I had the CJ-7 prepared for the trip. We had modified the suspension to handle the weight of the luggage on the trail – there were two shocks on each side in the rear to handle the extra load and dampen the movement as the vehicle plied the gravel roads. Stabilizing arms also braced the rear differential to check the kick from the sudden thrust of power when engaged in 4×4. The arms prevent the rear springs from distorting under power and keep the pinion end of the differential pointed in the right direction. Finally, the GPS was installed on the dash to monitor the route. The other Jeeps with us were Dr Rehman Baig’s recently refurbished M38, and Salman’s newly acquired M170 field ambulance (military version of the long wheelbase CJ-6) with plenty of space for luggage and tents. Taimur was in his heavily modified CJ-7, while Hamid brought his Cherokee. Khalid and Abid followed in the white M38 and Bronco respectively, while Ahmad drove his CJ-7.
We drove out of the city through the SITE area and stopped at the PSO petrol pump on the road to Hub. This petrol pump has served us many times in the past and it is our routine stop to fill up with diesel before leaving Karachi. All fuel tanks and emergency jerry cans were topped up with diesel. We were finally out on the road and feeling elated and in high spirits at the thought of the days ahead.
The road meanders and winds through the hills to reach the town of Hub. During the past ten or twelve years Hub has developed from a small settlement on the banks of the Hub river into bustling industrial town We stopped along the main market to buy some stores, apples and guavas, while the boys ordered tea. I bought some biscuits and cold drinks for the drive ahead as it would be past midnight by the time we would reach Khuzdar.
The road past Hub travels close to the shoreline and cascades up and down the slopes of the hills to reach the Somiani bay. The ocean suddenly comes into view from the top of a hill as the road descends down through a gorge; the vast expanse of rippling turquoise waters on the coast is a beautiful sight. The road then passes along the base of the hills with the ocean on the left and hills on the right till it reaches the town of Winder. Named after the Winder Nala, which is a storm water drain, the town has sprung up along the main road with a few tea stalls and grocery stores. Leading out of Winder, the road stays flat and skims the desert for the next fifty kilometers. Sand dunes occasionally engulf the road as the fine sand is carried by the gusts of wind which travel with some speed from the ocean side towards the land. The road passes through the sandy desert till it reaches the Zero Point where the fork to the left carries on to the town of Lyari and the Maini Hor, onwards to the Hingol river and through the Buzzy pass before it reaches Ormara, while the road straight on leads to Uthal.
We carried on straight towards Uthal. The quality of the road improves dramatically a few kilometers from here. The FWO deserves a special mention here for the remarkable job they have done of improving the roads of the country. Uthal is a small town scattered along the main road with a few cafes and a bazaar. The bazaar itself is quite neat and clean. The coastguard check post is twenty kilometers past the city limits and all vehicles returning to Karachi from upcountry are checked here, mostly for smuggled goods from Iran and Afghanistan. The road is a true highway from here to Bela. The sun started to set as we crossed the check post and in no time the darkness descended upon us. No street lamps, just the headlights of the jeep and the occasional lights of oncoming vehicles, I lay on my back in the cool breeze in the open jeep, listening to the hum of the engine gazing at the stars in the darkness. The vehicles sped down the open road and in no time we were at the PSO pump on the out skirts of Bela filling up with diesel again.
We stopped at the caf� on the right past the new bridge over the Bela storm water drain. This was the same place my dad lost his Rolex watch in 1980 when on the way back from Khuzdar. Back in those days there was no bridge and he was trapped by the sudden rise in the water level following rains up in the hills. The Jeep Wagoneer he was driving had got stuck on the bank as it climbed in the mucky waters and he lost the watch when he slipped while pushing the vehicle up the bank. We now crossed the rivulet by this newly constructed bridge. Mind you there have been a few bridges which the storm waters have taken with them from this very place in the past. Hopefully this one will last a while. The sudden rise in the water level and the tremendous torrent of water during the rainy seasons is a dreadful sight. Many lives have been lost trying to cross these rivulets during the rainy season.
After eating some food we set off towards Khuzdar. We had been warned of the treacherous conditions on this road by our team members who had traveled to Khuzdar earlier. The road is being repaired and along many stretches the side edges are rough and steep with ditches to further complicate matters. This stretch of about one hundred and twenty kilometers is bad and we had to drive very carefully. Luckily there was not much traffic at night.
We crossed the mountainous terrain and reached the town of Wad at about ten PM. We all wanted a bit of rest so we stopped at the roadside caf� and ordered tea. The night was getting chilly as the temperature had dropped considerably. The road from Wad to Khuzdar is very good and the remaining hundred kilometers passed without much ado. The weather had taken a sudden change and the temperature had further fallen as we reached the outskirts of Khuzdar, the wind chill factor in the open jeep further brings the temperature down. As we drove up to the bridge past the Kalat Scouts Fort the familiar sight of Taimur’s Jeep’s headlights greeted us. They had driven out of Khuzdar to greet us. We drove up to the BNR rest house and the whole group was waiting on the verandah to receive us. The jeeps were quickly unpacked as it was past midnight. We all bundled up in the room adjacent to the rest house and in no time were fast asleep. Tomorrow would be a long drive.