The expedition reached its climax with only two minor casualties – Salim Khan’s CJ-7 lost its alternator and Pappu’s ‘42 Model Ford GPW broke its silencer. Other than that, it was a fabulous journey that brought many strangers a little bit closer, shedding the layers and layers of costumes that they adorn as an essential part of city life. Will wonders never cease! Under our arrogant, uninteresting, aggressive and paranoid exteriors are lovely individuals longing to come out and befriend everyone and everybody, provided they get the right kind of environment.
h4. ZULFIQAR’S SORH
The area where our expedition led to is owned by Zulfiqar Bhootani, the youngest brother of the Bhootani Clan, who are the Tribal Sardar’s of an area bordering Sindh on the North West just beyond Hub Dam. This is a conservation area with plenty of Chinkara Gazelle, Sindh Ibex and Blandford Urial roaming the valleys and the Mountains. The highest peak is called Andahar and is over 4,000 ft high. The area is extremely large and the terrain typical of Balochistan—broken country laced with ridges, ravines, streams cradling large boulders…..an Off Roader’s Paradise.
DELAYED DEPARTURE!—CREDIT TO HAMID OMAR AND CO.
Friday, the 17th of November 2006 will remain a day to remember. The departure time for the expedition was set at 12:30 p.m. and the alleged Leader of the Off-Road Club of Pakistan, a.k.a. Mr. Hamid Omar, was discovered conveniently having breakfast at noon. There was no urgency apparent upon the faces of the Off Roaders as the years and years of 4×4 trips by this group have hardened them into a tough band of people dedicated to simply one thing— Off Roading.
Desperate attempts by “outsiders” to get them moving resulted in nothing! Zulfiqar Bhootani, the main man, the organizer of this trip, impatiently kept calling on the mobile as he was ready and waiting at boat basin with another group of amateur off road enthusiasts who were, surprisingly, ready on time.
ON THE ROAD
After an hour of utter confusion at the Head Quarters of the Off Road Club of Pakistan, the convey of over ten 4×4’s finally got moving towards Dureji to join the other group which consisted of another five 4×4’s. The convoy crossed ICI Bridge, got on to the partially built Northern Bypass running alongside the RCD Highway making a right turn towards the Super Highway and finally taking a left near Madinatul Hikmat to cross the Hub River near Bund Murad to get on the Dureji Road. Our next stop was the famous “Cross” where the road forks, left one going to Shah Noorani Shrine and right one going towards Dureji. The participants, fresh and geared for something they were not really prepared for, opted for the more difficult route, i.e. the one that leads off from the Shah Noorani Road.
FILMING CREW – MAHERA AND KHALID OMAR
The convoy of vehicles, around 15 in number, finally started to crawl but was immediately delayed by the official film crew of the Off Road Club of Pakistan, consisting of Mahera Omar the camera woman, who kept filming at every inopportune moment, delaying us further and further into the evening until the eastern horizon started to darken while the destination camp remained elusively distant and Khalid Omar, the production manager. Mahera’s production venture got off to a rough start because as soon as she started filming, she was booed off the stage for not having provided copies of films of earlier trips she had made previously, to the members – but resilient Mahera, being a member of the Club, was also a hardened nut, and she gave no heed to criticism carrying on whatever she was doing at her own slow pace, holding us up at each corner, each incline, and every river crossing.
LOSING THE WAY AND LOSING AZHAR AND FINDING THEM BOTH AGAIN!
Evening befell us as soon as we left the metalled road and shortly thereafter, “Sardar” Bhootani, a.k.a. Zulfi, leading the pack, lost his way as he was too engrossed in conversation with Mr. Faraz, a.k.a “Big Daddy” called that for his imposing physical appearance. The convoy was left stranded in a small valley with members fast losing hope of arriving at camp any time soon. Zulfi and Omar Saboor (a.k.a 5.5 lac Barbarian) and Abbas Bilgrami (a.k.a 17.5 lac Carlos) went on a recce to find a way across some rough terrain to join the track leading to camp. Mr. Azhar, without informing his family, jumped into Barbarian’s Toyota and left with them. Once the way had been rediscovered and the remaining vehicles moved on, Azhar’s wife discovered that her husband was missing and no one knew where he was! There were frantic calls for help over the radio and the search was on with his family’s desperation growing with each passing minute. Barbarian, being out of radio contact, could not inform us that Azhar was with him until he finally arrived back to lead us towards the ‘correct path.” There was relief visible on Azhar’s wife’s face and his kids were once again laughing while the rest where relived to start the final leg of journey to the camp.
TANVEER’S ATTEMPT TO TURN THE SURF TURTLE
It was pitch black now, and all one could see were pairs of 4×4 headlights spread over a distance of over a kilometer, each following the leader of the pack towards some unknown, unseen destination. We had now reached the entrance into Sorh Valley where our camp was located and this entrance was basically a lengthy drive straight down the mountain, as the valley we were leaving was substantially higher than the Sorh Valley. Along the way, city slicker and financial wizard, driving cross country in a Toyota Surf for the very first time, a.k.a. Tanveer (the man of ) Doom almost managed to turn his 4×4 over which made all the expert drivers of the club stop and examine that particular point and decide how to traverse it. After lengthy deliberations and numerous opinions and discussing to death the alternate methods of crossing, each member crossed the point with any incident, in his own peculiar way.
ORGANIZER’S FRUSTRATION IN AZZO’S VALLEY
The next morning was extremely disturbing for me and Zulfiqar. We had planned the actual expedition to have moved from Sorh, circled Dureji and returned in the evening back to Sorh, but the excruciatingly slow pace at which the club moved was an impediment without any solution and it would have meant that we would return to camp by around midnight. Therefore, we made alternate arrangements and started towards “Azzo’s” valley, which although being closer, would be more appropriate for the speed at which the Club moved and provide enough challenges along the way, I thought, to ensure that atleast a few of the vehicles would break down. I placed my bets on Pappu’s ‘42 model Ford GPW as it had already lost its silencer, still had the original General Jeep tires, which are not wide at all, and looked the most vulnerable. My mission was simply to make sure that a few of the members vehicles broke down, because the club really enjoys when either a vehicle gets stuck or it breaks down.
A LITTLE SUCCESS!
I lost all my bets, all my hopes were in vain. Pappu’s jeep was a miracle! Nothing would stop it and it never got stuck….not even where the Ali’s Nissan Patrol, Ahmed’s much bragged about and much advertised CJ-7 with tires as wide as the Northern Bypass, and Hamid’s newly acquired Prado got stuck. The vehicles getting stuck were the saving grace for me and it caused momentary excitement amongst the club members as all of a sudden, the silence of the wilderness, would infrequently be broken by the crackling of the radio and a voice screaming and shouting over it “it’s stuck, it’s stuck, it’s stuck! We are going to winch it, it’s stuck it’s stuck!”
Azzo’s valley provided the offroading that the club was looking for. It was pristine countryside strewn with boulders of all sizes and the vehicles barely managed to get over a small hill which was littered with broken boulders. Many of the drivers thought we were going to climb on foot rather than drive over the hill – this, of course, made me and Zulfiqar smile with content… we finally had the Off Roader’s Club where we wanted!
Entering the Valley there were chinkara running aplenty and I managed to spot an urial but the others labeled me a “dreamer” as they could not see what I saw. The rays of sun light pouring in through the gaps between the clouds and the golden grass laid across the rocky plains and slopes, shimmering in the evening light with imposing mountains surrounding us decorated with the total absence of a local human population gave me, and I am sure all the other members, a “high” we will never forget.
MY FAMILY’S ARRIVAL AND MY TRANSFORMATION
We got verification from camp as we called the camp number from Zulfiqar’s satellite phone, that my family had arrived from Karachi. When we reached camp, everyone congratulated Iram (my wife) as they claimed that after her arrival, I had transformed from an extremely cynical and critical person to a pleasant one. Elated, she took all the credit in her stride, but we all know who’s in charge! Right?
This was my second trip with the Off Road Club of Pakistan and what a wonderful motley crew they are, most accommodating, most appreciating, easy going, jolly bunch who would never get moved by earthquakes, floods, torrential rains, but would jump out of their skins with excitement if faced with a impassable crossing or a vehicle breaking down or getting stuck! This trip, and others that I will hopefully do with them, shall remain imprinted in my mind because it showed me a way of life I did not know before, it showed me how much fun it is to simply get out of the city and go nowhere, for no reason, for no purpose for no gain, but simply to get out of the city and just “enjoy.”
THE PARTICIPANTS OF THE RALLY AND THEIR VEHICLE AND VICES!
It would be most appropriate, and in accordance with my nature, to include a brief comment about each participant, his vehicle, and his vices! I have to do this… sorry everyone!
Zulfqar Bhootani was our man. It was his area that we were going into and he was our host. Cool, calm and composed, he was not one to get excited. Leading this mixed pack, he must have laughed his head off, thinking what fools, running into the countryside to wreck their vehicles! Well, everyone has their highs, and some love to drive around aimlessly over rocks and across ravines.
Hamid and Sabiha Omar…the driving force behind the Club, have finally given up advocating the Jeep Cherokee as the only actual 4×4 in the world. After years of bumping across Pakistan’s wilderness, they have finally settled for a ‘97 Prado TX. I guess intelligence and maturity come with age!
Khalid Omar and his ‘52 Model Willy’s M38 with a turbodiesel engine and open top was a hit for the “younger” generation who thought it fascinating to travel in the back, standing up, facing the breeze. The cross country driving left the enthusiasts, especially the young Dr Mirza with some sore knees that he used for shock absorption….but he enjoyed it thoroughly. Khalid likes to drive more and talk less therefore, a response to a question posed to him can take some time coming!
Taimur and Patricia like traveling in their “house on wheels”. Taimur has extended the length of his CJ-7 by over 5 inches and thus has plenty of space to carry all the items which he has now come to believe as necessities. This was evident by the fact that each time we passed them, both were found discreetly sipping coffee, munching away at food, with a music system that few can claim to have installed in their living rooms. The CJ-7 has the most powerful winch and Taimur does not let any opportunity of pulling vehicles out pass! He seems to be the balancing force as well as the moving force, evident by the fact that when Khalid forgot to move on in the convoy, he was rudely bumped from behind by Taimur’s CJ-7 which finally got him moving.
Pappu Sahib (as I know him) and his ‘42 model green Ford GPW with soft top and no major alterations except the diesel engine is the enigma that I could not figure out……it never broke down except for the silencer, and it never got stuck…old and wiley as himself, his jeep was constantly moving, even where the extensively altered, drastically modified jeeps found going difficult, his was sailing away. He was the one who defied me and Zulfiqar the most, because after every rough patch that we thought would impress all drivers, he would stand with his hand on his hips and proclaim “You call that rough?” We gave up after a while… and just thoroughly enjoyed his most pleasant company because we knew he would not get stuck anywhere!
Ahmed Omar and his CJ-7 with outrageously wide tires and the 3 litre engine and automatic transmission kept us amused at all times…his claims over the radio that his jeep was the best were all destroyed when it got stuck in a small patch of sand. He was also instrumental in delaying the group by over an hour when he could not finish packing up and getting on the road. When agitated and aggravated by constant criticism regarding his jeep, he finally pushed the pedal and nearly ran us over not once but many times…..we all agreed his was the best jeep and he settled down to his original position in the convoy.
Ali and Raeda were relatively recent entrants into the fold of the Club and being the novices, they were ready on the dot at 12:30 all packed and geared up. Col. Azmat and his family, also new to this outlandish tradition of taking off in 4×4’s to nowhere, were also on time.
On the other side of Defence, the “other group” was already waiting at Boat Basin for us to join them. Abbas Bilgrami and Mona were no strangers to offroading as they had spent a lot of time on a farm in South Africa. They were used to the confusion and delays that are inevitable when traveling in large groups. They were roaring to go in their ‘97 Toyota Prado which they have claimed to have bought for 17 ½ lacs (which no one believed.)
A total new comer, a virgin to the wilderness, was sitting right behind them in a Toyota Surf. Tanveer Makhdoomi seemed indifferent to what was going on… he seemed a hostage who had given up fighting and was hoping the expedition would culminate sooner than later. His transformation over the period of three days of the expedition was a remarkable sight. From the Financial Wizard, least concerned about the wilderness or its beautiful sights, his vision changed. The first day the mountains were simple rocks spread in a haphazard manner all over the place and there was no particular significant beauty in the amazing dam built between the mountains containing tons of water. The second day he thought the silence of the wilderness was a nice sound and the dry grass which had turned a golden covered provided a “nice” contrast to the brown background. On the last night, his wife convinced him to sleep under the open sky in a tent and the next morning he was nagging his friend to get him a tent of his own from Islamabad.
Omar Saboor (the Barbarian) whose hair was flowing with the wind all the way was the renegade man, ready for anything and everything, happy with everyone and everybody. There were no issues, except the fact that he would not walk, he just wanted to drive to wherever everyone was going, regardless of the fact that we were climbing mountains. He drove all around the mountain side trying to find a way up, but after having given up, sat under a shady tree and waited for the rest to come down. His Toyota, B-something was a sight to see, immaculate and original, it went everywhere, almost up the swampy approach up to the dam, when better sense finally prevailed upon Omar, after almost 2 days in the wilderness, and he backed up away from the quicksand and almost certain doom for his Toyota.