Since I've been in this country I've been asked by a number of curious Pakistani's why I'd decided to visit these warm regions at the height of summer. Of course, they first ask the other usual questions (Name? Country? Number of children? Religion? Married? - more or less in that sequence). Dropping down from the dry moderate highlands around Quetta to the plains of the Indus river and its tributaries, conditions became rather uncomfortable (upper 40's with humidity near saturation). From time to time my police escorts found it necessary to cool of in streams or canals along the way (photo). The escorts started soon after Quetta, and at times it was difficult for me to keep my bike out of their van, especially during the heat of the day when they weren't keen to follow me around at cycling pace. Fortunately I managed to stay on the road for most of the distance between overnight points each day. I was compelled to proceed to the next large town or city where there was a hotel, and on a number of occasions I was prevented from leaving the hotel in the evening by an armed guard posted there for "my own safety". The morning when I left for Lahore I didn't notice my escorts anywhere so I made a break for it, and have been enjoying a wonderful few days of freedom. I've stayed in the cheapest hotels (3 to 7 U$), where it doesn't matter if the rats are playing "hop-scotch" in the room or that there may be an impressive collection of mouldy mango pips in the bedside cupboard. What really matters is that there must be a large and powerful ceiling fan in the room. Unfortunately the frequent electricity cuts are a problem, and I've spent more than one night sleeping on the roof of hotels amongst the locals (even they don't dare return to their "sauna" before the fan starts spinning again!). The power failures also make it very frustrating to do anything on the internet - this is my 5th attempt in the past 2 days to publish this post - so please forgive me if I haven't replied to your e-mails. The streets of the villages in the areas I've cycled through have been chaotic, with obstacles coming from all directions (trucks, busses, taxis, tractors, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, bicycles, ox-carts, camel-carts, buffalo-carts, horse-carts, donkey-carts, hawker-trolleys, careless pedestrians, and an assortment of wandering animals). The local driving is rather suspect, and even the police escort van bumped me into a donkey cart one day. A few days ago I had a more serious fall, and have decided to spend a few recovery days in Lahore, where I am now. This time I selected a room which not only has a fan, but also a TV (so I can watch the current SA vs Eng cricket test). I also have a "wonderful" view from the room over the city (photo). Pakistan is a cricket-crazy country, and the moment I mention that I'm from South Africa I become an instant celebrity. For a while I was also a bit of a celebrity after appearing on the TV news about a week ago, but that fame seems to be wearing off now. From Lahore I plan to cycle on towards Islamabad, where I will probably meet up with Leana when she returns from her mountain trekking next week. Distances cycled since Quetta were:- Sibi 92 km; Sukkur 139 km; Rahim Yar Khan 101 km; Bahawalpur 103 km; Multan 55 km; Khanewal 59 km; Sahiwal 140 km; Pattoki 82 km; Lahore 99 km.
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
Not long after leaving Tehran the countryside turned into semi-desert (much like the drier areas of the Karoo in SA). It became rather hot, and even the breeze felt like a hair-dryer in my face. Soon Leana began to suffer from the heat, and by the 3rd morning she was too ill to continue cycling, so she took a bus to Pakistan. She's obviously recovered now, because at the moment she is on a trekking adventure in the Northern mountains. It was also necessary for us to get a move-on towards the border due to the never-ending visa story (our Iranian visas were close to expiry). As I pushed on towards the South-East it became even hotter and more arid. In the Kerman region the production of pistacio nuts is big business, and the orchards are irrigated by pumping up ground water which flows in channels. In the heat these water channels were very welcome, and I made regular stops there to stock up on cool drinking water, and to soak my clothes. By the time I'd reached the oasis city of Bam (recently ravished by earthquake), I was well inside the proper desert. At one stage a truck driver informed me that the temperature was 55 degrees celcius, and the road ahead would be even hotter (my subsequent experience confired that he'd spoken the truth). At the time it was my opinion that only "Mad Dogs" and "Just-as-mad-Cyclists" wander around that area in the middle of summer. Drinking water quickly became hot enough to make tea, but "hot water" is better than "no water", so I made sure that I stayed properly hydrated. I was also able to do some "scientific experiments", and noticed that a 2 litre plastic bottle of solid ice turned to hot water in less than 30 minutes. The heat, however, was not my main problem. Apparently tourists are regularly abducted in the area (both Iranian and Pakistani sides of the border). So, for my "own safety" the Iranian police & army prevented me from cycling further than a certain point on my own. In the last 200 km to the border I had 10 police or army "escorts", mostly on the back of vehicles but sometimes I was allowed to follow them by bike. More than once my escorts dropped me off along the desert road without me having a clue regarding distances to the next place on my map. On one such occasion I was left without any drinking water, as my water bottles had fallen off the back of the truck (a result of the usual reckless driving). At one stage when I had been left to cycle on without an escort, I had a rather unpleasant encounter with a car-load of armed men in traditional dress (fortunately I survived unscathed, and with my meagre possessions still intact). Right now I'm in the city of Quetta, Pakistan. I was again forced to take a bus here from the border, which may not have been such a safe option as the bus ahead of us was robbed during the night (but that's a whole story on its own). Daily distances cycled since Tehran were:- Qom 124 km; Kashan 113 km; Ardestan 139 km; Aqda 165 km; Mehriz 197 km; Rafsanjan 161 km; Mahan 155 km; Desert Camp 95 km; Nosrat Abad 193 km; Taftan 25 km; and Quetta 23 km.