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Posts Tagged ‘Darra’

The Word From Pakistan

In Asia, Pakistan on November 21, 2002 at 7:17 pm

Aren’t you all glad there’s only two messages left from moi?  I am, I’m almost at the end of my traveling rope and greatly looking forward to being clean again, especially after today’s pollution.  But back to the update…

Six of us jumped off the truck this past Sunday and headed north to Peshawar via plane.  It was a jumbo jet and since there were only 30 passengers, it was pretty much first class all the way.  On Monday, Cam, Jim and myself snuck on local transit to the off-limits town of Darra to see what we could see (read a longer version of the story here…).  As soon as we got off the bus, we were greeted by a town that went silent as soon as they saw us and started to stare intently at the tourists who shouldn’t be there.  On top of that freaky sensation, we could hear automatic rifles and pistols being fired off all around us as the makers were testing them out.  We ducked into a knife and brass-knuckle shop where I was examining an 8-inch stiletto knife when a local cop found us.  This was after one local told us that we needed a permit and it was ‘very dangerous to be here’.  The cop asked for our permit which of course we didn’t have and then proceeded to give us a tour of the gun factories and shops after we bribed him to let us stay.  Then he says ‘you want to fire gun?  No problem, you tell me you want, I bring’.  So we headed off to a valley behind the town where I guess the local firing range is and proceeded to fire off some rounds on an AK-47 and Chinese handgun.  I couldn’t figure out why there were no shells lying around until the 4 and 5 year old afghani kids materialized to jump at catching the ejecting shells.  Then we were hustled back into town where we had to wait in a secluded alley until the cop hailed our bus back to Peshawar and relative safety.  A very strange day.

Yesterday we hired Prince, a local Pakistani guide, to take us to the Khyber Pass.  It was a bumpy painful 2 hour ride in the back of a pick-up truck, enhanced by the armed guard we lawfully had to hire to keep the ruckus down in the tribal areas.  At last we were standing on the pass, looking at the Afghanistan border only 3 km away.  From a distance the country is stunning.  I guess I thought that since there is war that there would be a gunman hiding behind every tree and bombs would be exploding every 5 seconds.  Aside from that not being economically or socially feasible, the country is huge and there’s no way of seeing where the trouble is.  You won’t believe it but I actually turned down an opportunity to go to Kabul.  Peter and Eric, two of the guys I’m traveling with, headed there yesterday as it only took 4 hours to get the visa.  It seemed like a long way to go for only one day and the safety issue lay with my traveling companions, not the Afghans themselves.  We have bets on when and if we’ll ever see those two again.  So I stayed behind with the other guys and last night we took a first-class sleeper train to Lahore which is where we are now.

Lahore is overwhelming my senses, not to mention burning out my nose-hairs and melting my face like acid has been poured on it.  It’s loud, dirty, polluted, colourful, busy, and totally cool.  Only thing is I’m not ready for it after a night of train travel.  Tonight we’re doing the civilized western thing by going out for pizza and a movie while everyone else in the group is going to hunt down the stoned- Sufi dance-a-thon.

So onto India on Saturday which will be the last country on this part of the trip.  Yes, I’m happy it’s almost over.

And that’s it from Pakistan, I’d highly recommend it to anyone except my mother.  It is a wild frontier like country, the people are amazing as usual and the food is fantastic when you can get it.  It’s been Ramazan the whole time, which deserves its own message but you’ll never get it via e-mail.

One more message and I promise that’s it!!


In Asia, Pakistan on November 15, 2002 at 7:12 pm

Yes, I’m actually disappointed.  That’s because when we are finally in a dangerous situation, no one at home has bothered reading about it.  So here’s the story… (read a longer version of the story here…)

On Wednesday afternoon, we finally left Iran and entered Pakistan.  On Thursday we arrived in Quetta, 12 hours before the U.S. executed a Pakistani man who had killed 2 CIA agents in 1993.  He is/was from Quetta and his family lives only a five-minute walk from our campsite.  In anticipation of a violent outbreak, the police gave us extra security and warned us not to leave the campground until they had told us it was safe.  So yesterday we woke up to the sound of fighter planes flying overhead and apparently the police and army had a huge presence in the city.  In spite of the fears of violence, nothing happened yesterday and by last night a few of us were feeling sufficiently bored to hitch a ride into town with some men from the anti-terrorist task force.  The body of the man is being flown back to Quetta tomorrow apparently which means that the possibility for escalating tension becomes a bigger and more dangerous thing.  However, for those of you who know me, you know that this is exactly the kind of vacation I’ve been waiting for and I am definitely LOVING IT!

Pakistan is by far the weirdest and most interesting place I’ve been to thus far.  The transport trucks are completely decorated in coloured aluminum, bells, and chains so if you don’t see them coming around the corner you definitely hear them.  And when our headlights hit the front of the oncoming trucks, it’s like being sent to the circus or some crazy funhouse.  They also drive like they are possessed which is frightening at times since we are now on a single-track, deeply rutted highway, comparable to some mountain trails on the North Shore.  At any rate, Adam is the king of driving and we are still alive.  Unfortunately we can’t see much of the city but this afternoon myself, Arnout, and Jim are going in to see what we can see.

Jim with the driver of this beautiful truck. Taftan

I have tasted freedom in a very shallow sense.  For the first time in 3 weeks I don’t have to cover my head with a scarf.  When we were in the hotels in Iran, we didn’t have bathrooms in our rooms which meant that every time I wanted to wash my face, brush my teeth, or walk down the hall for any matter, I had to put my headscarf on.  Sometimes I made a dash for the bathroom with my head uncovered, but the way the local men looked at me made me feel like I was running around naked.  I also can wear pants again and although this sounds like no big deal, I can tell you that when certain laws are imposed on you, when they are gone it feels like you can breathe again.

That being said, Iran was really a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone.  We experienced no security problems and not one of us was in jeopardy at any time during the 3 weeks.  It’s too bad that Iran has been presented as a monster with zero tolerance for anything other than Islam because the people are incredibly friendly, hospitable, warm and welcoming.  We were often welcomed into complete strangers home and treated like we were family.

As for the rest of our time in Pakistan, 5 of us including myself, are planning to fly up to Peshawar tomorrow night for a few days to check out the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, and to see if we can get access to the city of Darra which is where they manufacture every kind of gun under the sun.  We’ll then take the bus to Islamabad for a day and then down to Lahore where we’ll rejoin the rest of the group.  I think 7 days in this country is far too short, but I guess I can always come back.

This is not rush hour, this is the usual traffic backlog in any village en route to Quetta. photo: Eric Baxter

photo: Eric Baxter