An escorte through Pakistan

12 November - Taftan to Lahore, Pakistan - Janneke

I remember telling Tim ‘What the fck are we doing here?! It is dark, around 7 pm, I am sitting on a scruffy bed and know I will crawl up in my sleeping bag later on after a cold shower. Arriving in a new country always comes with new manners and country rules, but this one beats them all. Pakistan is a former British colony and inherited the left side driving and milky tea. For sure it forgot about etiquette and hygienic standards. On top of that, add some possible Taliban fighters and past terrorist attacks.

However, it’s remarkable how easy humans adapt to new situations. The first time we saw a police man with an AK47 automatic rifle we shivered and got a bit scared. After 3 days in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, the sight of a gun feels almost normal and when a place to sleep isn’t smelling like an old sewer, we’ll take it.

In the past, Baluchistan used to be an area where quite a few violent incidents occurred, which affected both tourists as well as local inhabitants. An armed police escort is now mandatory from the Iranian border until you leave the province (some 650+ kilometers). The police are called ‘Levies’ in this region. Interestingly, the Levies were created by the British Empire when Pakistan was a part of British India. Nobody can tell us where the name ‘Levies’ comes from though, not even the Levies themselves! 95% of the Baluchistan province is controlled by the Levies, whereas 5% is controlled by the local police. The levies are said to be extremely efficient, controlling a much larger area than the police with a significantly smaller budget.

We passed 15 or so checkpoints in two days, swapped escorts even more times than that. All administration takes place in written ledgers, yet the operation went extremely smooth. The most surprising thing is that this all is for free, unbelievable! We tried to show our gratitude by handing out cigarettes and chocolate cookies. During the time of escorts we are not allowed to be on our own. A guarded police men even walks me to the bathroom or joins me when I want to buy some water. The first days we feel like a prisoner. Leaving the hotel wasn’t an option either, we were totally dependent on the Paki police. So, like everyone else in this country, you start to make your way around the system. Asking the lobby boy to do some groceries, overtaking the escort for our own safety and let them follow us. Or bribe the escort with a cigarette and a selfie in exchange for some tea.

After the most wanted city of Quetta, we thought to be free riders again. Unfortunately, according to the police it is safer for our own good to follow the escorts until we reach Lahore. Sadly, this is another 1200 km. We tried to find out the reasoning since we left the dangerous Baluchistan Province already. The only summary we can make of it, is that the escort is for 10% terrorism and 90% road safety.

In the more quiet Baluchistan it was quite ok to follow slow escorts on sometimes only a 125cc motorbike, or a slow suv because it simply could not drive any faster. The daily average of 300 km takes us 8 hours. When we arrive in the populated areas of Pakistan after Quetta, the escorts turn out to be rather scary. Yes, the traffic is dangerous, however riding below 50km/h on a highway will actually increase our chance of accidents and that riding 90km/h in villages isn’t actually the safest option either is hard for them to understand. Explaining over and over again that we are riding motorbikes and not bumper cars which sometimes require other solutions is hard to imagine for the police men. So the escort has good means to it, but for motorbikers it is not particularly safer.

During this week we asked ourselves multiple times why we do this. By the time we reach Lahore, we have run out of bribe cigarettes and cookies, our driving style is adapted to the locals and we realise that we didn’t want to miss this adventure at all!