Hitchhiking in Pakistan
I am hitch-hiking in Pakistan and enjoying the hospitality of this wonderful country. (Yes, after two months I am abroad again at last!) I want to share an experience with you.
On my way along KKH (Karakoram Highway) towards Islamabad, I hitched a ride on a truck travelling from Gilgit. The driver did not speak a word of English, but still I sensed that he was a simple and kind-hearted person. We ate watermelon together. At one of several police checkpoints we passed I had to register and show my passport. There, a policeman with a machine gun hanging from his neck shook my hand happily, and said in Chinese that there were Taliban ahead and this whole area was not safe. He asked if I would need a police escort. I said no, since I would be with a local driver inside a truck, safe enough, supposedly. When it got dark, the driver said something to me, obviously as a question. I did not understand a word and just nodded instinctively. He stopped in a very small place in the mountains and got out of the truck. I had no idea what would happen, but I trusted him, and after hitch-hiking for some years already, I had forgotten what “worrying” meant.
About five minutes later, some serious-looking people carrying torches came over to me. Some of them had huge beards, and one in a uniform of some sort said that he was a police officer. He signalled me to get out and follow him, which I did. I then realized that my driver was asking me if I would like to stop and find a place to sleep since it was late. I shook his hands heartily for the journey, during which I witnessed the magical landscape of Kashmir. Then I followed this group of old Muslim men and armed policemen to a yard, in front of which there were military fences. The wall was covered by barbed wire and there were watch towers manned by armed guards. The light was very dim and it was intolerably hot.
When I got into the yard, surrounded by this group of people who did not speak English but obviously wanted to help, I noticed that further away from us there were some topless guys playing cards under a light. I could not hear or see them clearly, but I had the feeling that they were not Pakistani. When I went up, I saw this bunch of Chinese guys with an accent from Henan province, concentrating intensely on their game. I smiled and asked as naturally as if I had already known them for a long time: “Playing cards?” (in Chinese, of course). There started the communication.
They were a group of about 20 Chinese workers, all from Henan province, working on the road here. It was a project (KKH extension) donated by the Chinese government to the Pakistani people, and their company was responsible for that section. It’s a weird thing: Chinese people can be so indifferent and distrustful if I meet them inside China, but if I meet them abroad they are always so kind-hearted and helpful to their fellow countrymen. They hosted me and cooked for me in this settlement. Since that area was actually controlled by the Taliban, the Pakistani government had sent policemen to protect them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. At night, when I was sleeping, there were still policemen on duty on our roof. Whenever they went to work on the road, there would be tens, even hundreds of armed policemen with them. The locals all held firearms, and if you happened to walk into their yard without their permission, even if just to ask for directions, they would shoot you.
The living conditions there were boring, simple and hard. Normally the Chinese workers would not go outside after work, but simply stayed in the yard. If they had to go outside, there would be two policemen accompanying each of them. Not far from their site is the K2 mountaineering trail, where several foreign mountaineers (a few Chinese included) were killed by the Taliban just last year. One Chinese man, who cooked four eggs for me, said to me worriedly: “What on earth are you running around about? Last year there was a kid from Hunan province, China who passed here also, with his bicycle, and was soon found killed just 3 or 4 km down here”. I assured him that my chances of safety were better since I was hitch-hiking with at least one driver and always inside a truck.
The next day they went to work at about 5 AM because of Ramadan, and it was already bright outside. I said goodbye to them, wanting to continue hitch-hiking towards Islamabad. But the armed policemen there would not allow me to go alone because of an agreement they had with Chinese government for the security of Chinese citizens, mainly the road workers. An armed policeman eventually hitch-hiked with me from the settlement to the next police post. That took 4 hours. At the post, another policeman stopped a truck for me, and I continued my journey with a local hitch-hiker. That was my first time hitch-hiking with a police escort.
Peace, peace and again peace, love, hugs and kisses from Pindi!
By Xiao Wei