It has been an interesting few weeks, during which I’ve scarcely had chance to draw breath, despite spending precious little time on my bicycle.
Southern Iran proved to have one omnipresent feature which enchanted me at first, but soon began to lose its appeal: sand. As I rode through most of Anatolian Turkey, and later northern Iran, I would have described the landscape around me as desert. It was not until I saw proper desert in southern Iran, though, that I realised the mistake in my premature classification. In southern Iran I saw sand dunes and camels. My tent would collapse in the night; sand doing little to secure tent-pegs against the strong desert winds. And I discovered that dragging my fully laden bike through deep, soft sand in search of a camping spot out of sight of the road, is far more difficult than riding up even the steepest of hills, or into the strongest of headwinds. As I passed into Pakistan and into the Indian Sub-Continent, I was disappointed to see the desert continue.
I was not as disappointed by this, though, as I was by the news, upon entering Pakistan, that I would not be able to ride my bike at all in Western Pakistan, due to the instability of the security situation. As tempting as it was to tweak the nose of fear, drop an ice cube down the vest of danger and international terrorism, and high-tail it into the desert on my bike regardless of such warnings, the reality was that I simply was not allowed. Policemen roamed everywhere, lovingly clutching their Kalashnikov machine guns, waiting for an excuse to put them to use. In the hills, if the warnings were to be believed, terrorists, bandits, and all variety of ghouls, monsters and unpleasantness lay in wait for hapless western tourists such as myself, sharpening their disemboweling cutlasses with glee. So the police ordered me to take a bus.
But the bus, on the eve of the Muslim festival Eid, were fully booked for three or four days. Fortuitously enough, I was able to hitch a ride with an Australian couple, who were driving their Toyota Landcruiser from Cape Town to India, and just happened to be crossing the border at the same time as me. We lashed my bike onto the bull-bars, threw my bags in the back, and I shared the front passenger seat with a policeman with a long beard, only three teeth, and a single shot rifle. I sincerely hoped that, should we come across any hostile characters on the road, they would only attack one at a time.
For various reasons, too dull and plentiful to go into any detail here, we were stuck in the city of Quetta, the capital of the western Baluchistan region, over the Eid holidays, after which the police were still adamant that I could not ride my bike eastwards. The security situation and endless, inefficient and utterly illogical bureaucracy began to get on top of me, so I ended up loading my bike onto a train to Lahore. I wanted to get into eastern Pakistan, where I would once more be free to travel where, how and as I pleased. And 26 hours on the train proved to be an interesting experience. A small community quickly established itself on the train, and I learnt much of Pakistani culture and way of life, whilst watching the scenery slowly grow lush and green through the window, as we entered the Punjab region.
On my first night in Lahore, the owner of the hotel I was staying at told me that he was going to sacrifice a goat – would I like to join the feast? I only hoped that the poor blighter was not being sacrificed on my account. Needless to say, the goat had the last laugh; I was laid low the whole next day with chronic food poisoning; I can’t ever remember feeling as ill. Indeed, I didn’t quite feel my usual self for another two or three days.
I now find myself in Islamabad, where I’m waiting upon the Indian High Commission to process my visa application. All being well, I should be rolling across my final frontier, into India, around this time next week. India is so close I can almost smell it (though that could be my crusty, unwashed socks, festering in the corner of the room), though there is still about 1500 miles to go until Calcutta, and the end of my road.
With India now within sight, I would also like to make a point of thanking everyone who has sponsored one of my chosen charities so far. Your donations and messages of support have meant a huge amount, and have, at times, lifted my spirits as nothing else could. For those who haven’t yet done so, I’m sure you’re just waiting until I reach India, before you show your generosity and support for my extensive efforts!