15.03.2008 - 15.03.2008
Our drive from Quetta to Sukkur/Sukkar would be taking us through the Balochistan Pass. It was amazing driving through what felt like a geography lesson come to life. I got to see, and fully appreciate, the impact of water (from a trickle to a full flowing river) on the landscape. The first few sightings of greenery looked radioactive in comparison to the varying tones of sand and beige, which our eyes had become used to. At the beginning of the pass, the road is flanked by sheer-faced rock. Heavily weathered from the extremes of temperature; indicated by the 'crazy paving' pattern of cracks. The striations and metamorphosis of the rock over time is mapped through the varying direction of the sediment.
At several points we see men leading their caravans of camel and donkeys. It feels as if we are gaining an insight into times past. Before vehicular transport, camels were the main form of transport in these areas. As they were so important to the people who owned them, they were decorated richly with rugs and reflective materials in a display of pride. This custom is how many Pakistani people came to decorate their commercial vehicles. The perserverance of the Pakistani people is evident even in their attitude to what would be condemned in Europe - a concrete bridge, broken, and on the verge of collapse, thanks to a flood. It is still in use, as we witness from the number of motorbikes and pedestrians crossing it. They look on bemused at us as we rush to take photos. Lunch gives us our first tasting of Pakistan's roadside 'fastfood', curried lentils and naan bread. For someone who does not like spicy food, it is not as spicy as I had feared. We collect them in their steel dishes, and lay back (or sat) on what can only be described as a bed frames with woven strapping cris-crossed to support our weight. We not only attract the attention of the entire fly population, but also that of the locals. Again their are many photos of us hungrily eating up a delicious and cheap meal. The majority of the men, for it is only men that we see, are wearing long tunics over loose trousers, with leather sandels. This is what most men in Pakistan wear.
There are several stretches of the journey where there is no road; only a lumpy, hole-ridden track. It makes for a rough, but fascinating drive. It does leave one wishing that the seats were padded better. Child labour is another aspect of life along we see. There are, literally, hundreds of children passing in and out of the open mine shafts we pass by. It makes me think twice about my physical discomfort on the bus. Even the heavy machinery is as heavily decorated as the Pakistani trucks. The next reststop is in Sabi, the hottest inhabited place in the world. It reaches, on average, 56/57 degrees celcius in the summer. It is regarded as Pakistan's "cradle of civilisation", as there are archaeological remains surrounding this district dating from circa 12,000 BC.
Once in Sukkur we are taken on a walking tour of the bridges. The roads to our route are narrow and incredibly uneven, making us ground the bus a couple of times. There are many carpenters and boat builders at work along these streets. Boats, about 20 feet long, are being built before our eyes with basic tools and lighting. We reach the bridges just in time for the sunset. For 'security' reasons, we are warned by the bridge guards that we can only take photos of the sun, and not of the bridge itself. The locals are very excited to see us. There are many horns honked, and much waving, smiling, and handshakes are exchanged. A large group of children run alongside the bus the whole way back to the hotel. The entire street is also lined with people as word has spread fast of our arrival.
A wedding is in progress in our hotel that night. In Pakistan arranged marriages are the norm. Marriage is seen as a joining of two families rather than for love. Love is seen as the by-product of a successfuly arranged marriage; as it is up to the parents to find suitable matches. The betrothed do not see each other, usually, until the ceremony itself. Even though I though Irish weddings were long celebrations, in the Muslim marriages in Pakistan there are four parties; two hosted, and paid for by each family. It is at the third party that the wedding ceremony takes place. There are male and female areas. It female area of the ceremony to which I was invited that night. The bride was guided in by her attendees with what looked like an extremely ornate red and gold 'rug' over her head. She will remain covered, and will not see her groom until he is beside her. To say I felt underdressed is a major understatement. The family were obviously very wealthy to hold such a large wedding. All of the female relatives had intricate henna designs on their hands. They were all modestly, yet beautifuly presented, in clothes of rich and vibrant colours. Gold glistened on every limb. Myself, and the other three girls who were invited, were a novelty at the wedding. Even though we were invited to stay for the meal we left before the actual ceremony itself, as we felt we were taking away attention from the bride, on what we saw as her much-anticipated event. They gave us wedding favours (dates, almonds, and sweets) as we gave them our best wishes. The huge vats in which the food for the party was being cooked were visible from the balconies that night, thanks in part to the powercuts making the fires underneath them visible in the night air. These powercuts are regular throughout the country when the low waterlevels cause a drain on the hydroelectric stations. However, the times of the impending cuts are broadcast to the population and printed daily in the papers, allowing them to be prepared. The eventfulness of the night was capped with me finding my bed was ridden with bedbugs. I was thankful for having brought my thermarest!