26.05.2007 - 02.06.2007 40 °C
After an arduous journey through the Baluchistan Desert, we are staying three nights in Peshawar. Pakistan has been a major culture shock. Iran, we now realise, is far more Westernised than Pakistan. The change was apparent immediately as we crossed the border. On the Iranian side there is a lagre, air-conditioned complex; the Pakistani side has a collection of huts. While Iranian men wear shirts and trousers, a long tunic is the norm here. Quetta (our first destination after the border) and Peshawar are frantic cities. Motor rickshaws and pick-up trucks fill the streets, while pedestrians fight for space with street sellers. Open drains are common here - the stench and pollution is unbelievable. However, the energy of the city is exciting and the rickshaws offer a cheap white-knuckle ride. What passes for a main road here is barely two lanes wide and always bumpy. When a road is being repaired, they simply lay some gravel alongside to remove the traffic. A big contrast to the well-maintained motorways of Iran.
So far in Pakistan, we have been escorted continuously by the police. A pick-up truck with four or five (well-armed) men drives in front of us, and sometimes one behind as well. This operation is beautifully well organised. As we cross each local boundary, our escort peels off and is replaced by a waiting vehicle. The truck just keeps driving. We appreciate that this is being done for our benefit, but it is having a serious effect on our journey. The police insisted that we drive from Quetta to Peshawar in two days - we did not arrive until midnight last night. The problem is that each patrol simply wants to get us out of their area of responsibility as quickly as possible. We hope that the level of security will ease as we move away from the border areas that are preceived as dangerous. This police attention is in complete contrast to Iran, where the escort to the border we expected was not considered necessary. We have not seen any other Westeners in either Quetta or Peshawar, so the nervousness of the police is perhaps understandable. The local people often warn us about the dangers of this area (stay in groups, do not go out at night) but so far we have not felt threatened at any time.
Enough about security. The people of Pakistan are endlessly curious about us - almost everyone says hello and asks where we are from. It can get slightly annoying when you just want to walk down the street. In fact, walking has become quite an effort. The temperature has been around 40 degrees since we reached Quetta. A day on the truck is like sitting in front of a hair drier, while nights are close and sticky. Pakistan does have important advantages over Iran - cold beers are available again (discreetly) and the change in cuisine is welcome. While Iran has excellent kebabs, there is almost nothing else, and we found that our kebab tolerance had been well exceeded after two weeks. Pakistan is curry land - I never appreciated how much "Indian" food comes from Pakistan (balti, jalfrezi, biryani and more). Next we head for the Khyber Pass.