Leaning back casually on his chair in the hall the soldier stared at me through the half open door. He fiddled repeatedly with the .303 rifle on his lap, inserting and ejecting a round he’d taken from his bandoleer so smoothly it seemed habitual. I had attempted conversation but he spoke no English and could only offer a smile which continued to erupt at odd intervals from under his big black handlebar moustache ‑ I guessed he found guarding a ‘renegade’ Westerner rather amusing.
I was not altogether surprised to find myself under house‑arrest in Gwadar ‑ the last coastal village in Pakistan before the Iranian border – as I knew that the whole of Baluchistan Province was closed to foreigners without special permits. I had decided to try and wing‑it to Gwadar after a permit had proved impossible to secure. The elusive document was available only in the capital Quetta where the same permit was required to first enter the city ‑ such are the intricacies of travel in Pakistan.
No one had prevented me from boarding the small plane from Karachi and I had marvelled at a coastline so foreign, rugged and desolate that it could easily have been the shore of a distant world. Gwadar and its small harbour are nestled in a bleached but serene bay in the lea of a large battle‑axe headland that juts out into the Arabian Sea. Upon arrival I was again unchallenged and had chatted with the soldiers at the barren strip before taking a beaten‑up cab into the village. In retrospect I probably could have proceeded straight to the dhow I had seen anchored in the harbour and negotiated passage to Arabia with the captain there and then. Instead, I had politely made my way to the police fort to announce my presence and go through Customs.