Taftan is the most ramshackle, decrepit hellhole of a city I’ve yet seen in Pakistan. Like most people living here, I’ve come across my fair share of run down towns, but this one takes the rotten cake. One of the more popular guidebooks describes it as a “depressing, fly-blown den of smugglers,” which is putting it very, very mildly. It’s a hardscrabble frontier town without any redeeming qualities and no hope for the future.
The sad part is, this is the international border b/w Pakistan and Iran – and according to the locals over 200 foreigners enter Pakistan every day through this. This number excludes the much larger number of local Pakistani’s and Iranians who pass through without a visa.
The very first place they come to as they enter Pakistan is the PTDC motel. Here, they often stop for refreshments, an overnight stay or to exchange currency. More importantly, they come here for information about the country they’re just entered – after all this is a hotel run by the “Pakistan Tourism Development Authority”. Sadly, they’ve come to the wrong place for any of the above.
It’s a filthy unkempt place managed on a contract by a Bengali migrant serving as chowkidar, cook, waiter, sweeper, doorman, telephone operator and the manager, all in one. The place is as run down as can be imagined with broken washrooms, faded paint, broken doors, torn curtains, non-existent crockery and cutlery, filthy corridors, piles of junk stored at the indoor green area, a horribly dirty kitchen that serves the dual purpose of catering for the hotel guests and preparations for a eatables shop owned by the manager in the town.
The main gate of the property disappeared or was never fixed in the first place with 2000 square yards of barren land on both sides of the driveway where the Architect had envisaged sprawling lawns – not the plastic bags and assorted junk scattered around. Not a single tree has been planted along the peripheral wall and the enclosure is home to a family of stray dogs.
I fear that entire generations of travelers who have entered Pakistan through Taftan have their worst fears and more about our country confirmed. Obviously, as they travel the length and breadth of the country that impression becomes positive, but why start off on the wrong foot?
*The PTDC hotels around the country represent the image of Pakistan – it is not just a business to be subcontracted out to the lowest bidder.* It has to be said other PTDC motels, especially in the Northern Areas are much better but that does not excuse the travesty at the Iran/Pak border.
The government spends –millions- billions of rupees abroad trying to ‘project a positive image’ of the country, but they fall far short where it really counts – on the ground back home. Tourists who visit Pakistan are the best ambassadors possible for the country – and govt. run institutions like the PTDC Taftan are just a big message to them saying we don’t care to have you here, all those fancy-schmancy ‘Visit Pakistan’ advertisements you see in the travel magazines were just to lure you here.
h4. free trade at work
Taftan is a smuggling town, plain and simple. Iran subsidizes petrol – it sells for an amazingly cheap 1 rupee across the border in Iran. In Pakistan petrol prices are Rs. 58 and going up all the time. No army, police, laws, border patrol – nothing can stop the smuggling when there are such large profits to be made.
Baluchistan wouldn’t survive without this smuggling – it’s the bread earner for much of the province. The govt, in its infinite wisdom realizes this, and so you see one of the funnier sights in this country. There are customs check posts along the highway every so often. Every check post comes complete with a detour around it. The smuggling cars detour around without slowing down, while other, non-smuggling travelers stick to the road and stop at the check post. It’s a good system, and ensures the free flow of traffic. But, why check the non-smugglers? I was stopped at one check post, watching pickups full of petrol (and empty ones headed the other way) speed detour around the check post just 50 yards away from us, wondering why is it that ‘legitimate’ travelers have to be questioned while smugglers speed on. The smuggling never stops, anywhere in the world, but at the least the smugglers can be moved off the main highway.
Iran is having a lovely time off it, subsidizing petrol for its citizens, as well as those of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a few other states. The interesting part of all this is what happens when they stop?