Traveling from Murree to Islamabad got much easier several years ago when the motorway was completed providing a lovely two-lane divided highway for travel. It is normally a quick jaunt on a link road from Jhika Gali to the motorway. But we no longer have that luxury, as part of the link road was washed out during the monsoon season. So instead you head out of town on a different route, this adds about 15 more minutes to the journey, unless of course, you are riding with one of the school’s lead-foot drivers.
My most recent journey started with rounding up two students that needed to go to the orthodontist. Our van and driver were waiting and ready to go, and we pulled out promptly at 1430. I had packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water for the 2 boys as they were going to miss afternoon teatime. Our driver quickly made it through Jhika Gali, which is no small feat, as there is always lots of foot and motor traffic.
At this point in time, I am able to take off my headscarf; we wear them to show respect when around the locals that we do business with. Next, we headed past the army base with some trucks full of soldiers, through another small town, and then down a hill past a local amusement park. I have never seen anyone riding on any of the rides at this site, which includes a fairly large Ferris wheel. At last, we were on the motorway. As you travel along you are struck by how red and rocky the soil is. You also notice how easily it is eroded; tree roots are exposed and many small rock slides dot the sides of the roadway. Monsoon season was particularly long this year and the damage is evident.
It is always amazing to me how many people, animals, and little shops populate this motorway. Today we drive past school children, both girls with their white dupattas, and boys in their dark pants and white shirts, dragging their backpacks and slates home. Some will walk home, and others are climbing into ornately decorated, canopied Suzuki Bolan pick-up trucks. Often 15 or more people ride in and on these mini-sized pickups.
There are also many men and women just using the motorway for traveling. I used to wonder where they were all going; some are likely heading home from work, while others may be going to a small shop for groceries or other necessities. I also wondered where they came from, as there are not many homes right on the motorway. Instead, if you look down along the steep hills you see many homes dotting the landscape.
Small footpaths connect the motorway to these homes and villages. You often see men just sitting along the motorway passing time. As well there are lots of little fruit stands and eateries along this road. Some are folks selling just roasted corn others are more elaborate sit down restaurants. Today I watch as a man stokes the fire under his big pot of oil, for cooking pakoras. Animals are just one more element along the roadway. Today we drive past a dog, many spotted cows, some goats, and the first herd of sheep that I have seen here. Last week I also saw 2 camels being lead along. As well today I am able to observe two donkeys being used to haul cinderblock and sand up a hill, the term “beast of burden” becomes quite literal.
The motorway is a wonderfully smooth road, with only a few carefully planned speed bumps—right before a sharp turn. These cause our driver to slow way down as we drive over them. Although the road is smooth it is in no way a good road for those with a tendency towards car-sickness. The road winds back and forth down the hills for about 5000ft to Islamabad. The temperature goes up about 30 degrees and the air becomes quite hazy as you get close to the city.
Our driver kindly switches on the aircon as we get descend.
After about an hour on the motorway, we come to the toll booth, everyone must stop here and pay the 25 rupee fee to help maintain the road. Once past this booth, it is not much further into the city. Right next to the toll booth is a strange shop with huge fiberglass animal sculptures—dinosaurs, a shark, and a giraffe family.
Next, we travel through a small town just outside Islamabad. The sides of the road are full of people, and stalls selling everything from blankets to garlic. There are also schools, medical clinics, and a mosque. People travel by foot, taxi, Suzuki van, or motorbike. I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing a whole family; mom, dad, and several children all stacked on one of these little motorbikes. As well there are large trucks which are ornately decorated with paintings, figurines, chains, and lights. These move slowly up and down the motorway, carrying their loads of anything from building supplies to livestock.
When we finally reach Islamabad we enter the city by traveling around a large traffic circle call a chowk. This brings us to the main roadway in Islamabad. Our driver navigates the heavy traffic well—again a large mix of pedestrians, motorbikes, bicycles and even several horse-drawn carts. At each stoplight solicitors or beggars come up to the vehicles trying to get a handout or sell their wares. The air is smoggy here and hot. You can feel it in your eyes and throat. Finally, we reach our destination after about an hour and a half of traveling. We spent roughly 30 minutes at the orthodontist, after which we e head back into the van for our ride home.
We see roughly the same things on the ride home, except that this time there are many women on the road with their water pots. Some are carrying the empty pots in their hands, others have the full ones perched upon their heads—perfectly balanced as they head back home. There are also men carrying large bundles of sticks home in the same manner.