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Archive for September, 2011

Monday 12th September

As it happened our group was a little delayed so we didn’t meet till about 16.30 after which we headed for Daultala. It was a quite weird seeing Sally and Jim knowing that they’d seen a lot of Pakistan by now and I’d only been there a few days. Both had caught the sun and looked well travelled! They were accompanied by Irshad otherwise known as Matoo who was driving and Irfan who was the guide that my friend Ehsan had assigned to the group.

The main topic was about not being able to get into the Kalash Valleys – something they had both been looking forward to and actually how they had felt quite scared in Chitral as the tension levels were very noticeable.

But we also then talked about all the other great places that they had visited and how they had had such a good time. I was particularly pleased to hear that Sally and Jim had hit it off very well with Irfan and Matoo and that the trip had already generated plenty of laughs and a lasting friendship.

We reached Daultala just as the sun was setting which is always a great site and as expected all the family were waiting in the courtyard for us. Mum and my aunt had put on a fantastic spread so we all ate very well that night and also got a chance to see a collection of Sally and Jim’s photos from their various travels about the globe.

After breakfast we had a walk around Daultala village where we met the curious locals and the group got a chance to see the simple life. Mind you, it’s not that simple as Daultala is fast on its way to becoming a small town rather than a sleepy village. I think we’re just really lucky that our house is on the edge of the village with fields in all directions so you really do feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

My trusty driver, Rashid turned up just as we were on our way back from our walk and so after loading up we headed for Lahore.

One of the bizarrest things we saw on a drink stopover on the GT road was a black stretched Hummer and a stretched limo for hire…

So before long we’re in Lahore and I’ve asked Javed, another trusted friend and Lahore expert to meet me at our hotel for the start of the tour. Along with the Kalash, Sally and Jim’s other must see item was the Wagah Border ceremony so they had asked to see this on our first day just in case anything was to happen that would prevent this as it meant we had a back up final day.

It made sense to visit the Moghul Shalimar Gardens first as it was on route. It’s lost a lot of its former glory and I do hope some funds eventually find their way for some restoration projects there. The water was also dried up which took the edge of it a little more. Still, that said, you couldn’t help but wish you were Shah Jahan during those times with your loved one surrounded by perfumed water lamps and some music. Now that’s romance!

The border ceremony didn’t disappoint and I was particularly pleased that it hadn’t been toned down as an article in the Guardian had suggested some time back. It was full of the regular scowls, chest puffing and high kicks that we love it for.

Dinner as it often is was at Cooco’s Cafe and for the first time ever, I actually met the owner  – Mr Iqbal Hussain who is also an accomplished artist and has turned the family home into one of the trendiest restaurants in Lahore with what can only be described as a museum and art gallery on the ground floor as you enter.

Just before bed it was a quick visit to Chamman’sfor some Pista Badam ice cream and then the day was done.

The next morning we had an early start as we had arranged to see the first school that had been built but a Pakistani NGO called CARE. It was in the Sheikhupura area and we got there for their morning assembly.

It was really amazing to think that there was no school here at one point and now they run two shifts so they can educate as many children as possible.

The children were neat, clean and very obedient. After the national anthem and prayers they even had a class that was responsible for picking up litter!

We were met by Hina Younis the Academic Manager who took us round a few of the classes in progress to meet the children. Hina would introduce us and then really open up questions to the children to ask from our English visitors. There was a lot about what they thought of Pakistan and it was great to hear Sally and Jim talk so positively about their experiences and it was great to see the chidren’s expressions on hearing that too.

We often asked them of their aspirations and it was so touching when they stood up proudly to announce that they wanted to be Drs, ambassadors, teachers, lawyers and engineers.

The standard of English was outstanding and some of the questions were really thought provoking like what changes we’d like to see in Pakistan or what advice we could give them to guide them through life and they really wanted to know.

We also had a tour of some of the facilities like the computer room, the nutrition room and the games room and by the end of it I’m sure we were all wanting to get our future children’s names on the list!

As we were in Sheikhupura it was easy enough to visit Jahangir’s mausoleum straight after and then a tour of the Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque and a stroll through the old city of Lahore. This is always a one of my highlights but it also makes me feel a little on edge as the streets are very narrow, crowded  and somewhat claustrophobic. Naturally people are staring and pointing with quite a few saying ‘hello’ or ‘how are you’ but you can’t help but think what if someone was to take exception if they had a chip on their shoulder about westerners and start an argument of some sort. Thankfully it’s never happened and I’m always pleased when shop owners are genuinely inviting us in and showing us their wares.

Then it was back to the hotel for a break before we headed off to dinner. This time, we decided on the up market area of Gulberg and in particular, MM Alam Road with its posh boutiques and fancy restaurants. Mind you, fancy in Pakistan does unfortunately include McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut!

After all the historical cultural delights of Lahore, I do feel it’s important to have some perspective and see the modern side too. To that end we ended up at the World Fashion Cafe for some late night hot chocolate but this was about as close as one gets to a bar/nightclub in Pakistan but without the alcohol. The larger downstairs section where there is an actual catwalk was shut but they were good enough to open it up to show our guests. I’ve been there before when it’s packed but I don’t know if anyone ever dances there.

Before we knew it we were on our way to the airport to drop Sally and Jim for their early hours flight back home.

I spent the next few days catching up with family and unfortunately emails but that’s par for the course really. I did visit Javed’s place for a meal with his family which was great and we used the time to plan some interesting music nights and shrine visits for those that visit Lahore.

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Pakistan September 2011

Monday 5th September

So I’m back in Pakistan to part lead on the tail end of one trip and then lead a full two weeks after that. I didn’t quite get to finish the last blog from our trip last so i’ll do my best to keep this one up to date.

The flight over was pleasant enough and I really don’t know why people like to give PIA such a hard time. The food was actually really good. Mind you, I have been told that I’ll eat anything so maybe I’m not the best person to comment!

Read a great book cover to cover called ‘Tuesday’s with Morrie’ which everyone should read just to remind themselves of what’s really important in life.

What doesn’t change on a PIA flight and nor should it are the real try hards that really want to get noticed. They’re mainly guys with lot of gold chains, interesting haircuts and occasionally wearing shades in the plane. It’s pure entertainment watching them strut their stuff deluded into thinking every guy wants to be like them and every girl is checking them out. Now these guys look weird enough in London but imagine them being ten times more out of place when they are in a sort of queue at Islamabad airport.

Which is exactly what you are treated to once we touch down at Benazir Bhutto Airport. That also always makes me smile – how everything was renamed by Zardari to be prefixed by her name in some attempt to remind people why they voted in the PPP. Of course, he had nothing to gain…

The airport hasn’t changed at all and I’m still quietly ashamed that this is what a lot of first time visitors will see as their introduction to Pakistan. Sad really when you have Lahore and Karachi airports that at least reminds you that it is the 21st century.

The chaos is still there although I was pleased to see people actually trying to queue for once. Perhaps they were still in London mode. Some old(ish) woman did very obviously shuffle from behind me to being in front quite unashamedly and no-one said a thing. Again, maybe a British thing still hanging on!

And then there are those who are marched to the front of the queue by a relative who works at the airport or something like that. That is just weird. These bored immigration staff not batting an eyelid at people constantly walking past them or being ushered to the front of the queue.

After my luggage finally arrived, I met my cousin who was going to take me straight to Daultala Village where most of the family had been for the long Eid break.

It was great to be on the highway again heading out into the plains, it had rained a few days before so the weather was warm and just comfortable. Before I knew it I was opening the gates of the ‘villa’ that Dad built with all the kids rushing to greet me. Always a lovely heart-warming scene. Good to see my mum and sister there who had got there a few days before too.

So after the teas and gossip catch up, I did my regular visit to Rasheed, the village barber who always shaves my head and face for free on my first time.  My first evening in Daultala was like so many before, with everyone playing cards and getting just a little too competitive!

I’d managed to chat with Ehsan, one of my friends and guides who updated me about the current group who were due in Daultala the next day. It turns out that there had been a major incursion by the Taliban near the Afghan border so the chief of police there had decided that all foreigners were not to be lowed to visit the Kalash Valleys. The group had made it all the way to Chitral over the Shandur Pass to find out so  decided to go back the way they had come and explore the Yasin and Ishkoman Valleys instead. They would then try and get a return flight back from Gilgit.

Unfortunately, the weather had been quite bad resulting in cancelled flights so they were coming by road. This meant it would be a two day drive so would not be arriving in Daultala till the day after.

The next day, I awoke to the smell that I’d been waiting a year for – fresh parathas! Not only that but lovingly made by my Khalla who only really has one weakness and that’s to spoil me. I decided not to pick her up on it…Then it got even better. A choice of either eggs layed by her hens or fresh yoghurt from her cow.

Shortly after, we headed to my cousin’s office in Pindi, there I could get on with some admin as well as sort out my mobile phone bill and reactivate the all important Blackberry.

Later that evening, I spoke with my guide, Irfan who was with the clients in Naran. They’d had a great time so far and were only 6-7 hours away from Islamabad so we agreed to meet in Saidpur Village for lunch and then I’d jump in with them and take them to Daultala.

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