Well, yes, it looks like they finally let us drive freely! So we go from Sindh to Punjab, and decide to stop at Sadiqabad, where, between the crowd and the waste, we will give up soon enough to find a bivouac in the nature…to fall back on the only hotel we’ve spotted. Ouch: an impossibility to welcome foreign tourists (« safety issues »), we will accept a proposal for a room for the modest sum of 110 €. Very little, or rather too much, for us, we must again appeal to the police…which will convince the manager of the hotel to let us spend the night in their parking. Phew, finally!
Compromise for the next two days: since they persist in wanting to escort us and we want to visit, to the daily question « Where do you want to go? », we give the (reasonable) list of the sites we identified on the road to Islamabad. It is then in a « VIP » mode (quite annoying, but we must admit, also practical to avoid traffic jams, tolls, and not be assaulted by curious crowds), we will visit the Derawar Fort in Cholistan, a huge old building that is a priori 5000 years, established on a desert plain, and unfortunately very poorly preserved.
About 100 km further, a bad road sinking into the countryside, with few signposts (not sure we would have found it so easily without the escort), will lead us to the Sufi tombs, still beautiful and in good condition in Uch Sharif.
After a stopover in Bawahalpur, and with a few photo stops on the road always framed by fields, rice fields, tall trees (including mango trees crumbling with fruit), market stalls full of bananas, watermelons, and other tempting fruits, we will drive to Multan.
Tired by the road, the heat and the escort, we will content ourselves with a visit to the Sufi mausoleums of Baha ud-din Zakariya and Shah Rukn e-alam. After the completely open sites of Derawar and Uch Sharif, the huge, ultra-secure compound where the mausoleums are, reminds us of Quetta.
The rest of the day and the night will be spent at the police camp, where we can rest a little, do some shopping (finally getting a SIM card) and relax with a game of improvised volleyball with the local children (with a beautiful bonus sprain for me).
Finally, it is on a highway to Islamabad that our « guardians » will let us go for good the next day. We can finally test a first off-road stop by ourselves for lunch, in the middle of fields and near one of the many brick factories noticeable by their high chimney spewing black smoke. Great welcome from the workers, happy to have visitors and show the very handcrafted and demanding process, in bright sunlight.
Introduction to the families (including women), some of whom are Christian. In this Islamic republic where we almost always ask the question « Are you muslim? » , sometimes even before starting the conversation (maybe due to the Ramadan period), we would almost forget that there are of course other minority religions. Delighted by this first direct contact, we will spend a great time with them, which will end with a small printing session of some of the photos taken, which will be left in modest memory of our passage.
We will reach the capital Islamabad the next day, still in the configuration Loïc in the front and me with the children in the back, because it is Maëlia’s turn to be sick.
First traffic lights, dense, but fluid traffic, more modernity and variety in vehicle models, organization in square blocks, large and beautiful homes, avenues lined with tall trees: all that changes well from what we saw until now, including in Iran. The GPS leads us a little time before the break of the fast for Ramadan, in front of the beautiful house of Waqar and his wife, parents-in-law of a former comrade of Loïc, who are kind enough to welcome us. We enjoy the excellent typical meal (remembering the name of all the dishes is impossible), while talking with these former long-term expatriates in Africa, who will give us advice on places to visit near Islamabad, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the east and Gilgit Baltistan to the north.
We will then leave our guests to sit in the shade of trees and in the cool (relative) Rose and Jasmin Garden, south of the city.