Guns, Camels and Sufi festivals…

After an already eventful 24 hours in Pakistan, we were up early for the journey to Sukkur. We were pre-warned that the roads may not be the best and that there was a danger of flooding en route, so were all geared up for a 9-10 hour drive!

Bags packed and hoisted onto the roof of our bus, we didn’t have to wait long for our number one police encounter of the day! A squad car parked itself across the drive and proceeded to lead the way on our first escort towards the next town.

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The squad car was soon replaced by armed Rangers in their truck, who followed us from behind! Wow, this was exciting and we were still only 20 minutes from the hotel! This was going to be an interesting day.

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The long journey today really didn’t feel like 9 hours long as there was so much to see through the windows. The entire trip consisted of us turning our heads left and right and back again to gaup at the continued craziness of Pakistan.

One of the best things the bus was forced to stop for was the site of about a hundred camels walking towards us! We had come across an ancient practise that still continued today – camels being used to move goods and people from one place to another, just like they did during the days of the Silk Route. It was immense – I had never seen so many camels, especially not ones in the street just going about their business. Meetings like this were usually reserved for the Zoo, but there we were, completely surrounded by the huge animals with buses and motorbikes beeping them out of the way trying to get past. Unbelievable.

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Soon after this, we passed through a massive Sufi Festival being held in one of the towns. This is a hugely popular religious gathering for the Sunni Muslims and we happened to stop for a toilet break right in the midst of it! We were reminded that religious events such as this were often a target for extremists and that the mood could change from jubilant to dangerous in a split second and the men dotted around with guns, also gave us a bit of an idea! We quickly put ourselves into what we thought were the best positions to take photos of all the festivities – there were hundreds of the brightly coloured buses dripping in people who were all singing and punching the air – we didn’t know where to look!

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But once again, WE became the attraction!

One by one, the bystanders all twigged that we were there and began to form a crowd. I think myself and Norma became the star attractions – I don’t think they are used to women who look like or dress like us and we were quickly ushered towards shiny camera phones that started popping out from people’s pockets! Everyone wanted a photo – either of us, or of us taking a photo of them! It could have become quite intimidating if they weren’t all smiling! Again, quite an experience!

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The police guards were soon with us again and the bus carried on for a few hours until our next interlude in the town of Dadu. We stopped so that people could by any water, bread of fruit they needed for the day ahead so Richard jumped out with Steve to hunt out some nan. They went to a stall, accompanied by an armed guard and watched the men prepare and cook the bread right in front of them! We ate the bread pretty much there and then, without waiting for ‘lunchtime’ as it smelt so good and was piping hot!! Yum yum, the food in Pakistan really is turning out to be a delight!!

When it got towards lunchtime, we stopped off outside the ruins of the ancient Indus Civilisation – well the entrance to a place that you could visit to see some of the old houses and buildings that the Indus people built many many years ago (way before the existence of the Romans!). The Indus were a huge group of Bronze Age people who lived in Pakistan, across to India until one day they all disappeared without a trace. No-one knows how they were wiped out, but the remnants of their society still exist today for people to see. Most of the group went in to have a walk around (but came back only 30 minutes later dripping in sweat as it was so hot!) and we just waited outside and ate what could loosely be termed as ‘lunch’ – i.e. some sultanas and Pringles! I think it was around 42 degrees and with the humidity was possibly the hottest I have EVER felt!

While we were waiting outside the Indus site, we were joined by the next of our police patrol vehicles, who started off the game of tag that lasted all day between squad cars, rangers, anti-terrorist units and cops on motorbikes who led us the way to our next stopover in Sukkur.

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We arrived there at around 6 and found out that our hotel was right beside the Sukkur Dam on the Indus River – one of the largest dams in the world and the ‘life blood’ of Pakistan. It irrigates over 10 million acres of land, is over 5 thousand metres long and has 66 arches. We weren’t allowed to take any photos of it, but we all went for a walk over it which took over half an hour! It’s a pretty impressive structure, but we have absolutely no idea how it works!

When we got to the other side Leighton challenged us to get back across the dam in the most eccentric way possible! Well, in a place like Pakistan, that really isn’t a difficult challenge to fulfil! Steve managed to beat us all to it by charging over to a man driving his donkey and cart and jumping on board telling him to take him across the bridge! Not to be outdone, Richard and I spotted a local man on a motorbike who had stopped on the bridge to make a phone call, so we dashed over to him and asked him for a lift, jumped onto the back and raced 3 of the others who had just that second caught their own donkey and cart! It was brilliant!

The motorbike man knew exactly where the potholes were in the dark, so we dodged around the rest of the donkeys, bikes, tuk tuks and trucks and got to the other side in record time (considering how long the dam is!). One of the best experiences of the trip so far!

Had quite a restful night sleep that night, despite the 5 or so blackouts that kept kick starting the really old generator outside our window! Pakistan really is such an exciting place to be – there is always something going on outside every window – we really don’t know where to look half the time. Whether it’s at an insanely overloaded truck, a cow stood on top of a bus, or tuk tuks driving the wrong way down carriageways bursting with vehicles, water buffalo and donkeys, we are finding that every one of our 9 hour journeys has something to keep us occupied!

Next day, and it’s on to Multan – a city near the centre of Pakistan
and our last stop before we reach Lahore near the Indian border. That should be interesting too as it’s an extremely Islamist town so not sure how the locals will feel about a bus-full of Westerners turning up!

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6 Comments

  1. August 19, 19:43 #1 Pete

    Ais, did you notice the guy (not Richard) checking out your bum in the photograph?

    Pete

  2. August 03, 22:56 #2 Uncle John

    Love it love it love it! I wait with baited breath for the next installment of your journeys. I just hope it never ends. It’s brilliant xxxxxxxxxxxxx from Carryduff

  3. August 02, 23:46 #3 Mum

    Brilliant written commentary Aisleen – you certainly know how to keep us readers entertained. You said you’re making your way to the centre of Pakistan, – hope it’s not near the floods. Make sure those armed guards are around when you reach Lahore!! Keep us informed. Great photos and you all look sooo happy. Love you lots xxxxxxx

  4. August 02, 22:59 #4 Auntie Pat

    Hey Ais

    just love keeping track of your incredible adventures. It’s like a really good book you don’t ever want to put down. You are so brave and daring to do something so challenging and exciting. God bess and good luck rfrom all the Murfs xx

  5. August 02, 13:48 #5 Nadine the German :-)

    Hey you two, have to say the same, so exciting to read all this everytime again. It give me goose bumps every now and then. Take care of yourselves!

  6. August 02, 07:18 #6 Charles

    Hiya Aisleen, Richard – have been keeping up with your adventures; all sounds incredible! What an amazing time you’re having!! Brilliant blog and great to see a pic of you at last! All the best and take care. Charles, Penny and Monty (+ the kids!). PS: life’s here goes on – s-m event went v. well and got 8 PRide entries in!


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