So many of us in one place!

Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
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Monday, October 10, 2005

The most I had heard of Lahore in the past was, I'm afraid to say, because of cricket. I didn't know too much else about it but I was still excited to be here.

Magically our train was only and hour and a quarter late this time which was great! Although, it is Ramadan now and they didn't come through offering any nice snacks or chai. It was actually really cold in our little air con cabin but that didn't stop David from taking a kip. When we arrived in Lahore I spotted a McDonalds at the station (very sad, I know but I was STARVING!) but it was closed because of Ramadan. Bugger.

The taxi and rickshaw drivers were a massive nightmare. We eventually got one guy down to a reasonable price and he took us to almost where we wanted to go. We tried telling him to drive around the mosque as that's where our guesthouse was but he kept telling us it wasn't. He got some guy in the street, who also wouldn't listen to us or look at our map, to ring them and sure enough we were sooooo right!!!

The Regale Internet Inn had been recommended by loads of people so we thought it would be ok. There were lots of other travellers there doing all sorts of different things so we had lots to chat about and brains to pick. It was the highest concentration of tourists I'd seen in one place for quite a while. There is a huge selection of books to borrow whilst there, which was great as I'd only had our Lonely Planet to look at. There was even a washing machine that we could use as we pleased and all the women got a free secondhand shalwar kameez (traditional clothing). I couldn't find any I liked so I settled for washing my own stuff. We had a bit of a walk around to search for food and get our bearings - walked up to Charing Cross of all places! Looked quite different though. I don't think you'd get too many donkeys in London! I was getting really desperate for food and the only thing we could find open was a Dunkin' Donuts outlet doing takeaway for those who couldn't handle Ramadan (we're not the only ones!). We sat around for a while, had a snooze and read some then went downstairs to get a quick bite at sundown before relaxing on the rooftop with the other travellers swapping tales and getting advice.

Day 2

We went to have a proper look round the sites and got a rickshaw over to Delhi Gate which takes you into the bazaar and to some mosques. The first thing we were directed to was the old Royal Baths that now house a tourist office. We found the Mosque of Wazir Khan. It's from the 17th century and has lovely tile work. There weren't many people around which was nice so we were able to walk around in silence. We went to find another mosque but it was closed so we headed over to the Lahore Fort. On the way we passed a group of kids playing cricket in the street, so naturally David had a bowl and a bat. They were really excited! We started to draw a bit of a crowd so decided to head into the Fort. Unforunately they operate dual pricing here in Pakistan so we had to pay 200 rupees whereas the locals only pay 10. Bit too much of a gap really. David wasn't pleased and let the guys at the booth know about it. People must do it all the time because they just laughed. As they would too. They have the upper hand! Either you pay it or you don't go in. But we wanted to see it so we paid. It's a massive place and would have been fantastic when it was in use. Some of the paintings are still visible on various buildings but unfortunately the Palace of Mirrors was closed for renovations (where you go when you need to take a good, hard look at yourself!). The Fort dates back to the early 1600's and has this fabulous huge entrance gate which was built big enough so that the royals could ride their elephants in! There were all sorts of different buildings and sections. We spent a good few hours there before trying to get into the only Gudwara in town (Sikh temple) but they wouldn't let us in coz we're not Sikhs so we had a weigh-in instead. David had lost (drum roll) an absolutely amazing 10 kg whereas I had only lost about 1.5kg or 2kg. I'm pretty sure it's come off my chest area and my face because I still have plenty around the waist and rear to keep my trousers up! David was now bouncing around like a new man. He hasn't been that thin since about 2001!! With his new found energy we made our way over to the Badshahi Mosque. On the way a man came up to me and asked me why we weren't drinking. He then said that because we are tourists, we don't have to fast so we should go and have a refreshing drink. Inspired that we weren't going to get evil eyes from everyone we did just that, then went in to the mosque. It's an enormous place. The largest in Pakistan they say. It can hold up to 100,000 people in the courtyard! It's quite beautiful inside the main area and was built over 400 years ago. On the way in, I picked up! A young man came up and said he wanted to practice his English. I've had this before and was determined that he wasn't going to get any money from me so I played it cool. Turns out, he gave me loads of information and told me his life story then invited us for a drink and bid us farewell! Nice chap. Apparently people used to be able to climb the minarets for an eagle eye view over the Fort but too many people had started committing suicide so they closed it. Bet you wouldn't find that in any guidebooks! Islam forbids suicide and there were too many young girls in the statistics. It didn't look good! The place also made the news in 1991 when Princess Diana was invited to visit and wore what was deemed 'inappropriate clothing'. Her skirt was too short, they thought. A case actually went to court because the Mullahs were so disgusted by it but it was thrown out of court and they were told to stop wasting the judge's time!!! Cool.

Day 3

We needed to send some postcards and went off in search of the post office - the wrong way. But we did find out where the zoo was and the Bagh-I-Jinnah (gardens). We found it - eventually. After that fun, we walked down the road a bit to see another famous site. Zamzama (Kim's Gun). It's a huge cannon from Afghanistan that is over 300 years old and has seen loads and loads of battles and been carried off by various victorious leaders to different parts of the sub continent. Lahore was it's final resting place just past the Museum where Kipling's father worked in the 19th century. It's mentioned in the first line of Rudyard Kipling's famous book, 'Kim'. We met up with an English guy, Alexander, and decided to go and see the closing of the Pakistani/Indian border ceremony. We made some more friends at the bus station who helped us get a cheap taxi ride out there. It's an amazing display of showmanship to say the least. These guys are trained up to look as though they want to kill each other! There were only a handful of people on the Pakistani side (we think because of Ramadan) but there were thousands on the Indian side. They have huge grandstands set up over there!! There were just a few tiled steps on our side. The Pakistanis had to bring in one of the local schools to make up the numbers!! The soldiers wear crisp uniforms with elaborate helmets. They goose step up and down, march around, shout (very loudly) and gesticulate alot. There was a lot of handshaking with the Indian counterparts. They bring the flags down, fold them up and march them inside. It's too hard to capture the atmosphere on photo. They have one guy whose sole purpose is to work the crowd, get them excited and to make as much noise as possible. He had quite a job seeing as there was no one on our side. Can't wait to be on the Indian side!!

Day 4

I needed to ditch some weight from my oversized backpack so we got a bunch of stuff together and went to the post office. The right one this time. On the way we passed the courts which are a fantastic display of British architecture. The post office is also a lovely old building left over from that era. I can just imagine all the poms poncing about, in and out of the place.

To send any package at all you have to have it sewn up by the sewing-wallahs outside first. They got me a box, packed it in nicely and then hand-stitched white cloth round it. Brilliant. All I had to do was fill out some forms and give two copies of my passport over and Bob's-your-uncle! Then inside we paid up and it went off somewhere. We sent it slow so fingers crossed it gets there!

One of the things to do whilst in Pakistan is to experience Sufi drumming, and what an experience it is!! The Regale take people every Thursday night to a particular shrine, so most of us went along to see what it was all about. Well, there was a HUGE concentration of men sitting around cross legged on the floor smoking hashish. Initially there were four women which quickly reduced to me and Czech Lucie. I've never seen so much in my life!! Not being a smoker of anything myself, I was glad to have my headscarf there to pull round my face. Women have to wear head cover whilst in the shrines anyway (so no, I didn't look like an idiot). There were some singers first then came the drummers. They must have been really famous because everyone cleared the way for them. It was these two guys with big drums hanging from their necks. David had been swept away in the crowds and I could see even he was struggling to cope with all the joints being shoved in his face. Too much hospitality this time!! There was loads of chai and traditional sweets being passed around too. The drumming become almost hypnotic after a while people seemed to be loosing themselves to the beat (and to the hash). Men would just get up and start shouting something and the crowd would chorus back to them. I really wanted to know what they were saying. Then these Sufi dancers got up. Dancing is the closest word to describe it I guess. This guy that had lead what I think was a prayer before the drummers started playing, got up. He had a green dress and greasy grey hair and started gently marching around, every so often lifting his right arm from the elbow then the left, all with his eyes closed. There were these two others that moved around in fits constantly shaking their heads. They too had really greasy hair. They would spontaneously start spinning rapidly then continue shaking their heads and jumping about. It was bizarre. Just watching all this head shaking gave me a headache! One or two others joined at times during the evening but it was mainly the green guy and these two other spinners. At times it looked like a small mosh pit. All this went on till about midnight then the placed quickly emptied. It was like they'd reached the Cinderella hour. All our sandals and shoes had been kicked around by the crowds and we all had difficultly locating them. They were flatted and covered with dust and dirt. David's were long gone. There's some little Pakistani bastard out there somewhere walking about in his sandals.

Day 5

We had a massive sleep in. The only things on the agenda for the day were to say goodbye to Alexander who was making his way towards Afghanistan and to get David some new sandals. We went to the bazaar as I'd seen some around Delhi Gate but they were all much too small. Their largest size was 11. As we were in the area we visited the Golden Mosque, otherwise know as Sunehri Masjid. There wasn't alot going on, praying as usual. It's known for it's three gilded domes and gold-plated minarets. It looked pretty old and our book reckons it was built in 1735. So there you go. On the way out we spotted some lovely standard Pakistani one-mould rubber slip-ons and went to check them out. We were offered some fashion advice by another cricket lover and decided to go with it. 100 rupees later he was being admired by many.

Tomorrow we would be heading to Islamabad to hand our passports over to the Indian Embassy.
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