I felt a little slow getting going, but I wasn’t really in any rush anyway, as the border between India and Pakistan doesn’t open until 10am. The ride there was fairly ordinary, though I enjoyed a chat with a local on a motorbike for around 10km, which was a welcome distraction. Leaving India was pretty efficient. My passport was stamped, my bags were scanned and I was free to ride over the border line. I felt warmly received into Pakistan. I even got to take a selfie with one of the feather-topped guards just as I passed through the gates between the stadiums.
At Pakistan immigration, I faced a minor problem when, as I was waiting in a line with a completed immigration form, a passing officer looked over the form and told me that for the form to be processed I had to provide a cell phone number for myself and a contact number for my place of residence in the country. I had left these sections blank as I don’t have an active mobile number and I stupidly forgot to record the number of Lahore Backpackers, which is where I planned on staying initially. Despite explaining this, I was told to go away and only line up when I had these numbers written down. I put in my defunct Australian mobile number in the first spot, but left the second spot blank, then I lined up again. Fortunately, the lady who served me at the immigration desk didn’t query me about the absent number (and the officer who had checked my form wasn’t around to intervene), so I was free to go. As I had my passport checked over by another officer, I was questioned about where I was going in Pakistan. I said Lahore, Islamabad and Gilgit. I was asked if I was going to cross over the border into China and I said yes, unsure as to whether this would raise any eyebrows. It didn’t. Neither did my negative answer when I was asked if I knew anyone in Pakistan. I proceeded through immigration and waved through customs without having any of my luggage scanned or inspected. That was it. I was free to go in Pakistan.
As I rode into Lahore I considered what differences were evident between Pakistan and India. Everything felt and looked pretty much the same, except that there weren’t any turbans in sight and girls were wearing hijabs. About 10km into Pakistan someone threw a drink at me, but luckily it missed. At the time I wasn’t too perturbed because I wasn’t quite sure if it was intentional. The more I thought about it though, the more I realised that it is extremely unlikely that someone would toss out a full drink (the kind in a plastic bag) out of a tuk tuk at head height, with it just missing a foreigner on a bike, if it wasn’t on purpose. By the time I decided it was deliberate, enough time had passed that I didn’t feel hurt or unwelcome, so it didn’t really bother me.
Despite Lahore being a crazy busy city, the route to Lahore Backpackers was very simple, so I had a stress free ride to my current home. A guy at the hostel called the owner, Sajjid, who turned up promptly and welcomed me in. I secured the last available room in the place and was given a free, absolutely delicious, meal from a nearby food vendor. As I settled in and checked my WIFI, I discovered a message from a local guy called Hamd. Hamd is the cousin of the friend of my best mate’s girlfriend. By now I can just say he is my new Pakistani friend. It wasn’t long before I was cruising the streets of Lahore in Hamd’s car getting a grand tour of ‘New Lahore’ in the process. He was an incredibly generous host, in both his hospitality and his keenness to ask and answer all sorts of questions. My education about Pakistan began earnestly and the more I learned the more I began to understand how wrong of an impression the media can give about a country. It’s one thing to appreciate the idea from afar that, ‘Despite what I’m hearing, the ordinary citizens of Pakistan are likely just as friendly and normal as anyone else in the world’, but it’s another to actually spend some time with Pakistani people in Pakistan and have this fact really sink in. The more I learn the more fascinated I am about this region’s history and its current situation.
After driving around for a while getting to know both each other and some parts of the city, we visited Hamd’s friend, who runs a little restaurant out the back of his father’s house. Much of the evening was enjoyed there, smoking shisha and eating naan. I got to roll out my own naan that had been filled with minced beef, corn, jalapenos and cheese, and watch as it was stuck to the wall of the hot tandoor. This was followed by a Nutella-filled naan covered in sprinkles. Another one of Hamd’s friends joined us, so that we were four. Conversation was fascinating as I continued to learn more and more about Pakistan. It was soon getting late, but before heading home to bed, we just had to stop off at Chaman’s Ice Cream shop, an absolute must-do if you ever find yourself in Lahore. It’s conveniently located across the street from Lahore Backpackers. I got ‘Real Strawberry’ and ‘Tutti Frutti’ flavours.
|Accommodation||$ Backpacker hostel|
|Distance ridden today||58.76km|
|Average cycling speed||32.5kph|
|Total distance ridden||18,503km|