Taking advantage of the four off days at office because of two national holidays, it was time for me to hit the roads again. With the aim of traveling to some remote areas and visiting the places that I have not been to before, I planned a unique program this time and named it as “4 days – 4 provinces”. As the name indicated, plan was to hit all of the four provinces of Pakistan in four days with the same old reliable companions – My Backpack and restless soul!
Journey started on Thursday evening, 20th of March 2008 from the Pirwadhai bus stationof Rawalpindi and Kohat was the first destination. With the mess on roads, because of upcoming long weekend (12th Rabi-ul-Awwal and then the weekend), it took not less than an hour just to hit the Fatehjang road after crossing IJPrincipal and Peshawar roads. Once the traffic mess got cleared, van driver ferociously tried to compensate with a dangerously alarming speed accompanied by loud pushto music. It was around midnight, when I was knocking the door of a friend in Kohat who was waiting for me in Kohat University hostel.
With night spent at Kohat, journey began early the next morning with DIKhan as the target. I was predicting that it will take the route from Karak and Bannu not knowing that a shorter route exists via Lachi and Peezu pass. With that route taken, Bannu got skipped and it was around mid-noon when I was entering the city. Security seemed pretty high alert there with police covering almost every main road and even some of the streets. I could not judge whether it’s the suicide bombing fear or the 12th Rabi-ul-Awwal that has made DIkhan seem like that. Later I came to the conclusion that it’s the day that is making it so. After some local sightseeing, I took van for the city of Zhob in Baluchistan. The road to Zhob crosses the Suleiman mountain range while going through some captivating landscape of barren mountains. Takht-e-suleiman is the highest peak of this range and stands at 3900m.
Zhob smells like a pretty much Afghan city in terms of its traditions and inhabitants which is probably due to its close proximity with Afghanistan and the tribal areas. Wana is just 3 hours away from there. My Initial plan was to spend the night at Loralai at another friend’s place but after spending more than two hours at the van stop, waiting desperately for passengers to arrive and fill the van, I decided that more wait is useless. I looked for a cheap hotel and found a reasonable musafir-khana just near the adda with a rate of a little over hundred rupees per night. Later I came to know that its not just Zhob, in every part of Baluchistan, if you want to travel to some other city, you better do it before noon. Once that time is over, chances to get transport to the next station become very low.
Moazzin was just finished the call for Fajir prayers when someone in the street started shouting Quetta quetta quetta that got me awake completely and I thought that as time to leave. I offered the prayer at mosque before they could do jamaat fearing that van might not leave. And I was a big fool. The guy kept shouting for Quetta for another hour where one more competitor joined him and it was around seven in the morning when the van finally left the city. A direct road could take one to Quetta in 6 hours but as I had to pay visit to both Loralai and Ziarat too, I dropped off at Qila – Saifullah. It was a small city with again a completely Afghan look. I took the van to Loralai from there which is the second biggest city of Baluchistan after Quetta. A friend was waiting there for me with whom I explored whole city on a motor-bike. I did lunch at his killi (village) which has typical style of fort like houses and big rooms. My plan was to spend this night at Ziarat and I found out that no transport goes there directly. The available transport can only take one to Sanjavi, a name that I was hearing for the first time. It is like halfway to Ziarat. Disappointing news at reaching Sanjavi was that there is no further transport available for Ziarat as of typical Baluchistan towns. However after wandering around Sanjavi for few hours, a driver volunteered to take the passengers who were 4 in number to Ziarat provided the cost of diesel is met. Four of us agreed to pay double of the normal fare and thus a sanjavi night was spared and I reached Ziarat just before the sunset.
Ziarat is a famous for its pleasant weather and the juniper trees which are the second largest collection of its kind in the world. Ziarat is named as Ziarat because of shrine of baba kharwari that is around 8 km from the present Ziarat city. A beautiful trek goes to the shrine from some dense juniper trees and so was it done early next morning. After doing this trek , I was back to the bus stop only to find four guys from Karachi waiting like me for something that could take them to Quetta. It was a long wait for another couple of hours after which a van finally arrived and so I the capital of Baluchistan in around three hours from there. I did not want to spend too much time in the capital as have already been there a couple of times before so all I was interested in was some transport that could take me to Shikarpur or Jacobabad in Sindh. Visiting Sada-Bahar did not bring any luck as the next bus had to leave after three long hours. A rickshaw driver suggested me to try the naya-adda outside the city on the saryab road when I explained him the situation. I thanked him after reaching there as lots of vans stood there heading for Sibbi or nearby areas. I though wanted to go straight to Shikarpur but as there was no other option available, the Sibbi van driver made me sit inside promising that I will be able to take the train to Shikarpur from Sibbi well in time.
Sibbi is the last town in Baluchistan before entering into Sindh. You feel sudden change in the culture, appearances and language as Sibbi is predominantly a Baluch city while the rest of the traveled belt has been pashtun so far. It is Brahivi that is spoken here. I rushed to the railway station after van dropped me. Luckily, the train was just about to leave when I reached and so I got in. I was expecting the economy class to be very welcoming in terms of seat availability keeping in mind the railway conditions but I was wrong. I had to spend all the three and a half hours journey up to Shikarpur in the area near door which was another experience of its kind.
Shikarpur is famous for its achaar and dacoos. while the later has luckily not been encountered, achaar tasted pretty good. To search for an accommodation for night, I had o look for a reasonable hotel that I found in the main city after some struggle. It was time to explore the city and so I started wandering the roads and streets around main city Bazaar. The first difference you feel after been to Baluchistan is the activity on the streets even till ate at night. Plenty of shops were opened and people were out in groups despite the fact that it was somewhere after twelve on the clock. This is something you don’t see in Baluchistan. Other thing I couldn’t stop noticing was the obvious support for Benazir. It was certainly not very surprising after her assassination. There was no wall left without her name and most of the shops had her framed picture inside. Even at the local music store, it was bibi’s songs collection that was the hottest selling item.
After spending the night at a local hotel, I took a van for Sukkur which is at 40 minutes drive from Shikarpur. Sukkur is a densely populated city with population a mix of Urdu and Sindhi speaking people. Minarets of Masum Shah and the long railway bridge were few of the things I had noted down to visit in Sukkur and so I did. Rohri stands just after the bridge from where I took another local van that was heading towards Sadiqabad, border city of Punjab. While Sadiqabad is not that far from Rohri, it took four long hours to reach because of an essential stop at every ghot (village) along the highway. While it became annoying, it also gave a chance to see different aspects of life in the interior Sindh which is different in terms of language and dresses. That was the ending point of the journey so all I wanted was some comfortable bus that could take me directly to Islamabad. Daewoo had a service after four hours so I preferred to take Niazi one that reached back to Islamabad via RahimyarKhan and Mianwali in thirteen long hours. And so this long journey comprising of around 3000km ended with bus hitting the roads of Islamabad around 7ish on the morning of 25th of March.