There were so many of us that it was nearly impossible to accommodate all of us in the rest house, so the few of us who could not find beds slept in the drawing room on the carpet. We did not mind sleeping in the drawing room of the rest house, it was big and the sleeping bags were very comfortable.
The clatter of the plates being laid out for us for breakfast woke me up the next morning. Some of us were already up and getting ready for breakfast. Fried eggs, omelets, toast, ‘parathas’ and ‘khagena’ with hot tea, one couldn’t ask for more in this way out place. By the time we were all ready to leave it was mid-afternoon and we headed out towards town where Dr Baig had the electric cable welded and the Bronco had the tire repaired. Finally after filling the fuel tanks with more diesel and getting everyone to assemble together, we rolled out of Kharan by about twelve noon. The lead vehicle was the guide Hilux generously offered to us by Mr Nousherwani. It was instructed to take us to the main road leading to Dalbadin and then to return home. The many dirt tracks that lead out into the desert all look the same to the newcomer. The locals know their way about these tracks like the back of there hands and without them one would be lost. While we were still waiting for Salman to return from town where he was having the Jeep ‘fixed’, Wazir Ahmad, also affectionately known as ‘Papu Sahib’ to us, sped away as he does to gain time on the gravel tracks since he can’t drive fast on the tarmac surface. Just as we were leaving PK radioed to us that he had forgotten to fill the Jeep up with diesel in all the commotion and the only pump was back in town. There was one just outside town but it was unreliable, so we drove out as PK filled up with diesel. What followed was a comedic episode when PK discovered neither he nor the pump cashier had enough change to complete the transaction. The cashier got on a bicycle and followed PK while he drove out meet us so he could get some change to pay the cashier. This incident would provide comic relief for the next few days as we would taunt and torment him for delaying us even further.
We finally left Kharan towards Dalbadin via Phadak. The terrain was flat for a while with the hills on both sides of the valley. Dry river beds follow the track and in some places plantations of palms emerge out of the valley as the track travels up and down the dry river beds. The gravel track veers left a few kilometers out of Kharan toward the Chagi Mountains. We stopped for all of us to gather before turning off the track as the left turn was rather inconspicuous and would be easily missed. While we waited, I decided to check out the fan belt on my CJ-7, which had started squeaking at high RPM as we negotiated the bends. Constant driving in the heat had stretched the rubber belt out, but the bracket was already at full extension with no more give to stretch the belt further. It would need replacing at our next stop. Hopefully, it would not break during the high rev four wheeling that was yet to come. Since a diesel engine needs hardly any electricity once it is running, we deemed it safe to disconnect the alternator and run straight off the battery in order to ease load on the belt.
The track led us to the base of the mountain through some rough driving conditions. The gravel dust was suffocating at times as the desert duelers blew clouds of it as one jeep after the other cut through the powdery dust. The hills were an awesome sight as white dust mingled with dark black rock cut into exquisite shapes by the weather over the millennia. The track starts to climb and then cuts through a small gorge before it enters an opening where the last levies post is located. The bare black rock juts out into the brilliant blue sky, with a few shrubs and ferns, or ‘pish’ as the locals call them, scattered around. We made another pit stop here for all us to group up again as the next fifty kilometers are through a pass which is notorious for harboring bandits.
The drive through the pass was breathtaking; this is the ultimate rush for someone who loves four wheeling and the outdoors. The pass climbs up in hairpin bends, starting out as gentle loops and turning into treacherous switchbacks. The track carries on as the tires claw away for traction on the loose gravel and slate. The hillside hugs the gravel track so tightly in some places that the sides of the vehicles scrape the edges in an attempt to stay on the track. Cascading water from seasonal rains has etched exotic shapes into these barren slopes, and over time they have come together to make a scenic painting of images on a mountain canvas. Huge rock surfaces jut out onto the side of the track and then veer away; it would be impossible to drive through here in the rainy season. Stacks of twigs stuck halfway up the trees are a testament to the flash floods that thunder through these ravines and valleys.
The drive is steep and dangerous; it reaches the crest of the mountain and then the valley on the other side comes into view. The road descends down mountain in a series of switchbacks and levels out at the base of the mountain. A few kilometers from here is the main road where we turned left and carried on towards Dalbadin. By three in the afternoon we crossed the post near Phadak where PK enquired from the officer in command if we could make use of the company?s ground to have lunch. A tube well was pumping out cool clean water which flowed to the plantations nearby. We spread out the green sheet under the shade of the poplar trees here and lunch was served. The sound of the water rumbling past, the cool breeze under the shade of the trees and the hot food was a relaxing bonus experience.
Three thirty was the deadline for departure as our vehicles rolled out of the post one by one and turned right towards Dalbadin. The road to Dalbadin is in OK condition; it is narrow and one has to let the tires on the left side off the road to let oncoming traffic pass. The terrain is flat with a gentle downhill gradient, with mountains along the left as big black projections piercing the blue sky, and the valley on the right. The yellow desert sand stretches out as far as the eye can see, occasionally disrupted by black rocks erupting out of the yellow sand, seemingly floating like chunks of a glacier in the ocean.
The road veers right as we drive towards Iran. The sandy desert tries to reclaim the road as the yellow sand encroaches onto the road in many places, making driving conditions treacherous. The tires drag the vehicle as soon as they go off-road and the pressure is transmitted to the steering wheel. Controlling these 4×4s off road is no mean feat. The railroad tracks suddenly come into view as they cross the road and the humps on either side are precariously placed. Some of the jeeps had trouble negotiating them and were jolted as they crossed the track. These tracks lead on to Taftan, which is our border town with Iran, and then into the Iranian territory. The view of the two metal rails cutting through the sands of the desert, disappearing into the horizon on either side of the road is quite picturesque; the mirage on the horizon shimmers in the heat as the tracks appear to dance on the dunes.
We had been driving for an hour and had to wait for the rest of the ‘paltan’ to arrive. Taimur aired up the rear wheel as it was leaking slowly and one can take such chances with tubeless tires. Once everybody regrouped we drove up to Dalbadin and met up with Papu Sahib, whose Jeep was tucked away in one of the garages. The front axle bearing had snapped and he had taken advantage of his early arrival by engaging the local mechanic to install a new bearing while the rest of us arrived. This was an ideal opportunity to have the fan belt replaced while we waited for the rest. I wanted to keep one as spare if it was needed.
It was starting to turn dark by the time everyone was ready to leave. Hamid wanted to fill the Cherokee up with petrol as we drove out, so we stopped at the last pump at the edge of the town. Choudhry Hanif, who had flown over from Lahore to be with us on this trip, offered to help. They placed the metal funnel and were about to pour the petrol when a static spark from the rubbing of the funnel and the filler neck on the Cherokee’s fuel tank made a loud bang. Luckily there was no petrol being poured at the time otherwise it would have been disastrous.
Taimur, unaware that we were waiting for Hamid to fill up, had assumed that we were all on the road and driving towards Nok Kundi. He had to track back and was not amused at the delay. The road from Dalbadin to Nok Kundi has been made by the Iranians and it is in very good condition, similar to the roads made by the FWO in Pakistan. The drive was uneventful and we reached Nok Kundi by eight at night. The Major and his colleagues were already waiting for us; they had the new rooms opened for us as well as the house in the adjacent yard to accommodate the twenty seven of us. Hamid had wandered off to the nearby caf� and ordered a dinner of Iranian ‘lobia’ and ‘tandoory roti’, but both the items turned out to be past their prime and we had to suffice with simple roti and tea for dinner, which was good enough. After deliberations with Choudhry Hanif, it was decided to pay the hotel owner only what was deserved. The weather in Noh Kundi was a lot milder than Khuzdar or Kharan. We slept in the commandant’s room on the floor in our sleeping bags while Dr Baig and Moazam Mirza snored the night through in the luxury of the double bed.