Friday, June 21, 2013

Relishing the Pakistani Challenge

The Challenge: Traveling solo to Pakistan, Crossing Border On Foot

How is it like in Pakistan? Do they bomb each other all the times? Do they all look like Taliban? Is it safe for Indians? Did you meet Hina Rabbani Khar?

That’s what people asked me when I came back from my visit to Pakistan in November 2012. Before that they asked, “Why are you going? Where are you going? Don’t talk to people there. Keep our eyes and ears open.”

And when I told my parents that I had decided to hitchhike from Attari to Lahore (29 KM), they were flabbergasted. Now with so many questions thrown at me from all the directions, even I started to doubt my decision.

Walking across the border alone, does that sound a sane idea? I knew this was once in a lifetime opportunity for me. And the best way to see Pakistan and its culture was to travel like an ordinary fellow. Indo-Pak trains and buses are luxury affairs. Escorted by security personnel with stoppage only at two points made no sense to me.

The decision had been made. I was ready to Relish the Challenge of traveling solo to Pakistan and feel alive and awesome about it. But the question remained how to do it.

As I was going for a Youth Conference, getting a VISA was not difficult for me. However, crossing on foot surely was. I asked other delegates of the conference to come along with me. Nobody wanted to cross on foot. Moreover, they also advised against the idea of walking alone in Pakistan.

There is an old saying: “If you do travel conventionally, you will miss most of the fun.” And I did not want to miss any fun. Not one bit. On foot permission was granted and after seeking the blessings of Baba Nanak at the Golden Temple I embarked on a journey of lifetime.

Those 29 Kilometers from Attari to Lahore reminded me of Amrita Pritam’s poems and Manto’s stories. Bhagat Singh’s war cry against British Empire kept ringing in my head. This land once was a part of the Great Indian civilization.

And Pakistan is not all about bombs and guns. It is also about M2-Motorway, one of the finest highways I have ever seen in my life. Delhi – Chandigarh Highway is 250 Kilometers and it is covered in 4-5 Hours. The Lahore – Islamabad M2 Motorway is 358KM and it takes 4:30 Hours flat to cover this distance. Pakistani food, culture, and even their driving habits resemble ours. It’s hard to tell the difference between Lahore and Old Delhi.

Islamabad – Rawalpindi reminds you of Secunderabad – Hyderabad. People love riding on pavements and scaring the hell out of the pedestrians. Bribing and faking American accent is common on both the sides.
And If I may add, visiting Pakistan once is not enough. There are so many aspects of a Pakistani society that are yet unknown to younger generations across the border. Nankana Sahib, Hinglaj Shakti Peeth, Shaheedi – Jor Mela; the list is endless.

I did Relish the Challenge of visiting Pakistan on my own. Crossing on foot made me popular at the conference too. Now again, I am waiting for my opportunity to visit Pakistan. Probably, the disturbed region of Balochistan (Hinglaj Shakti Peeth).

Hitchhiking in Pakistan. My first Lift!

All this reminds of Anurag Kashyap, the modern age dynamic director of Hindi Film Industry. Once when questioned about his struggles and challenges he graciously replied, “The challenge lies within. When you have realized that you don’t have to do things for others but for yourself, struggles soon disappear and you start relishing every challenge that lie throws at you.”

Come April and I hope to walk in the mud volcanoes of Balochistan.

What will you do?

P.S. I did not meet Hina Rabbani Khar as I was busy doing something far better. I stayed at the border for a night, on their side.  

This post is my fourth entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign.

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