|Long and dirty road|
Soon after M&D left my poo started exploding again. Which was quite nice timing as election fever really took hold, with accusations of rigging and bribes fervent. Tires were set on fire to block streets and there were a few minor clashes. These clashes between the Shiites and the Sunnis had got a little out of hand a month before – with a grenade being thrown into a shop and then, in retaliation, someone opening up with a machine gun into a packed mini bus. On my final day in Gilgit the results were announced by the government, we were locked into the hostel (a good excuse to get us to spend our money there) as bullets flew through the air. We were assured they were in celebration but I couldn’t help feeling some of them screamed with malice.
The next day I set off south with Sander, a Dutch guy I’d met in Kyrgyzstan months before. That night it started to get dark which was a bit worrying due to the fact that the area is well known for bandits and the police guard foreign workers in case of Taliban attacks. Again the police (who I have always found lovely) welcomed us into their camp, feeding and watering us and telling us all about life in the area. Women are not allowed to leave the house, if you have a lover without marriage you will both be shot, one man in the area has 4 wives and 25 children.
The following morning I was allowed to fire off an AK47 into the air without any bullets and use the officers revolver. Neither touched me in any way. Guns are common here and having it in my own hands was neither exciting nor scary.
Next day was very slow going, Sander was already sick and with the rough road with rougher traffic he was left coughing blood due to the diesel and dust. We finally made it to Chilas – our last stop before the police bundle you onto a bus – the next 200k are real tribal and bandit country. In Chilas itself a bus had been hijacked leaving the driver with a bullet hole in his forehead and all the passengers without belongings and the bus, smouldering in pieces on the road.
The bus ride was typically Pakistani – a few seats with a huge amount of people. My legs were horribly twisted, my shoulder was embedded in my lung and my other arm was coming out of my behind. Surprisingly I managed to drop off once or twice in our 12 hour journey, but it was punctuated with primitive tire changing using rocks to jack the car up, meals stops where human sewage decorated the floor and also a delay caused by a crash at the end of the swat valley (Taliban area) – the delay was partly due to the 100’s of police that had arrived just in case it was a trap.
We arrived in Mansehra where me and Sander parted ways – he’s still there now and not allowed to leave the hostel unless he has police escort – gun fights are common in the street.
I took the road to the capital Islamabad. 2 lanes for traffic are filled with six – with the outside lane – your usual cycle lane used for traffic coming in the opposite direction. 50k away a dome of smog started to show on the horizon – it got bigger and closer and soon I plunged headlong into it. The mountains disappeared as did the cars in front. Dust and diesel coated me inside and out. My boogies are still coming out solid and black, whilst I have to cough up the muck each morning.
Despite this Islamabad (or Pindi – where I’m staying) is quite beautiful and colourful in it’s own special way. Flocks of eagles swoop left and right, whilst Pan is spat colouring whatever it hits red, cars hoot, goats casually graze on the piles of rubbish in the street, Tuktuks swerve round the traffic, calls for prayer are drowned out by break beat Indian tunes emanating from the shops, beautiful material is used to cover the women and the men chatter round burning rubbish to keep warm. What am I doing? I sit in the juice shop. That’s it. Drinking in the sweet sweet fruits whilst everything around me goes crazy. Mmmmm juice.
Oh oh oh, I have spent a lot of time in the juice shop but I did make time for a press conference organised by someone I met up North and was on TV constantly last night on all channels. People across Pakistan have been contacting me to say they saw it. Awesome!!! This celebratory status kept the hotel owner turfing me out on the street. My visa has expired again and the offices are closed till Monday. I was told avoid the police :o)
NB On an off note the guy who organised the press thing picked me up from my hotel and looked into my room and almost vomited. I hadn’t really looked at it in a critical way but it’s pretty gross – the walls a coated with dirty finger marks and stains, the floor covered with dust and unidentifiable stains has never been cleaned, smoke has stained the roof, whilst mould hides in every corner, holes punctuate the walls, the stench of sewage penetrates every fibre of your body, the curtains are torn netting, and the door is held shot with a single nail. But at less than two quid a night in a capital city you can’t complain.