Around the world with The Bear – Part Ten
The King of Every Kingdom
Around the world on a very small motorcycle
With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming
Last instalment The Bear travelled from India into Pakistan, and now the journey continues, starting with some sound advice. Beware the ice and the hornets – those are among the lessons we were to learn in Pakistan.
There was a dire shortage of pens at the Pakistani border post. All the guards kept borrowing each other’s, which tended to slow things down a bit. I finally donated one of my treasured Nikkos to the bloke who was processing us and we were through in seconds. My second case of bribery, but a cheap one.
On the dusty road to Lahore we noticed the difference in road manners compared to India. Everybody was much more together and aggressive, which made the traffic rather more predictable if also potentially lethal.
The Australian AA guide book gave us a bum steer to the location of the Pakistan AA guest house. They didn’t even have the right street. As a result it took us hours to find it, and we were sorry when we did.
It wasn’t so much the decaying cars outside or yet the mould on the walls and the broken windows, it was the constant drip of every tap in the place that bothered me. We took it anyway, because it was also dirt cheap. Then we set off to find some food and cheer ourselves up.
The Capri Grill in the Mall provided excellent chicken livers and terrible chips. The Mall itself was well worth a look, with the enormous Zam Zam gun referred to in Kipling’s Kim at one end and the slums discreetly tucked away at the other.
But even so Lahore is quite a leafy and attractive place; its Red Mosque is allegedly the largest in the world. You can go and look at it, too, which makes a change from all the closed houses of worship some religions go in for, which seems a bit self-defeating to me.
The road to Rawalpindi looked like a left-over set from a disaster movie. It was difficult to decide whether it was being repaired or had simply been abandoned. We weren’t clear of the monsoon yet, either, so we rode in a downpour most of the day. My speedometer cable broke, too, but at least the weather was warm.
All the cheap hotels in ’Pindi were mysteriously full, and we wondered for a while if we had a disease that the hoteliers could see and we couldn’t. A kindly gentleman explained that the government doesn’t allow cheap hotels to rent rooms to Europeans; whiteys have to go to the expensive ones.
His cousin, however, happened to own the Alia Hotel, which was not too expensive, clean and comfortable and had room for the bikes in the lobby as well as an ensuite bathroom and toilet. This turned out to be just as well…
At dinner across the road, while trying to choose between the usual gristly mutton, athletic chicken and slimy marrow curries, we drank some bottled water with ice in. The ice, as we should have known, was a mistake.
Our reward was a painful case of the Rawalpindi Runs. Both of us featured delicate pale green faces, dizziness, diarrhea and vomiting – for three days. Hence the convenience of the ensuite conveniences. It had actually never occurred to me that, when someone says “I turned green,” they might be speaking literally. As Eccles says, you learn something every day.
Somehow amongst all that we still managed to get out to the Afghani Embassy in nearby Islamabad, Pakistan’s Canberra, to apply for visas. Here they explained that the visa section was at Nigeria House, across the town.
Who said there’s no cooperation among Third World nations? On the way we had to stop several times and remove our wet weather gear. Well the pants anyway. We reached Nigeria House and, yes, we could get visas, for seven days.
Come back tomorrow to collect them. It beats me why you always have to wait for visas, when all they are is a stamp in your passport. It’s just attempted intimidation. But then I wasn’t exactly in the best possible mood.
We picked up the visas when we had recovered a little and headed for the border. Within the first couple of miles we were both stung by monster wasps, the side of my face swelling up until I looked like a Dick Tracy character. Bubbleface, perhaps.
Fortunately I got my helmet off before the swelling really got going; otherwise I might have been trapped in it. Apart from that the road north was pretty dull, but enlivened by the marvellously colourful trucks and buses; the paintings on some of them would be the envy of any California customiser.
Peshawar, especially the military cantonment, was pretty and green.
At the gate to the Khyber road, there’s a sign that warns you that once past the gate you’re on your own — the government takes no responsibility for you. During the hours of darkness nobody is allowed in at all. It’s not terribly hard to see why they’re so careful.
All the male locals carry bandoliers and well-used .303 rifles, and they look tough. These are the Pathans of song and story, and they’d make it to president in any bikie patch club I’ve ever seen – without even riding a bike.
The road through the pass is surprisingly good, although infested by cars and pick-up trucks all carrying more passengers than you’d think possible. They take the boot lids off the cars and passengers sit there and on the roof rack while the family of the driver travels inside. Everybody grins and waves, which takes the edge off the universal toughness a bit.
Up through the pass the cliffs are lined with the badges of British and Indian regiments that fought here. There are a lot of badges. Villages feature high walls and watchtowers.
The border town is called Tor Khan and consists of a number of mud huts collectively defying gravity. One of the more ragged-looking edifices is the Tourist Hotel, which, while it may not have running water, does have cold beer as well as a very entertaining proprietor.
Another form of entertainment in Tor Khan is gun shopping. Every shop – even the soft drink bar – has its display of small arms. These are all locally made, despite the lovingly forged “Smith & Wesson” and “Birmingham Small Arms” badges featured on the guns. Beautiful workmanship, though. I guess it would have to be. A warranty problem could lead to some pretty serious results up here.
Will we find ourselves at gunpoint in the Khyber Pass? No, we’re just forced to buy insurance… Tune in to Part 12 to read the full story.