New Year (Khujaraho)

We left early in the morning and beat most of the mayhem traffic coming out of Dabra. The restaurant was not yet open so breakfast was biscuits and a packet of crisps from a nearby shop. It still took a good 10 minutes to checkout while the bleary eyed reception guy filled out a long and pointless receipt and questioned why we were leaving 2 hours before the checkout time we estimated the night before. It did not seem to compute that we could leave earlier and it made no difference so I took the registration form off him and changed the time.

The road was more of the same driving, only a couple of times trucks forced us onto the verge, overtaking on our side of the road. The trucks are at least reasonably predictable since they travel in straight lines at fairly constant 40km/h so thankfully it all happened in slow motion.

Along the way we passed several police checkpoints, similar to those in Pakistan except we were never stopped so it had become fairly routine here. We thought nothing of passing another one with signing in Hindu and then I noticed a lot less cars on the road. Suddenly we came to a wall built in the road just before a bridge although the satnav still said we were on the right road.

We were pointed around the wall on a side road by some local guys and saw them taking 125‘s through a gap so we followed. As we went further along the road it dawned on me that perhaps there was a reason for the wall across the road and radio‘d to Helen to take it easy til we found out. As we rounded a bend we saw another 2 walls built across the middle of the bridge which had bricks removed to make a gap in the middle. As we got nearer I was wondering if we would fit through with the panniers on when I saw that both side walls and part of the surface at both sides of the bridge had collapsed. The middle still looked quite wide and we passed through the gap and out the other side anyway. I thought about stopping for a photo but we were both tired of hoards of onlookers so we went on. I really wish I‘d taken that photo anyway though.

The rest of the road was demanding slow riding dodging oncoming traffic and potholes like a computer game with consequences. The Tiger went into a particularly big hole that was hiding in the shadows of a tree but surprisingly came out the other side relatively unscathed. We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant, obviously geared towards tourists on buses with home comforts like Toblerone. It was a lot quieter here than other places we‘d stopped with a pleasant breeze. It was a welcome change from Delhi. We made it to Khujarho to find it quite touristy and different to the India we had seen so far. A phenomenon we have grown to call the “Disneyland version“. It was certainly nice to find ample accommodation and plain food though.

I found myself wondering when all this became normal. Getting up in the morning, riding 200 or 300km and then locating somewhere to stay for the night, sometimes in a new country. Becoming gradually accustomed to increasing bureaucracy, changing scenery and being the strange foreigner almost everywhere we go. I have come to think that you need three P‘s to travel successfully – Patience, Pleasantness and (most of all) Perseverance. A sense of humour helps. I thought I was patient before I left but have learnt new limits.

So a new year and a time for reflections. Appreciating the experiences we have been fortunate to have and learning from everything we have seen. And a time to look forward and make resolutions. Like taking more photos…

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As we left the hotel we headed straight for the ATM signposted at the entrance to the bird park. As I stood outside a guy in a bike helmet walked past me to the door of the booth. I was annoyed enough to tap him on the shoulder and ask what he was playing at. “In India no Queue“. I had suspected as much already. The ATM didn’t work with our card anyway and didn’t bother to give any error message either.

We were unsure if we should take the minor road out of Balwatphur to avoid the traffic chaos of Agra or stick to the main road and go through it all again (for the third time). In the end we tried the minor road. The going was slow with poorly surfaced roads about 60% of the way but also some lovely smooth tarmac roads. The views in the less populated places were beautiful with green and yellow fields and a slightly less mad pace of life. I was at a loss to explain why people leave the country to go to the city, thinking they will find a better life. Perhaps its hard in the country too if you don‘t own land. It seems that those who do succeed end up leaving the country altogether adding to the brain drain here.

Unfortunately the poor roads continued onto the NH3 main road towards Jhansi. Not only that but they got worse in parts too. Roadworks and diversions meant we ended up travelling through an army town and got told off for parking in the wrong place when we tried to ask directions. The road around Gwallior was particularly painful, being choked up with traffic and one guy so high on something that he didn’t react to my horns blaring as he stood in the middle of the road. In the midst of all this they still insist on putting high speed ramps everywhere though I don‘t imagine the traffic to ever be fast enough for them to be any use.

We passed Gwallior and decided not to look for the hotels there. The one on the ringroad were either full or not interested in having us. We stopped at another place that turned out to be a restaurant and initially said yes to letting us put the tent up and then no immediately after. There seems to be a culture here of answering yes whenever you don‘t actually know or even understand the question. They suggested we would find the suresh hotel 10km up the road (it was in fact 25km) and seemed to be more interesting in gawping at the bikes than helping any further.

Perhaps we were too used to Iran and to some extent Pakistan, with people tripping over themselves to offer a place to stay and being unfailingly honest. Here the hotel guy in the last place tried to charge me an extra 20% when I used their internet for “downloading“. I suspect it would have been even more had the letter “e“ worked properly on the keyboard.

Still, eventually we reached Dabra. We had about 1300 rupees to our name and had not seen a cash machine for 200km nor a hotel for a good 60km either. We pulled into a petrol station and tried to figure out if our Visa card would work before filling Helens nearly empty bike. The sun had set and driving was getting real interesting as we passed a tractor that had shed its load in the middle of the main street. Helen resourcefully spoke to the petrol station manager, figuring he would have a better chance of speaking good English. She was right and we were relieved when he explained the hotel was 1km up the road with an ATM beside.

We left the refuelling til we had more money and crept along in the dark, finding the hotel where he said it was. It was a bit rough but cheap and had enclosed parking. To our surprise the ATM also worked and we were able to eat too, It had been like Jacobabad all over again and we were both tired but relieved.

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How many are we?

Helen and I were wondering who all is reading the blog after hearing that friends of friends are tuned in. So submit a comment to say hello on this post please and we’ll see!

p.s. photos from Lahore onwards to be uploaded soon.


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Helen and I were in 2 minds about heading to Bharatpur or heading towards Varanessi and onto Nepal. India was hard work in driving and from the curiosity of local people. Unlike Pakistan where people came and asked friendly questions, here they came and stared blankly. The occasional one would speak only to ask how much the bikes cost. I met this with answers varying from realistic to 3 trillion rupees (and was shocked when they accepted this value). There really is no privacy to be found anywhere, even a closed toilet door seemingly offering no respite.

But since Bharatpur was only 50km away it seemed like a shame not to visit it before beating our retreat. Els and Merijn were going further into Rajasthan anyway so we joined along for the ride. Getting out of Agra was trickier than getting in, with poorly surfaced roads and nasty speed ramps taking their toll on my sump again but once we got out of the city the situation improved dramatically. Traffic evaporated as we entered Rajasthan and the road opened into a pleasant dual carriageway. Rajasthan has one third the population density of India on average and we felt it immediately.

We found a hotel close to the Keoladeo National Park. In fact there were several hotels though the one we went to was newly opened and pleasantly clean and quiet. The first price we were given was 1200 rupees per room but we thanked them and complimented the hotel but said we could not stay. As we went to leave they called the manager and the price became 600 rupees and when we said it was still too much it dropped to 500 rupees. Evidently there was fierce competition. The food was also excellent.

The following day we visited the Keoladeo bird park by rented bicycle. A curator of the park accompanied us as our guide and opened our eyes to the wildlife around us. Without him we would simply have cycled around the park wondering what the fuss was. We saw antelope, Deer and birds like Kingfishers, Treepies and huge Cranes. We learned there was also a Tiger in the park but that it kept to a certain area and we felt safe enough with the guide who was extremely knowledgeable.

It was just what we all needed. It was great to be out in fresh air again cycling on a flat path in the middle of nature without hoards of people all around. I wondered if the rest of Rajesthan would be like this and if we were missing out on the best of India to have only a blinkered impression. However, with such a huge country it would be impossible to see it all anyway.

The next day Els and Merijn left us again. We had intended to head south to Khujaro but Helen fell ill again. She felt tired and frustrated as it sapped the fun and her energy. We went to the local doctor who prescribed another class of antibiotic and an anti worm tablet. It seems the doctors here make a guess at the problem and try a scattergun batch of drugs since they lack diagnostic facilities. It does however mean they prescribe antibiotics very frequently which makes you wonder about reducing their effectiveness. The doctors surgery was dark, dirty and depressing. I closed and locked the door when we went in for the consultation. He told us most people go to private clinics nowadays which we resolved would be our next port of call if it continued.

When we got back to the hotel we had our first dose of rain since Turkey. Strangely I found this to be a welcome change. Not used to this wet stuff!

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The road out of Delhi did not let us escape easily. It was hot slow going compounded by a smoggy start to the day. Thankfully the roads, although busy, were quite wide and reasonably maintained so after a while we escaped the city and progressed towards Agra.

When we got to Agra the traffic got very heavy again and frustratingly hot and slow. The driving in India was the worst we have seen on the trip so far, particularly the small white Tata cars which everyone seems to be buying up as the economy of the country slowly improves. They arrive very quickly at your back door, beeping and flashing before slamming on the brakes at the last possible moment. It was almost a relief to sit in a traffic jam again as it meant things happened more slowly although we were starting to work out how to get through it.

The lorries sit in the right lane to avoid the motorcycles in the left lane. The cars swerve around everything to make progress, but can‘t bully the lorries out of the way so they overtake them on the left, harassing the bikes in the process. There is the odd random crossroads where you would expect people coming across to give way, but they don‘t. It seems to be a test of who has the most nerve with lorries and buses again doing what they want. The best strategy in traffic seems to be to use the right lane, overtake lorries on the left and watch out for fast moving cars coming from behind. They still come close even if you are sitting up behind a lorry, expecting you to move in and let them past whereupon they have to undertake the lorry anyway.

After nearly driving into the Taj Mahal restricted area we found a hotel as recommended on Horizons Unlimited. There was motorcycle parking inside the hotel as suggested, but it was a challenging ride round a tight turn and up a ramp and a second ramp placed on some steps. I could not reach the ground while on the bike so got off and walked the machines up in first gear. Merijn had no problems at all with his longer legs and we all got parked up ok.

We arose very early the next day to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise before the crowds arrived. After some waiting around for tickets, while also getting harassed by the touts, we went inside. The first part was a paved area that led to a magnificent red stone entry gate. We stepped through to get a view we have all seen many times before in photos or on TV, only now we were actually here. It was surreal to feel we knew this place but had never been here. With the few people here it was possible to get some nice photos as we walked up to the building itself.

Inside was the interred remains of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife (for whom he built the Taj Mahal in her memory) Empress Mumtaz Mahal. No photos were allowed inside but the central area held what looked like two marble coffins although I heard one guide say they are actually buried in the basement. These coffins were surrounded by marble latticework, thick smooth and handcarved. As I touched the warm walls I felt that the ornate patterns were raised from the rest of the wall, they were not painted on but were actually inlaid semi precious stones of varying different colours. It was a beautiful work of dedicated craftsmanship with no flaws to be seen anywhere, even 400 or so years after it was completed. It seemed like a very beautiful final resting place though I wondered if it was a peaceful one with the hoards of tourists arriving each day (just like us). Helen pointed out that maybe that was the idea, to maintain the memory though.

After some nice food at one of the restaurants near the exit we returned to the hotel for a nap before extracting the bikes to head on to Bharatpur.

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Thankfully the 200km to Delhi was less eventful than the previous 200km. We arrived at around 1pm to find the hotel Airport Inn at the north of the city on google maps did not exist. We were lucky though because in its place was a Toyota service garage headed by a Naresh Kumar. When he heard there were two foreigners outside hopelessly lost he came out to meet us and take us in for a cup of tea. We chatted for a while and discovered he had spent some time in Scotland which explained the strange accent. After about 10 minutes we had confirmed the directions to our second choice accommodation and were refreshed enough to go there. Great service indeed.

Manju Ka Tilla is a small Tibetan exile community on the outskirts of Delhi. Happily there was space to put the bikes outside under cover in a small side street where they were left alone and the hotel was a very reasonable 575rs a night (about 8 quid). The staff were very friendly and welcoming, as was everyone in the community, meaning we wanted to visit Tibet itself sometime (though maybe its not the same there?). Hopefully it will be nice like this in Nepal, I also made the resolution that I needed to learn a bit more about the Buddhist culture.

We spent a day seeing Cannaught Place in thee centre of Delhi. We travelled in by Metro, which was superbly clean,modern and well maintained. Unfortunately the queuing system here seems to be the same as Dublin in that there is no queuing system. The train stops for 30 seconds which only adds more urgency to the experience. Cannaught place itself was a central round garden surrounded by plush white façade buildings. We shopped for books and had a beef free McDonalds. It was quite peaceful and completely in contrast to what we had expected.

That night we went to the cinema and missed some communications from Tom who had already picked up Hanna and was staying with a friend called Lavline. We had already got back to the hotel when we got it all ironed out and discovered we should head back out again to his house on the other side of Delhi. We did not arrive until late but were welcomed with BBQ‘d chicken and plenty of beer. We stayed in the large house which was surrounded by plush quiet gardens overnight. Not at all what we expected to find in Delhi. Hana had hired a 500cc Enfield Bullet to do some touring.

When we got back to the hotel we discovered Els and Merijn had arrived. I thought they had got our text message with the coordinates but it was pure chance. It also turned out that our Aircel sim was now roaming because we had left the area it was bought in so calls were not so cheap anymore and the international calling card would not work either. The mobile phone market here seems to be a real mess.

The following day we headed out together to see Akshardam Hindu temple, opened only 5 years ago. We took the underground Metro and I was feeling like we had finally figured out how it all worked. Then at one station my wallet was stolen. Pick-pocketed as we got onto a train out of a Velcro pocket on my leg. The train was busy and I was not sure if it happened as we got on or by one of the passengers. We cancelled the credit card as everything else in the wallet was expired cards and a copied driving license. The police came to make a report and took us to the station. As I suspected the wallet was found although emptied of cash (even the couple of rupee coins) but containing everything else. Presumably the thief would not want to be caught with the evidence. At this point the police were keen not to continue with the report, presumably to keep their crime figures low. As we waited for the wallet to be returned they asked questions about the kind of stuff we eat at home and what we thought of the country compared to Pakistan (they seemed pretty patriotic). They seemed concerned about our safety on the roads and almost gleefully described the driving conditions. I couldn’t help but wonder if they should be doing something about it since they are the police after all.

Over the next couple of days we saw some more of Delhi, including the old city, the fort, red mosque and Jain temple. We were not used to paying entry fees for such things anymore but it seemed to be the norm here. We each remarked we were perhaps travel weary and could not appreciate it as much now although we went up the minaret at the red mosque and had a great (if smoggy) view of the city. That night we had a Christmas dinner at a posh restaurant back on Cannaught place. The atmosphere was a little strange with a crazy frog Christmas CD on repeat and masked Santa Claus handing out sweets but the food was excellent and we had a good night.

The next couple of days were spent lazing around and doing very little. I started to come down with some sort of cold and felt weak just walking out to get my hair cut. We planned to leave the next morning but just didn’t manage to so we had another easy day and I caught up on the blog. Perhaps tomorrow we‘ll head to Agra, city of the famed Taj Mahal…

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We met Tom early in the morning to head towards Delhi and see how far we could get. As we left the city and squeezed around the traffic I passed a white car through what I perceived to be a big enough gap. Next thing I knew I got a bump to the right pannier and the bike went over pretty hard. There was no way I could save it so I bailed as the bike rolled onto the left side and I landed on my right shoulder (no big deal with the gear on). I hit the kill switch and got up to yell at the driver. I held my hands out in a “what was that all about“ manner when I realised there was a sticker on the front bumper. Slowly my mind processed the letters, still partly in shock = P-O-L-I-C-E. Fan-dooby-dastic. 30km into India and I had been run over by the cops. Things were not shaping up good for the driving standards here.

Along the road we stopped for something to eat at an ‘Authentic‘ roadside cafe. A young boy was working there and played around with us for a while. He thought I was wearing contact lenses because my eyes were blue. Tom asked him about school and found that he didn’t go because he could not afford the 300 rupees it would be (about 4 quid). We were unable to figure out if that was per day or week or whatever but it was still pretty depressing. He seemed to command the respect of everyone working there, even the older guys, but I wondered what the future held.

As we continued a local man and woman on a small 125cc type bike nudged another bike. They lost control, and ended up in a low side crash directly in front of me. I narrowly managed to avoid hitting them square on but it really shook up my already shattered nerves. I felt depressed about being here, basically taking a holiday in a situation which is hard for so many. I could not help but be profoundly affected by it all. When we left on the trip I expected it to change me but I never really expected how. I doubted I would come back the same person, but hopefully somehow for the better.

We made about 200km to Rajpura when we decided to stop. This was much less than the average we had been doing so far but was entirely due to the driving. We were burnt out but happy to enjoy a beer. In the morning Tom left to meet up with Hanna, who was flying in to meet him.

We stayed as Helen got ill again and it got a little worse the following day. Eventually I dragged her to the doctor which the hotel staff were nice enough to arrange for us. The driver took us round in some Crystler SUV type thing, dodging the traffic at Mach 3. We were ushered into a little side room where the doctor came in. After 2 minutes he diagnosed a particular type of stomach bug which would not have responded to antibiotics Helen had already taken and wrote out a prescription for some new ones. This was all particularly interesting since he managed to deduce it all from taking blood pressure and a short chat with no further examination. Definitely nothing like doctors work at home.

Helen was impressed by the combination drugs which were prescribed, containing things like anti sickness and pain relief all in one pill and 2 types of antibiotic in another. I looked at the packaging and saw that everything was made in India and recalled that India is the capital of drug copying so it all made sense. Either way another day of rest and the problems seemed to be getting better, hopefully not to crop up again so we headed to Delhi.

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We sailed peacefully through the cool misty morning air out of Lahore. After a wrong turn I consulted the satnav and decided to take the canal bank road out instead of the more direct route. This turned out to be a blessing as it appeared most of the city had not woken up yet and it was a peaceful road. The scenery slid easily by, with only the odd Honda CG125 with big brass jars on the back for company. The road spat us out back onto the Grand Trunk road, missing all the busy shops that line the rest of the way, leaving us just the last lonely stretch up to the border.

Thierrie had already crossed into India and emailed to say the border was ok and the driving similar to Pakistan. I was still a little nervous as we completed the formalities and it took quite a while for something which was pretty straightforward, but that seems to be the norm around here. On the Pakistan side one non-uniformed guy helped the uniformed customs official fill out the carnet and pointless logbook with all the usual repetitive information. He asked us about changing money (presumably commission being how he worked and maybe a small backhander to be left alone in the customs place). I explained we had none and showed him my empty wallet. He switched to foreign coin collector and seemed happy enough with a couple of euro. It was a refreshing change from the Iran border at least.

As we approached the gates one of the border guards recognised us and remembered where we were from since the border ceremony before. Perhaps this guy kept track of everyone instead of computers here. It was certainly more efficient than the big ledger books they also use. He recounted how he‘d toured a bit himself and wished us well with the journey.

The rest of the border crossing was simple though long. We stopped after about 1km on the Indian side to look up directions. A rickshaw driver stopped to ask “how much this cost“ (no lead ins about where we were from or anything like that). What surprised me though was that his second question was if it ran on diesel. When I replied yes, he seemed happy enough that his curiosity was satisfied. I was a little stunned that it just seemed normal to him and wondered if he knew we were coming but perhaps that’s just how it is here?

After a little confusion in Amritsar we found the accommodation block at the back of the golden temple. All the Sikh guys around were very friendly and helpful. We were directed to take the bikes into the courtyard which was surrounded by about 5 stories of rooms on each side. We parked under the stairs and the guardians seemed concerned and told us to make sure we took all our stuff.

We were told it was possible to eat dinner in the temple too as this is provided free for the pilgrims and other guests so we went to check it out. The “kitchen“ was a hive of activity. Hundreds of people swarmed around with vibrant colours and the noise of metal plates clattering everywhere. It was fantastic.

We stood in the middle of it all a bit lost and eventually I determined there was some sort of line of people moving through so we traced them back to the start to find we came in the wrong entrance. We joined the queue and followed around. A big metal plate was given to us followed by a spoon and then we entered the eating hall where we sat in a line on carpet cross legged. A guy came round and dished out some dal, followed by another with something like rice pudding and finally the guy who threw out the chippatti‘s which you had to hold out your hands to receive. When the eating was done they cleared the hall line by line so that people were brought inside in rotating batches. Outside we gave the plates back to one guy who emptied leftovers into a big vat and the plate was passed to another person to get washed. We took some photos of the food preparation including one older white haired man chopping onions really quickly without looking at what he was doing.

Walking round the temple at sunset was a peaceful relaxing experience. The floors and walls of the complex were marble, some with inscriptions of Sikh‘s who died in world wars or other conflicts, others bearing memorials to family members. Everyone seemed friendly and relaxed. We joined the line into the golden temple itself, trying not to make a faux pas and upset someone unintentionally but again everyone was understanding and relaxed. Inside people were playing drums, and the place was adorned in bejewelled cloths and completely gold clad walls. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos though I was surprised to note a full size TV camera filming proceedings. There was also a big satellite dish on a nearby roof so I guess they transmit the scene around the world.

We went to sit outside and absorb the scene of the sun setting by the central pool when a lovely Sikh gentleman called Channi came and sat beside us. He rounded the evening off perfectly by telling us all about his religion and some of the traditions at the temple including the interesting point that the gold temple is cleaned every night with milk. He went to lengths to be sure we understood he wanted no money, just to talk to us. He explained he lived nearby and spent most evenings getting to talk to foreigners. He pointed out that Sikh’s are very welcoming people who strongly practice equality no matter who you are, unlike the caste or class system prevalent in so many other places. As we bid our goodbyes I noticed his eyes look a little more watery than before, genuinely happy to have met us.

When we arrived back to the accommodation block I was shocked to find the central courtyard packed with people on sleeping mats. Clearly this is why the Sikh guards were concerned we secure the bikes properly and I was glad we had the cover with us to avert unwanted attention. I had already set the alarm on and wondered how many grumpy people there would be if it went off in the middle of the night.

We spent most of the next day trying to get a sim card for India. No mean feat in itself though we were also tired from one guy in the dorm arriving late and then proceeding to snore all night. The bureaucracy in India is legendary but we still did not expect to take all day to get a prepay sim card. It seems that since the Mumbai attracts the government took steps to increase security which meant you need a permanent address and passport along with resident permit etc. If there is any benefit to these measures is anyone’s guess. We tried several places before eventually arriving at the Aircel main office in Amritsar. An hour and a bit later we emerged with the sim which had 2g internet (apparently 3g is available but that was enough pain already) but also was very cheap for calls. i am not sure but I think the rickshaw we took was a single cylinder diesel like is popular for the Enfield conversion back home.

We also visited the Jallianwala Bagh gardens, scene of a massacre by General Dyre of the British army in 1919 when unarmed demonstrators were fired on without warning. The garden is now a memorial to the event with various plaques and a memorial statue about the event as well as a monument and gallery. It certainly seemed to be an important moment in the history of the country. If the governors at the time thought it would put down the protests they were certainly wrong as it seemed to strengthen their resolve. It was particularly poignant to look down the well where 120 people died jumping in to escape the firing.

Anyway, we heard from Tom that he was also in Armistar so arranged to meet up the next morning to head towards Delhi. We also snared one of the little private side rooms beside the dorm so we got a peaceful nights sleep.

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New Lahore

We took the motorway back to Lahore and again had the same hassle with the cops. Again the IDP did the trick and we were glad we brought it. we arrived into Lahore and wound our way around the streets to find the house of Ijaz and Shamila. Helen had met Shamila while working in Belfast and mentioned to her about our trip. We were grateful of their invitation to stay after the distance we had come.

Their house was a large spread out building provided as a part of Ijaz‘s remuneration for work in a senior position of the civil service. The family car was also part of this inclusive though perhaps absorptive setup too. As seems to be the norm there were staff on hand in the house to cook, clean and drive. One even offered to wash our bikes for us but seemed confused when I explained there was little point and besides, I like them that way.

Unfortunately Shamila was actually over in the UK at work. Her kids were looking forward to visiting and seeing Justin Beber, We felt a little guilty being here without her and probably being a strange imposition, but were warmly welcomed and very hospitably treated indeed.

We were invited to Shamila‘s brothers birthday party. First heading over to their house for birthday cake and then onto the 5 Star Continental. Eating out played a big part in their lifestyles although with the safety situation nowadays they tended to stay near home most of the rest of the time. Shamila‘s father seemed an interesting, experienced man, in his 70‘s still practising medicine.

As we drove around the city Ijaz pointed out the newer housing developments and restaurants in the new half of the city that we had not seen before on our first visit. It was similar to Islamabad with the usual big names like Pizza Hut slowly creeping in. We also saw the roundabout where the Sri Lankan cricketers were attacked, and would not have known it to be any different to the other places in the city.

As we stopped at traffic lights beggars came to the window as they do at most traffic lights. Ijaz explained they work in cahoots with the police and effectively rent the junction to avoid being moved on. He thought they make a lot of money and go home to nice lives though I was not sure what to believe. I don’t think they live in the same plush estates that we had seen that night though the police thing was plausible. However, it was enlightening to see some of the state of the art free public hospitals in the city and the excellent emergency response teams that had vehicles all over the city.

On our last day Ijaz arranged a tour of the walled city with members of the team charged with the restoration project. We started by meeting with Mr Abbasi, the director of the project, funded by the world bank. The walled city had fallen into some disrepair, mostly because it was being used as a commercial centre these days. One feature they mentioned was the power cables strung everywhere which they planned to have rerouted and buried within an ambitious 2 years. The IT systems behind the project seemed pretty huge with a large GIS platform in the background, cataloguing every building in the city with over 1000 attributes each. The surveyors must have been pretty busy for a while.

We were introduced to Fatima Atta, Media & Communication Strategist who kindly took the time to show us around. We entered through Delhi gate and then turned left to the Shahi Hamam, a traditional bathhouse now restored but with a marble floor instead of the pools. The guide demonstrated the acoustics by singing and we were allowed onto the roof for a different view of the spice markets below, which export all over the world.

We saw 2 mosques and a traditional partly restored (privately owned) house. It was interesting to see several of the houses being restored at the time we visited with the traditional lime plaster and building techniques being used. I asked Fatima what the local people thought of the project to receive the refreshingly honest reply that initially they were against it until they came to see the benefits it was bringing. People everywhere have a fear of the unknown but gentle reassurance seems to be the way forward.

Overall it was a truly fascinating and different experience to that of our first visit to Lahore. Only with a little local knowledge were we able to get below the surface and see another side to the city. I wondered if our view of all other places we had been and were going would be dependant only on our perspective and people we happened to meet at the time. In the end I found it impossible to figure out the real story of Pakistan. Its everything and nothing all at the same time. What is true though is that the people seem very vibrant and alive. I am not sure what I was expecting but was more than a little sad to leave.

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Islamabad / Manshira / Islamabad

There are 2 roads to Islamabad, the motorway and the normal road. The normal road is a little shorter but passes through a lot of towns and villages so as per Omars recommendation we opted for the motorway. It was Helen and I plus Bryn.

The first obstacle came when we were stopped getting onto the motorway by the police. Apparently there is a rule that bikes over 500cc are allowed but most police don‘t really know this. They informed us we could not go and needed all sorts of type approval permits and certificates. When asked where we could get these they didn’t seem to know. A little more persuasion I presented my (copied) driving license. This didn’t seem to satisfy them so we presented the IDP which magically did the trick. It seems that an official looking bit of paper with stamps and a photo was all we needed. They let us go explaining that we had to stay in the left lane unless overtaking (duh)

The motorway was fantastic, better than even the Autobahns in Germany. It took about 4 hours to get to Islamabad with a couple of stops including a Subway restaurant of all places. We passed a car who later pulled into one of these stops to chat. The older lady from the car thought we were American spies with our strange motorbikes. Her son explained she gets a bit excited sometimes. Meanwhile I wondered what sort of spies would ride around on very conspicuous bikes…

When we got to Islamabad we were asked for our tickets at the toll gate. This was news to us as we had not been charged on a toll road since Europe (in Iran it was something like “where you from“, “Ireland“, “ok, on you go“). We were not given tickets when we got on the motorway. Some arguing ensued and they wanted to charge us a lost ticket fee which was about double the normal price. I explained we had not lost the tickets so why charge lost ticket fee? They said it was our mistake, we said it wasn’t, etc etc etc. Meanwhile a large impatient queue was building up behind beeping horns and starting to get out of their vehicles. The booth clerk was looking more and more flustered. He pointed to the side and said we should go there.We nodded yes yes and played the dumb foreigner card again as we sailed on into Islamabad.

We found our way to the tourist campsite where we pitched our tent and made dinner. We drifted off to sleep soothed by the sound of gunfire in the distance. Of course here they fire weapons at weddings and so on but it was hard to know if that was the case here or not. In the morning we awoke to discover the police also encamped in the grounds complete with machine gun emplacement. hmm

Helen and I headed to Manshira on the KKH, with Bryn staying behind to chase up his passport. The first part of the road was congested and busy so the going was slow but directions simple to follow. The first part of the KKH was tarmac lined by trees. It was basically a road like any other except for the oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road who thought that flashing the headlights would mean everything would work out a-ok.

We found the hotel comfortable so stayed there for 2 nights, but Helen health took a turn for the worse again so that plus our concerns about the security situation meant we turned back the following morning for Islamabad. When we arrived we found Bryn still there so we went out for dinner in an Afgahn restaurant. We were shocked at the modernness of Islamabad, laid out in a grid with streets 5 or 6 lanes wide. All the global brands were here from Dominoes to Dunkin Dohnuts. It seemed impossible to imagine all this in the same country as Jacobabad.

We had everything packed and ready to leave the following morning when Bryn noticed Helens water pump leaking again. I sat and watched it for a while hoping it would stop after a bit but it did not. With 400km or so to do til Lahore we opted to stay and fix it. Using the tools I had with me and the experience gained from the last time the going went well. The only snag was getting the sump bolt out to drain the oil because all I had was a spanner the right size and it was beginning to chew the bolt head. A guard wandered over and was taking a friendly interest. After some sign language he told me to try the Bazaar over the road. I was unsure where it was so he changed out of uniform and helpfully took me over there. Sure enough there was a shop and they had the elusive 24mm socket to sell me single. It was 6 side drive and only about two quid. I wished there were bazaars at home.

With the bike sorted we unashamedly had a domino’s pizza for dinner, ready to head to Lahore in the morning.

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