Islamabad to Karachi

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Islamabad from Karachi

Trail Of Two Cities

By Shireen Gheba Najib

Dawn

The part of the highway where we had to move out of Multan on the road to Khanpur was not pleasant at all. We found ourselves in the middle of a terrible traffic jam.

We never wanted to drive to Islamabad from Karachi. We had planned to fly out, after loading our luggage into a truck along with our cat and dog.

But when the truck driver refused to take the pets, we were left with no choice.

“We’ll go by road,” I mumbled. My husband agreed. My daughter didn’t.

My husband has his own ideas of travelling with pets - ‘dog at the feet and cat in a cage’. But they had minds of their own. Dog wanted to see the view… So, Najib covered the seats with soft cardboard; then forced the cat into the cage between Paprika (dog) and my daughter. The cat created such a fuss that he ended up in my daughter’s loving lap! Soon it was a scene of peace in the back seat.

This is how we started our long journey watching the lovely sun rise, moving with the long trucks on the Super Highway from Karachi to Hyderabad.

We had started at 7.30am, and reached Hyderabad by 9.30am. The turning at Hyderabad’s Ghulam Mohammad Barrage took us on to the road to Sukker. The bypass blocked our view of the city of Hyderabad.

On the road to Sukker and Rohri, I was a bit disappointed not to find any wind-catchers on rooftops as had been the norm decades ago. Now with fans and air-conditioners, such things exist no more.

There were just a few trucks, some cars and other vehicles on the road. The CNG/petrol/diesel stops were plenty and well spaced. Instead of the cities, we saw interesting and quaint scenes like a tire repair shop whose salesman had gone off somewhere.

I felt sorry we never got round to seeing the city of Hala which is known for its pottery and other handicrafts. It is a city like Chiniot and Sialkot, with handicrafts being made in every house.

After Hyderabad, it got greener than I remembered it from my last two trips, over 20 years ago. I noticed how the cotton crop fields appeared right after Hyderabad and continued till Toba Tek Singh in Punjab. There were also rice crops, orchards of mangoes and bananas, and even sugar cane. None of the huge stretches of desert and sand were visible which I remembered from my childhood. There were just very few patches of desert.

In the Mirpurkhas area we saw women with dark complexion wearing very bright dresses. A few wore the ghagra with a short shirt and dupatta. The combinations were awesome with colours like parrot green, orange, bright yellow and shocking pink. Many women wore bangles from wrist to elbow and then again from elbow to upper arm.

The road was mostly dual carriage and in good condition. But you had to be very alert as suddenly traffic would appear from both sides due to repair work on the other side.

The monotony of the landscape soon made us hungry. We started looking for food only to discover that most of the roadside hotels were closed. We managed to get delicious cups of tea with hot rotis and tasty saalan and daal to go with it from a restaurant. A few trucks were parked outside and the drivers were given charpoys to relax. We opted to have our food in the car, discreetly parked nearby.

The road was generally good, lined by huge orchards of dates, bananas and mangoes on either side when we reached Khairpur and Sukker. In Sukker the area turned rugged and dramatic. But we could not see the Sukker Barrage which is huge and from where the Indus River is lovely to watch, overlooking the huge British train bridge. This too was not visible from the highway; we just saw the tip of the metal curve of the train bridge on the River Indus.

During our lunch stop, we saw an amusing ‘siesta scene’ with goats calmly munching around with people taking naps.

The last hundred kilometres before Bahawalpur, the road was absolutely lovely and we were in the city by sunset. It takes exactly 12 hours from Karachi to Bahawalpur with a few stops on the way. The good night’s rest and dinner at my son-in-law’s parents’ home was wonderful.

As it was a practical journey, we did not have time for sightseeing. We visited Bahawalpur a year ago and had seen the beautiful palaces there. I noticed that women straddled their motorbikes, in the back seat of course. This is very unusual for women in Pakistan who always sit with both legs on one side.

The next morning as soon as we got out of Bahawalpur we saw this quaint little mosque. I was amazed to see that the cycle rickshaws are back now and driven by people.

The part of the highway where we had to move out of Multan to the road to Khanpur was not pleasant at all. We found ourselves in the middle of a terrible traffic jam. We had decided to skip Lahore and move across Punjab, landing onto the motorway from Lahore to Islamabad after passing Toba Taik Singh. The cotton crops continued all the way, and we saw some places where some men and women were plucking cotton buds from the plants with nimble fingers.

We entered the motorway and I started driving; but soon I was handed a ticket for staying on the ‘fast lane’ for too long. You are supposed to cross a vehicle and then go back to the middle lane. Okay! That lesson cost me Rs200.

Then we drove through my favourite part of the motorway - the Kalar Kahar area. There is a lovely lake there and the road looks awesome going through the high hills. The story that goes with Kalar Kahar is great as well. When a saint asked a lady taking water to her home for some water, she declined by saying ‘this water is saltish’ (she said it’s ‘kalar’). When she went home, she found that the water that she’d taken for herself had turned saltish! The saint’s grave is located in this valley. There are peacocks that walk and dance on the roads here.

We were able to reach Islamabad by 8pm after travelling 1,550 kilometres. We made the trip in two days and had no problems at all in our longest drive in Pakistan.

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