We at the 4×4 Offroaders Club of Karachi are an eclectic collection of friends and their families who love the outdoors and, of course, four wheeling. The Omars take the honour of having the most 4×4s. Hamid Omar, the head of the family, is a genuine inventor. His imaginative mind works best under stress, especially when the electronics of his Jeep Cherokee play up, and for some reason they only play up in the bush. He has been an avid outdoor enthusiast since his teens, whether tackling the Indus by boat or driving and camping up in the northern areas. Sabiha Omar, his wife, is always game for the trips, organizing the luggage and the gear. Having the T-shirts and caps printed and designing the luggage for the future expeditions, she has brought that exciting look to the club. Their three children Mahera, Khalid and Abid are all born outdoor kids, Mahera has a flair for the video camera, while Khalid prefers driving and tinkering around with his Jeep. Abid is always there for the really classy shots with his still camera. Altogether they own a Jeep Cherokee, a Ford Bronco II, a modified and many times rebuilt M38, and a Kia Grand Sportage. Hamid’s younger brother, Ahmad Omar, who owns a CJ-7, is also known for filling up his jeep with so much food related stuff that one could last out in the bush for weeks.
Taimur Mirza is the back bone of the club always planning the next trip, getting people together, and making sure his Jeep runs in tip top condition. His superlative advice on the mechanics of the vehicle is unmatched and we have all benefited from the modifications he has initiated. Patricia Mirza is a jolly soul, full of enterprise and zest, who never complains even if the air-conditioning packs up in the summer heat. Tania and Sheheryar are their two children; both are gems helping out no matter what.
Salman, Imad and Yaseen are three brothers who are avid offroaders and tough as anything, especially Imad who can be found working on their Jeep any time of day or night until it is fixed and ready to go. They own two Jeeps – a CJ-7 and a long wheel base M170 field ambulance.
My wife, Susan, myself, and our three kids Nicholas, Sikander and Anika are also outdoor enthusiasts. We have a CJ-7, which has had many modifications, while the other 4×4 is a 1992 Land Cruiser Prado, which has taken us all over the country. Mausuf Ahmad, my younger brother, has accompanied us on many of our trips but has a very busy schedule; he works for BP and can seldom find time for extracurricular activities. He owns a modified Chinese military 4×4, which is as tough as they can get.
In the summer of 2001, a few of us sat around Taimur Mirza’s dining table, discussing new offroad driving routes we could explore. It had been a while since our last expedition and we were missing the rumbling sound of Desert Duelers as they skim the gravel roads of the Baluchistan desert. After a lot of discussions and rummaging through the old gazetteers written by early English explorers we managed to chart out a route which would lead us through the Baluchistan desert up to the Afghan border near the small town of Nok Kundi. We would then explore the area to locate the volcanic rock pillar that is mentioned in the gazetteers as the Koh-e-Sultan. Koh-e-Sultan is thought to be the lava pillar remaining following the disappearance of the actual volcanic mountain over the millennia.
All was planned for the 15th of November 2001, preparations were made, inquires about rest houses and hotels completed and we were all was set to go. Then came 9-11 and the world was turned topsy turvy. Everything ground to a stop. A new era had begun and nothing would ever be the same again, especially in this part of the world.
It took us a year to pluck up enough courage to think again about exploring the volcanic pillar and experience the Hamoon-e-Mashkel desert. We began preparing for the trip a few months in advance with weekly meetings to chart out the routes and discuss the food arrangements and various other details that make such expeditions a success. Mausuf Ahmad my younger brother knew the Corps Commander of Baluchistan, who was a great help. He passed information about our trip to the Rangers, Police and the Anti-Narcotic teams, and also the route we would take so that the official agencies were aware of our whereabouts. The area we would travel is still very sensitive and close to both the Afghan and Iran borders.
The week prior to our departure I fell ill. The flu I contracted was terrible; 103-degree temperature, headaches and bouts of backache made me lie motionless in bed. So many detailed preparations had gone into the planning of this trip that it could not be postponed any longer and I thought I would not be able to make it. I still however managed to pick myself up, gather the camping gear, get the food canned and gradually loaded the jeep with difficulty, hoping against hope that the flu would settle. That Thursday evening a day before our departure we drove to the Tooba army store and bought gloves and warm undergarments in case we encountered the notorious cold winds the ‘burasih’ that blow in thundering gusts through the desert bringing the temperatures close to freezing. We have had the unpleasant experience of facing the burasih on one of our previous journeys through the same area of the desert. This time we would be better prepared.
We were to leave Friday night and reach the rest house of the BNR in Bela to save us the Saturday morning rush driving through the SITE area of Karachi. Half the team members had already left on Friday afternoon as they had closed shop early. Dr Rehman Baig, Salman and I with our jeeps were to leave in the evening after finishing our outpatient clinics at the hospital. At six thirty in the evening all was going great as planned and we were ready to roll, when the right rear axleshaft of the AMC 20 differential on my CJ-7 spun free from the hub rendering the jeep crippled. Sikander my middle son was driving home with Shahid the mechanic when a sudden jerk spun the axle free as he accelerated up the Baluch Colony bypass. We were now left with the job of having the axle either replaced or repaired. A groove cut into the hub and axle shaft with a woodruff key to fit into the created socket is usually sufficient to solve the problem. It was seven thirty by the time they got the jeep to the ‘Shah Jees’ workshop in Saddar. Everything was closing down, and though it is a very big workshop, most of the workers had already left. Shahid pulled a few strings and tried to have the axle repaired. By eleven thirty the job was still not done. PK. Mouzam and Dr Baig had driven up to the workshop to assess the situation. We decided that since it was an off-road adventure and the terrain was uncharted it would be best to have a new axle put in. This meant that we would have to wait till next morning.
The shops in Karachi open at ten and we were already waiting outside the famous Plaza jeep parts store, Globe Autos, when the owner arrived. By two in the afternoon the jeep was in working order and we all gathered at Salman’s house to start our journey. Dr. Baig and his crew were on their way from P.K.’s house. My son Siki and Shahid, Salman, Mir Sahab, Yaseen where waiting at the Behria complex for Dr. Baig to arrive. It was five in the evening when the three jeeps climbed up the Behria complex flyover towards Mauripur. We had been in touch with Taimur the previous night and during the day; they were anxiously waiting for us at the Khuzdar rest house. Mausuf was unable to come due to his strenuous office commitments. I have warned him though that the next time I will not except any excuses.