Adventure in Islamabad, Pakistan

By Barr Soltis


British bikes in Islamabad
British bikes in Islamabad. Photo by Barr Soltis.

In November 1990, just weeks before the commencement of Operation Desert Storm, I arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan and was met at the airport by an acquaintance of mine named Mike. I had known Mike only as a business associate when I worked in Houston and he worked in McAllen, Texas. Even though we had never personally met, Mike was instrumental in my assignment to Islamabad.

We drove directly from the airport to Mike’s house, where I met his lovely wife Kim. Kim was born and raised in Singapore had prepared a scrumptious breakfast in celebration of my arrival. Afterwards, Mike took me to my government provided quarters that was located only a few blocks away. My home for the next three years was located in Section F7/8, which is located near what is known as the Blue Area and not too far from the Diplomatic Enclave, the Faizal Mosque and the Margalla Hills.

Mike has been a very interesting person and is a good friend. For as long as I have known him, he has been somewhat of a wheeler-dealer and it didn't matter if it was jewelry, Rolex watches, oriental carpets, custom hand-made furniture or motorcycles. If you wanted the best deal in town, Mike was the go-to guy.

In Islamabad, Mike was best known for his uncanny ability to get great deals on old British motorcycles. He knew the ins and outs of getting a decrepit old motorcycle from a junk heap and having them restored to like-new condition. Thus, I became the owner of a restored 1952 Triumph TRW motorcycle and a 1954 Matchless. There were three of us who had several of these motorcycles, Mike, Lonnie and I. The photo above depicts a part of our stable, the closest one in the picture is my Matchless painted a dark cherry that I eventually gave to Mike about four years later.

One morning I decided to take a ride up the Margalla Hills. Margalla Hills is a national park located in the foothills of the Himalayan range. The topography is rugged, with numerous valleys and many steep and even precipitous slopes. The road from Islamabad is no different. This road, like many in Pakistan, is very dangerous to travel, is about one and half lanes wide, and is notable for hairpin turns and deteriorated road surfacing all the way to the top.

I had ridden this road before and at the top of the range, I had previously noticed a small village far away in a valley that I had never visited. This was my intended destination on this eventful day.

Before I started my decent to the unknown village, I pulled to the side of the road to let my motor cool and to get a breath of fresh air after numerous hairy encounters with other vehicles on the ride up. As I straddled my Triumph, engine off, the unexpected happened. A Mitsubishi Pajero (SUV) quickly pulled off the road in front of me and stopped. Immediately, the driver and the front passenger emerged from the Pajero. One was bearing an AK-47 and the other carried a small sub-machinegun that I was unable to identify. There are two important things to understand. One is that AK-47s were readily available in Pakistan as a result of the Russian evasion of Afghanistan and that kidnapping for ransom is considered a sport in Pakistan, about like cricket.

It took me about 10 seconds to evaluate my situation and it was bleak. I was on a narrow road with at least a 1000 foot drop on my right and on my left was a very steep hill, so running was not much of an option. The engine was off and I knew that I could not kick-start that old cycle in time to attempt an escape with two guys approaching me with automatic weapons. I resolved myself to the fact that I was screwed.

Just when I had realized that my fate had been sealed the sole passenger in the Pajero opened his door and approached me with a smile. Then I noticed something in his hand. It was not another firearm; it was a camera! Apparently, the passenger really liked my motorcycle and only wanted a photo session, after which he handed me the sub-machinegun and let me shoot it into the hillside.

Soon thereafter, the Pajero and my new acquaintance departed. I decided that I had enough excitement for one day and returned to Islamabad and said a prayer of thanks.




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Copyright 2008 by Barr Soltis. All rights reserved.



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