Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Labore et Lahore, Pakistan sound gallery

The last days in Lahore tick away, tomorrow we will cross the border, back to India it is!
So far no luck with getting more of the Urdu hiphop nor the live Sufi music. We could not find the Sufi place yesterday night and neither did anyone know where it was. We were so close, yet so far away. That's the intangible city of Lahore for you. Tonight; last night, last chance.

The hiphop scene in Lahore is slowly growing since this year. We met Bobby D, Haider Z and Saber who form the STT crew together. Having lived their teenage years in the States and Canada, both Bobby D. and Saber returned back to Pakistan a few years ago for several reasons, but with their heads filled with Northern American hiphop coming from mostly gangsta styled influences.
A lyrical context from a place far away inserted into their current environment that is Lahore. Their rhymes in English aren't crippled, but nothing out of the ordinary either if compared with any other rap battle tongue from Northern America. It might work here though, as Pakistan still has an open market for western hiphop. The sparse songs that we heard them rap in Urdu were by far better sounding in our ears. Perhaps because that is a flow of sound that our western ears have not heard before. Is a flow in a new tongue, or new style the definition of *freshness*? Maybe so.
Urdu lyrics about politics; the elections, the Bhutto assassination, the war on terror. Idea's about using old Pakistan folk as the backdrop for their sound so that their Urdu raps can get and even heavier context. Idea's, it's all in their minds but not recorded yet. The English raps however, are recorded by the dozens as we saw and heard in the small studio of Saber, who envisioned that he would like to see his hiphop style merged with trance and club sounds. Experimental use of western influences into a new musical context? If the market here is open to it, it could become his own blueprint for the Lahore scene.
Haider Z, still 19 and relatively new to the crew, upheld a better flow in Urdu, perhaps by straying further away from the western flows. He showed us a newspaper article of a few months ago in which he was presented as a rapping talent. Also Saber could present newspaper clippings of his rising fame, so the signs are there in the media. Just the hiphop shows haven't really arrived in Lahore yet and it keeps the development of the scene low-key for now. Bobby D, who is more on the producer side of things, has been trying to make hiphop breakthrough in Lahore for some years now, but so far still encounters a lot of blocks. "The public demand is here, but we lack the resources in Lahore and Pakistan", he said. It was clear that there are no venue's or organizations to back it up with. Still a long way to go for Lahore hiphop.
We hope it works out for either of them, especially if they will focus on the Urdu style instead of English as it will be of more cultural value, nationwide.

Lahore, as anywhere in Pakistan, suffers several power cuts per day. You get used to it. At least they have a generator in the library so they can rebuff the power up again after a minute or so. To give you an idea; during this post the power already went twice. Anywhere else with no private generator at hand, people just have to wait, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours. It fluctuates. Locals joke that power cuts come at prayer times, as a break for the plant workers.

Maarten finds these power shortages to be a typical occurrence in a dictatorship nation, as well as the fluctuating food prices (of wheat and flour currently) and the armed presence of police and soldiers at checkpoints or street corners. We think it does indicate that Musharraf struggles to control many assets in the nation, or worse, uses these assets for his own control on society. Which is also what many people think here. Pakistan as a country deserves better (which is also a political slogan), because all the opportunities and energy sources are here already. Just a proper control of them would be decent.

With the upcoming elections, things are still unsure and many do not believe it will go fairly -again-. There are 35 parties and they each use a certain symbol that indicates what their political position. Recognizable symbols, so that illiterate people know who they can vote for. The symbols break down to this:
The bicycle = the governmental people's party, which is Musharraf's party although you do not see him on posters and instead you see affiliated politicians on it.
The tiger/lion = the Nawaz Islamic league who basically are the conservatives (hah, the fat cats? irony bliss)
The arrow = Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the socialists and affiliated types. The arrow meaning that they're out for a killing -in change of politics, not in blood-.
The football = errr unclear, -after asking we now know: independent candidates who have an unclear agenda. Just out for power or money rather than bringing real change in.
The clock -a new one- = yet another independent candidate, also with an unclear agenda.

The Bhutto party are still leading the polls by at least 40%.
If you ask people who will actually win the election, the answer you get is 'the people's party', the governmental people's party. The word *winning* has a sarcastic meaning here.

After all these 3 months of gathering footage and sounds, we'll take it easy in February and act more the traveling tourists and not blogging these long reports anymore that you might have gotten used to.
Time to wind down and recharge our energy a bit with our girls! :P
We might still do some small sessions in Rajasthan if possible....and perhaps in Gujarat as a little extra thing. All is open, we'll see what we bump into and keep you posted :)

Finally we've uploaded a small variety of Pakistani sound of the past few weeks.
Downloadable and such from Maarten's server.

Short radio ad, vivid talking and happy synthesizer sounds.

Short radio ad

Here a clip of the Muharram procession that we witnessed in a village close to Lahore (of a few posts ago). The men first started chastising themselves with the sickle knives attached to shackles before they stopped and continued beating their chests while their backs and shoulders were dripping of blood. I recorded the shackles too, but here's a shorter clip of the chest beating part where the men are singing on their own beat.

Muharram chest beating in village

I think this vocal female song is a Qawwali song and not a Ghazal. But I'm not entirely sure, awaiting the local second opinion. The main difference between these two musical forms is that Qawwali is devotional (holy) music and a Ghazal is a love poetry song.

Female Qawwali song (or Ghazal?)

Here a short piece of what seems like a Ghazal song. But it might be Qawwali in this case.

Male Ghazal song (or Qawwali?)

Some more full sound and choir-like, this time with kids singing along. Folk or holy music?

Holy folk with kids

Upbeat folk, with Sufi or Qawwali content? The second opinion is still out. The rhythm seems more inclined to move people physically than by words.

Upbeat Pakistani folk

On a Karachi radio station they sometimes played good stuff. Like worldly things from the Ethiopiques series of Alemu Aga and Mahmoud Ahmed. Even the galaxy warping jazz of Sun Ra and Kraftwerk's 'Die Menschmachine (The Man Machine)' came along! On one night they were playing a whole album of Nusrat Ali Khan, Pakistan's (and Punjab's most famous singer). I already know these improvisational songs from back home and from the excellent Doaba Gypsies mix that Siebe Thissen once made (psssht, check out his mixes!). Here's a Nusrat Ali Khan clip for you.

Nusrat Ali Khan improvisation

Monday, January 28, 2008

~Retire your dead tire~

Pakistani highway poetry, as seen on the mountain interstate road between Mianwali and Rawalpindi.

From the transport hub of Muzzafargarh, we woke up at 6ish while the traffic had already been roaring past our room for the last hours or so. Non stop. It sometimes can be quite tricky to find the right bus and asking anyone possible is a bare necessity. Police men sitting around a fire at a roundabout -a very much seen sight on any nightly or early morning traffic point- were nice enough to help us, though they didn't know exactly either which bus to take and guessing at 2 different directions. It was very chilly, a cold mist still hanging in the dark dawn air. The fire was a welcome warm friend and the elder officers gave us their chairs, which we first politely rejected but in Pakistan, you just can't refuse such nice gestures. Finally action and we jumped into a bus towards the North of Punjab, parallel to the Indus flow. Going up against it's natural down flow, so to speak.
The morning ride was nice; along dry lands, little forest patches and green low Punjabi fields, filled with sugarcane, corn or wheat. Most of it we were in half slumber as the trip would take over 5 hours. We got off in Mianwali, the biggest city for transport connection of the north western part and there we tried finding an internet cafe to do some blogging and uploading. Tough luck. Not for finding the internet cafe which we did eventually, but as for having an internet connection because internet was down allover town. Just like power cuts, there are also internet cuts. It's life here as you have to accept it. Back to the mini-bus station, we got our ride to the town of Kalabagh, the point where the Indus river turns into the lower valleys from the mountains. Shaping the normal sized river flow into a gigantic wide river. It was the nicest ride so far we've had in Pakistan and we could see the distant mountain peaks and past the cultivated valleys.
We got off at the end of the bridge to Kalabagh town, a long bridge of at least 1 km, made out of wooden and stone panels. Those panels had a lot of wear on them and many had holes and cracks in them, giving you a clear view at the river far below with a feeling that the bridge was not solid at all. Let alone that any maintenance is being done. At least the main structure was of steel. Not that that helped the poor fella who last week fell into the river with his motorbike, through a gap or perhaps a broken panel and his body was only found 5 days afterwards, as we were told by Nazeem, a young pharmaceutical engineer standing at the bridge. The elderly bearded guard at the bridge told us not to film or take pictures. Like we already expected. Nazeem spoke more about the bridge and the town while carefully walking on the bridge so that we could get a better view on the river. I could take some photo's of the river and the view, as long as the bridge itself would not show. Like this one.

Although he was just on his way out of Kalabagh, Nazeem voluntarily appointed himself our guide and took us into Kalabagh. Small dusty streets, goats walking everywhere. The humble sight of daily life of any small Pakistani town it seems. The houses were different than we saw elsewhere as they all had wooden upper parts. Some houses being hundreds of years old.

Kalabagh and its locals never see tourists, as it is off the beaten track and no mention of it in the lonely planet either, despite the serene and beautiful setting of this mountain village. Some locals eyed us with amazement, some with a flustered look of suspicion, others wanted to stop us and talk but with the pace of Nazeem it was hard to stop, except for me buying another Pasthun shepherd hat. Woolly wear for cultural integration :). As the village was not big, we had quickly gone through it and we met several youths who wanted to take us to a mine. Sure! Everywhere pink and white crystal rocks were lying around in man hacked and dumped hills, colouring the place with a special glow. The teenagers told us it was a site for the mining of salt minerals. Salt. The whole place smelled like a damp sea in fresh mountain air.

Down in the mine, hot and humid. And dark. Mobile phones as guiding lights or proper torches, anything with some light out of it would help not to step into muddy waterholes. It wasn't a good idea to walk into the mine with our backpacks on, heavy as they were and we soon were gasping for air, perhaps a bit claustrophobed by the feeling of being a mine so unexpected. We saw mineworkers hacking at rocks, load them into tractor carts. Maarten filming their underground activity while they all posed for him, acting their everyday labour down below. After half an hour of walking about into little caves, seeing white salty stalactites,hearing bats squeek from dark corners and tasting the salty flavour with every breath taken, we stepped back into the open air again. Some fresh air, yay! As the sun was setting already, we quickly needed to get a bus back to Mianwali before there wouldn't be any more buses from Kalabagh's remote location. Like said, it's off the beaten track, even for locals.

Most people in Kalabagh where more fair haired than elsewhere, the colour of their skin revealing their Pashtun roots. Like in most villages in this mountain region and the neighbouring state of North-West Frontier Province (better known as the tribal NWFP area). At this point we were actually just around 70 km's away from the Afghanistan border. The much troubled border, that is.
And we were very close to Kohat (25 km's more north) and South Waziristan (70 km's south-west), without knowing what was happening there.

On the Kohat tunnel situation, here's an article from a few days ago, here a summarized one the outcome, today (though the printed version was way more informative). Basicly, a handfull of local Pakistani tribal militants -or Taliban militants as they have been coined for the sake of the war on terrorism- had stolen 4 trucks filled with ammunition from the military! One must wonder how. That however, the army isn't eager to disclose. The local militants blocked the Kohat tunnel, which is being built through Japanese -financial- help, and threatened to bomb it. A few days of fighting; dozens of militants killed, some soldiers dead and the retrieval of the 4 ammunition trucks. Whether empty or not, who knows. News flash just in, the militants have blown up the Kohat rail road. Surely not the end of fighting in this part of the mountains.

You would think that as we were so close to Kohat, we could have felt the danger, but we experienced nothing out of the ordinary. Not in the villages nor on the roads, even at the small checkpoints around Kalabagh and Mianwali there was no tension to be noticed. The only thing was perhaps that army caravan of trucks we saw the night before in Muzaffargarh, heading up north. Perhaps 4 of those trucks got stolen some 24-48 hours later? It's a game of guesses.

On SWA (or South Waziristan in non-Pakistani media terms), at the Afghani border. here and here a piece about what has happened or is still happening. And a more in depth article. The CIA now wants to enter Pakistan and resolve it themselves, but Musharraf won't let them in according to this article. Will that be the end of it? Unfortunately it never will. The fighting, the mingling of the US or anything attached to the little wars in this region. Afghanistan apparently isn't big enough to wage war in.

We wonder, has above news reached you in the west? We just never know for sure what is known back home as the articles here seems much more informative and go deeper than the short articles in western papers. The papers here are full of it, pages filled with any fight, anywhere in the north and north-western part of the country. The fight against terror, as an ongoing national dialogue without end, without the far-removed feeling that folks elsewhere in the western hemisphere experience.

Last week, while Musharraf was in Brussels giving speeches to the west about the (un)controlled situation in Pakistan, an army committee of ex-service men concluded that Musharraf has to resign. Musharraf simply rebutted that each of these ex-service men (who all have served under him) were no good officers and that he kicked them out all by himself. Bold statement to make about your own men, especially if you don't want to bring unrest in the army. The show goes on.

And all this talk here is not even about the problems of the upcoming elections! No wonder the ordinary decent Pakistani feels that their government has deserted them and do not trust the help from the US anymore either. Still, life on the streets of any town or city goes on as if normal and to the tourist it doesn't feel much more different either, except for the sight of many armed guards on every corner, government building or roadblock. We still feel warmed and welcomed by the Pakistani's so our views have only been opened by their sincerity.

Back to our trip, which seem just a tiny experience compared to the above notions.

In Mianwali we took a mini bus to Rawalpindi (or Pindi as Pakistani's call it). For once, not an old, crowded or bumpy mini bus but a one that had good space and was new. Our driver, who said he was from Peshawar, drove the van in a fine speed and we overtook truck after truck, mini bus after mini bus. It was a pity that it was pitch dark, as we drove on the mountain roads and could not see the views of the valleys below us. We stopped at a police roadblocks where we think our driver had to pay them some share of his profit to them. Or pay our way past them. Either way, each way of looking at it means the same. At other police roadblocks at toll booths of the motorway, we had to open the door so that a police officer holding a big video camera could film each passenger for security and ID reasons. You might guess why with the above situations in the northern regions.

Enter Rawalpindi, taking a mini cab to the Sadr Bazaar area where most (cheap) hotels are. The driver not knowing the way in the most visited part of his own city. He was a sweet man, so no grudges to him, but if you're both tired, cold and coming down with a nasty cold and just want to find a hotel at 2am, your patience doesn't see the fun of it. Our room was like a rooftop fridge as it was the only room available, a room that probably was never used even hence its freezing quality, brrrr. The next day we somehow lost each other in the hotel by miscommunication and perhaps a feverish head and did our own things till we met up again. A handy thing that Maarten bought a Pakistani sim card in his phone at the border. In the early evening we took yet another mini bus from Pindi to Taxila.

Taxila was especially on our minds because of the many archeological sights of Buddhist stupa's and monasteries of the Buddhist Gandhara era. The civilisation sites date back from 500 BC up to 500 AD, until the White Huns came along and ravaged the region, destroying the sites and killing locals and monks alike. Here's a nice write-up on Taxila for the history-loving.
Locked gate at the youth hostel. After waking up the young maintenance guy, we settled in the deserted and empty hostel. It again was freezing cold, so was the room. We consoled ourselves by watching Capote on a pirated DVD (courtesy of the Lahore pirate shops that offer 5 movies on 1 dvd at no cost). Next morning, time to get some warm chai and eat something, but as most shops were closed due to the tourist off-season and the cold, it took us a while. We rented a motorbike as all the archeological sites were scattered over the Taxila district in a perimeter of 7 kilometers and to see all, self-mobility was the way to go. We first went to the excavagted site of Sirkap, which was a town filled with Jain, Bactrian Greek and Buddhist temples. Already 2000 years ago, several religions in this valley literally co-existed as neighbours and in peace with each other. We walked into the old house fundations, the wide street avenues, on the temple steps and on the old defense wall.
Soon enough we attracted the attention of locals who offered us little heads of old statues and coins. All of it coming from the farmer fields next to the site, in their words. The statue heads looked dubious and more like being slashed from temple stone carvings or taken out of protected sites. We bought a few ancient coins though, as those are easy to find in the fields instead of by thievery. The coins were said to from different era's, the Bactrian Greek era, the Pathian or Hindu era. Maybe the ones we bought are fake because the price was quite low (15 euro for 3 Bactrian coins in my case, 2 picturing Alexander the Great), but at the same time a good price for those local men. Perhaps they're not false. Not that we care really, because we more bought them for their beauty and carvings as oppossed to their so-called antique value. Fake souvenirs are fun. I better hope they're fake or not worth much.

After that we drove to a hilltop Bactrian Greek temple and then to the Jaulian site, which was a big Buddhist monastery with attached stupa with many carvings. Most of them now safely housed in the Taxila museum. We saw another monastery which name escapes me right now -must check the Taxila map, left it in hotel-, which was situated on a high hilltop. Also a few nice Buddhist carvings here while most of them were in the museum. Finally we went to Dharmajika, the biggest Buddhist site of all around Taxila and it was like a true town with streets and roads. All built around a big centralized stupa, there were many structures and a big monastery and we spend a good time just at the peak of sunset walking around and losing ourselves in the environment. We had seen what we wanted, it was getting dark and we wanted to get back to Pindi as not to spend another night in a fridge as room. Before that, Wwe played a bit of football with local students of our age. On a makeshift football field, jumpers for goalposts (Ron Manager, if you know what I mean ;)), and it was on one of the ancient sites! Archeological ditches lay everywhere and we ran next to these, sometimes a ball being kicked in one of them. Ofcourse, playing footie when having a cold in our bad shape, it wasn't the wisest thing to do, but we enjoyed our miskicks ;)

Bus back to Pindi after a lot of roadside waiting. We're getting used to it. Back to a different hotel and room, which was less like a fridge, oh some warmth! To some extent. There we wasted another lazy night of watching a movie. So far in 3 months, we've only watched a few movies on the laptop, we do try to discipline our luxury. ;)
We saw Good Night & Good Luck, which must be said, is a great movie. It made us reflect on it with the current thought how the Pakistan press has a lot of freedom of expression here in politics, perhaps even more than the press in the States.

Next day Pindi, time spent in internet cafe (previous post eh) and some browsing in secondhand book shops. In the computer shop area there are many good book shops that sell books at dump prices. Escpecially social, futuristic and political books. Maarten can already recommend Thierry Meyssan's The Big Lie, which is about the facts of 9/11. It's not about conspiracy theories but it just underlines the hard known facts that seem to have been forgotten by everyone, the media and politicians alike.
Factoid from the book that we had forgotten about and now seemed oh so paradoxal and coincidental to us: On the 11th of september, Osama Bin Laden was actually in Pakistan getting treatment and diagnose on his kidney's in a hospital. Where? Rawalpindi.

Sometimes Meyssan seems to point into a secret right wing society theory, but you still keep enough space to make up your own mind with the facts, as it should be. What does absolute truth mean if you firstly do not know the main facts?

I got Future Shock, by futurist writer Alvin Toffler, written in 1970. Not to be confused with Science Fiction literature, it is a futuristic read about a new illness that supposedly would cripple humanity in the next 50 years. We're more than halfway now and ofcourse it has not come true on a grand scale but it already offers interesting viewpoints on the effects of change in general and on society. 450 pages still to go.

From Rawalpindi we got a late mini bus (always those mini buses, but they are so much faster than the average coach bus!) to Lahore.
We're back now in our same comfortable backpackers heaven. A warm enough room and good solid bed, a little kitchen to cook or boil whatever you want. Almost all of the Polish, French and American travellers have left and we have the 10 bed dorm room all to ourselves now, yay. There are still a few of the old group left, those who are not on a backpacking holiday but who are doing work or research here.

More on Lahore hiphop crews in a next post. Yup, we're not joking. Bandana's and gangsta style rap battles in Urdu and over old Pakistani folk. It's happening here and we hope to experience more of it. Hopefully we can also catch the Sufi musician with the help our hotel manager, which we missed the last time....
Almost nearing the end of our Punjab project trip...3 more days to go, so to speak.

Some pics...most already uploaded dayzzzz ago (see right hand blah blah)

Seb with Pashtun local at Kalabagh, One eye missing and clutching a lump of opium in his hand.

Taxila bus stop

election poster, does he like football that much? ;)

flying a kite

other view from Sirkap

Taxila views

Jaundial Buddhist site, don't worry, heads are at museum

local Pashtun kids

Thursday, January 24, 2008

the Mujahideen squatters of Sahiwal

We're in Rawalpindi since midnight -yup, the place where Bhutto....-, after a lot of travelling by bus since Sunday, making a near mathematical 270 degree tour around the Punjab state of Pakistan. Just 90 degrees to go to make the full 360 circle back at Lahore. Mathematics on wheels, our backpacks on roofs, floors and in trunks. Calculation style travelling does take a lot out of your energy and we are both still recovering from our accumulated colds. Sniffs and coughs alike in the cold northern mountains of Punjab.

On Sunday we took a bus down to Sahiwal, the village neaby the archeological Harappa site. Little did we know that we could have stayed on the same bus towards Multan and gotten off at Harappa to see the museum and excavated grounds in one afternoon. Instead we wasted a day and got out at Sahiwal and took a long walk to find a hotel while crowds of youngsters were following us. All settled and well tired, we rested for a while in the room, zapping the Pakistani channels on the tv. Bizarre ads, movies and news broadcasts flashed by. We catched a voting awareness ad for the Pakistani Youth on the Pakistani music channel and it was very well put together with modern styled phrasing with a clever courtesy of choice message in it. Far better than any western election ad I've ever seen directed at young adults. Also there was a political discussion going on between a interviewer and a former minister that went very deep, with the interviewer asking totally direct and cheeky insinuating questions that would make many politicians of our own countries choke. Apparently this is the way that political interviews in Pakistan are carried out, right in front of the viewer without any of that clean, pre-discussed format which western tv is plagued with. It was about darkening of funds and spionage practises that the minister was accused of and he had to swallow a lot of humble pie through the fair and verocious stance that the interviewer used to unlock him. Never a dull moment in televised political debates and discussions then.

During dinner we met the same nice fella -forgot his name- whom I had spoken to earlier outside the hotel and he told us that he was a painter. He invited us for chai in a shop full of old men who gazed at our looks and afterwards we went to his place and he showed us a mural that he had painted, with Urdu symbols on it. A painted billboard on stone, so to speak. He asked us many things about our country and was explaining us things about Islam, since he was a dedicated follower. It soon proved what kind of painter and follower he was, as on the many by him painted banners I saw Urdu texts with rifle guns painted next to it. "Do you know what a Mujaheddin is?" he openly asked us while awaiting our response with keen interest. "We kinda do", we answered, not really knowing what he wanted to hear. "I am a Muhajideen" he said and explained that his cause was the Kashmir cause and that he had been on the front at the Pakistan - Indian border, though it was unclear whether he joined in combat or not. "When Muslim brothers are in trouble, then I should help them", with these words he refered to the state of Kashmir being a Muslim state according to his beliefs.
The whole thing with the Kashmir struggle is that most people living there are indeed Muslims and the partition should have secured Pakistan with all the Muslim states but not Kashmir. Since then fights have been on and off, either between the armies of Pakistan, India, China and Russia. Not to forget the self-employing army of Mujahideen who still fight there as rebels posted in the mountains.
Back to our man. He lived in quite a big room though it looked a bit in shambles so we asked him how much he paid for rent. "No rent, for free". So our man turned out to be a squatter Mujaheddin, living with a few other friends in the bare building. Them having a more direct political aim within their country than the establishment fighting squatters in the west might lend themselves too.

Next morning we took a mini bus to the Harappa site. Late morning traffic, donkey and ox carts filled the roads and we passed many chai shops, some showing nothing but static on their tv's. From the mini buses you really get to see the most of Pakistani life as you bump ride through little villages and the smaller roads than unveil households and affairs of locals.

Harappa is one of the oldest civilization sites of the Indus Valley stretch that goes back over 3000 years BC and therefore matching the prime times of the Mesopotamia, Nile and Chinese civilizations. The Moenjodaro site is actually older and bigger, but as that was still a hefty 500 km's more west, we could not make it there timewise.
The site has a small museum which has many old artefacts of pottery, tools and jewelry. Also a lot of nice small statues of men and women that were very much sensual and erotic in a way that made us wonder how the Pakistani tourists take this in. The site of Harappa is perhaps not as overwhelming as any other famous site would be, but we very much enjoyed walking around on the old grouds and seeing the stone structures and forms of the ancient town. We encountered local kids sliding off a limestone hill with the use of plastic bottles or sheets. Ofcourse we also had to try it, so we did too ;) It made the kids laugh and they started doing more sliding tricks in front of Maarten camera. Most of the kids were poor and lived in a nearby tent camp and Maarten went with them to see their homes while I sat down with a shepherd and his two kids who were collecting firewood. The shepherd inspected every content of my bag and asked which I could give, which was none of it. After his inspection, my pocketknife was missing but I'm sure that he will make much better use of it than I did (which was hardly any use). Thievery can be fair.

We wanted to take a bus to Bahawalpur, but instead we got a lift in a police jeep from some kind highway patrol officers. We had to put our bags in the back and pushed their Chinese made machineguns aside. Kinda bizarre, moving guns away by hand to make space for your own stuff as if it's normal. Seeing arms everywhere in Pakistan is not a strange thing and you do get used to it. All the officers chatted to us in quite good English and they fed us with pakora and sweet stuff. Pakistani hospitality even reaches into the authorities. They took us to their newly built station, about which I joked to them that it got built with American terrorism money given to Musharraf, which they didn't like too much. It was a joke after all, with an underlying ironic truth or not. Who really knows, neither me nor they. There was a volleybal court in front of the station and we played with the officers, smashing balls to the other side and acting like a bunch of sportive folks in highway patrol uniforms. Volleybal is a much loved and respected sport in the Pakistani army and police, perhaps for teambuilding? We drank chai in their garden, ate all their cookies. Only having to pay back the hospitality by writing in their register book in which many positive message were written by foreigners and nationals. Also they had gotten any kind of help from them and repaid it with a kind scribble. So I scribbled a text filled with lush poetry and high praise. Just as I expected they would like. We joked about them writing a note to our mothers about our good behaviour but they took it serious and wrote a big page full of equally praising words in our book. Wow. After that they even dropped us off at the next town, Chichawali, from where our bus to Bahawalpur via Multan would leave. Not before the patrol officers also paid for 2 sandwiches and perhaps our bus tickets too. Can't even remember anymore other than them being utterly generous and helpfull to us.

On the grim and dark outskirts of Multan, we had a quick curry dinner at a chilly truckstop cafe (or *tuckstop* as the Pakistani's like to miscall it), filled with scrawny stray cats looking for chicken bones to gnaw on. Time to get to Bahawalpur.
We got there late but luckily found a decent hotel soon enough. Out into the dark street, everything was closed except for many street vendors selling food and a few shops. In one sweet shop, just like in India where you can find any kind of moisty and sugary pastries, we again got some free stuff to eat while the owner and locals talked and joked with us. Being a foreigner in a non tourist place is always more fun than on the beaten track.
Bahawalpur lies on the edge of the Choli desert that borders with the Indian Thar desert where we had been over a month ago. Cholistan is the original name of this Pakistani desert region and is one that shares a lot with Rajasthan's nomadic culture. In this region and actually in the whole southern half of Pakistani Punjab up to the middle, the people in this part have a distinct language, called Saraiki, which is a Sindh language. Music shops are filled with a variety of Saraiki folk cassettes. Kinda like how in western India you can find Rajasthani folk cassettes everywhere.

We didn't stay long in Bahawalpur and the next morning we took a mini bus to the small town of Uch Sharif. The town is famous for its old mosques and shrines. Also legend has it that Alexander the Great spent a day there though that can be nothing but mythical talk. At least it is sure that Muhammad Bin Qasim took the city in 710 AD and turned it into an Islamic centre for pilgrims and students in Asia. His conquest could be seem as the beginning of Islam in this region and most of Pakistan, which has remained so in the country to present day.
Uch, dusty and filled with goats and caged chickens. Men with longer and thicker beards and females dressed more in burqa's than on other cities. The natural adaptation for a holy town. We walked through the narrow streets, stepping aside for many donkey and man pulled street carts. Soon a little schoolboy offered to take us around. Not that we asked or needed it, but he didn't stress us like most so we let him be and he took us on a nice route through the maze of the bazaar. At a little shop of a retired army officer we sat down by his request and had some chai. He was from Chitral (the rural mountain area where the Kalasha tribes still live) and sold plastic toys in his shop. Like imitation Miffy stuff and so on. Imitation is the standard for any brand of anything. After leaving our bags there, the boy took us to the old site where was saw the mosque, shrines, tombs and graveyards. All in aquarian blue and indigo, the mozaique art was amazing and still intact. The mosque and tombs were quite damaged, halfed, by the hand of ancient floodings and earthquakes but still were beautiful in their crumbled state.

The afternoon was coming to an end and we quickly wanted to get to Panjnad Head before sunset, where the 5 big rivers of Punjab merg together into one river. We didn't see the Indus as that river only gets merged more south of the state at Mithankot. We got off at the beginning of the bridge, a long one of nearly one km. It's not allowed in Pakistan to take any pictures when standing on bridges, whether you just want to photograph the water or something else other than the bridge itself. Just a defensive and security rule as ordered by Pakistani law. But we did, photographing and filming, a few 100 metres down on the bridge on a dam ridge. The guards didn't seem to mind either. Many farm trucks and tractors were passing by on the bridge, with sugarcane reeds stacked 5 metres high while kids were running after them. Pulling sugarcanes loose by the plenty, the slow pace of the wagons allowing them to take their beloved sweet sticks. Kids walked with bundles of them, chewing the juice out of the raw cane flesh. Soon enough I got my own sugarcane too, pulling the strong bamboo strips off with my teeth. Mhhhh, sugarcane juice. Back at the beginning of the bridge we visited the many fish-only shops. Fresh river fish from the Punjab rivers. Mostly trouts and other fishes that we hadn't seen before. In my pescatarian hunger, as I do like to eat fish now and then, I ordered some trout. The way they make it here is slicing them up in flat slices, but batter and massala herbs on them and throw them in the frying pan. A more exotic way of how it's made in the UK. And way more tasty too. We even got the fish for free as a gift, another sweet gesture of hospitality that we encounter here day by day. At least we gave the owner and his kids some chocolate cookies in return for it.

As it was dark by then but still early in the evening, we opted to take a ride to Muzzafargarh instead of big size Multan, as Muzzafargarh was further on the route that we wanted to take the next day. We got pushed and helped into yet another bus, bouncy ride again though we slumbered into small naps. Quite a day full, travelling in bumpy buses, walking with backpacks and taking in new experiences with all our senses. Muzzafargarh was not even in the lonely planet guide, which is why we liked to spend a night there and experience the unwritten. The city seemed more like a transportation hub for long haul trucks going up north, or going down south. Endless caravans of brightly red and wooden colored Pakistan trucks, painted allover with symbols, animals and whatnot decorative signs. Also a long convoy of army trucks went by, filled with soldiers and equipment. We weren't sure whether they were going up north to the Afghani (Khyber) border (as local tribesmen were blocking roads on the Khyber route in rage of fluctuating food prices, a result of the upcoming elections and unstable government now). Or to Kashmir. or perhaps came from either destination. In Muzzafargarh, all we wanted was a good enough sleep as we would wake early at 6am to cath a bus up north. The trucks drove all night on the main road, where our hotel was. The flimsy door and thin windows allowing us all the road rumble. ;)

Next part of the northern trip into rural places in a few days, when we're back in Lahore. We're leaving (Rawalpindi today, hope there's enough buses to Lahore.

Oh yeah, new pics uploaded! You can already sneak peek our further trip to Mianwali, Kalabagh, the Indus river and Taxila. (click on above link ey!)

here some:
Bhutto billboard at Sahiwal

Harappa site

Kids sliding off the limestone hill

the friendly highway patrol post

albino local in snack shop, Bahawalpur

Uch Sharif

tailor shop with election posters

tame bird (woodpecker we think), I held it too

Panjnad head, river at sunset

side canal

Saturday, January 19, 2008

This time, all knives out

Indeed we haven't left for the Sufi festival at Pak Patan.
Actually because some of the foreigners who went there returned back from it, giving reports of it being a mud pit (due to the bad weather) and not a festival as such. They also told that the music was mostly Qawwali and nearly no Sufi dancing, while most of the music was limited to the community only and not to any visitor nor foreigner.

Today was the day we belated had planned to go, just to catch one day and see what would happen trying to get into places. Mr. Malik, the part-time hotel owner (and a documentary maker at the same time) told us this morning that the music had ended at Pak Patan. So much for our effort. ah well, 1 extra night then. It being 2 holy days (today and tomorrow) for the end of Muharram.

Mr Malik had arranged a trip to a village 35 km's away with some old history for everyone who wanted to come along, so we hopped along with this instead. Out of the bus into the village, we attracted the usual attention of the locals. We had expected to walk around in the town and see some nature or farm fields, but it soon became clear that there was a procession about to happen, again for the end of Muharram. Which could only mean one thing: all knives and sickles out by the chain. At the place of procession, we were led through all the security lines. Men armed with any type of rifle or shotgun were posted along every alley and searching people. (more about this precaution later). They didn't really search us, through the guidance of Mr Malik and his cousin, who are figures of high regard within the local community. All of us could wander around, shooting photographs and looking at the evocative storytelling by a young imam. He was telling the story of Muharram Hussain, how he was slaughtered in Iraq 500 years ago that inspired the celebration of Muharram and its chastising practicion.

Before it all would start, we all were called back by Mr Malik and his companions who took us into a nearby building where we got a delicious meal of peppered rice, roti and chickpea's. There we got talking about Pakistani politics, especially because one of our pack was a French journalist who writes for Le Point up to the elections and residing in our hotel. It was said that the village we were in, was a Shi'ite community. In Pakistan, Sunni's and Shi'ites live together, though in a ration of 80% Sunni and 12% Shi'ite. I asked Mr Malik about predictions for the upcoming elections. Bhutto's party already had 35% of the votes in the first election, since her death the polls indicate a 45% share. Definitely a landslide win in a multiple party election.

During dinner, Mr Malik's younger cousin showed us the scars on his back from his previous 6 chastising Muharrams. And he again would do it in 30 minutes or so. After the food we went out to the procession place again. The young imam was still preaching, more evocative and shouting than before and many men and women were weeping. Suddenly the crowd split from the middle and in came men running in black kurta. The ceremonial kurta. And with them the sickle knives on chains. They started chastising themselves right away and we all grabbed out camera's or in my case, my mobile recorder, to register all this self inflicted bloodshed. The sound of rustling chains and sickles cutting into their flesh was direct in your face. Looking at this scene, it looked like a bewildered feast of punishment. As the cuts on their back became bigger, the gaze of the men became more hazy, as if in trance. Which they were. There are nearly no words to describe this scene as you are witnessing it.
One of our 2 Polish photographer friends even got some blood spats on him.
It went on with singing from the Imam and by the chastisers themselves. Impressive sound. Chest beatings, sickles, chains and strong vocals. Photo's to come very soon whenever we can, by courtesy of our Polish friends Majik and Andre.

On the Peshawar explosion.
Another bomb blast last thursday. Did that even make the news back in the West?
*Only 12 people dead*, someone in our hotel said on a slightly ironic note. Every Thursday there seems to be a bomb attack somewhere in a big city.
When I heard about it, I was eating my aloo palak (potato spinach curry) in a cornershop canteen where the TV was showing images of an explosion. Rubble, people lying around, crying people walking throughout the scene. The Pakistani locals were sitting around, eating their dish or sipping their chai without a hint of desparation. Rather a glare of silent acceptance and confident concentration. It's no a special-of-the-day here for them anymore, so why frown? It actually happened during the Muharram procession. Explosions during holy ceremonies apparently are part of the extremist game. Or perhaps an internal attack. Sunni's versus Sji'ites?
Next morning the Lahore newspaper said that Lahore police would increase their roadblocks and forces on the street. That was noticed straight away and there still is a lot of police on the street. Besides that, all is quiet and peaceful here.
Lahore already had his blast 2 weeks ago. Safe, you reckon?

On Bhutto.
So the CIA says that Al Qaeda/Taliban is behind it. Such smart folks, oh.
That the extremists have it difficult under the Musharraf rule is a given fact, but what if Bhutto would have ruled? Would Bhutto have gotten all the backing of the army and especially all the generals during her reign with Musharraf bitter of losing control? That leaves a lot of food for thought and reckoning that extremists might cut into themselves. The word on the Lahore street is that either Musharraf is behind it and some even dare say that Bhutto's husband was in the conspiracy, to get control of the party. Absurd? well.... Or what about the other opponent parties? So many factors to calculate into this. Perhaps all of the above have had a part in it. Who knows. Conspiracy theories are what they are for no reason. Forever blurred by opinions that divide people.

That's it for now. Tomorrow we do leave Lahore to the south. We'd like to stop at Harappa, an ancient Indus valley civilization site dating 3000 BC. And also Multan and Uch Sharif are on our itinerary.

Soon pics of Muharram today. They speak their image out loud.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Nothing chest-beats Lahore

Hello all,

Salaam aleikum from rainy Lahore, Pakistan!

The free internet in the big library of Lahore, such nice bonus! Allah believes in speedy internet. It's a huge place with beautiful murals, crystal chandeliers, gold-rimmed staircases, huge illuminated world globes, thick white pillars and old wooden library furniture. Filled with old books, it breathes literature in here.
Women section on the right, left section for the males. Here in the internet room, it is mixed gender, but the first row is for females.

open gate to Pakistan.....
We swooped through the border on the sunny morning of Thursday without any rash security checks and only had to fill in various forms on the Indian as well as the Pakistani side. Walking straight through both big gates, a special way of crossing on foot with us making silly poses at the white line that divides the countries.

At the little bookshop of Mr Latif 100 meters from the border (as lonely planet will tell you too) we got a first hear from him on the perception how Pakistanis endure the western media bias against Muslims; "One explosion in Lahore or anywhere in Pakistan and everyone in the world knows about it. 3 simultaneous bomb blasts in Uttar Pradesh, India (over 1 month ago) and nobody in the west gets to hears that!"
That's what you get in your daily read; Hindu extremists in India are by far not as news worthy as any so called Muslim strike is.

In the local bus to Lahore, we flashed past little towns where people had put many pool tables outside, playing in full sun on the roadside. The whole road was decorated with *a lot* (understatement) of political posters, either old Bhutto party poster or the new one, which features her husband and son on it.
Everwhere. On walls, buses, carts, riksha's, shops and wherenot.
Plus also those posters of opponents that we haven't deciphered by name yet.
The bus was separated in 2 compartments where the front was closed by bars and an iron door. Maarten joked about it resembling a prison bus, which wasn't too far off. The *containing* compartment in the front was for women and the back naturally for men. Women sit upfront, guarded by the door from evil men and have to endure a less bumpy ride than the men. Not a bad deal. Younger women were peeking through the thin bars and looking at us, obviously not used to seeing white foreigners driving the local bus into town. Also staring teenagers, like those who were trying to sell us sweet and salty snacks.
Lahore is a smoggy city though, as you can see here. Kuch kuch kuch. I'm not too bothered by it, but Maarten feels his throat polluted.

After some hustling with out bags and walking too long into a wrong direction we finally found our hotel. As indicated and through word spread, the hotel is the best one in Lahore for the backpacker's needs, because of the owner, a former journalist, offers good guidance to Qawwali and Sufi music nights and much more cultural information in the rest of the country. Straight away we met a lot of like minded people who are also doing special projects by themselves by being journalists, photographers and documentary makers. Or even just traveling around. Not your average tourist hotel as in other places in India and it's great being in such a place where people talk about their interests and idea's.

Like the Correspondances Generation project of Alexandre and Benoit from southern France, who traveled all the way from Europe overland to here (like many people do you may have noticed). have been doing many items on several regions that they covered. Their website is well built and contains hordes of interesting clips, interviews and other local items. All in French though but no reason to not have a peek.

The sound of Lahore from our hotel rooftop, 17.30h; muezzins call for the Muslim prayer, amplified from many directions, while many big brown eagles soar the sky shrieking their bird call, some relaxing of them relaxing on the broadcasting tower next to us.
I've tried to record it but to no avail..either through low battery power or not being in the hotel at this special time of time. That's why this written soundplay instead of audible proof.

Lahore itself is a bizarre city as it is much more western and cleaner than any Indian city that we have been too. Much more shops where there are even supermarkets that sell dutch food items! (blue band butter, remia sauce..what the hell? who needs nasty remia sauce in this good part of the food world). The people here are really gentle and come to you in a composed manner. Unlike India, where the locals just like to swamp and tire you with their endless means of overly direct contact. So it is a fresh breeze to be among the Pakistani's, who take their approach more kindly and don't feel the need to control or force you into their communication. Also their humor is a bit more open in ways of understanding irony. Yesterday even some old muslim guys came up to us, saying "Musharraf, he must be killed and Bush too" in a sort of funny boyish manner and asking us if we wanted to help them, hah.

The food is slightly different from India, though many of the same dishes still exist here. Just that there is meat. A lot of meat; beef, mutton (goat) lamb, chicken and fish. Loads of shawarma's and tandoori kebab barbecue street cookers and whatnot. Tough for us, as the meat does smell nice. Mhhh, but I am looking forward to eating some spiced fish sooner or later. Also on the street there are loads of dried fig and date vendors. And they taste so good! Not like that pre-packed shit we get back home in the Islamic shops. Yum yum.

The good thing also is, that the people here in fact talk Hindi. They call it Urdu though, as the difference between both *languages* is just the script. Hindi links to Sanskrit whereas Urdu links to Arabic signs. But by speech, it is more or less the same, bar the small accent here or there.

The atmosphere here is really not grim as the western media likes to portray. The only people who seem a bit more on their nerves are the police men, which is understandable, especially at the police quarters where we have walked past. But even they greet us with a smile most of the time, while they casually sway their Kalashnikov's or AK47's over their shoulders. Riots, danger, protests? None of that. Just a city where people move around, work or do anything.

Like this morning, from our dorm room, we could hear a sort of protest outside but no one knew what was happening. Once outside, we didn't see or hear anything. Even if things happen, you're most likely not to know about it unless you're right at the action. Some people of the hotel are already here for longer than a week and during the bomb blast some of them were quite near to the explosion so they heard and saw it. Others didn't and only learned about it much later. One corner in a big city doesn't mean a whole city.

Last night we went to the old city, to see the Muharram ceremony. It's an Islamic ceremony that lasts around a whole week, where every night mostly men (and some women) chastise themselves by beating themselves every night with their bare hands on their bare chests (not the women though) in the name of a sacred Muslim saint and Allah. Many people yesterday were congregating and we stayed to see the beginning of the ceremony. Maarten had already been the night before with a Polish photographer and he filmed parts of the endless ceremony. This time it began a bit earlier and 2 groups of men stood bare chested next to each other, taking turns of singing and doing the ceremonial beating. The beating on themselves caused major deep purple bruises and many already had pressing wounds. it was impressive to see, especially more so as we felt the intense atmosphere. We were 4 of us, Brian from Glasgow and Jim from Austin, Texas had joined us and we were the only whites and non-muslims who were viewing this scene. We took a bit of distance, not to interfere with the local spectators and the families of the chest beaters. Several times we kindly got told to move more on the side for the obvious reason that our presence should be a bit reserved. On Saturday, the last bloody night, they will bring out the knives and sickles and will chastise themselves on the back and shoulders. Already we saw many men with major scar cuts and in some backstreet merchants were readying the knives and sickles, sharpening them with sparks on a turning stone.

We won't be here anymore for that, as tomorrow we will go south to the town of Pak Patan where at the moment the biggest Sufi festival of Pakistan is taking place where the most famous Derwa's will perform with vocals and spinning dances that turns them into a trance. This festival is just the best opportunity for recording and while we didn't know about it before and heard it from people in our hostel, we're lucky to have this chance.

This afternoon, there is live Qawwali singing at a certain shrine, which we quickly need to go to so I'll wrap up this post. Tonight there's a Sufi night at another underground shrine where our hostel owner will take us to. Busy day and days ahead.

Well, plans suddenly change. Our Polish photographer friend just walked in and told us that the Qawwali singing is cancelled, as well as the Sufi night. Because of Muharram. There goes our opportunity, but also our rush. Catching up with emails isn't a chore, especially since our internet mobility in the next week or so will be very limited.

We got contacted on Couchsurfing by several people from Lahore so we hope to meet them tonight since our plans are all open now. One of them, a female, wrote in her email that she is a DJ. We wonder in what way, jump into an unexpected musical adventure?

After I wrote this, the power in all the library was shut off. Such power cuts happen a lot, daily and nightly, a few times per 24 hours. Amjad, another gentle Pakistani introduced himself. In his mid twenties and keen on learning why we are here and how we experience Pakistan. The benefit of a power cut is that you can talk quite a while and I answered his questions on European culture, confirming right or untangle wrong and truths. Especially questions on sexuality were interesting, to know what is punishable in the west, which are taboo and what are the freedoms compared to here. A very nice open minded person who surely is not stuck in the conservative thinking that many westerners perhaps may think of Pakistanis. I'm sure he won't be the last person here in Pakistan to prove that either.

oh yeah, new photo's uploaded here of Amritsar temple, embassy and border spheres.

here some selected:
Sikh style


golden temple parade

golden temple

communally cutting garlic for the gurudwara food

Sikh guard at our holy hotel

our typist outside at the Pak embassy

same-high-school-going-as-me traveller Theus on bike

his cheer scribbled bike

Monday, January 14, 2008

Entry ticket Pakistan

Score. We got the visa this morning!
Signed and glued into the passport.

While we were waiting we met several European tourists who were handing in their application. Vidian and Armelle, a young French couple from Bretagne, were also told that they needed the letter of recommendation. Unfortunely for them, the French embassy were acting anal about it and did not want to give them the letter. That while they DID get a likewise letter for entering Iran earlier in the morning. Their second attempt at the embassy an hour later proved useless. And all while any other European embassy makes no problem of providing such letter for Pakistan -even if it has to be a bogus letter like the Belgian one for me-.
Except French embassies ofcourse, who are the sovereign leader in making their citizen's travelling life difficult worldwide. Sponsored by your own national, how quaint. That's not solely a judgement on the go, but based on the bad experiences that my ex girlfriend has endured with them in various countries. They proved themselves selfrighteous once more, as long as their diplomats, or say, prime minister can safely tour the Middle East whith his popstar girlfriend. Just an example ey.

Vidian and Armelle did manage to hand in their apllication with the strict Pakistani officer excepting them and collecting the fees for the visa. We won't say how, that's a secret beyond any help the French embassy would care to give.
Let's hope it does work and they can get their Pakistani entry.

You can check their excellent blog here -in french- (or see the right hand side link section) and follow their overland trip from Europe all the way through Russia, Mongolia and down to here before they will return back to Europe through the Pakistan and Iran stretch.

The other European applicant was Theus, from Holland! Also holding the letter Maarten had, he even had to sign a certain waiver agreement for security matters, which Maarten strangely did not have to sign. The world again seemed a tiny place when Theus said he was from Utrecht too. How coincidental!
And to even add more bizarre serendipity to this, he went to the very same high school as me in the provincial town of Woerden, around the same years! Say what? We were soon laughing about knowing the same teachers and who's had who. Maarten looked to us with surprised disbelief. How lives sometimes spiral into each other at unforseen moments like on the curb of the Pakistan embassy of all places, it still amazes us.....though the feeling is getting slightly familiar over here.

Theus has been travelling on motorbike all the way from Europe and came through the Iran-Pakistan route, which he will partly retrace now. Not going home just yet, he said and will turn down at the Middle East to drive through Northern Africa and entering Europe by boat. Sounds like a great trip, passing so many continents!

We wish the best to all you travellers, getting lost somewhere, gathering new experiences elsewhere. We're off to take our evening sleeper train to Amritsar and setting foot in Pakistan tomorrow morning. Lahore for the next few days, which will be a blast ;) Nah, we're really looking forward to the gentle Pakistani hospitality and culture that everyone is praising.

Delhi the past few days has been about relaxing and me recovering from my belly bacteria games. We met Andy again over the weekend, who is in town for few days doing some business in scrapyards, looking for parts to patch up motorbikes. On saturday we went for a midnight ride in his customised Ambassador car -the one with the bed and PC inside-. Rather Maarten went for a drive, as Andy was way past his alcohol limit and off we took to India Gate, the sort of Arc the Triomphe of Delhi. Not that Andy has a driving license, Maarten neither, it was a boyish adventure of 3 kids and a dog driving around in the posh and diplomat area in a suspicious and attention tagged vehicle. At every street corner jeeps of the Delhi police were waiting with the siren lights on. Andy already made it clear that police likes stopping him, for they always want to seek a reason to nail a foreigner. For financial matters, obviously.
We didn't get stopped, even when nearly trying our luck to ask police officers for directions for we had lost our sense of it in this maze of wide avenues, when an autoriksha pulled up beside us and put us back on track again.
Luck with avoiding the police, well....If you try, you buy, I reckoned.

oh yeah, new photo's should be added, see the right hand link blah blah, you know the score by now.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Phone-in from Delhi, sunday afternoon!

Hi folks,

Tomorrow afternoon -your time- we'll have a live phone-in at the Tracks world music show of Dee and Rory on Life FM! It's on between 1pm and 2pm GMT time -so that's between 2pm and 3pm for continental Europe, 18.30-19.30 India time etc.-

You can tune in live at Life FM (ofcourse live is better ey! ;)) or listen to the podomatic session later if ye can't catch it.

For now, we're back in Delhi for a few days waiting on our Pakistani visum that -hopefully- is given on monday. After spending 2 days in Ludhiana, we needed to be here yesterday just before the weekend in order to apply for our visum. That we might get it on monday will be quite smooth as well, as it normally takes a few working days -not counting weekends-.

Ludhiana was a quick swoop. Arriving somewhere in the afternoon on a bumpy bus from Amritsar, it wasn't much fun for me as I had gotten some stomach bug -which is still bugging me now-. To carry your heavy luggage and trying to get a riksha that knows the place where you want to get to, while you feel nauseous and trembling, is not the best way to step into an auditorium to see a cultural presentation. As in previous post, we had met Seema in Jalandhar and she invited us to come to Ludhiana for this presentation which was to raise awareness on AIDS among teenage schoolkids. We met her at the auditorium and she made sure that we could leave our bags and get somethings to eat and drink. It was quite well organised and the presentation itself was a mix of various art forms. There was even a kid rock group playing 80's, 90's and modern rock songs. *We will rock you* was the song they started with and we wondered whether it was chosen because of Freddy Mercury or not. We didn't ask either way. After them there was a fahion show of kids who had designed AIDS symbol clothing, paraded by proper models of some fashion college. The bit we liked most was the theater show of younger kids who portrayed a story of a AIDS infected baby girl that was left on the floor outside a hospital. The kids acted with a lot of energy and sung songs together as if in some musical (don't think of the South Park joke now). There was ballet which was nice enough to end it with and the 1,5 hour presentation was over. Seema helped us a great deal (which we thank her heartily for) and took us to a downtown hotel where her cousin worked, so finally I could lay down and slumber away the head and bellyache. The hotelroom looked 'like being in a Lynch movie', as Maarten said. It certainly felt like being in Lost Highway, the bacteria in my belly jostling the effects.

In some way Ludhiana felt like one of the grim cartoon cities, like Sin or Gotham city. We don't know why, perhaps the many overhead roads, narrow and moist back alleys and the sulky greyness of it all. Without intention to speak bad of the locals as they were as friendly as we have experienced allover Punjab.

The next afternoon we went to a Punjabi cultural event next to the same auditorium of the day before. As it would soon be Lohri, a holy Punjabi festival for the farmers -and Punjab IS the farmer's state of India-, this event was organised, even if Lohri really would only begin on the 13th of January. We were told that all the bigger Punjabi pop and folk stars would perform and that for free to all the people of Ludhiana. As soon as we entered the amfitheater that it was held in, all eyes turned to us. We once again being the only foreigners -or at least, whites-, people cheered to us and no sooner than that Maarten was filming big groups of young men dancing before his camera. I tried to record sounds, but as folks kept on talking to me or into the mic it was useless. Someone of the organisation (that we met the day before) with next to him an armed guard with an AK47, intervened into the chaos of guys swarming around me so I could get upfront. It was not so much the men that bothered and angered me, but rather that most were annoyingly drunken...and drunken Indians are impossible to handle in a logical way, like we experienced before -and will do again-.

All that done in the space of a few hours, we left in the early evening so we could get tickets for the night train to Delhi. No sleeper places left, which ment we would have to sit most of night in a crowded wagon. No fun. At the station an attendant told us that we could get a sleeper place, hinting that we would have to pay him a bit for that. And the guys of the train. Bribing, corruption, such bog words. It was rather that they gave us a service that could secure a bed bunk for us. It was ours to take or leave it. So we paid and got a sleeper wagon to lay in. Which was quite empty by the way -while such sleeper places *supposedly* were sold out-. So it was.

At the Pakistani embassy we had to wait. and wait. and wait. That while the stomach bug still bugged me with cramps, again no fun. The morning was wasted between the Pakistani, Dutch and Belgian embassy. We don't like embassies, but after the initial cold rejection at the Pakistani embassy we got smoothly helped by our own embassies whose consulair employees were even open to social chitchat with us, give drinks and let us use the internet. Unlike any official place would do at home, let alone we expected such courtesy from our embassies. We both had to get a certain useless approval letter that in the whole world, only the Pakistani embassy asks for. Well, there is a use for the useless. Just as an addition to your visum request. That's all. The Dutch embassy wrote an official letter than approved Maarten as exisiting citizen. The Belgian embassy wrote a fun letter that stated it doesn't supply such letters on the act of such and such rule. Signed by the ambassador though. But that's indeed what the Pakistani consul wanted; the official proof of signature and print paper. We still have copies of those letters so will take a pic of them and put them here soon enough haha ;)

Ok, waiting our time away in Delhi again and we must admit that after 2,5 months swerving through dusty and muddy cities and remote places, Delhi feels mighty western and -gulp- clean again. The continuous smog also seems to have cleared as it isn't so hot anymore as it was 2,5 months ago -when we hated it here-. Again we are in the world of the western tourist where every Indian shopkeeper is merching western items to please those homesick, or those not wanting to adapt to Indian items. Either way, we're way more at ease here this time, whether bellysick, tired or not.

Soon Pakistan we hope, if the monday morning promise is a true outcome. If that goes well, we should be in Pakistan by tuesday morning. In Lahore that is, the first biggest gateway city into Pakistan. Some of you might think Lahore not being a safe place since the bomb blast a few days ago but we have been assured that tourists are not a target in Pakistan, rather any authority should be very cautious. It's more dangerous to be a local official clerk, police officer or politician in pre-election Pakistan right now than it is to be a simple wandering tourist. Even our embassies couldn't deny that when we questioned them.

Perhaps next post from here or over the border, who knows.
Hope you tune in tomorrow to hear us both talk and blabber about our dwellings here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Little filler for the golden carp

Little extra update today (8th of January), as it has been raining all day. We're just waiting around without haste, wasting our time to get our bus to Ludhiana in the early evening.

Yesterday late in the evening I went to the golden temple on my own as there was some nice religious music bouncing from the outer speakers. Pity that Maarten didn't come along, so I once again got myself in some unexpected situation. We hadn't been in the small golden temple itself, so on this last night I wanted to see it at last gasp chance as something was going on in there. I peered inside and a ceremony with the main guru was taking place. An elderly Sikh man ushered me gently inside, though I felt ashamed for invading in this ceremony while not being pilgrim like all other people around me. The guru and his helping men were chanting recitals from holy Sikh papers and on a sudden moment every pilgrim started singing along. The guru then held a package upon his head and walked outside the temple with a lot of the pilgrims on his trail, wiping tears away from their faces. Tears of enlightenment, one person told me. There's only one marble lane that connects the temple to the land from this artificial man made holy lake so I followed behind. Pilgrims were carrying a golden cabinet, taking turns for it and all offering themselves. I just wanted to get past so not to be a nuisance to the pilgrims. Several men pushed me upfront in the queue, as being the token tourist you can bet that they want to give you the honor to help them. The golden cabinet was actually carrying the old gray guru, lying on plush pillows, who was waving with his white fur stick. A pilgrim stepped made place and a barrier of the cabinet put upon my shoulder so I was part of the walking machine of 20 or so men. Quite heavy! For 30 seconds I carried his holiness in his human transportation box until I got relieved by an eager and happy pilgrims. Sure deal, it's yours to take and carry. At the end of the marble lane I got sanctified sweetened dough put in the open palms of my hands. I couldn't eat more after the heavy dinner we had before, so I sat down at the lake and dropped little balls of dough into the water for the fishes. A golden carp surfaced -which brings luck if you spot one, a Sikh said- and accepted the holy food with pleasure.

Oh yeah, Maarten has added the *new year gunshot video* in the post of Jan. 1st.

some pics of Punjabi train rides

the Sutlej river, one of the 5 flows from the Indus