well-spent March 23, 2009
Idiot's guide to re-colonisation
Exploring Lahore's walled city, in and around Dilli gate, to experience the extraordinary
By Naeem Safi
You put on your rugged jeans and the most comfortable walking shoes and check the battery and the card of your camera. Fill your bullet flask with chilled water and glucose; tuck in a pack of disposable ear plugs and half a pack of coin tissues in your shoulder bag, along with a cheap medical mask; all this to get into an urban jungle, and get out in one piece, body and mind. You have decided to explore the walled city of Lahore on foot. You either choose a Sunday to have an uninterrupted look at the urban fabric or some workday to float with the social flood on the streets.
You choose a gate that was apparently used by the rulers of a great Indian empire for entering into the city. They say Dilli gate is called Dilli gate because it faces Delhi. You cannot really see that unless you have attained an elevation of a few thousand feet. But if you are acrophobic, then all that you can see it facing is the Lunda Bazaar -- a place that offers the best quality canvases, if you are into painting. You will find it in various sizes, textures, and ratios of cotton. Or if you are into some production with a tight budget then may this be the Universal studio's warehouse for you. Just jump in with your costume designer. However, if this is your first time then make sure the designer is not a lady, and if that is not an option then pray she is attractive, and if your zodiac sign has no mercy on you then you can always add an extra hour for haggling. Even if you are not into any theatre or film production, this market is still very useful for what Shakespeare called a stage. But then you will have to act accordingly, even though if you are not in Rome, you can act like Romans while wearing their trash. All you need to do is just look down on those who cannot afford Marks & Spencer; learn some English, never mind the correct pronunciation, and there you go, being accepted and respected like a first class citizen. Enjoy being a gora saab in the third world. This is the Idiot's Guide to re-Colonisation
You look at the variety of outfits in multitude of forms, materials, colours and fashions and recall images from your school days how your fellows would fool crowds and sponsors by getting their entire ranges from here, dismantling them and then re-stitching them into some Frankenstein fashion. The trick is to cover the jumble of dresses and models of all heights, shapes, and proportions with appropriate lighting, loud music, and fog machines.
Here you can get fresh canvas bags, designed and made to your taste, for very nominal price and once you have what you want, you can gesture to all the Gucci's, and the sort, a V, an L, fare le corna, or any finger of your choice, depending on your level of achievement and contempt.
There is an antique coin seller sitting on the ground in front of a heap of coins of modern times too, but mostly they are the heavy bronze ones found in the foundations of centuries old buildings of the walled city, which are demolished to make room for the ever-growing demand of high-rise commercial buildings.
The vegetable bazaar near the Dilli gate has farm-fresh vegetables and fruits, where the ones with foreign names are not as expensive as in the posh areas of the city. There are fish, mutton and poultry. The smell and sight of the meat business are not very welcoming. The bazaar is connected with a street that has a treasure trove of pottery and some other beautiful handmade collectables.
You feel hungry after a while and you can choose from a variety of chickpeas, ranging from spices of Mexican proportions in pools of crimson red oil, to the ones moderately spiced. There are some barbecue stalls offering chicken spare-parts and a couple of Afghani food joints in Lunda Bazaar crossing that branches out to the scrap metal market. You can try any of these only if you have a military grade stomach and immune system or if you don't mind finishing 'War and Peace' in a single sitting while getting rid of the load.
A local soul guides you and you find a four decade old mutton channey wala in a street just before the Dilli gate next to the pottery and meat street. The small shop has a few tables with wooden benches and a line of frames with images of gates of the walled city of Lahore. The food is not bad; the ambiance -- well, one does not have much of a choice. This is not the sort of food that one can enjoy while on iPod.
You finish your food and come out of the street and there you are, right in front of the Dilli gate. You need some pro-level footwork to avoid being hit by the flux of traffic and the manure on the tarmac that is emitted by the oldest form of transport still used heavily in the maze of the streets -- bulls, horses, and donkeys that pull various sorts of cargos, stuck in the urban jungle with their masters. Their emissions can be hazardous to us, another animal species, but are not a threat to the planet, rather are an essential part of the eco-system, unlike the human genius. Relatively no noise pollution either, except for the rhythmic stamping of the horseshoes. On these streets the number of carts pulled by animals is almost equal to those pushed by humans.
A perfect stranger, fellow couch-surfer, called in to say he would be willing to host us in his village Talhatta near Balakot and we grabbed the moment
By Nabeel Khan
Year after year, most of our "national" holidays are spent either sulking about the state of the nation or by watching politicians donning some cheap replica of branded sunglasses in the dark or holding out victory signs. Not mine! Most of my days off work is spent catching up on things that I cherish most like sleeping or chatting up with my 'invisible' friends sitting in Des Pardes.
After a while, everybody gets tired of routine and wants a change in life. "No more shall I live my life like a couch potato, letting each day pass without fun and frolic", I shouted to all my friends when I found out that March 23 was falling on a Monday and hence making the weekend a really long one.
I thought of hatching an evil plan of taking over the universe but, just like my New Year resolutions, was too lazy to think about it.
A perfect stranger from planet Isloo, fellow couch-surfer, called in to say that he would be willing to host us in his village Talhatta, somewhere near Balakot, if the folks of Islamabad were up for it. I found this an opportune moment to grab and jolt myself out of the drudgery of life. I agreed and started ringing the alarm so all folks could gather around me and that I could tell them of this gala that we were hosting in collaboration with people from Islamabad and Karachi. The grand plan was to gather in Islamabad and from there make a trip to Khanpur, enroute Balakot.
We reached Islamabad Friday night and bunked our bags at the house of a fellow couch surfer from Pindi who hosted us for the night. After having an untraditionally traditional breakfast buffet at his house, we all sat in our cars and jet set to the Islamabad Motorway exit which was the meeting point from people coming from all across the city. We had swelled in numbers starting from an original ten to a sizeable twenty plus and our army marched along to reach Khanpur in a journey that was long because people had runny bladders, needed breaths of fresh air, had issues of nutrition while others wanted to be picture perfect with the rest of the crew.
After making a stopover at Khanpur Lake and enjoying some desi fresh river masaley daar macchi, we were on our way again.
We climbed mountains in a treacherous and snaky path at times and other times we were driving along a straight road. Since most of us had started out late, we were able to appreciate the ride and the cool wind reminding us of the weather we had left in Lahore Friday night. Thousand pit stops and shakkar wali chais later, the Formula 1 racing crew, finally reached their destination at which we were greeted very warmly to our hosts and their family members. We were surprised to see elaborate arrangements made for our stay in the middle of nowhere and were welcomed us with open arms. We were told that there was a bonfire waiting for us and we decided to trek our way down. It was a bad choice which I paid with some oohs and aahs since soon enough I realised that Kitto Chappals don't really make it mainstream when it comes to trekking and the distance was not just "thora sa door". Meanwhile we had an amazing barbeque and company where everybody gathered around the camp fire and started singing songs.
The next day was a beautiful day for trekking and when we opened our eyes were greeted to the beauty of the mountainous area of Balakot. It was indeed picturesque scenery with overbearing mountains with some that were snow capped but at a distance and the majestic river gushing alongside. We had indeed missed a wonderful place. While traversing the trekking path, we found young children playing out in the lush green sloping fields.
It was a shame we all realised of how this side of the country had just been long forgotten after the earthquake. Although we did see some development projects and roads flaunting big boards of different development agencies in the area, for most parts, the land was largely deserted. Yet the innocence of these kids and them having some semblance of fun and joy in their harsh conditions reminded us of the resilience of our nation to deal with life as it comes.
We kept on descending from the mountains till we reached a near the river banks and some of us enthusiastically jumped into a part of the water body which was stationary. We were soon to find out the icy chill Kunhar River would not bless even the sturdiest. Some of the uninitiated preferred to stay back snapping photographs of the rocky area with stones of different shapes, sizes and colour, while others proceeded to dive into the river and swim their way across. One of the foreign travellers from Morocco, who had come alongside, was a professional swimmer and skimmed through the water like a fish, when everybody else was trembling from just putting their feet in.
After all of us had dried and congregated to the meeting point, one of the locals showed us his magic tricks which got us all laughing. Exhausted after a day of travelling on foot, we trudged our way back, low in energy but high in spirits back to our cars. We bid our hosts farewell and v-rooming our way on the motorway were back in Lahore in the comfort of our beds to spend the Monday as usual for sleeping and relaxing ourselves off.
While we did not do anything extraordinarily patriotic for the March 23 which marks itself as an important day in the history of Pakistan, having been exposed to a part of Pakistan, which I had heard a lot about during the October 2005 Earthquake, seeing the scenes and the people there with hopes and dreams in their eyes, generally lifted my spirits.