Sunday, 3 February 2008

From the Khyber to Ceylon (Chapter 8 - Into Pakistan)

So down from the heights, from the wild mountain world, to the sweltering plains and eventually to Peshawar. The bustle and noise, the smells and overcrowded heat-dazed population made a strong contrast to the dignified, almost regal individuality of the Afghans. Teeming thousands of passive Pakistanis milled around gregariously on every street, blissfully ignoring the assortment of crazily driven cars which swerved, horns blaring, between bullock carts and meandering robed figures.

Our truck-driver friend deposited us in the middle of the market-place. Fortunately he had a lot of acquaintances and, between us, with much exertion and even more well-meant advice from a crowd of interested onlookers, the Prima was again manhandled down to ground level. Another search began to try and locate a bearing of the right size, and again we had no luck.

On the second day in Peshawar I began to feel dizzy and out of sorts and found myself cursing the situation, our sick machine, and the lack of repair facilities even more than usual.

On the third day I awoke with a high temperature and a feeling of great weakness which was impossible to fight. For the next three days I lay swamped in my own perspiration, dimly aware that something was radically wrong and wondering idly if I would ever leave the small hotel room in which I lay. From somewhere Nita procured a Pakistani doctor who dosed me with pills, prescribed a diet of yoghourt, and would not accept any fee. That gesture (perhaps more than the medicine) did much to hasten my recovery from dysentery. On the third day the fever went and I was able, with the help of my wife, to get up and dress. It was another month before I felt really fit again and reached my normal weight.

With all hope lost of a new bearing for the scooter, we reassembled the rear-end and pushed on to Lahore. There, we were assured, we would find everything we needed.
I do not remember much of that stretch. Partly because it was flat and uninteresting country and partly because, after being prostrate and foodless for most of our Peshawar stay, I found steering the scooter something of a major feat. Happily, though, the combination of a good tarmac road and a low cruising speed enabled us to reach Lahore.

Floundering along at ten miles an hour, with the most horrible rattle overriding the exhaust burble, we wobbled to the door of the NSU agents, on a wide, well-laid-out avenue of shops nostalgically called 'The Mall'. Little did we realize, as we clattered through the centre of busy, crowded Lahore, that we were to be detained for six weeks in this Pakistani city. But such, incredibly, was to be the case.

At first it was very pleasant to be convalescing in a comfortable hotel. The scooter was being thoroughly overhauled by the agents and within a week (we understood) should be like new. A new replacement bearing and oil-seal would be obtained in the city and once those elusive parts were found our troubles would be over. In theory, then, everything seemed plain sailing.

There was a novel fascination in leading a routine life again for a brief spell, and I caught up with some writing that was long overdue. We ate regularly and well in our hotel which was run by a faded Englishman who was unable to accept the fact that the British had left.

The agents continued their search for parts, while they lavished attention upon the rest of the scooter. One old metal-craftsman made an excellent panel-beating job of the torn and twisted foot-boards which had been battered almost beyond recognition by the tracks of Persia and Afghanistan. Thank God, we thought, there will be no repetition of that horror.

At the end of the first week the fun began. A wheel bearing had been fitted and, the scooter being pronounced in almost original condition, I was asked to take the machine for a longish test run to make sure that all was well. This I did, and was promptly stranded fifty miles from the city. I coaxed a lift back after a long wait and arrived at the hotel a day and a half later. Twice more, experimental bearings were tried, tested, and discarded as useless, until, heartily sick of this parade of failures, I cabled the factory
in Germany to send a complete unit out, post-haste.