Six people on adventure motorbikes set out from Islamabad for a memorable trip to Gwadar
The network of roads in any country is the backbone of its economy and tourism. We have some of the oldest known routes in the world. The caravans of traders and cavalries of many conquering armies used these routes. The farmers hauling their produce from the farm to the market, created many connections, thus creating secondary routes between town and cities. Pakistan has over 260,000 kilometres of paved roads and with the initiation of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), extension of the network of roads is under way. Among other things a new road is an opportunity for a motorbike rider to explore and experience new areas. With this in mind, an itinerary was prepared recently by a group of adventure enthusiasts in Islamabad to travel on some new roads in the province of Balochistan.
The destination this time was the Makran region. The six motorbikers with their adventure motorbikes were ready to set out. A checklist was made and circulated among the participants. It primarily consisted of personal items for the riders and technical items for the bike. The preparation required for a motorbike trip is a bit more demanding than a trip by car. Unlike the ease of tossing all essentials into a car, a motorbike trip means the space is limited and you need to travel light. The guiding rule truly is ‘less is more’, which is also the fun part of the overall concept of motorbike tourism. The way it is designed, a motorbike is more exposed to the elements of nature and the built environment, posing more stress on the machine and the rider.
The first stop was the garden city of Lahore approached through the Grand Trunk (GT) Road, one of Asia’s oldest and longest major highways. For at least 2,500 years, it has linked Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. Motorbikes are currently forbidden on motorways. Hopefully, in the near future they would be open for heavy bikes to promote motorbike tourism in the country. The night stop in Lahore after the nerve-shattering ride on the busy GT Road was much needed.
We left early next morning. Our destination was Sadiqabad, 620 kilometres away, located on the border of the Punjab and Sindh provinces. We travelled through Sahiwal, Multan, Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan. For lunch, we stopped near Bahawalpur on the banks of the now parched Sutlej River, which is the longest of the five rivers that flow through the Punjab. Our night stop was at the residential part of a Fertilizer Plant in Goth Machi. We found the plantation and green spaces created and maintained at the facility commendable.
The following day after getting our motorbikes refuelled in Goth Machi, we headed towards the Guddu Barrage, which was built in 1962 and is situated on the mighty Indus River. Before crossing the bridge over Indus, we entered the province of Sindh. Subsequently, we crossed the towns of Kashmore, Kandkot, Shikarpur and Rarto Dero. The landscape changes on the other side of Indus River and large reservoirs of water in the form of lakes are visible on the long stretch of the road, while crossing the town of Kandkot. We made a short stop on the outskirts of Ratto Dero where a dust storm was brewing up. It lasted for a while and delayed our journey. After crossing the seasonal Hamal Lake, the alluvial plains of Sindh disappeared and the semi-arid mountainous range of Balochistan appeared on the horizon. The transition between Sindh and Balochistan is quite astonishing. You can’t help but notice the sparsely populated villages of Balochistan right after the overpopulated towns of Sindh and the Punjab. The winding road over the picturesque Wangu Hills was a visual treat with hardly any traffic on the road.
We reached Khuzdar right after sunset.
The weather was still bearable considering it was the first week of March. We were wearing our safety riding gear, which can become quite uncomfortable once the temperature rises. After a hearty breakfast, we left Khuzdar for Ormara which is some 520 kilometres away. After crossing Bela and Uthal we went till the Zero Point and from there turned towards Makran Coastal Highway (MCH). Prior to the construction of the Makran Coastal Highway in 2004, the port city of Karachi was linked to the port town of Gwadar through an unpaved dirt track. The journey between Karachi and Gwadar used to take at least two days and took a heavy toll on vehicles. The Makran Coastal Highway is well maintained and in a good shape even after facing the wrath of flash floods, over the years. The traffic on this road along the coast of Arabian Sea is scant. There are a few small settlements on the road. One of these is Kund Malir, a fisherman’s village, acquiring prominence after the MCH was built. This village is also the gateway to the famous Hingol National Park, which is the largest national park in Pakistan, located in the Makran Coastal region covering an area of about 6,100 square kilometres.
After getting our motorbikes refuelled at Kund Malir, we crossed one of the hallmarks of Hingol National Park. It is a natural rock formation called the Princess of Hope. It can be seen from a distance and looks like a statue of a tall woman looking for something in the distant horizon. Going towards Gwadar via the MCH, Ormara comes midway between Karachi and Gwadar. Alexander the Great stayed here with his army for a few days on his way back from the Indus region after conquering the lands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Punjab and Sindh regions of modern day Pakistan in 400 BC. One of his generals, Ormoz, died here. The city is named after him. In Ormara, we stayed at the Jinnah Naval Base. In the evening, we took a round of the area.
The following day, our destination was the Port city of Gwadar. En route, we stopped in Pasni. The pristine beaches of Pasni offer some of the most enchanting sceneries along the Arabian Sea coast. The road from Ormara to Gwadar, with its long and straight stretches and very little traffic, is a delight to ride on. Fuel is available from the roadside gas stations but the quality is questionable. We had to add octane-booster at every fuel-up to improve the octane rating. Unfortunately, a fellow rider’s rear tire blew up and was beyond repair on the road. The bike had to be hauled to Gwadar on a pick-up and the tire was replaced there the following day. We arrived in Gwadar well in time to witness the famous sunset from the tip of the hammerhead.
A surprising fact about this area is that there is no food joint selling seafood, in spite of the fact that you are in a coastal area, where fishing is the main livelihood for the locals. There is no demand for seafood in the area and the catch is mostly transported to other regions. Most of the food outlets sell foods found in the rest of the country. It is quite common to see fish selling joints near every canal, river, lake, or water body elsewhere. A visit to the markets in Gwadar and Ormara revealed that most of the food available is smuggled from the neighbouring country.
Our next stop was Quetta which is 820 kilometres away. We crossed Khuzdar, Kalat and Mastung on the way. The semi-mountainous landscape on the way was stunning but pockets of strong crosswinds posed a big challenge. The following morning we left for Multan, 620 kilometres away via Qila Saifullah, Loralai, Fort Munro and Dera Ghazi Khan. The newly built Rakhi Gaj steel bridge in Fort Munro area is the second largest in Asia and a real visual feast. A comfortable night stop was a must after being on the road for over 12-hours and Multan was the natural choice. The last leg of the journey from Multan to Islamabad was over 500 kilometres through the plains of the Punjab. We crossed Athara Hazari, Jauharabad, Chakwal and Gujar Khan on our way and reached Islamabad without any untoward incident.
The round trip spanned over nine days. We clocked 4,400 kilometres.
The writer is a practicing architect and outdoor enthusiast who enjoys camping, hiking, off-roading and biking. He can be reached at [email protected]