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Archive for October, 2010

Day 18. Lahore to Multan

Not much today as it was mainly driving all day through the main cotton and agricultural heart of Punjab but we did stop at Harappa which is about halfway. Harappa was the first of the Indus Valley Civilisation sites discovered which is why is sometimes referred to as the Harappan Civilisation. This is the mature phase of the civilisation that dates back 5000 years.

We had a tour of the small museum and then wondered about the site which is in reasonably good condition. Unfortunately, the same problem applies as with Taxila which is that the fewer the numbers of foreigners the lower the ticket sales and therefore little tourist development.

We met a local school teacher with his group who were very keen to have their pictures taken with us or rather with Ryan and Jini! We also had a healthy discussion where he was keen to ask Ryan and Jini what Pakistan had done to deserve such a bad press and were we really that bad? As with every discussion of this nature, Ryan and Jini could only talk of the wonderful hospitality they had received and the warmth with which they had been met with. The only point that they could make was that their government’s views and policies did not reflect their own. We were of course then invited to his house for tea!

We arrived in Multan after sunset and after checking in made for one of the more trendy restaurants in town, Zanzibar. I had an interesting few moments as I came down to the lobby to have two men stand up as I passed them, call my name and ask to have a few minutes of my time for some questions. When I pushed them to explain why, they countered by letting me know that they worked for the intelligence services. I naturally complied. They were just checking names, details and purpose of our visit. What was interesting was that they asked me a number of times whether we were part of an NGO relief operation as they couldn’t fully appreciate that we were tourists!  

Multan was surprisingly well catered for in terms of modern upmarket restaurants. There aren’t many but they are definitely there.

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Lahore, Lahore Hai!

Day 16.  Islamabad to Lahore   

After a few hours sleep we were up early as mum was flying in from London. We had decided to meet her at the airport and for Rashid to pick up Ryan and Jini to meet us there. Mum came out cursing and blinding as one of her cases had got lost but otherwise she was in good spirits. After a brief catch up she was whisked off to Daultala as we headed for Lahore.

After checking in, we made for Lakshmi Chowk for some lunch and eneded up having some Tuka Tuk which was a novelty for the group. I’d contacted Javed, my friend and Lahore guide, and he was waiting outside the fort so soon enough we were at one of Lahore’s famous sites. After the fort we visited the Badshahi Mosque just as the sun was setting which made it all the more serene and peaceful. I’m always happy to be there as it’s my favourite building in Lahore if not in Pakistan. We ended up stuffing ourselves at Cooco’s as usual. It’s quite noticeable that only a few years ago, the mosque and minarets were brightly lit up whereas now it was just the domes which didn’t quite do it justice as well as it used to do.

So whilst we were in the mosque, we called one of the chaps up that we’d met in Chitral who’d said that he was in the film industry and if we wanted to check out a shoot, that we should contact him. Well, he gave us a number of a minor celebrity, Shan Zeb.

After a couple of phone calls, Shan Zeb said that he’d be at the studio till quite late and that we’d be more than welcome to visit. What a great way to end our first night in Lahore! So off we went to the studios where we met Shan Zeb, a very amiable chap who was more than happy to show us around the studios and amusing costume rooms. Although there was no shooting that night he did say that he knew of shoot not far away. The funny thing was that he was not very complimentary about the lead actor and he made no attempt to hide the fact that he didn’t really like him or his acting. But, as he knew the people involved with the making, we could go along.

15 minutes later we find ourselves in a house not far from the studios that’s been take over for this shoot. We get ushered in as if we are celebrities ourselves and before we know it, we’re shaking hands with the lead actor himself. We were offered tea and we sat patiently watching the painfully slow process of arranging the different scenes. It was a particularly low budget Punjabi film (financed by the lead actor no less). We did get to see a couple of hilarious scenes being shot and I that was enough really.  We made our excuses and headed back to the hotel amused at what we’d just experienced.

Shan Zeb was in good spirits and did say that if we were about tomorrow, we could pop by about the same time and there was likely to be a Pushto dance shoot…  

Day 17.  Lahore

We joined Ryan at the Royal Hamam just inside Delhi gate of the old walled city. He’d wanted to get some early morning pics of the mosque so Javed had met him there and carried on towards the hamam. It was good to see the same caretaker from previous years which always means we get looked after as I tend to tip them quite well J.

The hamam has been going through some restoration recently so it was nice to see most of it completed. As a first time treat, Javed sang/recited an old sufi poem sitting cross legged on the floor of the central room. The words sounded beautiful as they bounced off the old walls.

We continued on to the Wazir Khan Mosque, another of my favourites for its sheer beauty of the designs and Islamic calligraphy adorning not only the inside but the inner walls and minarets too.

Javed then led us through the various bazaars of the old city – the spice market, the pots and pans market, the jewellery market etc until we ended up at his house where he had a lovely meal arranged with his family. We met his three kids and what was remarkable was that he’s been teaching them French, German and Japanese but with Urdu script. So they were able to stand up and recite phrases even though they weren’t able to write them.

Ever thoughtful, Javed and his wife, Salma had bought Shama and I some unstitched material as gifts as it was the first time we were visiting as a married couple.

Unfortunately Jini had been ill with a bug since morning so had to pass up the morning’s activities. As Ryan was going to be with us for a few days after the official trip ended, we decided not to squeeze in Jahangir’s Tomb and went for a drive along the Mall instead. I knew Ryan would want to take a million photos of the tomb so better to do that as a separate outing. From the Mall we got to see the favourites – the GPO, the high court, Lahore Museum, Kim’s Gun, the NCA and Government College. A proud moment for me always as my late father studied there and there still hangs a picture of him as a gymnastics champion from 1952.    

We then picked up Jini and headed for the highlight of the day, the border closing ceremony at the Wagah border. We got there with ample time to spare and were ushered to the prime seating family area where we could all sit together. I noticed that for the first time ever, there were banners everywhere promoting an NGO collecting funds for flood relief victims. Nothing new but what was interesting was that it was for a Sikh run NGO called Sevedar and set up by the first Pakistani Sikh singer, Jassi Layalpuria. Even better was that Jassi was there and getting the crowd all fired up with his patriotic songs that were blasting out of the soundsystem. When his big hit, Sona Pakistan (Beautiful Pakistan) came on and he came over and gestured to Ryan to join him on ‘stage’. Ryan jumped at the chance as he’d been itching for a dance for ages!

So the next thing I’m witnessing is probably the first gay, white American dancing with a Sikh at the Pakistan/India border. The crowd loved it and the beefy Pakistani rangers even more so!

The ceremony then took over which is always great fun to watch with all the stamping of feet, puffed out chests and shows of bravado.

After the show we were even asked to stick around so that some of the rangers could congratulate Ryan personally on his moves! Jassi and his brother even sung a few numbers to a small audience of top officials whilst Ryan was encouraged to dance again. It was really quite a surreal experience.

We ended the days at one of the more trendy restaurants, Cafe Zouk. This can be found amongst many other top end restaurants, boutiques and coffee shops along the very trendy MM Alam Road where all those who can afford to eat come along in their expensive cars and show off a bit. A perfect end to a perfect day.

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