of the local police and help is on hand everywhere you go. In all a wonderful experience and we would never have visited this area if it wasn’t for the Pakistan Hubb Members, MAP members and Mr Tayyab from Tourism Pakistan. Having travelled over 75 countries sofar it appears to us that China doesn’t worry about the short-term rates of return for its building projects abroad, but on the long-term trade options that they open instead. The country is also interested in gaining allies with its generous help. In many countries besides Pakistan, Chinese engineers are working on key infrastructure projects. And often the Chinese are also investing in exactly the places from which the West has long since retreated — such as many African countries rich in natural resources. The west appears to be pouring in billions of dollars in foreign aid for hand-outs while China provides work and income.
MULTAN & BALUCHISTAN
On our way back to Lahore we stopped at the Khewra Salt Mines 160 km from Islamabad. Discovery of Rock Salt in this area dates to the days of Alexander the Great. It is the 2nd largest Salt Mine in The World. Next was Lahore where again we stayed with the Hubb/MAP members and it became clear that 4 weeks Pakistan was not enough, but our Visa had an expiry date. It was time to move towards Baluchistan and its capital city Quetta. After all reports we were a little nervous (we must be honest). We stayed one night in Multan, the city of Saints, Dust & Beggars as it is introduced in an old saying. Today Multan is a combination of the old and the new Pakistan culture. There is a big hustle and bustle in the Old town, and the comfort of sound streets in the New city. The Old (Purana Shehar) city has a very interesting Bazaar and many elaborately decorated Shrines of the Sufi saints. We stayed just outside town at a Mango farm (we were told Multan has the best mango’s in Pakistan and many are exported to Australia), recommended by another Hubb member in Lahore. One highlight we visited was Mausoleum Hazarat Bahauddin Zakaria.
Once we left Punjab we arrived in the South-Eastern province of Pakistan named Sindh. Karachi with around 20 million people is Pakistan largest city. Sindh’s the population is mainly Muslim (92 %) but Sindh is also home to nearly all (93%) of Pakistan’s Hindus forming 8 % of the province’s population. Our next stop was Shikarpur close to the Baluchistan border where we bush camped in a village Square just outside town. Here we were served a traditional Pakistan meal in front of our truck. Nervous but ready we entered Baluchistan in army convoy until the Capital Quetta. The Pakistan army and Police where great and this first part of the Baluchistan province was passed with no issues. Quetta lays at the altitude of 1,675 meters. It is a small city of about 1.4 Million people. Just before Quetta we crossed the rugged Bolan Pass. Our plans of sightseeing around Quetta including a visit Hanna Lake, which is a scenic lake with beautiful picnic spots around it, were halted by a shooting and bombing in town, so we stayed put until it was safe to leave Quetta to cross the 600 KM to the Iran border.
Unfortunately for us the area is under enormous pressure and due to Terrorist activity we were not allowed to go anywhere without police or army escorts. The famous Bloom Star hotel has an entrance only 3.25mtr high hence too low for our truck. Police arrived and escorted us to the Police station where we camped on a perfect lawn with 24-hour security. We stayed 3 days and had our own body guards and armed security around the truck. Once we received our travel permit to drive with a private escort Army/Police (anti-Terrorist Squad) we had to leave immediate. During our stay we did visit the city and had lunch but never without 2-armed anti-terrorist members next to us. The city of Quetta is completely rebuilt after the earthquake of 1935, and offers little historical interest. The food and goods on sale in the bazaars give it a certain Central Asian feel and a reason to see it. Afghan refugees have brought with them fresh crafts like the distinctive Hazara rugs, to add to such traditional items as Baluchi mirror work and wooden crafts. The Quetta market was under very tight security due to recent bombings and granate attacks at the markets. After 3 days stuck at the Police station in the northern cantonment of Quetta the news came we are to leave. Very close to a small military museum in a bungalow once occupied by Field- Marshal Montgomery when he was an instructor at the Quetta Staff College, it is the academy which trains Pakistan’s military elite. We did only leave the Police station when we had to go to the bank or were going for dinner or lunch and to the department of Home affairs. Once we received the green light from the Department of Home Affairs we had no choice but leave immediate as the army convoy arrived within minutes. The province of Baluchistan is the largest of Pakistan’s four administrative provinces in terms of area, constituting approximately 44% of the country’s total land mass, and the smallest in terms of population, being home to less than 5% of the country’s population. The province is bordered by Afghanistan to the north and north-west, Iran to the south-west and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the north-east. Baluchistan is rich in exhaustible and renewable resources; it is the second major supplier of natural gas in Pakistan. Baluchistan is a land of contrast. It has places with rugged mountains and plains stretching for hundreds of kilometres. The people are a mix of Pathan-Baloch and Brahui. However, you find also Uzbecks, Afghans, Tajik and Turkamen who migrated or fled their own countries. Due to the tribal lifestyle of many Baloch and Brahui people, animal husbandry and trading bazaars found throughout the province are important. Like the rest of the third world countries, Chinese are also in Baluchistan to be found. There is Chinese involvement in the nearby Saindak gold and copper mining project where deposits exist in the Chagai District in Reko Diq area. Baluchistan is not a very safe part of Pakistan however as a tourist you are well protected and are given police/army escorts wherever you go. The Baluchistan conflict is an ongoing conflict between Baloch nationalists and the Government of Pakistan and Government of Iran over Baluchistan. Baloch insurgent groups operate in the Pakistani part of the region, the Iranian part and in southern Afghanistan. Since the 2010s, attacks against the Shia community by sectarian groups though unrelated to the political struggle, have also continued to rise in Baluchistan. Recently, militants have clashed with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its respective Baloch region, which borders Pakistan. Baluchistan is one of Pakistan’s poorest regions although it has vast natural resources. Baloch separatists allege that the central government of Pakistan is systematically suppressing development in Baluchistan to keep the Balochs weak. Like as with all other countries we visited, the local people are friendly and don’t want any trouble but are being dragged into this not knowing who the enemy is. US planes bombing in the name of War against Terror does not help as many civilians are being killed in the process. Once we left Quetta for Taf Tan (Iran border) it was just under 700 KM of police/army escorts and an overnight stop in Dalbandain at the local police station which was also the prison!!!
The week before our arrival five border guards were kidnapped from Taf Tan and found dead the following day, so as you can imagine things were tense. The Custom formalities are simple at Taf Tan and take about half an hour. As we left Pakistani customs Clary was reminded to cover up before entering the Iran Gate.
We were greeted with “WELCOME TO IRAN” . Customs were organized and fast on the Iranian side and our army escort was already waiting to take us on perfect roads out of the danger zone. It took less than 3 hours to reach Zahadan. (Iran Part of Baluchistan). For us the journey was easy and with a well-organized escort system for foreigners we never felt unsafe.
The Pakistani government does anything in its power to ensure tourists are safe and well looked after and this was the case with us and other overlanders we spoke with in Pakistan.
The people who protected us were from the Anti-Terrorist squad also known as the “Elite Force” or “Police Commandos” specializing in Counter-Terrorist operations and VIP security duties, as well as acting against serious crime and performing high-risk operations which can’t be carried out by the regular police. It was formed in 1998 as a counterterrorism unit, but over time its duties expanded to VIP escort.
The Elite Force is used in a range of special operations including “high-risk searches”, raids and rescue operations. They are trained by Pakistan’s Special Service Group in personal combat, martial arts, crowd control, close quarter battles and reconnaissance. They are trained in the use of a range of weapons, including the AK-47, Glock Pistol, MP-5, and grenades. They can use different kind of weapons like Pakistan-made G3, machine-guns etc. Their arsenal also included flak jackets.