Crossing the border to Pakistan
Shiraz (Iran) to Islamabad (Pakistan), Jul-28-07 / Aug-08-07
The last one and a half week were mainly dedicated to travelling a lot of kilometres. At this moment, we are a little bit tired of bussing. The kilometres are the result of our decision to travel quickly through Pakistan, because of the unrest in some parts of the country. The unrest is started after the clearance of the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) by the Pakistan security forces, approximately six weeks ago. The Red Mosque, bulwark of the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan, was occupied by the fundamentalist a week earlier. These people want to introduce the Islamic legislation (sharia) in Pakistan, like the way it is in Iran. Since the clearance of the mosque (more than 100 people died), there is unrest in some parts of the country, especially in the provinces that border Afghanistan (Northwest provinces; they have some kind of independency where Pakistan law is not in force). But you never know, the unrest can spread over the country quickly. A couple of weeks ago a suicide bomber killed more than 20 people on the Juma market in Islamabad (close to the Red Mosque), just after the Red Mosque was reopened again.

We did a lot of thinking last week about our journey to Pakistan. Shall we go or not? And if we go, shall we travel quickly through the country, or do we ignore the unrest? We never considered the last option. In some parts of the country it is really dangerous and going there would be very unwise. But we considered the first two options. Skipping Pakistan was no option at the end, because it meant that we should travel all the way back to Tehran. And besides that, the plane tickets from Tehran to India are very expensive. So, we decided to travel through Pakistan as soon as possible. Out initial plan was to arrange the Indian visa in Zahedan (Iran), so we could avoid a trip to Islamabad (where the bombing took place). However, because of the holiday of the Indian Consul in Zahedan, we were not able to arrange the visa in Zahedan. We decided to leave Iran the same day and to travel to Islamabad to arrange the visa over there. See the article “From Zahedan to Quetta” for more info about the bus journey to Quetta. We have to arrange the Indian visa before Monday August 13th, because that is the day that our Pakistan visa will expire.

Dining in style in Yazd for Euro 3,- per person .
We are fed up with the fact that we can not visit Pakistan the way we planned. We planned to stay two months in this country, and it looks like we are going to stay less than two weeks. The highlight of our journey would definitely be the trekking to the K2-basecamp that we planned for the end of August. But we also looked forward to the visit to Peshawar, the Northwest Province (Chitral area) and the Hindukush range. Besides that, the visit to the north of Pakistan would also be our escape from the unbearable heat in the other parts of the country. But ok, we can not change the situation at this moment and we will definitely come back in the future to see the country as we like to see it.

We are at this moment in Islamabad, waiting for the result of our visa application at the Indian embassy. We travelled from Iran to Quetta in Pakistan (bus journey of 12 hours) and stayed in Quetta two full days to recover from the night bus. Afterwards, we travelled directly to Islamabad, which was another bus journey of 22 hours. We arrived on Sunday, perfectly on time to apply for the visa, Monday in the morning. The most embassies in Islamabad are located in the heavily guarded Diplomatic Enclave, just outside the centre of the city. To visit one of the embassies in the enclave, you first have to go to a special bus station nearby. They frisk you before you can enter the bus station. In the bus station are different counters where you can buy the bus ticket for the embassy you want to visit. The embassies of the UK and India are by far the most popular ones. Be prepared to queue for some time. After you bought the ticket, you have to queue again for the bus. After being searched again, you enter the bus that will take you to the enclave. The bus will drop you at the embassy of your choice. And of course, there you have to queue again!

Beautiful painted trucks near Quetta .
The Indian embassy opens at 10.00 am, but we decided to leave our hotel already at 06.00 am. We heard about the enormous queues and wanted to be sure that we are not the last in the queue. The embassy only operates till noon, and if you are not helped at the time they close, you are fucked. In that case you have to come back again the next day, and try again. We arrive at the embassy at 07.30 am (two and a half hours before they open), and we are not the first. More strongly, the queue was already 50 people long. But we are lucky. It seems that there is a special queue for business people, medical urgencies, diplomats, and thank god, foreigners! The counter still opens only at 10.00 am, but the queue is short. At 11.00 am we are back in the city centre again. We asked the Indian embassy to issue the visa as soon as possible. Normally it will take a week, but they promised us to see if they can issue the visa already this Thursday (after 4 days). In that case we do not have to wait till Monday, August 13th, the day that our Pakistan visa expires. But all depends on the Indian embassy in The Netherlands who have to give their approval for the visa. The only thing we can do right now is to wait.

When we looked for our hotel in Islamabad, we took the safety issue in consideration. We wanted to be away as far as possible from the Red Mosque, but also as close as possible to the Diplomatic enclave. We searched the Internet (map on the website of the BBC) and decided to take a hotel in the G-6 section. The security measures in this section are heavy. When we walked to the PTDC-office yesterday (tourist information), we saw a heavy armed military check post close to the hotel. At the PTDC we heard why. These military check post is part of the cordon that the security forces have placed around the Red Mosque. It seems that our hotel is located 200 metres from the Red Mosque! This means that our research for the best place to stay in Islamabad was not that good, or that the map on the BBC website was not correct. We thought about changing hotels, but decided not to do so. The Red Mosque is completely closed and we have given the address of our present hotel to the Indian embassy, just in case they need more info to issue the visa. It is Wednesday today, so tomorrow we know if we get our visa this week. If we get it, we will be on our way to India on Friday!


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