In our previous entry about Pakistan (LINK) we skimmed through some topics which really require a few more words in order for us to feel satisfied with the image of this country we are trying to give. Hence this second post; it’s like a “Top 5” things that we liked and hated about Pakistan but in a more 421adventure style.
Let’s begin on a happy note so, as always, let’s talk about…
While in Pakistan, we met heaps of friendly, big-hearted people! As bike tourers, we really believe that this is a characteristic which simply comes with the bike; somehow, people sympathise with the fact that we are making a big effort and are not just driving around with all the comforts right in front of us, going from hotel to hotel in an A/C 4×4. We know some culture and we know some of the local language and customs and, everywhere in the world, others feel that we fit in their life much more than the “average tourist”. This seems to bring out the best in people.
What we found in Pakistan is that there is a really strong bond between humans and that you don’t have to be a local to feel it, au contraire, we got cut a lot of slacks for being foreigners and cyclists; we’d easily get discounts in guesthouses, there would always be a seat for us anywhere we’d stop, people would buy cold drinks for us, chase us on their motorbikes, insist that we take them and demand nothing in return!
We got hosted, we got shown around, we got spoiled and we got pampered! We even got over-protected by the police, but this subject is for another paragraph…
These are just a few of the examples of the hospitality we received while there. Pakistani people seem to be on a mission to show everyone that their country is not what you see on TV.
Anyway, we cannot speak for the whole country since we only spent time in the Northern Territories and Northern Punjab but we never felt in danger, nor feared for our possessions, while there. It’s something we really want to highlight since we immediately get asked about personal security when mentioning Pakistan.
It’s also the first country we had been to in a very long time where we could rely on our English to chat with people. So, apart from having a good chat with locals to learn more about them, their world, etc, it also enabled us to find someone who could help us to communicate with those who couldn’t understand us.
However, if in one hand we had the pleasure to share intimate moments with some, in the other, we sometimes wished a certain type of people would live us alone. We’re talking about Selfies Hunters!
Selfies are nice and we all love them right? To be fair, at the beginning we actually rather enjoyed all the attention. Two weeks of solitary confinement in China had just left us in need of human contact and, let’s admit it, we “secretly” believe that what we are doing is pretty awesome, so, initially, the obvious attention, stares, smiles and selfies requests we got were more than welcomed and were even flattering on a certain level.
The problem though, is that requests became more and more frequent, people started shouting “selfie” instead of waving and saying hello, having a conversation became a herculean task because of the many interruptions for, again, selfies requests and eventually requests turned into demands. Personally, one of the most annoying ordeals on this trip to date!
It loses the pole position only to border laws…
The most severe memory is, indisputably, that of a motorbike rider who very rudely “asked” for a selfie and we refused. The driver in question wasn’t going to let a “no” spoil his fun so he tried to stop us by driving us off the road. After this first master plan failed he accelerated, stopped his motorbike perpendicularly across the road, got off, and tried to grab me (Marco) in order to get his happy memory of that weird foreigner on a steel steed.
It was all way too much and it really spoiled our experience of this amazing country so much that it inevitably influenced the title of the previous blog entry. (LINK)
We must, however, try to encourage others to not being discouraged by our experiences. Other travellers we talked to were not bothered as much as we were so we either managed to find a well hidden niche of Pakistani Instagrammers or 421adventure is a lot more famous than what we thought…
iPhone capital escapees aside, we absolutely and utterly loved Pakistani people! The kindness in their eyes, the pureness of their smiles and the awesomeness of their friendliness make it impossible to be crossed about the whole selfies ordeal. We even feel guilty about writing the previous paragraphs!
WOMEN’S RIGHTS 👎
Nothing lasts forever however and we still clearly remember realising something which would, unfortunately, mark our conception of Pakistani society; one day, we slowly cycled through a small market town (we always slowed down when entering villages since we found them of the uttermost interest). While cycling, Aurelie would generally cycle behind us as she is normally the slowest of the three (maybe not slowest but she’s in less of a hurry), but on that occasion she was actually leading the Musketeers and this allowed us to notice that everyone was staring at her. At that point, we all simultaneously became aware of a painful truth about the Northern Territories; there are no women around!
We’ll never forget Oliver pronouncing the simple yet startling question “guys, where are all the women?”. We suddenly realised that we hadn’t seen any woman for a week and, while doing some research, we found a spine-chilling article about the condition of women in Pakistan.
Men went to the market where only men were selling goods, shops were run and frequented by men (even those traditionally managed by women such as wool shops), restaurants, bars of course, hotels, schools, political candidates and all the rest… All and only men. Looking carefully, we did start to notice that cars back windows were often coated by sheets as to give privacy to those inside, women, always, and that early in the morning men were often spotted escorting a small group of women somewhere, but that’s about it.
A young guy once asked Oliver what he thought about Pakistani women and he simply answered; “what women?”.
I clearly remember, the day before entering Islamabad, seeing 4 passengers in a car, all women including the driver, and having a honest WOW moment simply because it was the first female driver I had seen since Tajikistan.
One of the biggest surprises which Pakistan had in store for us was Islamabad. Our trip was not supposed to bring us to the Indus Subcontinent at all so we hadn’t done any research whatsoever. But, before going there, if you had asked us what we expected this big city to be like we would have surely said; dirty, congested, overcrowded, dangerous, scrubby and noisy.
Well, the reality is the complete opposite!
It’s green, it’s clean, it’s breezy and its urbanistic structure avoids big traffic jams. It’s also a very modern place with many cool venues to hang out and people from all walks of life. We met many locals and foreign inhabitants which helped us to get a much better and broader idea of the multifaceted Pakistani society and we even appeared on National TV! (LINK)
If you’re ever there and enjoy cycling, an absolute must is to contact Islamabad Critical Mass which organises weekly rides and events and might even take you up to the famous Monal to experience a breathtaking view over the city.
Next door to Islamabad is Rawalpindi, or just Pindi for friends and family, which is the exact opposite. We actually just rode through it early in the morning on our way towards Lahore and yes, embrace yourselves!
Another incredible city we visited while in Pakistan is Lahore. Renowned for being the country’s cultural capital, it doesn’t fail expectations. It has several astonishing sites to visit and the whole old centre, known as “The Walled City”, is just remarkable. From a cycling point of view however, it’s a huge challenge due to its size, crowdedness and hecticness!
As a cyclist though, the uppermost reason to go to Pakistan was, of course, the Karakoram Highway (KKH). It’s technically the highest paved road in the world and it’s not just an incredible piece of human engineering set in a extraordinary natural environment, it’s also a cultural gold mine!
Furthermore, in recent years it’s been improved, upgraded and tarmacked (most of the way) by the Chinese government whose interest lays in moving goods from their factories and into Pakistan’s homes and ports on the Arabian Sea. This, combined with the fact that Gilgit-Baltistan is home to some of the world’s highest peaks and longest glaciers and that it’s scarcely populated, results in a truly unique riding destination.
We often brag about bicycles being the perfect mean of transportation because it’s neither too fast nor too slow but we would have definitely liked to have spent way more time up there. There are numerous remote areas which are not really accessible on our touring bikes and which made us wish we had more than just one month on our visas.
This, visas, actually reminds us to quickly mention two other aspects of Pakistan which have marked us in a negative way; its bureaucracy and its police force.
BUREAUCRACY AND THE POLICE 👎👎
The many miles we have traveled have taught us that there is always a huge difference between the conception of a country you get while being away from it (which is normally influenced by the media) and the real people living there. Although Pakistan is quickly changing as more and more young and modern thinking people are reaching higher positions in all areas, it is still mostly run by guys who have lived some pretty difficult times and have not yet understood how the world is turning these days.
So, even though we noticed that it’s brawling to emerge as new and advanced, it still needs some polishing around the edges.
So, for example, with respect to the current government; it has recently launched E-Visa in order to attract tourism by facilitating entry BUT its IT Systems failed us twice resulting in enormous loss of time and money (not to mention the stress!!!). The whole visa story is actually a long and quite interesting one and there’s a blog entry about that too (LINK).
As far as the Police goes, although they are mostly kind and respectful (to us foreigners anyway), they aren’t very well prepared to receive adventurous foreigners who wonder their precincts alone without any guide. This translated into many adventures for two peaceful and naive cyclists wanting to simply roam the land, meet people and learn about their culture.
There’s lot more to be said about Pakistan; it’s a huge country with countless cultures and traditions and one month there gave us an overall great first impression but also left us hungry for more.
If you like to know more about this superb land through our eyes and are tired of reading, we also have a YouTube channel with some stunning videos about our time spent there. Here are some links;
Laugh and despair with us as we begin the “race” to get to Nepal in time for the endowment ceremony! The first videos of our “1500kms to Happiness series” all take place between Islamabad and Wagah (border with India); LINK
Fall in love with Pakistan and its people in our “feature length” video showing what cycling the Karakoram Highway, the highest paved road in the world connecting Pakistan and China, is like; LINK