Pakistan through my eyes by Andrew Boland
Today’s guest post is from Andrew Boland of Andy’s World Journeys!
I said ages ago I would write a guest post for Tim’s blog, and so finally I have got around to doing. I thought I would write about my experiences in Pakistan as it is a focus (if not the main focus) of the UrbanDuniya blog.
It was 2004 when I visited Pakistan, so a long time ago now. It was at a time when things seemed to be going all right in Pakistan’s next door neighbour, Afghanistan, I guess. That’s in as much as it could be I guess after the US invasion – but it was quieter there and so many of the refugees who had fled the Taliban to Peshawar and Pakistan had actually gone back.
Pakistan was a placed I visited not because I had a strong desire to go, but I was travelling overland from Bangladesh to Europe by land and, well, I didn’t have any options really as I wanted desperately to visit Iran so that was the route I had to take.
But as I was going I decided to give it three weeks and see what I could see. I knew one place I really wanted to see was the shrines of Uch Sharif, and I fancied seeing the Khyber Pass which meant a journey to Peshawar. Lahore was the main point of entry from India, Rawalpindi was on the way to Peshawar, Multan was a decent base to visit Uch Sharif from (and there was an historic Test Match being played at just the right time) and Quetta was pretty much a compulsory stop on the long journey across the desert to the Iranian border.
So. What were my impressions? Before I left I was initially a bit wary about going to Pakistan, with safety concerns in my mind. But really, even before I had left Australia I was feeling pretty comfortable with the decision to go. Today I probably couldn’t go to ALL the places I went. Not sure about Peshawar right now and I think Quetta and the Baluchistan Desert that I crossed on an overnight bus wouldn’t be on my itinerary. Which would mean I couldn’t cross them today and do what I did.
So what were my impressions? Lahore is a great, fun city. Really. The Badshahi Mosque and fort opposite, the food, the streets buzzing with life, hard to beat in Pakistan at least. Multan was dusty and dry, the cricket was great to be there for – the first India/Pakistan series in Pakistan for ages and the first test (second day) of that series. Uch Sharif – simply superb. Not easy to get to, which made it that little bit more rewarding, but such a breathtaking place. I was the only tourist around that day as well.
Rawalpindi is chaotic and polluted, but you can experience some amazing ‘truck art’ there. The sub-continent is full of the most amazingly decorated trucks, and there’s a street in Rawalpindi where they make/prepare the designs. It’s a stone’s throw from Islamabad which seemed a little deserted at times, but the mosque there is stunning. The streets are wide and on a Sunday bereft of traffic, there’s a hill to climb for views and to meet people.
Peshawar was a little creepy, but journeying down the Khyber Pass was unforgettable and made it all worthwhile. If you do go, if it’s safe, don’t go with a guy called ‘Sohail’ who ripped me off badly! Quetta actually was really nice, cool, laid back. Very sad it’s not really ‘visitable’ today.
But, Pakistan for me was not just about places. The people were amazing, everywhere I went I made friends easily, people wanting to show me around. The friendliest of all was Multan, I made a number of friends there from security guards to the man who ran the Multan train station who invited me to his house for dinner to meet his family! In Lahore the guesthouse owner showed everyone at the guesthouse around. I was sick in Quetta and had a bus ticket, the guy who sold me the ticket changed the date free of charge.
The only place I didn’t gel with the people was Peshawar. Creepy is the word. Accommodations were a bit dire, but I was on a tight budget and I certainly didn’t stay anywhere flash. Quetta had a nice hotel around a large courtyard. Multan was the worst of the worst.
Transport – it was pretty easy, if slow at times to get around Pakistan. The trains are brilliant journeys but in 2004 were in bad need of repair, and you needed to book well in advance. The journey from Lahore to Quetta was my only train journey (the others I tried to get tickets for but was only 2 days in advance and no good!) That was one of the most epic journeys I have ever undertaken – you can read about it HERE.
Buses however, on the main routes, are good choices. The Hyundais (I think it was) were very comfortable, fully air conditioned and with a hostess who served drinks and snacks! So in many ways a better option than the train. Except for me I adore train travel! So I would have liked to have taken more train journeys in Pakistan.
All in all – Pakistan is a place I found incredibly rewarding. Affordable, few tourists, friendly and warm. People were very genuine there. I’m not sure if I’d recommend a big trip there, but if you’re inclined I would think you could visit Lahore, Islamabad/Rawalpindi and Multan/Uch Sharif in 2016 without too many safety concerns. Pakistan is not a country with a thriving tourist trade, but it’s a country with rich rewards for those who do visit. I can see why Tim feels so strongly about it!
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