Journal - Napló

Days 190-194. Quetta (Pakistan by train 1.)

Posted on April 23, 2010 at 6:40 AM

Days 190-191.


   We reached the border before noon. Up to that there were four of us on the train: a gentleman from Pakistan, a civilian guard with a machine gun, who was responsible for our security, and us two. On the Pakistani side of the border several others joined ”us”, seeing how packed the buses were.

   Among others, an older gentleman from Lahore, who personified all the knowledge and peace of the six dan taek-wondo master, the first coach of the national kick-box team of Pakistan and the manager of the wu-shu team. Xavier, the young Swiss electric engineer was there as well; he was en route to India, so as to help the investment of an organization as a volunteer. Originally he would have travelled by bus, but the 20 dollar receipt plus what he would have had to pay for the mandatory guard assigned to protect him, changed his decision.

   We were “fleeting” with an average speed of 20-30 kilometers per hour, along barren hills and mountains.  The monotony of the desert was interrupted only occasionally by the colorful-clothed inhabitants of “sand-villages”, who often waved to the voyagers of the post train that only went through their settlement once in two weeks. In many of these villages giant chimneys strive towards the sky, hinting at the main income source of the locals: burning bricks. At night the temperature got quite chilly, but the gentleman responsible for the train’s reaching of the destination gave us some blankets at the beginning of the voyage. Our level of gratitude increased in proportion with the decrease of temperature.


   Travelling from country to country you encounter so much benevolence that after a while it becomes one of the main train of thought how, when coming back home, one can “return” this to other voyagers, to people who need it or people, who do not.


Days 192-194. Quetta


   After Iran and then the long train ride in the desert, we suddenly arrived in a new world. And this did not only manifest itself in cultural differences. The terror bombings of the recent years rooted out tourism from Pakistan. Not completely of course, which was indicated by the regulations serving the safety of the tourists. We couldn’t sleep in any place of accomodation, only in the hotels that had a special permit for this and were guarded (and thus, were more expensive, of course). We got a room early afternoon. We took our time, as we were weary of the long train ride. We all took a shower and so we only set out at 5 p.m. in order to get something to eat in the city. The receptionist stopped us. He informed the police about our leaving the hotel and then he informed us that we are only allowed to stay outside the hotel until 6 p.m. We thanked him for only letting us know this late and then we hit the streets.

   When you encounter left-hand traffic for the first time in nearly 30 years, and this happens in the streets of a Pakistani metropolis, crowded with donkey and horse carts, zigzagging rikshas and motorbikes, and you are in a hurry as well…well, this looked like a serious challenge. We also wanted to exchange or withdraw money. Finally, we ate at the hotel.


   The day after Xavier took the train and Joe and I decided to stay on for one more day. Joe exchanged money and then we made a walk, looking for local clothing. At road junctions, but even on roofs, machine gun soldiers were standing behind sand bag-protected positions, to keep a watchful eye on most of the city.


   Joe, after a lengthy choosing of clothes and bargaining, became the owner of a complete new set of clothes.  This way our attempt to be assimilated by the crowd, was a total faliure. Strangers had already been addressing us, but my Norwegian partner dressed in local cloths was even more conspicuous. His success was undeniable.


   Unfortunately the money exchange man also made a success, albeit it wasn’t a lasting one. When Joe wanted to pay for the cloths, a serious amount was missing from his wallet. The cloths merchant explained us the trick they might have used at the money exchange booth.    

   Following his advice we returned to the exchange booth. Joe didn’t even have to say „…or else we will go to the police.” He only showed the ”hand trick” with which the gentleman has recently made some extra income and he got back the missing amoung immediately. There was no denial and no apology. It was a wordless ”I tried it, you got me, now here is your money back.” In a way it is fair.

    We got acquainted with another gentleman as well, who turned out to be a member of the local Christian colony. After a short riksha ride we arrived in a small temple and were treated to a spontaneous concert of the young and old masters of the traditional dhlak and tabla drums, accompanied by Joe’s guitar. After that they invited us for a tea to the house of the religious leader of the small colony, who was also the political leader of the Christians in Beludzhistan. Our conversation about the lack of education and about Obama, who is more and more following the path of Bush, had to be finished too early because of the ”6 p.m. rule”.

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   The next morning two armed policemen escorted us to the train station. One of them walked with us, and the other followed us on a motorbike. They waited for us to take a seat on the packed train and then they handed over the duty to the armed guards of the compartment.

   We were ahead of another ca. 27 hour train ride. Most of the people hid under their blankets already before the train set off and were sleeping in various positions. You could see empty spots only rarely on the floor, because there were so many packages, but people were still trying to get through. The guards checked the compartments regularly, the merchants, who entered at the stations, tumbling from one door to the other, offered tea, hot food or cloths to the travellers. With Joe we took turns in sleeping and reading. Not far away from us, there was a kind gentleman, who worked as a cook. He prepared a huge amount of food for the trip and he offered us some, as well.

   We travelled mostly at night, in darkness, that is, but at one or two stations we were able to get a glimpse of ”life”. Like when the railway employee connected the cables of a new locomotive with insulating tape, when we saw the ticket inspector running after his own train, or the wider, ”inhabited” tunnels, the heaps of fire wood that was piled up beside the tracks as baggage, the kids, who were living in poverty but were enthusiastically flying a kite or playing cricket, or the occasional, oafish camel, who popped up among sheep and goat herds.

Translated by Szegi



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Categories: English, Pakistan

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1 Comment

Reply kaska
4:55 PM on May 11, 2010 
"the ticket inspector running after his own train" definitely rules...:)