The escort from Taftan to Quetta, Pakistan.
It’s easy to get out of Iran, it’s even easy to get into Iran, compared to Pakistan that is. My oh my.. ok, some mistakes from our side. Yuri requested a visa only for him, so at the border we needed to fix another visa for me.
Welcome to Pakistan
Which took about a day, but it normally takes up to 10 days so we can’t complain. But then, after crossing… the first office wants to see our documents (all of them). Passport, ETA (visa request), carnet de passage. He writes everything down in this big book and takes photos. After a selfie we’re done. Then, next office. Again all the paper work, including the writing and the photos. But here we get a stamp in our passports. We are requested to drive further to the gate and from there will be escorted to the Levies station for the night. The levies are the ones who will protect us the coming days when we drive to Quetta and from there out of Beluchistan.
The gate stays closed. First we need to give all of our documents, take photos, incl a photo of us in front of the van. Move to another office, again all the documents this time including our invitation letters and Iranian visas. Then we are allowed to follow the first Levie we meet. We enter the Levie compound but have to move out again. Time for some more stamps and document sharing. This time it’s about our carnet de passage. So after five offices who seem to all be doing the same job; taking photos of our documents, writing down the information of our documents, taking photos and giving us permission to move 3 meters further, we finally arrive at the Levies station.
“Hello, you stay here tonight”, he says with a Kalashnikov around his neck showing us a room that feels like an oven and looks like a dusty closet. “Sit here, documents please” says another. Here we go again. Luckily this one didn’t take so long. After a while two gentlemen arrive and request our passports and visas again. They take a photo and wish us a good journey. And I wonder, what are they going to do with the information they gathered? We saw the countless maps with paperwork dating back to 2016. There is still no computer system in which they save the information of our documents so how will they know in Islamabad that the Levies in Taftan agreed to our stay in Beluchistan? And maybe an even better question: why would they care?
We just go through this idiotic bureaucracy and take it as it comes. It’s not a day to stress or worry about anything. It’s too hot and the day has been too long anyway. Thus, we end the day being bored in the compound, eating with the Levies and trying to sleep in the oven with no airco and no bed. Truthfully, sleeping in Alexine is like sleeping in a 3 star hotel compared to this room. Let’s remember this moment 😉
Terrorism in Pakistan
There’s a high threat of terrorism and sectarian violence throughout the country. The main terrorist threat comes from Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of groups primarily based in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Daesh (ISIL) is also active. While both groups’ activities are primarily directed against the Pakistani state, they have in the past stated an intent to launch attacks on western interests. TTP and Daesh conduct attacks throughout Pakistan.
Previous methods of attack have included grenades, shootings, bombings and suicide bombs.
Etappe 1: Taftan – Nok kundi
After an amazing shower!! Ok it was nothing special but having water run down our bodies after a very sweaty night is just amazing. Cooling down and feeling somewhat clean again the dream. So the night was horribly warm and we changed in the middle of the night from the oven to Alexine which was a good decision. Then in the morning it started raining. Raining!! So we danced of course. What else should we do after months of no rain, not even a drop.
And at 8 precisely it was time to leave. We drove behind a vehicle with two Levies in it. One a commander who had his best days of duty behind him but was still very kind. And even though I wonder if he would hit a target if needed he wouldn’t be afraid to die im sure. So there we go! First our Levies need some petrol which doesn’t really look like a proper station but hey they painted shell on it so it must be alright. And I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to have the wind go through my hair and cool down my arms because I’m wearing a T-shirt and no headscarf anymore. Oh my, the freedom!
For two hours we drive behind the car. The landscape a desert like plain with Afghani mountains on the left side and Iranian mountains on the right. In the middle Pakistan. Empty and deserted. Except for some abandoned buildings and train wagons that are scattered around the area. Beside the quite good tarmac road are little sand hills and the sky is full with clouds. Trucks with the most colourful ornaments dangling from every corner of it pass us. Beautiful and impressive! Just don’t want to be hit by one but they look amazing. And that’s it. The first etappe of the 635km trip to Quetta is uneventful and relaxed.
In Nok kundi we say goodbye to our Levies and hello to our new Levies. We hand over our documents again which are copied by hand and drink tea with the Levies. It’s getting hot so taking it slow is key to survival. And we are in no hurry, if the Levies are not – we are not.
On the wall in the office hangs a photo of men with a sack over their heads and lot of guns in front. The levies are posing next to the men. I’m asking who they are and what they did. “They’re just thieves” the commissioner replies. He worked for 26 years at the Taftan border and is now working here for 1 year before retiring. He looks forward to that moment. “I want to be free in my head” he tells me. It’s a tough job as they only have one day off per week. All the other days they work as police officers in the travelling area of Pakistan. Travelling area means the area from Taftan to Quetta alongside the Afghanistan border. “Normally it can be a bit dangerous because not everywhere the border is protected. And the Taliban focusses on people from the USA. Just like other terrorist groups operating in the area. They don’t know if your Dutch or German or English. They just see you’re a tourist so you’re a target. But the army is in full force at the border now, because of the overtake.” We talk a bit about life as a Levies in Beluchistan, about the Taliban and the pressure of its force into Pakistan. He seems a bit tired, done with his service as a levie. He wants to be with his wife, kids and grandchildren. He wants to see Iran, India and other parts of Pakistan. He wants to be relaxed and free. And I understand him. 26 years, 6 days a week and only 10 – 15 days of holiday a year. I would’ve gone crazy a long time ago.
Etappe 2: Nok kundi – Dalbandin
My turn to drive! To the delight of the Levies. A woman driving is apparently funny. A women with an opinion about that not so much so I of course tell them that women are as good a driver as any. They stop laughing. Better show, not tell I guess. Ok, so after establishing that we move. Through the town of speed bumps. The higher the better apparently. And we hoped saying goodbye to Iran would also mean saying goodbye to these ridiculous speed bumps but no. After conquering them all there is the endless desert again. The one road through it and nothing but mirages alongside it. And that goes on for hundreds of kilometers. Here and there a dromedaris emerges from the mirage and it looks like some palmtrees in the far distance but they could be little branches as well.
For a while we see nothing but emptiness but then some trucks and cars appear and it seems there is live on this planet! In the far distance the contours of huge sharp rocks appear and we even cross some tiny villages. I almost hit a goat that found it wise to cross the road from behind one of those colourful trucks. Luckily – for both – we didn’t and continued to live long and prosperous. Well, that’s to be seen.
Alright, so nothing interesting happened. Alexine is doing great. The sun is shining, it’s quite hot but Alexine keeps her head cool. We can even drive 80km/h for most of the journey. And that journey takes 2.5 hours and 175km. We arrive in Dalbandin where we have to refuel Alexine. “Pakistani or Iran fuel?” They ask. We are surprised by the question and ask for the best one. Of course the men reply with Pakistani gasikube. As if we would expect anything else. A full tank (38 liters now) costs us 9.100 Pakistani rupees. That’s about €38,- thus €35,- more expensive then what we paid for in Iran. Ai… but it’s still €45,- cheaper than in the Netherlands, so all is good.
To our surprise we are not staying in Dalbandin – which all the blogs online told us. We continue our journey for at least 200km’s to Nuskhi. Will we reach Quetta today already? That would be a surprise to us. Quetta is still some 325 km’s away, that’s about 4.5 hours as Alexine drives. Probably not, but we’ll see. The only thing clear of this escort to Quetta is that it all isn’t clear and no one seems to know much. So we take it as it comes and continue the road.
Etappe 3: Dalbandin – Nuskhi
With a full tank, somewhat renewed energy and a lack of water we follow the road which crosses the sand dunes as a snake. But snakes we don’t see, dromedaris we do see. And many! Walking graciously through the hot sand that matches their skin colour. We follow the levies on a safe distance and try to enjoy the landscape as much as possible. It is hot though, very hot.
312 km’s to Quetta. Will we really reach there today? What made the Levies change their usual schedule? The stop in Dalbandin at a hotel no one wants to stay in. To continue the next day for the remaining part. To make it a two day expedition, instead of a one day race? We don’t know, but the furthest we get today the better. We only have one month in Pakistan and don’t want to spend it in hotel compounds, which we are not allowed to leave.
About half way (80 km’s from Nuskhi) we have a switch of guards. And what kind of switch. Until now we have followed vehicles that disappointed us a bit, with only one armed men in them. Not the type of escort we expected. But now we’ve got 5 men of which 3 are armed. They are smiling and relax when we drink tea. They wonder why we have a dragon toy (John Snowdonia as he’s from Mount Snowdonia in Wales) in the car but no kids. Well, can’t explain that. I love teddy bears?
As soon as we finish the tea we continue our journey. It is 16:15h and we’ve got a lot more km’s to go still so ready to move on. Three men in the back of the car, gunned. Two men in front and off we go. Is this because danger is more near? The border is close to where we are, we can see Afghanistan. But danger seems to be far away, a darkness in the distance. Not tangible and not worrying. Like a spider waiting for someone to enter it’s web. I just hope we don’t drive into anyones web. The people we see wave at us happily. When they smile I can see they use too much sugar in the tea but their eyes are filled with twinkles. We feel like VIP’s driving through a landscape so special that people are not allowed to enter it. And it is beautiful!
The sandy dunes have made place for razor sharp rocks and more and more settlements are visible. There’s also a lot more traffic and the road conditions worsen. The trucks are moving as quick as turtles although I think a turtle might move quicker. And we, we are racing through the scenery like a bunch of cheetahs. It’s challenging and tiresome but as said before we have to get somewhere today. Where exactly that is, is still a mystery to us.
Etappe 4: Nuskhi – Quetta
And there we are, in the middle of … not Nuskhi but this is the Nuskhi stop anyway. The guarded levies leave us here with the police. And the police seems to have things organised a bit more modern. Instead of writing down our names, visa code and country they just take photos of our documents. And then we wait… Some men stop to check out Alexine and everyone passing looks at us mesmerised. Some remind themselves to be kind and wave, others just stare. It’s windy, a bit humid but finally not so hot. We have to wait for other police officers who will hopefully escort us to Quetta and then we’re done with this racing escort through Baluchistan. Well, almost. We haven’t reached the border of the province yet so until then we will be escorted. Not sure where we’ll sleep tonight but hopefully it’s a bit better than where we were yesterday. At least it’s a lot less hot here which makes us so grateful! Finally…
And the people… oh my are they photogenic! Wow! The women so colourfully clothed with beautiful brown skin. And the men with big beards, sometimes beautifully white, turbans and beautiful eyes. My photographers heart is often skipping a beat. But as we are following our escort we have no time to stop and shoot, so moving on… We’ll be in Pakistan for a month so enough time to photograph 😉
100 meters further, no 15km, we stop again at a military stop. We wait for the police to pick us up to go to Quetta. It’s getting late already (19:00) but the police apparently is in no hurry because it takes ages for them to come. In the meantime we are the attraction at the military stop. Everyone stares at us, waves, shouts whatever. And the military has a lot of fun with it. They carry G3 guns and are mainly searching for people of the BLA terrorist group.
While they poke with their stick in all the baggage of trucks and busses that pass we are waiting not so patiently for our escort to arrive. I see so many different people crossing and scenes that I have never seen. Children in a cage in the back of a car with a lock on it. People in, on top and at the back of the minivan (incl luggage and drums). And again the most colourful trucks packed with so much stuff it could fill a second truck.
I’m not sure if the police and army are great friends. It seems the army is greater in force and number. And the military men surely feel powerful. Not because they are anything more than the kind police officer that’s escorting us but because they have a bigger gun. That’s it with men. It needs to be big, bigger, biggest. Only then can they feel invincible. Makes me laugh and cry at the same time. It’s this behaviour that’s ruining the world. Whether it’s bar fights, wars or climate change. Men won’t change… it’s in their nature. But alright. Back to our stop! It’s a circus, really. And I’m starting to believe we are the main act. But for us it’s them. The busses, trucks, cars, motorcycles. All filled with people, too many people, and overloaded with stuff. It’s good that there are no bridges here.
Waiting is exhausting and we still have 140km to go. It’s gonna be driving at night and we’re already tired of the not so great sleep we had last night. It’s my turn to drive and my eyes are drying up already. Wish they’ll be here soon. It’s not that they didn’t know we are coming. We started at 8 this morning and apparently it was the plan all along to get us to Quetta as quick as possible. Well, let’s get on with it then, right?
And there we went. Escorted by the police. The police going as quick as they can and quicker than we can go (now they’re in a hurry?(. Suddenly we left the desert plain and entered the mountains. Bend after bend we race after the police and lots of other traffic. It is difficult to follow but we manage until the Levies take over again. In an estafette like race they switched 3, 4, 5 times. Quick and smooth. One car stops and another takes over. It feels like we’re in a movie scene. Police taking over the levies and vice versa and then even the anti terrorist force takes over and brings us another 30 km’s further. This is how far Marco Polo travelled on camel everyday. 30 to 40km’s. We are now nearing the 635km’s in one day. What a change, what a difference, what a benefit we have thanks to Karl Benz, who invented the first motorwagon.
Last etappe: Quetta
We are almost there. 50km’s and we are in Quetta, but… there is a but. A man on a bike is also moving to Quetta but apparently there is no car for him. They ask us if we can take him but as much as we want to we can’t. A bike, the traveller and a guard, extra in Alexine isn’t working. We have to take care of our lady and with the racing that we are doing. Besides; we have no place for a bike and two men.
So there we are, stranded in the middle of … I have no idea. It’s pitch black around us.
Yuri makes a guard come in our van so at least we can continue the trip to Quetta. Oh yeah! Sorry for the other traveller but Alexine goes first and driving the winding roads and hilly countryside with so much extra weight isn’t happening. So there we go, guard in the van, Kalashnikov present and on our way to Quetta. It’s 21:15h and we’ve been on the road for 13 hours now.
Again, 30km’s before Quetta we get another guard in Alexine. And suddenly she doesn’t want to start. She doesn’t give an inch, nothing. But luckily the Levies are with a lot of guys and they give her a push. The last bit of the journey. We are all very tired. Yuri, me and of course Alexine. So it’s really time to end this day, to give Alexine and our own eyes a rest.
At our next and hopefully last estafette location we are reunited with the traveller on bike. Apparently he wanted to go from Pakistan to Iran but had no authority to cycle this road, did it anyway and was caught after 100km’s. A very stupid thing to do in our opinion.
And then there’s the last km’s into Quetta, we have to drive behind traveller on his bike!!!! We’ve been on the road for 14,5 hours now and have to drive at cycle speed because there is no car to escort the traveller on bike back to Quetta! Of course that makes us a bit pissed. We want to go to our resting place as soon as possible. But let’s not complain, we’re almost there and we will probably – whatever the heat – sleep very well tonight!
In the end he just had to cycle a short while. We were waited for by the police not to far ahead. They are taking over from the Levies in Quetta. Now the police estafette starts. For very short trips the police escorts us to the next and the next and the next. It seems endless, just like the dusty streets of Quetta. It’s late but life is bustling here. Everywhere are food stalls, half built buildings and people. People in cars, on bikes, motorcycles, tuctucs. Trucks squeezing themselves in the tiniest empty spots. And us following the police close by. The police are with more men than the Levies. Two gunned men are standing on the back of the car, always watching us and everyone around us. One is signalling every motorcycle to move away from our car, hand on the gun always ready to shoot.
It feels like ages before we drive up to the hotel where the tourist on bike (by now we know he’s from Russia) is staying. We don’t want to stay here as we heard you can also stay at the police station in your van and that’s exactly what we want to do. So after dropping off the Russian we change officers one last time and end up at the police station.
We’re here. At the police station of Quetta in bed. After 16 hours we made it, not in 3 or 2 days as we were told but in 1 day. Wow! Good for us because we only have one month in Pakistan, but it was a tough day. No more words now, I’m going to sleep. Bye!
Love, Milene & Yuri
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Finally we arrived in Quetta, but the police operation didn’t stop. Getting money from the ATM, getting a SIMcard, even doing groceries we do accompanied by the police.
I’m sitting in Alexine while I feel someone stares at me. It’s the Afghan man who has been imprisoned for no reason clear to me and I dare not to ask.
This got to be the longest border crossing we’ve ever experienced. And hopefully will in the future. 12 hours in and still waiting…