Under the Radar

Sukkur, Pakistan
June 4, 2019

The police escort continued to dog me even as I was leaving Larkana. Perched on the back of a police motorbike, I was taken to the van. The policeman dutifully took photos of the driver, the license plate and the license. The van may have seen better days but like the lady going to Banbury Cross, she has rings on her fingers and bells on her toes!

The traffic congestion caused by the herd of buffalo soon gave way to fields on either side, some awaiting planting, while others were heavy with crops. A couple of brick factories, the method unchanged for millennia. Traffic ran the gamut between heavily loaded trucks, donkey carts and motorbikes all but hidden from view under piles of goods.

We made good time and the driver stopped just outside Sukkur. He found a rickshaw driver and with much fanfare proceeded to take his photo and the photo of is license plate – his turn no doubt to act officious. And equally officiously directed the man to drive me to a hotel. Here we go again I thought, back to being trailed by a police escort.

But the hotel was closed. When I asked why, He shrugged and said they probably had not paid the police enough money. Asking at a couple of others, I learned they would not take foreigners. I was in Wahab’s hands.

“No problem”, he said. He would take me to a guesthouse and so he did. The room was fine, but the management did not seem inclined to go the official route. I was under the radar with nary a police escort on the horizon; I was not inclined to argue.

Wahab, is a voluble soul and the conversation that had started with a “hello sister” has rapidly devolved into Urdu with occasional Balochi words thrown in. He has decided a tour of the city is in order and I dump my backpack at the guesthouse and we set out. Wahab keeps up a constant commentary as we weave through the usual chaotic traffic, liberally sprinkled with anecdotes, jokes and some very tall tales that he delivers with a twinkle in his eye. He is a laugh a minute and I am kept in stiches! We rattle over the Sukkur barrage and Lansdowne bridge, both engineering feats dating from the days of the British Raj. My whirlwind tour includes the minaret of Masoor Shah, appointed Nawab of Sukkur by Mughal emperor Akbar and the requisite mosques. Climbing the eighty four steps up the narrow winding stairs gives us a birds’ eye view of the city.

Under the bridge I had seen boats and men in the Indus river. Wahab tells me that they dive under water to catch fish with their hands and follows it up by asking if I would like to go for a boat ride. Not needing to be asked twice, we do just that.

A group of men enjoying mangoes under the tree wave languidly to a boat and soon we are being poled up the river. Stopping at a small village, we pick up a few other local passengers as well. An impromptu boat ride on the Indus – what better way to cap my whirlwind tour of Sukkur?

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