REACH QUETTA – AND FIND THE OLD RAJ. PAKISTAN, 1976

[Quetta began life as a caravansarai on the busy trading routes through Asia.  During British rule it grew into their biggest military garrison and a base for attempting to control the vast interior and border with Afghanistan.  Now it is the Taliban who use it as their HQ for launching attacks.  When we were there 33 years ago, the town was under a night time curfew because of civil war with the Baloch – so not very clever to be out late at night at the old Club, even if it was a time-warp from the Raj …]

THURSDAY 18TH NOVEMBER, 1976
“Up very early, left without breakfast to reach Quetta to get visas.  Got to Quetta, pleasant roads with trees and mountains in backgroud, english signs.  Up to Londra Hotel to look for mail with Di – v friendly in reception.

Into town – eventually found people in Farah Hotel – had breakfast of omlette, toast and coffee + little cake and pastry!  Recent pop music playing – understood by waiters!

Afternoon, me, Di, Heidi and Fran wandered round bazaar – great fun.  Camels pulling carts, small gaily coloured scooter-rickshaws – dashed between them and bicycles – incredible variety of hooters!
Lovely stalls with scarves, hats, embroidered clothes etc.  Tasted lots of street foods – small hot batter things with spicy potato filling, sugar beet sticks, nuts etc.
Cloth seller invited us in for tea – sat on painted trunks inside stall and drank revolting sweet milk tea.
Lots of crippled beggars in streets.  Some boys and a teacher invited us in another stall for tea – had three more cups! (Felt quite ill).
Lots of people offering hashish.

[Quetta is 1700m in altitude and below freezing at night, so we went to a hotel instead of camping]
Gas fire in hotel room (had a warm night for once).  While sitting after evening tea, some prosperous looking Pakistanis next to us invited us for a meal.  Insisted on taking us out for a drink beforehand.  9 of us piled in one car (with gun pressed against me) – Sally (minus voice), Adrian, Di, Fran and me. [the gun was a rifle lying on the back seat]
Took us to old Quetta Club – unlocked it for us – amazing dark panelled, red carpeted, quiet corridors, huge big WC, and bare room with two wood fires and a long bar – about 10 liveried waiters suddenly popped up behind the bar. Like stepping back two generations.  Had beer (others on gin and whisky) – one of them hassling Fran for a dance (had tape playing).
Took two and half hours to get them to take us back – hair-raising journey – driver drunk – Di and Fran having struggle in back – me sat on top of the lot!  Banged on hotel door – lots of guards patrolling streets (at 1.30 finally got in!)”

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2 comments on “REACH QUETTA – AND FIND THE OLD RAJ. PAKISTAN, 1976

  1. gecko46 says:

    I was in Quetta a few years before you — got there the first time in the spring of '71, I believe. I had come by train from Zahedan, Iran, which was probably the slowest train journey I've ever endured, replete with a funny little Sindhi in a dhoti who, at unscheduled stops in the middle of nowhere, would open my second class compartment door, climb inside, set up his little paraffin burner, and cook a chappati or two. Somehow he knew when the train would leave, because he'd suddenly jump up, gather all his stuff together, and pop out the door. Within minutes the train would slowly come to life once again.It was an extraordinary place and an extraordinary time, and all of us who were lucky enough to make that overland journey are fortunate indeed. One wonders if such a trip will ever be possible again. Sad. Truly sad.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was born in Quetta in the year 1984, and I remember many Westerners walking around the city, many with back packs and cameras. I remember one of them hitching a ride in our pick-up truck when I was a young kid.Things have changed since 9/11, 2001. The city has turned in to a battle zone between Baloch separatists and authorities. Bomb blasts, target killing and sectarian violence is the order of the day now. No westerners are seen anymore. It hurts and makes my heart bleed when I read and think about the past, to see a small and lively city with very hospitable people getting destroyed bit by bit.BTW…Farah Restaurant is still at the same place and location with the same owners.A resident of Quetta.

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