26th June 2000: Quetta, Kuch Lak, Dil Sora, Khanozai,Loralai
Distance: 252 Km, Odometer: 126784
Route: Head northwest out of Quetta on the Chaman road, past the turning for the airport. The road crosses the Chaman railway line and passes through the Balleli checkpost. After another 25 km to Kuch Lak, turn right in the main bazaar (straight on for Chaman) and continue on a good two lane road to the junction known as Ziarat Mor for 52 kilometers towards Khanozai. The road is single lane and passes through orchards of apples, plums, and pomegranates, to reach Khanozai. Turn right at Khanozai towards Loralai. The road is extremely rough and graveled for a while before connecting the main road to Loralai. The road winds through the table topped mountains catching the edge of the Juniper forests of Ziarat before entering the barren plateau. The road from Qila Saifullah joins it from the left about 45km short of Loralia. It is then a steady, gradual descent past patches of cultivation to Loralia, 252 km from Quetta.
It was noon at Lourdes hotel when we left for Loralai. There was a change of plan last night; we will now be driving to Loralai, instead of Zhob, and then to Dera Ghazi khan, and from there onwards to Dera Ismail khan.
Delayed by a bad cutout on the white jeep’s alternator, we finally left Quetta at 1:13 PM. With the electrical contacts readjusted, we could get back on the road. I also had the ‘Cruiser’s radiator flushed and refilled with six cans of coolant. The 4×4 still heats up on long inclines. Also had 44.15 liters of diesel filled up, worth Rs 600 total.
We traveled from Quetta to Khanozai and then took a right turn towards Loralai. The rough unpaved road, or rather lack thereof, caused our radiators to boil over after only 10 minutes of driving. Green coolant was oozing out of the overflow pipe as the steam pushed its way out of the radiator furiously boiling the coolant in the overflow reservior. All the vehicles were parked in a line along the track with their bonnets open to let the engines cool down, when an old Hilux drove up with three pathan men sitting in the front and three females sitting in the cargo bay. I asked them about the condition if the road and they replied there were only five more minutes of the dirt track left until the paved section of the road.
794km from Karachi, we came across a spectacular sight – an old juniper tree approximately eight to ten thousand years old on the right side of the road. We stopped to photograph this extraordinary life form. The distance to Loralai from this unique site is approximately 100 km.
After driving for another hour we stopped at an apple orchard for lunch, 40 km short of Loralai. A ‘karez’ from across the hills supplies water for the orchards. The people are very friendly here. Even though they do not speak or understand our language, they respond with so much love and hospitality it is hard to believe that they can be barbaric or vicious as the media portray them to be. All throughout our journey everyone everywhere welcomed us with open arms.
The road came to a junction as we drove towards our destination for the day. We turned right here; the left fork in the road continues towards Qila Saifullah. This junction is about 45km from Loralai and the condition of the road is good. We reached Loralai at about 6.30pm, a total of 894km from Karachi. The weather here was nice, with the temperature at 22 degrees and very little humidity. We began unpacking our vehicles as the glowing fiery red sun melted into the hazy air just above the horizon.
The newly constructed guesthouse at Loralai is to the left of the main road. While the weather outside was lovely, the rooms allocated to us were quite a different story. The doors and windows had been closed for a while, and the lack of ventilation had left them stuffy and smelling musty. Our efforts to let fresh air in were fruitless as we tried to open the windows and found that only a few were in working order. The whole building was poorly ventilated and the trapped heat would make it hard for us to sleep later.
The Commissioner of Loralai had invited us to his residence. After dinner was over, the men, accompanied by some of the boys, made their way into town in a small convoy. The Commissioner’s residence is an English building. A relic of the British Raj, it boasts sprawling green lawns and massive trees. The trees seemed to be hundreds of years old and must have surely been planted by the Englishmen who lived there since the late 19th century or thereabouts. The Commissioner’s driver also pleasantly informed us that the condition of the road to Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan was very good and the newly constructed Indus highway was almost complete. This meant that our journey to Dera Ismail Khan would be less tiring than what we had initially expected.
The night at Loralai left a strange mark on all of us. The guesthouse had a very eerie, almost haunted, vibe to it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the building had also trapped heat from the sun during the day, making the rooms unbearably hot. As Anika tossed and turned in bed, I remembered from the good old days when my father would tell us that if one laid down covered with wet sheets, the air from the fan passing through the sheets would provide a cooling effect. This was a welcome blessing and Anika slept soundly the rest of the night.