The Millennium Trip – Letter #4

Locals here joke that the good thing about Islamabad is that it is only 15km from Pakistan. It isn’t hard to see why. With it’s tree lined streets and painted parking spaces, it’s invisible sewage systems and air-conditioned shopping malls it resembles nothing so much as a little piece of suburban South Africa, planted on the outskirts of Rawalpindi (Click here for a map).

A group of Afghanistan refugees
Khyber Pass, Western Pakistan

Am here to apply for my Chinese visa before trotting off to Peshawar for a gander at the Khyber pass. Will return to collect the visa on Thursday (Insh Allah!) and then move on to Lahore and cross the Indian border (again, God willing) on Monday next week. So far on budget and about a week up on schedule. Have decided to travel a bit faster in the beginning in order to allow myself room for emergencies.

The trip certainly seems to get more interesting as time goes by. The trip from Quetta to Pindi illustrating this point. The 30/38 hour

(predicted/actual) train journey begins by passing through the 1800m high Bolan pass, a spectacular British Engineering feat circa 1880.

Sha Jahan’s Mosque
Lahore, Eastern Pakistan

After the pass, the train descends into the mid-summer cauldron of the Indus valley and the temperature steadily increases from then on. By mid-day the following day the heat was unbearable: It got so bad that by the time we stopped at Multan in the Punjab (Pakistan’s 2nd hottest city) the outside temperature of 45°C combined with the humidity of the approaching monsoons proceeded to leave me sitting in a puddle of my own sweat. I was continuously mopping my brow just to keep it out of my eyes.

Word got around about me being on the train of course, and at all the stops along the way – and there were several – crowds of locals and passengers would gather outside my window just to watch me sweat and occasionally, to offer helpful advice like: “Perhaps you should have taken air-conditioned class!”

To top it all off, my fellow passengers christened me with the nick-name: “Kitne rupiye” (How much is it?) after I got ripped off $2 for a single coke at one of the stops. After that, bless them, whenever I left the train to buy something, I had an entourage of about five other passengers following me about just to make sure I didn’t pay too much.