Well here I am sitting up in bed trying to keep my eyes open for long enough to write something interesting before I forget it all tomorrow, we’re both exhausted. Today started with the predicably late start, but for once it wasnt us holding things up.
The police escort turned up 45mins late, which sucked because we got up at 6am to meet them. A police escort, by the way, is a toyota hilux with two in the front, and between 2 and 6 in the back, usually armed with AK47’s resting casually on their knees, absently pointing directly at us…In Pakistan, the driver is the least senior of the group, and on two occassions so far has been borderline retarded, like someone’s parents made them give their simple older brother Rupert a job. Rupert though, is usually pumped to be driving, and loves to chat to us in broken english, smiling a big goofy smile while the other team members look on trying not to look embarrassed by Rupert.
Rupert usually has a moustach. Rupert resembles Will Ferrel. We love the Ruperts. Now I digress.
We left the hotel carpark and stopped in the next town for fuel, where I was reminded that we’re in a dangerous place, 2 guards left the escort on the road and stood in the petrol station with AK’s ready while we filled up. Then followed us back to the road.
The rest of the day was a series of police zones, sometimes 10km long, others only a few km long, where we would stop, register our details and be handed over to the police in command of the next zone. This often required a long wait for them to organise a car or bike to accompany us.To their credit though, the police (and the Rangers, next level of firepower) were always very friendly, smiling and doing a superb job. They always apologised for the inconvenience, and offered us cold drinks and tea and biscuits.
We were pretty edgy for most of the day nonetheless, especially in the zones where the police just waved us past. This only happened a few times, but one in particular was in the middle of the really dodgy part of the ride (according to reports by our Pakistani friends), and went on for about 80km in the most remote area we’d seen all day.
“this would be a perfect place for a kidnap”
“should we go back?”
“i dont know”
The road at this point was really rough, frequently only rubble and stones, but we werent stopping for any reason.
“I’m not going to stop until we reach Gilgit” I yell into the intercom, Gilgit is still 160km away, it’s 3pm and we havent eaten since 6am.
“it’s going to suck, sorry babe, just feeling pretty edgy out here, want to get it over with”
“yeah yeah ok”We were picked up again after that long stretch, 30km from Chillas, where the Taliban are know to have a stronghold. There we waited for a tour car to arrive, and then had to follow that car, containing 2 Japanese tourists, a tour guide and a policeman carrying an AK. Having been accompanyed by 7 Rangers with AK’s and a roof mounted anti-aircraft gun earlier in the day, the single policeman squeezed into the back seat of a Corolla with just one weapon – wasn’t confidence inspiring.
Then we stopped for lunch right in the middle of Chillas, where the other tourists ate at the most expensive restaurant in town.
“too expensive, is there somewhere else we can go?”
“no, not safe for you outside, Taliban area”
“ok, can you come with us then?”
The policeman lookes at us like we’re completely crazy, but nonetheless agrees, shoulders his AK and off we go for a casual lunch in a Taliban controlled town. (This was Sally’s idea by the way.)
The Policeman was a local though, so he took us to the nearest place, helped us order and chatted to us over a very quick lunch.
“ok you eat fast now and we go quickly”
After that the rest of the day passed really slowly. The road was really broken up, so the Corolla was only moving at 30 or 40km/h, where we’d otherwise have been doing 80. To make it worse it was really dusty following it, and belting hot. It took almost 3 hours to do only 100km, and then on the outskirts of Giligit we were dropped at the checkpoint and had to wait an hour for the Japanese guys to be taken to their hotel first.
“this sucks, we waited for them all day, and now they get dropped off first!”
“yep, and they went the whole way in airconditioned comfort”Anyway, we really cant complain, the police out here put themselves at risk to ensure our safety, and are polite and accomodating the whole time. Really lovely guys. Eventually our ride arrived after dark, and then took us into the middle of another Taliban town, where we’re going to remain in a walled hotel compound for tonight and tomorrow morning, when another policeman will arrive to escort us to the first checkpoint for the day…