Friday, February 10, 2012

Karachi to Gwadar Survival Tips

Makran Coastal Highway Zero Point
Trip to Gwadar is an excellent 2/3 days escape from Karachi especially in the winters when the weather is suitable for long expeditions. Also, the drive through the Coastal Highway is a pleasure in itself

MHis also planning for the long drive however he has some valid concerns which he shared with me through an email. It would be appropriate to blog these concerns here along with the response:

Dear Muzzammil,
We are planning to travel to Gawadar this weekend from Karachi. Could you please give us some travel tips?
  1. What will be outlook of fuel in the way? Or we need to get extra fuel with us from the start?
  2. What about the lunch on the way? Are there any restaurant in Ormara or Pasni?
  3. How is the security?
  4. What is the condition of the road?
Thanking in advance.


What will be outlook of fuel in the way? Or we need to get extra fuel with us from the start?
Yes, it will be a good idea to take a 15-20 liters can with you as a backup.

PSO at HUB will be your last choice for the authentic Pakistani fuel. Afterwards, it will be all smuggled Iranian one being sold in open drums and that too can only be found after driving half an hour from the previous drum!

Well, going to Gwadar means that you cannot avoid the Iranian petrol so the tested strategy would be to first top up the tank at HUB and then refill past Ormara junction when the tank is half full without utilizing the backup fuel. This way the fuel would be mixed up which will be better than the ‘pure’ Iranian one. I understand that Iranian refineries do not produce high quality octane and then the obsolete logistics methods add up to the worries.

There is a Caltex petrol pump in Gwadar which claims selling the local blend so that would be your best bet even if you have doubts over their claim. The can is still with you as a reserve which you can use on your way back however keep 4-5 liters for the emergency until you hit back the RCD Highway.

You will find the Last CNG Station at HUB
Refueling Facility
Utilizing the Reserve Fuel
Beware, the pressure gauge there is in kilograms!
What about the lunch on the way? Are there any restaurant in Ormara or Pasni?
What I tried successfully in the previous trips is to avoid the breakfast and instead have a brunch at Hingol River Bridge before continuing nonstop to Gwadar.

Al-Hasan Hotel located just after the bridge – ~120 km from the zero point – serves passersby especially truck walas and does that well. The chef there can make a scrumptious Chicken Karhai if requested with respect! You may also ask for the keys from the waiter for the ‘luxurious’ WC toilet, if needed.

Ormara and Pasni have got local eateries but for that you have to go off the highway which is better done for the backward stretch. There is indeed a restaurant on the main highway after crossing the Ormara junction where Javed Coach also takes a stop however I have to yet try that.

Finally Some Food!
How is the security?
During the last many trips I did not see any security issues. But this does not mean that one avoids the precautions.

Try to keep low profile, shalwar kameez are the ideal to achieve that. Give respect to the locals and avoid traveling after dark. Security concerns arise from the locals’ perception that Pakistani security agencies are usurping their rights and the word ‘Punjabi’ is like a ‘gaali’there, so keep that in mind too.

Usually I found Makrani people hardworking, friendly, harmless, and busy in their lives, but don’t close your eyes.

Uptil Ormara it’s pretty uninhabited and cutoff from the rest of the country therefore very safe. Pasni is connected with Turbat by road which kept disturbed sporadically while Gwadar is pretty much calm and peaceful in my experience.

What is the condition of the road?
This question is actually redundant! This is such an excellent road that I would only suggest to keep your speed checked - 100 km/h is approximately the most optimum especially from the fuel perspective - and watch out sfor roped barricades raised by customs and levies one of which I erroneously overrode!

The Freeway!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Great Canyon

Cruising Through The Great Canyon
(Also appeared in the News International's Blog)

Only two hundred and fifty paved kilometers from the bourgeoning Karachi located a stretch of recently unlocked land that stands high above an unending maze of intricate ravines. Sneaking through tall cliffs these gorges produce a distinct geographical formation; the ‘canyon’ in travelers’ jargon.

The breathtaking setting only became publicly known after the construction of Makran Coastal Highway – the 650 km freeway – in 2004 and is rapidly gaining popularity among adventure type Karachites. The sight is so overwhelming that even a ‘round the world’ road traveler cannot watch that without a wide open mouth!

The road sign there suggests that this patch of the highway is known as the Buzi Pass which is actually a tortuous territory in the otherwise smooth road.

The belief that the army of Alexander suffered an unprecedented loss while crossing through the 1500 feet high pass differentiates the canyon from the rest of the global league. Memory of the ancient conqueror coupled with the enormity of the setting arguably makes it the greatest of all known canyons. The Great Canyon!

Wonder why the army of Alexander the Great trapped here!?
The then world’s largest army was puzzled, ambushed, and crushed by the foray of a handful of indigenous mountaineers who could even seep into the cracks between unmapped gullies after hunting their bamboozled prey from atop! A lesson indeed from the dusted chronicles of history which no superpower ever liked to learn the secondhand!

Standing in front of the unending backdrop, one can visualize the lethal fight between the time-tested Greek warriors and their agile enemy! On the other hand, driving besides the deadly labyrinth – or a sliced plateau – is an experience which cannot be expressed in words.
Can You Spot Those Miniature Trucks?
For those who are untouched by the landscape eulogy and the historical drama there is enough more enroute to get flabbergasted.

A few kilometers ahead of the rocky terrain the freeway kisses the virgin beach of Kund Malir in style making the combination unworldly. This is where the coastal semi desert meets the gradient waters of the Arabian Sea for an eye-catching combination of the golden yellow, soothing green, and the deep blue. A Designer Beach, if expressed in the tweaked metrosexual lingo!

The peaceful coastal line provides an ideal sunbathing opportunity to the white seagulls which flock in during winters from the cold North in thousands. A treat for Baywatch lovers!
Virgin Beach of Kund Malir
The climax is yet to reach as there is some food for thought for the superstitious souls also! In between the idyllic beach and the twisted mountain pass there are some interesting rock formations allegedly carved by the ocean breeze! Deftly chiseled, some of the shapes are so convincing that even the most rational of the minds will not help nail-biting. Even if one overlooks the castle like formations, the lion shaped rock is literally mind-boggling. Impossible to believe that the high standing statue – which resembles the Great Sphinx of Giza – is carved merely by the passing wind and not by an adroit craftsperson!
Princess of Hope
This tranquil setting is situated just four hours away from the noisy metropolitan and can be done as a long daytrip if timed with the sunrise. For Top Gear lovers the pleasant drive is a bonus as the smooth road, thin traffic, and no troopers only come in dreams.

Unfortunately, roadside facilities are almost non-existent so loading basic necessities, most importantly water, would be a good idea. On the flipside, lack of infrastructure might be a good tradeoff for the adventurous kind who would otherwise feel intrigued by the tourist influx. Refueling is better done before embarking on the journey especially if one is concerned about the bootlegged variant of the neighborhood fuel.

In fact, the escape was a game finisher for my American cousins who were visiting the ‘homeland’ for the winter break. Their Grand Canyon tales would now become a chapter of the history, believe me not!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trip Report: Cruising through the Great Canyon

The Great Canyon! Isn't It?
Last month I got yet another opportunity to drive through the magnificent Makran Coastal Highway. This time it was with my old time University fellows. Since we planned for a Day Trip only so we decided to drive till the picturesque Buzi Pass, around 250 km from Karachi. In fact it was the first time for the rest of the troupe so I had to play the guide role also!

The journey went smooth as per the plans Alhmdolillah. We started off from Karachi even before the sunrise and took a sojourn at Hub for prayers and refueling. After which we drove non-stop till the Hingol River Bridge to have a fulfilling brunch with karak chai at Al-Hasan Hotel.

Both RCD highway and the Makran Coastal Highway are in reasonably good condition. Since it was Sunday morning, so we experienced very thin commercial traffic on the Quetta bound road which was a much relief actually.

Nothing has changed on the Coastal highway since my last journey a year back except for the completion of the under construction bridge before Agore built on the patch of the highway that disappeared due to floods years back.

Past Hingol Bridge it was all beauty as expected. Friends were awestruck in fact. Subhanallahe Wabihamdehi Subhanallahel Azeem!

سبحان الله و بحمدہ سبحان الله ا لعظیم

It took us around four hours, including the enroute stops, to reach to the height of the wilderness, i.e. to the 1500 feet high Buzi Pass.

We saw the Pass and the adjacent canyon in the full sunlight and under clear skies, a great experience indeed. After the trip I was thinking of naming this gorgeous canyon and decided to call it the Great Canyon from now. This title will also remind how the army of the Alexander the Great suffered in those torturous ravines while coming back from the Indian Campaign!

Smell of something burning was in the air. As a Karachite, my riot-censors were about to wake up until I realized that this is coming out of the break-shoes of the passing trailers loaded with fertilizer they picked from Gwadar. A truck wala was in fact busy in managing his vehicle from one hand while capturing the shots of his life with the help of his mobile camera from the other!

We then backtracked to the Rock Formations for another Photo Session. Both Sphinx and the Princess of Hope are just mind boggling. Even after visiting so many times my mind cannot believe that this is just carved by the passing winds! I noticed a change there this time. A triangular flag – akin to what one can find outside shrines and temples – was wavering besides the Princess of Hope signboard.

A similar kind of flag is also mounted near the Kund Malir beach also which we touched on the way back.

The beach was picture perfect and the calm waters were too tempting so we parked the car off the road for some quick splashes. A local has setup a small grocery kiosk there for the rare picnickers. I was offered a cup of tea by the hospitable Makrani fishermen chitchatting with each other. One of them tried to scare me by telling that there are cannibals living in the mountains. Maybe he is right, the area is still least explored!

At around 2 we got packed up in the car again for the return journey halfway through which we met a desert storm developed due to hot and dry conditions. That continued for about half an hour effectively reducing our speed however we managed to reach back Karachi safe and sound just before the sunset, Alhmdolillah!

Here are the timelines of the Day Trip:

0600 Left Karachi
0630 Reached Hub. Fajr Prayers and Refueling.
0815 Zero Point Makran Coastal Highway
1000 Reached Hingol River Bridge. Brunch at Al-Hasan Hotel
1100 Reached Buzi Pass. Photo Session of the Great Canyon before backtracking.
1200 Rock Formations. Photo Session of the Princess of Hope and the Sphiix
1300 Kund Malir Beach
1400 Return Journey started
1600 Reached RCD Highway Junction (Zero Point). Tea Break
1800 Back Home

We were four guys in Tariq’s Mehran which gave excellent mileage for the 550 km journey. Around 25 litres of petrol and 10 kg of CNG was enough for the long drive.

Now enjoy the select photographs courtesy Umer and others:

Zero Point - the Junction between the RCD Highway and the Makran Coastal Highway
Time Starts Now!
Colors of Pakistan
The Road to the Wilderness
Journey Continues
The Chilli Effect
The Slope
Local Life
Kund Malir
Life Along the Coast
The Virgin Beach
Always Expect a Sharp Turn
Under Construction
Cruising through the Great Canyon
Wonder Why the Alexander's Army Got Trapped Here!?
This is What Makes it Great
The Beautiful Coastal Highway
An Inhabitant
Matching Colors
Hingol National Park
The Sphinx of Makran
Princess of Hope
or the Princess of Wilderness?
Anyways, it is Just Mind Boggling
Carved by Winds. Really!?
The Temple of Unknown Goddess!
We Hit the Sandstorm on Our Way Back
Back to the Zero Point
Smuggling or What?