Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Amazing Pakistan Adventure

The first time I met Badar in Mountain View six years ago he invited all of us to visit his country, Pakistan. We'd meet every quarter since then and we'd share stories about our own countries every time. I was intrigued and wanted to see for myself the beautiful country that my friend Badar painted for us.

It took months and lots of careful planning and I, together with a couple of colleagues, finally found ourselves visiting Badar in his homeland. The trip was made long by the 5-hour lay-over in Bangkok, it was tiring, but I was just excited to finally see for myself the real side of Pakistan - it's everyday life and not the image always shown by media.

As we sped along the highway to our hotel I was amazed at how much space Karachi had. Very much opposite of my home city, Metro Manila which is pretty cramped compared to Karachi. Huge birds circled across the sky - the kite bird according to Mubashak - which shows that the environment is fertile and very green. The road was littered with fully-decorated buses and trucks and beside them our colorful jeepneys would actually look plain. And the people walking along the streets or just hanging out were in colorful traditional garments.

In the evening, Badar brought us to Port Grand, an area known for its night life. As we were walking along the board-walk I felt like I was walking in another very similar place I'd gone to with Badar -- San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf. It was almost like a replica. We had dinner at Ghaffar Kabab House where we had loads of kabab. I don't eat spicy stuff, but it was too good to pass up and I must've finished half the bowl of yogurt (haha). The most interesting thing I tried was "brain". Nobody wanted to try it, but I wanted to show Badar that I was game for anything so I tried it. The texture was mushy and I understand it's an acquired taste, but it was okay and at least it contributed to sharpening my intelligence (that's what they said).

In Lahore, Badar brought us to the "Old City" so we could visit the Badshahi Mosque (corrected). It was a bit dark when we arrived since electricity was down but the walled city had some lights on. The area was huge and I'm sure it would've been better to visit in the morning. The mosque stood majestically on one side. It was closed, but Badar made a special request so we could get in. We took off our shoes before we went in and I marveled at the intricate artwork on the ceiling. The mosque could house 100,000 people and at night it looked beautifully mystical.

After a walk around the walled city we headed up to Cooco's Den & Cafe. A well-known roof-top restaurant that was owned by an artist/painter who helped rehabilitate the area which is known to be the red-light district. The roof-top restaurant had the most beautiful view of the mosque. Food was deliciously spicy and a variety of local meat dishes (apparently they eat a lot of meat in Pakistan). Since I already tried eating brain I left the sampling of testicles to my colleagues (it looked like ground beef though).

Our last day was spent in Islamabad. The most-well planned city according to Badar and Mubashak said that the vibe in Islamabad is very much different since the weather is cooler. Islamabad is also where the Himalayas start. We had dinner up in the mountain, overlooking the city. The sparkling city lights looked very much peaceful from up above.

We didn't stay out too late, but chanced upon a pre-wedding party at the hotel which we promptly gate-crashed just so we could see what was ongoing. The henna ceremony was over, but we got a glimpse of the very beautiful bride -- she looked like a goddess! The party attendees started dancing and it was a flurry of color going around and around. I didn't dare go onto the dance floor since I was just happy to see how the party went (I realized that our weddings are so mild and proper!).

So that's just about what we managed to squeeze in between work. We did managed to do some very light shopping -- just for a dress and some shoes, but I was surprised that there weren't any fridge magnets or tiny trinkets I can bring back for my girl-friends. Hopefully next time I'll be able to get Sweetie some of their local tea (which is bigger than coffee and definitely more potent than coffee!). We almost missed our flight back since going through immigration was an adventure onto itself (be sure to be there at least three hours before!!!).

Pakistan is unlike any other country I have visited before. It's beauty and warm people are its best-kept secrets. Someday when it's ready it will be a tourism haven which will give a lot of other places a run for its money.

I will be back!