Thursday, November 27, 2008

27 November - Greetings from Delhi

Terrorists have attacked Bombay and from what we can understand, foreigners are targeted.
We just want to let everybody know that we are in Delhi right now, staying with friends Melanie and Josh. We are safe.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

19-20 November – Amritsar, India

We all cheered when we drove across the border to India. We have talked about reaching India ever since we started planning this trip. And now we are actually here!

At a bakery in Amritsar we found a pink and purple birthday cake for Tinna. We continued the celebrations at Mrs. Bhandari’s Guesthouse where we are camping in the lovely garden.
The next morning, Temba turned eight years and we had new celebrations, this time with nice chocolate cake.
India is the 29th country so far on this journey. We have driven 32,000 km since the start in London in March

New adventures await us in this large and exotic country. We are looking forward to it!

17-19 November – Lahore and Wagah, Pakistan

The smog thickened when we were approaching Lahore. The city has close to ten million inhabitants and the pollution is terrible. We arrived at dusk and it was a chaotic experience to navigate through the masses of people, pushcarts, donkeys, bicycle rickshaws, motor rickshaws, etc. We managed to find a hotel parking where we were allowed to camp. We had a constant stream of curious visitors during the evening and fell asleep to the big city noise of Lahore.

Lahore was an important strategic place on the Great Trunk Road, the trading route between Kabul and Calcutta. We strolled around in the famous Lahore Fort. It is huge and must have been very impressive during its glory days some centuries ago. We also visited the adjacent mosque complex which is better preserved than the fort. We have to walk quite fast, because we attract hordes of people who want to get familiar with the children.
Our final stop in Pakistan was the Wagah border post. We went to see the flag ceremony at the border line between Pakistan and India. Every day, just before sunset, the border guards on each side are playing tough, cheered on by thousands of spectators on each side of the border. They are marching back and forth and celebrate the closing of the border to the enemy territory. It is a very bizarre theater performance. These two countries should cooperate rather than demonize each other in this nationalistic folly. This is the only border between two very large and populous nations. But almost nobody is actually crossing the border. Pakistan is importing some potatoes from India. India is importing some cement from Pakistan. That is it. Tragic.
Tinna turned three years on November 19 and we celebrated her during the morning in Pakistan and continued with the celebrations in India in the afternoon.

15-16 November – Taxila and Islamabad, Pakistan

We had planned to go to Peshawar, but the violence is escalating there again and some foreigners have been targeted during the last few days. We decided to skip Peshawar.

We explored the ruins of Taxila, an ancient city from around 500 BC to 400 AD. Taxila was an important Buddhist center and we saw Buddha statues and stupas en masse.

After our adventures along the KKH, it was great to relax for a couple of days in Islamabad (and to take a shower!). Talking to some fellow travelers over a few beers was also very nice!
And we were invited for dinner to a Swiss family living in Rawalpindi. They are studying Urdu and want to work for an NGO in Pakistan in the future. We hope that there will still be some employers left for them. It seems as if most NGO’s are evacuating families from Pakistan due to the security situation.

11-14 November – South on Karakorum Highway, Pakistan

After Karimabad it was time to drive south again. Winter was approaching and we had no intention to continue the last hundred kilometers to the Chinese border.
In Gilgit we were very lucky to catch a polo match between the local team and a visiting team from the United Arab Emirates. Several thousand people had come to see the game. Polo has its roots in this region and it is still a very popular sport. It was our first polo match ever and we enjoyed it very much. The horsemanship was excellent, especially among the local players. How can they manage to hit the small ball with the long bamboo club while riding at full speed! Wow!
After the game we spoke to an English guy who participated in the visiting team. He said that the version of polo played here is called ‘no rules polo’. The locals call it ‘freestyle polo’. It is apparently very different from the polo played in the UK…

The long drive south from Gilgit was very challenging. It started raining, and since it was the first rain of the season a lot of sand and stones fell down on the road. At times we felt like we were driving in a mountain stream. The trucks coming from the opposite direction, driving uphill through the water and debris, were suddenly very unwilling to move away from the center of the road. One truck broke our side mirror and another dented our footsteps. But apart from those small mishaps we arrived safely to the plains south of KKH. We had driven 1600 km on the Karakorum Highway (at an average speed of 30 km/h). It was a fantastic adventure, something we will always remember!
We are already dreaming of coming back to the Hunza Valley again. There is a reason it has been described by early travelers as Shangri-La. And the Ismail Muslims here are a lot more liberal than their sunni and shia brethren in the rest of Pakistan. Next time we will come in June/July, and make sure to catch the annual polo tournament at the Shandur Pass before continuing to Chitral and the Kalasha Valleys.

7-11 November – North on Karakorum Highway, Pakistan

We did not plan to drive the Karakorum Highway (KKH), but when we heard that the weather was still quite mild, we decided to give it a go. The road/track/path is a slightly improved version of the old Silk Road. Consequently, our average speed of 30 km/h was only slightly faster than the speed of a camel… The road follows the Indus River at first. The terrain is so tough that the road had to be cut out from the vertical rock surface. The three mightiest mountain ranges of the world meet here; the Himalaya, the Karakorum and the Hindu Kush.
If anybody with a long beard would want to find a safe hiding place in the world, this area, among the Pashtun people, is the perfect place. In fact, everybody here seems to be a cloned copy of OBL and the area is within commuting distance to Afghanistan.
Nanga Parbat, at 8126 meters, is the eighth highest mountain in the world. Here, the KKH leaves the Indus River and follows the Hunza River instead. But at Gilgit, the road ended abruptly. The bridge across the river had collapsed three months ago. The only remaining passage was a suspension bridge made of steel wires and wood planks. We were hesitating. Could this bridge, which looked very old and weak, carry our vehicle which weighs more than three tons? We observed some other vehicles driving across the bridge, and when we had seen a few vehicles of our size drive across, we decided to give it a go. The bridge moaned and wobbled, but it remained in one piece and we made it to the other side!
The Hunza Valley is very beautiful and we enjoyed our time there very much. When we woke up at our camp site in Aliabad we could see seven snow-capped mountains, all more than 7000 meters high. The most impressive was Raka Poshi at 7788 meters.
We spent a day in Karimabad, the old capital of the Baltit region. It is a lovely town at 2500 meters altitude. We looked at the old Baltit fort, talked to the village people and bought dried apricots and souvenirs.

Friday, November 7, 2008

7 November – Karakorum Highway, Pakistan

We are now heading north towards Gilgit on the Karakorum Highway. Winter is approaching, so we do not know how far north we can go. We will give it a try.

For more pictures and text (Swedish), please check Temba’s blog:

Some friends have asked if we can receive letters somewhere. We will have that possibility in Goa, around 20 December. Sending a letter or parcel to India can take up to three weeks.
Address (please use capital letters):

Poste Restante
GPO (General Post Office)
Panaji city
Goa state

4-6 November – Islamabad, Pakistan

Islamabad is a modern city where we can find all the luxuries demanded by the city’s diplomats and politicians. We are replenishing our depleted stocks and enjoying the company of some other travelers who are camping here in the municipal camp ground.

The kids are having a great time at the camp site. After several long days in the car (we have driven 2500 km since leaving Bam eight days ago), they are now skateboarding, bicycling and playing all day long.

2-4 November – The Indus Plains, Pakistan

We drove south to Shikarpur before turning north. We followed the western side of the Indus river up to Dera Ghazi Khan where we crossed over to the eastern side. Then our route was Muzaffargarh, Jhang, Faisalabad and Islamabad.

The traffic in Pakistan is a real spectacle. A minibus (with 20 people inside and 10 on the roof) is overtaking a motorcycle (with 3 adults, 2 children and a goat) who is overtaking a donkey (with a ton of bricks on a rickety cart) who is trying to overtake a camel (with a nomadic family on its cart). A colorful truck (with 10 sheep tied on top of the load and 2 men hanging by the windscreen wipers) is honking its impressive horn, wanting to overtake all of them. And from the opposite direction, we are looking at the spectacle, while our police escort (behind us) is being pushed halfway into the ditch by a bling bling bus (with as many people on the roof as inside) coming at full speed, intent on plowing through the mess in front of it.

We drive slowly, stopping often to take pictures of the fantastic scenery and the beautiful people. Pakistan is really so lively and full of colors. And there are people everywhere. The population has exploded, rising from 30 million at independence in 1947 to perhaps 160 million today.

Our police escort (you have to have one because of the security situation… they say) stays behind us and we do not let them bother us too much. The policemen (normally four armed men on a Toyota pickup) are very friendly and they work very professionally when arranging the escort. A new escort is waiting at the border of each police district (every 20-50 km). We never have to wait. And when it is getting dark, we camp outside a police station, with armed guards watching us the whole night. So we are safe, even by the sometimes paranoid standards of the police authorities.

1 November – Bolan Pass, Pakistan

From Quetta we took the road southeast through the Bolan Pass. The pass is almost 100 km long and very scenic. It is the gateway between the fertile plains of the Indus valley and the harsh mountains of Baluchistan and Afghanistan. We saw many nomadic families trekking through the pass with their camels. After descending from an altitude of 1800 meters, we reached the plains at 230 meters. The temperature rose to 35 degrees centigrade and we entered a new world – the Indian subcontinent.

29-31 October – Quetta, Pakistan

Pakistan is wonderfully different from Iran. When Iran is sober and tidy, Pakistan is colorful and chaotic. Both men and women are wearing the shalwar kameez (tunic and baggy trousers). The women are wearing bright colors. You find exotic and spicy food everywhere.

We entered Pakistan at the dusty frontier village of Taftan. Beyond the border bureaucrats, 600 km of wild desert waited. To our surprise, no police escort was needed. It took us two days to reach Quetta, and we camped in the sand behind some rocky hills along the way.

Entering Quetta was beautifully chaotic. Food stalls, workshops, vehicles, honking horns, animals, myriads of people. We loved it! We spent the following day exploring the bazaar and enjoying the spicy food. Quetta is a great place to experience the special culture and people of Baluchistan.

We even found a shop selling beer (real beer!). So we shared some beers with fellow travelers Anita & Markus (on motorcycle from Switzerland), Peter (on motorcycle from Norway) and Rein & Maaike (in car from Holland). First time we had a real drink since Turkey. Quite nice!

28 October – Bam to Mir Javeh, Iran

The long desert road from Bam to Mir Javeh is camel territory. We saw a herd of more than a hundred animals at a water hole. We veered off the main tarmac road and got stuck immediately in the deep sand just ten meters from the road. We were up to our belly in sand, and a helpful Iranian truck driver pulled us out before we had to start some serious excavation work…

We found an alternative route to the camels and got all the camel pictures we need for a lifetime.

From Zahedan to Mir Javeh we had police escort. There have been drug-related kidnappings of foreigners in this area. Most of the opium in the world is grown in Afghanistan. And most of that opium travels through the desert via Zahedan and Bam to Europe.