Given that I was in Amritsar, I decided that its worth a visit the cultural capital of the Punjab, Lahore. Its only a short hop of 50 miles from Amritsar, but its in Pakistan.
Armed with a Pakistani VISA which I had already sorted in London I headed to the Wagga Border crossing, one of only two land crossings between India and Pakistan. After the frolics of the ridiculous border ceremony the night before, the Border post was all but deserted. I mean ... there was NO ONE crossing the border. Just me, a bunch of well armed soldiers plus a few immigration and custom staff tucked away in their offices. It was a strange, surreal experience walking the mile or so each side, down a empty road, on my own with heavily armed solders looking on. I thought about taking a photo, but thought again ... maybe not such a wise thing to do. Getting though the clearances on each side was a breeze with one exception, the Immigration & Customs officials just wanted small talk chat for as long as possible ... you could just see how bored they were !
My initial reaction to Lahore was one of heavy traffic and choking pollution. One of the main factors is as a result of the insignificant trade between India and Pakistan; the classic Indian Tuc-Tuc is not used much in Pakistan ... instead they have taken to chopping a Honda Motorcycle into two, then welding a rear axle plus carriage to the rear end. Result; two stroke pollution and the regional government which does not have much of a chance converting their Tuc-Tuc fleet to Natural Gas. The pollution was so bad it makes me gag thinking about it.
I headed to the Regale Inn, the Backpackers hangout of choice in Lahore and immediately was met by Jas, a traveler from Oz and Niamat, the driver for the hostel. Now I must mention Niamat; a top bloke in my reckoning and totally representative of the wonderfully friendly Pakistani's. Coming from an limited education he taught himself English and is now the main guy to show people around Lahore from the Regale Inn. To me, he really summed up every Pakistani I met; Unlike the average Indian, the Pakistani's don't want to make money from you though some scam, the hard sell or through endless hassle. They want to buy you a cup of tea and show you their amazing country! And Niamat is a great example. He is more than happy to show you Lahore and its up to you to tip him, as you like.
Niamat and Tim and the Old Fort, Lahore.
And off we went and saw Lahore with its many sights. My highlight has to be a trip to the truck Market to see the lavishly decorated trucks, all with a few extra panels welded on at height for that extra bit of load... Niamat and I spent a good couple of hours chewing the fat with the Pashtun truck drivers who, incidentally, were from Peshawar. I've never drunk so much tea.
A Pashtun truck driver in front of his truck. He was really chuffed to have his photo taken and enjoy a cup of tea with me. He was a really nice guy.
Pakistan broke many preconceptions I held. I naively assumed, that being an Islamic state, there would be many taboo's that would not be tolerated. Alcohol is banned. So instead, allot of Afghani Hash is smoked instead. Niamite also pointed out the 'Dancing Ladies District', who, I'm told, do allot more than just dancing, providing you have the means to pay ! Not surprisingly, the food is very similar to the Indian Punjab, but with a meat and Arabic slant. You'll see plenty of street sellers selling Brain or Hoof Masala as well as Shwarma's. At least I knew the Chicken was fresh, after I witnessed several places slaughtering 'just in time' a few doors down from the food vendors. As a 'wrapped in wool' westerner, I was a bit shocked to see slaughtering on the street, even more so, according to Halal practices. I did wonder just what parts ended up in the Shwarma Kebab!!!
I was having a great time and really liked Pak. But it all turned a bit sour and very quickly. I broke Golden rule number 4 with a rather tasty kebab. Then I got ill. Like really Ill. And with the 35C+ nights plus power cuts stopping the fans every hour or so, it was just hell. So after a horrendous night, I summoned up the energy and limped back to a plush hotel with AC in Amritsar. I proceeded to sleep 16 hours, followed by TV and cornflakes in bed. It was all a rather good recovery.
And now, just to remind myself; I AM STRICTLY VEGGIE IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT
Oh and BTW, I felt completely safe in Lahore. More so than in India. Take the media hype with a pinch of salt.
Next stop is McCleod Ganj, near Dharamsala, the home to the Dalai Lama. Its also my entry into the cool and hopefully refreshing Himalayas. I've traveled over 4000 miles in India and it will be good to get out of the heat and dust. The Monsoon is also hot on my tail...