Sunday, 3 June 2012

Lahore, Pakistan

By Sanne

Getting across the India-Pakistan border took about 3 hours due to bureaucracy from the Indian side. On the Pakistan side it all went smooth and quickly. Mark was told by the customs there that next time we return to Pakistan to have some kids with us!
Immediately you could tell the difference in traffic here from India. It was all so quiet... No horns anymore constantly penetrating your eardrums. No cows lying in the middle of the road, no psychotic bus drivers coming straight for you. It was however very, very hot. And the guesthouse we stayed at was even hotter. And because of the frequent power cuts Pakistan is experiencing (more so than any other country we've been to) it made it very uncomfortable. The power schedule would usually be one hour on, one hour off but because the building was squeezed in between other buildings it was like an oven and even with the fans on it was hard to breathe. We honestly couldn't wait to get out of there, and within the next couple of days we would have more reasons for wanting to leave...

We took a rickshaw to the Lahore Fort and had a walk around. At the guesthouse I had been given a Shalwar Kameez (the traditional outfit for women) so I was completely covered up but the stares, oh the stares! The stares were curious but not so friendly. I felt pretty uncomfortable and tried to tell Mark but for him it was obviously different as he is a man. Outside the fort we were stopped by a news team who interviewed us for, well I'm not quite sure what it was for actually, but they wanted to know what we thought of Pakistan and why tourists don't come here and then got Mark to say something in Urdu which I think he failed miserably at judging from the laughs! We then went for a walk around the fort and were met by many stares, some good some bad. We had several  friendly kids and families come over and introduce themselves and take some photos with us which was nice. We had this one guy follow us around, every time we stopped he would stop and then when we would continue he would too. Not long after a group of young guys stopped to talk to us. At first it was the usual, where are you from, what's your name etc but all of a sudden the guy asked: "what is your problem?" He said it in a sort of passive-aggressive way that it was hard to tell whether he was being friendly or not but it soon became clear they were having a laugh on our expense and as we were walking away we heard someone yell: "I want to f**k Australia!".

Across from the fort lies Badshahi Mosque, the fifth largest mosque in the world. It is really very beautiful and as we were there a huge dust storm made the sky thick with dust which kind of made the mosque appear all the more spectacular.

A friend of mine had recommended we have dinner at Coocoo's Den Cafe which overlooks the fort so we headed there only to discover that the menu was certainly not vegetarian-friendly (missing India already!) and the meals cost a small fortune, way too much for our meagre budget. So as the povos we are we ended up sitting there sipping on lemonade as of course alcohol is neither available in this dry country. It was worth coming up here though for the view alone. The rooftop terrace overlooks the entire mosque and sitting there in the sunset listening to the call to prayer was pretty cool. Afterwards we went for walk around the red-light district (yes, they have one of those here) but it clearly is a bit more subdued than its Amsterdam and Thailand equivalents, the most outrageous you will see is some women standing in doorways showing just a hint of ankle!

We decided it was time to head back to our hostel so we made our way for the rickshaws where we approached a man who we thought was a driver. In a matter of seconds we founds ourselves surrounded by a group of young guys - there was probably 30-40 of them. As Mark was discussing the rickshaw fare with the man, I could feel the guys moving in closer and closer. I felt really vulnerable and had a strange sense that something was going to happen.... Next thing I know I feel hands on my body. It starts with just a hand on my bum but soon escalates into a guy putting his hand between my legs. I use all my force to push them away and yell at them to get the hell away from me, but they just keep coming back for more. I let Mark know what is happening and he also yells at a guy to get away from me but Mark doesn't realise exactly to what extent they are touching me, if he did I am sure he would have done more to protect me. The situation is rapidly getting out of hand and a local man tells us that we better get out of here and takes us over to a waiting rickshaw. He tells me to stand up against the rickshaw so people can't touch me from behind but as I stand there I see that the group of guys have followed us and the rickshaw is surrounded by them. We eventually manage to communicate to the driver where we want to go and we get into the rickshaw. Just as I'm about to get in, the man who helped us asks me what country I am from. I tell him Denmark and he says to me: "Don't ever tell anyone in Pakistan you are from Denmark. The countries have a very bad relationship. It will be very dangerous for you". I can only assume he is referring to the Muhammed caricatures. But at this point I just want to get the hell away from there and I just ignore him. Once I am sitting in the rickshaw I still have hands reaching in from the outside to touch me. The situation is just so over the top, it is ridiculous. I feel like I'm an animal in a frickin' petting zoo! The driver finally speeds out of there leaving the crowd of guys behind. As we are driving down the road I am in a kind of shock of what just happened. Mark is the same especially when I tell him exactly what they did to me. I have never in my life experienced anything like this and hope that I never will again.

After this incident we could not wait to get the hell out of Lahore. We left the next morning but this day also ended up being a major headache. We drove around for ages trying to find a petrol station and an ATM that would take our card and while doing this we were pulled over by the biggest asshole of a police man who tried fining us for being in the wrong lane (even though there were about 10 other local bikes doing the same thing). He proceeded telling Mark that he had to admit he was wrong and that he had to show him some respect because he could put him behind bars. Yes, the friendliness was overwhelming... We managed to talk him out of giving us a fine and as we were about to leave he bizarrely asked us if we wanted to sit and have some chai with him. Are you frickin' kidding me??!!

One funny little thing happened though; as we were waiting at a traffic light a guy pulls up the side of us and goes: "I have seen your movies - you are Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman right?" :) Again I am mistaken for a man but I don't mind really, I just wish that had been the case last night at the Fort, maybe then I wouldn't have had all that trouble.

It only got worse from there really. We had been told we could take the freeway to Islamabad but when we turned up at the first toll gate we were stopped by a woman official who declared that motorbikes were not allowed on the freeway. Great, just what we needed to hear! We pleaded with them to give us permission as it was already getting late in the day and we had over 300 kms to get to Islamabad. They were actually nice and took us into their office and called their superior to see if we could get the permission to go but after many phone calls the answer came back: NO. We had now wasted another hour just to try to get this stupid permission and we now had to turn around to go all the way back to Lahore, fight our way through traffic and find our way to the GT road that runs all the way to Islamabad. To say that we were sick of it all is a hefty understatement. As we were getting ready to get on our bikes again the female official who learnt that we had come from India said to me:

"You know that India and Pakistan are enemies?"
"Eh, yes..."
"So which do you like best - India or Pakistan?"
"Well, I've only been in Pakistan a couple of days and I was in India for six weeks..." I answered diplomatically.
"So what do you think of India?"
"I love India"

You could tell that wasn't the answer she expected to hear. The smile quickly faded from her face. Well, if she didn't like the answer, she shouldn't have asked the question.

"Well, I'm sure you'll find the Pakistan people to be very friendly"

I told her that I was sure she was right, that there are friendly people in Pakistan but that we had not had the best experience so far. Mark quickly told her about the incident the night before and to be honest she looked pretty shocked and apologised on behalf of her country which was nice of her although of course it wasn't her place to apologise.
After this we began on the long slog to Islamabad via the Grand Trunk Road which was busy and slow going, the reasons why we had hoped to do the freeway. We were both in quite a state, wishing we were somewhere else, somewhere we would feel respected and welcome. Definitely not the best start to a new country. We could only hope Islamabad would change our minds...

Lahore Fort

Mark being interviewed

Me in my shalwar kameez at Lahore Fort

Curious kids

Badshahi Mosque

More curious locals

Badshahi Mosque in the middle of a dust storm

People playing cricket in the grounds outside the mosque

Inside the mosque

At Coocoo's Den, overlooking the mosque


  1. I'm sorry your experience in Pakistan wasn't as you would have wished, unfortunately it is not so friendly for independent travelers at all, and I was concerned when you said you would go. The best way to visit Pakistan is to meet people through friends, e.g. visiting friends in Pakistan is the way to go. You can weave in and out and still get a good feel for the amazing country. I had a similar experience in Peshawar walking around the market, and we left quickly after some uncomfortable stares and comments, more related to the fact that we were foreigners and not just women :( but I'm glad you enjoyed the mosque and the view from Cocoo's nest!

  2. I think the GT Road was actually a better choice. We used the motorway from Lahore to Islamabad by car in April 2012 and, although it was quick, it was awfully dull compared to the same journey on the GT Road that we'd made a few years before.