mountains in Montana
Lahore, seen through a foreigner's eyes
By Adnan Mehmood
Steven is from the Czech Republic and is visiting Pakistan to try and sell his company's telecommunication equipment to different telecom operators in the country. Lahore he hasn't seen before but the magazine on his plane to Pakistan promised Lahore to be a city offering a rare trip through history -- courtesy the historic Lahore fort, the grand Badshahi mosque and the high Minar-e-Pakistan all conveniently located right next to one another.
So when Steven realized that he had an extended weekend -- one that he hadn't planned for as he had never heard of the Ashura, he asked me to accompany him for a sojourn to Lahore's three historic sites. I would be lying if I said I was excited about the idea from the word go, I surely had my doubts about the security risks attached. I, however, went along and got the opportunity to see Lahore from an entirely different perspective -- that of a tourist. It wasn't a pleasant experience.
Our first stop was the yadgar -- the minar that stands as a tribute to the 'original' Lahore Declaration. The good thing about this first stop was the feel of the true Lahori picnic. Hundreds basking in the beautiful sunny afternoon of a Lahore winter on the grounds of Manto Park in the shadows of the towering Minar-e-Pakistan -- all with oranges and toasted corn ready for consumption. Other parts of the Manto Park presented an insight into Lahore's favourite pastime -- cricket and the passion with which it is played in the country. "I swear I have no idea how the players tell which match is being played by which team. I have never seen one playground being used by so many individuals simultaneously and that too for the same sport," exclaims Steven.
While Steven was truly fascinated by the sights and sounds of the amazingly tenacious cricket players, the players had their own reasons to be fascinated by Steven's keen interest in them. "Not many foreigners visit these areas any more, it is a kind of novelty," said one of the fielders in the outfield of one such cricket game.
It was no wonder, therefore, that several onlookers followed us wherever we went from thereon -- it was almost like a guided tour with lessons in recent history as well. "You won't be able to go up and it's a pity because the sight from up there is amazing. They've closed it because people used to attempt suicide from the top just to get attention -- the crazed in love sort, you know," explains one of the accompanying young gentleman. The young man also showed us the spot on the pedestal of the minar used by present day politicians for their public gatherings -- which according to him is the exact spot where the leaders of the original 1940 public gathering stood for their addresses to the masses.
I took Steven, who was by now visibly impressed by the hospitality of Lahore, to the adjoining fort, crowded by a heavy presence of the military -- apparently not an attempt to preserve or reenact the original purpose of its creation. Though ironic, the presence of the military added a whole new dimension to the ambiance of the fort. It was hard not to compare the Pakistani jawans rumbling through the huge gates of the fort in their military trucks, with the elephant-riding mughal armies descending the same road hundreds of years ago. I am sure the subjects looked on in both cases without having much to say about it.
Further surprise was, however, in store for Steven as we made our way to the ticket booth for entry to the fort. It was interesting to note that while an adult visitor could enter the fort for a fee of Rs.10 and a child for Rs.5, a foreigner, like our friend Steven, had to part with a cool Rs. 200, to enter Lahore's most anticipated historical site. So much for the Visit Pakistan Year!
"We don't do this in Europe. We charge the same amount from all visitors irrespective of their nationality. I think they should encourage tourists and not scare them away," says Steven and I concur. I mean it's not like the original charge is Rs. 200 and they are subsidizing for the local populace, the fort is simply not maintained enough to warrant a Rs. 200 entry fee. It is just a matter of the contractor making more money from those who can pay more.
And the trend continued -- it was good to see the pleasure on Steven's face when he was informed that I could take him inside the Sheesh Mahal 'officially' closed for the on-going preservation work. A bribe of Rs. 200 to the guard ensured a convenient step over the barricade and into the favorite retreat of the kings. The guard was vigilant enough, however, to stop me from using the camera once inside and thus no pictures from up close of the beautifully mirrored walls and the elaborate restoration work in progress.
The trip to the grand mosque was less eventful, more due to lack of time than lack of opportunity. Steven's innocent question, "is it safe for me to enter a mosque?" was, however, a true representation of the lack of understanding of Pakistan, or was it? I truly wondered as I made my way back to Steven's hotel. Maybe I could try taking him to one of the mosque cum madrassas in NWFP to find out.
The state offers many a scenic vista
By Mohammad Niaz
A drive through the Montana state of USA makes for a wonderful experience. The landscape is dotted with ranches and fields, with houses sparsely scattered here and there. As you approach the Flathead Lake, gentle rolling hills start to appear. The Flathead Indian Reservations are spread over the Montana state; there is a large population of Native Americans in Montana.
On the way we crossed Ronand town and Polson town. Near Polson Town there is Flathead Lake, which is fed by glacier water. The lake is named after the Flathead reservation that is composed of small islands. This area is known for orchard farming and Christmas tree farming.
Glacier National Park is located partly in northwest Montana and partly Southern Alberta. The rugged mountains that characterise the park are also the first sight that meet a visitor's eyes. Going To The Sun Road is picturesque 50 mile drive by the lake, you can listen to the wind passing through the trees, birdsong and the chatter nearby squirrel.
For the first 20 miles the road winds through a forested valley. At present there are 27 glaciers in the park. The numerous waterfalls in the area owe their existence in part to the glaciers too. The official tree of Glacier National Park is the western larch or tamarack, which is not evergreen and in autumn its needles change hue.
Flowers add a kaleidoscope of color, carpeting the landscape throughout summer. The green mantle that cloaks the slopes offers food and shelter to a large variety of wildlife like coyotes, badgers, chipmunks, squirrels and weasels.
There is a very splendid water reservoir called Lake McDonald, next to Apgar Village, which also provides opportunities for activities like fishing and boating. From Apgar we went along to Cedar Avalanche Lake, with its famous trail called Trail of the Cedars. We also visited the Avalanche Gorge, a magnificent sight with water running down through the truncated rocks forming a gorge.
The ride to Logan Pass in old buses is another unforgettable experience. With a capacity of about 15 passengers, the ride through the park is enjoyable as the driver keeps up a commentary with information about the park and stops to enjoy the landscape.
The road itself being an engineering marvel provides access for over two millions visitors annually. Autumn is the perfect time for visiting the park, patches of snow add to the surrounding landscape.
A recent visit to Doha showed that the spirit of the recently held Asian games can be seen. A specially designed sports city was developed to cater to the needs of the event. The most impressive by far is the 40,000-seat Khalifa Stadium. It is characterized by a steel lighting arch that spans the length of the arena, rising to 80m above the field of play. Also impressive architecturally was the nearby Aquatic Centre, Sports Hall and the Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence.
There is many an attraction in and around Qatar. On the way to Mesaied (south of Doha) and the Inland Sea, is the fishing town of Al-Wakra. Just 17km from the capital, the most attractive feature of the town is its historic harbour, which is the center of a thriving local fishing industry.
At the Doha Corniche harbour, you can see dhows lined up during the day, since fishing is done at night. In the shallow waters around the harbour, low limestone walls that look like mazes are actually inter-tidal fishing traps, called maskar.
The Umm Salal Mohammed Fort located to the north of Doha is distinguishable by its high thick walls. It was constructed in the late 19th century as a residential fort for Shiekh Jassim Bin Mohammed. Of noteworthy historic significance are the 900 carvings at Jebel Jassasiya, first catalogued in 1974. These are are believed to date back to prehistoric times, though their exact origin is unknown.