Traveling in Pakistan: And why it is safer than you think.

At the time I went to Pakistan it was listed on the Australian Governments website as one of the 4 countries in the world that you should not travel to. Not just as a precaution but they were actually warning people inside the country to get the hell out if they were already there. As I crossed the border from India I said to myself again the question that I always make a point not to answer ‘oh well, what’s the worst that can happen’

The border crossing was very smooth and surprised me a little as to how easy it was. I had no guidebooks with me, as normal on this trip, and had no idea where I was staying or even going besides that I was heading for Lahore. I saw some buses waiting across the border and asked for one going to Lahore and was thrown into the back of one immediately and off we went. This is a reason why it is always advisable when travelling in countries like this to get a little local money before you enter as you never know what will happen on the other side. If I hadn’t had a little local money and had waited to change it then I would also have had to wait another 4 hours for the next bus.

The bus was a weird experience to say the least. I climbed aboard and noticed that the bus had just a bench at the back and two along each side, no seats in rows as on most buses. At the front of the bus was a section that was locked and protected by a metal gate, this is where the women sit as they are kept separate from men for reasons only the Koran can tell us I suppose.

I chose to sit on the bench at the end of the bus as there were less people there and I thought I would not stand out so much. Well, welcome to Pakistan! If you are white you will stand out, no exceptions. Within a minute of being on the bus I had two men come and sit beside me to talk about cricket, and Steve Waugh and Shane Warne, I also had every other person along the sides of the bus turn around to face me and stare. At this moment I realised exactly what it must be like for a celebrity to have people watching their every movement, in my own little world here on this bus I was a celebrity to everyone else there.

I had no idea where I was going in Lahore and figured that I will just walk around until I find something, I’d been doing it for 6 weeks now and had had no real problems. The bus conductor came to collect money and ask where I was going, I responded that I had no idea and said just drop me in the centre of Lahore. This caused great discussion amongst the back bench of the bus and after a few minutes the conductor said that I had to go to temple district because all the other backpackers went there. I said OK and asked how to get there and he said ‘don’t worry I’ll show you’

We reached a stop in town and the conductor got off the bus with me, walked me to another bus and told the conductor for that bus where he had to tell me to get off. At some stage of the journey the conductor asked me a load of questions in Urdu, which I obviously didn’t speak so he grabbed a guy from the front of the bus who spoke English and made him come and sit next to me. He introduced himself and said ‘I am here to tell you when you have to get off the bus’  we reached my stop and the translator gave me the directions for a hostel given to him by the conductor.

I started walking in the direction they pointed but took some wrong turns and could not find my street. I hopped into a department store and thought that so far the locals had been helpful so I’d try my luck again, it worked and the guy inside walked me 5mins down the street to where the hostel was.

I went to the reception desk and was greeted with a big smile and a bottle of water, it was 40c outside and a bottle of water was like a cold beer after a long days work at that moment. I chatted with the owner of the hostel about things and once he realised I had no guide book and no plans on what to see he seemed a little worried. I found my bed, mattress on the floor, upstairs and went outside for a smoke, the owner of the hostel arrived 5mins later with a copy of the lonely planet for me and some recommendations on where to go on my way to China.

Top 4 countries to get the hell out of! I couldn’t believe it, this was one of the friendliest countries I had ever seen.

My celebrity status continued when I went for a walk along the streets and found a lot of people coming up and asking if I was American, a white person was assumed to be an American at this time, something that caused me a major incident a few days later. People seemed to find it hard to come up and say hello and instead would bump into you, making me worry they were trying to pickpocket, and when you turned around they would say ‘Oh hello, are you from America’ to which you reply ‘no, from Australia’ to hear their excited response ‘Australia…Shane Warne, Steve Waugh’.

A new friend from the street saw it as his duty to show me around Lahore, I immediately saw this offer as Dollar signs, I had just come from India after all. Albert, or whatever his name was, spent 3 hours showing me the city and refusing to let me pay when we stopped for some mango shakes, I pleaded with him to let me pay as 10cents for me is nothing, but for him it is really something. He would have none of it and said I was a guest in his country and it was his duty, I just thought it was a way for him to ask me for more money or to convince me to buy something from his brother’s shop when the tour was over. Neither of these things happened and he was just a really nice guy who was being friendly, to this day the Pakistani people are the friendliest people I have ever encountered.

I was so exhausted from the heat of Lahore that I just had to get back to the hostel to lay down, I could feel a bit of heat stroke coming on so said my goodbyes and thank you to my new friend. On the way home a little beggar kid was walking with me, poking and pinching me with his hand out, but I held strong as always and said to myself that unless people stop my movement forward they can do whatever they want and I will put up with it, within reason!

Little beggar kid crossed my line when he grabbed my arm and tried to pull me back and stop me from moving, he had followed me too far(15mins walk) and I was not giving in and he realised he needed to go back. I was so hot and sweaty and tired that I just snapped and flung my arm forward while he was holding it. This kid flew into a parked car and hit it pretty hard, he was only about 7 years old. I didn’t feel guilty for what I had done but worried that the adults around might lynch me for abusing a young kid like that. The kid ran for his life and I looked around without being obvious and saw people waving to me and saying well done, they agreed that the kid should never have tried to stop me.

Thank feck for that I thought and the next day I headed for Peshawar, the town bordering Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass, where life got a little bit more interesting for a short period of time.

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