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Jun 27, 2016

HIGHWAY RUNNERS * Pakistan - A day in the life of truck drivers.

* Punjab - Truck drivers find ways to break the monotony from a life on the go, and how

(Video from Northern Areas of Pakistan - Apr 5, 2016: Brave Truck Drivers are real heroes of mountain communities.. Video By - Zahid Hussain Syed-24 June 2015)

--- On GT Road near Jhelum, a row of artfully decorated, fully loaded trucks can be seen from a distance. They are moving at a slow pace but occupy most of the road space, making it impossible for the fast-moving vehicles to overtake them. Ignoring the repeated honks and the high beams hitting the side- and rear-view mirrors, they do not move an inch to accommodate others. One can read phrases like “queen of the road” or “princess of the mountains” painted on the rear, and realise that the drivers in command literally mean it. They behave like royalty, and assume they have the first right to the highways spread across the country... A closer look into the lives of truck drivers, mostly belonging to the low-income group, uncovers the many perilous adventures they undertake. They are given charge of merchandise worth millions and tasked to deliver it at distant destinations that sometimes take a week to reach. They lead a lonely life. A driver and his helper travelling on inter-provincial routes get to meet their family twice or thrice a month only, and with trucks at the centre of their otherwise dull lives, they socialise among themselves at roadside truck hotels...


... Muhammad Yousaf, 47, who drives a 14-wheel trailer, has many times travelled from Karachi as far up as Swat in the north. A father of four, he remains connected with his family through his mobile phone — a luxury he did not enjoy when he joined this profession back in the early 1980s as a helper. Those were the times when PTCL landlines were the only means to connect with others and people were not as addicted to telephonic conversations as they are today... The number of trucks increased when the National Logistic Cell (NLC) was set up during the Afghan war and a countrywide network of highways was established costing billions of rupees. Cargo, which was to a great extent a domain of Pakistan Railways, went over to the road transport companies. Bedford trucks, trusted for their engine power and long life, were imported especially for the purpose...


 ... Plenty of truck hotals or khokhas emerged along the highways and busy routes with the increase of transport of goods by road. Despite their unattractive sitting area, crockery and cutlery, they remain busy all day long. Frequented by long haul drivers and other passersby, truck hotals are all-weather businesses as movement of goods cannot stop even in worst of conditions... Zaheer Khan, a truck driver from Peshawar, says khokhas are like oases in deserts. “They give us the break we need.” Their menu caters to people from all the provinces. There are also others that specialise in food varieties of a particular province and target a niche clientele. “There is no compromise over quality. You cannot feed low-quality food to a native of a province, claiming it to be its specialty and stay in the business for long,” says Khan... Mutton roast, namkeen gosht, Shinwari gosht, desi chicken qorma and karahi, washed down with mix tea or qehwa, are some of the specialties of these khokhas. Drivers are also provided charpoys for a quick nap for free or at a nominal price. And the lingo used at these hotals is exclusive — “Light tea is called 100km wali chai and strong is 500km wali chai” ... He dispels the impression that drivers have a hefty budget at their disposal to spend on lavish food. A truck owner gives them Rs1,200 per day, which is divided among two drivers and a helper. So, to make an extra buck, “we carry cargo of hotal owners for free and get free or discounted food,” adds Khan... From the sum of Rs1,200, they have to save some to bribe policemen, staff of excise department, and other officials deployed at inter-border checkposts...


... And theirs is one risky business — where they carry expensive goods and cash for fuel and incidentals, they are not allowed to carry weapons. Peer Bakhsh, a driver from interior Sindh, says that truck drivers move together at night especially while passing through risky areas to avoid robbers. “If you are intercepted, they deprive you of your belongings like cash and mobile phones but don’t usually put their hands on the merchandise. We do hide some money in different secret spots inside the truck but the clever ones ultimately retrieve it and beat us badly for trying to be smart” ... 
(Photos by Rahat Dar - A day in the life of truck drivers) -- Jhelum. Punjab, Pakistan - TNS, by Shahzada Irfan Ahmed - June 19, 2016

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