Pakistan, an odd way to freedom

We were about to enter Pakistan. It was going to be a mixture of surviving traffic, waiting, friendly people, nice food and the lack of freedom. 

We left in Zahedan (Iran) at 06:10 am, so we would be on time to go to Dalbandin (Pakistan) the same day. We were at the border around 07:20 am Iran time, but it is 1,5 hours later in Pakistan. Normally you can go to Dalbandin if you arrive before 9:00 am. And the checks at he border were rather quick, but it was already 9:45 am Pakistani time when everything was done. The police officer told us, that it was too late to go to Dalbandin. I think we got summertime information, because we came just one hour short, meaning that we had a mandatory day of rest in the Taftan police station. 

After a few hours Olivier, a French backpacker, and in the afternoon Veronika, a Russian motorbiker, arrived. We could only leave the police station once to get our carnets de passages filled in and stamped. During the day a police officer picked up lunch and dinner for us at the nearby bazar. 

Next morning we should be ready at 8am and we were. We left at 8:30 and first we went to the petrol station fuel bottles collection point 😁. Of course with the escort of a levies car. (Levies are a paramilitary gendarmerie who will escort us in the province of Balochistan, at least 900 km) 

Olivier sat in the levies car or levies pickup truck usually with 2 guys, armed with kalashnikovs. And we, Veronika, Daniëlle and I followed the levies on our motorbikes. When we reached a checkpoint we all had to fill in our name, passport number, country, visa number, numberplate number (except Olivier of course). Usually we had to fill in the data ourselves. And after the paperwork we had to wait for the next escort. 

It was going to be a long day. Only 300 km, but with all the levie changes and paperwork it would take at least 6 or 7 hours under normal circumstances. But it wasn’t going to be an ordinary day. First one of escort trucks got a flat tire. That only took a few minutes since the next levie car was nearby and he picked us up and within 5 minutes we could continue. A few hours later we had to cross a section of 10 m of loose sand. Daniëlle and I saw the pick up truck slowing down and crossing the loose sand. We both hit the brakes immediately and stopped in time. Veronika didn’t stop, but only slowed down and started to cross the loose sand. 

Daniëlle shouted in the intercom:

   “I hope she will make it!”

   “F@€& she is going to fall!”

   “Thank god she fell in the loose sand.”

Veronika had some bruises and her bike only collected some sand. And as a result of the sand collection, the ignition key wouldn’t turn anymore. We could remove the key in the ON-position, but couldn’t turn the key to OFF. Also after a lot of WD40 it still wouldn’t turn. But we needed to turn the ignition off and on again to reset the crash indication of the motorbike which was activated during the crash. With a crash indication the engine doesn’t get any fuel, as a safety precaution. No turning ignition key, so we had to disconnect the battery, which was located under the tank. We only had to unscrew 2 bolts from the tank, disconnect the battery and reconnect the battery. The bike was reset and we could start it right away. We lost some time, but no more than 20 minutes. So far so good.

At the end of the day, we only had to wait for the last levie escort to Dalbandin. At the levie station 3 guys invited us to drink a cup of tea. We only had to wait for 30 minutes, but in the end it became clear that last levie escort had some problems with the car. Finally after 4 hours the last levie escort arrived, but the battery of Veronikas bike was already dead by that time, because we still couldn’t turn the ignition key. But starting the motorbike by pushing and releasing the clutch was rather easy. A four cylinder motorbike also has its advantages 😉 Veronika rides a Yamaha Fazer.

For the last part to Dalbandin we left at 19:00 when it was already dark. We arrived at 20:30 at the hotel. We disconnected the battery of Veronikas bike before it went dead again, we ate together and spoke to Jonas, a German guy who was travelling back home. After dinner we all wanted to go to bed. We would get up early the next day and see if we could install a switch to bypass the non-turning key problem on Veronikas motorbike. 

The next day we woke up at 7:00 and wanted to install the switch, which Jonas gave to Veronika. But when we connected the battery an error code E51 appeared in the display. The starter motor was running, but the engine did not start. We looked into the manual, but only errorcode E1 until E50, hmmmm. Maybe google knows the answer, so we googled E51:

“E51 is a fault on the motor circuit. Most probably you could get away with replacing the preverbial carbon brushes but that would be a semi temporary fix. A new motor would be the permanent repair but they can be quite expensive.” 

Okay, we were out of quick options. It was already 9:00 and no garage in Dalbandin, so the best option was to get the motorbike to Quetta, the next town on our route. There should be a garage that would be able to repair Veronikas motorbike.

So we lifted Veronikas motorbike and loaded it into the back of the first levies pickup truck. That day we had like 15-20 levie changes and therefore also 15-20 movements of the motorbike from one pickup truck to the next pickup truck. The first 2 movements were difficult, but then we got the hang of it and in the end we could move the motorbike within 5-10 minutes. 

At the end of the day, it was already dark again, just before we would enter Quetta, the last pickup truck didn’t have enough space to transport the motorbike of Veronika. So the policemen scanned the oncoming traffic and picked out a minivan, which was empty. The driver was willing to help us out and we loaded Veronikas motorbike into his minivan. Then we were escorted to the Bloomberg hotel, the worst hotel for foreign tourists in Quetta. But we didn’t want to sleep there and after 10 minutes of arguing the escort brought us to the police station, where we were welcomed by Ruben and Joëlle, two other motorbikers, who were already there. The policemen at the station were very friendly. They even shared their food with us.

And just as we wanted to go to sleep in the room of the policemen, we were invited for a meeting with the chief of the police station. It was a nice and friendly meeting with milktea of course. And at the end of the meeting we understood each other better. Nice!

Our next day in Quetta we needed to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC), otherwise we couldn’t continue our journey. We also wanted to buy simcards and we still had to fix Veronikas motorbike.

First the NOC, of course with a police escort.

Like Felix, a fellow motorbiker, said: “The only thing that sucks is that you are not even allowed to go to the supermarket on the other side of the street without an escort. For everything you do you get a Toyota Hilux with a bunch of guys that all carry ak47s driving you around and following you even in the supermarket. On the other side you can experience how Pablo Escobar probably felt all the time.”

The NOC was a lot of paperwork, but a few hours later we all had our NOC for free. Next stop the simcard shop. And when you arrive at the simcard shop with a police escort, you can skip the line and you will be helped first. On the way back to the police station we bought some groceries, so we could make our own dinner in the evening.

Back at the police station we started repairing Veronikas motorbike. First we checked the fuses, but they were all good. Then we wanted to open the diagnostic menu, so we could get more detailed information about the error code. But we tried a lot of tricks, but we couldn’t open the diagnostic mode/menu on Veronikas motorbike. An interested policeman came along and he asked if he could help. He gave us some suggestions, which we tried, but we couldn’t fix the problem. Then he suggested that he would call his friend, who appeared to be a mechanic who repairs big motorbikes in Pakistan. A car was send to pick up his friend. And that guy was very good. He listened to us what the problem was. Asked for the key, put it into the ignition switch, reconnected the battery and the engine immediately started. WTF, was this guy a magician??? Yes, he had magic hands, because he also fixed the ignition switch, direction indicator switch and brake light within 10 minutes with lots of WD40. Apparently we had forgotten to put the key into the ignition switch, because we didn’t need to turn a key, because the ignition switch was already on ON. But the key needs to be in (or at least near) the ignition switch, because there is a chip inside the key. Stupid that we missed that the solution of the main problem was the key itself. It would have saved us a lot of time yesterday, but now we were able to leave Quetta with all the motorbikes running properly.

Leaving Quetta the next day was rather quick. Still with an escort we fueled up our tanks and we were good to go to Jacobabad. After an hour Veronika suddenly crashed in a slight left turn. The road itself was like ice because of dust, so Daniëlle couldn’t stop in time or ride around Veronikas crashed bike, so Daniëlle hit Veronikas bike and also crashed. Veronika kept asking us: “What just happened?”  It must have been some sand or a liquid.

Veronika had a little abrasion and Daniëlle had no injuries. The bike of Daniëlle had no damages, but the tank of Veronikas bike was damaged, but no fuel was leaking, so we could continue to Jacobabad.

We had the usual levie changes during the day, but somewhere in the afternoon we thought that we had another levie change, but they told us that we could go. Finally we were levie-free and it lasted for 15 minutes …

… because Veronika crashed again. And when she crashed, we were near two police officers who stood on the side of the road. They helped to stop the oncoming traffic and helped to put the bike back on its wheels. But they also called the police commander of the region. And when he heard of the accident, he wanted to see us in person, to make sure that we were okay, since he was responsible for us. So he sent a police escort to us and we had to ride back to him. It was only a 5 minute ride and I spoke to the police commander for about 10 minutes. He was very kind and he made sure that we were okay. He even gave us his telephone number in case we would encounter any other problems. And we could continue without escort, which was nice.

Just before Jacobabad we were stopped by a police checkpoint. They had to escort us to the hotel. And just 5 km before the hotel, Daniëlles motorbike ran out of fuel in the middle of a small town. So within seconds there was a huge crowd who all wanted to see the foreign tourists fueling up their tanks. 

We could stay at the hotel of our own choice and we were allowed to eat outside, which was nice. Food was also nice.

Next day we had to hurry up, because there was supposed to be a security issue. But nobody could tell us what the issue was. But at least we could leave Jacobabad rather quickly. Even the levie/police car changes were quick. We didn’t have to stop. The next car would already drive in front of us when they saw us coming. And when we were far enough from Jacobabad, we were levie / police free again. That felt good. We could stop again to take a picture and even better, we had lunch at McDonald’s in a relaxed atmosphere with western music in the background.

Later that day when we arrived in the hotel at Zahir Pir, the manager had to call the police, meaning that within half an hour an escort arrived at the hotel. We weren’t allowed to eat outside. We only could order dinner and they would bring it to our room. The escort stayed all night in the hotel. 

And the cherry on the pie, the next morning they had to escort us for the first 250km. After Khanewal we were free again. We immediately took a left turn and wanted ride on the M5, the 6 lanes motorway to Lahore, but the driveway to the M5 was still under construction. Bummer, but we continued to the E4, an expressway to Lahore, but the construction didn’t even start yet. We continued to the M4, but then it was already late, so we decided to go to a nearby hotel, but the hotel that we found in our navigation system did not exist. So we went back to the M4. The driveway was open and also the motorway itself was open. But it was getting dark already. We accidently missed the exit towards Lahore, couldn’t get off the highway for 20km and in pitch dark we ended up in hotel which was quite okay. And the hotel manager did not call the police, so we could eat our diner outside without a policeman guarding us.

The next day was going to be an easy ride. At least that is what we thought. We would take the M4, take a left to the M3. Only 275km on a smooth motorway. But we had to change our plan very soon. We were stopped by the highway patrol at the beginning of the M3. Apparently we needed a permit to ride on the M3. We asked if they would make an exception, but they weren’t allowed to do so. So we had to turn on the M3 and ride back on the wrong side of the road to the M4. It was only 500m and there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but still. Back on the M4, we had to make a detour of 15 km to get of the M4 and another 35km to go to the N5, the national highway to Lahore, which will go through every city along the way. Again we had lunch at McDonald’s and today was the first day without any police escort. So we could stop to take a picture.

Entering Lahore was quite easy without any traffic jams.

And after all those days of riding and most of those days with police escort, we desperately needed a day of rest. We waved Veronika goodbye and did almost nothing that day.

The next day we did some sightseeing in Lahore, but entering the centre of Lahore involved also passing police checkpoints again. No stopping for the locals, only for foreigners. Every time 15 minutes of delay. No much fun for us. So we ended the sightseeing after a few hours and went back to hotel area. And to end the day in a positive way, we had dinner at Subway. Just a normal sandwich with a salad and a coke. 

The last day in Lahore was for maintenance of the motorbikes.

First we changed the engine oil and the sparkplugs.

Then we went to a motorbike workshop who is specialized in big bikes.

Daniëlle had some problems with her bike, when she entered a town at the end of the day. The engine would suddenly stop running. We thought it might be a cooling problem or fuel problem. The guy understood our problem and systematically analyzed the problem. It should be the motor of the fuel pump. And he had a spare one, so he could replace it.

He also replaced the popnails of the exhaust and straightened one of our handguards.

All in all a useful day for the motorbikes. Ready to go to India.

Getting out of Lahore was easy. No police escort, no police checkpoint, just a 25 km ride to the border. When we were at the border, we were the only ones crossing the border. A few days later we would come back to the bordercrossing to see the flag lowering ceremony. But we will write about the extraordinary and surreal ceremony in the next blog. 

A rather smooth bordercrossing with a lot of counters and paperwork, but most of the paperwork was done by the customs officers. Luggage check was easy.

YES, we survived Pakistan and were FREE again to go to Amritsar in India.

More pictures?

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