January 04, 2010 GMT
Pakistan part deux - Islamabad and getting to the border

Leaving Lahore, the next day we pushed on to Islamabad. It would be our first day in Pakistan without a police escort. Independence, finally! Islamabad wasn't very far away - less than 350K - so we got cocky with the whole "nah, piece of cake for us" and left late. Divine providence meant that it took us an hour to find the right way out of the city and a lot of improvisation to actually get on the M2 motorway:


...from which we were promptly kicked out, because it turns out that "motorcycles are not allowed on the M2". Why? No answer, but the police car that flagged us down was adamant that we get our wheels off the nice tarmac and back onto the Grant Trunk road, the old way of reaching Islamabad from Lahore. The way that passes through many inhabited places, is narrow and full of potholes and truck traffic.

Everybody was too pissed off with this to act like an adult, so I muttered "screw this", opened the throttle and took the lead, forcing everyone to follow me. We hit the GT road and then turned north for Islamabad.

But I wasn't meant to have a quiet ride. No siree. Some idiot in a car became a bit too pushy when trying to overtake Lisa (almost pushing her off the road) which, to my horror, had an equally violent response from the other 3... they practically pushed the car off the road, forcing its surely terrified driver to stop cold. They then started a shoving/threatening match with the poor guy, which I only joined after I realised we had:

1) blocked an entire direction of the GT road
2) blocked an ambulance that was behind us and now stuck in the newly created traffic jam
3) picked up another fight (first was with the police on the M2) in a single day and
4) were not really being discreet and making good public relations on our first day of freedom in Pakistan...

Sure, the car driver was a dangerous idiot who treated us as pests on the road, but I was appalled at the immediate (and dangerous) violent response by everyone else. We're in his country, we don't know what is considered usual here, we have no right to behave like this just to make a point. And of course, risking your life and that of others just to "not let it pass" does not make sense to me. Some things, especially when traveling to distant lands, one must be prepared to let pass.

The GT road blocked by a bunch of foreigners on bikes. Great PR for the next travelers I'm sure... *sigh*


With this and that we got to Islamabad late. It was already dark. We got to the quite eerie and completely deserted "foreigners' camping" at the Rose Garden and set up camp:


Islamabad is a fortified city - paranoia about violent attacks has led the entire city to be littered with roadblocks, police checkpoints, "red zones"... every single properly in the posh areas is protected with high walls and barbed wire...


...but I was thankfully spared all that. I found refuge in the hospitality of my friend's Seema's family. I washed my clothes, slightly caught up on my online obligations (to you, dear reader!) and rested when I needed it most, suffering from an inexplicable nasty back pain.

This is my jacket pre-wash:


(no post-wash picture as the difference wasn't as sensational as I hoped)

Seema's family was kind enough to let me use some of their traditional clothes while all of my stuff was drying. I *love* the salwar (trousers) and kameez (long shirt) combo! It's just too comfortable:


During my days in Islamabad we visited the mountains next to the city (where to my surprise there are many exotic, by European standards, animals freely roaming about)


We took silly pictures on Rawal dam...


...and crashed a birthday party to check out how modern Pakistanis celebrate:


(surprisingly to some, in exactly the same way as most people do!)

I got my first flat on this trip... no, wait. The first flat of the Vstrom... no hang on... my first flat in a few years actually, as I never had a flat with my previous bike as well... talk about luck, this happening NOW and HERE, with all the help in the world at hand, right outside the house of the only person I knew since I left London that I would meet during the trip. Truly bizarre.


The cause:


...and the patch.

TKC80 after 17,000km & a nail

I'm not too happy about this, as it's nowhere near as reliable as an internal patch you'd get in other places, but this is what the tyre shop does to all punctures, including car tyres, so I will just hope for the best.

On another occasion we visited Rawalpindi for some wedding shopping:


The colors and fabrics created a fascinating jigsaw:


Finally, the big day arrived, and Raazi & Seema were officially married!


I was honoured to be invited to the wedding reception (which I thoroughly enjoyed - I mean, socialising with cool people while having great food, what more can I ask for?), part of which I spent hanging out with my new best friend Harry and his white baloon:

Harry & me

Alas, after the wedding was over and done with, I had no more excuses to linger around Islamabad... I heartily thanked Seema and her family for their excellent hospitality, far above and beyond what would have been just "polite", greeted Simon, Lisa and Nico who were still waiting for their Indian visas to be approved, and headed off back to Lahore and the Indian border.

On my way there, and being alone and free to explore on a whim (such a great feeling... man did I miss that!) I left the GT road to visit the impressive Rohtas Fort:


I got to Lahore in time, checked into the Regale Internet Inn (not very regal, Internet was a struggle due to power cuts, but the price was right and the staff friendly if slightly bizarre) and went out to explore nightly Lahore on foot:


The next day I took a rickshaw (tuk-tuk?) to the Lahore Fortress


...which was actually a rather scary ride:


Lahore Fort is quite nice but not that spectacular. Most parts of it are in shambles and in dire need of restoration.


An audience hall decorated with mirrors.


This picture is being posted not to admire my (admittedly exuberant) beauty, but to demonstrate the staircase that was built wide enough for the regal dignitaries to ride it up on their elephants! Quite a funny design principle if you ask me.


One of the world's largest mosques, just opposite the main entrance to the fortress:


...which unfortunately means that one must walk around with no shoes, which I find very annoying and quite un-hygienic. It's an open space, with bird droppings and whathaveyou and then everyone walks around barefoot... Not my cup of tea.


I then walked through the old city of Lahore with my new self-appointed guide, one of those people who just force themselves to be your "friends" expecting money at the end.


Radioactive current flowing next to the streets of the old city:


Now, the Lahore museum, *that* was something really worth visiting. Excellent specimens from all sorts of periods and civilisations:


The "Starving Buddha", an intriguing representation of the oft-plumper-than-life prophet:

Starving Buddha

Another excellent marble specimen. I mused over whether I should post this, for fear of appearing like Steve Martin's shallower-than-life character in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels who famously said (and I quote) "Now, the statue of a naked woman, I can appreciate that". But, truth be told, it's simply a beautiful piece:


I found this one very touching:


Another beautiful piece (the extent of my cultural education on these things is reflected by the detailed descriptions I'm giving here)


It was new year's eve that night (and a Thursday, which reputedly helps around here) so the musicians visited the roof of the Regale Internet Inn and gave a nice performance - unfortunately I did not capture any of the good parts because I got bored after a while and just went to my room to read.

The next morning I packed my bags, dusted my seat and rode to the border. And with that, I was out of Pakistan!

This was my complete itinerary for Pakistan:


Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at January 04, 2010 02:03 PM GMT

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