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In times of Ibne Batuta, travelling was hard, because one needed to travel on horseback or camel hump and if one would be lucky one would sail in a boat, where one did not have to row.
But all the same travelling was easier. Why? Because there were no official restrictions on movement, people were a lot freer than they are today. Fundamental human right of dislocation was observed everywhere. Secondly there was no mass media, no zombie box, no sensation churning journalists and fanatics, because people had to earn their living, find their food and find ways of exchanging surplus corn for a meter of linen, so there was no time for idle sensations, fanatic thoughts, earning out of others’ fear and people liked to hear tales of beauty and love.
But alas I can’t go back to those times, because in our time and age travelling is difficult, expensive, and cumbersome and a distraction from paying your credit card bills, utility bills, insurance premiums, mortgage instalments etc. So if simple travelling is difficult, how can I travel through time?
My wife and I decided to make a trip out of antiquity to the flag carriers of civilization and progress, which means leaving South-Asia and heading towards Europe. If you have your objections about Europe being civilized or progressive, please write a comment, but don’t make a big deal of it.
We planned to leave from Pakistan, which is the North-west of South-Asia and is rooted into antiquity in a direct and indirect sense. In a direct manner this country’s history dates back to times before Moses, before Abraham, but probably post Adam!
Otherwise the country’s social setup shows you the longing of the people for return to antiquity, abolishment of artificial restrictions like licenses for weapons and vehicles, passports for identification or travelling, escape from the cut-throat payment systems and return to social idling like in the times of Confucius, Firdousi, Aristotle and lots of those guys, who did nothing, but thought and discussed. People in Pakistan love to re-enact Greek discussions and a lot of other things that they did.
So to get out of this real and current antiquity, we had to decide a safe route, where slave traders (or as they are called now kidnappers for ransom) won’t pick us up as valuable goods, because the naïve slaters (slvae traders) don’t even have any idea that this product is rotten and no one would pay even a single penny for this pack!
The only possible route left to leave Pakistan towards Europe, not making use of the fact that the earth is round, is through Baluchistan into Iran and beyond. Well no one needs an introduction of Iran as a travelling destination. All the “mass” media is yelling all the time about violations of human rights, violation of UN resolutions, violation of nuclear ethics (strange term when you see ethics with nuclear), violation of everything possible and then the same progressive “mass” media tells us about extreme patriarchal social structure and hatred among Iranians towards westerners.
Keeping all of this in mind and remembering that my wife is not a burqa (black veil. You can see it in images) clad, humble, subdued, walking a step behind the man and calling her man the “master” kind of a woman, you can understand the kind of risk that might be involved in going through Iran. But to get to Iran we had to go through Baluchistan.
What is Baluchistan or what it was before we travelled through it? Let me tell you that this place is still governed by tribal laws, basic modern age amenities are not very common here and the people of this province, which for some obviously political reason is seeking separation from Pakistan, don’t like Punjabis particularly. If you don’t know about Punjabis, be my guest to check encyclopaedia Britannica or Wikipedia if you are too lazy to go to a library. Now I am a Punjabi and I do look like one, so the cocktail of a foreign woman and a well hated Punjabi was the perfect mix that we needed to go into or through Baluchistan.
But please be informed that all that I wrote till now was deducted from the accounts of blood sucking, penny hungry, sensation churning journalists or opinion makers as they like to be called. So before undertaking this journey, I have to admit, I had never been to Baluchistan. So thanks to the “positive” information regarding bomb blasts, sectarian killing, kidnapping for ransom, separatist guerrilla attacks and racial hatred I was all so fascinated to travel to Baluchistan!
But making your decisions you have to stay rational. Emotions are a part of life, but risking for emotions, unless they have something to do with beautiful girls, is not very advisable. So we finally decided to reach Islamabad and make it our starting point and then travel through western Punjab, north-western Sind and head into Quetta, which is the provincial capital. The road from Quetta to Taftan (Koh-i-Taftan) is very popular among slaters, especially the patch passing through district Chagai (Dlabandin the district headquarter). Just a couple of weeks before our planned trip a couple of foreigners (girls) were kidnapped and their fate was unknown till date and that was the latest in a series of such commercial activity. This was topped by religious fanatics only, who casually stopped buses heading from Quetta to Taftan and would end the agony of life with a slight push of trigger, for those who happened to be followers of Shiite Islam. This is the punch here now. My name is very Shiite although I have no sectarian belonging (I don’t embrace policies of division and sectarian belonging is division).
So to make it through we worked-out a plan. We bought burqa for my wife and a very simple, labour class shalwar kameez for me (in fact I did not even buy that. I took a used one from a friend). We rehearsed our appearances for a few days and after understanding that we feel and look comfortable in that attire, we finalized our departure date and off we went.
Well the route is indicated in the image so I am not going to describe it here. The bus that we took was the only bus out of Islamabad to Quetta, run by Sada Bahar company and it leaves at 15:00 hours (3:00 pm) every day. The bus was comfortable as much as it could be in Pakistan, but the most interesting thing was that my wife was the only burqa clad passenger in that bus. All the other female passengers looked a lot progressive as compared to her. The first though was to get rid of the burqa, as an overdone prop, but then we realised that my wife’s blonde hair and light coloured eyes did make her an alien and easily identifiable target for trade, so we stayed loyal to the burqa thing.
The good thing about Sada Bahar is that once you arrive at their terminal in Quetta, you don’t need to go out if you don’t want to. They have a hotel, a café/restaurant, grocery stores, telephone sale point and all the other things that you might need right there in the terminal.
But despite any probable “dangers” we had to go out of the terminal to see for ourselves, how true the picture was drawn by the “mass” media. The only thing that we did not do to avoid drawing attention was to not take out our photo or video camera. We wanted to keep a low profile and I suppose we succeeded in it, because otherwise I wouldn’t have written this and you might had been reading an obituary instead of this piece.
All I can tell you is that Quetta doesn’t differ from other Pakistani cities a lot. The only notable difference is that in the streets of this town you see a lot less females than in the streets of Islamabad or Lahore or Karachi, but once again it’s their lifestyle and their women!
Passing the few hours that we had in Quetta we boarded our next bus, which left Quetta at 16:00 and was scheduled to reach Taftan at 4:00 the next morning. The bus was the same type and the same company and the ticket cost only 1000 Pakistani Rupees (approximately 10$ at the time of writing). The bus from Islamabad to Quetta was 2400 Rs per person, so the long journey from Islamabad to Taftan costs 3400 Rs per person (it is a lot cheaper from Karach).
The only time when that burqa came in handy was on that bus to Taftan. The driver enquired that if the female travelling with me was a foreigner or not and coming to know the truth he declared that he had to report the presence of a foreigner at the FC check post, because they were bound to travel in the night and if anything would happen they could not bear the responsibility.
Let me describe the scenario for you. Had they reported my wife’s presence at the FC check post, we might had been asked to alight and wait there till the morning, when we would had been sent to Taftan under escort in a private rented vehicle (for which most probably we had to pay). The other scenario was that we don’t report the presence of a foreigner to the FC guards, my wife covers her face completely and I take the whole responsibility for the consequences, whatever they might be. We opted for the second scenario and drowsing (not sleeping and not being awake) all the way we made it safely and soundly through Chaghai into Taftan, without getting kidnapped, disembarked or traded!
Taftan is a border town and like most of the border towns it stays up late or wakes up early. When we got to Taftan at 5:00 am there was this café open and on the way through the streets we saw some other open outlets.
The Taftan terminal also carries a HOTEL board, but don’t be fooled by the signboard. There is no hotel in the conventional understanding. It is just one room with mattresses spread all over the floor, for those who are too lazy to stay up for a little while more, or for those who give no shit about hygiene!
You can take a shower, shave and change here (this is what I did here and my wife also except for the shave!). The best thing to do here is to exchange your Pakistani money (Rs) or any other currency into Iranian Riyals, because you get a better rate here and once you get into Iran you would be paying a lot more for services if you pay in dollars or euros and if you exchange them there you will get a lot less.
The only advice is to exchange your money with the man behind the counter at the café, because he gives a better rate and secondly since he runs a café also he won’t cheat you into giving you outdated banknotes or doing any other fishy thing. Normally look out for men with small fabric sacks in their hands, walking around the café and in front of it. These are you “Banks of America” in Taftan. They are good at counting, but it is always advisable to counter check the amounts of money that you give and take. All I can tell you is that our exchange of money in Taftan saved us 35$ per ticket, when we went buying tickets to Istanbul.
With all set to go we took a taxi, paid 100Rs and reached the Pakistani check post at the Pakistan-Iran border. Going through the regular passport checks and answering those typical systematic immigration questions we passed on to wait in the queue in front of the gate leading to the Iranian side.
Our journey to see it all out of antiquity had successfully reached the end of its first and probably one of the most difficult phases. The next time we meet we will be in Iran and let’s see what happens to us there.