It’s with sadness that I write this article. Sadness that Pakistan doesn’t appear in the Explore sections of many travel sites, and more than that, sadness for the people that don’t know what a beautiful and enchanting adventure awaits there. Yes, a lot needs to change in terms of the security situation at present, but amidst the problems lie a truly rich and beautiful country. I wait with quiet optimism that in 5, 10 or 15 years time Pakistan can return to its tourism glory of the 1970’s where thousands would embark on the Hippie Trail through Pakistan and learn through the people, the culture and the food about the country’s vibrant and hospitable allure. I want to put Pakistan, Lahore specifically, on the map as a travel destination for the future and I’m going to tell you my love story with Pakistan that started just over a year ago.
The first face to face conversation my father-in-law & I had when I arrived in Lahore was him telling me how he hoped I wasn’t scared or worried about being in his country, that I was very safe and that their house will always be my home. What I went on to discover in the weeks following was more than I could ever imagine and scenes that you’d see in a Bollywood movie became reality. Not to mention the six UNESCO world heritage sites in Pakistan and the extensive tentative list of sites awaiting categorisation.
My most memorable morning in Lahore was spent in the old city with my husband and father-in-law. We woke up at around 5am in order to explore the historical walled city before the streets filled up with people. We drove into Lahore and began to wind our way through the centre of the city with the sleepy murmur of men sharing breakfasts and opening their shops for the day. We ended up in the middle of the Inner City, where the narrow roads are surrounded by the colourful waqf buildings. We got out of the car and walked around the corner and there appeared the Wazir Khan Mosque. It was so early that there was a man hosing down the tiled floors of the entrance, and not another person in sight. I don’t know what conversation took place but we were then ushered across a plank of wood, before removing our shoes and stepping into the empty courtyard.
The Wazir Khan mosque is a gorgeous mosque built in 1635 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (the same man who built the Taj Mahal) and is an amazing sight to visit, let alone when you have a tentative UNESCO world heritage site completely to yourself. The Qashani tiles were reflecting the rays of the sunrise and the caligraphy was glistening. The birds were flying behind the minarets and the sky was a soft haze, it was postcard perfect. As we left the mosque, people were starting to gather outside and we brazenly walked back to the car in a slight daze.
Lahore is a food and cultural capital, and Lahori’s are so passionate about their food that it’s a true fabric of their culture. We drove to a non descript street where I had the best and cheapest breakfast of my life. We walked into a small shop with a huge pan of chickpeas simmering outside and a few early-risers scattered on the tables. We ordered the customary chai (tea) and a few minutes later arrived two pots of Chana and Halwa Puri – two types of light breakfast curries, and a moist flakey pratha each. Breakfast was devoured and savoured and it was time to head to the next place on Dad’s private tour. We tried to pay for breakfast but my father-in-law was having none of it. I remember then he started laughing because the total breakfast had cost a total of £3 for three of us.
This was just one morning out of many spent in Lahore. Every day has magic and mystery and I hope one day that Pakistan will be safer for present and future generations and that their tourism reputation may one again flourish. I can’t wait for the day I can ask my friends and family to come and see the country for themselves with an open heart and without fear. Until then I will continue to love the country and look forward to my annual trip to the city of life in November!
Take care, K