A British Tourist’s Pakistan Experience
Driving through the bazaar, I did a double take and looked again. Sure enough, there was this young man who looked like a ‘gora’(expatriate) — you can tell — sitting on a broken down bench in front of a rickety table with a plate of ‘daal’ and ‘naans’ on the side, enjoying the meal, with a curious bunch of people observing him, smiling broadly, looking at his bike parked nearby, trying to talk to him in broken English.
The hotel ‘management’ was keeping the younger boys at bay while catering to the young man’s requests. Curiosity got the better of me so I stopped to enquire and found out that Alex Linghorn is a British national making a stopover in Pakistan on his way home, doing it in as adventurous a way as possible before he settles down, gets married and has a family. Pakistan is the third of ten countries Alex is travelling through during his solo motorcycle trip from Nepal to his home in the UK. He was flushed from the heat, but had a heavy jacket, which he said is a ‘must’ along with gloves, for travelling on a bike as it can save you from injury if you have an accident — such as the one he had in India, getting just a few scrapes when he was knocked down by a truck. In his own words, “From the moment I crossed the Wahga border amidst a fanfare of triumphant parading,” — referring to the flag hoisting and folding ceremony — “I have been continually fascinated by this country. Over the last three weeks I have wandered the narrow streets of Lahore’s old city, captivated by the hundreds of tiny shops crammed with paraphernalia of all kinds sold by honest trades and experienced an exotic and unforgettable Sufi festival.”
On being questioned whether he had any negative experiences, he said he didn’t have any problem, but was struck by one particular overall negative observation (especially in the North, but also in Lahore): women are virtually absent from outdoor daily life. “If you do happen to catch a rare sighting of a woman (and here I exclude the elderly and children) then she is generally ghosting around the periphery in a permanent state of nervous apprehension.”
Adding that he finds it incomprehensible that in a relatively intellectually advanced nation like Pakistan, half the population is denied social freedom that the other half so richly enjoys, he said, “I am sensibly cautious though about broadcasting any such sweeping or incendiary judgments, as three weeks in a country hardly qualifies me. I don’t see it as an Asian issue for women are to be seen everywhere in neighbouring countries, I therefore attribute it to religious tradition.” “My other main observation was how everybody I met, from businessmen in cities to shepherds in remote areas, was completely united in their utter contempt for the Taliban. They just want to get on with their lives and live in peace. They did not see the Taliban as Muslims, but rather as mercenaries.”
Alex was of the view that you can travel around Pakistan on the cheap or in luxury and he did both, the latter with a friend from Britain of Pakistani origin, just for a few days, and the former on his own, with his bike breaking down a number of times and being fixed by friendly mechanics. According to him the latter provided a much richer experience and the opportunity for interactions with ‘real’ people. “The genuine warmth and kindness, I have received from the people of Pakistan has dispelled any lingering myths promulgated by the Western media. This country is a heaven for visitors, offering a cornucopia of treasures; vibrant markets, mouth-watering food, ancient and beautiful buildings, wonderful hospitality, rich cultural diversity” he said, “and of course nature’s gift to Pakistan. No, not the cricket team, the Karakorum! I have stood mesmerised by the spectacular mountain scenery in the Northern Areas. You can be sure I will spread the word to help Pakistan achieve the vibrant tourist economy it so richly deserves.”