Friday, November 13, 2015

Pakistan - Traffic madness

The highway to Lahore... Lane-splitting, the fastest vehicles in the middle lane (although in the distance you can see the tractor also being there) and how many vehicles with mirrors do you see?
We're not city people. We're not much for busy areas either. Guess what we went through from Islamabad to Lahore in Pakistan... exactly! As I wrote earlier, we write it as we found it. Obviously we also write it from our own perspective. I'm sure if you live in Karachi or Delhi, you will see things differently, but we don't live there (as I'm sure many of you who read this don't either). Pakistan in the north, coming from China, was fine to ride through, as you can read on the previous pages we loved it there. But now things have changed...

Of course we expected a lot of traffic and of course we had seen the videos and photos posted on the internet too. We had prepared ourselves as best as we could, obviously, but nothing can quite prepare you for a madness on this scale as it's hard to imagine it until you actually find yourself in there. I'm sure it changes from day to day too (hour by hour even).

Not something you will find on a highway in Australia...
The day sort of changed when we found that contrary to what we had been told by locals and had read in newspapers on the web; motorcycles are definitely not allowed on the motorway. There is an article from 23rd of March 2010 stating that from then on motorcycles of 500cc and over were allowed on the motorway but what the same newspaper failed to mention is that after just one year this was stopped again... The reason, according to the Police in Rawalpindi, was the numerous motorcycle related accidents. While I can understand the decision, it sort of makes me wonder how it would be a safer option for us to therefore divert motorcycles to an even more dangerous road... but let's not go there.

We thus had to follow the N5 towards Lahore, which is 270 km of total chaos and used by everything with or without wheels. It crosses many small towns, where traffic comes to a total standstill due to an even bigger chaos, while in between we found just about every vehicle invented over the last centuries going the wrong way too. Our intercoms were absolutely invaluable here. Being able to warn each other for a horse and cart going against the traffic in the fast lane of a 3 lane highway... One of them even decided it would be ok to cross all 3 lanes on a 45° angle against the traffic on a road surface which can best be described as polished concrete... guess what happened, the horse fell flat on it's belly, still strapped in to the cart, no option to stand up and traffic going narrowly past it on both sides with the horn at full blast. The poor thing was terrified and it's owner should be banned from ever having a horse again. People walk across the road too, without looking and without any form of self preservation skills. 

Totally oblivious to what is going on behind him... and
yet will still turn whenever he feels like it
I'm not going to pretend, like the woman in our group found necessary to do, that this was an exciting day and that we had fun. We personally saw 5 pretty serious accidents and the remains of a 6th where a truck was overturned, facing the traffic. Is it fun to see innocent people getting involved in serious accidents? I thought the barbaric days where people enjoyed blood-'sports' and public executions were seen as amusement were behind us. Guess I was wrong. For obvious reasons, we don't have any photos. We were somewhat busy staying alive :-) But apart from that we don't have vulture streaks in us. Mike has made a video, by accident as he later found his camera had run for an hour, from which we have taken some screenshots which you can see on this page. (The footage of the helmet cam video will be in the next post about Lahore.) What surprised me the most is the appalling behaviour of fellow motorcyclists in and around Lahore. Normally fellow motorcyclists tend to look out for each other but in Lahore it's just a rat-race. They hit each-other, try to cut each other off and show some serious dilligaf behaviour. One of them was showing such aggressive behaviour, that he almost crashed into Mike twice, so I grabbed him by the shoulder, pulled him back and told him in clear understandable English to show some respect... Haven't seen him since :-) I guess that last phrase, 'show some respect', is what it is all about. In Islamabad it was busy but there also was respect. In Lahore there isn't any.

The tuktuk on the right is going against the traffic, the bike is about
to cross the road and ready to go around the tuktuk... where dad is.
The car on the left is being overtaken while turning... oh and 6 lanes
of traffic of course...
We thought we had found a reasonable and cheap place to stay in Lahore, called Lahore Backpackers. Not 5-star luxury but fine for what we wanted. The website wasn't working but the rates and inclusions were confirmed in an e-mail, as was secure bike parking. Secure parking turn out to be an open yard... the showers weren't working and he tried to charge us double for the room as it had air conditioning (which at best worked only half the time) and for the bike parking, both of which had been confirmed by e-mail as included in the room rate. The owner tried to win us all over with a plastic friendly smile but I didn't fall for that one. Later that night, as we saw a rat dropping from the ceiling into an open rubbish bag next to where we were eating, Chris said dryly he was surprised how clean it is here compared to India...

The tractor is in the fast lane... its load of bricks ready to shed a
brick or two
Of course you may feel we are a bunch of wankers, I mean, who are we to comment on what we found in Pakistan today? After all, all we have is near enough 100,000 km and 49 countries travelled through on this trip to compare it with... So let's look at the official statistics about road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles then: Australia has 7.6 fatalities, Pakistan 383.7 ... Northern Pakistan is beautiful, no question about it. Looking through our photos that night and seeing the whole trip through Northern Pakistan going by made us want to turn around and go back north again. We really loved it. Yet as we were about to find out, Lahore itself isn't that bad either... in the next post!