We are in jail!

It is 17:21 on Thursday the 2004-05-06, the temperature (inside and out) is 49.6°C (say 121°F) and all five vans and eight people are in jail in Kandhkot, Pakistan. Welcome to Silkroute campervanning!

Ever since we entered Pakistan we have been told by the police that travel "in this area" is dangerous. When we first entered the country we assumed that it was the situation in Afghanistan (only 25km away at Nushki two days ago) that was the source of the danger. We were advised by the police not to follow our original route east from Quetta thru Loralai to Dera Ghazi Khan but to take a more circuitous route south via Sibi, Jacobabad, Shikarpur and Kandhkot. This route was said to be "less dangerous". At Sibi we camped at a large and rather pleasant fuel station that assured us that the three armed guards would be along by 19:00.

They were, but so was the local deputy head of police who advised us that we should follow him into Sibi proper where we should park in front of the police station (police fort would be a better description). This we did, although I suspect the 20km night drive was a greater danger than staying at the fuel station. In the morning we left the "fort" to the sound of heavy machine gun fire (just practising!) and for the first 50km we raced south at up to 70kph in the comparative cool of the morning.

But not for long. Slowly we became escorted. First a police patrol car would join out convoy, so far no problem. Then a police pickup with a couple of armed constables tagged on behind. Then a pickup with a mounted machine gun. Then a new police pickup in the front would pull us all over and tell us that this was "a very dangerous place and we should not stop here, even for a break". He would then insist we stay very close together. To help us he would drive at 35kph whilst the armed constables in the back nodded off to sleep. Every 25km the lead police pickup would hand over to another vehicle (some without markings, most without working lights, all with guns). Our original target for the day was Kashmar, but escort five (or was it six) said Kasmar was "bad" and we should stop in Kandhkot. In an attempt to get the police to drive a little faster Mog (who was leading) would occasionally overtake the lead police car. No shots were fired.

As we approached Kandhkot at around 15:30 with the temperature over 45°C (say 113°F), we had been driving fairly steadily for six hours with only very short breaks, we were ready to stop. But the police wanted us to continue (out of their area of responsibility). With the group parked in fuel station (and threatening to stay there) our escort eventually agreed we could stay in Kandhkot (remember we have no language in common with our escort). Having mimed that we wanted somewhere safe to park the vehicles and sleep our escort announced we were to go to "Kandhkot House" (immediate visions of cool trees and a grassy courtyard). With a little persuasion our escort even agreed to lead us to our haven for the night. First down back streets, then across a causeway over a fluorescent green lake into a residential rubbish tip, over broken sewer pipes into narrow, steep alleys with low wires. Mog (in the lead) stopped. After some mimed explanation of the probable effect of driving a 3.6 metre high truck under 3.0 metre electricity wires the police indicated we should turn round. Easier said than done with five vans nose to trail in a single lane road. But done it was.

After some further discussion it was agreed that we should go, not to "Kandhkot House", but to the police station (visions of a high wall and backed mud compound replaced that of fountains and lawns). After a tour of the back streets of Kandhkot we reached the entrance to the police compound. When I say reached, I mean Mog reached it but could not get under the gate, the rest of the group probably could not have negotiated the concrete culvert that separated the back street from the gate.

Still all was not lost. OJ had seen a "courtyard" a few metres back with a police van in it. This would do. Our, by now very hot and disillusioned escorts, agreed and we finally parked up in the compound of Kandhkot Jail (built 1902, renovated never).

Just to the left of OJ is a line of brick arches, within each arch is a metal grill. Pressed against each grill are dozens of prisoners.

Needless to say we have armed guards.

Stop Press: It is now 19:00 and the temperature has plummeted to 44.6°C.

For those reading these pages "live" and wondering why they have not received any e-mail, text messages or even phone calls from the group for several weeks it should be noted that our cell phones did not work in Iran and so far have not worked in Pakistan. This web page is brought to you via an Iridium satellite phone.

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2004-05-06