Journey to Quetta: The road less travelled

Published: November 3, 2012
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The breeze felt soothing to the soul; like a dervish whirling and singing in his low. PHOTO: ASIF NAWAZ

At 5:00am, my mother woke me up for our long awaited trip to Quetta. Although I have been to Quetta many times, this time around I woke up to a heightened level of excitement. I now owned a Nikon D7000 and could not wait to take pictures of the scenic route to Quetta. We began our adventure at 6:00am.

By 7:00am, we had reached Daraban. A gust of fresh air and a soundless environment greeted us ─ no traffic signals, no pollution, no horns. It was only us, the sheer silent beauty of nature and an escort that accompanied us for 10 hours of our journey from then on. Soon enough we were welcomed by Koh-e-Suleman ─ a mountain that is flat on the top, as if the peak has been slit by a mighty sword.

When we reached Darazinda, we saw heaps of mud on the road because of the frequent landslides that take place in the area. Unfortunately, these landslides have proven fatal to many of the people who live in the surrounding areas. What is most unsettling is that you never know when a big rock is going to roll down the mountain and land right up on top of you. On the other hand, however, there is fresh water running from the mountains making a vision so surreal that no pictures or words could ever do justice to its beauty.

At 9:30am, we had reached Dhana Sar. They say the sun never shines in Dhana Sar because the mountains are so huge, and roads built are underneath the mountain, so you can barely ever get a clear view of the sun shining.

This small village in Balochistan is famous for its dangerous, yet beautiful mountain pass. This pass was made in the 40s by the British. Crossing it is extremely difficult because on the right side of the road you have a 200 feet fall, and the danger of rocks tumbling falling from atop lurks on your left hand side.

As we crossed those trench mountains, it was great to see some land. This time, we were in Silyaza, a small village near Zhob. The breeze felt incredibly soothing to the soul; like a dervish whirling and singing.

At this point, taken aback with the beauty that my eyes beheld, I said to my mother,

“When I become a billionaire, I will definitely build a house here.”

Mother replied, laughing,

“That’s what you said in 2003, 2006 and 2009, too.”

I’ve been to many places but these dry lands captured my heart and soul. These scenic views have been captured and imprinted in mind so vividly that if I were to close my eyes, I can still see the picturesque vista again.

At 11:00am, we were in Zhob. This place was once famously known as the land of cats because at Zhob airport, there would be very large cats waiting for the passengers to arrive so somebody could feed them. These disciplined felines would sit patiently on the luggage trolleys.

Sadly, they are no longer there.

We made a short stop outside Zhob city as we had to stretch our legs after the long, bumpy ride. We badly needed some hot tea to revitalise our sense but, nevertheless, continued our journey because we wanted to reach Quetta before 5:00pm.

We were back on the road and passed by lovely small villages as we left Zhob. My driver, who was sick of the frequent shutter sounds of my camera and my leaning down on him each time I would take a snap, finally spoke,

“Yahan ke rehne walon ne is chataan ka kuch naam rakha hai, lekin mujhe yad nahi.”

(The locals have given this hill a name, but I cannot recall the name.)

That was hint enough for me to realise that my driver was in much need of a conversation. He started telling me about how it used to take 15 to 20 hours to reach Quetta on this very route back in his day. Now this journey only takes a mere ten hours.

As hours passed, we crossed villages and towns, but the beauty was constant throughout. Simple cottages, houses made of mud, children running around and people sitting in groups and enjoying Sulemani chai (local black tea) showed how lively the people here were. It was as if they hadn’t a worry in the world. Even without modern day facilities, they seemed to be the happiest people on earth.

After crossing Muslim Bagh, seeing a black top road all the way to Quetta was a delight. All praise to the Balochistan government for constructing and renewing this road less travelled.

We made another stop at 2:00pm. Let me share a tip with you here; never stop at this part of your route to buy food. For travellers, restaurant owners have special rates; a mere plate of daal costs approximately Rs320.

The people of Balochistan and KPK are very fond of mutton. There are many things Pashtuns are famous for, but the ones that top the list are hospitality, bravery and the love for eating meat. When it comes to eating meat, no one can beat us.

We crossed Qilla Saifullah city, stopped at a petrol station, said our afternoon prayers, and ordered food.

We decided to have tea in the family room of a small hotel. When we came out, we were amazed to see the sky outside; pitch dark and thundering.

“Are we still in the same place?” I asked my mother, surprised.

The waiter at the restaurant told us that the rain can never be a predicted guest here.

“It’s as if the clouds are playing hide and seek with us all the time,” he said.

I was glad because I love the scent of the wet earth right after rain.

I have been working in Dubai for the last three years and it rarely rains there and this was my first rain in Pakistan after one long year, and I can assure you, it couldn’t have been any better than this. I inhaled deeply, aiming to take in as much of the fresh fragrance of rain as I could. The sweet smell of my motherland was overwhelming.

We were back on the road; disposable cups of tea in our hands, sitting cosily in our car seats listening to the melodious raindrops as they hit the windscreen ─ a sound I felt came directly from paradise.

People ran around to find shelter as children enjoyed the rain like free birds. These children truly looked like angels disguised as humans ─ laughing, cheering, screaming at the top of their lungs, and splashing water on one another. Watching them have so much fun was like therapy to the soul. For a moment, I felt a pang of desire to join them, but it was time to pursue the rest of our journey.

We reached Kaan Mitarzai by 3:15pm. It was once the highest railway station, above seal-level, in the world. This place faces some of Balochistan’s chilliest dry winters.

“You can encounter many problems with your vehicle because of the winter. Your car may not start in the morning or the water in the radiator may freeze up,” said Iqbal, my driver.

I could see farms and gardens from far across. Many travellers stop and pick fresh fruit off the trees and the locals don’t mind at all.

We came to Ziarat point from where we took off towards Kuchlak. Another tip; whenever you are crossing Kuchlak, do not forget to buy fruit from here. Fruits all across Pakistan are delivered from Kuchlak.

At exactly 4:15am, a “Welcome to Quetta” sign greeted us. We had finally reached our destination. And that’s when it started, my endless narration to my cousins of our breathtakingly adventurous journey there. They, on the other hand, were very used to travelling on this road and so their reaction was a mere,

“Been there, done that. What’s new?”

Pakistan is an amazing piece of land and most of us are unaware of the beauty that lies within our country. These are untold stories of my motherland, secrets hidden deep within its mountain moulds, but open for all to see and discover. Having written this post, I feel like I have fulfilled some of my obligation as a Pakistani- letting all of you know about the beauties of our motherland.

I suggest you take your backpacks and find a new horizon. While writing about my travelling experience with full focus, I was able to relive the beautiful memories of my journey to Quetta and I hope you were able to picture it too.

Where we choose Spain, Switzerland or Mauritius as our vacationing spots, we have forgotten that our own land is a chunk of paradise.

As I write, I sit in my house in the UAE reminiscing about the ten hours that breathed life into me.

What we all need is to find something that can make us feel alive again. I found moments of pure life; have you found yours?

PHOTOS: ASIF NAWAZ

M Asif Nawaz

M Asif Nawaz

Currently working as a project manager in Sharjah, Asif loves travelling and photography.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.