Sunday, September 2, 2012

lastly lahore

I'm fully rested but perhaps not fully recovered.

After the trek there were some issues about leaving the north to return to Islamabad. These involved not getting our return flight, landslides on the Karakoram Highway, a sectarian bus massacre in Chilas, and a case of food poisoning en route.

The trekking company organised a mini van to drive the remaining three of our group to Islamabad - a trip of 23 hours with a stop over in Chilas after the first 8 hours.

On the upside, the landslides on the main route meant we needed to take a back way - through the very scenic Deosai Plains and Astar valley. Deosai is a popular camping national park and is meant to be the home for bears and other wildlife. We saw no bears - but did spot a lot of marmots ('marmites' according to Miles the Englishman!)

a 'marmite'

We arrived at Chilas around 11 pm with our driver noticeably nervous (his sect was the ones killed a few days before here). The hotel prepared us some dinner as we had eaten almost nothing since midday. I wasn't particularly hungry so I settled for an omelette.

About 5 am I lurched into the toilet to serenade the bowl.

We set off for the remaining 15 hours with my innards undergoing civil war. I lay in the van as the temperature climbed well over 30. The scenery was barren brown and rocky as we followed a river along the highway on a road which compared favourably with some of the worst outback Australian Roads I've ever been on.

We also picked up an armed escort in Chilas which remained with us for the remaining journey to Islamabad. For the first few hours we had an armed guard in the van with us, which then changed to a separate vehicle which drove in front of us.

one of our guards

astar valley

When we arrived at the outskirts of Abbotabad (the town where Osama bin Laden met his end) it was late in the day and the town was traffic filled. So we were led through the town at a cracking pace with the armed escort vehicle's siren blaring, blazing a path through the city streets!!

A brief night back in Islamabad and it was time to say goodbye to Miles who was flying home the next morning. Nick the American and I continued to Lahore where I dropped him at his hostel after which I continued on to my hotel.

Now I rarely stay at hotels, preferring the ambience of hostels. But feeling like death warmed up, I decided to treat myself to some comfort - and with the memory of the heat of Lahore still fresh in my mind, I needed air-con!

I settled on the National Hotel on Abbott Rd. It is advertised as a three star joint. I have no frame of reference for this except an understanding that five stars is bloody good.

Well the very best I can say is that it had air-con.

On my second morning I informed reception that there was a rat in my room. The lady at the desk said she would take care of it. When I returned that afternoon she said the problem was taken care of. And to emphasise this point she made a mime of someone spraying an aerosol.

"Not mosquitos" I said "a RAT!" To which I added my own mime. She looked suitably horrified and then proceeded to do absolutely nothing about it.

And there was no hot water, on my king sized bed my top sheet was something that was in reality a tablecloth and at every meal I had at the hotel the waiter would forget something,

My first breakfast involved me asking for toast, jam and black tea.

"Yes sir - toast, butter, jam and black tea."

"No butter."

"No butter?"

"Yes that's right - toast, jam, black tea - no butter."

"No butter?"

" butter. I don't like it. No butter. Just toast, jam and black tea."

"Yes sir - toast, jam and black tea. No butter."

"Thank you."

He brings me my breakfast - toast, jam, black tea and butter. I patiently hand it back to him.

I had several days in Lahore to explore. I was still a little under the weather so I took it easy.

It is a dusty and polluted city with far too much traffic, very poor roads and everything is in a state of decay. It is as if whenever they build something here, once the last brick it's laid and the last tile glued in place then absolutely nothing else needs to be done - ever! The idea of maintenance seems completely foreign to this place. I have seen buildings partially built where the bottom floors are already beginning to crumble and fall apart while the upper layers are still being constructed.

I visited some of the main sites such as the fort and the Badshahi Mosque and the old city - a rabbit warren of tiny streets and back lanes thrumming with human activity, crammed with people, auto-rickshaws, donkeys, shops and stalls with the air thick with the stench of animal butchery, spices and sweat. A claustrophobic atmosphere best dealt with in small doses.

old city lane

badshahi mosque

badshahi mosque 2

badshahi mosque 3

mosque from lahore fort

lahore fort

I also visited the Lahore museum - a little disappointing. It needs a lot of attention. It has the look and feel of a Victorian or Edwardian museum and is dusty, musty and poorly looked after.

One place that took my interest is just outside the fort and is known as Cocoo's Den (or variously: Cuckoos Den or Coco's Den.) This is formerly a private home and is now both the studio of the artist-owner and a rooftop restaurant, with great night views over the fort and the Badshahi Mosque. Described as being overly touristy - what I found interesting is that it showed what a lot of the crumbling buildings in Lahore could look like if they were maintained properly.

cocoo's den

cocoo's den 2

Back to Islamabad and then off to Oman in the morning.

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