The police called the crew overnight and said that they had mapped a route for us back to Lahore. Not that we didn’t know the way, but the strong sense from the authorities was that we should find our way there as soon as practicable.
To assist us in our decision making, another police escort would be provided.
The way that these escorts work is pretty smooth. A Hilux with a cop sitting in the tray will lead the way. Our driver has to essentially tailgate him as the traffic spreads for the convoy like Moses parting the Red sea. Every 30km or so, the police ute tags out and a new one takes over. Sometimes it is normal police, sometimes it is paramilitary and sometimes it is plain clothed guys.
They all have rifles on display and aggressive uniforms to show who is boss.
I can’t help sense that it is a waste of precious government resources. Why am I so special that I should get an escort? What will happen if, over time, the perceived security situation is good enough for tourists to come flocking into the country? How will the police track movements then?
The crew complain that their phones are being tapped. Usually, when they make calls, it all works fine. But today, there are crackles on the line and many calls drop out or have no sound. It sounds like this is common practice here.
Our initial plan was to leave early and drive to Multan. Here, we were planning to interview a current Pakistani cricketer. However, as is consistently the case, our plans changed when the player had to be in another city at the last moment.
Pakistan is unveiling itself to me in a way that is highly consistent with its team’s performances on the field. One day it can blow your mind. The next day it disappoints. It is always unpredictable. Many times, you are left shaking your head at what is going on.
Pakistan could never be accused of being boring. I love it and hate it at the same time. Just a little bit of certainty would be nice. I am trying to make a documentary. Don’t they realise this?
In the back of my mind, I’m trying to foresee how the documentary will pan out. Every time there is a change of plan or an interview subject drops off, I panic just a little. I want this project to turn out well. I feel like we are on track, but who knows?
The plan is to be driven to Multan in our hired car and then jump on a 4hr bus ride to Lahore, some 350kms away.
The bus terminal at Mutan is clean and airconditioned. People are polite, but their eyes are transfixed on why a gora is filming at a bus station with a crew, five cops following him and a suite of baggage. Surely he isn’t going to ride the bus?
I’m hungry, so buy a chicken roll from the fast food place. It is no different from what you would find in a service station fridge in Australia, except for the extra spices that give it proper flavour. I also get a freshly squeezed pineapple juice from a street vendor. It’s just what I need given I’ve hardly had any fruit or vegetables on this trip. I’m craving them.
The bus itself is new, modern, spacious and clean. It appears that Korean company Daewoo are the operators of the service. Before getting on, our bags are scanned with a hand held metal detector, and I am patted down as I get on. A guy also walks down the aisle once everyone is seated and videos our faces. No one complains. This is normal. Standard procedure.
As the bus pulls out of Multan, it is hard not to notice all of the Chinese money flowing into the country in the form of new civil projects. Roads. Overhead dedicated bus lanes. Rail. I recall seeing somewhere that you can now drive a truck all the way from Beijing to the Pakistani Port of Gwadar because the Chinese built out the infrastructure. Clearly Pakistan is important to them.
The ride through Punjab is dead flat. We may as well be crossing the Nullabor Plain. Map makers in this part of the world would have a simple time. Not a contour line in sight.
Large power transmission lines dominate and criss-cross the landscape like duelling snakes. Every truck we pass is decorated in an elaborate fashion. Some of the horns are brilliant and bring a smile to my face. I heard one that was the Imperial March theme from Star Wars.
We had planned to ride the train from Multan to Lahore, but the police wouldn’t allow it. I can only assume it is because it is hard for a Hilux to lead a train convoy. It’s a shame as I was really looking forward to it.
Most of the crew take the opportunity to rest. I’m spending it mainly watching the world go by outside. Country folk doing country folk things. Herding goats and buffalo. Cropping by hand. Sleeping on wicker beds in the shade.
The TV at the front of the bus is showing an American movie. Every time a woman comes on the screen with cleavage showing, the image is blurred out. Imagine being the person that has that job. The only bloke in Pakistan who gets to see cleavage on a Pakistani TV set, before ruining it for everyone else.
I’m worried that we have wasted these last two days as we were unable to stop along the way and film. I was looking forward to taking a street side haircut or massage. Perhaps try some barbecued meat. Chat with kids in the villages.
But as the brilliant Punjabi sunset falls, I’m grateful for the couple of low key days. No interviews. No research. No second takes to camera. No guests to impinge on.
The Punjab countryside has reinvigorated me.
Arriving at Lahore after dark gives you a real sense that this place is very different to Karachi. Lights everywhere. A sense of colour and drama that Karachi lacks.
A quick Uber to the guest house, followed by dinner with Haider Azhar, General Manager for the Multan Sultans. We eat at a “desi [local]” restaurant and talk about all my favourite Pakistani cricket issues. Match fixing. Resilience. How T20 leagues are changing the landscape. Heroes of the past.
We reach home at about midnight and a parcel is waiting for me. It is from Samaa FM host in Karachi, Adeel Azhar.
Lahore, look out!