14/1/92

Tuesday. It was cold and raining in Besham, the clouds hugging the tops of the mountains towering above the village. We stayed in our rooms during the morning because Linda was suffering from a bad headache.

About 1 p.m. Magnus and I went out for a short walk. It was still threatening rain, but only a few spots blew in on the cold wind coming down the valley. We walked down to the Indus River and stood at the edge of the swiftly-flowing green water, then we climbed up to the village again. 

On the terrace behind the village, a small water race ran through the wheatfields and fell down a wooden sluice to a mill where two boys were milling grain. They got quite a fright to see us, but once they were over their initial shock they let us take some photographs of the interior of the mill. Two giant circular millstones, side-by-side and driven from below by the water, were turning the grain, which trickled from hoppers down through holes in the centre of the millstones, into flour. The flour coated everything inside the mill house, and it turned the mill boy’s hair white.

Back down in Besham, we had chai and one of the restaurants then retired back to the International Hotel.¹

¹The International Hotel was run by an affable Pakistani we nicknamed Mr No Problem. Whenever we needed something – hot water, chai, a tasty meat curry (we still talk about Mr No Problem’s curries 30 years later) – he would waggle his head in that typically Indian/Pakistani way, and say “no problem.”

12/1/92

SUNDAY. I got up at around 8 a.m. and got the fire going and boiled up some water with the stove for chai. Two English lads, Tim and Jonathan, had arrived during the night so the 5 of us sat around the fire warming up and drinking tea for an hour or so.

It was a bright sunny day so we set off to walk down to the Indian Embassy in the Diplomatic Enclave [Islamabad is Pakistan’s purpose-built capital city and the embassies of most countries are to be found there], about 20 minutes walk away. 

There was a large, ragged assembly of people at the visa section – a small window set into the rear wall of the large Embassy compound – but being white has its advantages and we were let in ahead of the rabble and went through the typically Indian bureaucratic process.

Once that was out of the way, we caught a taxi to find the Thai Embassy when Magnus wanted to go, but we couldn’t find it so we ended it ended up wandering around in a shopping centre.

I went to a clinic to try and get some cortisone cream for the rash I had developed on my arms in Nairobi. The resident doctor said I had a food allergy, probably from the chicken and asparagus roll I ate one day in Nairobi and recommended an injection. He gave me 10 mils of something with vitamin C intravenously and after only a few hours the rash began to clear up.

That night at camp we cooked up a meal of veggies and rice on the fire and with our gas cookers.

11/1/92

We caught a taxi over to the bus station and got a bus to Rawalpindi. The 6-hour trip was reasonably comfortable, albeit a touch nerve-wracking as the driver pulled off some amazingly stupid passing manoeuvers. We stop for a snack after about 3 hours at a roadside café, where the doorman sported a huge handlebar moustache, a thick beard, turban and an antique shotgun.

We reached ‘Pindi at 3PM and on the way down the street to catch a bus to Islamabad, Magnus¹ and I each bought a Dopi, a traditional Pakistani hat, for RS 20 each.

The bus was RS 60 for each and took about 20 minutes to get to Islamabad. We walked down to the local campground and set up camp. There was a handful of other tourists, mainly French, and they had a good fire going, so we warmed ourselves for a while before we went to bed.

¹Magnus was a Swedish traveller who we had met in the Lahore hostel. He was to be our travelling companion for the next few weeks.

The campsite at Islamabad, L-R: Local man, French traveller, Tim, Magnus.

9/1/92-10/1/92

The hostel was full of an interesting mixture of travellers, and it was clean, warm and comfy, so we didn’t do too much. I posted Linda’s Kenyan bag home, and we went to the museum, and for a look at Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim’s Gun”…but most of the time we stayed inside at the hostel and kept warm.

8/1/92

The interminably long trip stretched through the morning, with several long stops, during which Mike [an extremely tall Australian] and I wandered around outside beside the tracks, and played a few kicks of football with a tightly rolled up sleeping bag.

We finally reached Lahore at 2PM and fought our way out of the station into a tuk-tuk which “TUK” us around to the Salvation Army Hostel where we parked up in style with comfy beds and hot, hot showers.

7/1/92

. We caught the train from the Cant Railway Station and left Karachi at 10:30 a.m. precisely.

On the platform at the Cantt Railway Station, Karachi.

The train was shabby and crowded, and we were crammed into economy class amongst men, women, children and beggars of all sizes and disabilities.

The trip north was interesting, and most of the Pakistanis on the train went out of their way to be friendly to us by offering us food and giving up their seats for us. The cooks in the dining car even offered Mike and me a blow on their hash pipe!

It became very cold as afternoon drew into evening, and as night fell we all separated to find places to sleep. I ended up on the floor at the back of the carriage, where a howling wind and the clattering roar of the wheels on the tracks came in through the broken door.

The Karachi-Lahore Express.

6/1/92

We all met downstairs at 10:30 and set off to find the tourist office and then the Railways Superintendent’s office. Most of the day was gone by the time we had obtained our tourist certificates1, reduction certificates, and tickets on the train to Lahore for the following day. 

We ended up wandering around in the crowded streets of Lee Market with spice vendors rubbed shoulders with ironmongers competing for sales with grocers, herbalist tea sellers and a myriad of other merchants, beggars and wallahs.

Eventually, we found our way out to the main street and caught a taxi back to the Empress Market where Linda got a tailor to take up the legs of her outfit.

1Foreigners could get special rates for train and bus fares by applying for these certificates.

5/1/92

We stopped over in Muscat capital of Oman for 7 hours which we spent in the well-equipped transit lounge. On the flight up from Nairobi, I had discovered my calculator to be broken, so at one of the duty-free shops, I bought another one for 2 quid and paid for it with a US $5 note, getting the change in Omani rials so we had some money to buy some food in the restaurant. The flight to Karachi was short – only 1 hour and 10 minutes – and we touched down in Western Asia at 4:30 a.m.

Karachi. We queued up at immigration with about 200 Pakistanis and we were the only white faces there. Customs proved to be a formality and a man in the queue with us advised us to wait until daylight before we went into the city. So after we cleared customs we caught a service bus up to the Domestic Terminal and sat in the restaurant drinking tea until dawn arrived, cold and red, in the east.

It took quite a bit of searching to find a way into town but we met three other travellers – one Aussie and two Swedes – who had also just arrived, so the five of us took a taxi into the centre of Karachi and found a hotel.

We booked into the Hotel Poonam and crashed into bed for four hours, then set off to explore the nearby market. It was good to be in a truly hassle-free bazaar, and we wandered through the narrow, crowded streets filled with a colourful array of goods. Linda bought a woman’s outfit for 350 rupees and I bought a salwar chemise¹ for 180 rupees.

Back at the hotel we changed into our Pakistani wear and went out for a meal at a local restaurant then returned to our room for a 14-hour sleep.

¹The salwar chemise is the traditional dress of both men and women in Pakistan and India. It consists of a long shirt worn over baggy long pants.

30/12/91-4/1/92

And so we came to the end of our time in Africa. Back in Harare, we celebrated New Year with Scotty and Devi at a dance held in the ZANU-PF headquarters, and on New Year’s Day, we went for a picnic with Devi’s relations out to a lake near the city. 

And it was on our way home from there that we saw the final wonder of all our African travels: three Rhino, a male and a female with a youngster. The male walked across the road in front of us, turned and glared malevolently at us from behind the impressive protection of his horn. An amazing site to end our African adventures with. 

A 4-hour flight from Zimbabwe put us back in Nairobi and we stayed the night at the New Kenya Lodge. There was no water, we were overcharged, and the manager had become an arsehole, so we left the next morning and moved out to Mrs Roche’s Camp on the outskirts of the city. 

By a stroke of luck, we got our flight to Karachi moved forward from Thursday the 9th to Saturday the 4th, so at 1 p.m. on that day, we lifted off the runway aboard a brand new Gulf Airlines Boeing 767-300, bound for Oman and Pakistan. 

The dark continent fell away below us: a vast patchwork of brown and green beneath the scattered clouds, and soon was lost under 30,000 ft of hazy air.

***** 

On the ground far below, a herd-boy boy listened to the distant roar of a jet engine from far away. He gazed skyward for a moment, squinting his eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun beating down between the clouds, catching a glimpse of light reflected off steel wings. His attention was drawn back to his cattle by the bleat of a calf, momentarily separated from its mother. Thoughts of the aircraft disappeared from his mind, and he returned to the thought that an occupied the minds of his people for thousands of years…survival.