27th June 2000: Loralia, Mekhtar, Kingri, Rakhni, Khar,Fort Munro, Sakhi Sawar, Dera Ghazi Khan, Dera Ismail Khan.
Distance: 402 Km, Odometer: 127000
Route: East of Loralai the old single lane road is in poor condition for much of the way. The road passes through green and fertile countryside with fruit orchards and wheat fields. It climbs gently through some low hills to Mekhtar (79 kilometers), a small village with teashops and basic food. The road then climbs steeply, passing the tiny village of Kingri (139 kilometers), before descending steadily to Rakhni (184 kilometers) After a left turn at the T-junction in the bazaar, the road again climbs, this time steeply into the mountains of the Suleman range, crossing the border into Punjab. The climb is similar to the Nathiagali climb from Abbotabad, replete with hairpin turns and switchbacks. It arrives at the village of Khar (200 kilometers), where a track leads south to the nearby hill station of Fort Munro. The main road continues east from the turning for Fort Munro, descending steadily through spectacular mountain scenery onto the Indus Plain, to arrive at Dera Ghazi Khan, 282 kilometers from Loralai and 534 kilometers from Quetta. There are a total of 3 river fordings along this last stretch. These can be tricky to negotiate after rains, particularly at Sakhi Sarwar, site of a famous shrine of a Sufi saint. The road then cuts through a ridge of low hills and crosses the wide and stony Daman plains, which stretch for around 120 kilometers north to south between DI Khan and DG Khan, sandwiched between the Suleman mountains to the west and the Indus River to the east.
We left Loralai early in the morning as it was going to be the longest drive of the trip. It was a task getting everyone ready at a decent time. Usually rigging the vehicles back up take the longest time but this time most of the packing had already been done the night before. The first order of business leaving Loralai would be refueling. The petrol pump was just down the road from the guesthouse, as you turn left on the main road. We filled up with diesel here, with the Prado taking 27 liters. The misty early morning smell in the air greeted me as I stepped out to check the digits on the pump. As the rest of the group refueled, Khalid mentioned he had been having trouble with the handling of his white M38 Willy’s. It felt loose and wobbly at highway speeds, thus making it difficult for him to keep pace with the rest of the group. These concerns would be addressed in Islamabad, along with all the other vehicles going in for routine inspections and oil changes. The rest of the 4×4s had performed well so far.
We reached Kingri at 8:55 am, almost 1026 km from Karachi. It was warm and sunny but still very pleasant. While driving through the hilly area before Rakhni, I saw a flock of Saysee, a subspecies of Chakor, suddenly fly to my left and land on the rocky surface of the hill. I wanted to videotape them so we combed the area like we do while hunting, but the birds were very well camouflaged and difficult to detect, literally taking off from under our feet making that chirpy sound that is so characteristic of them.
Just short of Rakhni I saw a motorcycle approaching in the distance, little did I realize who the rider would be. It was an old classic Triumph motorbike in immaculate condition, with its chrome shimmering in the sun. The side saddle bags bulging with luggage. The Englishman riding the bike was travelling to Iran. Adventurous and brave is what I thought of him.
We reached the Rakhni borderpost at 10:57am. The outside temperature was now 39 degrees and rising – extremely hot. Rakhni is a border town between Balochistan and Punjab. One can see the signs of both the provinces in the shops. There are fertile green fields of cotton on both sides of the road. We could also see tubewells with diesel engine pumps pumping out water to the fields. Just outside of Rakhni there are petrol pumps on both sides of the road. PSO (Pakistan State Oil) owns most of the branches out here in the countryside. From Rakhni onwards the flatland gives way to the hills and the climb starts towards Fort Munro. The road is in good shape and the climb is at a comfortable gradient, save for some sharp bends and switchbacks as it crisscrosses through the mountains. We had to stop for a while over here for Hamid and the boys to catch up with us.
Further up, the climb becomes quite steep with Lowari Top like bends in Chitral as it climbs up to about 1600 metres. The road then approaches a crossing, the right fork leading towards Fort Munro, while the left fork goes on to Dera Ghazi Khan. The descent is just as spectacular as the ascent on the other side. The deep gorge comes into view as the road winds its way down the hill like a line scribbled with a pencil. The terrain soon changes from rugged mountains to a semi-desert before it becomes green with fields of cotton and other plantations on both sides of the road. We stopped at a PSO petrol pump about 30km before Dera Ghazi Khan, with the outside temperature hovering at 48 degrees. The unbearably hot and humid air of the Indus plains enveloped us like a suffocating blanket. We could feel the heat in our lungs as the refueling continued rather impatiently. Everybody was eager to get back on the road and in the wind again.
We reached Dera Ghazi Khan at about 3 PM and looked for a good restaurant from the guidebook. The weather was still unbelievably hot and stifling in the city. We darted around through the streets, keeping an eye for shaded places to park. Otherwise, the heat would turn our vehicles into ovens on wheels. We finally ate at a local hotel, our lunch consisting of biryani and chicken. The food was great and the bill came to Rs 1926 for the 20 of us. Not a bad deal by any means.
Heading out of DG Khan towards DI Khan, the mileage on the odometer read 127,274, and the temperature on the thermometer at about 45 degrees. We topped up our tanks with diesel, the Prado taking 47.11 liters worth Rs 650. We were finally out of Dera Ghazi Khan at 3:46pm heading towards Ghazi Ghat bridge, which we would cross on our way to the Indus Highway.
The Ghazi Ghat Bridge is about 10-15 km out of DG Khan on the Multan road. Somehow we landed up on the road going towards Laiya instead. Feeling that we were not headed in the right direction, we stopped to ask for directions from a family that was walking towards us from the opposite direction. The locals were very intrigued by us as we tried to communicate, first in Urdu and then in Punjabi, but could not make any headway. They greeted us with a strange dialect that none of us understood. Here we were in Pakistan trying desperately to get directions from our own folk yet we felt like stangers in our own land.
It turned out that we had missed our turning towards Peshawar after the Ghazi Ghat Bridge and strayed on down the road towards Laiya before realizing our mistake. We needed to be on the Indus Highway but instead found ourselves running on a road parallel to it. We then had to turn back and drive about 40 km towards the Indus Highway. This portion of the road was very poorly posted, making it all the more difficult to find our way.
Once on the Indus highway, it was another 93 km to DI Khan and about 8 PM on the clock. Taking advantage of the now smooth highway, the kids watched Stars Wars on the VCD player. However, our joy was shortlived, as the smooth road gave way to a rough bone jarring track where the highway was still under construction. For the next 20 km, the vehicles shuddered and groaned as the track made its way in the dimming light through muddy patches and diversions around gaping pits big enough to swallow a truck. Behind us, the boys in the CJ7 and the white Willy’s M38 played a game of jeep tag, trying to outrun each other with the leader popping the clutch causing the rear wheels to break traction and send gobs of mud flying at the chase vehicle. We stopped and took a well deserved 15-minute break after the bad stretch was over to stretch our legs while the kids had a wee stop.
We reached Dera Ismail Khan at 9.30 pm and hired a rickshaw to guide us to the hotel. The hotel manager was waiting for us eagerly. He had kept rooms for us even though he had been pressed by other guests to let them out. The rooms were clean and the air conditioning was working fine. We ordered dinner for the lot of us and after a quick meal, literally crashed for the night exhausted from the day long drive.