Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Off to Chaman and Afghanistan Border - Part II

Chaman is situated at approximately 125 kilometers from Quetta city. We were being alerted that route to the city is extremely dangerous as roads haven't been developed. Initiating 50 kilometers from Quetta of highway road (N25) directing towards Chaman is worth the drive, rest of the patch is completely damaged and you will end up facing too many hiccups. We had to travel anyway and face the challenge, the weather in the region like always was cracking and awesome. We had to make sure that our drivers were experienced in order to tackle the mostly uneven track. It was so rough and bumpy that there was quite a high probability of your car getting punctured in the mid-way. It was thus recommended that you carry backup of wheels and be a good mechanic too in order to manage any setback.

After having a daily morning buffet at hotel in Quetta, we decided to leave for Chaman on a bright morning during one of the weekdays. I had a quick shower, took out my new shalwar kameez, had my sandles and tied a "patto" on top of my head. The beard I had specifically grown up for this tour resembled me as I am someone from Kandahar. Our little convoy of two cars was on our way for National Highway towards Chaman.Western Bypass in the city of Quetta would connect with the main highway. It's a proper route initially with mountains at it's both sides, at a certain distance there lies a stone crushing plant. Pishin is 50 kilometers ahead of Quetta, the road to the district intersects with the main highway Pishin Road. The Pishin Road further connects with the Chaman Road, a distance so far would cover few green-fields, some areas being cultivated, beautiful mountains with irregular shapes having different shades of brown color.

Heading towards Chaman - 111 Kms more (Unlucky Nelson !)


Pishin Road

The scary part commences after covering few kilometers of the Chaman Road,  then there is absolutely no sign of roads and path is utter patchy. We were being told to be careful as the robberies and embezzlement during the rest of the distance is at it's peak. FC (Frontier Corps) is active but aren't a great force in front of the tribes living in that area. FC men leave their duties by the time sun sets and this is when thieves of the area become operational. Couple of places I came across and are famous for being replete with bandits are "Mezaai Adda" and "Qilla Abdullah". It is widely known that the tribes of this area might not spare anything. We were lucky to travel during those days when NATO supply via Chaman border was denied by the government. Fortunate we were, because otherwise the people of these areas go crazy, the routes get congested, they fire gunshots and end up stealing number of trucks. I was being told that it doesn't matter to US government if 20 out of 300 trucks are being stolen by the raiders. So this was a norm while truck drivers were on duty for US government or army.

Road to Mezai Adda and Qila Abdullah
It was hell scary while we were passing from that area, luckily we crossed and finally ended up in the monumental mountains, the temperature was too low as we were being elevated after every step our car had made. Too many sharp turns were there and we were on such a height that it would scare if you dare sight-seeing from the window. Heavy loaded trucks for the purpose of trade would pass you with inches away or might end up feather touching with your car too. All of a sudden, our car got punctured as it further ascended the mountains. While the tire was being replaced, we had a bit of sight-seeing of the city and had we carried binoculars, we could have seen Afghanistan Border from the mountains alone. We were back on track and weren't far-off from the place we had to reach. I must hereby not forget the railway tracks we had seen then, those were laid by the British over large distance crossing the tunnels created beneath the mountains. Pity us, we don't have trains to run anything on them and what we have gets bombarded.

Tracks all over the mountains

Tunnel for Train can be seen
Few minutes more and we were on Quetta Road which linked us to Chaman Bypass. We were very lucky to know a friend here who has a political background. He took a great care of us, his hospitality to us was exemplary as we stayed few days in Chaman. Five to six meal course was served to us apart from drinks consisting of Lassi, regular cold drinks, natural green tea and lemon grass tea too.  I was amazed to see their diet, one size of the roti was such that in which whole of my family could have had their dinner. You would laugh to know that despite of being super hungry, couple of us couldn't finish that bread together. Natural green tea was terrific, I'd glass after glass. In Chaman, it's a tradition to have green tea right after taking lunch, they were proud of the cup they would offer, claiming it to be effective unlike fake tea brands we have in urban cities. What reminds me the most though is "parath, anda and chai" we had at some corner of the city. We had a good time discussing various topics after having food, ranging from politics to trading in the city, lifestyle of people and the never ending problems of the province.

Friend's guest house in Chaman
We were also able to take out time to roam through Chaman City as well. I must mention here that the city turned out to be a total opposite of what image I'd exactly regarding the place. It was quite peaceful to be there, no one would unnecessarily point you out and would mind their own business, people there were quite inviting and cooperative too. It's because Pushtun over there don't want their commerce and trade to be disturbed and get it over-taken by some other force. We traveled through the market and noticed that how people would run their business. As we wandered in the bazaar, the place gave me an appearance of some place in Afghanistan. It was just like those scenes which we see in the Hollywood movies shot in Kandahar or Baghdad.

Afghani Rickshaw

I could see many old men sitting at the corner having chat in group whereas the young were busy running, driving cars or riding carts. Interesting fact which I don't know is accurate or not, but the average old age which was communicated to me was 75. The figure is quite high but I could see many over-aged people there who looked physically fit. Local people there also informed me that due to cold temperature, they would eat meat so that they could keep their body warm for good period of time. Weather in the city was quite unpredictable, it was never hot though but it would start with a shining sun and then suddenly gets too boisterous as if some cyclone has touched the city whereas drizzling was consistent for most part of the day. What turned out to be really weird though were the expensive cars I saw normal people driving. They were mostly smuggled obviously known as "Kabli Gariaan", a place where you could see Land Cruisers, different models of Corolla and Vitz in abundance. Illegal vehicle trading or NATO Army kits must be just couple out of number of businesses running across the border.

These cars were in abundance over there !

Af-Pak Border (Spinboldak - Chaman)
Interestingly due to our friend, I was not only able to learn a bit of Pushto but was also able to visit the Afghanistan Border. We were lucky enough to not get investigated at check-posts and thus we were just meters away from the Af-Pak Border. Yes, been there, done that !

Pakistan welcoming us back to homeland from "Chaman" kaye uss paar !

"za quetta ta laram, Quetta dair shao. Ku Chaman ta Quetta sa ziata shao"

My narrative of the trip to Quetta ! - Part I

I've been lucky enough to intensively travel all over Pakistan except being to Baluchistan. So fortunately, recently I was not only able to avail the opportunity of visiting Quetta but also travel all the way to Chaman, Afghan Border. Despite of the security concerns and terrifying stories of the missing persons, I with my colleagues visited the province. This truly turned out to be a defining and lifetime experience. I rarely write anything but considering this journey was a bit different, was thus coerced to share my narrative of the trip.

I would go with any seat on a flight but badly wanted a window one this time, so that I could sneak outside and witness the huge mountains that God has gifted to Pakistan. As the plane drew closer, I observed mountains covering the large landscape. The altitude lessened and temperature increased as the plane finally landed and phones started ringing for confirming the well being of loved ones. I made my move towards the door with a weird feeling of how the city would treat me. The terrific sight of gigantic mountains right at front of the door and a sudden chilled breeze of air that took off my cap thrilled me.

Quetta Airport, captured from the PIA Bus.
The airport was as bizarre as our airport of the capital city. During our drive to the hotel, the city looked like a tranquilizing and pacifying one and was mostly surrounded by the mountains. Not much traffic could be seen during the day which was probably due to the holiday or a decreasing population. I know many families who are considering to move to other cities because of terrifying incidents of kidnapping and killings in the city. Maybe this was the reason of the silent people of the city who had been searching for the peace. These disturbing thoughts then were consistently striking my mind.

Quetta City

We later checked in our rooms and took out sometime to discover the luxurious hotel. It'd almost everything to offer from lounges to spacious rooms to orchards to courtyards. Though most of the Baluchistan is barren but Quetta is quite well known for being a fruit heaven. At some corners of the city you can witness plantation of apple, peach, apricot or pomegranate trees. Probably a terrific weather of the city always have had it's blessings on the growth of fruits. Seriously, the sizzling hot weather of Karachi these days keeps reminding me of the chilled wind that had left me shivering many times. The freezing weather even during month of May and a splendid sight of clouds was being like at a paradise. What used to turn those moments into an ecstasy was due to the elevation of the city above sea-level. It sounded like as if you are flying with the clouds !

The clouds, they were everywhere !

Hotel !

We knew a resident there who had been living in the city since birth, he helped us out in discovering the people and the place even better. We shared food and traveled to different places together. Though, we'd a luxury of eating food at hotel but I bet you would regret missing the famous dishes being served at local restaurants. Some of the food I'd there which had left me craving was "Landhi" or in other words as Lamb BBQ, believe me the "boti" of lamb being served with the help of long iron skewers was so mouth watering. Among other, we tried were "Kaabli Pulao", "Baluchistan Sajji" and "Mutton Chanpein", seriously once you get your hands on Pulao, you can't stop eating. I remember how I'd galloped a massive plate of Pulao without stopping for a second. Mutton Chaanps were even more delicious, the memory of munching the pieces out of it still comes to my mind ! I also liked their traditional way of serving the food with tables of short height while sitting on a beautiful art being done on a carpet or rug. While enjoying the amazing diet, I also came across the fact that Pashtun consider it as a major reason of disrespect and insolence in case a guest ends up paying for the food.

Lamb de Boti !

The city had great drinks and ice-cream with amazing flavors to offer too, "Flora" is quite well known in the city for providing all the flavors during different seasons. Yes, I didn't spare Faluda which tasted incredibly good with a mango flavored ice-cream. Coming back to hotel, it had excellent breakfast with numerable dishes and juices. The best I liked from the menu was beef nihari, sausages and cheese omelet. Bar-B-Que obviously had to be good too, what amazed me more were the desserts they had to offer, they were absolutely amazing. For Chinese, they have famous Xulian venue, their specialties were the dishes cooked out of Lamb and obviously don't miss the red hot iron soup for the appetizer !

Traveling to Bazar was quite an experience as well, the congested part of the city has extremely narrow roads. What I felt really awkward and weird was how people have to drive on such constricted lanes. Liaqat Bazar in Quetta has almost everything to offer, from art work promoting their culture like artifacts, shawl, carpets, coats, pashtun caps e.t.c. The original work is being done on the cloth which is available usually on a very discounted price. You would be lucky in case you accompany a local of there, a person would be of great help for bargaining in Pushto ! People start pouring into great numbers for different shops right after the sun sets. Unlike other major urban cities, people close their markets in the city by 9 or 10 in the night. For men, it is also suggested that you resemble like locals while you are traveling the city, preferably in shalwar kameez with no contrast colors, a pushtun cap would be an ad-on ! Bazaar doesn't end here, how can one miss to mention the dry-fruits market, there are just never ending shops. A place from where the dry-fruits of amazing quality are exported all over the country. Every item of dry-fruit like pistachios, cherries, raisins, dates, almonds, plums e.t.c could be seen in abundance and that too in extremely low rates. During the season of Eid, it is well known that you can't even find a way to move forward on the streets. Just to add, if you want to taste something delightful, then don't miss "Quality Sweets". They have few branches in the city with one at the Quetta Airport too.

Liaquat Bazaar
Serena Bazaar

As the work kept me busy, I'd the opportunity to go through other places and roads too. I passed through frightening places as well where number of incidents of killings had taken place. It would fill me with terror while hearing stories that how dreadfully people had been killed. Number of check-posts have been created there and they would check us after every few meters our car would drive. I seriously hope that someone addresses the problem of that community. While driving through various areas, I used to spend most of the time discussing the problems of local people like the scarce of hospitals and educational schools or colleges. The lack of basic resources which were not only aggravating their problems but were resulting in anger among the people too. They sense a certain deprivation among them and complain for not getting opportunities. Though they do not completely put the blame on others but also on the local tribes or people who don't want the development to take place in that region.

Quetta Cantonment is a relatively safe area which is safeguarded by the Army and the movement in that area is under their supervision. I'd the opportunity to go through that place too, apart from the people living over there the place gives more a resemblance of a military center. It has Asia's biggest Staff College where Senior professionals of Army are provided training from all over Pakistan. The biggest one lies in Great Britain, if you go through the history, you would know that Quetta in actual was a fort for the British. Rest of the cantonment provides basic facilities like parks, mosques, jogging tracks and parks e.t.c. Also, considering that people are more safer there, they don't deem it necessary to follow the cultural dress. The cantonment road also leads the way to Hanna Lake or Urak valley.

Hanna Lake

Hanna Valley

The valley is a heaven of fruits, one must give credit to organization "Merck" for doing the plantation there. What amazed me was the cultivation of pineapple trees, saffron and tulip in that area. On your way to the place, you will encounter such scenic and serene views. It is recommended that you go to the place early evening, that is the time when place is usually surrounded with clouds and beautiful mountains. The marvelous track paves the way for a beautiful lake which surrounds a beautiful island in the middle. People having four wheelers slide their vehicles down the valley, some dance on the pashtun tone, others come here for a long walk or for just capturing the stunning shots of the lake. I took some pictures which might even fail to depict the true beauty of that place.

Beautiful Plantation

People I met there were very welcoming, also must add that Pushtun kids are too adorable ! Trip doesn't here, much of the adventure has to be shared yet. We traveled all the way to Chaman too, read my blog-post for the trip here: Quetta to Chaman and Afghanistan Border !

Goodbye Quetta