Lahore, Pakistan

Lahore, Pakistan

India-Pakistan, Border

India-Pakistan, Border

India-Pakistan, Border

India-Pakistan, Border

alhea houtman

Pakistan 

Pakistan?!

“PAKISTAN?! WHY PAKISTAN?!” that question is one of the most commonly asked by everyone when we announced that we’re crossing Pakistan. A question that we always have to keep up to, every time we meet new people. Before we started our trip, I was a little concerned the second my parents told me that we’re crossing Pakistan. Let me be honest, I was a little terrified… but that feeling stopped when my parents are meeting one of our greatest friends he’s currently living in Singapore. He said, “Don’t go to Pakistan! You can fly from India to Turkey and then from there you can continue your trip”. His other friends also said, “Do you bring a gun?”. It seems like they actually cared about us and they’re terrified if anything went wrong with us. I was a little bit concerned at that point, a lot of people saying all these things about other people’s countries, especially Pakistan. I felt bad for them (Pakistani), other people don’t even get to visit Pakistan and they’re able to judge them by their cover… they already stepped into the wrong place. 

 

From that second, my perspective of Pakistan is changing. It can’t be what they said, about all the terrorists, the bad people, the people holding “guns”, and so many more. I start to have some faith in Pakistan and just experience it myself without just judging things by it’s cover. The second I stepped into their country, everything changed. The soldier welcomed us by saying “Assalamualaikum” and we say it back to them. The second he finished checking our passports before we get through the immigration he said… “Welcome to Pakistan”. So far, throughout our whole trip, we have never been greeted or welcomed that way. We were a little bit surprised because we haven’t got into their country and we never knew if we’re going to be sent back to India or home just because we can’t get through. Therefore, they already welcomed us with a huge smile and a kind heart. The same thing happened the second we entered the immigration building, there are other people there too and asked: “Assalamualaikum, Where are you from?”. The way they asked was very different from how others would ask, they ask out of their curiosity, not their job. 

 

The immigration building isn’t as modern or as luxurious as other immigration buildings, but we saw the immigration officer, she was putting her baby in a wheelchair and taking him around the building. The immigration officers are using formal clothes and uniforms, they look very intimidating but the second they greet us with a warm welcome they have a really big heart. The immigration officers were a family, the other officer was her husband. Shortly, as they stamp our passports and hand it back to us. They said, “Welcome to Pakistan”, with a huge smile. I couldn’t stop smiling at that point, with the right people, the right atmosphere, and the situation. I couldn’t care less at the building and the facility, with good hospitality, with the right heart, and the right atmosphere, I couldn’t care less about the little details. 

 

Based on my opinion, Pakistan and India are very different. From their hospitality, their surroundings, their characteristics as a person, how they acknowledge others, and many more. As we all know, there was a conflict or crisis between India and Pakistan. According to National Geographic, the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir was sparked by a fateful decision in 1947 and has resulted in decades of violence, including two wars. Since 1947, India and Pakistan have been locked in conflict over Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region in the northernmost part of India. Therefore, it’s not like the old days, they don’t fight and now they have seen each other as friends. Even though some Indians and Pakistanis have different visions or perspectives from one and another. 

 

Pakistan and India’s land border is very unique yet rare, therefore… I believe that I could never see it anywhere else but in Pakistan and India’s land border. Pakistan and India, both sides close their land borders… meaning, from both sides they can’t cross. They have a usual closing ceremony every day! Therefore, every closing ceremony there are a lot of citizens from each side that would like to watch. The land border is somewhat like a concert, they provided us seats to watch the closing ceremony. The closing ceremony takes about an hour but the preparation can take much longer than that because we still have to wait for other citizens to fill in the seats too. We were the first people that got to sit in the “arena” seats. 

 

There were several soldiers guarding the gate, walking forward and backward. Pakistani soldiers are very tall and big! They are literally like giants, I don’t understand how they are so tall and big! They were also holding gigantic guns, imagine how it will look like on me and holding onto those big guns. Not long after, a bunch of people came and took their seats! On the Indian side, it turns out that they have more seats than the Pakistan side. When the closing ceremony started, they started saying “takbeer… Allahu Akbar!”, the performers are way bigger and taller than the soldiers! Imagine how tall they are?! 

 

As they start to do the closing ceremony, something caught my eye. What was that? Something caught my eyes that they are doing this movement… therefore, I have seen it somewhere. Not long after, I thought of Freddie Mercury. In Queen’s concert, Freddie always has this hand signature or hand movement that is very iconic for Freddie. Is when he put his fits up in the air, this is exactly what both India and Pakistan are doing. I kept on looking to the other side and this side, just to compare and contrast. What’s very different in that the performer and the soldiers in India, isn’t as giant and as tall as Pakistan’s side. Pakistan was also using a black uniform meanwhile, India was using a light brown uniform. They basically have the same uniform but a different color. 

 

From our first couple of hours there, we already make friends with others and that really made me happy. The part when we were waiting for the closing ceremony to start, there are more and more people filling in the seats. Surprisingly, the person that was sitting next to my mom… she can speak English fluently. We asked her “How can you learn English very well?”. “Well, I just graduated from college in the U.S and this is also my first time watching the land border closing ceremony,” she said. We were a little bit shocked and she was still very young, how is it possible? So then when the ceremony starts she explains to us what are they doing and what are they saying. I really love these small gestures of people trying to help people. 

 

When the closing ceremony finished, there are a bunch of people wanting to take pictures with the performers too. Well, we’ve decided since this could be a once in a lifetime we’ve decided to take pictures with the soldiers too, also we took a picture earlier before the closing ceremony started. We took pictures on the border! Then not long after, when we were on our way to our car. It started with 3 guys, they were asking for pictures so then I decided to agree, because why not? Therefore, after these 3 guys finished taking pictures… a bunch of people started coming and taking pictures with us. We were a little bit confused why? Back at home, if they see foreign or more to western or middle east tourists they get amazed and do wanting pictures. Meanwhile, here in Pakistan, it’s the exact opposite. They are amazed by my mom’s face, she has more Chinese features. Meanwhile, I have and look very much like an Indonesian which I am very proud of. 

 

They were also amazed by my grandmother, Gemma. Well technically her name is not Gemma but as her grandchildren long ago we couldn’t say Grandma so we decided to call her Gemma. It’s a lot unique and better :) Anyways, Gemma has a Red Hair… it’s not natural but she basically has a Red Hot Orange Hair! Meaning, it caught people’s eyes a lot. Oh! While we were waiting for the closing ceremony to start, we all change our attire into more suitable and polite attire. I was using regular dry-fit clothes, so then my mom gave me her scarf so I could wrap it around my head and I also wore my jacket too. It turns out here in Pakistan, the majority of the girls didn’t use hijabs, they use long sleeves attire or proper attire, they also bring a scarf too. To compare and give a good example, their attire is when we usually celebrate Ramadan by the end of the month. 

 

Here in Pakistan too, we met one of our great friends! Hussain! He is a very good friend of ours, we’ve spent somewhat a day with him in Lahore, Pakistan. He showed us around and what’s funny is that he gets to experience driving a right-handed car in the right lane for the first time. He was actually very proud of it, he also took us to eat dinner with him and trying their traditional classic snack! It’s called a Golgappa (Click here if you want to know more about it). We also get to walk around really great mosques, we also went to the largest spice market in South East Asia! As you can tell, the smell was really strong! 

Then this one time we were in Islamabad, my dad just had his Friday prayer in the Embassy of Indonesia. We decided to visit them too and they greet us with a very warm welcome. When we had lunch outside, there were two Indonesian students studying in Pakistan. They said that they were surprised to see our car outside and decided to come and meet us! They were two lovely students, as they came over we’ve decided to invite them to eat with us! We share the experiences we had for the last 46 days on this journey. For the gazillion time! I have said this so many times, this is what I and my family love about this trip, to make new friends and family. We’re able to help one another which was one of my favorite times! 

 

We also visited a city called, Naran! Naran is basically the Switzerland of Pakistan. I am in love with their landscapes, with an amazing view and guess what’s more amazing! There are… SNOWS! Well technically since it’s still summer, it's not really snowing, but there are leftovers of snow since last winter. It was literally 10 degrees celsius in Naran! Can’t you believe it! It was cold but it wasn’t very cold, I was using one layer of a turtle neck and it wasn’t that cold. What I love about this city is that there is a river down the hill… but it wasn’t any kind of river, those are the glaciers from the snow! Isn’t that amazing?! It was green and blue, you can definitely see it very clearly. Imagine how snow in the winter will look like? 

 

Sadly, we only get to stay for only two nights because we arrived at night… but we get to stay for our best two days and one night there. After we played with some snow (it was because Zach is in love with Snows) when we were on our way back to our hotel… we’ve decided to take pictures with the landscape near the river. But as we get down there, we’ve spotted these little kids that live here! In the mountains, there were a bunch of them and they started shaking hands with my grandmother. They were so little and cute, the girls… they have beautiful blue eyes. Sadly, their face was a little dirty. But as always, when Gemma meets a bunch of children she loves them very much. So then, Gemma decided to give them candies! They were fighting for candies, they didn’t know how to take turns so then I decided to show them by making a line. It’s funny, how they’re able to follow, but then it didn’t last very long. But at least I’ve tried :) 

 

I decided to shake hands with them and their hands were very cold, their clothes were also dirty but these clothes are like their cultural traditional clothes. They also have never seen a chair before, isn’t that odd? My dad took a folding chair that we can bring it everywhere and he took it out for Gemma to sit down. But then, they were fascinated by such a thing. Gemma decided to offer it to them, they were fighting just to sit down on that chair. Then my sister also took out her skateboard because she wanted to try on her tricks, as you can tell they were so fascinated with it! They were looking at my sister doing these tricks that look like she’s only jumping on it. They were very shy, but then my sister allowed them to take turns. They were really happy even though they were only jumping on my sister’s skateboard, they have never seen a touch screen phone or a gadget. They were also very fascinated by seeing their pictures being taken before. Let me be honest, it was one of my greatest experience being there and spending time with all of them. 

 

We visited a city called, Multan! Multan is famous or usually called “The Mango City”. So everywhere you go, there are a bunch of Mangos everywhere and also watch out when it is Mango Season! You’re going to get 10x the amount that you usually get when you’re in a normal season in Pakistan. But to compare with what’s happening back home, you can get about 200x of the amount you usually get in the grocery store, getting Mangos. We also met one of our greatest friends in Multan, his name is Mr. Ilyas, he gave us about 2 big boxes of Mangos! There are a dozen of them, we couldn’t thank him any better. It was really a hard decision because if we bring all of the mangos with us, it will be very heavy for Bejo due to the Mangos that were given. 

Multan Mango

Festival!

Therefore, we also went to the Mango Festival! It was very interesting how they can mix different kinds of Mangos. One of them, they decided to mix one Mango with dates, so the Mango was very small and it wasn’t a green color. Therefore, they mixed a bunch of things to the mangos! It was really fascinating, we also get to have dinner with Mr. Ilyas and his sons! The most remarkable time is when we were told to do shooting for local TV news! It was for 3 TV News… Wonder how the experience went? Stay tuned for the book! 

Then a couple of weeks later we arrived in this city called Quetta, from there we have to cross a bunch more cities to get to Iran! From Quetta, since that city is known for a conflicted city… such as when you look left and right from both sides are literally gigantic sand mountains. There were several little tornados and it turns out that it is very normal here. Therefore, the government of Pakistan required tourists to get escorted with an Anti-Terrorist & Police from one place to the other, because it is their responsibility to keep us safe too. Actually, the receptionist in Naran has been really concerned about us going there without an escort. Therefore, we manage to get to be free without getting escorted until Sukkur morning. Then from there, we get escorted until Iran. 

 

Let me be honest, being escorted with Anti-Terrorists & Police isn’t the best. You know, most of the time you feel very safe! But sometimes when you want to go somewhere, they have to accompany you. Sometimes you’ll feel like cool, I know! But sometimes it gets irritating, so since we don’t want to bother them and accompany is everywhere we go, this one time we decided to stay in the hotel because we’re also waiting for our NOC paper. A NOC paper stands for, No Objection Certificate. It’s a legal document, issued by an organization, institute or an individual to say that they have no objection to the mentioned details in the document. Therefore, this is for our car, Bejo. To go to the NOC building, we have to get escorted too… but this time it was very hilarious. 

 

Since the police decided that having us riding Bejo, it’s too eye-catching for other people. It will get a lot of attention from a bunch of people, which they suggest not going there with our car. So then they suggest us going to the NOC building with a Tuk-Tuk, Tuk-Tuk is somewhat a “Bajaj” (that’s what we called it back home). So then we rode two Tuk-Tuk to the NOC building and being escorted by 8 anti-terror force. What’s frightening is that they were holding their guns upwards, but let me be honest... It was a fun ride! I mean who knows when am I going back to Pakistan, in Quetta and going to the NOC building with two Tuk-Tuks. Therefore, being escorted by 8 anti-terror force with 4 motorcycles and holding their guns up in the air. I mean this could be my first and last, I have no idea when am I going back there, I would really love to do that again. 

 

In the city, Quetta. At this one night, we were staying at this hotel Bloom Star. Therefore, all overlanders have to stay there. Never really understood why, and let me be honest. None of us enjoys the hotel, it was opened, there is no wifi connection, there is no Air Conditioner, there is no good bed, and it was very hot. It was very hard to stay there comfortably, a bunch of overlanders didn’t enjoy the hotel but we have no choice.  Therefore, at this one night… we were eating some of the Mangos that we got from Multan, we heard a bunch of motorcycles outside… meaning those are escorts, but escorts wouldn’t come here without any overlanders… meaning there's an overlander! My Dad and Zach went downstairs, meanwhile I, my mom, gemma and my sister. We saw it from the balcony, it turns out the overlanders are using motorcycles. 

When my dad got downstairs, you wouldn’t believe where they’re from! They’re from Malaysia and there were 9 of them! They’re heading to Hajj, their trip is called Ride to Hajj. Meeting someone new, not our family, in 47 or more days, not Pakistani, and can speak the same language but different accents. It felt so amazing! We were able to communicate with someone out of our family members in Indonesian is wonderful, we were also able to relate to one another, the feeling where you felt “It’s not just me!”, that’s how we felt and it was a blessing. Everyone is happy, including Gemma! But do you know what’s fascinating? They’re going on the same path as us!

 

From the first time, we’re in Pakistan, there are a bunch of people worried that we’re in Pakistan. They said a lot of things about guns everywhere, to be careful about conflicted areas, and many more. In Pakistan, it is very different from other countries (as you can tell). Hence, when you go to Pakistan you have to be aware that… Yes! You’ll see people holding guns everywhere. But not everyone is going to hold one and allowed to, the people who're holding their guns are usually securities or guards guarding the hotel and many more. The only people that are allowed to hold guns have these certificate for owning one, therefore they’re using it for a good cause. At first, I wasn’t used to seeing people holding guns everywhere, but now I’ve gotten used to it :) 

 

Pakistan is full of smiles, laughter, and happiness. Pakistan is a beautiful country inside and out, people have said the wrong things about them. I’m sure the people who’ve been to Pakistan wouldn’t say bad things about them because they’ve experienced it there and meet the greatest people there :) Pakistan should deserve more attention from the world but to the good and not the bad. The people of Pakistan, they’ve been one of the most amazing people that I've met with kind hearts, good minds, and has a beautiful home.

New content will hopefully be uploaded once a week or could be twice a week! so Stay Tune!

- Alhea Houtman