Islamabad

Shortly before six AM, there was a knock at the door. I ignored it, pretending to be asleep. A few minutes later I opened the door. The much vaunted security was nowhere to be seen and I made good my escape.

Remarkably I wasn’t bothered at all by police the whole day. I rode through several towns, including Abottabad. This was where Osama Bin Laden lived and was killed in a US raid. Coincidentally, this was the same day that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a US raid.

Abottabad

The day passed uneventfully as I made my way towards Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. I was now well and truly out of the mountains and the temperature increased correspondingly. I was finding it quite uncomfortable and stopped for frequent breaks.

Traffic got worse as the day went on. One town, Taxila, was particularly hectic. Bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, tuktuks, cars and lorries all compete for space, honking and swerving like crazy. Eventually I made it out of the town and back on to the dual carriageway into the capital.

There were several groups of protestors near the road. This day had been designated as an official day for protesting the treatment of Kashmiris in Indian-occupied Kashmir. All over Islamabad there were various posters calling for action on Kashmir.

Islamabad itself is a modern city with wide streets that made for easy cycling. I made my way to a hostel and checked in. The only other guest was a cyclist, an American called Lucas. Like me, he was in Islamabad in order to get an Indian visa.

The next day we set about submitting our applications. We gathered all the various documents we’d need, and went to the hospital to get a Polio vaccination. Although we were already vaccinated, we needed a certificate to prove it.

We then took an Uber to the visa application centre. Lucas’s Pakistan visa was almost expired, so he was told he couldn’t get an Indian visa until he extended his Pakistan one. I was able to submit mine, though, and did so. I’d have to wait a week so I checked out of the hostel and into a nicer guesthouse, for the same price.

I enjoyed a restful week before heading to the Indian high commission to collect my visa. As it turned out, though, the roads were blocked. A few tens of thousands of protestors have occupied a sector of Islamabad, and the government is preparing for a siege. Three concentric rings of shipping containers are ready to block the routes to the government area. 10,000 additional soldiers were brought in, so that the government can defend these three layers of defences with escalating force at each one.

For now, though, the protestors were peacefully encamped in a park. I found a pedestrian path through the containers and managed to get to the Indian high commission. The visa wasn’t ready, so I had to return the next day.

Even the diplomatic enclave wasn’t particularly clean. Here pigs are scrounging through waste next to an anti-littering sign

I got my visa the next morning, but decided to take a couple more rest days, partly because there was heavy rain forecast. By the time I resumed cycling I’d been off the bike for 10 days!

I cycled out of islamabad along the Grand Trunk Road, one of South Asia’s largest and oldest roads. To begin with it was reasonably quiet and there were occasional stretches of countryside between the towns.

The road was for the most part flat, and I rolled along quickly. I ended the day in the city of Gujranwala, finding my way to a cheap hotel. They were unused to foreigners and insisted I register with the police before I could stay. We went over to the police station where some rather confused police asked a few random questions, eventually deciding I could stay at the hotel.

October 27: 124 km

November 8: 226 km

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