“insāñ kī ḳhvāhishoñ kī koī intihā nahīñ
do gaz zamīñ bhī chāhiye do gaz kafan ke baad”
The above couplet means “There is no limit to the desires of Human. Not content with two yards of shroud, he wants two yards of ground also [for burial].
This is exactly the type of feeling which prevails over me whenever I see stunning pictures of Pakistan on the internet. My heart twitches to see the distant land which is now out of bounds for us. I wish I was born in an era when both India and Pakistan were one and there was no restriction whatsoever in traveling and exploring places from either sides. Partition was undoubtedly an unfortunate and painful event which jolted not only the population on both sides, but also gashed the psyche of mankind, perhaps forever. The two countries not only closed their borders, but also their hearts to each other. It has been more than 70 years, but still, none of us can visit them, neither they can visit us, so easily. Still, the heart twitches to explore the panoramic landscapes of Hunza valley with boating in Placid Lake of Attabad, to enjoy the high peaks of K2 in Skardu, to click stunning pics with Passu Cones in the backdrop, or just enjoy the lovely weather in Swat Valley. The temptation is just too hard to resist. I am sure, similarly, people from the other side too want to see the beaches of Goa, or the rain forests of Meghalaya, the backwaters of Kerala, the wilderness of Ladakh or the white desert of Rann of Kutch. The two countries will not merge back to one, but what at least both can do is to behave like nice neighbors and let open the potential of tourism to be tapped by both sides. The money earned through tourism can be pumped in to develop the infrastructure of the area to entice more tourists. The intent of this excerpt is not to make a political statement, but to tell a tale of the beautiful valleys and mountains which we Indians cannot visit now.
I had a discussion on this subject with my friend Juhi and she suggested that though we can’t go and experience those places, writing a blog to capture such amazing places would be a good idea. Though I agree with her thoughts on this but its easier said than done. Till now, whatever blogs I have written, I have experienced all the places and journeys myself, so its easier to ‘relive’ those moments. However, this excerpt is all from my imagination with some research through blogs and write ups available on the internet. I took her thoughts on this as a challenge and have tried to write what I would explore there, should I get a chance to visit the other side of the border.
Following is a plan which I wish to follow:
Day 1: Delhi – Amritsar – Wagah- Lahore
Day 2: Lahore Local sightseeing
Day 3: Lahore – Swat Valley
Day 4: Explore Swat Valley
Day 5: Explore Swat Valley
Day 6: Swat Valley – Chilas
Day 7: Chilas – Hunza Valley
Day 8: Hunza valley – Attabad Lake – Passu cones – Hunza valley
Day 9: Hunza Valley – Skardu
Day 10: Skardu Local and around
Day 11: Skardu – Gilgit
Day 12: Gilgit – Naran
Day 13: Naran-Lahore
Day 14: Lahore – Amritsar – Delhi
I have grown up binging on good old days stories from my grandparents childhood. Did I mention that during Indo-Pak partition my grandparents migrated from Sukkur, Sindh to Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh? Life must have been better then in their childhood… no pangs of partition, no pollution, less cars, low stress jobs, no processed foods… pure bliss. Once they mentioned that a cook from Lahore came over and prepared delicious Lahori chicken for dinner. See, I am already salivating at the mention of Lahori Chicken. I mean, we have so much similarity, we use similar expletives,same elbowing around in queues, both drive on wrong side of the road, we both have evolved from similar trauma of partition…with so much likeness, why this travel ban to differentiate us on the basis of Nationality?
With deep anguish and hopeful expectations, I believe one day I’d get the visa and leaves from office to explore the deja vu of the past. If time permits, I’d sneak out a day to Sukkur and see the land of my ancestors. The following article is an work of fiction presuming that I have got the required visa for Gilgit Baltistan (GB) belt and leaves & money and I am all set for an enchanting journey for next two weeks. I know there will be glitches in the write up as I am neither aware of the official permissions & procedures nor the terrain of our neighboring country. Since this work is purely fictional, I am allowed to take my car and cell phone with Jio network across the border after completing necessary paper work. Well, let us leave Jio aside, India mein toh signal aata nahin hai…
Day 1 (Early November): Delhi – Amritsar – Attari – Lahore: The day began early. The excitement of the trip didn’t let me sleep. I recheck the required documents, passport, visa, money and camera accessories. My family packs me a bag full of goodies with items ranging from dry-fruits, chips, biscuits, chocolates, candies, kokis, pickles, spreads and breads, buns, namkeens, cold drinks, juices, a crate of water and what not. Since I was driving all alone, space was not a constraint. This would be my first solo road trip abroad. Before leaving, I also fixed my action camera on the dashboard with 128 GB memory card to capture the best moments of the trip. What also accompanied me was a 64 GB pen drive with good collection of songs. The clock showed 06.00 when I started from Gurgaon, my home. The road was familiar and it being early morning, traffic was thin. I reached Sonipat dhaba by 08.00 hrs and stopped for breakfast. The mood was fresh, the day was clear and with old Hindi song from Madhumati movie “Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen” playing in my mind, I ordered hot parathas with tea. Every time I come here, I binge on these tandoori parathas with white butter like crazy, but not on this occasion. All I wanted to do was to finish my breakfast quickly and head towards Amritsar. Hurriedly, I gulped my breakfast down and flushed it with hot tea. Time showed 08.30am when I left Sonipat.
Soon, XUV ventured in triple digits and I zipped past Panipat, Kurukshetra and Ambala. Soon after crossing the Ambala toll, I took the turn to Ludhiana. This is the famous Grand Trunk Road of Emperor Sher Shan Suri which goes from Bengal to Kabul via Lahore. I was in such a hurry to reach the border that I forgot to stop for lunch. My car was continuously being driven in triple digits but the engine was so peppy that it didn’t mind. By the time I reached outskirts of Amritsar, it was almost 15.00 hrs. Before the first foreign trip on my car, I decided to seek blessings at Sri Harmandir Sahib. There is a flyover, right at the entrance of Amritsar, which directly takes one to the parking of Gurudwara. It hardly took 10 mins from the ramp of the flyover to reach Gurudwara parking. After seeking blessings, I had a sumptuous meal at the Langar, followed by delicious halwa.
Now, it was time to drive to Wagah, and then cross the border. Now, next Veg meal in India… I thought. The road was somehow deserted today and it took me hardly 30 mins to reach the border check post. Wagah ceremony is held at a different location. I had to cross the border from India Circle.
The officer checked the requisite papers and inspected my car. I was almost tempted to say that I may look like a smuggler but I am working as an Engineer. In spite of my salt and pepper beard which dignifies my stature, the officer asked me to stand in queue quietly and asked the purpose of visit. He dwelled into my papers and approvals to take the car along. Apparently, mine was the first application which got approved from Pakistan for tourism purpose to the restricted area of Gilgit-Baltistan. Perplexed, as he was, he asked me to wait as he called upon his seniors. What I was thinking was whether Salman did the right thing by creeping under the barbed wire to cross the border in Bajrangi Bhaijaan? Why so many questions, why so much wait? Well, I can crawl under the wire too and vanish on the other side, but how will I take my car along? And what about the perishable koki’s (a Sindhi delicacy) my family has sent along? Naah, I should wait for the officer to stamp my passport and allow me to pass. The senior officer came, stamped my passport and wished me luck for the trip. I was the first one in the family who was going to cross the border on the other side after my grandparents. The senior asked the junior officer to open the border gate and asked me to drive on. They had already informed their counterparts on the other side of my vehicle number and details. Now I was inside my car, sitting excitedly, calibrated the odometer reading to 0.0 km. I had also reset my watch by 30 mins (as per Pakistan time – 30 mins behind). Why am I still waiting? Why are the gates not opening? What is wrong now? A dialogue from the movie Gadar reverberated across my mind… ‘ek kagaz pe mohar nahin lagegi toh kya vacationsnippets Pakistan nahin jayega, mujhe do hafte ki road trip lagane se koi taqat, koi sarhad nahin rok sakti’… well, rok toh aaram se sakti hai birader… par mann mein sochne se kya jata hai? Actually, since no one goes to Pakistan on a road trip, the locks on the gate were a bit rusted. A small spray of anti-rust did wonders. The lock squeaked and then gave way to XUV. I slowly strolled away towards the other side bidding good-bye to my motherland. As I was about to cross the border, I thought of making a quick call back home informing them that I am going to have Lahori Chicken for dinner. As always, Jio network ditched me. It being the border area, signal was quite feeble. Reluctantly, I tried the whatsapp video call and voila! We were connected. Jio has excellent data, never mind the call. My sister did a screen cast of the cell phone on TV. Everyone at home was now glued watching me stepping into Pakistan. I felt like a VIP, though without any follower. Amidst this euphoria, someone tapped on the wind screen. It was the same junior officer who had opened the gate. He asked me to drive quickly. I ended the call quickly and as I drove past the border gate, in the rear mirror, I saw the gates being closed again. It felt I was leaving something behind, the heart seemed heavy, the eyes were moist & the throat went dry. All this emotional moment was cut short abruptly when I was asked to stop again for checking and paper verification in Pakistan. I always knew it, but was still surprised when the Pakistani officer asked in Punjabi dialect about my passport, visa and car entry approval. They speak similar language…wow. They checked my car thoroughly and once satisfied, allowed me to pass. My Jio network left me at the border with a promise to meet again soon. From here, Lahore city was hardly an hour drive. GPS was not available and wasn’t required as I was still on Grand Trunk Road, driving carefully and slowly. Soon, I entered the city famous for its cuisine and hospitality. Meanwhile, my playlist was playing a song from Gadar “~~rabb jaane kab guzra , Amritsar, kab jaane Lahore aaya…main utthe dil chhod aaya”…yeah, my mother and motherland were on the other side of the border…a feeling of homesickness gripped me and for a moment I wished that I should go back home. I gathered my wits back and realized that I am the first Indian tourist who has been granted visa for GB area with my car. This is an opportunity to see what I always wished for. Local time read 19.00 hrs. The best part of the trip was that I had not made any prebookings (I know such audacious attempt of traveling without hotel bookings and officially knowing my whereabouts won’t be allowed, but since this is fiction, who cares!). I took a careless right turn and soon reached crossed Badami Bagh area. The place looked good and soon I checked in one of the hotels of this locality which had decent parking space. From my Hindi accent, the receptionist guessed that I am an Indian and offered me the best room available, with no extra charge, of course. From the room, I could see Minar-e-Pakistan at a distance, glittering like a jewel in night.
Minare e Pakistan also known as the “Tower of Pakistan” is foremost pride of Lahore. This tower was constructed in 1960 to mark the site where the All India Muslim League passed a resolution to demand a separate state free from British India. It is a reminder of the success of Muslims in attaining their own independent country in 1947. The tower is located in Iqbal park and is a mixture of Islamic/ Mughal and modern architecture.
Source of Information and pic:
The first meal in Pakistan had to be an amazing one, and non-veg too. I asked for suggestion from the receptionist and he advised me to dine at any nearby restaurant instead of going far off. I had left my XUV to rest at parking area and was walking down the road, clicking pics of this beautiful city. I strolled along the road and found a nice looking restaurant on Fort road. It was at a walkable distance from my hotel. The ambiance was exquisite and it looked pretty expensive. The menu was lavish with so many non-veg dishes. The carnivore within me was not only awake but hungry. I had already left Sonipat parathas and Amritsar langar far behind. One glance on the right side of menu forced me to check my pockets if I had enough money as the restaurant was pretty expensive. Quickly I connected to restaurant wifi and checked the exchange rate of INR to PKR. The conversion rate was 1.72. It gave me some solace. I could splurge, at least on my first meal.
Source of Information and pic:
Soon, small tikkas, big fish and bigger kebabs were flowing on my table. Small oodles of joy, you see. It was time to order famous Lahori Chicken my grandfather binged on with Afghani naan & Boti Paratha rolls. It was delicious, the cheese just melted in mouth and the flavored spices were among the best I had ever tasted. My tummy was full and I really wished I could have hogged more. Glad, I didn’t. else I would have needed the ever dependent Eno.
Source of Pic: https://in.pinterest.com/pin/820218150855360007/
Despite the exchange rate advantage, this meal punctured a big hole in my pocket. I decided to have maggi for next two meals, or something similar to it…may be a Non-veg one. After a sumptuous dinner, I started strolling back again to the hotel. The wind blowing wasn’t chilly, but still a tad bit cool. Typical November weather, just as in Delhi. My thoughts drifted to Hunza valley. How cold would it be there? Do I have appropriate clothing to weather the weather? Should I buy a bottle of rum from Lahore? As I wasn’t aware of the local laws regarding alcohol, I decided to buy rum locally upon reaching there. Amidst these thoughts I reached back to hotel. A tiring day, but an eventful one. Local time read 22.30 hrs when I switched off lights and retired to bed.
To be continued…