London to Kathmandu – 1987

I boarded the plane at Istanbul airport feeling quite nervous. I had never been to Pakistan before, and here I was leading a group of passengers to a country I didn’t know.

I was English and thus had been denied an Iranian visa [luckily for us Brits, times have changed, though we still pay more than anyone else, save perhaps ‘The Great Satan’s brood from across the pond].

So, the other Exodus driver (being a Kiwi) had to leave me in Istanbul, drive the truck empty across Iran, and meet me in Quetta.

I, on the other hand had to get us all safely from Istanbul to Karachi (Pakistan), then get us all on the train to Quetta to meet up with the truck.

We flew to Karachi and disembarked, and my responsibilities began in earnest.

Somehow, I managed to persuade a local policeman to guide us all to a hotel for the night. The following morning, I went off to the Railway Station Booking office, to secure twenty tickets for a second class sleeper.

This I thought, was the easy part (in my dreams) as finding the station was really straightforward.

However, after walking past a huge crowd time and time again looking for the booking office, which had to be quite large due to the volume of rail travellers in this part of Pakistan, I was no nearer finding the place.

Quetta Train Station
Karachi Train Station

In utter frustration, I made signs and noises of trains to as many locals as possible.

I was then directed to the crowd, through which I duly fought my way to the front to be confronted by a single window no more than two feet square.

Despite the almost manic squabble going on around me, I managed to convey to the little face in the window that I wanted train tickets. After speaking to several people through this little window, I do feel I almost secured the deal, that is until I mentioned I needed twenty.

From that moment on events became a blur. I was grabbed by two policemen and forcibly escorted into the booking office. I was then detained for what seemed an eternity while several high-ranking policemen and army officers turned up to have a look at me.

Much, much later, it transpired that I was viewed as some kind of security threat, as I was enabling a large group to travel together up to the northern areas.

At that time, travel in the northern areas was severely restricted, due to heightened tensions over Kashmir.

Eventually I persuaded them that I was really no threat at-all and that in fact I was quite intent on bringing tourists to Pakistan (and not terrorists – you need to be very careful how you pronounce ‘tourist’ in some places).

They in turn went to great lengths to reassure me that the troubles in the north would not affect us so far to the south.

Eventually I managed to secure the tickets and we all duly boarded the train.

However, it was still a shock when our train was attacked by bandits as we sped north to Quetta.

Most of my fellow travellers looked to me for reassurance and all I could say was, “perhaps we should have gone first class?”

Exodus Trainee Leader

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