Our journey starts in Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city and once the nation’s capital.
For Westerners looking to traverse Pakistan on two wheels, Karachi’s ports are the gateway. Our motorcycles arrived ahead of us in shipping containers, while we touched down in Lahore, some 2 weeks later and 1300 km away.
We barely had any time to catch a breath, much less explore Lahore’s famous historical sites, before we were on the 2-hour flight to Karachi.
A day later, we were down at Port Muhammad Bin Qasim, named for the Arab military commander who conquered Sindh in the early 8th century. Here, we freed our trusty steeds from their metal cages, and rode them back to our host’s home in the suburbs.
It was from there that we would start our first expedition into Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by land mass, and also its least populous.
We had spent the night loosely planning out our trip, but the only thing any of us actually remember is eating the juiciest lamb with homemade ‘raita’, smoking shisha, and trying to stay awake longer than anyone else for fear of being pranked.
The next morning, we were met with the sweltering heat of Karachi in March. Summer hadn’t even started in earnest, but my Ducati Multistrada’s gauge cluster already registered a temperature of 34 C.
But even the humidity of the day could not dampen our spirits.
There were six of us, with half of our party being some of the most seasoned moto-travelers Pakistan has to offer. Not to be outdone by these mavericks, my fellow Aussies and I followed as our hosts lead the charge out of Karachi, out of Sindh, and into Balochistan proper.
The adventure begins
Our itinerary for the day included a stop at Kund Malir beach, onwards to Ormara, and then all the way to Gwadar, by way of the stunning Makran Coastal Highway. However, a late start to the day meant we would stay in Ormara that night and ride to Gwadar the next day.
Still, Ormara was a good 500 km away, and we were looking forward to the journey ahead.
Getting out of the city took longer than expected, owing to Karachi’s absolutely abysmal traffic. For those unfamiliar, Karachi is a true metropolis, housing some 22 million people, all of whom seemed to be out on the streets that Wednesday morning.
Add to that the fact that all of us were astride large, ungainly adventure bikes, and even our native hosts were having a hard time snaking their way through the cars, trucks, and horse-drawn carts.
Stuck in traffic
Slowly but surely, we inched our way across Karachi’s crowded roads, headed for the bridge that connects the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan.
Goodbye Sindh, hello Balochistan
Things sped up once we got out of the city. We had specifically chosen to go on a weekday to avoid the weekend crowds, and our plan paid off. The cracked, pothole-ridden roads of Karachi were replaced by the smooth asphalt of the Makran Coastal Highway.
On the Makran Coastal Highway
It wasn’t long before we could make out the Arabian Sea on the horizon. The camera doesn’t show it particularly well, but the undulating road gave us a pretty clear view ahead.
A quick roadside stop
Back on the road, we marveled at the desolate Balochistan landscape. The arid climate gives way to barren, endless flat land. The occasional oil tanker going in the opposite direction was the only indication that there were indeed people living somewhere deep in the desert.
I was really able to stretch my Ducati’s legs on the empty highway. The closest police station was some 500 km behind us, so my inner squid decided to come out and play. I gunned the motor higher and higher, till my Ducati was hitting speeds previously reserved for MotoGP riders.
With Kund Malir Beach just 80 km away, we decided to stop at a small roadside restaurant and get some grub. Here, we started off with ‘doodh patti’ (literal translation: milk with tea leaves). And despite it being served in paper cups, I still maintain that it is the best chai latte I’ve had to date.
Grabbing a quick bite to eat
The chai really whipped our appetite, so we followed it up with a full course meal. The ‘afghani seekh’ (Afghan meat skewer) and ‘yakhni’ (meat prepared in broth) paired well with ‘naan’ bread fresh out of the tandoor (clay oven).
While some in our party chose to abstain from eating too heavily, I had missed breakfast so I wolfed down the meat and bread like a wild animal.
Between mouthfuls of mutton, I struck up a conversation with the owner of the restaurant, an Afghan expat himself who had moved to Pakistan almost 30 years prior, seeking asylum.
With our gracious host serving as an interpreter, I learned that the restaurateur had come to Pakistan with nothing but the clothes on his back. In his youth, he would roam the streets of Karachi, collecting cardboard, metal, anything else he could trade for money.
Later on, he did odd jobs for people and businesses, worked as a laborer, and eventually saved enough to start the small restaurant where we now sat.
At the end of our meal, the owner refused to accept payment, saying something along the lines of ‘friends do not pay at my restaurant’. It took a fair bit of convincing, but ultimately, we left the restaurant with our bellies heavier and our wallets lighter.
Afghani seekh, yakhni, and naan bread
Now fully energized, we tackled the pavement with even more confidence.
And not soon afterwards, we stopped to refuel. Here, I had the unique experience of filling up my bike’s tank with something called ‘Irani tel’ (Iranian fuel).
For context, the quality of fuel in Pakistan isn’t the highest. Even in the big cities, we had to fill up with premium fuel or risk our engines getting damaged.
In remote areas like this however, premium fuel was nowhere to be found, and even regular gasoline was a stretch.
Instead, most of the gas stations carry ‘Irani tel’ smuggled across the Iran border. This fuel contains a lot more contaminants and particles that could ruin engines from the inside out.
The workaround used by most travelers is to use a cloth to filter the fuel. This does remove some of the contaminants, but it’s still not ideal. Our hosts had a support vehicle following us, carrying premium fuel, and most of our luggage as well.
Using a cloth filter to remove contaminants from ‘Irani tel’
In addition to mixing the premium fuel with the ‘Irani tel’, we also used octane boosting additives to improve fuel quality.
We reached Kund Malir Beach a little after lunchtime. I hadn’t packed my swimming trunks, but the cool sea breeze helped relieve some of the stress from traveling all day.
Kund Malir Beach
Here, I decided to jump on our host’s bike, the only one outfitted with off-road bias tires, and explore the beachside.
Kund Malir Beach is flanked on 3 sides by towering hills. I looked at the horizon and saw small dots moving along the mountain road; cars, trucks, and other motorcyclists. Pretty soon, we would be on those roads as well, with the sea following alongside us all the way to Ormara.
Our beach day was cut short by our host who urged us to get going so that we could make it to Ormara before the sun went down. I had heard that the Ormara sunset was a sight to behold, so I was happy to comply.
Back on the road, we got a nice change in scenery. The flat landscape morphed into towering hills and rocky outcrops that stood sentinel above us and all around us. With the sun getting lower in the sky, the cliffs and bluffs cast eerily beautiful shadows all around us.
The road ahead twisted and turned. At times, we were completely enveloped by rocky walls on either side. In the blink of an eye, the walls would disappear and the sea would sneak up so close to us that you could almost touch it.
Putting the ‘coast’ in Makran Coastal Highway
Next up, we made an impromptu stop to admire the ‘Princess of Hope’. This unique outcrop of rock resembles a crowned maiden waiting patiently.
Legend has it that there was an ancient princess whose lover went off to war, leaving her behind. She waited so long for her lover’s return that she turned to stone and now awaits his return for all time.
The Princess of Hope
But with the beautiful sunset of Ormara serving as the carrot at the end of a long day spent traveling, we were back on the road once again.
I decided to make up for lost time by pushing my motorcycle to the limit and my companions thanked me for giving them an excuse to do the same with theirs.
We ran into a bit of traffic in the form of a convoy of tankers. And would you believe our luck, we were met with a similar convoy headed in the opposite direction at the same time!
Not to be deterred by a couple trucks carrying thousands of tons of highly flammable liquid, our party decided to split lanes and get ahead any way we could. We would later talk about how dumb and foolhardy we had been to do so, but in the moment, nothing could keep us from our goal.
Some very dangerous lane splitting to keep us on our toes
At this point, there was only one thing on my mind, and my friends didn’t need to use the comms system to tell me that they felt the same way. There was an infectious energy in the air, mingling with the fresh smell of sea salt.
The wind was at our backs, pushing us forward. The road seemed to get wider and wider, inviting us to go faster, harder, faster! A steady stream of cool evening air made its way over my bike’s windshield and onto my face and chest.
It was as if we were comets, shooting across space, and Ormara was the black hole at the center of the universe, pulling us into its indifferent grasp.
As I saw the sun dipping below the horizon, I realized that innate human desire to ‘go home’. Astride our bikes, all of us felt like ancient travelers, hoping to get to their destination before darkness fell. Because if the night sky swallowed these comets, would they even emerge on the other side?
As I crested that last hill, I saw a splendid glow on the horizon. The dying sun gave off countless beams of light that penetrated the clouds, diffracting into a million shades of yellow and orange. The backdrop varied from mauve to lilac to a pale blue.
We pulled onto the large viewing platform, the sea sprawling out in front of us, waves crashing and receding incessantly, a chain of mountains looming in the distance.
It was one of the most breathtaking scenes I have ever seen in my life. I have witnessed sunsets all over the world, but as we got off our bikes and looked off into the distance, I felt as though I was seeing the sun set for the first time.
Pulling into Ormara Beach
As we set off for our hotel, all was quiet on the comms. All of us seemed to be in a reverie of our own. And yet, each of us knew what the other was thinking. Our one-day pilgrimage to Ormara had given us a spiritual bond that would not soon be broken.
It’s interesting how the shortest of experiences can have the most profound effect on a person. Because after spending more than 8 hours journeying across the Balochistan desert, we stayed at Ormara Beach for less than half an hour.
I took the opportunity to remove my riding boots and walk barefoot on the beach. As the wet sand got in between my toes, I remember looking out onto the great expanse of the Arabian Sea. At one point, I found myself thinking I could almost see my house in Australia on the other side, with my wife and kids just getting ready to turn in.
And suddenly, the tale of the Princess of Hope seemed a lot more believable.