25th June 2000: Khuzdar, Surab, Kalat, Mastung (Ruins of fort). Tiri, Lak pass, Quetta. Distance: 327 km Odometer: 126,488
Route: The main route north continues across wide plains with mountains rising up on either side. The rugged and barren landscape is interspersed by small settlements and patches of cultivated land traversing a wide plateau to reach the crossroads at Surab.
At Surab 70 kilometers from Kalat a road branches off to the west leading to Panjgur (320 kilometers) and on to Turbat (598 kilometers), a long, arduous journey on rough gravel tracks. The main town of Surab is a short distance down this road. There is a check post at the junction, some teashops and also a petrol station. From Surab the road climbs to a low pass and then descends through hills to a wide plateau, the main road continues north over a wide open plain, it crosses a low pass before arriving at the town of Kalat, 163 kilometers from Khuzdar.
Past Kalat the road travels through the Kad Khucha section of Mastung division. Orchards of apples, apricots, pomegranates and almonds surround the scattered settlement of Manguchar in Kalat division. The RCD Highway continues straight and passing through orchards and fields arrives at the small settlement of Mastung.
Heading north out of Mastung, the road climbs gradually over the wide plains and the Lak Pass comes into view to the left. At the bottom of the pass, the road to Taftan and the Iranian border forks off to the left. The road climbs steeply in hairpin bends to cross the pass and descends sharply to enter the Quetta plains. The Hazerganji National Park, 13 kilometers from Quetta, is to the left here. The road carries on straight to enter the Quetta suburbs.
By the time we had finished a good sumptuous breakfast, it was 11:30am and we were ready to leave the Bolan Mining guesthouse at Khuzdar. Imad took the CJ-7 to the mechanic early in the morning and had fuel system bled. Our earlier diagnosis had been correct – it had pulled in mass amounts of air.
The second day’s journey was about to commence. We found the Levvies escort, which had missed us yesterday, waiting for us at the guesthouse. We filled up at the Khuzdar Aziz petrol pump; it has become a routine now to visit this particular pump for filling up fuel whenever we are in Khuzdar. It was hot and dry outside, about forty degrees, while inside the ‘Cruiser it was a more bearable thirty with the air-conditioning running at full capacity, keeping us cool. The hills towards the right side of the road appeared hazy in the hot, dusty air. The shimmering heat haze coming off the landscape gave the admiring viewer a false impression of the hills quivering in the distance.
From Khuzdar to Surab there are barren mountains in the distance on both sides of the road, with little hillocks sprawled in between. Out in the dry thirty six degree air, one can also see numerous dust twisters. Also known as dust devils, these occur when hot air currents twist up towards the sky due to the difference in temperature, sucking dust from the surface. Dust devils can be several hundred feet tall and look like mini-tornadoes from a distance.
The highway up to Surab is excellent, flat and smooth tarmac. Sharp bends in the road here break the monotony as it climbs at a gradient of about ten to fifteen degrees for miles on end. The long uphill stretches in the unforgiving heat took their toll on our loaded up vehicles, causing our engines to heat up every now and then. Streams and irrigation ditches along the way provided ideal places to stop and cool down by pouring water on the radiator. An added bonus of this method is that the fan pulls water dripping off the radiator and sprays a fine mist on the engine block, further dissipating heat.
Our next stop occurred at Surab. A faulty radiator cap and lack of an overflow reservior on the white jeep kept causing boilovers and overheating. This time the radiator was almost bone dry with the needle on the temperature gauge stuck in the red zone. With Taimur and Hamid lagging behind, the extra time spent fetching bottle after bottle of water to refill the radiator and cool the engine down allowed them to catch up. They arrived as the boys finished refilling the water bottles, and we were back on the road once again.
We reached Kalat at 2:26pm, with the outside temperature at thirty-eight degrees. The road from here onwards was still under repair. Although the tarmac was still holding, it had now been reduced to a bumpy single track with too many diversions. Next we stopped at the plum and apple orchards in Mastung where we had stopped the year before on the trip to Quetta. The plums were ripe but the apples were still green. This was a nice place for some tea and roti kebab sandwiches. Susan stepped in a heap of cow dung while walking through the orchard. It was of the finest vintage, fresh and very wet. The stink, however, was quite another matter. She had to wash her feet and slippers before I could let her in the vehicle.
Susan wanted to drive for a while, and what an eventful drive it was. Ten kilometers down the road, past a few small villages, she was already going like a flash. She had adjusted well to the handling of the ‘Cruiser, which was fully loaded with luggage and clothes to last us five weeks and therefore handled differently than when unloaded as in city driving.
The intercity trucks and buses coming from Quetta are absolutely reckless. When approaching one from the opposite direction, one has to be prepared to drop the left side wheels off the road in order to cross them. The shoulders of the roads are in poor condition, peppered with huge potholes and tire slashing edges. Susan was managing very well though. About thirty kilometers short of the Lak Pass, we came upon an errant goat. I could sense that it was going to run across the road. Susan sensed it too and she slowed the Landcruiser down. The goat, however, ran across the road, then turned around and tried to run back the other way. The shepherd, meanwhile, had approached the right edge of the road. On seeing the goat trying to come back to him, he picked up a few stones and hurled them at the goat to scare it off to safety. By now the goat was double minded and it had no chance of turning back again as the Landcruiser bore down on it. Susan couldn’t slow down significantly as there was an impatient bus bearing down on our tail. There was hardly a bump as the 2600 Kg Landcruiser ran over the poor goat. I could see in the sideview mirror that it had been crushed, not even a flinch as it lay sprawled on the road. A little while later, the bus that was following us came up behind us flashing his headlights to get our attention. We let it drive alongside, and the driver yelled, “the goat!” He had picked up the carcass and wanted to give it to us. I yelled back , “you keep it, we are going on to Quetta!”
Just short of the Lak Pass I took over the helm of the ‘Cruiser. It climbed well as we negotiated the bends in second gear without any difficulty. I was confident that it would do well up in the mountains of the North where it would be put to the test. Taimur was filming us as we made the ascent. Meanwhile, the boys, as usual, made a quick getaway as we made our descent on the other side of the Pass.
With the mileage now showing 126784 km on the odometer, we finally reached Quetta at 6:10pm. Taimur stopped and obtained directions for our next stop and final destination for the day, the Lourdes Hotel.
The Lourdes hotel is apparently more than one hundred years old. The rooms have high ceilings typical of old buildings. Thankfully, the climate control is modern with airconditioning. The hotel boasts a picturesque garden. We ordered tea here and enjoyed the surroundings. It is a lovely place with green velvety grass and old pine trees that tower towards the stars all around, their lovely smell adding that special fragrance to the dry air.
We checked into room number 18, Hamid in room number 20 and Taimur in room number 21. The boys are on the other side of the hotel. Although the hotel does not allow guests to wash their clothes, it did not deter Susan from her favorite past time and the room and bathroom were both soon littered with wet clothes.
Dinner was at 9:30PM at the famous Chinese restaurant. However, the food turned out to be a complete disaster – the prawns were off, the rice was half cooked and the Pepsi was warm.
The evening discussions, which were mostly concerned with the route, were rather intense as half the party wanted to go via Zohb, while Hamid’s friend advised us that the Loralai route would be better. It was decided to attempt the Loralai route as it is supposed to be more picturesque and safer.