It’s still early as the trucks pull up in the huge courtyard in front of the Quetta Durrani Hotel on the Superhighway. A lazy dog raises its head, yawns and goes back to sleep. No danger of being run over from any of the heavy vehicles, they are all regulars here. Mixed with the smell of diesel is the aroma of strong tea, something that’s badly needed after a six- to seven-hour drive.
“You have cafes, diners, inns, bed and breakfast, and even super markets on highways in the West. There it is compulsory to take a break after every two or three hours of driving in order to avoid any mishaps on the road but our drivers here in Pakistan don’t have that kind of luxury,” says Zakariya Khan, heading out to the Punjab
“Here you are on a tight schedule to deliver goods on time, otherwise, you have to answer to the truck owner, your boss,” he adds.
“At these roadside restaurants, too, you can easily spot the drivers and truck owners. The owners usually order mutton roast that costs around Rs350 and the poor drivers have the lentils or vegetable curry that is around Rs50,” he says before taking a bite from his mutton roast.
“Yes, I’m an owner now,” he laughs upon realising that he has just given himself away. “But before this I have been a driver for 30 years. I know what drivers have to go through and how tired they get driving non-stop. In fact when stopped in that condition by the highway police or magistrate, I even forget my own name and have occasionally told them that I am called ‘Filter’ while giving my father’s name as ‘Carburetor’,” he shares. There is no shortage of restaurants alongside the highway. There is the Makkah Restaurant, Sajjad Restaurant, A1 Mehran Restaurant, Highway Golden Restaurant, etc. But these are the more posh ones that resemble marriage halls and open in the evening usually as they cater to families mostly. The truck drivers don’t stop there. The Quetta Durrani Hotel, Chishti Hotel, New Quetta Pakistan Hotel, Bilal Hotel, Data Darbar Hotel and the like with open yards, takhts covered with mats and lots of bolster cushions at hand along with those orange water coolers is more their thing.
Azhar Abbasi, the cook at Bilal Restaurant, says a truck driver usually spends Rsl50 there. “A plate of vegetable curry or lentils and two cups of strong tea to help them stay awake and alert will cost about that much. We also have chicken curry and brain masala, if they’d prefer that, with fresh rod and naan” he says.
Haji Mohammad Zaheer, the restaurant owner, says that these roadside restaurant stopovers are like homes for the truckers who are always on the road. “That is why we provide them with cushions and pillows to be able to relax here for a while. They are good, honest and hardworking men transport-
ing commodities and goods from one part of the country to the other… they are the real backbone of our economy,” he says.
“They drive these heavy expensive trucks on very bad roads. This highway may seem all right at this point but it isn’t like that all the way. It’s a bumpy ride,” Haji Zaheer adds.
About the roadside restaurants for truckers, he says: “You must have noticed how each restaurant is near a petrol pump and a mosque. This all is part of the development started by the feudal or landowners here who have built these facilities on their land and given it to the people like us to run on contracts. We provide the food while the drivers stopping over can also freshen up at the mosques and offer their prayers there, too.”
Haji Zaheer says that before running the Bilal
Restaurant, he owned a cafe in Karachi, near Ayesha Manzil. “It is different running a restaurant or cafe in the city. I was constantly bullied by extortionists there, but this place is out of their reach, thank God!”
“The consistency of salt or masala doesn’t matter. The truck drivers are so tired and hungry by the time they make a stop here that they just eat and have a quick shuteye without making any demands. They are all familiar faces. We know their routes, too,” says Rafaqat Abbasi who manages the Data Darbar Hotel near the first Toll Plaza outside Karachi.
“Sometimes a stopover extends to more than a couple of hours for trucks going into Karachi. This usually happens in the evenings around Maghrib for then they can’t go into the city with loaded vehicles due to a law against it. On such occasions, they have to wait here till 11pm before resuming their journey. That is why we have a television here for their entertainment,” he explains, adding that still most prefer to wait out the time while sleeping inside their driving cabins.