So where to start? I guess the beginning but that was months ago and you don't want to read it all again so I will start with leaving Quetta. We had planned to leave on the 17th at about 8am and head south for Sibi stopping during the midday sun to swim in some hot and cold springs. In the end we didnt wake up until 9 and left by 11. The road is a single lane highway through a mountain range filled with broken down and crashed trucks. Maybe 2 every KM (I am working in kilometers now, it's just easier) and you sometimes see some lying at the bottom of the cliff. There are hundreds of mini buses with maybe seats for 7 but packed with 15 on the inside, 10 on the roof and maybe a motorcycle or two. It was a constant battle to make progress and avoid potholes. We stopped at a couple of police checkpoints for the usual paperwork and then one checkpoint offered us a lunch of bread and fish soup. I ate the bread! We all chatted away for a bit and then one of the policemen placed two big sticks of something which was of an "illegal nature" in front of us. About $400 worth in the UK and says "Gift gift" which was graciously accepted. A bit further down the road and with enough drugs for a jail sentence in the UK something fell off Grahams bike and bounced down the road passed me and Tino, we both slammed on the brakes, turned around and came face to face with our first "escort" Quickly picking up the foot peg from Grahams bike we headed on our way not realising it was an escort. We caught up with Graham completely losing the police at the same time!
We were never going to reach the springs before 5 so we decided to stop by the river and go for a swim. It was warm from the heat and probably full of sewage but it was incredibly refreshing and the view was beautiful. Imagine a deep blue river running through a valley which opens up onto a huge mountain range. We sat by the river for a bit, skimming stones and baking in the sun. Tino decided to splash me by throwing a stone in the water in front of me but it splashed graham who threw a huge stone back which I put by naked foot in the way of. By the time I got my foot fixed up and dressed again the police had caught up with us. Tino was riding at the back stopping them from overtaking us and generally being a pain when he rode through a flock of birds landing one directly in the face! Apparently it doesn't hurt anywhere near like what you would expect (Tino rides with no helmet). We lost a couple more escorts that day and in the process I had a "near miss". Tino says he will always remember hearing the screech of brakes behind him, looking in his mirror and seeing coming down the road sideways at him. I will always remember looking at the view over the river, looking back at the road and seeing Tino and Graham stopped directly in front of me. I slammed on the front and rear brakes, the rear wheel skidded straight away and was overtaking the front wheel by the time the front started to skid. I was 100% sure I was down and was trying very hard not to take out the others too but somehow I kept it up, stopped, looked at Tino and burst into laughter. He just shook his head! We finally picked up one more escort who forced us to stop. Little did we know how much we would hear "Very dangerous", "It is our duty to protect you" and "You will follow us now!" over the next few days but we heard it here first and paid attention. We followed the police into Sibi where they took our passport details once, twice, three times. We then at about 10pm received a call to confirm our details again. The Pakistani Police Special Branch had us three down as Tino, Graham Holden and Holden Graham. When he asked me if this was correct, I couldn't lie. I admitted my name was Holden!
So day two arrives. The 18th and the trek form Sibi to somewhere East of Sibi. We haven't really been planning our route too much. The police gave us an early morning wake up call, confirmed our passport details again and asked us where we were going. We didn't have a clue and just said East..ish... which seemed to annoy them, later we discovered why. They planned out our entire route to have us meet different escorts along the way. It was a continuous string of different police officers. This is when things started to turn bad. When you get stopped every 40km and asked where your going, your nationality, how long your staying in Pakistan and you try to explain when no-one speaks proper english it gets very frustrating. We "ran" several times this day but they always caught us very quickly. They have a very efficient communications system and 3 white men on big motorbikes stand out quite alot in Pakistan. As it started to get dark we kept on asking to be taken to a hotel and each time the police would say "ok 20km" so we would follow them and then a new escort would take over and say "ok 20KM" We got to the Punjab province well after dark, we had been riding for probably close to 10 hours and only covered 400km and the "No Fear Punjab Elite" forces took us in a stranglehold of a convoy with one car infront and one behind and forced us into Sadiqadad. They then waited at a roundabout for half an hour, then to the police station for 5 minutes (half an hour) and then eventually to a 5* hotel which cost maybe $7 each a night including food. I had a nice long shower, a smoke on the roof and then we made plans for the next day.
Day 3, the 19th
We lost the Punjab Elite straight out of the hotel by going down a footpath chased by a man waving is AK in the air. About 20 k's down the road they caught up with us so we all stopped for a nice drink, a cigarette and a chat. Everything was very friendly and we had a good laugh. Tino left first. Jumped on his bike revved it up and sped away. When the police realised he wasn't stopping they turned to me an Graham and with a lot of hand gestures and yelling suggested very subtly that we should go too. By this point a crowd had gathered and the police were getting agitated. Graham finished his cig 2 or 3 minutes later and blasted off after Tino leaving the officer staring at me with an open mouth. By the time I lit my second cigarette he had changed his attitude, he had stopped yelling and was now begging, the crowd were laughing at him and so were some of the other police. I made a big show of putting on my jacket, taking it off, adjusting the straps, plugging in my MP3 player, putting on my helmet and shooting off down the road at about 80mph. Considerably faster than a 1980s Toyota pickup with 5 men it can possibly move. All three of us met at an arranged meeting point, slipped off the road and hid behind a house. It went perfectly. We passed 3 more checkpoints before the elites caught up with us and they were pissed! "Very dangerous" apparently.
Imagine the FBI or Mi:5 losing 3 ordinary citizens, imagine the radio call.... "You WHAT?" "We lost them sir, they.... tricked us" "Tricked YOU?"
I have to skip the rest of that day, I just don't remember it. Too much has happened. There was a bit more running away and being caught I am sure. One three star officer yelled at Tino "You go nowhere without my permission. NOWHERE YOU UNDERSTAND" Tino asked if he could go for a piss and then rode off! We stayed in Multan that night. Again arriving in the dark which is incredibly dangerous. You cant see a thing and your tired. Cars come from everywhere, cows walk out in front of you, children grab at you it is completely insane. That night a guard was posted in front of our room, Graham wanted to go to the Internet so we had to come up with another escape tactic so he went out front to have a coffee and the cop followed him. Graham befriended some English speaking students who distracted the cop and Graham sneaked off round the back. When he returned there were maybe 20 officers waiting for him and now we had three guards on the door all night!
Insane huh? Not a bit of it! It's not even begun!
We planned to pack the bikes discretely and sneak off figuring it would take 30 minutes for the police to mobilise but they were waiting. We headed straight for the tourism information, sorted out maps and any information we may need and headed north out of the city. Within minutes we were being chased by a motorcycle cop on a 125 who we left for dust by Tino faking a stop and then out accelerating him only to round the corner into a huge police roadblock. We had no choice but to stop. The police stood in front of us and tried to pull the keys from our bikes. We revved up the engines and forced our way through and again lost them in the traffic. Still heading north we passed through the city slums and our into open country. Again they caught up with us, each time they would make a dangerous overtake, each time we would stop and 20 seconds later blast off in front of them. Following the river we headed East then North then West and finally let the police take us to see some sights. When it came time to leave one of the officers went crazy, He was yelling and Graham and trying to pull him off his bike. Graham went nuts in return yelling at the officer starting his bike and going. We started taking smaller and smaller roads, turning at random points until we eventually found ourselves on the flood plains of the Indus and with no roads, no houses just mud, sand, rocks and the odd nomadic herdsman. Truly out in the sticks, one bottle of water between us (mine) and me with less than 50km left in the tank. We crossed some of the most incredible terrain. Constantly on the pegs and pushing as fast as our bikes and our guts would let us. This was the kind of riding I had dreamed of before leaving and it was perfect. It only added to the fun that there were armed police chasing us. There was a small gap in the road and a "bridge" had been made for motorbikes to cross. Tino went first on the lightest bike, then Graham on the heaviest. He made it but broke the bridge leaving me with a my first ever jump. My front wheel made it and the back just ended up spinning in the air before the bike see sawed and the front was in the air. Graham and Tino pulled me out and thats where we left the police. We didn't see them again for at least 3 hours.
We rode through deep mud, soft sand, up and down small dunes, through riverbeds! Launching the bikes up steep hills and acting like we were twelve again. It started to dawn on us after a while that not only were we lost but if we hit the road again then we would be found by the police. We needed an escape plan but with a huge river to the west, the police to the south and miles of open country to the North and East we didn't have a clue. We asked some locals who we think said the river ws shallow further up and we could cross. We found the point and sent Tino on the light bike first. He crossed onto the middle island no problem and after a short time circled back round to come tell us. He tried to cross back at a different point and we watched from the shore as his bike got slower and slower and eventually stopped. We just laughed and lit a cig. He got off the bike and it just stood up by itself in the mud. Eventually we walked over and almost start crying when he started waving his hands yelling "It's sinking it's sinking" and it was! By the time we arrived the mud was well above the rear axel and it was only the exhaust stopping it going any further. So we took photos and dug him out while some locals watched with what I can only imagine was complete bewilderment! It s likely they have never seen a white man before and almost certain they have not seen motorbikes like ours... stuck in mud... and sinking! So we got Tino out and started looking for another crossing. We left Tino to do the searching and sat in the shade of a tree drinking the last of our water. After maybe 30 minutes the police turned up and were laughing harder than we were. We eventually worked out that HQ was going mad, they had lookouts everywhere for us. You could hear the relief in their voices over the radio. The driver and guy in charge of the group that found us was having a great time. He had enjoyed riding that route and hunting us down.
Tino came back and said there was a boat across the river, easily fit the bikes and only costs 30 rupees. There was no way the car would get on so off we headed. Sure enough there was a boat. On the other side of the river with a police car. Oh well... We needed water, food and petrol so had to cross. I wish I had photos of us loading the bikes. The bikes caked in mud, us pouring sweat surrounded by police and locals. We put ramps on the boat and had to launch the bikes up them, stopping at the top of the ramp to avoid the drop into the belly of the boat. Tino went first and got up after a couple of attempts and then we slowly lifted his bike in. I was next, up first time and in and then Graham. Two more bikes loaded up, they just lifted them on an of we went. On the other side the strongest man I have ever met heaved the motorbikes out over the step and then onto the land by himself. These bikes way in excess of 240kg each! Grahams at least 270!! I lost the back end trying to ride up the riverbank and almost backed into the river but we all got up and headed for water and food. I must have put back two litres of water in one go. We were never in danger of dehydration, we all have water filtration devices of some sort but who wants to drink river water? So well fed, watered and with 3 full tanks of petrol we headed off once more with the police following closely behind and with an empty tank. They soon had to stop for petrol and we launched off. Carving through the traffic to catch up with Graham, me and Tino must have used up several of our nine lives. We caught him and switched down a side street and back onto the flood plains, this time on the west bank of the river, heading straight for the mud again! A couple of double backs and we had found the perfect escape route. The police wouldntt be able to follow and we could find a place to camp.
Graham got stuck first. He was riding in front of me along a farmers track. The cars before had left two deep ruts in the ground and so we went down the middle. The middle turned into a mud pool about half way along and there was no way through apart from over the ruts the cars had left. Graham backed up his bike and tried to speed over it but the weight brought him down. We lifted his front wheel out and then with wheels spinning, mud flying and Tino screaming "Faster Graham faster!" he made it through the field. Then it was my turn. As we turned around we saw the police in the next field and we all ducked. I had to run to my bike and the police saw me, lept on it and tried to do the same as Graham. In the panic and excitement I over revved the engine which caused the emergency systems to stop it running leaving me stuck in exactly the same place as Graham. With the police running over the field behind us and me stuck with my engine not starting it was like a scene from a movie except that in a movie at the last second the engine would kick in and they would ride away into a setting sun. In real life the police reached me and I gave up. There was something terribly wrong with my bike and the police were not in the mood to help.
After about 30 minutes in the mud trying to find out what was wrong the bike started up all by itself. We figured that when the engine cut out fuel would still have been pumped into the cylinders which flooded the engine.
These police turned out to be real friendly. They decided to let us camp by the river so escorted us to a good camping spot and helped us set up. Sure, they took our passport details two or three times but that's normal by now. As we were setting up camp there was a huge bang from the bridge and a lot of smoke and dust. Tino, without turning said "Who died". Please don't think this is callous or morbid, it is a fact of life here, in a crash it is not a case of did someone die but how many died. Remember I described the buses earlier? If one of those had crashed it would have been in double figures, many in the river and impossible to identify the bodies. I don't know if you would describe Pakistan as third world but many parts of it are! Due to the crash we were unable to go to the shops to eat so the Sargent in charge gave up his fish dinner for us. This was the first real unprocessed fish (I tried fish fingers about 4 months ago) I have eaten in probably 10 years and it was delicious. It wasn't the smelly crap you cooked back in the flat Mike. This was fresh caught and cooked within the hour. That night with a full stomach and incredibly tired from all the off-roading I slept very well and was up with the sun in the morning welcoming what was to be a beautiful day...
In the evening of the 20th of September 2008 a suicide bomber targeted the Marriot hotel in Islamabad in a possible assassination attempt of several high ranking Pakistani officials. The blast was felt 2.5km away and heard over 15. It is believed that over 1000kg of explosives were used in the attack. We didn't know!
We left the campsite with our escort and headed north along the West bank of the river. Within a mile of passing the first town we were stopped by the police. They were being very insistent and aggressive. We turned to head back into town for food. Within 5 minutes they had threatened to shoot Tino if he didn't comply. Graham sped off up the road with Tino in hot pursuit. I was mobbed by the police, they keys ripped from my hands. Things were getting out of hand fast. The police were all over me yelling at me and I was yelling back, a huge crowd had formed. One officer started threatening to beat me but eventually turned his wrath on the crowd chasing people and hitting them. Alone, in a foreign country where no-one speaks English witnessing what a police state does to its people first hand. I had been yelling at one officer and had pushed him when he pushed me and now he was just staring at me. I hate to admit that I was glad it wasn't me receiving the beating. My passport being the only thing that saved me, I was scared for myself, for my bike and for my friends. All I wanted at that time was to be back together with my friends in a hotel room, even a cell. Anywhere where I wasn't on my own. I don't know how long I was there for but I know I was drenched through with sweat by the time they moved me. They had told me that Graham and Tino were at the police station. I was desperate to get there but they wouldn't let me take the bike and I was not going to leave it behind. Eventually they let me ride to the station while an officer rode a 125 next to me. I seriously considered running but I knew it was doomed. I saw a roadblock up ahead which would need a lorry to get through. We turned down a side street before the road block. Every possible fear went through my head. I knew I had embarassed at least one officer and annoyed many more. What if they couldn't beat me in public and were taking me somewhere secluded. This was real fear. I hadn't thought of the consequences before and now here they were, all of them, flashing through my mind. The sight of Tinos bike at the police station and then Tino was the biggest relief of my life. He had been through the same as me and had the same thoughts. The smile on his face when he saw me said it all. They tried to put us in a cell in the station, sure it had a tv and sofas but it was still a cell. We sat outside. There had been no sign of Graham and we were starting to worry. Eventually he turned up and had been through the mill. After leaving me he had rammed his way around the roadblock and headed up the road. Eventually the police overtook him and as he was pulling alongside them they rammed him off his bike and when they had him pinned they set the crowd on him. He was kicked, punched and beaten with sticks as his bike lay at the side of the road pouring petrol and with the ignition on. I can only imagine what went through his mind, he must of thought he was a dead man. Eventually they tied him up and threw him in the back of the van where he stopped them from closing the door because he wasnt going to leave his bike. They let him ride it back to the station with an officer riding pillion.
Back at the station we found out about the bomb. If only they had told us before we left in the morning none of this would have happened. We would have cooperated fully. You have to understand something about the way we have been acting. It is stupid, yes I know that, but it is something else too. In the UK we expect our police to protect us without infringing on our personal liberties. We have what we like to call God given rights. The right to free speech, owning a home, earning a living and the right to privacy. The reality is that these are government controlled rights. If the government decides to take them away they can and in Pakistan the government has taken them away from the local people. I did not come to Pakistan to stare at the back of a police truck for 3000 miles. I came to see the country and to meet the people. To broaden my view of the world and to maybe broaden other peoples views who are not as lucky as I am. You'll be happy to know that since the last episode we have cooperated with the police. They took us to a hotel where we unpacked, got ready for bed and then they made us pack and move on again to another hotel in another town. We rode in the dark to this next town where we got into the hotel, unpacked, had dinner and were told we had to leave again. We refused and they understood.
On the 22nd we headed to Islamabad, where I am writting this blog, we rode through a thunderstorm and are now staying in the travellers campsite. Tino and Graham are getting their Indian visas, Graham is lodging a formal complaint with the embassy and then in a day or two we are heading North up the Korakorum Highway. I intend to get a letter written in Urdu which we can show to the police explaining our situation and hopefully they will leave us alone. Or maybe just follow us instead of ordering us about.
I wouldn't change a minute of this past week. Every one has been an experience which I hope never to forget. I will always laugh at the image of Tino waving his hands screaming "Its sinking" and the relief of seeing two people again, who after just a few weeks I consider life long friends, will stay with me always. I have had my wake up call with regards to the police and I wont forget that lesson either. Sorry this post has been so long but it is as much for me as it is for you. I hope you smile when I smile and worry when I worry but maybe I am not that good a writter. I will catch up soon, it is going to be a quiet few days hopefully and I will let you know when I am heading to the KKH.