|Subject: Visit to Pakistan|
Here is a summary of my trip to Pakistan, made in Oct 99. The coup took place the day before I was suppose to leave home for the trip. The tour started in London with a flight to Karachi. I made a couple of phone calls to England to the tour organizer before I left and was assured that things had settled down in Pakistan and that the tour would go ahead. Only one person out of 16 cancelled.
The tour that I was on was a rail tour of Pakistan, with travel by rail, and most nights spent on a private air conditioned railcar, we also had a non-AC dining car. The director of the tour has travelled in India/Pakistan for almost 40 years. He first started taking overland trips/tours from England and then started rail tours of India and Pakistan. He did over 80 crosscountry trips and has been doing rail tours for 20 years. He knows the countries and lives both in England and India. He and his wife also do work with the homeless children in India.
I travelled overnight to London on an Air Canada flight. In London I had enough of a day time stopover to do some sightseeing. I took the underground into the city and then walked around for the day seeing many of the sights. It was then back to the airport for another overnight flight to Karachi, with stops in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. The flight was with Gulf Air, using Air Bus aircraft. Each seat had individual TV set, with two channels showing live video from one camera pointing down an another giving you a view from the cockpit.
We were met in Karachi by our tour directors, the had arrived in Pakistan about a week earlier. The picked up our rail cars in Lahore and had brought them down to Karachi. They outfitted them with all new items such as bedding and dishes.
Things in Karachi seemed pretty normal, people seemed happy about the takeover and the change of government. Corruption within government has always been bad, and the one in power was even more corrupt. Violence had decreased since the coup. The only problem that we had was that the banks were closed and it was difficult to exchange money, however our tour directors had the equivalent of 20GBP for each of us. I went for a walk the first morning, dressed in western dress and felt very conspicuous. Later in the day each of us was given, by the tour director, a shalwar qamiz, the local dress. I felt far less conspicuous and it was much more comfortable in the heat than the western dress. The woman on our tour were required to wear the local dress and the men were encouraged to wear it.
We spent a couple of days in Karachi seeing the sights and then were off to see the country. We first drove by bus out to some of the ancient sights in the Sindh province near Karachi. The area is in the Indus River delta, but is desert, with very little water. Some of the places that we stopped and visited were the old capital of Thatta, then Makli Hill, an old necropolis containing tombs of the various dynasties also Chaukundi which contained exquisitely carved tribal tombs. We visited an ancient seaport of Banbhore, which is now almost 40 miles away from the ocean. At the end of the day we met up with our rail car for a short trip to a place called Mirpur Khas. Our railcar was just attached to the local trains, some times the trips were short and sometimes long, but always usually late, when we got to our destination we would be disconnected and shunted to a sidetrack.
Our dining car had limited cooking facilities. Our meals on the train, when it was on the move, were prepared by the tour directors, over charcoal burners. They did the shopping in the local markets. When we were stopped, we sometimes ate as a group and other times we were just told about the good places to eat and how to get there. The sleeping car was a standard first class AC sleeper. It had 2 4-berth compartments and 4 2-berth compartments, each with its own sink and toilet and a bucket for a shower. We had two Pakistan Railway people to look after our railcars.
The next day we were off again by bus into to desert, seeing more of the countryside, visiting an old fort at Umarkot and the birthplace of Akbar. Most of the day we travelled with an armed police escort of six . We did not see any threatening actions towards us, but visitors to the region are always given a police escort as the area is known for it's bandits. The greatest danger seemed to be from our bus trying to keep up with the police vehicle. In the afternoon we had a short train ride to the city of Hyderabad, another large city and one of the oldest. We arrived early enough to see some of the city before dark.
We were suppose to leave about midnight and continue on to Lahore but someone forgot about us and in the morning we were still at our siding in Hyderbad. We did not get away until late in the afternoon. The police protection was very evident while we were in Hyderbad and every time we stepped from the train we were usually given police escort. We found out later that their had been some secular violence in the city and that we could have been in some danger.
We travelled overnight by train and arrived in Lahore in the afternoon. For the first time we saw a strong military presence, with roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the city. Lahore is only about 27km from Indian border. We spent the night in a hotel, a nice change from the train.
The next morning we had some time to do some sightseeing in Lahore, I visited the Lahore Museum on the British-built mall and saw the old cannon Zamzama, made famous by Kipling as Kim's Gun. We then headed by road to the Indian/ Pakistan border, crossed over, and then on to the Sikh holy city of Amritsar. The crossing at the border took some time, one must walk between the border posts. Products travelling by truck between Pakistan and India must first be off loaded, carried by Pakistan porters to the border, passed to Indian porter, and then loaded on to the Indian truck, no trucks are allowed to cross. Amritsar is about another 30km from the border. We only spent the one night in Amritsar, with a visit to the Golden Temple. I found the visit to the temple made the trip into India worth while, it was well worth the effort of doing the two border crossings. Also in India we were able to have a beer, as liquor is not available in Pakistan.
The next morning we had to make a rapid, before breakfast, departure from the hotel in Amritsar. The Indian truckers were going to protest a recent increase in fuel cost and were going to block highway traffic, we were in danger of being unable to get back to the border. As it was we got to the border without any problems and had time for breakfast before the border crossing point opened. We then crossed over and returned to Lahore, stopping at some of the sights outside of the city. We ended the day with a visit to the large colourful mosque, the huge old fort and a walk through the old city. Lahore was the most polluted city in Pakistan, if not the world. We left on the train late in the evening.
During the night we arrived in the old garrison town of Rawalpindi, stopping only long enough for breakfast. We then drove by bus up into the hills, to the old British hill station of Murree. It was very plain to see why the British had hill stations, it was about 15 degree C cooler, about 20C instead of 35C. It also has some fine mountain views, some interesting walks and is very much a holiday region, with many of the grand old hotels and buildings still remaining.
The next morning it was back down from the hills to the modern capital of Islamabad, it has a beautiful modern mosque, that is very different. We then went on to visit Taxila, the one time capital of the old Kingdom of Gandharan as well as the old Greek city of Sirkap. We then returned to Rawalpindi with more stops enroute and then back to our rail car for our overnight travel.
Late next morning we arrived at Peshawar, capital of the Northwest Frontier Province. It is near the border with Afghanistan and has the atmosphere of a frontier town. Peshawar is inhabited by the Pathan tribespeople and many Afghan refugees. The Pathan tribespeople are not subjected by pakistan law and abide by their own laws, they have the right to carry weapons and firearms are very much part of their lives and are very visible. Signs on the banks said Firearms and weapons not allowed. Peshawar is also a good place for shopping with many things available that have been brought in from Afghanistan, interesting bustling bazaars. I purchased a couple of rugs as well as other things in Peshawar.
I had an interesting experience when I went to change money. On of the local merchants asked if I wanted to change money, I told him yes, and that I would like to change 50 pounds, about 4200 rupees. He said okay, and for me to come back in 30 minutes and he would have the money. I came back and he said that he only had 3000 rupees, my first thought was a scam, he told me to take the money, I offered to pay him for the 3000, but he said no-no you pay me when I give you all the money. I took the 3000 and returned later to get the rest of the money and pay the 50 pounds.
The next day we made a day trip on one of the gaily decorated local buses up through the Khyber Pass, visiting one of the smugglers' villages Landi Kotal and then to a viewpoint overlooking the Afghan border. We were escorted by a couple of the Kyber Rifle Border Patrol soldiers. Smuggling is big business in the vicinity of the Pakistan/Afghan border. Legal goods from around the world are shipped duty free across Pakistan to Afghanistan, they are then smuggled back across the border and are sold duty-free in the markets set up near the border. Illegal goods, mainly drugs are also brought across the border, most are shipped south across the desert to the coast, then shipped to the rest of the world.
We left Peshawar during the night, heading south and arrived the next afternoon, in time for dinner at Multan. Multan is another old city, with interesting history, again old fort, interesting bazaars. We departed Multan late in the evening and headed west.
The next morning the railway winds and climbs through the spectacular Bolan Pass, with some great countryside views, past nomad encampments, solitary goat herders and camel trains. In the afternoon we reached Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan. Quetta is the home of many Pathan tribespeople and large numbers of Afghan refugees. Also at one time one of the largest British garrisons in India/Pakistan.
The next day our two carriages were attached to the local train going to Chaman, another smuggler's town on the Afghan border. The trip went through some more spectacular scenery, across another pass then down to the border town. We were warned to watch out for children throwing rocks, as the day previous police had stopped the train and confiscated goods from the smugglers. The rock throwing was not much of a problem. Most people on our tour we able to ride in the engine cab for part of the trip. The engine was an old american-made engine. We had a couple of hours to walk around Chaman before our train was scheduled to depart for our return to Quetta. We were warned not to take pictures in Chaman, as the town is on the drug route, we were looked on very suspiciously at first. Weapons were very visible, with heavy machine guns mounted on pickup trucks, not the people to argue with. Even people on motor cycle dirt-bikes were carrying automatic weapons. I heard some shots being fired, but it was harmless fire from a local wedding. After a while we were able to make some contact with the local people, when they found out that we were only tourists. One young fellow ask if we were going to Afghanistan, we told him no, he told us that was good, as we would get killed if we went to Afghanistan. By the time we left Chaman most of the town had gathered at the station to see the foreign tourists, no tourists ever come to Chaman. Part way back to Quetta, in the middle of nowhere the train made an unscheduled stop to allow the smugglers to load their goods on the train, to get by one of the road check-points, just before Quetta the train stops again in the middle of the countryside, everything is off-loaded to awaiting vehicles. Once this is done the train proceeds into Quetta. Apparently the train driver and the guards on the train are payed off to make the unscheduled stops.
The next day we made excursions to some of the local sights around Quetta. We read in the local newspaper that the train driver to Chaman had reported that an attempt had been made to stop his train to kidnap the foreign tourist who were on the train, we never saw any sign of anything happening, and I guess we will never know if it happened. We departed by train in late afternoon, passing over the Bolan Pass and arriving at Larkana in the early morning.
From Larkana we travelled a short distance by local transportation to visit the ruins of the ancient city of Moenjodaro, one of the great cities of the Indus valley peoples, who inhabited the area 4,000 years ago. The excavations were unearthed in the 1920s. A strong police presents was visible at Moenjodaro, it was not for us, but they were expecting some Vip to visit the sight. We returned to Larkana in the afternoon and then departed in the early evening by rail to Karachi.
We arrived in Karachi just before noon, said farewell to our railcars and into a hotel for our last night. I did some last minute shopping and enjoyed the comforts of the hotel room with it's hot shower. In the evening we were off to one of the waterfront hotels for our last meal together, a most enjoyable meal. Most of us having sea-food of some sort, a nice change from the food that we had been eating, which was mostly lamb and chicken.
The next morning we were up early, having to be at the airport by 6am, for 8am flight. We had stops at Abu Dhabi and Paris before we arrived in London. The next morning I flew to Vancouver and then finally to Victoria. I wore western clothes for most of the way home but did put on clean Pakistani clothes in Vancouver so I did arrive home looking like a Paki. By the way Paki is a term you find in full use in Pakistan.
So that is basically the highlights of my trip to Pakistan, it is not a place that I would recommend for everyone and only for well seasoned travellers. Our group was comprised of two from New Zealand, one from Canada, one from France, and the remainder from England. Everyone on our group were well seasoned travellers and all had previously visited India, oldest was 78 year old woman, youngest 45. The 78 year old was continuing on to SE asia and Vietnam.
In Feb/Mar of this year we did a rail trip, not a tour, to Turkey and Iran.
Hope you enjoyed.
Gary Saunders Victoria BC Canada