Is Pakistan a Step Too Far for A European Tourist?

I'm in Lahore after gradually making my way up here from Quetta. The mountains down from Quetta to Sibi were beautiful but in Sibi I ran into my police escort. They proceeded to ruin the process for the next few days. This meant that I couldn't do what I wanted, I had to stay in cockroach infested cheap hotels, I wasn't allowed to stay with locals or follow the usual routine of camping.

Basically it was a total pain and the language barrier seemed more of an issue with the police who, at times, were even unable to understand the universal basic hand signals that I've come to rely on. Anyway, on the third night the police were not outside my hotel room in the morning so I escaped, feeling very much the fugitive. I made it a couple of kilometres to the Shell garage where I had a Cornetto (Harrison Ford never had this luxury).

Then I continued my swift getaway via heavily loaded bicycle (impossible). I swerved around the policeman at the checkpoint who tried to flag me down and he didn't bother following me (he probably thought me amusing, cracked a joke to his partner and lit another cigarette). So thus ensued my time without the police. I consider myself lucky as I saw and met other tourists who had the escort right up to the border.

A Swiss couple in their bus spring to mind, near Multan, stepped out of the bus to meet me, at the end of their tether with the escort. When they heard I'd scarpered my escort, the chap turned to the poor policemen and let fly a vicious melee of angry-european-tourist demands:

S:'no police escort' P: silence S:'no police escort!!!' P:'sorry, no English' S:'yes, that's right no English, I know!' P:'my friend' S:'Yes my friend....' S:'Pakistan, no good, visitor should be free, I am a prisoner' P:'Yes...' I went slowly, took plenty of photos and film and talked to locals on bikes, folk selling oranges, drinking chay.

A memorable moment was giving two oranges to an old man on a donkey cart loaded with a large metal pipe at least twice the length of the cart again very slowly progressing down the road. At first I felt angry that I hadn't had the usual time to accustom myself to the  way in which to go about traveling in Pakistan without my police escort dictating what to do. I grumbled to myself about it, convincing myself that I was having a substandard experience. To counter this I decided to take some detours down the side roads off the main road. I was presented with immersion in the agricultural lifestyle of the area. It felt like I'd gone back in time hundreds of years.

The occasional rickshaw and motorbike passed whilst I stood and watched the totally unmechanised agricultural process. Women picking cotton in the fields. Men and women slashing crops of rice and sugar cane and carrying it one their heads. Heavily laden donkey and horse carts trundling down the road. Women hurriedly walking past me, veiling their faces.

In fact, a couple of evenings on I was writing my diary and started to list all the things I could think about that I'd seen along the road in Pakistan different to other countries. I crammed a couple of pages with busy mind-maps of notes and descriptions. It occurred to me that although I felt like my experience had been reduced by the police, all this was the experience and so much was being processed. I guess Pakistan is the intermediary between Iran and India in terms of noise, sensual overflow, dirt, chaotic traffic and increasingly becoming an exotic tourist to the local people. I had an idealistic image of riding off into the countryside and meeting a family who would take me in and I would get an insight into the lifestyle. But to be honest, I was already getting the insight by slowly pedaling through.

These poor people worked long, long hours in the fields, came home knackered to their large family in the tent next to the cotton mill or mud hut in the village, and lived tough but overall relatively satisfying lives. I got a book on lateral thinking in a bookshop in Quetta. It's funny how sometimes a book turns up that seems to fit in or provide a step forward for one's thinking. I picked it because I've been thinking about the architectural profession and I met an Ozzie architect in Iran who had been working on using an organic system to filter water using plants.

We'd been chatting about how the main thing he got taught in his study was a way of thinking or 'lateral thinking' - which is concerned with possibilities and generating them (amongst other things). I feel after reading some of the book 'Edward De Bono - Lateral Thinking' that at times I've dived in too quickly to solving a problem with either the first thing that comes to mind or an easy option. Lateral thinking is concerned with restructuring patterns of thought and generating alternative solutions. I'm excited about applying this new thinking to the continuing expedition as I head onward towards Bombay. Check out the photos on flickr. I will write more shortly. Warning-this blog was a mental splurge.

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