I moved late Summer ’02 to Karachi, Pakistan and stayed there untill Autumn 2006 when we moved to Almaty, Kazakhstan. This page captures some of our experiences in Pakistan. overall I had a fantastic stay and met wonderful people. I received a very warm welcome true to the sense of hospitality Pakistanis are renowned for.
I moved into a spacious home in one of the residential areas of Karachi, Defence V, Khayaban-e-Badar. My wife spent a considerable time and effort to improve the “looks” of the place. This included fixing up the garden inside as well as in front of the house. We did not stay long enough to see the coconut trees mature and yield fruits …
I have been several times downtown to check out what the market looked like. The spices and wholesale markets are quite colorful with donkey carts and camels everywhere to transport the goods and with very colorful displays of all oriental spices. They are so much in the air that one sneezes non-stop.
“Lahore has the reputation that it ranks with Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Delhi as one of the great centers of Moghul architecture. With its magnificent Islamic monuments, spectacular reminders from the era of British rule, chaotic old city bazaars, …. Lahore remains high on the list of Pakistan’s “unmissable” sights.” (©Copyright Footprint Pakistan Handbook, 2nd edition)
A visit to Lahore has to start with the Lahore Fort which can be entered via the imposing Alamgiri Gate. The gate was built in the late 17th century AD by emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir. It’s large enough to allow several elephants carrying members of the royal family to enter at one time! The Lahore Fort is located in the northwest corner of the city. It has witnessed the drama of the rise and fall of the Moghuls, the Sikhs and the Colonial rulers. With its architectural excellence it contains no less than thirty monumental buildings erected in different periods. It is thought that there have been a succession of earlier forts going back to at least 1180 AD.
The Fort contains some of the most impressive secular Moghul buildings in South Asia. Embellished with carved red sandstone, marble, pietra dura work, glazed colored and kashi tile work, plus frescoes depicting royal pleasures, it is more a palace than a fort.
Opposite to the Lahore Fort is the Badshahi Mosque completed in 1676 AD under Aurangzeb. It is one of the largest mosques in the world, with huge gateways, four tapering minarets of red sandstone, three vast marble domes and an open courtyard capable of holding at least 60’000 people.
The old city contains many bazaars like the one we visited where craftsmen work with copper, brass and silver. You can reach these bazaars via the Shah Alami Gate, one of the 12 gates to the Old City.
A short distance outside Lahore, across the river Ravi, is the Tomb of Jahangir, the Moghul emperor that ruled from 1605 to 1627. His son Shah Jahan built the mausoleum for him 10 years after his death. It is sited in an attractive walled garden. It has four 30 meter high minarets. The interior is embellished with frescoes and pietra dura inlay and colored marble. The mausoleum features prominently on the Pakistan 1’000 Rupees denomination bank note.
People from Punjab and from Lahore in particular have a reputation for eating well and enjoying food. A testament to this “savoir vivre” is Food Street in Lahore. Sit yourself down at one of the many tables and you can start choosing kebabs, lamb chops, fish, … to mention just a few of the very tasty dishes that are prepared every night. The street is nicely decorated and lit. At night it’s busy with people enjoying food. In the daytime its packed with traffic …
A stone’s throw away from the Fort and the Badshahi Mosque is Coco’s Den. A well known hang out belonging to the famous Lahore painter and artist Iqbal Hussain. It really is a restaurant cum exhibition hall. Impressive is the rooftop with its magnificent view of the Badshahi Mosque. Really worth the detour.
When visiting Lahore it is well worth stopping by at the Lahore Museum. Its many rooms gives an excellent overview of all the history and civilizations this part of the world has known. When in Europe people were still living in caves, the Indus civilizations were flourishing, excelling in architecture, engineering and art, building brick stone monuments that are still standing. A rather unique piece of religious art is the Fasting Buddha”, one of only a handful in the world, dating back to the 2nd century AD and which has the reputation of being a demonstration of the zenith of Ghandaran art.
A visit to Lahore would not be complete without a stopover at the Wagah border crossing with India. The changing of the guards and the flag lowering ceremony on either side of the border have become a tourist attraction as both countries try to outdo each other in the precision of their troops’ drill. It’s real entertainment repeated daily accompanied by the necessary chanting on either side an vocal support from the spectators, a bit like in a European soccer game.
End July 2003 I went to the north of Pakistan for a three day off-site meeting with all employees. We stayed in Bhurban which is next to Murree, “the” hill station of Pakistan, north of the capital Islamabad. It’s very green and much cooler than in Karachi.
Karachi suffered from very heavy monsoon rains throughout July ’03. It saw the heaviest rains in over a decade. Since the city is not built to cope with rains as it hardly rains a few days every year, this lead to very strong flooding in all areas of the city. We have had lots of water in the house as the rains have revealed the poor workmanship in the construction of our house. Yet it is not as bad as the fate many other people have had to suffer.
In the second half of May ’05 I went for a trip to the north of Pakistan. The trip covered such areas like Thandiani, Natiagali and Murree having departed from the capital Islamabad. The trip was organized with the help of “Karavan Leaders” a reputed tour operator based in Lahore and specialised in mountaineering, trekking and climbing expeditions amongst others. They proved to be very professional.
The first day in the afternoon my team and I were up for our most daunting task. We had to scale a 20 meter high wall unassisted using only hands and feet to get grip on de face of the rock. The rope was only there to prevent people from crashing down. Eventually all made it up! … and back down safely.
I had been told he’d have to sleep in tents for the first night. No one however expected it to be small have egg sized tents that could barely fit two people. Hence no choice, I awoke with the birds at 4.30am, after a bitter cold night in a sleeping bag with three layers of sweaters and a hat to keep me “less cold” at night. Temperatures in mid May still drop to near freezing point in Thandiani which has a 2’800 meter elevation. Some of the surrounding mountains still had snow left on their tops. It was nevertheless magnificent to wake up surrounded by quietness, clean fresh air, 100 year old 100 foot high pine trees, and hill tops.
The second day included an exercise requiring to cross a hanging bridge. As I found out it was barely hanging on iron thread instead of cables. The wooden planks covering it, at least the few that were left on it, were rotten and felt rather uncomfortable under the feet when you felt that they were giving way and making unassuring cracking sounds. The gaps between the planks were large enough to let 2 people fall through in one go to a riverbed 30 meter below …
The last day included trekking in the hills around Bhurban and a bungled attempt to ride horses in the hills. As none of us were experienced horse riders they abandoned this attempt rather quickly as they wanted to avoid injury to the horses … and themselves.
Faisalabad – Lahore
In the second half of July ’05 the entire company and I went to Faislabad and Lahore for a yearly off-site and strategy meeting. Obviously most people had to fly in from Karachi and this was an opportunity to arrive at an airport which is still small and cosy enough and where you are actually allowed to walk from the aircraft all the way to the terminal building. Leaves an impression of travel from a bygone era.
The first day was spent at the Faisalabad Serena Hotel. A little architectural jewel owned by the Agha Khan Foundation. It is built in nice red brick and set in beautifully lush gardens with fountains all around to help cool the air as Faisalabad can be searing hot in summer.
The first night which included a review of the past year’s results also included some celebration. For the occasion I had hired Pakistan’s icon rockband Junoon. Junoon has over the years obtained cult status in the country and their music IS excellent! The gardens of the Faisalabad Serenea Hotel turned into a private rcok concert venue with a thrilling 2 hour performance by the band and plenty of interaction between the band members and the audience.
The second day we awake to a surprise challenge. We were all given 50 rupees (90 us cents) per person, a backpack, a bottle of water and a sandwich. We were divided up in teams of 10 people. The challenge was to arrive first as a team at “Minar-e-Pakistan” in Lahore, 200 km away. The obvious choice for most was a 4 hour bus ride on G.T. (Grand Trunk) Road. Definitly not the most comfortable of experiences but truly worthile. The best way to see the country “from the inside”. Those bus drivers stop for nothing, except to drop off and pick up passengers. Apart from that they will not give to uncoming traffic, potholes in the road, etc.
The bus provides for opportunities to observe daily life in Pakistan from angles you would otherwise never consider. You get a different perspective on what a traffic jam can mean when you have plenty of horse drawn carts trying to squeeze in and out of sidelanes. You also realize that outside of the main cities there are virtually no cars to be seen.
After this race from Faisalabad to Lahore, we all went to Coco’s Den next to Lahore’s Fort for a well deserved meal from one of best roof top view restaurants in Pakistan. The view of the Bashahi Mosque lit up at night is just amazing.
In the second half of April ’06 Hans and some colleagues went back to the earthquake area around Kashmir. The objective was to visit an NGO, Read Foundation, that has an extensive network of schools in Azad Kashmir. Many of these schools were damaged or completely destroyed and 14 teachers along with 645 students lost their lives. The Read Foundation, in the past 12 years, has set up 323 schools educating 53’500 children. They are currently looking for funds to help rebuild schools that were destroyed and further expand the school network as this is the only way to ensure people stay in their villages. Immediately after the earthquake efforts were made to maintain education even in schools that were completely destroyed by setting up tent schools. One of the schools Hans visited is located about 40km out of Muzaffarabad in the village of Hatian on the way to the border with India along the Jhelum river.
When you drive along the Jhelum river you can still see the lanscape dotted with tent villages on either side of the river. Many peple have strated returning to their villages in the mountains to start reconstructtion of their homes and to be ready for the next winter. Yet while the reconstruction is on many people still have to rely on the tents for shelter as well as for the facilities that are provided..
In many places the force of the earhtquake is apparent when looking at hill sides which have been shaved off as if a large knive sliced off a portion. In many places homes came down with the sides of mountains and hills.
In many places roads have been washed away and new one lane dirt tracks have hade to be carved out of the hill side. For the time being these provide passage but a new avalanche can block these again any time. This will be a high risk when the rains start coming in this summer. Every so many kilometers along the river we were faced with such treacherous passages.
The most dramatic views are those of destroyed homes. Houses were raised to the ground by the thousands. The collapse is sometimes near perfect in conceiling that their had actually been a groundfloor to the house.
Mid-April 06 I had the opportunity to be introduced the HE President General Pervez Musharraf, the President of Pakistan. The occasion was the annual dinner organized by the Karachi based Overseas Investors’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI). President Musharaf was the chief guest at this this dinner. Hans was introduced to the President in his capacity of being a member of the Managing Committee of the the OICCI. Hans has been a member of the Managing Committee for the past three years.
The weather in Karachi, Pakistan:
Copyright © 2012 Hans Dewaele – All rights reserved