“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Taxila

Taxila is a site that's just out of Islamabad and it's got everything from all eras.

The site of taxila is an archaeologists dream! It must have been so amazing to 'discover' it in the the 1920s. There are amazing finds such as statues of Athena and Aphrodite... Proof of Alexander the Great's far conquests. There are tablets in Aramaic. Even the every day articles are amazing... From chairs to keys, to door pieces, to horse fittings, to surgical instruments, to scales, to the requisite arrowheads and chisel and axes. Whole wheels and oh, the most amazing beads! Even carved heads and statues.

Of course, the museum doesn't look like it's been modified since the 1920s right down to the painted list in the curator's office and the leather-metal-button seats. I exaggerate of course, but it was ridiculous to see the carpet being swept!

At Julian, the only way to see the relics was to go with the guy who had the key. He was the only 'guide' I tipped, and when I gave him 100 rupees which is half the ticket price, he called me cheap! I was indignant. Hell, I shouldn't have to tip anyone when I pay an exorbitant entry fee compared to locals. 200 for foreigners and 200 again for the museum. That's western price of $4 which I suppose isn't much, but still, the fact that that is the minimum and I'm expected to pay more in tips is unfair. The locals pay 10 rupees to get in by comparison. He also wanted to know if that was the only place I tipped, and it was, which I suppose means I'm stingy, despite all the other obliging but unwanted 'guides' (ticket checkers/caretakers). I wonder what other nationalities/travellers refuse to pay.

Then, to make me feel even more sad, a souvenir seller asked me as I was walking down the path if i'd like to buy real relics. I told him they belonged in a museum. How self righteous of me!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lahore 2

There's nothing like a new country to throw your beliefs and life into turmoil. Being in Pakistan is like being in Myanmar all over again, but without the acquired apathy. The poor are so much poorer here, and the people are so much more aggressive. Mum called them 'bolshie' and it absolutely fits. They challenge me. They make me take a hard look at what I believe, what I do when I encounter challenges, and how I respond to people in general. I really am such an awkward defensive person when I first meet people. I'm abrupt and rude and want my space.

Tonight I left a friendly guy and a rickshaw driver on the street while I went up to dinner all alone. Upstairs there was a lovely Canadian girl who invited them to share her plentiful meal. I felt so ashamed of myself. I would have loved the company and I can certainly afford it so it's not that. Sure I don't want to be the sucker providing the free meal but they turned out to be very generous and helpful although of course grateful for the free meal. A contradiction. Why am I so defensive? I remember meeting an amazing lady in Morocco who said she cannot fear people... Why do I? Am I being cautious? Where does cautiousness end and snobbery begin?

Men talking to me constantly, hooting everywhere I go, rickshaws stopping and blocking my path, begging to take me, even for free. One man followed me, and everyone looks at me! Like the jolt of going over a bump on the wooden seat of a rickshaw. Bump! Think! React! What do you think! What do you believe? Which prophet do you believe in? What do you think of Pakistanis ? Are they aggressive., welcoming, nice, obnoxious? Etc etc. I love this... I love to be forced to look at myself.
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There are some amazingly interesting people in the dorm I'm staying in... Moroccan, Swede, Slovak, South African, German, French. Amazing people!! The Swede was excited to buy porn, which is just as sickening as Lonely Planet writer I met in Myanmar who was excited to get a photo of a monk giving the finger.

One was a cyclist living on $150 a month, and who lived on less than $1 a day in Africa. These people are doing things with their lives. Sure it doesn't help humanity but it does challenge themselves. What do I do? I live in Baku where the biggest challenge is which bar, which restaurant. I should learn Russian. Will I meet a nice man? I am so superficial... We all are. I want to do more. I want to be more. I know I inspire some people, but I want t to do more. I want to leave a legacy... Then again,, I am also quite satisfied with my life and if I died tomorrow and I will be okay with it... As Zeeshan says... He cannot live in fear. Fate is fate and you can live smart but life happens. I want to be an amazing person. I know I am an amazing person, but I know i'm not even close to my potential. I want to be more!
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Everyone is so religious here. The religiousness surprises me. Speaking of beards... is it a real sign of conservatives or not? Malike said it was a sign of avoiding hassle... of convenience for them. There was a movie on bus... a big shoot em up... but it was also followed by a documentary of young mullahs and conservatives. Two women had prayer books and chanted the whole bus ride. Women ride only at the front of course.

Lahore

Lahore's a fun city! It reminded me a lot of Yangon, which I suppose is evidence of their history and economic status! In Lahore, I wandered around like I've been warned not to in Islamabad, and that was so freeing! I was feeling a little bit stifled, but I suppose it's all wise if you live here. [This pic is the Pakistan Monument in Islamabad]

I went to Cookoo's restaurant high above the fort and the Badshahi Mosque for dinner, then wandered back amongst all the street stalls and squalor. Shady men followed me and I did my best to deter them by entering shops! Autorickshaws are aplenty, and several were happy to take me home, even for free because I'm such a novelty. Poor Pakistan to be so desperate for tourism. [View from Cookoo's]

After a fitful sleep in a very cheap hostel ($2 a night! Backpacker style!) I explored the Old Fort - an enormous rambling monstrosity of palaces and eras. It was tragically in very poor repair, and many of the more interesting areas were, of course, blocked off. Particarly memorable were the elephant's walk (where a special giant staircase was constructed so that they could waltz right into the palace with the numerous royal ladies on their backs), the hall of mirrors (just beautiful! it was what I imagined the hall of mirrors at Versailles was like, but wasn't).

After some brief rains, I walked through the thriving, modern old city, with it's confusing narrow streets and bazaars and mud everywhere! The crumbling Mosque of Wazir Khan was stunningly derelict, with beautiful mosaics and a lovely deserted courtyard. [This photo is from an ancient city near Islamabad]

I ended the afternoon by a wander around the tombs of Jehangir, Asif Khan and Nur Jahan. A huge, 180 room, single-level Caravanserai split two of the tombs in an enormous courtyard filled with lovely gardens and trees.
For dinner, I ventured into the newer part of town, MM Alam Road, where all the rich and no doubt expats, too, do their dining away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

What an alive place!

Buses in Pakistan

On Tuesday, I took a fancy Daewoo bus from Islamabad (Rawalpindi in actual fact) to Lahore. Wow! What service! Headphones, snacks, drinks, newspapers, movies. I suppose when you're paying almost $10 for a 4 hour ride, which is so above local prices, you have to get some bang for your buck. The security amused me incredibly--a man got on the bus just before departure, and filmed everyone's face with a video camera. I suppose this is so we know for sure who's on the bus if it gets blown up - for the sake of both perpetrators and victims!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Islamabad sights

On Monday, I did the royal tour of Islamabad. There isn't really a lot to see since the city was only created in the 1960s. It's a pretty beautiful city however--broad, green, empty avenues, but I must say that does make it pretty unexciting! It almost has a bit of a provincial feeling... it's certainly small and unlike other Pakistani cities! The shops remind me a bit of Kuwait in their small town-ness!

We started the day searching everywhere to find a money changer that would be open, and after that, Iqbal drove me around past the forbidden places (the ones I'm not supposed to go to because they're so dangerous!), the Red (now very white) Mosque (unremarkable building, really) and Melody Market. Sure, lots of people in the streets, but otherwise, nothing unusual. I didn't get out of the car, however...

I did some shopping as well, buying way too many bed spreads and other things I really don't need!

I went to the Heritage Museum pretty early on. What fun! We had a power cut while I was inside, and too bad about the rest, because it was pitch black in there, and it was all I could do to find my way to the exit. Too bad about the 200% foreigner price that I paid--it's gone, and you have to pay for the toilet too! It was pretty interesting though... enormous halls filled with rather scary looking papermache dummies, and the random odd squirrel thrown in to ensure the taxidermists had something to do! There was an interesting Azerbaijan section in the middle of central asia... obviously the Azeri embassy here felt it necessary to promote themselves with a donation of tourism books, although the carpets were a nice touch!

We then drove up to the new Pakistan Monument. Reminded me a lot of the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, although I'm sure they'd be horrified at the similarity! A large, rather ostentatious white and red marble monument to the creation of Pakistan and their provinces. It did have a lovely view over the city however!

I tried to find the Beni Imam shrine, but of course the entire area is around where the Marriot blast was, so it is completely blocked off with police checkpoints and blockages.

We drove past the huge Faisal Mosque (which I was amused to read had spurred several rumors of the CIA checking out the bomb-shaped minarets in case they were real bombs!). I didn't feel like going in, but I was astonished to discover that women were walking in with bare arms although they hadn't covered up their heads at that point either, but didn't have anything that could possibly cover their arms either!

We drove into the Mullah hills for a quick dinner of Chicken Tikka and lovely sunset views. What an amazing road!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Load-shedding

In Pakistan, when the power goes out, it's called load-shedding. In the Philippines where it was always sticky and warm, it was, appropriately, a brown-out, while in New Zealand and I think other places, it's just a black-out. What a colloquialism!! What a stupid idiom!! At least there is something here that's organized about it--each district gets exactly 6 hours off, but not all at once. For example, Cathy's house has it off from 1 to 2, 6 to 7 and 10 to 11, both morning and night. Unfortunately, you only get to know your own district....


I was at the Islamabad heritage museum, which is really quite extensive, though bizzarely organized. Half way through, of course, what happened? Load-shedding time! It was pitch black inside except for the cracks under the doors to the outside.

In Lahore, they have load-shedding every hour, so one hour on, one hour off. Of course Islamabad is better as it's the capital! This season's not too bad, but it must be unbearable when it's hot. They're also saving on the electricity, so the beautiful night lights at the mosque weren't running!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Islamabad

Arrived in the dead of night to an expectedly packed airport - lines of tangled groups towards distant immigration lines. Saw one family of Afghans with Canadian passports, all born in Kabul, the son confused as to whether his nationality was Afghan or Canadian. Huge crowds around the bag carousel and outside--my friend the only pakeha face in the lot. Lots of people for such a late night, but it's like Baku in the sense that everything comes in at the dead of night, so is to be expected!

Went aroudn the city a little bit yesterday - some brief shopping then lunch in a local restaurant (this is a rare thing to do since the Marriot blast). The city is a rolling campus of trees and greenery and wide, divided roads with (so far) very few cars on them. Since it's a designer city, it's in large square quadrants, with a little local set of shops in each. Haven't seen any high rises yet, or even any crowds, but am venturing out today! I have been given a list of places that I'm forbidden to go. The hills in the distant are brown and mottled, but add a lovely touch to the city--oh, to be so close to such walking trails!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Darling Samila? Samira?

Here's the lovely Dubai cat that comes when called, cuddles all night, but is righteously still a cat and will tell you off if you pet her too much. I love the fact that she climbed into my suitcases, but at least there was no ham to be eaten there like friends who were stocking up to return to Kuwait! Kitty, I'm coming! I'll be there on Friday night!

Walking home from work


So these images are on the walk home, very close to the school grounds in the garbage heap that is the empty lot (in fact, you can see the school in the background behind the long wall!). Take a look closer and see how many animals you can find foraging for food. It was crystal clear when I took it, but somehow they blend in very well. Lets see, I can find: 2 goats, 2 cats, a chicken and a dog (somehow, I remember there being more).