The Hamoon-e-Mashkhel is a large expanse of desert located on the lower western border of Pakistan extending into Iran. We had been warned about the tough conditions and the need to be together all throughout the drive as one’s sense of direction in such situations can falter with disastrous results. Four people had lost their lives here recently and their remains were found within four to five kilometers of their vehicle. They had lost their way amongst the many tracks that lead nowhere in the desert. Eventually they ran out of fuel and in a desperate attempt to save their lives, they had tried to walk to the nearest habitation. There are also patches of quick sand in the desert and one has to be wary of these black holes. Staying on the tracks and not wandering off the main track was the advice given to us by the young Captain at the base.
We loaded the vehicles and were ready to leave by mid morning. One by one the team rolled out. Hamid as usual was following in the rear, and about two kilometers out of town I radioed in to check about the guide, but there was no response for a while. It turned out we had left the guide back at the barracks and Hamid had to drive back to pick him up. Salman and Yaseen were in the lead and the guide was shifted to their vehicle. Yaseen gets exema from the UV rays and he is apt at covering himself up with the ajrak whenever we are out in the sun and in the open Jeep. He looked like an outlaw with his headgear as he led the team towards Lad Gasht. The desert had a weird eerie feeling about it, no vegetation, no hills, and no humps or bumps just strange black gravel covering a white sandy bed, for miles on end all around. There was a hue of a hazy shadow of hills to the right in the far distance; it could have been a mirage. There were many tracks leading into the desert and the guide picked the one with white stone markings along the sides, they are supposed to depict the main track. The smooth gravel track carried on and on, rough and uneven in some places and as smooth as silk in others. The corrugated surface in some places made driving difficult but we’ve driven on so many gravel tracks now that it’s second nature to maintain a speed at which the tires skim across the top rather than follow the irregularities in the surface. According to the GPS reading we were driving on the border with Iran and the mountainous hue was well inside Iranian territory.
The desert is never ending, a vast expanse all around. At one stage I saw a cloud of dust rising in the horizon in fact it was as if somebody was drawing a line of dust in the distance sketching it at terrific speed. I could not fathom the reason, and then all of a sudden I saw a shining object the size of a marble traveling at high speed across the desert kicking up a storm of dust in its tracks. I took my binoculars out to investigate. The speeding marble was a red vehicle traveling at high speed across the desert towards Nok Kundi. We saw a few more of these speeding dust storms as we traveled towards the border town of Lad Gasht; we probably looked the same to them.
Soon we reached the small settlement of the Kharan Rifles, and drove through the town of Lad Gasht, which is an oasis with abundant date palms. The sand is soft and white with no gravel for a distance and it is hard to determine which track leads out of the town, though it was no problem for our guide. As we left the post and the town towards Mashkhel, Dr Baig and a few following him missed the track and we could see them driving in the wrong direction. Their radio was not responding, so they had obviously shut it down to conserve the batteries. I drove my Jeep up a high sand dune in a desperate attempt to attract his attention, when the suddenly the radio crackled and we were in business. They sheepishly turned towards us and we headed off toward Mashkhel.
The sandy bed of the track changes to a raised gravel road which has been carefully constructed by bulldozers. It is a straight stretch which carries off into the horizon. The guide informed us that we were only a few kilometers from the Iranian border and the locals cross over freely from both sides as it is a friendly country and everyone has relatives on both sides. It was getting hot in the afternoon sun and we had traveled about a hundred kilometers in the desert so far still another thirty kilometers to go before we reach our next camping stop.